Wednesday, December 28, 2011

ARTICLE ~ I Let Go - No 11


I suppose I may have dreamed whilst I was in the womb. What those dreams consisted of is hard to say, probably vague unspecific feelings of pleasure or discomfort. A babies experience in the womb most likely consists of relatively unrefined sensation. Can they even dream? Is dreaming or the desire for something other than what is currently happening, dependent on having experience of there being a choice. If all you've ever known are the comforting susurrations of the womb, with no experience of unmuted light,freedom and sensory stimulus - would you nonetheless become bored with the darkness, and the attendant limitations to movement and sensation? Wouldn't you dream of it being different? Receptive and affected, but able to do little about the containing envelope of ones own Mother's emotional states. Wouldn't you feel an impulse to kick at the walls and rebel?

A babies birth can be a thing of wonder, yet also a pain filled process a mother goes through. But what on earth must the baby be feeling about it ? Does it want to stay put in the womb warmth that it loves and knows? Has it dreamt for weeks and months of being released into whatever is outside? It doesn't yet know that the outside world will feel colder, more exposed and feel less interdependent. To live in an unfocused brightness, a place of shadows and voices, that will leer out at you from the unknown. Recognising only the familiar tones of its parents voices. Does it fall into and welcome life, or is it reluctantly pushed? Expelled harshly from Eden.

Whilst pregnant with me, my Mother may have been understandably quite anxious. She'd had a miscarriage between my sister's and my birth, shortly before my inception. I know from what my Mother has told me,that my birth was prolonged; starting in the afternoon and on through the night. Until I finally popped out my head in the early hours of the 26th June 1957. I was, what was considered then, a very big baby. Very pink, very wrinkled and very hairy, apparently, and well over nine pounds in weight. In the early days of life asleep under fluffy blankets in my cot, what went through my mind? If I dreamt of anything specific, what was it I dreamt of? How seminal an influence on my attitude towards the world was the nine months I spent in my Mother's womb, and the emerging from it into the world?

As much as I might be tempted to conjecture about this, it would be futile. What makes us how we are is a complex tangle of crossed wires. It's impossible to fully know or unpick the philosophical underpinning, let alone the practical mechanisms of karma and rebirth. Not that it stops people putting huge amounts of intellectual energy into trying to unravel or dismiss them. So I'd best leave it there, and focus on to what I know and have experienced – The things that my dreams have been made of. Not the nocturnal, but the aspirational, the vocational, the ideal dreams I had, or still have for my life.

Childhood Dreams

A child dream or see the need to become anything. They try on occupations as imaginative roles for play, they don't necessarily wish to become a King say, in later life. Nevertheless, this dressing up and acting out of an admittedly childish view of adult life, helps them learn through broad mimicry, how a person might choose to live, work and play. We try things on for size, copying how grown ups interact with the world, and find out what the consequences of behaving well or badly are. All from a position of little or no understanding of what an job might really entail. Nor whether we will have the necessary talents, opportunity or determination to take it up as a career in later life. As a child we wear our dreams lightly, with no sense of our making a longer term commitment,

I had a dream of becoming a fireman

As a child, I had a red trike. I threw anything I found in the streets into its swing lidded boot. Sometimes it would be leaves or earth, but quite often it was stones or nails. I just loved the way they loudly rattled as I tore around cobbled back streets, and up and down snickets, making one hell of a row. In addition I made ringing noises like a fire engine. The neighbours complained, but I remained fond of seeing myself as a fireman. A ragged shadow of this early enthusiasm passed briefly across my mind in my teens, as I imagined what my future might be.

I had a dream of going to Egypt

It's hard to say what initially sparked this. However, in 1956 ,the year before I was born, MGM's blockbuster The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, was released. I remember excitedly queuing to see it as a very young child. Most likely it was this that fired my imaginative engagement. Whatever the prompt, the result for me was an early compulsion. From then on I avidly sought out and devoured any book about Egypt, and readily turned any tea towel into Phaoronic headdress. This imaginative engagement has stayed with me. In 1988,in order to fulfill a lifetimes desire I went there on holiday for three weeks.

I had a dream of making perfume

Fired up to become young entrepreneurs, a friend and I decided to become perfume makers. We started by collecting rose petals, well, we stole them really. Surreptitiously creeping along the gardens of our terraced street. Not paying too much attention to quality control, we just tore off flower heads till we had a bucket-load. I think to us perfume manufacture seemed the same as beer making. We soaked the petals in water as long as we thought appropriate, bottled up the result and went round the self same house we'd stolen the petals from, to sell them our 'rose perfume'. Well, there's capitalism in the raw for you.

