Sunday, 27 March 2022
Sunday, 13 March 2022
It was at one of John Homewood's talks that I first encountered the figure of the cross as a living articulation between our breath and time itself.
The timeline of our lives creates the horizontal axis of the cross, made up – if you jot down the events of your life – of the buzz and chaos, with its joys and trials, of every human’s count of days on earth.
When I inspect my own timeline, I have to admit that it’s a pretty ragged thread of sorrows and misfortunes. Until recently, I was embarrassed by the fact that, in terms of actual incidents, my life seems to be peppered by what most of us would, I guess, call misfortune, bad luck and sorrow. I’ve lost that embarrassment as a result of chronologically listing the basic events of my circumstances, and then reflecting on what endures, as follows.
During a materially comfortable childhood, I witnessed harsh human dissent and loss of self-control as a given.
My family moved to South Africa, where we lived literally on the edge of a military zone called Voortrekkerhoogte (now Thaba Tshwane). The State at that time promoted and defended racist practices by policy, causing my father to declare that he would be quite content if my sisters and I failed Afrikaans at school – that seemed to be the way he felt he could best contribute to the anti-Apartheid struggle. Friends and boyfriends were conscripted and suffered abuse and violence on all levels.
I left home, and experienced armed soldiers searching my room, friends being sjambokked by police, a pregnant lecturer imprisoned without trial. I taught in violent townships, and in tiny sanctuary spaces offered to township children. I lost my sanity, benefited from the balm of therapy.
Mandela was released and the New South Africa came into being.
I married and experienced the gift of motherhood. My husband and I were economically on the margins, however, to save money I did not eat properly, suffered from overwork, broke down and succumbed again to mental illness, from which, again, I managed to recover. My husband was unwilling to continue the marriage and eventually we divorced.
My second marriage gave me deep spiritual fulfilment, my husband and I published many poetry books together, but he was frail, his failing health was ever a shadow over us. Economic pressure was a constant, he carried much debt.
Then my fit, nimble mother suffered a stroke and was consigned to total physical helplessness. My sister lost her sanity, and my beloved husband died.
I published two poetry books solo.
I was required to sell my late husband's house and leave the village that had become my home. At the same time, Trump was making headlines with his tweets.
I was lucky in love and did not have to move alone. Within weeks of our move, Covid and hard lockdown razed human lives and economies. I lost work and marketing opportunities for my new book. Friends and family fell ill.
My father’s memory began to fail and he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, requiring me to run my parents’ household and take responsibility for their daily needs and overall care.
War continued to ruin the beauty of the Middle East.
My sister is currently in a mental institution and I am praying constantly for her. My Beloved’s heart has urged him to leave me for crucial time to himself – whether temporarily or forever is uncertain.
Russia has invaded Ukraine and I hear alternatingly tragic and hopeful details of the victims from friends who have connections there.
So much for the horizontal axis of my personal cross in a broad sweep – living such a timeline is great training in patience, I’ll say that much. And patience – please consider this carefully – does not mean simply waiting for undesirable situations to pass. Patience is the active (gracious) carrying of an unwanted load towards its end. It’s notable that, except for love and marriage, motherhood, the recovery from my illnesses, and the activities of teaching and poetry publishing, none of the other events on my timeline were chosen by me! I couldn’t have asked for a better, or harder, school than this life to teach me a little graciousness.
I wonder, if you were to make a list of events on YOUR timeline, what the ratio of chosen to unchosen would be. How would you rate YOUR ability to carry unwanted burdens?
Now for the vertical axis – the one, which, I recall John Homewood observing, you plumb when you stop focusing on the “school”, that milling chaos called ‘the wheel of life’. I tried to outline it in poem form –
The vertical axis of my cross
is prayer, my heart –
vessel of joy,
my pen standing up
for me in spite of trouble,
noting my small noticings –
fine sword of God, ensuring anchorage
Thus, I write
of deer, of dew, of weather and birds –
they are my breath,
preserving me, wrapped
in Christ’s playful smile,
on my cross.
The loveliest insight, for me, which the above reflections yield is that my chosen, voluntary WORK – my writing (published and unpublished) and my visual art – by and large expresses not the vicissitudes of my timeline, but the spiritual anchor of my self in the vertical axis. I realise that my life’s work, mainly my artistic output, has never not been first and foremost a spiritual path and practice.
All of what I have done and continue to do is subordinate to the naked flame that has steadily been alchemising my soul beyond the edge of time.
As for you – I’d be curious to hear where you feel the ‘vertical axis’ on your cross breathes most freely.
