Sunday, December 31, 2006

DIARY No 19 - LOST IN TRANSITION

Periods of transition are frequently difficult to manage. One thing is in the process of passing, whilst another begins to emerge. Letting go, when it’s not yet clear what form the future will take, is not easy. 2006 appears to have been a year of transition. Stepping out from the supportive conditions of a Buddhist Right Livelihood Business and finding work in the harsher, less forgiving light of the secular world. Regular readers of this blog, and most of all my friends in the Dharma, have heard, read or seen what this process has been like for me. Often I experienced an inner conflict, as aspiration and desire for creative freedom, vied with financial anxiety and a need for security. I think, in the end, the latter has won the day, for now at least. My writing and painting have become concentrated evening and weekend activities.

So, as we are on the cusp of 2007, I am tentatively looking forward to whatever may be in store. I’ve been working Full Time at the Crematorium a little over a month. The increased money is very welcome. My work is taking on a consistency and engagement not present when I worked Part Time. I’m learning new things, like how to master the new computer based music system in the Chapels, and how to burn dead bodies effectively. It seems odd when I return home and David asks me what I did today. If I replied literally,’ I burned six pensioners in their sixties, seventies and eighties, two middle aged people, one male, one female, plus a non viable foetus, and cleaned and hovered the chapels, I think that might be unwelcome. Yet, this is what I do most days. If you had asked me this time last year what I’d be doing by 2007, this is not what I would have envisaged at all.

When aspirations hit the fan of reality, one has to be prepared to revise expectations and learn to live each day as it comes. Obviously, there is a personal practice in what I now do for a living. Largely it is in the realm of doing what seems appropriate, sometimes guarding the gates of the senses, at other times making sure I stay in touch with my feelings. My body, as always, remains the best indicator. Back pain and sleep patterns become unpredictable, when I’m not conscious enough of my responses. Occasionally, I do detect horrified anxiety, in amongst my usual day-to-day worry and flurry. This is particularly so if I’ve had a few days working in the Cremation Room. Observing the state of a burning cadaver moving from decaying flesh and bone towards ash, raking out what’s left and placing in a plastic urn or wooden casket, is not an insignificant event and does have an effect. It can alienate you from your feelings, or when you find your forehead frowned in deep furrows, the nature of your responses is all too apparent, it’s in your face. Levels of black, or mordant humour have to be monitored, they’re good indicators of suppressed feelings. Most of the time my feelings appear just neutral, or at least a trifled numbed. Anyway, I digress.

Next year I have a few things to consider. How quickly it will be possible to sort out my bank loan etc. Watch what effect having a decent income has, and not raising my expenditure to match it. Focus on writing and painting as much as I can. David and I need to seriously think about getting a bit bigger flat, if not now, when? Though I meditate now, it’s still erratic, and far from frequent. I need to be more aware, the nature of my resistances, what are they about? I find myself writing quite passionately about practice when I explore a Dogen discourse, but the bum still doesn’t hit the meditation stool with confident assertion. Whilst physical circumstances have had an effect, I know they are just the excuse, not the reason. What I really need is a meditation retreat for burned out meditators, where you try to identify what exactly is up. I’m still experiencing my recurrent back, hip and ankle pain on the left side of my body. I haven’t been able to afford to go see an osteopath this year, but I sense I do need to take a different approach, not just alleviating but resolving, but how? I know these are primarily emotionally based symptoms, but I am no nearer finding what needs to change or be transformed. It appears to be less to do with changing circumstances, (I’ve tried that) and more to do with changing how my body responds to stress. What is that stress anxious about in the first place? Perhaps I should try meditating! That’s enough! enough for one year at least.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

FILM REVIEW - Lost Highway

Life in a David Lynch movie is one strange occurrence after another. Lost Highway is no exception. There is the Jazz musician who seems to be having a little problem with his jealousy. His wife, has a very complex time concealing her extra curricular activities from the aforesaid muso. On top of this, there’s the young man ,who wakes up one morning in a prison cell previously occupied by the muso for murdering the wife. Was that a dream or an identity crisis? He ends up falling for a blond version of the muso’s wife, and then killing her old lover by colliding his cranium with the edge of a plate glass table. There is also a psychopathic gangster, and a ghost faced man, who seems to know what is going on but never tells anyone. In the end the young man turns back into the muso after being rejected by the blonde. The last we see of him, he’s revisiting his own house and being chased down a darkening highway, his head screaming like a Pope in a Francis Bacon painting. Crazy, or what?

Did I like it? I sure as hell did. It appears to be David Lynch's take on the whole noir genre. Part a homage, and part a surreal and imaginative extension of its dominant moods and characters. It has tension and atmosphere by the bucket load. A peculiar narrative thrust that keeps you engaged even when the story starts to defy logic. Its images are potent and disturbing, without being gratuitous. Lynch produces films with great flair and in the most distinctive style imaginable. He also has the gall ( and the money ! ) to realise these perverse little tales in tinsel town America.

The DVD extras were of neither use nor ornament. Not one, but two interviews with Lynch, which tell you zilch and are mostly just obtuse deflections. Plus, the usual actors fawning and licking the cream off Lynch’s genius, and a ‘Making of’ that looks like its composed of random out takes filmed by a gnome. Just watch the movie OK, leave it at that.

QUOTATION MARKS No 8


To think that you will be happy by becoming something else is delusion.
Becoming something else just exchanges one form of suffering for another form of suffering.
But when you are content with who you are now....
then you are free from suffering"

AJHAN BRAHM

DIARY No 18 - A VISIT FROM INSOMNIA


I’ve just completed my second week of Full Time work at the Crematorium. The first week was pretty much as I expected it to be, mostly working as a Chapel Attendant. I've been tired by the end of each day, though I have felt more consistently engaged. There was something about working Part Time, which left my energy broken off just when it reached a purposeful flow. This week I began my training as a Cremator Technician. This means I have to do one hundred cremations, pass an examination, and have one complete cremation closely monitored.

The days went OK, but I found my sleep quickly became almost non-existent. Over three nights I only had six hours sleep. With each new morning, I awoke more bleary eyed and mentally zonked. David was, unfortunately, also having a period of restlessness and fidgety sleep. So we weren’t a great deal of help to each other, compounding rather than easing each others problem. Each night I awoke after a few hours sleep, heart pounding away as if I’m in a panic, unable to relax or slow it’s pummelling action. Obviously, I could say this was all due to the change in my work. Watching the cremation process in much closer detail, days, rather than hours, of raking out the remaining crumble of bones, must leave a mark on ones psyche. I can’t see how it would not. I am, however, reluctant to just park it there and let it solidify into fact. It doesn’t feel quite that simple.

To start with there is the whole practical circumstances under which I’m sleeping to consider. If both of you, sharing a bed, turn over frequently and heavily, that’s not going to help either of you settle. Sometimes, being over stimulated just before bedtime doesn’t help. Both Monday and Tuesday nights I was engaged in deep and engaging conversation prior to going to bed. I reduced my coffee consumption, plus, looked at any thing which might disturb my sleep; like needing to pee in the middle of the night; or eating too much dinner. For many years, since living in a flat above extremely noisy and unpredictable Scottish Shift Working Lorry Drivers, I’ve slept using earplugs. Our bedroom window is blacked out, because we live opposite Cambridge United's Football Ground, which has floodlights, and two well lit advertising hoardings. Such strong artificial light tends to wake me up believing its morning. Having reviewed these, then I can consider how other circumstances might come into play.

Starting work Full Time at a Crematorium is, after all, quite a big step. Especially after all the soul searching, which concluded that I wanted to work Part Time to provide space to write and paint in. Once more, my desires appear to have been subsumed by practical necessity. There is a cloak of sadness wrapped around this, one that I haven’t wanted to look under too carefully. By Wednesday afternoon, I was beginning to sense an emotional upset and tearful feeling in the pit of my stomach. Not only am I working around death all the time, I’m also experiencing the death, for now at least, of a deeply held desire.

