Sunday, October 25, 2009

DIARY 115 - Booking in my Face

Well, I've finally relented, persuaded by Janasalin, I've signed on to Facebook. From a distance it did all look quite superficial, and certainly can be treated that way. Some people seem rather too avidly in pursuit of clocking up a high number of 'friends.' So far I'm trying to stick to 'friending' people I have some form of connection with, ranging from light acquaintance to ardent buddies.

What I'm really enjoying is the simple networking aspect, hearing about others enthusiasms, or what's going on for them, what they're doing in the moment. It also means I can stay connected online with folks I sometimes don't see that often, like my Private Preceptor for instance. I'm not sure whether its meant to be used for anything other than this really,and that is fine by me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

FEATURE 32 - Yoko Ono - Walking on Thin Ice

Yoko Ono's finest recorded moment, largely made prior to Lennon's assassination, it was polished up afterwards and released within weeks of his death. It is famous first for being Lennon's last ever recording, he plays the groaning shattering guitar that contributes to the songs brilliant fragility. It sounds like another universe is struggling to break through and be heard. This is one of the musical highlights of the Eighties, mostly overlooked at the time because it was Yoko Ono ( she who'll never be forgiven....), and the undoubted edginess to its sound and vocals. Though its danceable it doesn't create a comfortable ambiance, you wouldn't want to lose yourself in this landscape. Its far too cold and perilous a place to stay in.

There are a number of later dance remixes of this song available, one by The Pet Shop Boys, but all somewhat miss the point. Sure it has elements of a dance record, but it pushes the sonic barriers too, all that yelping, whispering slurred vocals, she knew what she was doing and its wasn't about producing pop pap. This video, however, isn't quite sure what it wants to be, part artless home video, part a memorial to a life cut short, part tender recollection, or clips of Yoko wandering aimlessly around the streets of New York. Compiled in the aftermath of the shooting, one can forgive herfor the maudlin sentimentality it exudes. But hey!! the music is still a gem.

FEATURE 31 - RuPaul's Drag Race

If you've not caught this yet, I recommend it to you. It's a competition to find the next Drag Superstar, from a draggle of hopefuls. The final is next week,but you can catch up on 4OD, if you feel inclined. I'm not usually one for reality based competitions, but this one has been real fun to watch, and also an object lesson in group dynamics. The bitchiness between Shannel and Rebbeca Glasscocks, where each projected their own base competiveness and shallowness onto the other. The often stunning costumes these guys conjure up. Moving moments such as Ongina breaking down in tears on winning a competition segment, and confessed her HIV Positive status. Of the final three - Rebbeca Glasscocks, Nina Flowers and Bebe, its really between the latter two. Nina Flowers is my personal favorite, because her style and appearance is just so startling and unique. But there is still all to play for in this Drag Race.

Friday, October 23, 2009

DIARY 114 - Abandoning Covetousness

After a few weekends of being frustrated with myself for not being in the mood to be creative in any way shape or form, last week I decided to try not trying to do anything in particular. I spent the entire weekend doing small domestic things, nothing of any great note, and felt somehow all the better for it. It may be that my previous self-enforced pressure was freezing the bollocks off my artistic juices. My meditation practice that weekend responded accordingly, with concentration going deeper than it has for sometime.

This morning during my early morning Puja, I found myself responding to a line from the Precepts about - 'abandoning covetousness for tranquility'. I've been turning this phrase over in my mind. What it means 'to covet', its a form of craving, but even that doesn't quite capture the full depths of it. Its about wanting to imbibe and take something completely into ones possession, it could be materially, but I'm thinking more along the lines of into one's Self - possession, absorbing something completely into ones Self-identity.

Why does this strike me so strongly now? Well, its been quite a physically and emotionally demanding week. On Tuesday I met with Keturaja, to discuss what the likely possibilities were for work at windhorse, post Christmas. The options were no surprise. But the next day I found my emotional mood darkening, and fell to reflecting rather pessimistically upon these future prospects - is this what its come to? - unsurprisingly I became somewhat despondent. Though I've known the range of options and my degree of choice have narrowed now I'm in my Fifties, I believe emotionally I'd not really clocked it fully. Well this week I think I clocked it 100%. Not at all comfortably, I didn't want to accept it, at all. I raged against the dieing of the light, the light of possibilities. When i discussed this with Janasalin and Saddharaja, they both put it to me quite bluntly and clearly - the work situation I'm in at windhorse is the best I'm gonna get. Previously I been unconsciously living in an imaginary world where everything might still be possible, given the intervention of a Fairy Godmother. Always coveting something else, that's much better than what I currently have, more satisfying, less exhausting, ultimately creatively fulfilling. Being a warehouse picker and part-time kitchen assistant is not what I covet, it doesn't boost my ego, butter up my self- esteem or self- identity. This sort of coveting has never led to tranquility or contentment, only its opposite.

