Saturday, October 20, 2007

DIARY 47 - Feeling like a blocked, block of wood.

David's gone off on retreat for a fortnight, and I've missed his presence in the flat immensely. Sometimes it's simply just missing being able to set down and talk through the experiences of my day. In another way, some time on my own I thought, was an opportunity to get seriously into my writing. This was a moment ripe for an ironic twist, so I get a bad dose of writers block. A new piece I'm writing on a extract from Dogen's Genjo Koan got seriously stalled. I spent a few evenings staring at a screen, getting only a few unconfident sentences squeezed out. Being creatively constipated in this way is a bit unusual for me, help, however, was at hand.

I met up with my good friend Jayarava. I mentioned my predicament, and in the next sentence I'm talking how in moments when my faith seems to desert me, reading Dogen effortlessly reconnects me. He suggested I might think about composing some sort of Dogen sahdana practice ( a visualisation practice ). Now this didn't appeal at all, but I immediately thought 'I'd like to compose a Dogen Puja though', and that did it. In the evenings this week I've been trawling through the four volumes of Dogen'sShobogenzo for usable material. I haven't been sleeping too well, so on two occasions I got up and wrote. So, by Friday morning I'd finished the first draft of a Shobogenzo Puja. It was actually quite easy to adapt most of the sections I chose. Abandoning preciousness or being overly reverent, I've lifted a few of my favorite bits, adapting, editing and adding to the material, ruthlessly where necessary, so it will suit a more devotional context. What I do with it now I don't know, give it a dry run at home I suppose, or try it out on a Sangha night at the Buddhist Centre, near Dogen's Birthday or Deathday, perhaps.

Lacking a good nights sleep, with one person on holiday, and another ill for part of the week, there were times this week when I felt mentally and literally overstretched by my work. This has been going on for three weeks, and I've had no time to progress any planning or managerial projects. A difficult interaction with one of my team triggered a strongly pissed off state of mind to emerge, that I experienced in a physical whole body way. Extreme tension, and a grumpy unreasonable mental landscape manifested. Both body and mind were in a belligerent and petulant sulk. Life and people just were not how I wanted them at all. David was away - alas poor me. It has felt like I wasn't managing myself or the team as effectively as I'd like to. Unrealistic expectations – what I, or what I think others think I should be doing - played anxiously across my mind. I know this managing lark is going to take me some time to master, and master it I will. At the moment the job, and I, feel like a bit of an uncomfortable mismatch. I am trusting that this will pass.

DIARY 46 - Swearing is OK - it's official.

There was a study published by the University of East Anglia this week, which to judge from the media's reporting of it, would indicate we all swear like troopers at work, and that this is more than OK. It's a harmless way to let of steam, reduce stress, and reinforce team bonding in the workplace, it would seem. So, abandon all restraint right away, begin unzipping those fucks and cunts from bondage, let rip a guilt free rude riposte, liberate your coarse, expletive laden banter from its mental restraints immediately, it's entirely healthy badinage – its now been academically endorsed.

However, as a manager, I'm not allowed to swear, because for a manager to swear is tantamount to bullying in the workplace. For me, this instantly consigned this report to the bin of irrelevance. Who paying for this tosh to be researched and written? This sociological studying of the relative use of expletives in the workplace, gets academic funding from someone, I want their names and salary details. Which isn't to say I approve of swearing in the workplace, or that I use it as a means of exerting managerial control. It's never crossed my mind to do so – until now that is! All that stuff about power relations and position, changing the nature of our interactions, may or may not be true, but for me, by focusing on quite a minor point, it misses some thing more fundamental – what effect does the widespread cultural use of swearing have on society? Does it, for instance, make an important contribution to improving the quality of our communication? Does it cultivate an environment of tolerance and understanding, where we all live in a satisfied and contented harmony? The language of intolerance is sworn across peoples hearts and minds, and foams from their mouths.

Swearing seems more socially acceptable in the 'noughties'. You only have to randomly turn on your TV, at any time of day, to hear how common place swearing has become. It's not a particular attribute of swearing that it reinforces group cohesion, any shared language and culturally accepted forms of expression does that.

Apart from creating a group identity, what other effects does swearing have, not all of them are beneficial or desirable, surely? Is swearing best used in rare moments of extreme exasperation, or as a regular form of linguistic punctuation? How beneficial to society can swearing be? If someone in my team started swearing at anyone I'd need to put a stop to it immediately, not encourage it. Swearing is easily turned into a form of verbal bullying, it does this regardless of ones position in an office hierarchy. It impedes good team building, and cultivates a coarse, combative tone to interactions. Treating people civilly and with a respect for human dignity at work is vital – swear words do not do either of those things . Swearing is an inherently aggressive form of language, it uses degraded language to degrade our relationships with others.

