How do you mark your progress through a book? What sort of place-holders do you use? Any? Me, I use none. Purists would cringe at my page folding, spine bending, postcard/Post-it/cinema ticket inserting-cum-bookmarking skills; the kind of techniques solely reserved for guilt-free communion with (hopefully) musty pages. Hey, at least it’s not a big fat rasher of bacon…

Corner turning in a book is symbolic, a tantalising glimpse into self, and perhaps even the future. From The Bible to Harry Potter, and even Anthony Kiedis’ autobiography, the allure of dead certainties fly towards spine-tingling moments—not just because of the added resonance the physical act of paper provocation illicits, but because it always appears so relaxed and happy to be manipulated.

Books have to be read (worse luck it takes so long a time). It is the only way of discovering what they contain. A few savage tribes eat them, but reading is the only method of assimilation revealed to the West. EM Forster

Going off-piste with say 650 pages, enlivens what could easily become a dry curatorial exercise. Last summer I bought a paperback from a book stall in East Hampton and read it over the next few days. And then somehow the physical book itself vanished from my life. This week, with barely enough time for writing, my mind went back to the novel I had read which has gradually acquired talisman-like status. It doesn’t really matter what the book was called, what matters is that it represented the first thing a writer, somebody else, wanted to say about the world.

And while I too am contemplating what I want to say about the world (in print, no less), I feel I’m about to enter the time of the superlative. Literally and figuratively, I’m crawling into burrows and magical wardrobes, an almost unpredictable enchantment of the realist (not me) or the heavy hand of prophecy. Because much as I may enjoy them, such sparkly tales do not stand as any old myths stood. They demand nothing from me, except digging into satisfying that infantile desire I found in my childhood books, rather than any holy books I was forced to read.

Talking about holy books, the communion I feel with each page, is akin to evoking perfumed literary enchantment. Where once scents promised a ride on a magic carpet, now they can capture the olfactory experience of manhandling your overdue tome to a disappointed friend or librarian. Which is not to say that people should always give off the odor you expect them to…or do.


There’s nothing better than rubbing a chubby baby’s tummy, and I can’t seem to resist doing the same on a buzzed head. Charlize Theron looked epic in Mad Max: Fury Road. I wanted to shave my locks right there and then. There’s something about a shorn crown and how it’s really most conducive to a good rub. You learn the shape of someone’s head, the contours of their scalp. I think that’s pretty imperative.

It also epitomizes a freedom and not just from the obvious products. I think it’s akin to driving with the roof down whilst throwing your arms out the side of the car (at full speed no less), or diving head first into glittering seas, but mostly, it alludes to a sense of someone with free time. It expresses far more than the immediate message. It also says something like: ‘I’m a farmer, my chickens run around freely, and the eggs were probably laid today.’ And ain’t that evocative and grand.

Running my hands through my hair is a habit of mine when I have writer’s block or any block. If you see me with crazy-rumpled static you’ll know I’m mid-something or something like: ‘You’d be out of your mind to even think about what I’m thinking.’ Would I take the plunge? Probably not. What if I have a weird head shape? What if there’s a giant mole that I don’t know about? What if Mom­­ — no, Mom is definitely going to cry. I’m kinda joking, but let’s be honest, a woman’s hair is still very much attached to her value in our culture. Her femininity, her sexiness are too often tied up in the length of her hair.

Philip Guedalla once remarked: ‘I had always assumed that cliché was a suburb in Paris, until I discovered it was a street in Oxford.’ A clear indication that to provoke an immediate response to an authoritative visual, the cliché is essential. ‘Aesthetics is for the artist, like ornithology is for the birds,’ said Ben Shahn. Doesn’t it all come down to what moves you? Or what doesn’t? The Japanese don’t have a word for art. They use a word synonymous with function, purpose and aesthetics – geijutsu. But in essence, I think what Melvin Konner wrote in his The Tangled Wing shall add breadth to these burgeoning thoughts of mine:

‘Following a chimpanzee through a forest in Tanzania a monkey watcher saw it stop bedside a waterfall. Whether it was going to be there or incidentally passing is not clear but it was a stunning sight. At first the chimpanzee seemed lost in contemplation. Then it began jumping up and down, running around, calling out, and generally expressing enough excitement to merit an explanation. Although the chimpanzee could have had no practical interest in the waterfall it obviously held an interest, a curiosity, some kind of communication. Perhaps millions of years ago, in the infancy of the human spirit, something evoked a similar response from a very similar animal. Something that made it stop in its tracks overcome by a sense of wonder.’


source: Norman Rockwell/Detail of The Connoisseur, 1962/




Physis. Or qi. Or kundalini. Or eros. Or even latima (that’s what they call it in East Africa fyi. Lush isn’t it?). The energetic force that is awakened in anything that grows. The bulb that pushes its shoots magnificently through the earth to bloom. You remember when you were a kid fizzing with excitement and vitality because you felt completely loved and safe? It was because your very life force was growing.

