Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Prior to milk and bread

Mariss Stevens' Containment series caught my eye on Instagram. The series is a set of quilted images created over the past weeks. Her latest blogpost, On Containment (22nd May 2020), describes the process from conception to finish, including a definition of 'containment' as holding (holding back) and 'restraint'.

"The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self", the poet Ilya Kaminsky recently (14th May 2020) quoted Stravinsky speaking about musical composition, on Twitter - "And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision."

In Mariss' series, vases contain and constrain flowers, which are pulled into captivity by the mouths of vessels, thence to fountain out their blossoms the more -

Containment #3
Containment #7
 Tree trunks operate similarly.

Containment #1
The constraints of format and resources, in this series, expands in the fifth work - not only to flip the orientation of of the work from portrait to landscape, but also beyond inward - house and garden - motifs, to reach quite literally for the moon.

Containment #5
Mariss judges the connection between it and the theme to be "nebulous", but I question that judgment. The series consists of eight works - the number which, flipped sideways, represents infinity in mathematics; and the one that in the arcane realm symbolises balance between heaven and earth. Five is understood to bring chaos and conflict, but also transformation and change.

Mariss' moon in this series is pregnant with the potency of the time-piece, which that heavenly body is, in relation to the earth: determining our calendar, the tides and feminine cycles. The exquisite fabricated image, contained upon the background in its frame and constrained by its position in the series overall, reflects an undertow of truth, which penetrates the boundaries of the lockdown in utter peace.

'Time as a task' during quarantine has recently been found by Parul Seghal - in an essay entitled In Search of Time Lost and Newly Found (19th May 2020) - to be a slippery and bewildering challenge; but these little textile works demonstrate the power of working with time, working within its natural limits. The crafter-artist flowers again and again inside her hours and her works are pollen grains, or little moons, from the hands of her soul.

All our days are numbered, that is to say: limited, but each day contains its own potential. I pondered the practicalities of this mystery in a pollen grain of my own, a blogpost from about a year ago, entitled Time as an organic fact (14th May, 2019).

Time can be felt as "a natural sequence of moments blossoming their opportunities", I wrote, and I still agree with me about this. Too fine a plan or regimen will scorch them; take no action and they will drown.

The hours we are given are our nourishment prior to milk and bread. Eat, drink, enjoy!

I thank Mariss Stevens for allowing me to use images of her works for this post. To see the full set, including the mesmerising process of how she created the moon, as well as the surprise coup of the eighth work, click The Containment series.

- Silke Heiss, 27th May 2020

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Welcome to the hours

Sabrina Orah Mark's article in the Paris Review on May 7th - Fuck the bread. The bread is over. - beautifully describes a real, living now - yes, alive as you or me - woman's plunge into testing adventure. Although she specialises as lecturer in fairy tales, she discovers - as the lectureship position disappears into thin air due to Corona - that she has never actually lived one.

Robert Bly, in his Preface to Iron John (1990), writes:

"The knowledge of how to build a nest in a bare tree, how to fly to the wintering place, how to perform the mating dance - all of this information is stored in the reservoirs of the bird's instinctual brain. But human beings, sensing how much flexibility they might need in meeting new situations, decided to store this sort of knowledge outside the instinctual system; they stored it in stories. Stories, then - fairy stories, legends, myths, hearth stories - amount to a reservoir where we keep new ways of responding that we can adopt when the conventional and current ways wear out."

I changed the name of this blog from '... follow your footsteps' to 'And they lived happily ever after ...' for one simple, utterly pedestrian (no pun intended) reason: my feet became sore. I took this as a sign that I must stop following my footsteps so much. My feet were obviously tired of adventuring without rest. Perhaps I must settle down and finally, finally live like every ordinary body else as best I can, I figured at the time.

There is no difference between my actual life and a fairy tale: it is as hard, as full of twists and turns, as horrifying and as magical.

I grew up steeped to the brim in fairy and all kinds of tales. I guess I became curious in my middle age about what happens in the 'happily ever after'. How does 'happily ever after' work? Many people around me - possibly with the exception of the homeless - seemed permanently to live in the 'ever after'. Okay, I thought, if my feet are that sore, perhaps the time has come to stop, look around me and ask to share the prize.

The biggest difference between a traditional fairy tale and 'real life' is that there are no statistics and no mass media in a fairy tale. A fairy tale has one hero or heroine per story, period. She is never a statistic. Nobody feels sorry for her. Nobody worships her. She's too busy trying to stay alive, somehow, between dreadful tasks and tempting or distracting villains, and seizing glimmers of opportunity, for social commentary, psychological analysis, or media people to get a single word in edgeways.