I come from a working class/ chapel going family, where swearing was considered an extremely poor form of communication. As a teenager, when I first heard my Mother let out a swear word, I erupted into a hysterical, uncontrollable bought of laughter, it was that unusual. Swearing, used frequently, loses all its cutting emotive power. Like anything used regularly to shock or amuse, the more the joke is pulled the less funny or pointed it gets, thus the impact of expletives becomes blunted. Swearing these days has become tiresome and dull.

From the point of view of five Buddhist precepts regarding speech, swearing breaks most of them; they're not truthful, swear words exaggerate and are malign in intent; they're just not kind; they're harsh in tone and in no way an elegant or gracious use of language; they're a useless form of speech because, even if it gets some emotion off your chest, it's not in any way helped to resolve a situation of conflict, it might even have made it worse; they're just crude name calling; which brings us to the last precept against slanderous speech, whose opposite quality is speech that is likely to cultivate harmony.

Now this report might appear to imply swearing creates social bonding. There is a whole other discussion to be had about what that cohesive effect, if that was what it was, arose out of, was it out of a sense of harmony between everyone, or from a ganging together out of a shared sense of beleaguered adversity? The essential question is this - when we swear, are we at war or at peace with ourselves, or with others?

Saturday, October 13, 2007


even the most ugly person,
has some beauty,
some wonderful qualities,
and likewise every beauty
has something ugly about it



It's really a kitchen sink drama - a thoughtful young man, marries, a simple uncomplicated northern lass, a loving woman who makes few demands on him. He finds himself living with a pregnant, slightly gauche wife, in a dreary half decorated terraced house. This is the late seventies in the north west of England. The post-punk band he'd recently joined, rapidly becomes a hotly sought after property. Whilst on tour he's interviewed by an intelligent, attractive Belgian woman, whom he starts a long-term secret affair with. Loving both woman, from two entirely different contexts, and not being able to resolve it by giving up either woman, tears him apart. Added onto this, is his sudden and severe epileptic fits, and the increasing demands of fame - the draining adulation of his fans. This strongly shaken emotional cocktail eventually leading to his unexpected suicide.

Were this not the true and tragic story of Ian Curtis, the former lead singer of Joy Division,one would,perhaps, not have given this tale much attention. The whiff of Rock 'n' Roll tragedy does, however, still sell his music, and now this movie, comes trailing a superlative soundtrack in its wake. People are still drawn to him because they want to understand his, and through him their own, nihilistic urges for oblivion. He topped himself, we did not, now why was that? Curtis, as portrayed here, comes across as dangerously immature and lacking in self-awareness, so self-controlled and divorced from the consequences of acting solely in response to his feelings. The intensity of his vision appearing to arise from too tight a self-containment of them. Feeling and passion burst forth in his lyrics and his singing. His fans got off on his darkly toned catharsis, pushing him, all the time, to show and give them more. His life demonstrates what Oprah Winfrey said about fame to be tragically true - “ If you come to fame not understanding who you are, it will define who you are”

The central performances from Sam Riley and Samantha Morton, though good and coherent, somehow fail to lift the energy level above 'steady as you go'. As a consequence it feels flat and emotionally uneventful – and this is a film about what leads up to a suicide, remember! The story lines development, is stretched out in terms of time, way beyond what the script can sustain. Long lingering shots of Riley nervously smoking a cigarette, slows the pace and focuses our attention, without providing any increase in a sense of feeling for his predicament. One gazes on dispassionately as he takes the rope that he'll hang himself by - off screen. At this point it becomes blatantly obvious how you've been held in neutral emotionally for most of the film. You don't care for him, at this most pivotal of moments. It's as though his nihilism was shot from the perspective of a rear view mirror, constantly moving away from, instead of towards, its subject matter.

Anton Corbjin, presents his first film as a cool, stylishly shot, black and white homage to the obsession of his earlier adult career. He gives it great observation, attention and period detail, the precise framing of each scene is sharp edged and immaculately composed. On a cinematic level it is an impressive debut. His eye is still that of a music photographer, his feeling for narrative flow is likewise too static, posed and drained of movement and colour. Intentionally or not, this film seems to be strangely alienated from any basic humane resonance. It demonstrates the facts, the events, the factors at play, all very well, but the confusion and turmoil of feelings going on behind them, stay as only muted murmurings. Curtis may indeed have been a repressed, emotionally blocked young man, but that translates on the screen, as him being a blank and empty vessel. After what felt much longer than its 122 minute running time, the reasoning of Curtis's internal world remained a closed, baffling mystery. This might well add to his enigmatic, if not mythic, cult status, but this detracted seriously from the films vitality and direction. Ian Curtis was an ordinary human being, containing dilemmas and choices we all could encounter. It doesn't help to paint him into a corner as a studied icon of morbidity or world weariness. His tragedy was that he lost his rational foothold, lost control, and the only way he felt he could take back the initiative in his life, was via self-destruction. There was a great film to be made here, buried beneath its style and poise, it somehow got alienated and lost too.

