Sunday, June 29, 2008

PICTURE - Just incase you wondered what he looks like

Here's a picture of my partner David, taken on our holiday in Sheringham. I think he looks rather fine in this one. But then I would say that wouldn't I?

FEATURE No 3 - The Ting Tings

The Ting Tings -a great band at this particular moment - an unpretentious, yet strangely arty mix of Indie, with a stroppy rap style, and the result is just damned catchy pop - they're not afraid to show, indeed unashamedly pinch, from their influences (yeh! lets have more nerdy guitar funk -aka -Talking Heads) but re-formulated, to suit a girl singer / boy drummer combo from Salford. She, Katie White, has a knowing insolent presence on stage or video, which I guess is why she's been likened to Debbie Harry, that, and she has dyed blonde hair. The music press are so predictable, which musical or sexual cliche can this band be best fitted into? - Blondie!!! He, Jules De Martino, is a bit of a dish, bashing away energetically on the snare drums. Don't hide your light behind your shades man, the boys are gonna love you!!! It remains to be seen whether The Ting Tings, have enough ideas and brio, to really go somewhere further than a few catchy singles. I for one don't mind if its brief, at least we'll be spared the humiliating fall from grace by next year, when their freshness has gone stale, and have consequently got really big in the US.

PICTURE - of a Kshitigarbha Statue

This was one of the most beautiful artifacts in the Sainsbury Centre Collection at the UEA, Norwich. A gorgeous figure of Jizo Bosatsu / Kshitigarbha made from wood, metal and glass beads.


Ask yourself,
If there were no praise,
and no blame,
who would I be then?
Then you'll know who you are,
and what your style is


DIARY 63 - The Rocks of Lethargy

What an odd week. Well, it's not the week that's been odd, just me. I've been so out of being my usual self at all, I'm not entirely sure who that person is. Time off work, you would think would allow me to do all the things I don't get much time for normally - like writing. Let's make the most of this space, eh!. Apart from a few blog posts, I really haven't wanted to do much of that. I've done basically bugger all, of a creative kind - which feels disappointing.

When I think about it, it feels OK. What I feel about it, is far different, a slightly less charitable voice (like a parent hectoring ) chimes in. On most Sundays and school holidays, when I was a teenager, you'd just want to relax,and unwind, but my Mother would come in saying ' Don't think you're going to lounge around doing nothing all day,young man, you can make yourself useful' and you'd be told what needed doing, and have to get on with it. I was rarely allowed to just idly dream for long. When I've reflected on my now 51 years of life,( for it was also my birthday this week ) all I can see in such unforgiving moments, is a life of 'making myself be useful' in order to keep that particular devil off my back. So a week of doing nothing in particular, can be quite a challenge for me. But, considering what else I've been enduring and absorbing over the last few weeks - lack of sleep, extreme shoulder pain, lethargy, disengagement, and a suicide - I guess, a little time off from being disciplined and purposeful has been needed.

I finished the course of Amitriptyline on Wednesday, and my sleep has been OK-ish. I wake up in the morning with extremely stiff, painful shoulders, but I do sleep. Also, our shower has finally been repaired ,after three months of feeble lukewarm dribbling. So now I can have hot water cascading over my tender joints, and it is sheer bliss I can tell you. I'm not completely over the shoulder problems yet, but there is discernible progress being made.

It was a week with recognisable halves. The first part, I felt low, self preoccupied and suffused with a sort of hopeless, yet, restless spirit. Everything about my experience felt tender, over sensitive and hence uncomfortable. I apologise to any friends with whom I spent time this week, if I was a little uncommunicative or emotionally distracted. I was often the former because of the latter. As ever, it comes back to very familiar terrain for me - what I'm presently doing with my life, is that the best I can do, or hope for, and is that going to be enough for me? To which I have a response which groans despairingly. I described my current feelings about my work in Customer Services, to my friend Saddharaja, as somewhat akin to a grass court tennis player, being forced to play on Astro Turf, very little seems right about it. Yes, you can play a game on it, but it feels somewhat alienated from a real life affirming experience. I often feel hampered like I have two left feet, and frustrated at not being able to play my best game. Yet when I assess what my other options are, I can't summon much purpose or enthusiasm from them. A life of just being 'useful' doesn't cut it any more. Other needs have to be in there too - for creativity, meaning, purpose and a basic sense of satisfaction to come from that. All I can sense at present is the absence of these. As Saddharaja commented, this wasn't a tenable situation to maintain even in the short term (which has been inordinately long) - something is gonna give - and it wont be the job.