Mark, in her article, writes that the characters who do not fulfil the required tasks in a fairy tale simply fall over the edge into a void, in the same way that a cartoon character can toss his cup behind him and never worry about having to wash it. I hazard that those who 'live happily ever after' fall over that same edge, into that same happy void. It's the place where ordinary life continues. The land of unwashed cups, for sure.

Continually adventuring on the edge of things must have bitten into my feet. (I have to 'read' it somehow, so, because I do not have medical aid.) So I step down off it, off the edge.

The days welcome me into their hours.
I recognise the hours!
Beautiful creatures they are: flowers given us to unfold our beings in doings.
I realise I have been here from the start.
Everything and nothing is the same.

Saturday, 9 May 2020


How naked faces are, when masked.
How revealing the eyes.
How private and how

exposed, now, that we're forced

to face each other's and our own
true colours, locked in water:
mirrors, unclothed, entirely unalike.


Friday, 1 May 2020

Labour is blossoming or dancing where?

I have always loved to work. The work I have done - I mean here in the main my art and writing - has built, and over and again repaired, my mind, body, heart and soul.

The following small, personal selection of poems and extracts are a tribute to the beauty of committed human work. Whether it be sewing or carpentry, web design, computer programming, mining, gardening, catering or trading. There is no end to human talent and no end to the quest to get whatever it is you are doing right. To begin with, I've chosen one of my favourite stanzas from my old master, Yeats, for you to enjoy -

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

- from Among School Children by W.B.Yeats 

Not bruised, not born of despair, not blear-eyed, but dancing and at one: that is when a human being can attain a wholeness that compares to the completeness in the life of a tree.

I've always loved Herman Charles Bosman's poem, Seed, which be-sings the integration of a farmer's body, mind and soul by means of the process of working -


The farmer ploughs into the ground
More than the wheat-seed strewn on the ground
The farmer ploughs into the ground
The plough and the oxen and his body
He ploughs into the ground the farmstead and the cattle
And the pigs and the poultry and the kitchen utensils
And the afternoon sunlight shining into the window panes of the voorhuis
And the light entangled in the eyes of the children
He ploughs into the ground his wife's brown body
And the windmill above the borehole
And the borehole and the wind driving the windmill.
The farmer ploughs the blue clouds into the ground;
And as a tribute to the holocaust of the ploughshare -
To the sowing that was the parting of the Juggernaut -
The earth renders the farmer in due season

- Herman Charles Bosman 

The shock of not being able to work anymore, due to a stroke, and the frailty of illness and old age, hit my mother and my husband respectively very hard - both were people who had been hard-working, who grieved the loss of their capacities to do even menial chores. My husband's frailty loaded on me more than is usual, and taught me - 

Beautiful body

My fingertips -
from washing and rubbing -

rust in the whorls,
from scrubbing the pan, my back aches
from cleaning the floors,

my neck and shoulders are stiff
from sitting at the computer.
or maybe

from peeling and coring the apples;
my underarms sweaty and fragrant
from labour.

How beautiful
when your body
can work.

I think of my mother -
helpless after her stroke;
my husband so frail it's an effort to walk.

I shan't complain
about work, but give thanks
my body can.

- Silke Heiss 

Norman [Morrissey, my late husband] often quoted the following line from one of his favourite books and authors, and his passion for their meaning engraved itself into me -

"[They] came and went without fear of necessity, working hard because of the life that was in them, not for want of the money."

- from The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence

The great emphasis, with which Norman used to pronounce the phrase working hard because of the life that was in them leaps me straight to Maria Montessori's exploration of the human instinct to work - 

"The most important discovery is that a child returns to a normal state through work. Countless experiments made upon children of every race throughout the world have shown that this is the most certain datum that we have in the field of psychology and education. A child's desire to work represents a vital instinct since he cannot organise his personality without working: a man builds himself through working. There can be no substitute for work, neither affection nor physical well-being can replace it. [...] A child's instinct for work is a proof that work is instinctive to man and characteristic of the species."

- from The Instinct to Work in The Secret of Childhood  by Maria Montessori 

None of the above eulogies and thoughts about work concern themselves with forced labour, or with ugly struggles between "deviated men" (in Montessori's words) who have "lost the proper motives for work".

Just about every human has it in them to do something well. Each human has something to offer, which will help in however small a way to serve the whole. I never believed those who told me it's only about filling my stomach: they were trying to reduce my spirit to a machine.

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash