Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Turning of New Leaves

Sometimes Facebook will throw up unexpected responses to things. A few days ago I was tidying (starting to tidy) my desk and surrounds, which have been--well let us say 'impeded'--by piles of detritus for a long while now. (Yes--I know the theory of Feng Shui and the blocked mind/creativity echoing the 'blocked' surroundings, and agree with it. That's why I started tidying.) I announced this development, and asked, in a throwaway line, 'Is this the sound of a new leaf turning?'. I wasn't really expecting replies--but I got them anyway, ranging from the mildly impertinent (yes, you know who you are) to the frankly existential. So, lovely Bookwitch and Stroppy Author I shall endeavour to answer the questions you asked me--it's an intellectual exercise of sorts, I suppose.

Firstly, asked the Witch, what kind of leaf is a new leaf as far as a tidying author is concerned? Is it the leaf of a tree (perhaps the kind of tree George Berkeley was thinking of for his theory of Subjective Idealism)? Or is it the paper leaf of a book? The former has always been in my mind's eye when thinking of the turning over of new leaves. If you've ever spent time watching and being with trees (as I have, often), it is clear that tree leaves both new and old are sensitive to circumstance of season, wind and weather. The willows I can see from my desk become more silver than grey when rain threatens. It's because the humidity in the air causes them to show their undersides more--to turn, in effect--and show a different face to the world. And of course, right now, at the beginning of autumn, the once new leaves are turning in another way, putting on a last brilliant burst of colour before they fall, making way for a new crop of green to turn up in the spring.

But as an author, I think that in this case I must abandon the tree leaves in their growing form and turn to the leaves which are made from their dead carcasses--the paper leaves my work is printed and written on. There is almost nothing so satisfying as a clean page, in my opinion. Nor anything so scary. To open a new notebook and start the notes for a fresh project is both pleasure and pain--the former because the start of a new book, the brimming over of ideas, the excitement is always a good place to be in, the latter because you know just how far there is to go before the last word is written. But before that even happens, for me at least, I have to have a tidy space around me--a metaphorical, yet satisfyingly physical new leaf turning-over (and placing into files) before the real work of writing starts. So, Witch, I hope that answers your question.

As for the Stroppy Author's question--that's much more complicated. She wanted to know what exactly IS the sound of a new leaf turning, and asked whether, perhaps, it was silent. Well, that's a much more philosophical kind of query--one I am perhaps not entirely qualified to answer. But I shall do my best.

The RHS at Hadlow Carr has just held an exhibition of what trees sound like from the inside. The rising sap, the wind in the branches, the roots moving through the earth. No, then, trees are in no way silent, and neither are their leaves, even on a still day. The smallest and slowest leaf turning on the calmest of days will still cause a small shift in the air for those with ears to hear. So no silence there.

The turning of page leaves can be quiet, certainly (unless you are that annoying thing, a serial page riffler and rustler)--but not silent, even in the hushed environs of a library. Even the sound of the newest of new clean pages has a small physical sound when turned over.

But what of those metaphorical new leaves I was talking about in my original status update? What do they sound like? For me, at the end of a bout of righteous tidying, they sound like bright trumpets summoning me to a feast of words, like a rushing, satisfying outpouring torrent of ideas, like the delicate, fragile bell-note of creation itself.


Stroppy Author said...

I'm delighted to hear your leaves make a happy, productive, trumpeting sound, Lucy :-) And fascinated by that exhibition of the sounds of trees from the inside. (Aside: I took Small Bint to Muir Woods and she listened to a talk by a forester who was talking about 'the trout in the streams'. Later I found her with her ear against a tree and asked what she was doing - 'listening for the trout in the trees', she said.)

Lucy Coats said...

OH! I LOVE the idea of 'trout in the trees', swimming in the sap, perhaps. Well, done SB, of such things are poems made.

Anonymous said...

I shall have to be more careful what I say in future, or someone will write a dissertation based on cheeky Facebook comments.

Well done with your leaves, Lucy.

Lucy's leaf ... hm, nice sound...

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

This was a wonderful post Lucy... very poetic. Had me transfixed. A mute boy in one of my novels says (in his head of course): If I put my ear against the trunk of a tree, I hear the tree talking to me. I hear it like my own blood. I hear it breathing too. Some trees are tired. Especially the really big ones. Their sap flows so slowly. So tired they sigh. Others are young and strong. They make so much noise. You can hear the leaves growing inside their branches.
And under my feet the earth talks as well. It tells me its secrets... where a caterpillar is hiding, tied up in its nest of silk. It tells me where the spider has laid her eggs. And where the ants are going.
I suppose we shouldn't quote our own work but there was just this sudden connection. Enjoying your posts very much.Loved the one on A's.

Lucy Coats said...

A dissertation on cheeky FB comments--oh Witch, if only I had time to do such a thing!

And Dianne--that is a most beautiful piece of writing. Which of your books does it come from--I should like to read it.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Fish Notes and Star Songs. I'll dig out a copy for you! x

kanishk said...

OH! I LOVE the idea of 'trout in the trees', swimming in the sap
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