Listening to The Archers on Thursday night brought some of the emotion more cogently to the fore. Two of the Gay characters, Ian and Adam, were having a Civil Partnership Ceremony. It’s all been handled in a typically Radio 4 way, well meaning, slightly clich├ęd and above all lavished with liberal worthiness. At the end of the episode, the Mother of one of the characters said how proud she felt. I felt those tears welling up as she spoke. The day before, I got a Christmas card from my parents, and a separate card for David. I was a little put out that there wasn’t a card addressed to both of us. When David opened his, it was signed quite formally as’ from Mr & Mrs Lumb’. David, quite understandable, felt not fully welcomed into the bosom of my family. David’s Mum has been very open and generous. She has bought presents for my birthday and at Christmas, in every way she has behaved as if I’m part of her family. So the contrast is quite marked. My parents are really quite conservative, and from an entirely different generation. That they sent a card, was their way of acknowledging our relationship. I also recollect that my Brother in Law was still calling my parents Mr & Mrs Lumb years after he married my Sister. So, its not about discrimination or rejection, its more related to a level of formality they think is appropriate to someone they’ve only met once. That David is my partner would not change that. They may also be uncomfortable, not quite knowing how to couch or refer to something, which in their generation would never have been talked about publicly anyway. Social formalities have relaxed generally, but not for my parents. Though having said that, it doesn’t stop me feeling what I am is not fully accepted by them. This is what was touched on, and made me tearful. I was upset about things not being how I would like in terms of my work, my desires and how my parents relate to my partner, and myself, as gay men. Simple unsatisfactoriness, delicately interwoven like a thread of pain through the rough and ready cloth of everyday life. Owch !!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

QUOTATION MARKS No 7


I know of no more encouraging fact
than the unquestionable ability of man
to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour

HENRY DAVID THOREAU

BOOK REVIEW

Walden, or life in the woods – Henry David Thoreau
Published unabridged by Dover Thrift Editions 1995.


It was over twenty years ago, on good old BBC Radio 4, that I first came across Thoreau. ‘Walden’, was their Book of the Week. It was a lively, clear and succinct reading of his ideas and experience, whilst he lived his back to earth lifestyle. He may not have been the first urban dweller to do so, but he was certainly the first to effectively write about the changes then overcoming civilised humanity. These days ‘dropping out of society’ is a common place occurrence. However, it often is only a partial one. Some semblance of support by the host society remains, if only in the form of ‘the dole’. Thoreau was unique, in that he was looking to be independent and self-supporting, in a way we would struggle to achieve these days. The talons of civilisation dig deep into self-determination, to hold us within its bounds.

Anyway, when I first heard it being read, I was captivated. I went out immediately and bought a small pocket sized edition produced by Shambhala Publications. In that period, I was fond of underlining in blue pen any apposite statement I found in books. Looking back through these blue lined sections, tells me something about my concerns at that time. Extensive sections of ‘Walden’ are selected, such as :~

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived”

Concerns about what it was like to live an essential life, were then dominant in my psyche. How to live simply and contentedly was paramount. Thoreau, though quite a pragmatic man in how he approached his solitary life, was motivated essentially by a romantic impulse; to return to a state of grace that had been lost. This underlying romanticism was what struck me most at that time. These days, I handle this sort of ideal with a more sceptical touch. Even Thoreau saw his ‘simple life’ as an experiment only, living like this for only a couple of years, before then returning to his former lifestyle. Without the donation of Emerson’s land at Walden Pond, the whole experiment would have been impossible anyway. Besides, the town of Concord and civilisation was never too far away if it all went ‘pear shaped’.

This Dover Edition is unabridged, my original pocket edition was heavily cut, as ,no doubt, were those radio readings. Not without good reason I am currently discovering. I’m finding the unabridged edition quite heavy going. Pages and pages of ponderous, pontificating prose to wade through. Some of his observations on the nature of a civilising society are spot on, whilst others appear cranky, quaint or just over simplistic. I suppose this is why, these days, he is routinely severely edited. His writing style is very Victorian. Overloaded, for modern readers, with small asides and references, tucked within unfeasible long sentence structures. To make him palatable for contemporary audiences, his verbose writing style needs to be curtailed by the hand of a skilled surgeon. Then his undoubted ability to express the universal zetgeist of this, and any other industrialised era, emerges, strong and potent.

I do wonder whether we do Thoreau a disservice by treating him in this way. We make him a mythic figure, an archetype of the outsider, living beyond civilised norms, not a man of his time. Thoreau was certainly not some proto-hippy, new age Victorian, getting off his head on opium. He was just one of many 19th Century social analysts, who looked at the emerging industrialised nations and started to question, with an air of looking backwards like Rousseau, asking quite where we were going with this headlong rush for progress. As the first to really articulate this, Thoreau is justifiable revered. For in it he expressed the basic form for an Ideal of an Alternative Society, this found its audience in the disillusioned drop outs of the late sixties. The rendering into our complex civilisation, of this beautiful dream of the simple life, of a form of society not hell bent on creating a living nightmare, is why this book is still significant. When you actually read it unabridged, you realise it's style is what has not worn well. The myth that Thoreau represents for us now, has overtaken the reality of his experience then, and its mode of expression. He is being revised and remodelled to fit our contemporary dreams of escape.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

DIARY 17 - IT COMES BUT ONCE A YEAR

As I’ve said before I’m in the middle of writing this piece on a Dogen discourse called ‘The difficulty of such a thing’ It is certainly occupying inordinate amounts of time and effort, though it is an enjoyable process. So my attention to this blog has been a bit neglectful, sorry.

Good news has come forth, in the form of a date to start full time work at the Crematorium. So this coming Monday 4th December is the day. When my manager told me, I said I’d been about to give up hope. She replied, that three months was actually quick to get a result. Well, save me from encountering the prolonged version, I don’t think I could handle the waiting. As it happens I am as mightily pleased as my modest sized form can contain. I’ve been given a new job designation as Chapel Attendant / Cremator Technician,( I’m going to be trained up to do the latter )and my pay grade has been raised too. So I’ll be on a full time salary and be paid more on top of that. Eight months down the line the end of my financial constraints seems finally to be in sight. Once I get the measure of my new salary, I’ll take a hard look at my finances and see what adjustments need to be made. How I get on with full time work at the Crematorium will be revealed only by the taste of it.

Christmas looms like an over jovial relative you don’t really like. David and I went up to Nottingham on Wednesday, for a days Christmas shopping, in what, so far as I can see, is the best shopping centre in the UK. I’ve got most of it sorted now. In comparison, Cambridge city centre on Saturday was horrendous, I can honestly say I will not be venturing there for long in the next few weekends. Whoever said shopping was the new religion might be onto something, it tests the patience of a saint, you never feel satisfied, as if you’ve been duped, and your encouraged to believe in the power of money to raise the dead and cure the sick.

We now have a small Christmas tree, pert and decorated like a flapper, fairy lights, the lot. This year the festive season seems to have crept slowly upon us. I guess the prolonged Indian Summer caught us all off guard. So, suddenly the countdown has started, and the heads down rush to the shopping finishing post has begun its mad frenetic whirl. Here’s hoping I can keep my head.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

DIARY 16 - EXTRACTING THE PAIN

Last weekend was a weekend of agony. I went to bed Friday night with a slight ache in my bottom right back tooth. Saturday morning it was a throbbing pain which subsided when I took painkillers. By the afternoon it was not so easily pacified. I rang the emergency dental number where they asked a few questions about the toothache.'On a scale of 1 to 5 where would you place your pain' etc. In the end .even if I'd wanted to the only available dentists were in Wisbech or Huntingdon. By this time the combination of toothache and painkillers were making me feel decidedly heady and nauseous. So driving anywhere was out of the question. They did suggest a particular regime of painkillers that might ease the pain,but they added, ' what you really need is a course of anti-biotics'. So I struggled on until Monday morning when I walked down first thing to my own Dentist. He took an X Ray of the area and gave me a prescription for anti- biotics. 'I will call you once the X Rays are done, I may want to put you on a double dose of the anti-biotics' By the time I had slowly ambled home and sat down the phone rang 'could you come in at ten to three this afternoon, the tooth has an abscess and needs to be removed'

Back into town, this time hoping for the blessed release from pain. I wasn't waiting long before I was called through. He started injecting local anesthetic into the gum all around the tooth. It was only a slim needle, but it felt like he was putting a six inch nail in there. For the first time in my life at a Dentist I let out an agonised cry. You know the cries in movies where a hero is being slowly strangled by 'the mummy' or some such other fiend, well it was those sort I let out. As he pulled the tooth with his silver pliers it was relatively painless. Afterwards I felt in shock, I hardly dared stand up. 'If you feel you're going to faint sit down, don't do anything too active as that will only increase the blood flow, take it steady and slow' With those few words I left the Dentist and went to pay at reception. You really should have seen the looks on the patients faces waiting in reception. A mixture of horror, compassion and anxiety flashed across their faces. If I hadn't been struggling to keep upright at the time I would have laughed out loud.

I took the walk home at an even slower pace. I'd thought about getting some Pro-Biotic Yogurt to help my stomach cope with the effects of the anti-biotic but actually just getting home was all I could manage. Most of that Monday I spent asleep, I went to bed at 8.30pm and didn't awake until 5.30 Tuesday morning. Once the anti-biotics kicked in I was fine. I had to watch not to rushing around too much or else I got dizzy. At the end of a day at work I was pretty pooped. Today nearly a week later the swelling has gone down and I can feel the cavity quite clearly. The gum is still a bit sore when I eat, but essentially its back to business as usual.