The rest of the week? Well, there was a good day out with Jayarava in Norwich. Public transport was not a willing or a speedy servant that day, so it took us a lot longer to get to our desired destination - The Sainsbury Centre at the UEA, but, it was worth it. When I lived in Diss, I used to go there a lot to meet with a friend of mine. I've forgotten what an eclectic collection it is. It is so obviously a particular individuals choice and taste, of ethnic art, the archaeological artifact,and a smattering late 20th century artists. It was good to spend time with Jayarava too, he's always good company, with a lively interested mind and stimulating conversation. Though I wasn't perhaps always able to meet him on that level, as I struggled to keep my head out of the green slime of despondency.

Then there was my birthday, and the arrival of cards bearing store cards with money on them. So, I went out on Friday on a spending spree. Though David had already bought me two new shirts, I bought myself four more, plus three ties. Not that I really needed them, because I didn't really need them. I just felt like recklessly indulging myself in the distractions of retail therapy. I also blew a bit more money than I intended on a digital camera, as a present to myself. Though I enjoyed the thrill of this at the time, I felt afterwards, slightly guilty, like I shouldn't have done it, that I ought to have waited and considered more carefully what I could afford, or whether I should wait a while. But that is, largely, just that internalised parental voice again, telling me I've been indulgent and profligate with my money - and that I ought to feel ashamed. Though that puts it in perspective, there is still a background feeling that someone is going to come and tell me off,and withdraw my privileges, which hasn't particularly vanished.

David's been away on retreat this weekend. So I could do whatever I wanted - which was? - more of not a lot. A fair bit of pootling about on the computer, watching far too much 'really interesting' stuff on I-Player, and trying not to do things just because I think I should. When you take the 'should' away, I find there wasn't an awful lot left I wanted to do. Certainly I've been more easy going and relaxed, but definitely rudderless, and drifted towards, then repeatedly foundered on the rocks of lethargy.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

FEATURE No 1 - Rediscover Carmel Mc Court Campaign Starts Here

Sadly this woman has disappeared without a trace, well she's big in Europe still, which is more or less the same thing. She had a pretty limited vocal range, but what she did, she did well, which was to belt a song out. I saw her perform as support to Rip Rig & Panic, who were rubbish live, but Carmel stunned us all with the simplicity of her performance, just her and a double bass. Ah! the Eighties Torch singer revival - about as short as Julie London's career - which wasn't long.

Monday, June 23, 2008

CD Review No 13 - Sparks - Exotic Creatures of the Deep

The Sparks Renaissance, ( is that Wren-naissance or Run -naissance ? ) continues, with another very lively, collection of pop tunes, on their 21st album. A feat of endurance, as much as one of consistent inventiveness, which many performers half their age fail to maintain with this much virulent energy and attack beyond their third album. In contrast to 'Hello Young Lovers,' Exotic Creatures of the Deep' is less diverse in the musical styles the Mael Brothers choose to pinch, parody or parade. It has a more refined, focused punch, giving it a consistency which its predecessor did sometimes lack, due to its eclecticism. If any cost has been exacted for this, it is that it is lyrically weaker. You have to really search out the sly, dry wit, you've come to expect from Ron Mael.

It does have its delights that are worth finding, such as on 'Good Morning' - about a man who wakes up one morning in bed with a woman he doesn't know. It's full of funny throwaway quips - ' I hope its just your laugh that is infectious' ,or 'Please spare me derision, I'll do my rendition, A lengthy recital, Of every song with foolish in the title.' Even songs that are less successfully conceived, such as - 'This is the Renaissance' - contain hidden gems - ' We can see the moon, We can see the stars, We can see the future and the freeways and electric cars, And they might think we're quaint, We don't really care, We've got Michelangelo and they graffiti everywhere'

It began with 'This Town ain't big enough for the both of us', and they became totally obsessed with it on the album 'Lil Beethoven', and they continue to this day, to shamelessly plunder styles from classical music. Blending them in a variety of confections with grumbling guitars and electronic throbbing beats. Set off by an unerring ability to build up songs around the simplest of riffs or hook lines. The essential idea, nay amusement, of a song is declared loudly by it's title - 'She got me (Pregnant)' - 'Lighten up Morrissey' - 'I can't believe you'd fall for all the crap in this song' - 'I've never been high.' Sometimes the humour of a song title -'I can't believe you'd fall for all the crap in this song' for instance - is all it amounts to, which can leave you feeling a little short changed. All Sparks songs explore a standard theme- male neuroses/paranoia when in a relationship - giving it yet another peculiar twist. This album can sometimes sound like its from the seventies, at other times it's on a more contemporary pulse, all the while staying within the idiosyncratic musical territory Sparks have singlehandedly carved out for themselves.