At this stage in my reflections I don't believe this means abandoning writing or painting, but more re-framing the expectations I have of them, what I believe they can provide for me. The simple life, that thing I still aspire to, seems free of such internal conflicts and expectant waiting. What can make life so tangled and complicated to unravel are the conflicting emotional responses we have, when one covets but does not get. Personal fulfillment, or vocation are highly prized things in the materialist and nihilistic world we live in, the ultimate aim of life. All I will say is, that the from the moment I started contemplating on 'abandoning covetousness', its felt like this is something of much truer value.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

BOOK REVIEW - Margaret Atwood - Oryx & Crake - The Year of the Flood

It's a long time since I opened a book by Margaret Atwood, in fact eighteen years since I read 'Cats Eyes'. My memory of that, was of a not particularly enjoyable experience. I remember becoming intensely frustrated with her emotional coolness, and the distancing effect of the way she wrote. There she was writing about the bullying and abuse of a central female character, but she might as well have been reporting on someone doing their laundry. This may, in retrospect, have been a 'Brechtian' style of literary device where the larger moral and sexual politics of the story, took precedence over any personal identification or empathy with a characters plight. This would leave it up to you how you should respond, and in my case it was with indifference. 'Cat's Eyes' was therefore my one and only delving into the world of an Atwood novel until I read - Oryx & Crake (2003) & The Year of the Flood (2009)

Though separated by six years, these two books both explore the same pre and post apocalyptic world and share some characters. Each could easily be thought of as Atwood writing in a Science Fiction genre, though she is reluctant to have them so consigned. She is, after all, a prolific and critically lauded, Booker winning writer. Science Fiction, shamefully, rarely wins you literary plaudits. Of the two, 'Oryx & Crake' could best be described as an extensive allegorical satire. Its crammed with witty ideas, linguistic puns and cultural in-jokes. The world she is sending up is set in the none too distant future, and shares many contemporary obsessions and concerns - genetic manipulation, cross breeding and generally meddling with 'god's creation. The world both before and after the catastrophe is seen through the eyes and erratic recollections of a pitiful character- Jimmy/Snowman. This device allows Atwood to feed you small tit-bits of information, slowly revealing how the world could become so chronically ruined. It is a novel about the logical and unforeseen consequences of certain types of social and scientific manipulations. The politics of personal choice in a world where every desire can be met, at whatever cost. In this way 'Oryx & Crake' cannot help but captivate your attention, as she drags you through the dystopian wreck of this future world. It is all quite plausible.

Still, the narrative elegantly unfolds these consequences in marked preference to any strong identification with a character. In 'Oryx & Crake' this works well. Science Fiction and satire rarely need emotional truth in quite that way, the world just has to be well realised, believable and to hit its targets well. We don't need to deeply understand motivations, so explicatory internal dialogue is largely absent. The emotional distance here is invaluable, it works to the benefit of this style of allegorical tale. You are forced to remain absorbed with the ideas and the points she is making. The subtlety and fluency with which she's structured this story amply demonstrate why she's been nominated for, and won, so many writing awards. The execution is so assured and sophisticated, its easy to overlook quite how scathing about human tendencies her authorial perspective actually is.

Quite why she decided to return for a second visit, to write 'The Year of the Flood' is not that clear, even after reading it. She takes two new characters - Ren and Toby, who are each stranded or isolated in situations that have arisen because of 'the waterless flood', the disease that has wiped out the majority of the worlds population. I have to admit. I got a little confused as the storyline emerged through a series of short flashbacks, and in the early chapters I wasn't entirely certain which character I was with - Ren or Toby, they seemed barely distinguishable initially. I got quite lost.

Here the world of 'God's Gardener's' 'MaddAddam' and the 'pleebland', that were referred too only in passing in 'Oryx & Crake' are more realised. 'The God's Gardener's' are a group of 'eco evangelists' who eschew the materialist concerns of their world, and warn about imminent environmental catastrophe. Their religious philosophy is a well meaning, but naive attempt, to spin a spiritual intent and purpose around what is happening to mankind. As their world begins to crumble, surrounded by increasing levels of brutality, survival becomes paramount, and their actions drift from non-violent to more pro-active violent defence.

'The Year of the Flood' shows us the underbelly, the under-privileged, the alternative side of this society, one that is raw, animalistic and grossly inhuman. As the book progresses, the links between Ren And Toby and characters from 'Oryx & Crake' slowly begin to build up. It becomes clear before we actually get there, that we'll inevitable be returning to the concluding scene of 'Oryx & Crake', as if Atwood was conscious of a need to finish off some unfinished business. It was satisfying to read, absorbing even, because it does join up a few more dots and loose ends. Though I'm still not entirely convinced this was essential for her to do. Reading the novel doesn't provide the full justification one would expect for her return to this subject matter.

She's chosen this time to write in a less cutting or cryptic way, its less broadly satirical in its manner, more character led and descriptive. Because we now are seeing the crises of this world through the eyes of two more solidly realised female characters, not a male caricature, one comes to realise how unreliable the recollections and explanations of Jimmy/Snowman were in 'Oryx & Crake'. All was not as he portrayed it, but then any man who hangs around in trees dressed only in a blanket can't really be trusted, can they? Putting any quarms about 'why' aside, I would recommend both these books simply because there execution is so superb, and the subject matter itself still so prescient.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Chains are of our own making.