Even though I was in such pain I still managed to meet up with my friend Eugen for breakfast on Sunday morning and went out for a meal with David Welsh in the evening. I apologise to both of them if I wasn't quite my usual self or attentive. In a way it was a miracle I could still do any of what I'd planned. Though my David said I'd looked distinctly grey and unwell all weekend.

Physical pain is something we rarely feel these days outside of toothaches or breakages of limbs. Painkillers are so readily available. How they coped barely a century ago I dread to think. An abscess under a tooth might have been a life threatening if it poisoned the blood system before the tooth was removed. Such extreme pain was I suppose a more every day occurrence. Whilst I'm not some New Age nut who thinks our sense of alienation would be overcome by experiencing more pain. I do think it has weakened our robustness in coping with life's travails when pain is so readily masked or got rid of. What we complain about, what we litigate over, would ,in previous generations have been brushed off as how life was. Well, it's still how life is, but it's hidden behind a chemical screen, occassionally it steps out and shows us its hideous potential to wreck our hopes and dreams.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

QUOTATION MARKS No 6


If one is unhappy, one wants to know the reason why.
But it never occurs to one to ask why one is happy.
it is therefore unhappiness, rather than happiness,
that causes us to reflect upon our condition.
It is unhappiness that makes us think

SANGHARAKSHITA

DIARY 15 - SEEING THINGS AS THEY REALLY ARE

It is difficult to see things clearly. It is difficult to know what to do for the best. We travel hopefully in a certain direction, not always confidently, but, hey you have to decide to do something! I am writing yet another piece on a Dogen discourse. this one is called 'The Difficulty of such a thing'. In essence it's about a perennial Chan/Zen problem with Buddha Nature. If we already are what we seek, then why practice or how should practice be in the light of this knowledge? This was the dilemma which was at the core of Dogen's own Great Doubt. It drove him to leave Japan and search for four years in China for a teacher who could answer this question. My essay is focusing on 'the difficulty' in finding the right framework for spiritual practice. Dogen ends the discourse with a question' How is this suchness?' I feel to be at the edge of my current understanding in writing this piece, I'm definitely being stretched. I'm a Dogen enthusiast, but not a scholar. My approach explores more from an imaginative/poetic analysis. So far it's goes well ,but rather slowly and ponderously, with frequent stops for reflection. Occasionally my confidence gives way, but I think it will work out OK with persistent effort.

Writing these pieces recently has been just one factor in my gradual re-engagement with studying the Dharma. I find I am reflecting on and refining what motivates and keeps me here within the Buddhist tradition. I was looking through 'Peace is a Fire' and 'Stream of Stars' to find a quote of Sangharakshita's I'd half remembered. In the past I've found some of his writing rather indigestible in book form. These little bits, bobs, and gobbets of wisdom really struck a chord. This time they seemed pertinent, perceptive and provocative in a way I don't remember experiencing before. Having not read Sangharakshita for a while I think I might be searching out a book or two to re-evaluate my connection with him.

Having decided to work Full Time at the Crematorium I find I am gradually relaxing, feeling happier and more content. The last eight months have felt like a pretty rough ride at times. Adjusting to working outside of Right Livelihood, learning to micro manage my finances and trying to find alternative work, meant I was living in a constant state of anxiety. In stopping for the time being looking for anything else,I'm finding all areas of my life are loosening up as a consequence.

For quite a while I've been going over the question of what I want to do with the rest of my life. I'm beginning to realise that ,actually there isn't anything major I really must do career wise. At my age beginning a new career is not impossible, but would require determination and a clear idea of how this might happen. Neither of these do I feel I remotely have enough of, I don't think I care all that much. I've never been that ambitious, and find maintaining interest over the longer term a bit of a hard slog. I'm a bit of a gadfly in my interests and aspirations. If I have any ambition it is to be content. Yet I've had this bee in my bonnet for decades about there being something I must do with my life. It has a feeling behind it of panic, a desperate burning need to fulfill something in order to matter. As a gay man I'm unlikely to leave any offspring behind at my demise. Will I leave anything else behind to be remembered by? Is dieing in contented obscurity such a bad thing anyway? Can I be content with obscurity?

I am frequently at my most unhappiest when what I want from life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness becomes entangled in irreconcilable and contradictory impulses. When I sit down and just start to simplify things my level of happiness and contentment rises. The simpler it is the better. So long as there is creativity ( writing & painting ), time with Friends, time with David,and time for the spiritual life what more could I want? I think I should stop asking 'what more should i do?' questions and just focus on enjoying what I am doing.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

DIARY 14 - AM I POSSESSED ,IF SO BY WHAT ?

It was only a casual conversation at work that started it all off. Working at the Crematorium we rarely know how the deceased died,endlessly we speculate. Sometimes the charity the donation box is dedicated too is an indication. Often the people in the office know more. My interest is always perked when a Coroner has been drawn in,or the deceased died young. In a very brief chat in the office I found out that one of the deceased had laid down on a railway line. My fellow Chapel Attendant heard the Humanist minister say he'd sustained severe head injuries. One of the women in the office said immediately, that's just short hand for meaning nothing was left of his head. There followed a conversation about how a person who commits suicide must never consider the effect their actions have on the Train Driver. One person piped up that she knew of one train driver who never worked again and ended up killing themselves on a train track too. This all struck us as a really perverse thing to do.


That brief chat has set my mind off. This week has been creatively a bit thin, apart from two pieces arising from this conversation. I've written a poem called 'Derailed
' which is about a man with his head on the rails waiting for the train to arrive. This has been followed by a short monologue called 'The Train Driver's Statement' about how a suicide on the tracks affected him.

My writing over the last few years has kept returning to themes around death. This is well before working at the Crematorium by the way. If anything that also seems to have arisen out of the same impulse. Something is definitely trying to work itself through here. The Nick Cave obsession appears to have passed. I'm not reading about serial murderer's or the history of death practices anymore. It may be my age, time of life, a passing phase or I'm secretly possessed by a demon. Curiously no one else, including David, has yet noticed this. A demon could be cunning though. All sorts of clever ways to disguise his appearance, tuck the tail and mask the horns. You know, there are some days when I'm heartily glad I'm not a Christian. All that good angel, bad angel stuff can drag you down and affect your social life.

Strange the things that compel and motivate us. Perhaps it is best that we don't really ask too close a question. Stand back, observe it all as it is happening and get what you can from the journey.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

FILM REVIEW - Freedomland


Well, this film is a bit of a hotch-potch. From the opening jump edited title sequence one expected a very streetwise and stylish edgy thriller. This was misleading, for apart from two scenes later in the movie this style was completely missing from the rest of it. I believe this exemplifies the essential problem with the script and direction. It cannot make up it's mind what it is trying to do.

The story begins with a woman Brenda ( the inestimable Julianne Moore ) wandering with bloodied hands into a hospital. When the local good guy cop Lorenzo ( the ever reliable Samuel L Jackson ) appears, she tells him that her car was carjacked by a black man. Shortly Brenda reveals under pressure from Lorenzo that her young son was in the car. This sends everyone into a spin of hyperactivity and racial tension. As the movie progresses Brenda's testimony becomes increasingly suspect.... Themes of psychological trauma, racialism, police partiality and brutality and family dysfunction are flung around with reckless disregard for plot coherence.

If the movie just stuck with the psychology of its main characters, and kept it central, this would have been a great movie as opposed to an OK one. The script is perpetually throwing in more side stories and characters. With no time to be properly assimilated it leaves you confused. An unsatisfying feeling of having wandered into someone else's argument unprepared and issues being left unresolved, permeates the movie. For example there's Billy & Felicia's relationship, there's Lorenzo's imprisoned son, there's Lorenzo's relations with his white colleagues and the Police Force generally, there's the local black leader, Worst of all is Brenda's hot headed policeman brother Daniel. Who behaves erratically and violently,and is last see ten minutes from the end of the movie running off as if he's about to throttle someone, and is never seen again. This lack of focus is the result of a badly conceived script and means the movie leaks its compulsive energy.

The director,Joe Roth,has to take some of the flack for the flaws. I've already mentioned it's stylistic inconsistency. It also is appallingly lit ( read atmospheric ) and sound mixed. Soundtrack and dialogue seem to be constantly fighting for the fore ground. Important dialogue suddenly gets ramped up and the background music faded to grey and then back again. I understand the director Micheal Winterbottom began this film project and Roth picked it up when he ducked out. Not a good sign, but it might explain the stylistic schizophrenia.