I had a dream of becoming a vicar

When I was seven I had a good boy soprano voice. Being brought up a Methodist, there was no choral tradition. So my parents obtained me an audition to join the Halifax Parish Church choir. This expanded my horizons, and nourished my appreciation of church architecture, music and ritual. For in comparison to the stripped back simple services of non-conformism, the Church of England seemed a much more ancient,richer and emotionally engaging seam of devotion than I was used to. At home, I found two small candlesticks, a wooden crucifix, turned my desk into an altar and performed daily services for a while, casting myself as the vicar.

I had a dream of joining the Royal Navy

There was a school trip to see a Royal Navy ship in Goole Docks. All I remember now, is the pack of cards with silhouette pictures of navy ships I was given. Never particularly fit or combative, I suddenly wanted to join the Navy. A life of heroic action wasn't what I wanted, it was to ride on the ocean waves. I'd read adventure novels so I had a fictional conception of what this might entail. The desire was to explore what the wider world was really like. I discovered I was largely an adventurer in carpet slippers. So a life in the Navy, was not to be.

I had a dream of becoming a historian

My early reading about Ancient Egypt, Kings & Queens of England and Church architecture, built the foundations for a lifelong fascination with history. As a child I wanted to read about people and events that actually happened, and not entirely imaginary versions. I thought then that perhaps I'd become someone in the world of history, maybe an archaeologist. No one seemed able to tell me what else might be done with a love of history. Unable to discover what my options with history really were, I turned my face in an entirely different direction. History became demoted to an enthusiasm, not the personal vocation I had originally envisaged.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

DIARY 149 ~ 14 Things I Treasured In 2011

1 ~ MUSIC - Anna Calvi

2 ~ TELEVISION - The Killing Series 1 and 2

3 ~ NOVEL - An Awfully Big Adventure

4 ~ MUSIC - Niki and The Dove

5 ~ FILM - Animal Kingdom

6 ~ NOVEL - The Death Of Bunny Munroe

7 ~ DANCE - Far

8 ~ MUSIC - The Young Proffessionals

9 ~  BUDDHISM - Realizing Genjo Koan


11 ~ MUSIC - Capsule

12 ~ THEATRE - Earthquakes In London

13 - FILM - Of Gods And Men

14 ~ MUSIC - The Smiths Project

Friday, December 02, 2011

FEATURE 102 - Early Eno Video

Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy is undoubtedly my favourite of Brian Eno's early albums. It's probably in my all time Top Ten too. I've owned it previously on vinyl, then cassette tape, and now on CD. The vinyl recording had a terrific screen print gatefold cover,with four different colour-ways of the same print, by the artist Peter Schmidt. Something which my CD insert cannot inevitable quite capture. I've listened to this album so closely in the past, to see what tape-looped tweets, clicks and moans were buried in the deeper layers of Eno's - 'Oblique Strategy' led recording process.

Here is a video that's just appeared on You Tube, from 1974 produced by Eno for Chins My China. Musically he throws everything into the song, lead guitar recorded and played in reverse, typewriter noise in percussive overlay. with nonsense cut up, stream of association lyrics. In other words, this was Eno at his most dissonant, edgy and experimental. The Dadaist & Velvet Underground influences abound, but its alive with fresh innovation, playfulness and wit. Something which, for all the aural beauty of his ambient sound-scapes, his later work sometimes sadly lacks. Lighten up dear.

Oh, and just in case you weren't entirely sure they're really meant to be there, those two women weren't in on the original recording of this track.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

FEATURE 101 - Capsule

Some of the coolest videos I've seen in a long while. By the Japanese Electro group Capsule.

ARTICLE ~ I Let Go - No 10


Recollecting some of my past activity,
what I did, and what I would have wanted to do

Good times for a change
See, the luck I've had
Can make a good man turn bad
So please please please
Let me, let me, let me
Let me get what I want
This time
Haven't had a dream in a long time
See, the life I've had
Can make a good man bad

So for once in my life

Let me get what I want
Lord knows, it would be the first time
Lord knows, it would be the first time

Lyrics to - Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Wantby Morrissey / Marr

Such is the power of maudlin self pity to move me, when expressed via a song lyric. That Morrissey's melancholic, burdensome level of disappointment with life,as much an existential statement as it was popular poetry, struck a very plaintive chord with me. Why this was so, I'll sketch out here only in brief. For what I'm about to describe is the youthful optimism and the dreams and desires I held for myself, and how these gradually fell apart as they encountered the indifferent nature of concrete reality. It seems from a Buddhist perspective, thirty plus years later, that this was kind of inevitable, with things 'being impermanent by nature' etc. The affect on me,however, was much longer lasting than you'd think.
Like most young men in their late teens / early twenties,I was quite unprepared for my first contact with the world, as it actually was. My parents, the extended years as an art student, and my own unrealistic daydreaming, had all sheltered and protected me from the harsher realities of life, I would need to earn money, to afford a place of my own, to have food, clothes and a social life. To do the things I enjoyed would entail working. That a job that might have little meaning for you, could take a toll on the energy left spare at the end of a day, had never occurred to me. Nor that a life spent just earning a living, might wear thin your positivity, aspirations, and curiosity about life.