Oh, by the way, any crematorium that allowed bilious black smoke to be emitted from its chimney, as is shown at the end of the movie as the song 'Atmosphere' plays, would be either closed down, subjected to huge financial penalties, or prosecuted.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

CD Review No 6- Joy Division

Prompted by the release of the film 'Control', I've bought three Joy Division Cd's recently - Unknown Pleasures , Closer,and a singles compilation, none of which I bought at the time. Sometimes particular musical sounds are very much of their late seventies/early eighties period, such as the drum sound on 'She's Lost Control', though generally they stand up extremely well twenty eight years later. Martin Hannett's unfussy and crisp production style, wisely takes the edge off the mordant and self-preoccupied vocal style of Ian Curtis, stopping it from becoming unbearably confessional, or, knowing what was to follow, portentous. Joy Division didn't last long enough to smooth down all their rough edges and become a stadium band like U2. Longer term this may serve them well, a permanent place of praise in the Rock'n' Roll pantheon is thus assured. Untainted by any sense of betrayal at having sold out, or declining musical potency, or becoming a parody of themselves, they've also been posthumously bequeathed the mirror of tragedy, through which to perceive their entire output.

Curtis's suicide, like Cobaine's in the next decade, sad though it was, has been romanticised to hell and back again. The fact that Joy Divisions music, such as on 'I remember nothing' can be intense and brooding feeds into this mythologising, but this neglects to notice their growing pop sensibility, as on 'Isolation', 'Love will tear us apart' and 'Atmosphere'. Their youthful darkness might have passed, in the same way that Nick Cave's grisly vision became more optimistic as he reached middle age. We also forget the zeitgeist of the time. It was grim up north in the aftermath of a severe late seventies recession, and another one was yet to come. The tone Joy Division set, was as much a reflection of their post- industrial homelands degeneration, as it was a working out lyrically of a personal tragedy. Corbyn's black and white photos of them at that time, and now his film, helped to develop, if not create, both views. The desolate, abandoned bleakness of urban England, drained of all life affirmation and colour, was an equally sentimentalised frame for their musical output.

Factory records were frequently accused of being style merchants lacking substance. Fortunately some of the bands Tony Wilson adopted were major musical talents, Joy Division were the first, and arguably the best of the lot. Stylistically, they have frequently been plundered and plagiarised by lesser musical talents. Most lack their sensitivity, or ability to keep their seriousness from descending into ludicrous self-indulgence, or the sort of mannered melancholy that was entirely boneless posturing. Joy Division were the heirs of northern stoicism, emboldened by a dark and dour energy, that was also strangely affirming, as we hear them making the best they can of a bad job. Spawned from Joy Division's demise, New Order were to develop this further in the altogether brighter landscape of the late eighties, though of lesser significance and influence musically.

DIARY 45 - Remake and Remodel

My first week managing the Customer Services Team, without the former manager there to advise or train me, has gone OK, despite my prophetic anxiety about calamity descending upon me. To be honest, the day to day work of the Team is not rocket science, once you have become familiar with the XAL system, it really comes down to communication skills. There are, of course, unexpected or unfamiliar disasters happening all the time, but mostly these turn out to be opportunities to expand areas of competence. Most of the other difficulties appear to be essentially organisational, usually ineffective or poorly maintained working practices in other departments of the business. When these fall over its Customer Services who have to pick up the pieces with the disappointed or angry customer. Finding ways to appease, placate and compensate is our core task. Try as we might to encourage things to improve,much of it is outside our sphere to influence. It inevitable comes down to human failings or error, for which there is no accounting – which in management speak becomes inadequate supervision or training, manpower shortage or systemic incompetence.

The consistency of my lifestyle and practice has been a bit ragged over the last month. This is entirely down to the amount of change and learning of new things that have been going on in my life at the moment. Now things are stabilising work wise, this is beginning to change, as I restore activities that help my lifestyle be both sustainable and enjoyable. I've already started going swimming once a week, something that stopped altogether when I worked at the Crematorium. David and I are going to buy bicycles this weekend which will increase our mobility immensely.

I've been writing a piece called 'Binding one's Self without a rope' for some time. I left it alone for a few months, but returned to it the other weekend to do a bit of housekeeping, only I couldn't get into the file. Once David returned from solitary retreat he rescued it from oblivion for me. When I looked at, it seemed to have reverted to an entirely earlier version and jumbled up the sequence, whilst other sections were missing all together. So, rather irritatedly, I've spent a good part of Sunday and three evenings this week restoring it, using a hard copy I had as reference and an e.mail attachment version for the missing bits. Without the latter I wouldn't be writing this blog entry this morning. I'm hoping to publish it soon as an article in Shabda, which is the Western Buddhist Orders monthly publication for reporting in, forum for debate and information etc. The start of the week, my own personal time was largely dominated by this task, not a thing I'd chose to do with my evenings off, but had to be done none the less. So, this weekend I'd like to focus on doing more nourishing creative things, and spending time with the people I love.