The crowning glory of this movie is Moore and Jackson's performances. Without their superlative acting skills this movie would be dire. Unlike the dodgy 'The Forgotten', where Moore's believable psychological breakdown over the disappearance of her son, gets whisked away on the ludicrous whim of an alien abduction, her performance here has credibility and consistency. She is quite in her element when conveying deeply traumatic inner conflicts. Though we never get a sense of what she was like when she was less kooky and more normal. Likewise, Jackson's character has these internal dilemmas and symptoms which are never fully explained like his asthma and family background. Within the limitations of the script both have done what they can. As a result they lift this movie several notches higher than it really deserves.

MINOR RANT AS EPILOGUE

What is it with Special Features on DVD's? Generally they are so insubstantial as to be hardly worth there trumpeting it across the front of their cases. The worst aspects are the commentaries or making of the movie features. These fall into two camps. The first is a fawning luvvie fest, where director and actors fall over themselves to ensure they get more work. They can never imagine anyone else playing the part of the axe wielding masked murderer. The director is a genius, so sensitive and appreciative of the actors craft you'd have thought he'd helped them give birth to Jesus. The second camp, is where everyone knows this film is an out and out pile of poo, so all concerned rally round to justify its existence,defend this turkeys artistic credibility and fail dismally. We have just watched it after all, we know all too well.

On 'Freedomland' the writer justifies his script by saying he's lived most of his life in such districts, so understands what he's writing about. Not from the evidence before my eyes. Besides I'd have preferred not to see him, he's in his fifties, white, wrinkled and unshaven, with a fully tonsured head of luminous auburn hair. The set designer, talking about the setting for the black ghetto, said he'd chosen the area because it reminded him of an Escher drawing. I mean please! credit me with at least one brain cell to work with at least. Though maybe I've missed the point and these special features are really meant for geeks only.

The best Special Features I've seen recently were on the DVD for 'The Hours'. The luvviedom was kept to a minimum. All the movie making features genuinely helped you understand the creative choices made and the background to the subject matter of the script. The Director of that movie was Stephen Daldry, a highly experienced English Theatre Director. Perhaps I'm just repulsed by American sentimentality and their slushy sense of what is 'meaningful and profound'.

Friday, October 27, 2006

DIARY 13 - DHARMA, DRIVING AND DAVID MEETS MY PARENTS

I’ve been off work for the last ten days taking a well earned break. I’ve spent most of that time doing exactly what I wanted, which has been mostly writing. I’ve been working on a Dharma essay entitled ‘The cold in my bones’ which draws on a single sentence discourse by Dogen which goes as follows :-

“If this greatest cold does not penetrate into our bones, how will the fragrance of the plum blossoms pervade the entire universe?”’

I’ve found this an absorbing task, through exploring my own responses and analysis. It’s main theme is the necessity to reflect deeply and consistently on impermanence. For me it has raised issues of what effective practice is, particularly for a 21st century Western Buddhist. As is usual with my longer written pieces I coasted two thirds of the way through and then I hit a sandbank. I am beginning to learn that that is when real graft is required. I just need to keep writing regardless of quality and coherence. Eventually enough of it makes sense that I can precis, edit and polish the results As it currently stands its about 5,500 words long. Today, I’ve started refining a couple of earlier essays on Dogen discourses, one called ‘Binding oneself without a rope’ and the other ‘Enter the grass and transmit the wind’. This writing, and the study I’m doing with Paco, is helping me to re-engage with the Dharma in my own way, after the last few years when all interest had seemed to desert me. So far I’ve not shown anyone my Dharma writing, though I think I might be getting ready to break that silence soon. I have an idea that these essays could constitute a little book one day, who knows !

Another achievement was driving David and myself up north to see my parents. I’ve never driven such a long distance before, particularly not on motorways. Newly serviced, the car ran very smoothly. I realise, to my shame, how neglectful I am of it so longs as it starts and runs at all. I could give it a bit more care and attention than I do. I’ve never been that interested in cars, so I guess its asking a lot to manufacture one now. Travelling up there went OK. With three breaks for coffees and breakfast I was pretty brain dead by the time we reached my parents house. Coming back Sunday night in persistent drizzly rain, was also a challenge, but perhaps was not quite as dreadful as I’d imagined beforehand. It did demanded a lot of concentration and I wouldn’t like to repeat such a journey too soon. I prefer train travel, at least you arrive relatively relaxed and rested.

The main event of the weekend was David meeting my parents for the first time. It was also the first time I’d taken any boyfriend home. Though I had a restless night beforehand, I was quite relaxed about it all on the day. I think all that driving absorbed any nervous energy. David understandable was quite apprehensive. I think it went fine. David is such a easy likeable man, I didn’t see how my family wouldn’t warm to him. He seemed to enjoy himself, though I think he’d had enough socialising by the time we left on Sunday evening. My Parents, Sister, Brother in Law and Nieces were all pretty much as they usually are. No one appeared to be nervous or self conscious. My Mother was good natured and as lively a talker as ever. David was worried that there might be lots of embarrassed silences where no one knew what to say, but then he’s not met my Mum before.

It’s been interesting to ask David how he saw my family. I’m so used to them and obviously have a rather set way of viewing their behaviour. As usual, I got into a bit of a pissed off downer after a day of my Mother’s incessant blathering. I just found it draining to be forced to listen all the time and not be engaged in normal conversational dialogue. This is a very old frustration which I tire of hearing myself intone justifications for. I really should have grown bigger than it by now. It would, however, seem I have not.

David said he found my Mum very positive, bright and engaging, much like I can be when I’m at my best, Owch, bulls eye !!! Other things he noticed were particular expressions and habits which my Mum and I share, and a laugh that my Dad has, which is similar to one of mine. He also noticed the time when I asked my Dad a direct question and my Mum answered for him, one of her habits I sincerely hope I haven’t copied. Still it is all very useful to hear this because it gives me another perspective to view them from. It also highlights how much I anticipate situations and overreact ,such as to my Mum’s talking. It’s all very salutary and sobering like other words beginning with S such as sibling.

QUOTATION MARKS No 5

Freedom is being content to be where you are.
Prison is wanting to be somewhere else.
The Free World is the world experienced
by one who is content.
The real freedom is freedom from desire,
never freedom of desire

AJAHN BRAHM

LOVE STORY No 3

SHEHERAZADE'S LEGACY

Before and after,
they kept each other warm
by telling tales of themselves,
to exchange stories
like borrowing clothes,
though they couldn’t really wear each other,
they might easily wear each other out,
night after night,
favourite stories like favourite songs,
played repeatedly,
lose their addictive freshness,
dull their essence,
allusions and allegories
turn to being obvious,
but they had the lust
for the impenetrable, inexhaustible questions
a quest to lose themselves
in each others jungle thicket,
with a thousand and one questions,
on a thousand and one nights,
producing stories they passed the time with
between the evenings and moments
of intimacy,
stories short on substance,
long on length and detail,
four omnibus volumes
soon to be remaindered for a fiver,
their kisses could not be just kisses,
their sighs could not be just sighs,
their love could not be just love,
without an appendix of fiction,
only in the mornings when they awoke
alone in separate beds,
still alive,
did the clean knives of insight
cut deeper and stir
the unloved ,forgotten stories
about death.


VIDYAVAJRA

Saturday, October 14, 2006

BOOK REVIEW

Paul Auster – The New York Trilogy.
Faber & Faber , published 1987.


I’ve just finished reading the ‘The New York Trilogy’ All three short stories are linked subliminally and stylistically. Auster takes the private dick genre and brings an subversive existential twist to it. The narratives tease out a private detectives obsessive streak. Sometimes so all consuming that they exclude everyone except the person being trailed. In the process they try to understand what motivates their prey, the purpose of their surveillance, and in these details and questions the detective loses the sense of himself. All the stories explore in some way identity in the urban cityscape. How it breaks down through such over-identification, falling into alienation and destitution. They’re all quite cleverly written stories and on their own level enjoyable reads .

I do, however, continue to yearn for a contemporary writer who is more than just clever. Where are the perceptive writers, that write compelling narratives, whose writing style grabs you by the proverbial balls and doesn’t let go of you’re imagination? A writer one could love, and get so addicted to you’d want to read all their books one after another. This hasn’t happened for me for quite some time. I think it last occurred when I discovered Anton De Saint Exupery, about seven years ago. He also died many many decades ago. I fondly remember my first read of him, and before that of Armistead Maupin, Ronald Firbank, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, to name a few others .

Contemporary writers can be so self conscious, particularly of leaving a literary legacy and a reputation, that they’re painful to read. The novel becomes just experiments in construction, testing the readers preconceptions and patience to breaking point. Does no one colourfully and compellingly engage the readers imagination anymore? Genuine originality in a writer seems almost extinct. Contrived novelty in writing style is so predominant. Coldly analytical ,the narratives so knowing of theme and purpose that the characters, the people inhabiting the novels become mere ciphers.