In the mid-seventies, the UK was in the midst of a dire economic recession. There was a huge level of unemployment,high inflation, and social unrest. A power struggle between the unions and the Labour government was on the brink of bringing the country to a standstill. If there was work available it was often low skilled,low paid, physically hard work. My dream, if I had one at all, about work (apart from not working at all) was only to do something I enjoyed. I left comprehensive school with a scattering of middling 'O' level grades, with a plan to go on to 'A' levels. During the lazy hot days of the summer holidays,a growing antipathy towards further study and exams burgeoned. Much to my parents consternation, I abandoned the previous plan to go on to further education.

I loved gardening and just getting my hands dirty. So I applied for, and got, a job working in the Scunthorpe Parks Department. I arrived on the first day, fresh faced and quite nervous, walking towards the staff hut with a flask of coffee and a lunchpack. I wonder now whether these more experienced men saw me coming, and wanted to test what my metal for hard physical work was. For on that first day, there was no gentle mowing or trimming of edges of flower beds. I was set to hoeing weeds from an uneven patch of ancient,but still extremely tough tarmac. By the end of a second day of this, my hands were raw and blistered, and suddenly further education seemed an infinitely more preferable option. This reversal further infuriated my parents, as they quickly tried to ascertain if I could still go to sixth form at all. I might have had to wait another year, as the new intake had already started. The Sixth Form Principal said he was still happy to have me, so I joined albeit a week or so late.

I'd been trying for years to determine what my future career might be. I had my dreams, but essentially I was scared of them. Mainly of what they might require me to do, and how secure they might be. I was naive, insecure and lacked sufficient confidence in my interests and talents to really get behind them. I subtly betrayed my integrity, by trying to sidestep my low self-esteem and high anxiety. This made settling on a career choice doubly difficult. My choices were made by what I unwittingly stumbled upon. These showed me one way forward, to follow the line of least resistance that I'd find easier to do.

From my childhood through to teenage years, history had been vaguely what I'd envisaged my life would revolve around. It was always my best subject, what I was most fascinated by, and loved. Had it not been for the confident encouragement of my art tutor at sixth form college, I might easily have become some fusty history teacher specialising in an obscure aspect of 12th century monasticism. Perhaps instinctively I knew I might not be suited to the painstakingly detailed research of a career in history. Being an artist felt somehow sexier. So I remained an enthusiastic amateur, but didn't take up the route of making history my profession.

I have often found some aspects of my character difficult to explain, or find adequate expression for. Nothing seems to quite match my needs for long, I become restless for fresher fields all too soon. There's often been an uneasy relationship between the introverted and extroverted sides of my desires. I rarely finding myself truly comfortable with either for very long. Introversion can quickly turn into a stifling prison, whilst extroversion exposes the underlying raw anxiety, and scares me to
death. I am simultaneously bigger and smaller than I imagine. Switching polarities all the time.

My eventual career in the arts was founded on a laudable, but admittedly naive dream. An impulse to improve or make the world a more beautiful place. This wasn't driven by an ardent desire for self-expression, but a more altruistic desire to put my creativity towards making something that was of practical benefit to everyone. I flirted with becoming an artist whilst on my Foundation Arts Course in Hull. Though, to be honest, I knew I'd find it hard to sell this idea with enough conviction to my parents. Who'd view ' being an artist.' as synonymous with being a sponger,drug taker and time waster. I had inculcated this inner pragmatic voice over the years of living with my parents. Frequently ruling out many dreams before I'd even tested or spoken of them.

So I decided to become a graphic designer instead of an artist. From today's perspective, it seems that somewhere in my late teens I did seem to surrender who I was, and what it was I wanted to do, up to the hands of fate. My decisions were directed by my dreams, only to the extent my levels of confidence and anxiety would allow them to be. Nevertheless, the alluring deluding siren of Art did captivate my imagination, and pulled my infatuation away from history. Whilst the pragmatic tone of my internal critic, did for a while stifle a fuller embrace of the pursuit of art. These days, I may view some of these decisions with a tinge of regret. But this is after all what I did, and it cannot be undone, just be more gently understood.
Old dreams can be difficult to really put to bed. Whilst your head might be being turned by fresher things taking place in the present, these dreams might simply be sulking in the corner of the pub, downing pint after to pint, dulling the experience of being ignored. One may have put down and turned aside from old dreams, but you may have not yet truly let go of them. It's as though, whilst there's still breath left in your body, there's still hope.