I’ve often talked about viewing my younger self through the prism of my older self, my relationship with my parents let’s say, through to my own womanhood. Sometimes, it’s like a guitar band, more ruminative than of old, balanced out by something a little more imaginative. Could be self-flagellation or intriguing ambivalence. Sounds that shimmy in my head or maybe yours. “Thoughts,” said Sarah Lidell, “are the least silent things I know. They jostle and nudge and vie for position, single spies, battalions. Exploding bladderwrack, long linked lines of genetic information multi-tracked as a cream slice.”

The unexpectedly poignant remembrances of a first fruitful life always parlay into the second act (I’m in my 30’s now). Think of them as playing lasciviously on well-rubbed textures – lust, the thrill of the chase, deeper impressions, more candid, more vulnerable. In essence, spring will not be denied in our lives: the daffodils have opened and the cherries have magnanimously carpeted streets and gardens with their delicate petals. The beauty of this annual rebirth cannot fail to reawaken our initial (and might I say essential) yearnings to literal and non-literal sunshine and warmth.

I’m really thinking of the wondering gaze of Levin in Anna Karenina when he catches a blade of grass actually growing, gently tilting a decaying leaf to one side. This powerful motif circles me back to a chat with the man who inspired this blog post, who got me thinking about some first epic feelings and yearnings. It’s about how to make and remember those twinkles in our minds eye, those triumphs of imagination, the sheer cerebral acrobatics of it all. It’s how we keep sparkling. And I’m tingly just writing it.






I’m always ransoming one piece of jumped-up middlebrow shit for one highbrow masterpiece that’s probably lost forever, and one lowbrow experience from a place so doltish, so far down the evolutionary table, that only I and certain neanderthals with opposed thumbs can laugh at them. Kinda joking. The essence of life eh. We’re committed to adventure, to pleasure, to quality, to optimism, to seriousness, to good humor, and to the general raising of spirits – but distilled it would seem. After highbrow comes lowbrow, and thought provoking nuggets for the browser amongst us. Lengthier and more sustained? That’s weathered gravitas roaming free. Some things still come with a jolt across seas and continents; like unexpected subjects and a wealth of arcane information and unusual facts. My recent favorite? How to Make a Mermaid.

The term “highbrow” was popularized in 1902 by Will Irvin, a reporter for the New York newspaper The Sun, who “adhered to the phrenological notion of more intelligent people having high foreheads.” “Highbrow” spawned “lowbrow” and “middlebrow,” the last of these standing for something blandly conventional, lacking either refined distinction or raw energy. Something like: ‘I know people can change their lives. Look at Yusif Islam, or Sammy Davis Jnr., or Shirley Temple.’ Or. Cary Grant started out life as a a stilt-walker at Coney Island. Jackson Pollock was a lumberjack. And Bertrand Russell used to run a seafood stall outside a pub in Leytonstone. In short, give me the ends of the spectrum but, for G-d’s sake, spare me the soggy centre.

Have a read of ‘The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America’, Lawrence Levine’s unusually wide-ranging study, spanning more than a century and covering such diverse forms of expressive culture as Shakespeare, Central Park, symphonies, jazz, art museums, the Marx Brothers, opera, and vaudeville. You’ll see just how variable and dynamic cultural boundaries have been and how fragile and recent the cultural categories we have learned to accept as natural and eternal are. Oh, and you may want to remember this: Speed is imperative, and rumination is out. The brow that’s really in danger of disappearing is the furrowed one.


source: David Lynch Typographic Portrait by Peter Strain |


In one of my favorite books, The English Patient, the nurse tells how her father would take his dog’s paw in his hand and sniff, as if it was a bouquet. It revealed, he expounded, “the aromas of a garden, a field of grasses, a walk through cyclamen—a concentration of hints of all the paths the animal had taken during the day.”