Of his generation I would acknowledge Paul Auster does seem to be a cut above the rest. I would certainly not object to reading some of his other novels. I’m aware though that I do so in a manner of mild interest, when really I’d love to explore with energy and great enthusiasm.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

QUOTATION MARKS No 4


Questions are good, questions are necessary,
without questions there is something to defend,
and where there is something to defend
trouble and suffering are not far behind.


ZOKETSU NORMAN FISCHER

POEM - LOVE STORY No 2


The Erotic Explorer.

Sometimes he’ll lie back,
face resting, just looking up
as if the stars were out
ruddy and sharp
in our darkened room,
and I’ll have no idea
what he might be thinking,
I could only imagine,
and do imagine
that it might be about future days,
storms, adventures,
simple small triumphs
and other flowers of pleasure
featuring me
embarrassing the veins of his cheeks,
or of me
against his quaint buttocks
smooth like a velvet peach,
the stone removed but ruffled
around a wine dark pith
entering a gentle undulation
our bodies become twinned,
my imaginary paths
no matter how carnal,
fail to grasp
the scent of his alcohol,
his specific volume,
evades his essence,
though roughly described
as ‘my lover’
the label disclaims :~
‘do not drink too deeply
of your lover, as we
cannot be held responsible
for acts of use or consequences
for which this product
was not made.’

LIVE REVIEW - SPARKS


Wednesday October 4th 2006 - Cambridge Corn Exchange.

You would have thought that after thirty odd years they’d be very tired. You might also think that a Sparks audience would mostly be a nostalgia seeking sway of forty somethings. You would not be wrong with that latter assertion. However, any misconception that this show would consist of just feeble readings from their extensive back catalogue, was instantly dispelled by the first song. ‘Dick Around’ is a hurricane of a song about a man dumped by his girlfriend, who doesn’t know what to do with himself. Part pop song, part mini operetta, it was the first of a track by track run through of ‘Hello Young Lovers’, their twentieth album.

On this showing Sparks have lost none of their musical or lyrical acuteness.
If anything they appear to be having a renaissance. This hasn’t produced any hits and perhaps may never do. Part of their revival seems to be a reawakening of that quintessential Sparks quality of perverse originality. They’ve always been intelligent, clever word smiths and musical kleptomaniacs. This makes them very distinctive, but rarely in line with contemporary tastes.

Lyrically their subject matter is free ranging, partly fond and partly satirising aspects of male romantic behaviour. Other targets are leaden rock music and even contemporary politics in ‘Baby, baby, Can I invade your country?’

Each song was accompanied by impressive back projected visuals. These had the same touches of invention and wit we’ve come to expect from the Mael brothers. Their humour largely originates from Ron Mael, his blank faced caricature, developed over the years into being both slightly sinister and comedic. Whether he’s fighting with his screen self on ‘The very next fight’ or playing the guitar hero on ‘Rock Rock Rock’ he conveys an impish irony. Every cheek has a tongue firmly placed in it.

The first half was definitely ‘a show’ and a very cool one at that. In the second half, the gloves were off. We could finally see and hear that very tight trio of young musicians, who ably supported the Maels as they produced an hours worth of hits and oddities. Opening with ‘Achoo’, and continuing on through ‘No 1 Song in Heaven’ , ‘Something for the girl with everything’ and ‘When do I get to sing My Way?’ Their most famous song ‘This town ain’t big enough for the both of us’ was given a version of spunky gusto with a refreshing rawness. It was no weary retread. This song alone tells you why this band has remained so influential, in so many ways, over so many decades. They concluded the evening with a clutch of songs re-arranged for voice and piano ,‘Suburban Homeboy’ and a final re run of ‘Dick Around’ These displayed the quality and versatility of Ron Mael as a song writer and the youthful verve of Russell’s nimble vocals. Sparks may have become more polished by time, but their creative pulse still has a very big beat.


A version of this review was published in The Independent on 11/10/06

Monday, October 02, 2006

QUOTATION MARKS No 3



All things change when we do

KUKAI


DIARY 12 - RUNNING OUT OF STEAM


Uncertainty is predominant today, in the world and in me. I’m uncertain exactly where I’m heading ,apart from toward death. I’ve rarely felt certain. I’ve frequently found myself admiring people who seemed certain. At the same time I distrusted certainty as being primarily a compensatory assertion. We can never really be absolutely certain. We just behave as if we are, because otherwise we’d never do anything.

It’s always a mixed bag of emotions and motivations. I’ve spent a great deal of mental energy sifting and appraising ,trying to discern what I was certain of. Certainty is more akin to a feeling, based on a desire for stability. Not to be confused with conviction which appears, on the surface at least, to be a more thought through position. Uncertainty is also such a feeling, a particularly debilitating one as it blocks purpose, action and sense of progress. Perhaps, after all, this search for certainty has always been a waste of time and effort.

I like certainties, people likes certainties, our society likes them too. Politicians love them and get voted in because of them. They also get voted out when we become uncertain about them or we no longer believe in their certainties anymore. The pursuit of certainty is a beautiful but false god.

In the last few years I’ve been trying to create a new personal manifesto. Though it’s content is changing all the time. First, I leave my job to pursue a different relationship to work and life. I decided then that I actually wanted to work part-time, to devote more energy to painting and writing. The part-time work leaves me in debt, so I’m forced to look for fulltime work. Lately I’ve wanted to train as a counselor. I’d work full time in order to clear my debts and save money to pay for it. Today, all those previous initiatives, which felt pretty certain at the time, now feel uncertain. The energy and emotion behind them having run out of steam.

Previously, out of uncertainty, I allowed circumstance to deal me my future course. Desire playing second fiddle to it. On a practical level this worked. On a spiritual level, it took its consequences on the robustness of my body and soul. Whilst I’m currently trying to avoid perpetuating this approach, my lifestyle is inevitable in a fragile balance between circumstance and desire. Basically, I’ve never really wanted to work, but have had to of course. Money being a necessity in order to function. Work gives some financial stability, but its pragmatic urges suffocate purposeful desire and replace them with consumerism. In trying to give my desires time and space to breathe, I keep having to work around obstacles that life throws in my way. It’s a bit of a bugger, but this is how reality works.

I believe on some unconscious level I hold a childlike view that life is a wish fulfilling jewel. Where I only have to be certain what I desire the most and so it will appear. The consequences of this, in the failure of the universe to comply, are pretty grim. For its a dreadful fairy tale to unwittingly be living you’re life by.

I am beginning to believe I should take uncertainty more seriously. It is surely more in alignment with reality. The outright pursuit of certainty just leads to frustration and depression. Paradoxically, by embracing purposelessness and insecurity instead of pursuing fulfillment, I might be happier. Happiness, as Quentin Crisp puts it, is the art of living in the present, desire being entirely future orientated.

“ The essence of happiness is its absoluteness. It is automatically the state of being of those who live in the continuous present, all over their bodies.
No effort is required to define or even attain happiness but enormous concentration is needed to abandon everything else”

The things one could abandon are the desire for fulfillment, security and ultimately the desire for desires itself. Which brings us back to the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths yet again; desires lead to craving; craving leads to suffering; one becomes free from suffering by being free from craving and desire; one learns how to be free of suffering by practicing the Buddha’s teachings on sila (ethics ) samadhi ( meditation ) and pranja ( wisdom ) .

All the things in life that I’ve pursued in order to find happiness have rarely been durable, which has just left me craving for something else. Perhaps I need to be more perverse instead of persevering. Recognise and enjoy happiness when it comes along and not be too down hearted when it doesn’t. Ultimate happiness lies well beyond certainty and uncertainty. If only I could see that more clearly now, through the fog of desire and the daily drizzle of circumstance.

POEM - LOVE STORY NO 1


The Archeologist.

He walks the fields,
circling the ancient burial mound,
grassed over and ringed
by elders and hawthorn,
barbed crowns around
an eroded tumuli,
that might hold within its testes,
shields, caskets or ships,
he kneels in ribs left by ploughs,
passes earth from hand to hand,
examines texture, composition,
odd coins and shards
bound in clods greasy and wet,
this claggy soil absorbs his fingers,
moulds to creases, marks and veins,
prints curls around the fist
of his energetic imaginings,
about the past, your history that fashions a form
which may describe you,
sometimes he sees you
as a god with phallic power,
sometimes he sees you
as a snake wriggling in his grasp,
sometimes he sees you
as an imp that’s hard to catch,
sometimes he sees you
as a pot of gold found beneath floorboards,
sometimes he sees you
as an empty cupboard he remembers being full,
sometimes he sees you
as a movie with slow gratuitous silences,
sometimes he sees you
in a half full cappuccino dusted with cinnamon,
of these he makes
an intoxicating dynasty,
that is never as near to you
as the walls, floors, windows
and recorded artefacts
that he shares a room with.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

DIARY 11 - PRANCING NARCISSISTS


David and I went out to a Gay Pub last Saturday with a couple of friends. In a corner of the pub was a dance floor not much more than ten foot square. On one side was the music and on two of the other sides a sequence of large mirrors. Now, I always thought some gay men could be narcissistic and self involved, but you really should have seen some of them dancing.