The graphic design course I eventually was accepted on, was at Leeds Polytechnic. It had a good reputation. As it progressed, we all got to know from painful experience that it's reputation was somewhat in tatters. Most of us became embroiled, and were used as pawns, in the egotistically driven power politics of the tutors in the department. Whose side you aligned yourself with, affected how much a tutor would help,support and guide you. In the end your allegiance could well decide the level of degree you'd be awarded. The head of the department, we found out later, had been having an affair with one student who ended up being awarded the highest degree in our year. That's indicative of how corrupt it was. By the second year, I'd extricated myself from being manipulated by certain tutors. I was disillusioned not just with the design course. I wasn't at all sure now that a career in graphic design was what I wanted to do with my life any more.

The final year of the course arrived, and my projects were incomplete and lacked a consistent aesthetic and design approach. Some of this was due to the uncertain confidence I had in them. This was, in part, what had led me in the first place into being pulled this way and that, by tutors with very differing ideas about design, and the creative process. By the time of my degree show, whilst a lot of my work showed promise, it had not been either refined or fulfilled. I had very few fully completed projects. What finished work there was, was achieved by hard graft and a personal determination not to be beaten by the dysfunctional ethos of the department. This was how my degree course drew to an end.

I finished in the early summer of 1980. Before I left, I was informed, in a rather patronising tone, by the Principal that I'd been given a degree (with no honours) almost as the best they could do under the circumstances. If I wanted to go on to teaching I'd have to retake my final year, and hope to get a better result. By then I just wanted out, the thought of staying on anywhere for another year seemed an horrendous prospect. Besides, I had only persisted with it this far in order to demonstrate to myself I could actually complete it. To have something to show to my parents to justify three years of further education. Unfortunately, I wasn't always able to so easily avoid disappointing them over the next few decades.
Out of necessity I had to return home, for ten rather frustrating and disheartening months. It was hard to re-accustom myself to the constrictions of living in a quiet rural village, with ones parents! Particularly after engaging in the life of a bustling city, with its freedom to do whatever I pleased. The contrast and sense of loss felt dramatic. 

Then there was the signing on for benefits. As I lived in a rural village I was sent a form once a fortnight, that I had to get someone outside my family to witness me signing. This entailed going into the local butcher, who seemed willing to oblige me in the midst of serving customers. As the months clocked up, this process felt more and more a humbling thing to do. Thus it went on throughout the summer,autumn and winter of 1980/81. The year before, the recently elected Thatcher Government had instigated a radical redirection of the countries economic priorities, and we were once again teetering on the edge of a recession. It seems that my career choices would always be taking place whilst the country was in the midst of one.

In the meantime I continued sending out job applications, with an increasing lack of confidence. This resulted over the ten months, in one weeks work experience in a design studio in Grimsby, and two job interviews. I was almost about to give up, when the second of these, thankfully landed me a job in the design department of a book publisher in Mayfair, London. So in April 1981, I finally started my career as a graphic designer, and moved to London. I ended up living in North London, because family friends there offered to put me up for a while. The suburbs of Crouch End, Muswell Hill and East Finchley, were my stomping ground for all the years I lived in London.

The job at the publishers showed me what day to day work as a graphic designer was actually like. It was all a bit humdrum and pedestrian really. The Art Director chose the images for the book covers, often even down to the style of lettering. What creative input you had, might only be doing the artwork, choosing the colour on the spine, or the text size etc. As our Art Director was somewhat colour blind, and I have a good eye for colour, this job of selecting colours often fell my way. Occasionally, I was given an enjoyable layout job for the inside of an annual film review book, or an illustrated compendium of Sherlock Holmes stories. But this was rare, and it felt as if my time on the degree course had been lived in an entirely alternative universe, one I was unlikely ever to see again.

Towards the end of that year the publisher I worked for was bought by an American company. They sold off a popular imprint, and instigated a series of staff cuts across all departments. As the last one to join the art studio, I was first to be given the push. So, seven months after starting my first job, I lost it. To say I was devastated, would be an understatement. I eked out my redundancy money into the New Year. Telling no one, least of all my parents, that I'd lost my job. The whole idea of going back on the job hunting trail, dragging my portfolio across London, appalled me.