I’ve been studying aromatherapy, playing with sensations, the recall of a fragrance to me that you can’t experience, or “hallucinogenic perfumery”, as Diane Ackerman called it in her opus, A Natural History of the Senses. But for myself, distant memories are less refined. Like summers on the beach in Cape Town sucking granadilla lollies tinged with sand, the pungent aroma of asphalt and sunshine, my first trip to The Bush, oh, and the proximity of the warm velvet night high on elementary things. Now that my friends is the scent I’d like to bottle into luminous bubbles.

So you know that the majority of our sense receptors are in our eyes, which makes smell even more damn magical. Sight so dominates our intellectual practices that we construct mazes so we can see what is possible, what is happening. Synaesthetes inhabit our fragile bodies, feeling shapes, smelling noises, seeing flavors, and hearing colors. It’s a subject I’ve only started delving into, and I’m absolutely enthralled. Can you imagine having colored hearing? Thinking that kisses evoke thoughts of orange sherbet, and maintaining that apples taste blue. Sensual responses that are mighty unpredictable, like when I try and convince myself that writing is like trying to paint emerald green leaves and sky-blue flowers over crossed t’s and dotted i’s.

I’ll liken these revelations to something private that seems to be disconcertingly public and ubiquitous. The world talks about smell in a way that’s insatiably consuming entertainment, the way in which it permeates our soul like a strange and striking hymn to culture.

All smells worth their salt beg to be remade and reinterpreted, to be animated and then “see what happens.” Because in our heads, we are all film directors or novelists, imagining lifetimes inside odors, telling ourselves the stories incited by the pictures they illicit.

Fragrance makes those imaginative encounters luridly visible to me. Pulses of bass like fingers on skin, a rhythm that gradually bends you to its own syncopation. I think of fragrance as a her, and she’s got me hooked for life.


source: Marcel Christ/plenty of colour




There comes a time when, more than anything else in your entire life, you want to kiss a certain someone for the first time. And that moment scratches a line across your life path, dividing it into the time before you kissed them and the time after you kissed.

One of my favourite historical accounts of kissing comes from the 1864 book Savage Africa. The British explorer William Winwood Reade described falling in love with the beautiful daughter of an African king. After pursuing her for many months, he dared to steal a kiss. Unfortunately things didn’t go so well. The girl, having never encountered this before, screamed before running away in tears. Only later did Reade find out that this princess had interpreted his kiss as an intention to eat her.

There’s a lot riding on a kiss. When it works, it shatters the habitual, making us forget the trivial things that permeate everyday life—intoxicating elixirs that make every act that follows much more meaningful, much more intimate

Who hasn’t been stirred up by a kiss? Writing about it can be scary, in that we must be as vulnerable on the page as we are in person when revealing ourselves to someone.

“Two spirits, greeting, trying to carry it further.”

What a kiss is depends on where you are in relation to it. I think sameness is easy. It’s difference that’s the real challenge. I think we can all be brash and bold one minute, vulnerable and introspective the next. What makes us compelling? Perhaps the belief that free from the tawdry will of an individual, lips can convey real truth. There is a moment of unusual vigour and clarity before that moment of poetry, and writing, for me anyway, can get down to the embers of that emotion.

I was listening to a song today, all shivering strings and chords that crystallize the perfect moment in a relationship—the one before you learn each other’s name, the one before you’ve kissed. It’s nature’s ultimate litmus test, nudging us towards craving, desire and genetics. Kisses come in many varieties and are inherently tied to the most meaningful and significant moments of our lives by providing a means to communicate beyond what words can convey. And that’s why I love them so much. For this writer, it’s nice to completely and utterly get out the way of my head, and down into my lips.


source: Sadamasa Motonaga






The words “lust for life” are keen, heart-fluttering and mysterious. They give me permission to be me, which has influenced everything in my life: You can get your hands dirty, make mistakes and embrace them. In the context of a thought, they bring something unconventional, bold, playful, thought-provoking, raw and engaging while maintaining an unlabored feel. It’s like the artist armed with just a paint stick—life-affirming. They remind me I am a human being and to be a human being, to be instinctive, with just primitive tools, I can make/do joyful AND fulfilling work.

What images come to your mind when you think of lust? Erotically charged dialogues of desire, teasing out body shapes, overwhelmingly powerful pheromone-enahnced preoccupations? Such imaginings signify the distance between our private and public spaces, grown to such an extent that almost every gesture implies a political declaration of sorts.