First there was a slightly unnerving little man in army fatigues with a chiseled face, doing martial arts / Ninja moves to the music. I say 'to the music' but actually it was 'approximately with the music'. When he danced he took over the majority of the floor. Folks were afraid of getting their ass kicked, literally. Over in the corner behind him, watching himself on both sides was a man gesticulating to the mirrors. Looking for all the world as if he was having a fierce argument with himself. Or was it a form of aggressive flirting as sexual harrassement?

Finally, their was the Prima Dona. A slim guy with short greying hair and Jarvis Cocker's bone structure. He performed to his audience. Ascending to the dance floor he took one sip of his drink, gave the disc jockey a cursory look as if to say 'I'm ready, are you'. Then he'd turn to face his audience, focused his eyes, dropped his forehead and with a melodramatic flourish danced. He didn't do footwork. It was after all a little risky with Ninja Man around. For what he lacked in fleetness of foot he made up for with ample amounts of flirtatious hand and arm semaphore. Lovingly caressing his torso or rolling out his arms a la Jackson the Perfidious. Occasionally he'd jump off the stage and head for a man at the bar and dance at him like a matador. I didn't detect an iota of parody. He seemed deadly serious to me. You could feel his ego blowing you kisses from twenty paces. People avoided eye contact in case they might be next. This was not an in joke. Fortunately he stopped dancing before the Drag act, after which everyone was getting it on on the dance floor,including me.

The cabaret/drag act called herself 'Rose Garden' as in 'I never promised you a....' Great legs, shaved smooth and sprayed a healthy tan colour. Some women would die for a pair of pins that good, and some probably have. His main claim to fame was an ability to sing 'Yes Sir I can Boogie' whilst whanging a hula hoop around his waist like a gyroscope. Impressive !

Monday, September 25, 2006

FILM REVIEW - Confetti


Well, this was a disappointment. Being a great admirer of Christopher Guest's improvised movies I was hoping this English effort would be good,or at least passable. In the end it was neither, it was a pile of poo!

It had all the right actors and a quirky idea. Whoever devised this movie, if indeed there was such a person, put spontaneity in subservience to plot. In improvised work the book has to be left open or the drama wont go anywhere remotely unexpected or original. The problem for this movie is it feels as if it's been shoe-horned into a storyline that's had it's laughs preset by rather predictable set pieces.

Guest's movies are primarily vehicles for the creation of characters, not jokes or plot lines. The storyline for 'Best in Show' is:- a number of characters come to a Dog Show and one of them wins. The humour emerges from the well developed, rounded nature of the characters. If improvised drama has a weakness, it's in a tendency towards broad caricature. It's there in Mike Leigh's work and on occasions even in Guest's. To counteract this Guest does huge amounts of filming. Some of that work never gets shown in the cinema. The process does ,however, develop and flesh out the characters and brings a certain level of believability to them. Confetti gives the distinct impression of skimping on this sort of background work and filming. It's like they said, 'Now, here we need some shots of the contestants in Marriage Therapy' and so they did a few minutes worth. What was needed was a few days of improvised 'therapy sessions'. This would allow the actors time to develop ideas about the scene and it's significance to their character. It would also have given the director lots more material to edit and select from.

'Confetti' falls into the huge gaps left by an ill thought through film concept. Confetti fails to connect you with its characters, because they're one dimensional cut outs. They're not appealing, they're not even funny. This film, like wet confetti in a gutter, is soppy, limp and hardly worth noticing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

QUOTATION MARKS No2



Slight shifts in imagination have more impact
on living than major efforts at change

THOMAS MOORE

DIARY 10 - DAUBING & SCRIBBLING

What are my daubs and scribbles all about? Each medium I practice seems to possess its own individual nature and character. Whether its painting or writing, it appears to manifest a different emotional tone. For example, my paintings have a bright, energetic and entirely positive quality. They touch on spiritual feelings and have, for me, a background in the warming fires of what I consider is my faith. This remains unchanged over time and is seemingly unaffected by transitory moods. Writing ,however, becomes a conduit for more negative melancholic strata, the darker emotional passages of my psyche. So my diary entries of late have focused on the less sweet aspects of my current state, namely frustration, boredom and despondency. These have been dominant experiences in recent months, but they aren’t a balanced or complete representation of how I am day to day. They are just the shards of a particular moment that got stuck in a narrowed perception.

I don’t regret what I write or paint, but I do sense their incompleteness as forms of expression. Any earthly endeavour being grounded in feeling and nature, is bound to be limited by circumstance, to be partial and incomplete. The paintings, the poetry and the prose can therefore only be channels for distinctly individual forces and colours of feeling. The struggle is for a sense of complete expression, though the results always fall far short of it.

For me, writing and painting do share some characteristics. They both combine a seriousness of vision and intent with a playfulness and lightheartedness in the struggles of the creative process. These are also, I note, two dominant facets in my personality. I can sense their presence in my spiritual practice and my approach to work, as well as play. I am aware that the seriousness tends to be worn too heavily and becomes rigid persistence. I guess the lighthearted playful side acts as a counter balance. It enables me to continue when the vision is thwarted, and thwarted it is. That is life though, a clash between aspirations and conditions. Somewhere sandwiched between the rolling out of our ideals and the inevitable clash with reality, lies the hard won fruits of our spiritual and creative practice.

RANT - GIVE US A SIGN MASTER !

It wasn’t until I visited Norway last year that I began to notice the English fetish for directional signs. Oslo, in comparison to even a quiet smokey English hamlet, is minimally sign posted. Presumable in a country the physical size of Norway, with a combined population hard pushed to exceed a modest sized metropolitan city in England, getting lost there would theoretically be much easier. Just walk out into any Norwegian Wood and be discovered decades later frozen to a pine tree. Little realising you were a mere hundred miles from a local supermarket or Viking Theme Park.

In this information age of Google and Sat Nav , it’s hardly beyond the ken of most English people to know where they are going and how to get there. Yet still we hear complaints about the wrong sort of signs, not enough signs, or worse still signs in the wrong places. I rarely hear anyone saying there are far too many signs. Just take a look at the way they clutter up our street corners.

In Cambridge, because it is a heritage site, heavily traffic congested and a cyclists paradise, we are festooned with the dratted things. Covered with Blue Signs, Green Signs, Brown Signs, White Signs, Black with Gold Letter Signs. Speed Signs, Warning Signs, Informing Signs, Advertising Signs, Place Signs, Floodlit Signs, Flashing Signs, etc etc. Centuries ago a lonely wayfarer toddling along a cobbled road to Cambridge would look out for a milestone. Usually they simply told you how far you were from London and how far away the nearest town was. These days signposts are getting to resemble models of a double helix, which for Cambridge would be very apt.

So what is going on here? Our every directional need is met. It’s very hard to get lost for very long in England. Within minutes you’re bound to find a sign for a B&B, its name and proximity. They do all but tell you the tariff, how long they’ve been in business and whether they’re gay friendly. Perhaps its because English people are hopelessly parochial. They travel in confidence around their own homes and gardens. They haven’t a clue about anything beyond their immediate road, let alone village, town or country. There is no point in asking for directions, you have to rely on signs.

Signs do ,however, have a habit of running out, just when you most need them. I was once in Thetford looking for the site of the priory ruins. There was a sign in the town centre which I followed to where there was another sign. Then came a fork in the road where there was no sign. Suddenly I was thrown upon trusting my instincts. In this instance they were entirely wrong. I wandered around cyclically for sometime, getting tantalising glimpses of my quarry through bushes, but never getting close to it. When I finally found the entrance it was obvious why the sign makers had given up. It was getting far too complicated, involving subways under roads. More signs would have just confused things even more.

David has reminded me of a classic example of pointless signs. The ones that say ‘To the North’, I guess that’s so Southerners are forewarned. Quite when the South becomes the Midlands, or the Midlands the North is a debatable question. What is it we are North of? Civilisation? The English Channel? The Queen?

As a country we take pride in our nonconformity, which appears to be in direct contradiction to our actual behaviour. We complain about red tape and unnecessary restrictions on our liberty and rebel in pitifully minor ways. We never want to take off and get lost in a wilderness ourselves. We sit in our homely armchairs, wearing our carpet slippers and watch vicariously someone else’s adventure on cable TV.

