6 08 2006

I think I have always worn one badge. I think I knew about it in a previous life. The badge is yellow, sewn onto my sleeve, it tells everyone I am a Jew. This is the badge my grandparents must have worn before they went to their deaths in the gaschambers.

I have other badges as well. Fatty. I was a fat little girl. I am not a fat woman, but I still feel bulky, uncomfortable in my skin unless I am suffering hunger pangs. Spotty. I had dreadful acne as a teenager and watched my poor son struggle for many years with the same condition until, miracle of miracles, it cleared up – just as mine had done at the same age.

I was a “swot” because I loved reading, a “snob” because I loved classical music and wanted to be a classical musician. I was “naughty” because I never did what my parents wanted, and “wicked”, as I chose my own destiny and turned my back on their values and religion. I was “useless” at art and needlecrafts because I could not fulfill the expectations of my school teachers. Ironically, my other passions in life after literature and music have been art and needlecrafts. Ironically?? Who were they to pass judgement on me – those teachers so long ago, who failed to see me, to recognise me? And yet they did so, making me nervous of my own abilities for many years.
Other badges. Disowned after my parents refused to see me after my marriage. Mother. Wife. Pianist and Teacher. Woman with RSD. Widow. And now Remarried Widow – its alright for her, she;s okay now, all her troubles are behind her.

It seems that badges and labels follow us forever. I want to choose my own from now on. I should pin them on and be damned. My badges will say Dreamer, Artist,Woman against Housework, Reader, Freethinker. I still wear the badges of mother and wife and also Glyn’s Widow but I wear those with pride.


Badges and Labels

6 08 2006

Labels? Badges? My God, for so long I was forced to wear them. They are all stuffed in this old box here – the faces are scratched now, the pins rusty, and some are spotted with blood where they dug in and hurt so much…

This one is the oldest. DIRTY TINKER it says – there’s lot of luggage attached to this badge. When this was first pinned on me, I was bewildered. Dirty? But I was cleaner than the kids who threw it at me. My mother never let me go out without my hair brushed and clean clothes. Tinker? I was a traveller – no one in my family mended pots and pans, except for themselves. Didn’t these folk know the difference? But there it was, hanging stubbornly off me, even into my teens and early twenties. By then I had learned to laugh about it, but the damn thing still wouldn’t come off.

See this one? DREAMER, it says. You might think it’s a compliment now, but it wasn’t when it was first pinned on, not onto my clothes, but into my skin. I dreamed about all the wrong things, you see – I should have been dreaming of marriage to a `suitable’ man, being obedient and biddable all my life – instead of these crazy dreams about being free, being an artist, choosing my own destiny. I was berated for being “off in a daydream” several times a day, listening to the stories in my head and watching the changing landscape instead of attending to the `important’ things. Every time I was reminded that my dreams were not acceptable in a girl, someone would push that pin right into the bone to make sure I understood. “Dreamer!

BOLSHIE. Actually I like this one, it is still bright red as blood. They hung this one on me in the sixties because I dared to muse aloud on the possibilities of lives lived in peace and freedom. Hell, we believed that stuff then! I was called bolshie not just for my politics but for everything I said or did that seemed `out of step’ or not quite `proper’ – like preferring a ploughman’s lunch at a country pub to dinner in a swanky restaurant. This one left a few scars but I will still wear it, if I have to. Old bolshies never die.

ILLITERATE. This one was pinned right next to the DIRTY TINKER. True, I only ever walked through school gates twice in my life, but I learned to read and write, took correspondence lessons, filled exercise books with boring math, and learned something every day of my life, whether it was on the education curriculum or not. It was the first thing people saw, the label they judged me on time and again. “Can I help, dear? That says flour,” as I debated weights and prices – “You couldn’t read Shakespeare, you don’t even know what a book is.” How this damned heavy label weighed me down. I learned never to say I wanted to be a writer – the reaction would be derision. I mostly kept my writing hidden – the reaction was condescending amazement, as if I were a circus pony trained to count.

Oh the labels – who would have thought they could still prick at me, even after all this time. I shake them up in their box now, rattle them like old bones, and know this is the last time I look at them. No more labels for me. No, I will have balloons, bright candy coloured balloons, with words like FREEDOM, CREATIVITY and LAUGH on them and I will let them go to float high in the clouds. I’ve pinned the dreamer label to one of them. Let it fly.

That’ll show `em!

Earth Honour Roll – Baba’s House

5 08 2006

Bugs, beetles and gnats surrounded the house and the darkness was pitch coloured, like Baba’s hair.  Belenus and I were peering through the glowing window, like we had when we were small.  It was quiet, and she was stirring her cauldron, singing a melancholy tune about things that were falsely labelled.  Her shelves were full of old jars and tins, and every now and then her wise eyes moved from her attention to the boiling cauldron, to the false labels on the shelf items.  “It never works,” we heard her say under her breath, lamenting in a fine howl “…the parade never stops.  The novelty never stops, the hurrying never stops.  Did I breed a child to make it wild, a world child running amok.”  And suddenly then, she cocked her head, instinct driven as she was, we knew she had sensed us at the window.  “You better own up and say we’re back,” I said to Belenus.  “Why me?  And face her wrath?  You do it, all your talk of circles and seeing things anew.”  Piercing him with my eyes in the darkness, I said, “How would you feel if every word you ever said went unheeded?  You don’t know about that because you are always at one with society.  And people say yes to you, but no to her.  If the situation were reversed, you would be feeling just like that.”  Belenus looked shocked, and shuffled his small hoofs in the dirt.