According to science, lust is all about the survival of our DNA. It’s not about long-term compatibility, rather about “happily ever after”. There are images that gain a certain exotic charm and humour because they focus on the discrepancies, on the extreme tensions within society; variety, nuance, more than anything else, the extraordinariness of what goes by the title of ordinary life. Which brings me to photographs: what makes them unsettling and even subversive is that neither the camera nor the subjects attempts to make a statement; oblivious of the monitoring eye of the beholder, the people in photographs are caught in the business of everyday life, in the miracle of living.

Now that I really live in America, (it’s taken over two years to feel like I’m not playing) the fact that no matter what the cultural differences, people fall in and out of love, enjoy a beautiful view, care for their dogs, are entertained by seemingly mundane life, use mobiles, are traditional, or are not. It is a strange and sad world that forgets this shared humanity, in a sense denying life at its most basic and possibly most sacred. In reality, the rich thoughts inspired by us go beyond pleasure, let alone “lust”—think of those who linger over broken stones or bold ideas that open metaphorical doors.

I think I’m realizing my mind can, and will, wander in nooks and crannies of lost ages—and ages to come.





God’s first recorded words, according to the Hebrew Bible, were: “Let there be light.” Electricity’s triumph over the night is downright beautiful—one of the sights that can stop my heart is the red wrapper of brake lights that turns a road into a lava flow.

Once upon a time, a girl set set out to make her own light. Not a metaphorical idea mind about sleigh bells and miracles, but an actual string of fairy lights (note the fairy). Was there ever something so sweet sounding, something so loved (unless you’re a condemner, hate bedecking or take out your repressed rage on LED’s) as twinkling rainbows of illumination. They always feel more emotionally “real” than my homesick sentimentality of white Christmas; an unreal fantasy of Disney circa 1940s but dreamed up in the 1980s of my infancy.

You see, it’s getting dark. The rain is lashing the windows as I write, and it’s still five months until spring. Fairy lights are my glorious mood elevators, especially in the following settings: around doorways; winding their way up wooden bannisters; laid as scribbles of light on stone floors. Every surface I love can really become a canvas, overrun by their riotous color.

I never grew out of my first attempt at electrics, not even when Steve, a builder who often worked at our house told me to ” take it easy luv—you’re gonna electrocute your mum.” Giddy consumption be celebrated mate!

The history of this chemistry is full of persistent people like me and my fairy light making. They named the perceptible substances, which they then changed (”chemistry” comes via ”alchemy” from the Arabic for the art of changing one thing into another) by dissolving or pulverizing or blowing up. And then they wrote about it. See!

The cityscape of my birth, the cityscape of my current abode; both become jeweled fairgrounds amidst the oblique granite high-rises dancing in the skies this time of year. Sometimes they seem wistful, other times like natural illuminations between solar winds and the Earth’s magnetic field that physically take your breath away and make you think absolutely anything is possible. Except in folklore of old. They were harbingers of war, disaster and misery, those northern lights: “Great pestilence and disaster will befall anyone unlucky enough to see them.” Lucky I haven’t yet.

But then Galileo theorized that the lights he witnessed in the sky were caused by sunlight reflecting from the atmosphere. He called them the aurora borealis, named after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning (now we’re getting somewhere). NASA says the best way to guarantee a view of this phenomenon is to be in space, preferably in a vessel with some kind of oxygen supply and a clear view down to the planet below. I say Canada, Scandinavia or Alaska will be more feasible.

It’s human to want light and warmth. Our pagan ancestors had a calendar of fire festivals. I want to hold that intimacy for as long as I can possibly can. Fairy lights are my literal and figurative winter stars—the one kind of seduction I can never resist.

I reckon you can get high on electric light—alchemical sun’s radiating outwards and most importantly, inwards. I sometimes take up some resinous incense and burn it on my roof, even in the freezing cold. Some folk think I’m a bit bonkers, but with the lights of the city, I’m where I like to be in my mind—which is a spark in the dark without being melancholy, brooding without being depressed—my own private lightship.

Food, fire, dreams, cold, sleep, love, time, all these things, which are not really things are they, but grand moments of life, take on a different quality with twinkling shimmer, luminous candescence, resplendent scintillating light—every bit of it, in its change and its difference, is the here and now of what we have.

source: emilie moran