Monday, September 11, 2006

DIARY 9 - BOREDOM MANAGEMENT

In the last few months I’ve been experiencing boredom quite frequently. It is one of those states that I appear to have no magic potion to transform. Tolstoy said that boredom was ‘the desire for desire’. Having never read Tolstoy I wouldn’t know how familiar he was with it. Nor whether reading one of his books induces it. My experience certainly endorses his aphorism. How many times do I restlessly wander the flat looking for something to preoccupy myself with? Eventually I flop down on the sofa and exasperatedly declare my capitulation. Boredom is of its very nature disinterested and disengaged. Boredom is a poison that paralyses and has no immediate antidote.

By nature I am inclined to ignore something so lacking in meaning and drive. I act as though boredom is only a momentary lapse in an otherwise seamless progression of purpose toward something or other. Can this really be so ? Boredom like anything else must arise due to a particular set of conditions. One ends up in a dead end because a while back you took a whole series of wrong turns and ignored all the warning signs. One thing that boredom is not is spontaneous or instinctual in its origins, though it might appear so by its manner of arising.

If I have noticed anything it is that boredom is preceded by one of three things. One, there has been an unacknowledged low level of creative stimulus that slides secretly into boredom. Two, I have been too other regarding with my energy without receiving or giving myself enough to replenish it. Or three, patient endurance turns into exasperation and from there is born the bastard. Either way the result is a feeling of being instantly impoverished. Boredom ,in this sense, arises as the result of previous states of emotional or imaginative under investment. It’s as though your own personal Stock Market crashes, shares lose their value and cease to attract buyers. What I experience as disengagement has the taste and texture born from the desiccation of desire.

It is dashed difficult to distract yourself from being bored. Boredom has a stodgy immovable quality that ,much like quicksand, drags your further down into it the more you whimper and flail. It’s generally better not to make sudden movements mentally or physically and trust that the boredom will pass. Vegetate for as long as possible, preferable in front of a trivial, undemanding piece of celluloid trash. Meet the boredom on it’s own level, forget trying to raise your game. I’ve never found the resources in the moment to create a remedy. When you’ve accidentally fallen down a deep dark well you’re incapable of knowing the way out. What you have to trust in is some damsel arriving with a rope of golden hair. It might be an engaging phone conversation or a meeting with a friend in a cafe. Usually I’m drawn out by such unforeseen events. Something external to me heaves me out of my trough of despond. Leaving conspicuous trails of dark green slime from the bottom of the well distended behind me. A sludgy detritus erased from memory by the sudden rebirth of interest.

POEM - GETTING LIPPY

These lips that he bites are not his own,
they turn up now, instead of frown,
these lips hide white teeth,
a fresh and lively tasting tongue,
that penetrates and explores, with
no moment of caution for reflection,
and scarcely bleeds when bitten,
these lips have changed, he cannot disown them,
even though they smile too frequently for his liking,
leave an impression in public of being unapologetic,
of being considerate of others,
of being happy !


Bristles on the chin, strange, yet not unfamiliar,
nor as long, nor quite as coarse,
the skin less stippled, distressed, less antique.
a line of sight, sharpened in profile,
though not without a jaunt or twist of wit,
sparkling motes, like a fish, often leap from this dark lake,
it all has a certain set to its folds, wrinkles,
and cut of the jaw, a cheeky bone that is new,
hasn’t been seen in a mirror,
since maturity, or even before, if ever,
across a confident blue black evening a clear moon is rolling,
this face knows these lips are up for anything.


This face will use these lips and they will
kiss wood, iron, blue sky and black earth.
kiss fire, water, great sadness and great mirth.
kiss girls, boys, bald babies and the dead.
kiss Mothers, Fathers, Aunty Hazel and Uncle Fred.
kiss fingers, toes, cutlery and crockery.
kiss knees, elbows, exuberantly and quietly.
kiss nipples, bums, trousers and dresses.
kiss softly, violently, gods and goddesses.
kiss letters, words, sentences and novels.
kiss handcuffs, chains, a knot that unravels.
kiss angels, devils, a blessing and a curse.
kiss Popes, Rabbis, and other things perverse.
kiss earrings, studs, tiaras and cravats.
kiss hovels, palaces, and two bedroom flats.
kiss dreams, nightmares and all we pretend.
kiss laughter, tragedy, a world without end.
kiss squares, circles, straight lines rectangled.
kiss fads, fashions and anything new fangled.
kiss fags, pipes and wedding souveniers.
kiss hunks, pimps and outrageous queers.
kiss rapists, murderers and even politicians.
kiss doctors, nurses and cosmetic beauticians.
kiss Heaven, Hell and all the other buggers.
kiss windchimes, dolphins and little plastic buddhas.



VIDYAVAJRA

CD Review No 1 - Sparks - Hello Young lovers

Gut Records Ltd. 2006

The album ‘Lil Beethoven’ three years ago set a well nigh impossible musical high point for any band to exceed. Let alone a band whose longevity and diversity of output is legendary. How come we ignored them for so many years? The answer is quite simple. Sparks in the Seventies were a unique mix of musical / lyrical wit and invention. However. From ‘No 1 in Heaven’ onwards Sparks rode any stylistic fashion train going from New Wave to Rave, with varying degrees of success. With ‘Lil Beethoven’ and ‘Hello Young Lovers’ they have rediscovered how to be innovative whist remaining quintessentially inimitable Sparks . From the opening mini operetta ‘ Dick Around’ you know that this is an unusual groundbreaking record. The Sparks renaissance continues.

Ron Mael has always had a preoccupation with the prescient dilemmas of the modern man in love. Check out ‘Amateur Hour’ from ‘Kimono My House’ , ‘Reinforcements’ from ‘Propaganda’ or ‘The Lady is Lingering’ from ‘Indiscreet’. He constantly reveals and revels in a particularly male form of neuroses. ‘ Hello Young Lovers’ is no exception and has many wonderful couplets like these :-

‘Think about the recent past,
The cynics said too good to last
But she could change her mind again
Oh, no, this movie said ’THE END’
So I will go about my day
Just dicking round, my metier
And realise that life is change
And furniture to rearrange’ FROM – DICK AROUND

‘The skies are starting to cloud up
But that wont slow me down
Your eyes are starting to well up
But that wont bring me down
‘Cause I’m waterproof, I’m waterproof
The pressure you’re exerting is irrelevant to me
I see you crying but I’m not buying your Meryl Streep mimicry
It’s misdirected, your voice inflected
For maximum sympathy’ FROM – WATERPROOF

That’s the lyrical invention, the musical style develops further breadth on this record. ‘ Dick Around’ is not the only mini operetta, the disc finishes with the magnificent ‘As I sit to play the organ at Notre Dame Cathedral’. There is also the kitsch barber shop of ‘Here Kitty’. The barbed use of the Star Spangled Banner lyrics as ironic counterpoint to the Barn Dance that is ‘( Baby, Baby ) Can I Invade Your Country’. Also, the glory that is ‘Perfume’ with its simple lyrical premise harnessed to the sassiest and jauntiest swing beat.



It’s obvious those decades in the musical desert were not misspent. Whilst success eluded them, they broadened their musical palette. They can now parody any style with panache. ‘Hello Young Lovers’ successfully expands the classical fusion of ‘Lil Beethoven’ by restoring some of their earlier pop sensibilities.

QUOTATION MARKS No 1


Students,
when you want to say something,
think about it three times before you say it.

Speak only if your words will benefit yourselves and others.
Do not speak if it brings no benefit.
These things are difficult to do all at once.
Keep them in mind and learn them gradually.

DOGEN

Saturday, September 02, 2006

DIARY 8 - BACK TO BASICS

The whole process of personal/spiritual review began because of physical ailments. A persistent back problem which came and went in intensity according to mood. Here I am a good 2-3 years later, and many changes down the line, with the range of physical aliments growing by the week. The back is still with me, though nothing like as intense. To this I now have to add severe shoulder pain, particularly when I'm asleep, a tight achilles tendon that hurts like hell in my heel if I'm stood or walk for too long. The Doctor says these are difficult ailments to heal, so it will all take time of an unspecified length. My stomach has been upset now for three weeks or so, alternating between being bloated after an ordinary meal to discomforting flatulence. All I need at the moment is this blessed head cold ( yes, its still with me! ). I have to acknowledge that my current work/financial situation is the root of matters physical. I do feel to be under a lot of strain.

As yet there is no visible end in sight to this situation. I keep scouring the job adverts. My heart of hearts says; I really dont want to work anymore, I've had it with working for anyone. Whilst at the same time I know that that's niether realistic nor entirely true. I look through the newspapers and the internet sites and feel my heart sink in dispair at the paucity of work I find myself remotely interested in. Or more to the point, jobs I could apply for with more than a cat in hells chance of getting. Meanwhile, work in the Crematorium drags through its petty pace from day to day. What in heavens name do I need to do next in order to turn this state around? Patience and persistence, two of my best qualities, are rapidly loosing energy the longer I remain in this bardo. If I have to drag myself forward again I'll scream,'this is getting very very very boring !!!' I'm grappling more regularly with a 'fuck em, it isn't worth the effort' truculence. Not very constructive I know,but I have to acknowledge that response is appearing more frequently in my psyche. To summarise in as English a fashion as is possible, I am more than a tad frustrated with the universe.