After one desultory visit to a design studio, where my work had been viewed in the same manner you'd casually flick through a Sunday magazine. I felt pissed off and angry, as I sat on the Northern Line heading back home to East Finchley. As I got off the train and walked up the side path leading to the estate where I lived, it suddenly came to me that I didn't have to do this any more, if I didn't want to. In fact I wasn't going to do this any more. I'd be prepared to do anything, I didn't mind what - dig holes – sweep the streets – be a newspaper vendor -anything but this. This is the only time, that in one moment I completely let go. I completely and irreversibly let go of the idea of being a graphic designer. The effect on me was instantaneous and immense relief. There was an ebullient, if not intoxicating, sense of liberation from a commitment that had become oppressive and restrictive.

The first such job I got was as an Art Shop Assistant in Barnet, My arts background, meant I was ideally suited to working in Art Shops. I was not to know then, that this step would be so significant. For working in retail would consequently absorb most of my working life. I worked in this shop in Barnet for about eighteen months. When the business was sold to new owners, they kept me on long enough to learn the ropes from me. Then on my first day back after a summer holiday, they made me redundant. Sending me off with a few weeks money and a cheap transistor radio ( the sort of thing you get given free with stationery deals) as my parting gift.

Though I found another job in an Art Shop in Crouch End within a few weeks, being made redundant twice within two years did somewhat strangle the life out of any remaining idealism I had. Over the following years - the erratic sleep pattern I still suffer from started - I became increasingly biting and cynical in my conversation - the viewpoint that 'I never got what I wanted' gradually became more firmly entrenched. It remained there unquestioned and unanalysed until I'd been a practising Buddhist for many years.

By the time The Smiths had become famous in 1983, I was twenty five years old. I'd already given up on a career in design, and lost my job twice. So some of the keening phrases of 'Please, please, please, let me get what I want' expressed the tone of sentiment and despair, that lurked hidden beneath my external shell of hardened apathy. I did still care about my life, and what I did with it. I just couldn't bring myself to be idealistic about it, and hence vulnerable to disappointment. I hadn't allowed myself a dream in a long time. Pragmatism and aesthetic distraction, were now the rules of my life.

Every subsequent set back, heartbreak, business failure, or dream that got deflated, further reinforced the view that 'I never got what I wanted.' It actively cultivated a spirit of discontent with whatever was happening around me, and an inability to stay for long with situations that disappointed or disillusioned me. Until much later in life, this prevented me from seeing how fortunate I'd been to stay employed despite all the numerous recessions. Nor the true value of other benefits my life, jobs and circumstances had brought me. Though perhaps not fully meeting my ambitions, I've still been able to do a huge amount with my life, however underpinned it may have been by despair, and wavering levels of self-belief and confidence. Perhaps this had not been what I desired in my dreams, and 'never getting what I want' was really a melancholics habitual way of saying - my life turned out entirely different to how I first dreamt of it.

I let go
I turn aside
I put down
what I have been
or would have wished to be in the past

ARTICLE ~ I Let Go - No 9


I let go, I turn aside, I put down
all agreeable or painful memories
relating to what I have done
or would have wished to do in the past
relating to all the episodes of my past activity.

I am packing to leave a place where I've been staying with a group of friends. I'm stuffing things into my holdall in a hurry, roughly throwing a seemingly odd selection of items into it. My friends wait impatiently upstairs for me to get my act together. Finally I pull the zip up, and put the bag down whilst I go find my friends, to tell them I'm ready. When it comes time to leave the gallery we are now in, there are many similar bags strewn in parts of the room. I start searching for mine but cannot find it. The bag contains important things such as my most treasured paintings and writing. What follows is a relentless, exasperating and ultimately fruitless search to find where the bag now is.

I have dreamt this dream, or a variant on this dream many times over a number of decades. Each time there is an important bag to be found. The emotional impetus is to find what has been lost. The dreams have their own individual 'feeling tone' related to what has been lost and why it has to be found. This can be driven by a nostalgic urgency to rediscover, be confused or bewildered by conflicting pulls, be disorientated in unfamiliar surroundings, or be driven by an unspecified existential anxiety. What does the bag mean?

Though I cannot recollect these previous occasions in minute detail, I believe this type of dream does happens at specific times in my life. When I find myself in a place of unknowing. For what ever reason, my faith or spiritual compass has become unreliable or unreadable. I look back over my shoulder to the past as a way of regaining my bearings, or reconnect with something I seem temporarily to have lost sight of. I believe it really is as simple as that. The dream puts me through the mangle of emotional distress, and out I come pressed flat on the other side. Perhaps this is in order to wring some sense out of me, or to demonstrate the barren futility of looking backwards with sentimental eyes.