Wednesday, 23 February 2022
no cock bird performing on a public twig- but nevertheless demonstrating, all on my own,the independent self-sovereigntyI protestI want for everyone
The lines attest a gorgeous solidarity with unostentatious femaleness; but there's also a lunge, beyond that, at an original wildness there, that part in us that links to the animal world, a flexive world beckoning humans forward to conscious awareness of our self-delighting, self-appeasing, self-affrighting souls.
To pore over the poems in Gripscapes is to do more than read poetry. It is really to witness a man setting an example, doing his best, against pretty shitty odds at times, using his mother tongue as a chisel to carve himself, finally into something not drab at all, but truly shimmering: a human.
|Norman Morrissey, July 2010|
Friday, 21 January 2022
I'm not officially back on this blog. Not at all. I am still on a self-granted Sabbatical, shielding me from feeling that I have to share or speak out in public about anything.
However, after inspecting the latest edition of The Marginalian to sail into my inbox, there are a few thoughts that this outrageously named blogsite is whispering I tattoo upon it immediately, so here goes.
In the above newsletter, the conversation between Bill Moyers and Martha Nussbaum about human goodness leads her to tell him that being a good human being means caring, staying true to and, in fact, sticking up for, your values - to live life, as she says, "with a deep seriousness of commitment" and "to wrest from the world the good life" you desire. And this naturally sometimes leads, undeservedly, to tragedy in the good person's life.
She is firm that a detached person who no longer expects fulfilment or gratification from the world cannot be considered properly human, because of the decisive disconnect between themselves and others and the consequent immunity to tragedy, or profound hurt.
Now, during two years of pandemic and lockdown, I have witnessed a significant portion of my fellow humans forced to detach themselves socially and psychologically more than they have ever done before. This includes myself. It has led me to experience my living self, indeed, as not-quite-human; with the exception of my family and friends, as utterly irrelevant to humanity and the human world. As bewildering and unwelcome as this perception has been, it did bring with it simultaneously a certain sense of not caring - in the best sense of that word: the sense of being carefree.
Yet there's a totally illogical fundament to this. Globally, the pandemic and lockdown, the medical, economic, political and social stresses, have been hurtful, traumatic, tragic. Simultaneously, there have been unforeseen griefs in my own, as well as the personal lives of others I know. How can all this lead to more lightness?
Hmm. Tough one.
I am a person who has cared, i.e. carried, perhaps, too much for too long, and so, 'not caring', in my case, could effectively be a sensible re-balancing of a seriously squif set of habits; divesting myself from a lifetime's overload, as it were, and thus facilitating a redistribution of my dubious wealth (aka load of responsibilities).
Caring, or carrying, less (those words are actually synonymous for me) has been a shift that has caused me, paradoxically, to care enough - about being a good human being, I guess - to be here at this moment.
So, that's the 'tattoo' my blog wanted, to start two thousand and twenty-two. A kind of decorative whirl of gentle hmms.
Now where was that Sabbatical? I'm still happily riding into both sunrises and sunsets upon it. Let's keep going, Sweetheart.
|Photo by TS Sergey@ttsergey|
Sunday, 27 June 2021
21 years ago, an African Art collector commissioned me to create an 'African totem pole'.
As we worked to manifest her visions and dreams, it quickly became evident that the totem pole should also be a functional item, namely, a lamp.
She approved my design of an 'African ceramic standing lamp', in which the light would be an ambient one, streaming out from the open door and windows of a rondavel perched on top of a three-legged pot. The rondavel would be decorated with a mural.
This story is about the mural. When I delivered the final art work to my client, I gave her an accompanying write-up to the motivations and the research that had guided me. Here are the words that clarified the patterns on the rondavel:
To make the house beautiful is a female art. Mural art is a traditional activity for many African women.
The mural design of the lamp's rondavel is based upon the designs of an artist, Malvel Dani, living in the Free State. The authors of the book in which I discovered her designs visited her again and again. Each time, she surprised them with a fresh design on her house. They describe them as "a floral kaleidoscope of mellow earth shades" which blended completely into the landscape:
"Her home was barely perceptible in the distance and as we approached, it slowly came into focus."
Then, one day, when they visited again, she was gone, and so was her house:
"Her home had melted back into the soil."
What has happened to Malvel Dani I do not know. In accordance with your directions, however, her name is written over the door, as a tribute to her soft, earth-bound, transient art.
The memory of this art piece, and its inspiration by a housewife artist as unburdened by status as Malvel Dani evidently was, hums now for me again, in the present moment - as a reminder of the value of being at one with what you create, at one with what you do. How could light NOT stream out from such a house?
|African ceramic standing lamp by Silke Heiss|
|African standing lamp by Silke Heiss. Detail. Mural on rondavel based on design by Malvel Dani.|
Sunday, 20 June 2021
Thank you for encouraging me to write a verse novel and for publishing it - for involving me so closely with the bold experiment of serialising a contemporary verse novel. It was a superb experience!