Baba’s voice called to us, a low dissatisfied query, to show ourselves or risk being eaten by her ill mood, and the creatures in the shadows.  Baba never liked folks messing around, you had to be to the point, and know why you were there.  I felt a bit sad for Belenus, and his pain hurt me, so I decided to move into the house and declare our presence there.  We sat in lame retreat on two wooden stools near a roaring fire.  Baba’s eyes glowed and speared us, not unkindly.  Belenus was shaking a little, and I sighed. 

“We haven’t been able to do what you asked,” I said, making a gesture of impotence with my hands.  “…er…and very little has come to pass.”  Baba sighed, and said:  “What do you mean?  Since you last came you are grown, indeed, much has come to pass.”  In her shelves there was a tiny globe of the world, lit up, suddenly growing larger, and she put down her stirring spoon and reached for the globe, placing it on the table before us.  She eyed the string that accompanied us, wrapped around my hand securely and Belenus’ left hoof, and smiled:  “I see also your navigating methods have changed, also, improved.  But you are still impatient, which is your greatest fault.”  “Blame him,” I said, in a knee jerk reaction, “He is the one who wants things done yesterday and wants to know everything without feeling it.”  Belenus looked crushed.  Baba ignored us, and bade us look at the globe, and spun it in her strong, earth/seed/root-like hands. 

“So many rushing, so many lights burning, but not many in the bodies I see rushing to and fro, too fast to read my signposts, my labels, my directions.  My jars and tins are labelled differently to those in the world, and I was gifted some, for research, as you can see.  Last visitor brought them, there have been many come lately, to be certain.”  I read them, and Belenus did so eagerly, saying the names aloud, “Win now,” “Grow thin”, “Eat this”, “Do this”, “Don’t think”, and “Do that without thinking, and you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams”.  Baba made a face.  That last one was a long one, but Belenus could see it was on dozens of cans.  And as he read them out, his voice became quieter and quieter.  Then he remembered reading something about the Grail, and how its wisdom was paraded before the seeking knight hundreds of times before he became wise.  “So people are looking at the wrong labels after all.  And they sound good, indeed, there is nothing unsound about the words, except a certain lack of something.  A lack of substance.”

“Well done,” said Baba. “Will you both give me your labels of impatience and I will give you a little fire, to stir up your better memory?”  The fire roared suddenly, and we realised compared to it, ours had been all stifled by rules and labels, sticky notes and being called wrong names.  I looked at the shelf of earthly jars and tins, and noticed one labelled ubiquitously “Spam”.  This has become one of the most widely known labels, and everyone knew what it meant, whether it was for their greater good or not, I could not say.  And it actually really didn’t mean anything.  “Yes, yes of course we will,” we both said, our eyes being mesmerised, made heavy by the spinning globe.  She picked up our gifts and held them to the fire light, well pleased by those, but wasn’t very happy about how she had been drawn in the book of fairy tales, but said she would overlook it, as we weren’t the artists that drew them.  Belenus looked relieved.

“Sleep now, but mind, surrender those labels to the fire.  Both of you, curl up by the fire and sleep…just while I tend the cauldron of change, stir things up a little.”  We hesitantly did as asked, and nodded into a strange, but restful sleep as the smoke drifted out of the chimney, and into the dark night. 

(copyright Imogen Crest 2006.)

No One’s Name

5 08 2006

A badge? A label? What’s in a name?–Can she only know me by what I am called?

Does she need my words to lay me close at hand?

Holding me fast, not letting me move?

What kind of goddess then is she?

Is it perhaps that she is

Part human, part divine,

And so still needs language to anchor

Her being, while the earth embraces her bones,

Even while her spirit soars free?

Well then, will she do the same for me?

Words and meaning; body and soul–

Let’s away and seek a word or two

That might not mind lending voice

To a one such as I—

A one who is no one and everyone;

A one who longs to see the red moon

Hovering over a dark horizon;

A star gazing truth seeker,

Who flies away like a

Crazy countess of the dark wilds;

A moon loving rebel who

Dreams of her black night lover;

A white witch goddess —

A Soul Sister.

Then she must listen and heed

And hear all my names

For I cannot answer to only one

Being neither one nor many,

But both.

Collecting and Wearing Badges – For Baba

4 08 2006


A young medical student writes, saying that “It goes without saying that we should be smartly dressed (in a white coat where appropriate) and have a prominent identification badge, but the real way that we distinguish ourselves as students is by taking the time to correctly identify and introduce ourselves to the patient concerned. Having given a reason why we are requesting their participation (as part of our ongoing learning), we then ask their permission to take a history and examine them, as medical students.

In my experience many doctors still choose to wear their white coat (the “classic trademark” of a medical student). In hospital we wear our stethoscopes around our necks because the pockets of our white coats are crammed full with textbooks and note pads, not because we want to be indistinguishable from doctors. Lets get real, the stethoscope is a medical instrument and not a badge of honour for doctors. Let your communication skills do the talking and not an obscure and arcane system related to the display (or not) of the symbols of our profession.

What badges of honour will you wear in order to help introduce yourself to Baba?