Whether its real, nostalgic or a dream, we cling to a sense of our personality and its history as a drowning person does to a buoy. To have no memories at all, would feel like we had lost all sense of who we were. It seems its important for us to know where we've come from, in order to have continuity and meaning in the present. What we've done in the past, who we've been, the successes and failures, its pleasures and its pain, all contributed, for good or ill, to who we believe we now are. Our self-image, our self-esteem, our self-confidence rest on the imperfectly remembered foundations of what we've previously experienced. These memories are so frequently double edged ones, simultaneously telling us who we are and who we are not. What we can and what we cannot be. What we are capable of achieving and what we are not capable of achieving. In this way memories can be both a blessing and a curse, the very act of definition placing a limitation. Inverting the commas, inserting the closed brackets and full stops.

We cannot avoid having 'agreeable and painful memories' they are the psychological outcomes, the sifted residue of every experience we've ever had. Well, perhaps not the original experience itself, but more the emotional responses we've subsequently had to that original experience. Falling off a bicycle and cutting ones leg, is an undoubtedly painful experience. We make this sense of personal injury more acute if we subsequently self-recriminate and punish ourselves over a perceived personal failing, or remonstrate internally or actually with someone else whom we see as the cause of our emotional pain. All our feelings, whether agreeable or not, are twofold; they have a physical and a mental companion. The Buddha referred to these as the twin arrows that cause us to feel pained; first by the event and then our response to it.

Its worth noting that our emotional reactions to an event, whether we felt hurt or pleased, is often the only thing we end up remembering. These subjective recollections based on our feelings, are seldom about the objective facts of the original situation at all. Retrospectively we self-justify how we have responded by turning these feelings into a incontrovertible hard fact, where even the the irrational can be rationalised.

Imagine there is a friend whom you work with. They appear to be evading your company. Don't stop to talk to you, turns away or ignores you when they pass in the office corridor. It would be very easy to feel hurt and to take it personally, to start assuming what the motives are behind this behaviour. Perhaps you've done something to upset them, or maybe they want to dump you as a friend because they think you're boring, or they're just trying to further their career and see you as holding them back – after all they were always quite selfish and looked after No1. It doesn't take long to actively cultivated a dislike, if not a hatred for them. Then one day, they confide to you that they've been struggling to come to terms with having a quite serious illness. Suddenly this fact puts everything you've experienced into a different perspective. Your assumptions we're not based on fact at all. They came more out of personal negativity, weak self-esteem or mild paranoia, which perhaps now you can take responsibility for – and rightly feel ashamed of. There was no rational basis at all for what was assumed.

The first of our verses refers to two events that these 'agreeable or painful memories' emerge in response too – 'what I have done or would have wished to do in the past.' In other words, what we wanted to happen, and what actually happened – the dream and the rather more mundane reality. Sometimes what is dreamed of and desired, does actually happen. We generally find that an agreeable experience, and this causes us to feel to some degree of personal pleasure or happiness. Sometimes what is dreamed of and desired, doesn't happen. Mostly we find this disagreeable, and it causes us to feel pain, disillusion and unhappiness. There is the desire, then what actually happens. Our response will be coloured by to what degree our original desire was fulfilled or not. If we find ourselves experiencing huge amounts of emotional suffering, then the source of it will rarely be found in a single event, but in our general expectations of life. Our desires and cravings for a specific, pleasurable outcome.

' The tragedy is not that we don't get what we want, but that we do get what we want, and then we're stuck with it, and very often we find that it's not what we wanted at all.'1

Counter intuitive as what Sangharakshita is saying may sound, he is pointing us towards two really fundamental human delusions - that we think we know what we want, and believe reality can be conformed to our desires. Every time we do get what we want, our confidence in this delusive tendency is revived and reinvigorated. Even if the number of times we're disappointed with the result, or not getting what we want vastly outnumber the times we do. What is it that would keep a gambler betting on racing horses when they lose nine times out of ten - can it just be hope springing eternally?

A child might go to bed every day ardently wishing for a wonderful new toy for their birthday or for Christmas. A starving man in a drought stricken country might kneel to his gods, fervently praying and wishing for rain and food. A woman might not be able to start her day before she's checked what her stars say on an astrology website. A young couple wanting good weather for their wedding, keep looking at the Met Office advance weather forecast for reassurance. We travel hopefully, but rarely confidently. All sorts of people, from vastly different backgrounds or cultures, act on the basis of superstitions, they carry talismans, wear lucky clothes or shoes, or perform certain ritual behaviours in an attempt to determine or fix a wished for outcome. We can hold a strong belief in the power of our thoughts, that the depth of our heartfelt desire can determine the conclusion we want. We can do this without fully realising its what we are doing. I certainly have had a version of this view right into my adult life. Ironically, after all my years of wishing and hoping and still not getting what I wanted, it wasn't the inadequacy of wishing where I placed the blame, but on myself and the inadequate feebleness of my wishing. This contributed in the long term to the cultivation of a view of myself as someone 'who never got what he wanted.'