Friday, 4 June 2021
The attractiveness of 'the law of attraction' in everyday life is that it declares that you have the potential to control your thoughts. Of all things possible to control, one's own thoughts are perhaps the most rebellious of all. It is a sweet victory to be able to claim truthfully, "I control and, indeed, lead my thoughts." Even where one manages to achieve it occasionally, my experience teaches that it remains, daily, an effort. Writing down your thoughts does help.
The elusiveness of our thoughts may be, because many thoughts are not exactly conscious; nor, frequently, are they owned by, or originate from within, the self.
In 'Staying Connected', Rudolf Steiner went so far as to say that our thoughts are infusions from the spirits of the dead in their attempts to lead (presumaby they could also mislead) us. I have yet to get through, let alone understand, his book Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path. I do not have my own copy and vaguely recall early passages in that book being concerned with discovering one's true motivations; I confess that I still belong to that class of lesser mortals for whom dwelling on true motivatons initiates a definite adventure into smoky territory.
I won't even mention the infusion or influence of thoughts from the living into our conscious- and subconsciousness - I am sure that every person reading this can attest to the confusions, convictions, delusions and intoxications caused by mental and physical continguity with the living.
Yet everywhere, these days, is the popular slogan seen - 'Build the future YOU want'. On one level, this could be seen as an open rebellion against David's plea, 'I shall not want', in Psalm 23. (Some bright sparks have deemed fit to translate this line as 'I lack nothing', but that is too monodimensional for me.) Yet it would be fair to give the slogan the benefit of the doubt - building what you want can by all means chime with the laws of Nature, or God, or the general good, all of which are forces far more long-lived than the potent little microcosm of your self.
The climate of the times tends strongly towards encouraging the assertion of individual human will over him- or herself, in order to harness and calibrate experiences, decisions and choices, and I strongly motivate for self-control in thought and action - it's a pretty exciting thing to be investing time and energy in, mainly because it grants you the possibility of genuine friendship with the most elusive aspect of your life: your embodied self on this earth, thoughts and all.
Once you begin to be able to change ancient patterns in your behaviour, you are rearing, or re-parenting, your self. This generates new imaginative possibilities for you - possibilities beyond imagining, so to speak. It does mean no longer tolerating stuff that once used, maybe, to be 'inevitable'.
Perhaps some of these free-flowing strands are useful to you as you navigate and build.
|Blue cranes in fallow fields. Photo by Sigi Heiss.|
Sunday, 9 May 2021
A while back, one of my fellow-poets invited us to generate poems for a new brand of naartjies, Clemengold. They were awarding prizes. A few of us rose to the occasion with grace and aplomb. I was not among them.
I see they make gin and all sorts with those fruits, which I have yet to taste.
Out of the blue, or the still grey, rather, this morning, the word clementgold suddenly became a need: a colour of sound. Merciful gold, orange gold, fresh gold in a lung bodying forth song. You'll understand this little yodle better if you read the poem below.
I thought that the 't' had been there all along, but then discovered that nature had added it back in - for 'sing' to have an edge, a 'sting', perhaps?
So here, at last, is my tribute not exactly to the commercial brand, but to a brand-new colour given me on Mother's Day by a bird's warm joyousness: clement gold.
Clement goldThe common Cape robin'sexceptional liltingswaken me, pull a smilefrom me, easily, throughthe lightening curtain folds.Her* thoughtful trills,flutings, flourishing frills,spring clear, fresh from
her clement-gold breast.
- Silke Heiss, 9th May 2021
* Female robins, I read, sing as well as do the males.
Tuesday, 4 May 2021
Not long after my husband's death, I received a phone call from a charity organisation, offering me a calendar set. Swaddled in the cocoon of love, which my late husband had woven around me in his last weeks and days, I was naked as a newborn in the world. I did not know how I would be surviving, financially, emotionally and mentally.
The lady on the other end of the line was sympathetic and very real. She told me that they sent calendars to people who said yes to their offer. There would be an invoice and the client would be trusted to pay the charity.
"That's how we do it," she replied.
Sunday, 25 April 2021
"Under the arc lamps and amid the frantic hubbub of the police and the ambulance men, I had a moment to reflect on the sad, inept magic of my prescription. I had not really heard him. He was talking a language I had never been taught to understand. Even more basic, I had not been taught to listen. We had missed each other completely. He was calling for help, and I was obsessed with pills."
Sunday, 4 April 2021
sweet Christ: who would believe