The track 'Lighten up Morrissey,' is a bit of an oddity, it seems like a remixed out take from their 'Big Beat' period, (not one of their best). Morrissey is a lifelong Sparks fan. so maybe this song is by way of a cheeky, back handed compliment. It is one of their feebler attempts at satire, it fits, to my ears, less comfortable within the musical landscape of 'Exotic Creatures of the Deep.' Here, they rummage through their own back catalogue for ideas to dust off and rehash, but what artist wouldn't this far into their career? There is a direct line of musical sympathy between 'Never turn your back on Mother Earth' and 'I've never been High'. It's never, ever a boring retread, they have always added something new, to freshen its appeal. On' Photoshop', about a spurned lover who wants to erase from memory the relationship that's failed, it explores a new use for digital technology - 'You know what your doing, Look at the acclaim, Grant me one more favour, Alter the terrain, Make it look as though I were in Hell, Or something near enough to Hell, Give it a caption of farewell, Photoshop me out of your life.'

Some day the music buying public will re-discover Sparks and realise what delights they've been missing, since their undoubtedly great 1970's Island records period. I just hope they're not retired, or well passed their best, or dead, by then.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

DIARY 62 - Pills, Pain & Future Prognosis

I'm coming to the end of my months supply of Amitriptyline, and I must say the benefits have been mixed. It does allow me to sleep, until it wears off around four o'clock in the morning that is. If I'm particularly over stimulated, agitated or, damn it, over tired, it doesn't work at all. I lie there, so aware of being awake, every second becomes a source of pain in itself. Initially, during the day, I could be a bit lethargic, and found focusing on detailed work quite disorientating. This effect did wear off after about a fortnight. Now, as I approach afternoon tea, my energy levels can plummet, and drag my mood down with it.At this point I find a mordant, weary depressiveness emerges, as the pill wears off. The pill itself is minute, about half the size of a split lentil, and pastel blue. Apparently, if taken in prolonged and large doses, it is addictive, and the withdrawal process can be horrendously protracted. As Amitriptyline was originally devised to treat depression, it seems an odd paradox that it also can cause it. It was eventually found to be more effective for insomnia, which is also linked to depression. My persistent shoulder pain continues, though it is gradually improving. I have regained some mobility, and it doesn't catch me out with a sharp painful reminder, every time I put my shirt on in the mornings. So the various therapies are working. David has been very supportive, buying massage oils and massager, and regularly uses them on my back, and he is getting quite good at it too.

The chosen focus for my bodily pain is invariable a good indication that I'm exceeding my capacity in some way - in this case it maybe I've taken on, or I'm shouldering too much. With my mood being so chemically adjusted, it has been hard to assess what has really been going on. Do medicines create or act as a release for our underlying mental states? For the last month I've felt more drained than usual, with less engagement with my work in Customer Services, which has never been good at the best of times. I realised, whilst talking to a friend recently, that my heart is no longer behind this job. Which would explain the depressive mood swings. Though I'm no doubt being a real Bodhisattva, by helping others in my team, I'm getting no sense of personal fulfillment or satisfaction from doing so. I seem to be spending my time working on overcoming areas of weakness in my character, and not acting from a pre- established position of strength and confidence. Despite this high level of internal disaffection, I know I'm doing my job OK, slowly moving things on, and the teams morale is improving. But it does appear to be being done at a personal cost, as my own morale staggers along behind in self inflicted bindings. Meanwhile, the levels of psycho/physical tension are an enduring reminder, that all is not well. Quite apart from the additional financial expense of Deep Tissue Massage and Osteopathy, my sense of well being is being expended. Can I take this physical cost being exacted on me, day in, day out? At some point I am either going to have a profound breakthrough, or a profound breakdown. So I have to ask myself what it is am I trying to prove, or overcome here, by devoting my every working hour to what can seem such a thankless task? I'm either being;truly heroic, really stupid or deeply deluded, I have yet to finally decide which. I'm giving it provisionally until Christmas 08, when I'll see whether I'm now engaging and enjoying my work, rather than forbearing and enduring it, as I currently am.