Friday, September 01, 2006

POEM - EVERDAY SHOES

Old comfortable shoes,
their worn and scuffed uppers
fit like gloves to the gnarled bone
and muscle of Buddhist feet.

Abrade and nip no longer,
accommodated to name and form,
do the shoes fit the feet
or the feet fit the shoes ?

These borrowed brogues
walk present in the world,
with a soft tongue and too tightly fastened lips,
cushioned by a detachable inner sole.


VIDYAVAJRA

DIARY 7 - SOUR GRAPES

Overripe grapes hold their external shape whilst inside has passed well beyond any edible form. One moment of direct pressure and the whole skin would collapse like a ripped waterbed. There’s a vivid moment in the film Samson and Delilah, when Samson’s eyes are popped out. I understand the special effect was accomplished by pressing a couple of black seedless grapes into the fevered eyeballs of Victor Mature.

Why am I mentioning this? Well, it’s how my eyeballs currently feel. Painful to the touch, aching like I’ve been reading a turgid and densely written Russian novel. Through extensive sleep loss, I can now understand how keeping someone awake can be a popular form of torture. Not since I saw the recent Terry Gilliam film – Tideland, have I endured being forcible kept awake with such bad grace. I paid good money to see that, more fool me, but this head cold came free of charge.

I remind myself ‘only a couple of days more of feeling my brain is a grape being crushed and there’ll be the blessed release and subsequent glutinous runoff ’. I know these cold cycles like every brain cell in my head currently under duress. I’m not sure those cells are not dying off at a fast rate, they should do tests. They’ve just discovered that arteries in a heart disease sufferer age rapidly by a huge number of decades. Yet they haven’t a clue what a head cold could be doing on the quiet.

What was worse was going to work with weakened centripetal force. I felt like a weeble that wobbled but didn’t fall down. My brain, for no apparent reason, would flop like a bean bag in my cranium. Keeping my eyeballs functioning cooperatively was a major task. Staying open and responsive at work was a task and a half. Fortunately the aching eased off with the afternoons cremation services. Nothing like a sobering reminder of our mortality eh? No one’s died of a head cold have they? Bet they wouldn’t tell us if they had.

By the time I returned home I was feeling on the far shores of normal. As the evening draws in, a hand clamp resumes it’s authoritarian squeeze over my cerebellum. All I need to do now is go to bed. Sometime in the early hours I’ll reawaken because the ache in my head has burgeoned. Here am I ,suffering like a diva in a major operatic aria, with someone elses cold ! As there is the notable absence of God as progenitor these days. I feel I must plonk responsibility where its due, right there in someone's lap. It makes it so much more bearable to know there was a cause, a reason, there is someone who is entirely responsible for your suffering. Even as you read this I’m considering my options for litigation.

Monday, August 28, 2006

POEM - THE MIND & THE MOMENT OF MURDER

What is murder like,
and why is it always called cold ?
as in fish or collation,
as though one word, a name,
in a small elasticated notebook
could be neatly ruled out in red pen
and returned to a pocket, coldly
without thought, without care, without mercy,
without anything,
where must a mind be
in that moment
of bringing trembling hands
and a shaking head to death ?
where has the icon of beauty gone,
amongst the shudders, shivers ,sweats ?
fogged in a blizzard of responses,
persisting like bees at a closed window,
a sharp intake of breath,
a cascade of no,
a necklace of teardrops,
a tie dyed bruise of purple ships
skirting around a neck,
a ruby bead on a lip,
in a stab, in a slash, in a shot,
as the trigger clicks,
what is it that flicks across a mind
or mutters in a heart
at that moment of taking,
to take, not loan or borrow,
to steal, rob and remove ?
what flavour had the moments before?
from which closeted vault,
if indeed it was closeted
and not a grubby delinquent cave
perhaps tidy or clinical,
from which neat recess
are blood crimes unlocked ?
what power emerges through
and what is erased by
an unshackled rage ?
where in that tangle of arms,
in that theft and violation,
amidst an act of love,
did the purpose and desire
shift its shape to a flailing pandemonium ?
ending in the pyrrhic body blow,
of a triumphant animal,
but there is no ceasing
or stemming to the stream of intent,
which stumbles but sweeps on
over the murderous rapids
until all is expunged, becalmed,
or unclamped
from round the throat of love,
what flavour has the moment after
when everything has been extinguished,
quietly relinquished,
and the burnished glow of hatred
rapidly dims ?


VIDYAVAJRA

BOOK REVIEW - TONY PARKER

TONY PARKER – Life after Life
Interviews with twelve murderers.
Publisher - Harper Collins – 1990.

Angered by someone’s words or actions we might think momentarily ‘I’ll kill him.’ These three words, similar to ‘I love you’, cannot always be taken at face value. We rarely know the real depth of our love until it’s tested. Likewise our understanding of our more murderous impulses. We’d like to think we’d have more self control in moments of high passion, than to kill. This book demonstrates the power of emotion to override our rational mind and social conscience.

The twelve murderers that Tony so skillfully interviews, tell a universal and sad story. Nine men and three women speak of their lives before the murder, the murder itself and their life after the murder. How they describe their crime varies from distant, to matter of fact, to recollections that are vivid or chilled with regret. Decades later some are still trying to come to terms with what happened to them. Why did they do what they did ?

Their previous life experiences could easily be used to excuse their actions. No one does that. Though it is plain to see that these people had a lot stacked against them. Their lives are dogged by difficult upbringings, social disadvantage or early mis-behaviour that escalates to murder. Some are hopelessly naive individuals, brutalised by circumstance, some socially inadequate or simple minded. The lives and events that lead up to the murder are not insignificant factors. They explain the rage and why they lost control, without excusing it. The murders took only a moment. This book demonstrates just how tragic that one moment was, as the consequences roll on decades later.

Murder is something you can never expunge. You cannot make, or set things right again. For ‘ all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little flower.’ All twelve people are haunted by those few seconds of rage, where their self control fell absent. Their lives are also stained by societies abhorrence. Even after they’ve done time, their lives are immensely difficult. A murderer is a person imprisoned forever by their heinous crime. Society cannot trust them anymore, and doesn’t really believe in the possibility of their reform. Myra Hindley was demonised right up till the moment of her death, and will be written into criminal history in that light.

But then, when you read the account of Phillip Derbyshire’s crime, your sympathies are stopped in their tracks. On one night, unable to handle his floundering relationship with his wife and frustrated by the crying of his eighteen month old son. He vigorously shakes him, throws him in a fire, pours boiling water on him and swings him flat against a wall. He cannot remember when the child stopped crying, nor when it was dead, so consumed was he by his rage. He tells this, then says to Parker ‘ It has to be told first, you have to know about it so you can decide whether you want to come and talk to someone like me, a person who did what I did’ His whole story is heavy with regret and still riddled with incomprehension.

It is noticable how little self justification or rationalisation they weave into the retelling of their stories. There is precious little here to lead you to think they are laying on a sob story to elicit sympathy. Their storytelling is often quite brutally frank and has an authentic air of remorse.

The focus of this book is obviously on the murderers, but we get little sense of the impact on the victims family. Studs Terkel, Parker’s American counterpart, would have interviewed everyone involved; a victims family, the murderer’s family, witnesses to the murder, policemen etc. This way you would bear witness to the whole situation, not just a partial slice. Terkel is also non partisan, he definitely doesn’t take sides. He keeps his own opinions to himself. If I have any criticism of Parker it is that he definitely has a social agenda. He wants to open our eyes to the suffering of the perpetrators of crime. This he does extremely well, but for me the partiality is it’s major flaw. Parker, like Terkel, is a great listener and a sensitive transcriber and editor. He uses vocabulary and sentence structure to give you a sense of his subjects expressiveness, intelligence and ability to reflect. Their character emerges off the page via their style and habits of speech.


The victims of crime so easily illicit our sympathy. Whilst criminals too quickly become evil and unworthy of consideration. It is ,however, useful to appreciate that suffering is universal and impartial to a degree we hardly dare acknowledge. We all suffer from the causes of our actions. Hard and fast definitions of good and evil distort and make a travesty of our perceptions. They really do not help. As people tend then to rush toward the moral high ground and dehumanise the victims and the perpetrators. They also make it impossible for some one to reform, change or move on. Yes, a wrong has been done in often a cruel and gruesome manner. However, would we wish to be described and defined solely by one single act, perpetrated decades ago, that took barely a few seconds of our life ?