The Art of Extraordinary Writing appreciates this contribution by Jane Castellanos. Jane was a teacher, intuitive, traveller, currently living in Devon, seeking to reconnect.
I don’t have a desk, but I do have a room. The windows are plastic, not allowing for squirrel or bird feeders to be attached. It is forbidden to throw things out of the window. So I do at night for the birds. I’m on the second floor corner flat. The room is light and clean. The view over a rather tacky back street allows the rising sun to reach me over the roof-tops. Daisies have implanted themselves across the way in the guttering and gulls are raising their numerous, raucous families sheltered by chimneys at my eye level.
What means most to me here? It’s difficult to say with so many precious things around me. I have chosen first a small foot- high driftwood chest of drawers that I couldn’t walk away from at a Penzance street market many moons ago. It stands on the window ledge. The sea-bleached pine is soft to touch, smooth of line and has no jagged edges. Swept by tides on deep turbulent seas and lulled by sparkling clear days off the Cornish coast, then racked onto rocks by a wild storm, stained by oily scum and entangled in mulchy brown seaweed, the plank was rescued from its maritime adventure and fashioned by a quiet man who regularly scoured his local strand and welcomed wintry frequencies. I can feel his presence in the wood.
Now tamed, three small drawers hold essential things you must not lose; a few euros for next time, ear-plugs to drown out parental sea-gull shrieks at night, charcoal saucers on which to burn aromatic resins, candle stubs, a key to – what was that for?, instructions for appliances now defunct, two slides of beloved Spanish dogs when pups, named Longlegs and Shorts. How I wish they were snoozing alongside. A few seed heads of poppies are still there and lavender plucked from suburban gardens during summer walks. Things we cannot do without. That chest of drawers accompanied me to the St. Ives beach hut when I had discarded all belongings too bulky to fit into my red Parcelforce van, my new adventurous home after the children left home. It accompanied me through the Pyrenees, down to a fresh life in Andalucía and back again. As the drifted wood contains brine from the ocean, so are my memories locked inside.
Look along from the window ledge to the golden corner. There, propped up on a night-storage heater disguised as an altar clothed in sunny yellow Indian cloth appliqued with brown birds and mules, rests my Paiste healing gong. It is retired and unemployed. The beautiful tones, along with my singing bowls and drums would shock the other residents of this too thin-walled apartment block where I can hear every spit and gargle. But little does it know that as I gather strength and resolution, soon – and I mean right soonish-now, its 26” burnished splendour will sound out and vibrate as it once did when my life was wonderful.
I was drawn to the Neptune symbol of a black arrow piercing a supine crescent moon drawn in the centre. This gong resonates with the ‘A’ of that planet to which it is meticulously tuned. Neptune, king of the sea, king of deep emotions, artistry and ironically of illusion. Since acquiring this magical friend I have been immersed both darkly and lightly in all these elements. I am emerging from the dark. Be careful what you wish for, they do say, but in my new regained honesty I think it is all for our learning. We cannot escape. We kid ourselves to consider otherwise. Now is the time for cosmic harmony , a harmonious resonance bringing that crafted gong together with its player back into its own. It can’t stay idle long, nine years too long.
In Spain it played in the weekly farmers’ market, gonging the sellers of cheap sunglasses, brussel sprouts and garden nick-knacks and sounding an ‘om’ at the end of a card reading. ‘Give us a gonging, love.’
I recall Andalucian visitors coming out of curiosity. My ancient-minded neighbours at the finca holding a gong-stick each, tenderly struck the past-midnight face of the gong reflecting the bonfire we had ignited under the stars sharing a bottle. Dogs in the shadows. ‘A gong is a marvellous thing’ uttered Remedio, shiny-eyed before she and Juan tottered off to bed. He ‘Old woman hold my hand. I don’t trust not even one of the hairs on your head in the darkness.’
Towards the end of my stay, a quarrelling, fractious musical family, free spirit friends, ostensibly arrived to assist my move back to England. They were really desperate, unable to find a house they could afford or work, or school. They burst out of their too small, boiling car stuffed with children to share a meal, spend the night and fall asleep in a quilted row soothed by a gongster lullaby, after we had dedicated the playing to their new imagined home. The gong angel heard and granted their request.
Another hot sweaty midday a team of women in adult education who I met in Periana main street practicing the art of cobbling and tiling came shyly with their children to be gonged. They were awakening to astrology, to their own decision-making, to passing driving tests, gaining diplomas, finding jobs down in Malaga and no longer being trapped into providing the midday meal for all the family. Sandwiches thenceforth for the men. I was touched by their trust as a sister. The gong was an advertisement for change, a shattering of obstacles. Now my slightly tarnished gong is itching and tingling to once more send colours, vibrations, sounds streaming out to the stars as it rests near the window.
My third object also is reclining. This brown, soft, long-haired sheepskin is healthy and vital despite having lost connection with his host. I feel it’s a ‘he’. His shammy backing is strong and pliable, good quality and when first I bought him in Totnes (the U.K.’s answer to alternative living) we sat close on the sofa and I stroked his chocolate-coloured fur, most proximate to a living animal – No Pets Allowed. He reminds me of many happy afternoons spent chasing escaped sheep with my neighbours in Cornwall down lanes and across boundaries, Cornish hedges somewhat lacking impermeability.
He also takes my mind to the itinerant sheep of Periana. When the shepherd snoozing under the communal walnut tree outside my hacienda ordered his dog to send them homewards, I never quite dared open barn-like front doors and watch the rabble streaming into my traditional living room over the cobbles, designed for oxen’ hooves and pigs’ trotters and out the back, baaing, scrabbling and careering down the mountain. There was an invisible energy line causing everything human or non-human to enter, despite placing a huge crystalline rock from the quarry to deflect desires. One summer siesta time I did entertain a belled and collared ram who pushed through the bead curtain and stayed an hour or two, ramming around the kitchen, chasing and head butting Furz my Siamese cat friend throughout the downstairs, sniffing, inspecting and urinating till he tired of our company.
These are my three.
What has brought these elements together? My guardians, destiny, me. I have. My longing for fulfilment. They join for me past, present, timelessness – essence of sea, sound, memory, connection to the stars and harmony, the world of people, plants and animals and hope.