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  • Writer's pictureBen Ponton

The Archipelago of the Microspheres | Michael Begg - 3: Place

In the third of six micro-essays from the lockdown summer of 2020, Call Centre correspondent Michael Begg rediscovers the viscosity of the historic silence that was there before the people.

photo: Michael Begg

I don’t miss the world, but I have become more sensitised to the moment at hand. It occupies me. And when it is not directly occupying me it seems to serve as a sure foundation from which my mind can wander. And in that wandering I can and do return to the world in a voluptuous manner. I’ll get to that.

Round about the same time as I became aware of time becoming less predictable, a handful of things fell into alignment. The weather improved and consequently I went out to the garden a lot more often.

The sky cleared.

To understand that you have to appreciate the unfortunate side effects of living in rural East Lothian. This is a desirable place to live, particularly for Edinburgh’s middle class who begin gingerly slipping into fantasies of a better life by basing themselves out here, acquiring big chunky cars and a selection of bicycles and SUPs, a share in a horse, wax jacket, robust shoes and a gilet.

At the first break in the weather the leisure pursuits begin, and the sky quickly fills with the waspish buzz of microlights, offset at the weekend by the less exclusive activity of motorcycle racing. This statically fizzing drone tends to be counterpointed by occasional light aircraft, and the periodic supersonic hush of bicycle tyres as locally formed pelotons come streaking through the village. A seemingly exclusively male, exclusively middle class, exclusively white pursuit. It is a curious trick of geography that the spectacle, when viewed in France, raises a smile and a shout of “Allez!” yet when viewed in East Lothian it just makes you want to scream, “Bunch of wanks!”

Anyway, that is a digression within a digression removing me from the main point being that the sky cleared - and by the sky I meant the air. The soundscape cleared and the region recovered much of the viscosity of its historic silence - a pleasurable medium in which to live and work, if your work is concerned with the fringes of silence, and interior investigations.

Saying this, it was inevitable, then, that this period should have brought me to resuming my old pursuit of meditation. Tuned, with increasing sensitivity, to the moment at hand, and to the compulsion to capture evidence of this moment, I undertake two 20 minute meditation sessions. One in the morning and one late in the evening. Previously, the habit – for that is what it is, a habit that over time begins to border on addiction – has directly impacted on my work. But this has happened in a way that I could not appreciate and describe until after the event when the work was finished, and my habit was broken. I now at least have the insight to know that there is a beautifully toxic combination of a mental discipline and an accommodating, supportive environment devoid of social anxiety and noise pollution. I get the real sense that I am suspended within a medium, and that the medium is my own work… and it is a luxury.

I enjoyed this period of mental liberty. But, as the first tremors of recovery begin to assert themselves:

  • A microlight was in the sky this morning

  • Work begins across the road on building a house. Caution, this vehicle is reversing. Drills. Hammers. The yelling banter of the trades.

  • I am just nipping out to the unessential shops. is there anything you don’t need?

  • Your son may be required to wear shoes soon, and look at how his feet have grown.

  • I don’t know why neighbours might have associated strimming lawns and hedges with the risk of viral transmission – but they are back at it with gusto now that they feel safe.

The sky is a ruin. I am again a marginal figure, with all the attendant anxieties that brings about.

But no.

Keep counting your breaths. Keep turning your meaningless little phrase. The moment at hand asserts itself again. May it never be lost this time. The foothills of old age present a new appreciation of memory, and of place – and it is deeply curious that this should occur at this particular time when the outside world is largely denied us. There is a richness that is growing around memory, and a sense of any regret slipping away to leave only warmth and gratitude. And here, from my garden, as I stare at each plant in turn, and here, in my studio, as I sit still and breath, I am visited by frozen flashes of locations from the past that spill onto my consciousness and inform this moment at hand. Like the images of place, there also arise sparks of insight, flashes of clarity. While the x axis is reduced to a kind of temporal rubble, the y axis just keeps sinking deeper and deeper into deeper pleasures. It’s like fucking catnip down here.

Let’s return to the garden. Each day in this small, small location I stare at a detail and record it in ink and pigment. Not good artworks by any means, but evidence of time spent looking. The process is more than a month long. Where I sat to paint the May tulips, there are no longer tulips. But I remember them clearly. I look out at the garden and it is vibrant and clear in a way that is quite new. This is entirely due to the discipline involved in training the eye. It is vibrant and clear, and I see the plants clearly and individually, but no less part of the mass. And there are ghosts. I have involved and implicated myself in the memory of this location. I sense its past clearly in the moment at hand as I draw the new arrivals that have grown over the ghosts of May tulips. Our moment at hand may be frozen, but this garden undergoes revolutionary change on a daily basis. And like all revolutions, you have to watch closely to see how and where it is happening. Only your record of the event will prove it was ever otherwise. A Flower a Day


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