However heavy these may be they will never feel as irksome as limitations placed on us by others. We have to have a system and that begins with each of us trying to decide what it is that makes him the way he is.

It involves a journey to the interior - not an altogether pleasant experience because as well as totting up what you consider to be your assets you also have to take a long look at what your friends call 'the trouble with you' and the synthesis between these two opposite opinions will be your identity


DIARY 113 - The Trouble With Me..........

On the superficial surface, there is nothing to be disquieted and unhappy about. I have a great community to live in, a lovely appreciative boyfriend, and I work for a uniquely wonderful Buddhist business. My spiritual practice, though not astounding, is stable and substantial. None of this is perfect of course, they all have their unsatisfactory elements, this is Samsara after all. However,it feels currently as though I'm an origami boat floating on the surface of all this, not touching any depths and purposelessly drifting with the idling of the stream. This directionless state, is accompanied by a disillusioned antipathy, if not boredom, with the usual options or ways out of this impasse. The countless ways I traditionally have extracted myself from such existential lethargy. Why put in all this effort, if you'll just end up back at this self same point eventually?

I saw this week how, for me anyway, dissatisfaction is not primarily a mental event. Though it may become one afterwards by how I respond in my thinking. I experience it first physically, through my whole body being existentially out of sorts, embodying a sense of rebellion, a flesh and bone rejection of the way the world is. I want the world to either change itself for the better, or simply to go away. Sometimes I sense a exasperated, if not frustrated, desire to remove myself from it. By which I don't mean suicide, but more a wanting to permanently isolate or cut myself off from it. Yet the weightiness of this way of being can assume a very dark mantle, and I often need to find a way to throw it off my scent for a while, otherwise I begin to feel I'm likely to implode (or is it explode?) with the bleakness of it.

Normally I try to distract my attention. Even a sense of purpose, or creativity, through bringing a sense of meaning, however transitory, can also distract from this painful sense of being. It doesn't resolve the essential existential state, just makes it more bearable for a while. Until those moments arise when the streams of invention dry up, or are impeded in some way. Like they have over the last few weeks. No magic incantations, chants or spells, can heal this sore, this way of bearing with being. In a way I just near to cheer up and chill, to take a broader kinder perspective on it. I look around at my world, and I see pain of one sort or another on the faces of most people. We all bear it, or distract ourselves from it, in different ways - using whatever the preferred drug is that deadens the sensation for a while, whether it be shopping, food, drink, sex,TV, DVD's, or the Dharma.

Such things aside, my travail with the physical demands of warehouse work, continues to dominate my weekly experience. Every week things seem to slightly improve, though the discomforting aspects continue to shift around. This week I pulled a muscle in my right knee which was tender and needed nursing for a few days. I no longer feeling utterly exhausted, as I've worked out what was largely causing this. My hip pain flares up occasionally becoming uncomfortable for half an hour or so, then strangely disappears again. I can't quite work out what is going on. I recognise the early signs - I get this cold burning sensation from my hip bone down to my thigh, which turns to in an inflamed hip joint sensation, that can then become painful. It feels as though energy is getting blocked, it might be a trapped nerve, who knows. Such is the nature of my neurotic self-preoccupations with my body at the moment. Not to mention the pain in my little finger joints that maybe incipient rheumatoid arthritis.... ah! I could talk for ages about my minor ailments...but I'll spare you the further dreary recounting of them.

In this state of tiredness, my patience and forbearance is tested, finding myself becoming easily irritated. Recently its been with an individual who appears to want the last word on everything, who, in my perception, seemingly thinks everything I say needs to be corrected or qualified in someway. I've been trying not to cultivate paranoia around this, as I can see it is very much a manifestation of my own, as well as that persons own accumulated negativity. I have, however, started self-censoring what I say when I'm in their company. I seem to have developed a perspective on it, at least so I've overcome the acuteness of my sensitivity. It has, however, heightened awareness of my own behaviour in this area. I've observed how I too can often want to have my personal opinion prevail over someone else's judgement, or want to be the holder of the definitive viewpoint. So I've been practicing keeping my mouth shut much more. It doesn't really matter if my view prevails or not. Its just my subjective opinion. I need, as Sangharashita puts it, to beware of turning my own value judgements into incontrovertible facts.

Weekends have been quite busy recently - a visit to see the parents last week, and a day out at Holkham Bay with the community the weekend before. The latter day was fortunate in that the weather was the last real glimmer of Summer, and was ideal for a picnic and general hanging out together with the chaps. The parental visit, was mostly done out of a sense of dutiful concern that they see me regularly, I don't get much personal satisfaction or enjoyment from it. Though I do get to relax and update myself on the Coronation Street storyline, watch Strictly Come Dancing and Casualty, whether I want to or not.