I let go
I turn aside
I put down
what I have been
or would have wished to be in the past

1 - Taken from Peace Is A Fire, By Sangharakshita , published by Windhorse Publications 1995

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

REVIEW - Of Gods & Men

Via the opening slow pans and absence of dialogue you are already being drawn into a quieter and calmer pace of life. By deft editing, the Director-Xavier Beauvois creates a monastic timescale and atmosphere around you. Slowly you calm down and become one with them, up in the mountains of Algeria.

Based on a true story, its set in the mid-1990's as the Algerian Civil War is about to explode. The French Cistercian monks carry on living peaceably next door to the local village. They support the villagers, by providing free medicine, treatment and counselling. Indeed their lives as monks are carefully woven into the fabric of the villagers. As word starts coming through of atrocities in the area committed by Islamic extremists, the monks have to decide whether they are to stay or go. Initially they are divided, but stay nevertheless because a consensus has not yet been reached. We then see each monk go through all forms of self-questioning and doubt, even a crisis of faith. Lead by their Abbot Christian, played with beautiful understatement by Lambert Wilson, they gradually all decide they have no option but to stay, whatever the outcome may be.

The film has a number of major moments that are decisive. The most crucial and moving takes place before the evening the terrorists turn up. They are sat around their dining table, the monk who is a trained Doctor comes in with two bottles of red wine, and puts a tape on of Swan Lake. As the music plays, the camera moves around the table from face to face. We first read the pleasure and uplift in their faces. Followed by a strong sense of the real love for each other, and the sense of common purpose and brotherhood that has grown up between them. It concludes with a sense of their hearts being visibly broken, as they know they are about to lose everything they value, their life, their practice and their friendship. It gave me a real feeling of their spiritual fellowship, which we'd call Sangha.

The film ends as it began with a final long shot without dialogue, as the abducted monks and their captors stumbling through the snow and fog until they gradually become indistinguishable and disappear into the distance.

FEATURE 99 - Biscuit Base

Fun Stuff, well edited too.

ARTICLES ~ I Let Go - No 8


From time to time I decide to sift through my material possessions with the intention of trimming them down. This desire to physically throw out, give away, or recycle some aspect of my extended family of stuff and things, is familiar territory. When I was younger I lived for several years in the bedsit land that spreads in terraced braids across North London. If you've ever lived in, or visited, a single person bedsit, you'll know that space is at a high premium. There'll be a bed, sink, cooker, wardrobe, armchair and not much else. I had to live with the minimum possessions the room could hold. As an avid reader and music enthusiast I regularly had to prune my bookshelves and record collections, before I ran out of floor or shelf space. It seemed the only way to manage this gradual acquisitive accretion. Unless,of course, I preferred to live with books and records stacked and strewn across the floor like an endlessly shifting tide of scum. I didn't, but some people do.

The motives for this regular purging were mostly practical ones. I knew my interests were often fleeting, passing intoxications. Basically, just personal fads. Much of what I read I knew I'd never read again. The fast moving trends in my musical tastes meant that artists I was passionate about one month, I'd be indifferent towards the next. So to some extent this pruning, refined and adjusted my possessions to keep them up to date. Aligning them with where my current enthusiasms were. It was in the nature of this craving for the new, that it satiated my hunger only for a while. I became used to the shifting impermanence of my musical appetites. As long as I could buy myself a thrill, then I was happy.

This restless craving has been frequently matched by another- a craving for pastures new. The desire to find a place where I could be free from dissatisfaction,disappointment and boredom. To date I've moved house or town not once or twice, but nearly two dozens of times. Only in the process of moving, as the boxes of packed up belongings mounts, that you notice exactly how much you own. Do I own enough to fill a small white van,once, twice or thrice,or is it now measured in the number of transit or full scale removal vans? To move is stressful because of the practical as well as psychological logistics. The difficulties in relocating the external aura of our possessions mirrors that for ourselves. After all, we are packing up and relocating our whole extended identity. As this cardboard haystack gradually fills up the removal van, it can feel like its getting psychically heavier. As though our spirit and ability to be free to spontaneously up sticks and just move, is being seriously hampered by having to cart our beloved possessions along behind us.

We tend to accumulate possessions in situations where we feel settled. Its an essential part of putting down roots - when our belongings find a place to belong too. They fix us to a particular place and way of living. As we filter through what we own, we are bound to review or weigh up who we've been and who we currently are. Should we keep that book – is it time we jettisoned that gift we've never used, but sentimentally still hold onto? We instinctively understand that we could discard forever all the residual memorabilia of who we once were. There are other things perhaps we'd like psychologically to put behind us, but can't. To be rid of the objects that remind us of a difficult period in our lives, to erase all evidence that the pain of it ever existed – might be a seen as a first step in getting over it.