Just when you think you might be done with upset and turmoil for a while, something else comes along to remind you of your naivety about impermanence. We've just taken on a new member of staff in Customer Services, who will, I think, prove to be a positive and stabilising presence in the team, with a great deal of experience and maturity to bring to it. But, then the weekend after she starts, a much loved former member of the team, took his life. So most of this last week we have all been ploughing on, whilst we internally grieve, and work our way towards the funeral, which was last Friday. It was a week where we constantly found ourselves bringing him to mind, recollecting his presence and character, and trying to construct a logic, that made sense of his death. I regret that he's no longer around, but I cannot find it in my heart to condemn him for what he did. He'd had a difficult life, almost from the moment of birth, through which he remained largely positive, spoke cheerfully and with wit, yet with a remarkable honesty and frankness. He even reported in to us, in his usual lighthearted manner, about his last attempt at a suicide, barely a few months ago. But then we all have our public face, and perhaps none of us realise we have a limit, until we reach it. We're like bridges with an in built weight restriction, sometimes everything is fine until conditions change, when just one pebble cast upon it will cause the complete structure to collapse. None of us know what it is that will break our resolve to just keep on living. The funeral was at the Crematorium, my old place of work, which felt OK actually, very familiar place, faces and format of services. It was still an effective way of parting and moving on, for me and everyone else.

I'm off work this week, with no plan for what I want to do with it. Finances are a little tight, with all the therapies I'm paying for, so I can't afford to go anywhere, really. But then, in my current mood, it wouldn't be good to spend all my time indoors either. So, I find myself launched on this week off, not quite sure how I should approach it; as a time for rest, study, practice, writing, walking, cycling or idling? A high degree of anxiety circles like a vulture around my indecisiveness. Oh poo!!!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

DIARY 61 - Shouldering the Pain

It's been a month since my last posting, and can I say I've been busy? Well, Yes and No. I was away at the beginning of May for nine days on retreat, which was well overdue. It had been ten months since my last time at Padmaloka Retreat Centre, in Surlingham,Norfolk. The theme was The 7 Point Mind Training- a challenging text, augmented by an excellent exposition by Padmavajra, in a series of talks. The challenge for me, was to raise my level of practice from forty minutes a day, up to three hours plus. And not just that, but the majority of this was intense visualisation practices- sahdana - six element practice - tonglen. As my own sahdana practice dissolved during the general collapse of my meditation practice five, or so years ago. This was going to be a challenge in itself. Rather than resurrecting my Shakyamuni Sahdana, I chose to do a basic visualisation of Kshitigarbha, which seemed to work. The presence of old friends from Ipswich/Colchester ( Dayasara / Bodhivamsa / Sukavi & Srikirti ) on the retreat was a real unexpected delight. I returned feeling my practice and sraddha reinvigorated.

Back at work the following day, I found myself thrust back into the frenetic maelstrom that is Windhorse Customer Services. By Thursday I felt drained and exhausted, once more. The sleep pattern problems had eased whilst on retreat,but now returned to its usual erratic form. My persistent shoulder pain got worse, and then worse still. So, by Tuesday of this week, after two nights of little sleep, tossing and turning trying, and not finding, a comfortable position, I went to see a Doctor. She has given me some pills which do help me sleep, and ease the pain a little. though they left me feeling nauseous and disorientated for a couple of days. Since then I've gone on the offensive. I'm not waiting any longer for it to clear up naturally, or because of the acupuncture. I've got to really get to grips with the physical situation I'm in. So I've been for some Deep Tissue Massage, which has begun the slow process of releasing the knots and tensions in my shoulders. I'm off to see my Osteopath next week too. I've just got to recover from this shoulder problem, so a change in my weekly regime is inevitable. It's going to be expensive, but I don't feel I have much choice in the matter. As you might well imagine, I have been feeling a heightened sense of disengagement and discontentment since my return from retreat. A large part of my daily life experience is just not enjoyable, and I'm loosing patience with when its going to improve. I never have sufficient time and space for the things that sustain me - creativity and practice. The division between my internal needs and external demands, seems irresolvable at present. There doesn't appear to be a happier working balance between the two, but I cannot hold this sense of conflict, for much longer.

The other reason why I've been neglecting this Blog, has been because I've been doing quite a bit of development work on my Dogen website - Dogen's Plum Blossoms. Plus assembling and scanning photos for the website for my artwork. David, has put in a lot of his own time into getting the latter setting it up for me, which I'm extremely appreciative of. I don't think it would have happened otherwise, there doesn't appear to be a handy DIY guide to doing it. If there is, it will be written in the computer Swahili, of geek speak, that will be equally baffling for old tech people, such as myself. I've also committed myself to writing regular 1000 word articles for the Dogen site. This is proving a good discipline for me, as it prevents me getting bogged down in the longer extensive essays. It is so much easier to maintain continuity of thought and effort. You'll find the links to both site in the Links section of this blog.

David and I are beginning the painful, but necessary effort, to find a new place to live. This is not exactly inspiring, as what is available within our rental price range, is extremely limited in scope and space. If we had the money for a deposit, it would probably be better to buy. But we don't have much more than a button between us, so that's a none starter. Living in one of the most expensive towns in southern England, does not help. Roll on the imminent collapse of the housing market!