Our possessions are like exhibits in a museum that holds all our past life experiences, a physical memory bank. A person, a place, a snapshot image of us – enshrined in a book, record, picture, ornament, piece of furniture or clothes. These define, but also confine who we are, or can be. Today, the size and range of what I own, I can sometimes find imprisoning. The sense of ownership feeling oppressive. Its as if I'm existentially being held under water. Drowning under the weight of my physical possessions. No longer able to swim freely or unencumbered. Over the years the number of my dependants has grown obese through regular feeding, clothing and emotional support. A drastic diet is nearly always called for.

This weightiness is felt on a gut level. I really don't need them resting so heavily on my shoulders. If I visualise myself as being free, I see myself throwing of clothes as I run naked across an open field. As if I'm casting off all the cares, concerns and obligations my world and I place upon myself. Leaving everything scattered behind me as I run free of all physical, mental or spiritual possessions. This visionary image pre-dates my life as a practising Buddhist, which in a way was begun as a practical way of actuating it. The Buddha himself, described the state of Enlightenment, as feeling like a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders, as though he'd put down a burden he'd been carrying, How to be truly free, is a question that often drives humanities search for meaning and purpose.

These days, as a 'good Buddhist' I frequently question myself about the whys and wherefores, of whether I should really be owning so much? Wouldn't I feel so much better if I was free of it all? and think that I would. These things, however, are never quite as simple as one might first think. If anything the act of throwing away is the easy bit. What is difficult is examining and scrutinising what ones reasons for doing so are. What was your volition and motive in doing this? Our motives are generally either mixed or conflicted, which is OK, just as long as we know they are. The degree of clear-headedness and purity in our motivation to take action,will define how spiritually effective our renunciation will be. It is, therefore, hard to dispose of our possessions in a vague, superficial or absent minded way. To consciously throw something away, put it down and walk away from it, is a deliberated act.

Tradition says that when the Buddha left behind his princely life of wealth and privilege, he took nothing with him. He let go of owning anything other than the most basic of possessions required to survive - a robe and a bowl. He instinctively knew he had to do this if he was to achieve what he wanted to spiritually. This 'going forth' as its traditionally called, into a homeless, possession-less life became the prerequisite act, an essential foundation for the future spiritual progress of his disciples. It has become synonymous with the beginning of a persons aspiration for liberation.

My past life, my present life, the history of my desires and attachments are preserved in all my material possessions. They represent outwardly who I am. Who I am has a threefold nature – there is the real true me - the me I desire to be - and the me I want the world to see. The Vidyavajra that others see, ranges across a spectrum from the authentic to the artificial. My possessions are hence also a mixture of those that truly represent me and my interests, and those that are window dressing. Contemporary Western consumer culture exploits this threefold nature of - who we currently are - what we'd like to be - and how we want others to see us – in order to get us to buy things. We buy because of the need for one brief moment to transcend our limitations. Quite often we are trying to overcome the dullness of our poor self image. To possess something we imagine will complete who we want to be, or be seen as. To have it - is to be it. This is not just an expression of our individuality, but the living out of a worldly form of liberation. I am free because I can buy whatever I want.

For this to work, one hasn't to care too much about what maybe the exploitative origins in distant lands, where much of what we buy is made. One person's liberty can often come at a cost to someone else's, far far away. Its rare for any material possession to have an origin entirely free of some veins of exploitation, guilt, embarrassment or some level of distaste or regret. Our wealth and need for self-expression can therefore carry with it something uneasy and unethical lurking in the background. So if we can let go and be free of the need to fulfil the craving and desire to buy it can be quite uplifting and insightful, even an ethical release.

Ajahn Brahm, defines freedom in a different way to this, one that is important to our reflections on letting go;~
'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.' 1

So being free to have anything we want, can have its origins in a deep seated, even unconscious discontentment. We often don't care what we do in order to get some relief from this, just so long as we get it. We are imprisoned by our need to be someone else other than who we actually are. So looked at from the perspective of freedom, the process of letting go as outlined in the verses, are pointing towards a way to liberate us from the compulsive following of our desires. First, when we put something down,we are saying we have the intention at least, to be content to stay put, and be with who we are. Secondly, we turn our attention away from any desire or attachment to being anyone else or anywhere other than right here. Thirdly, we conclude by discovering we have developed a contentment with who we actually are, and are no longer pulled all over the place by our desires and attachments. So we have here - setting the intention to be free, the desire to find a way to be free, and to be really free. To put down, to turn aside, to let go.

So finally, we have come to look at our verses, and what is the first thing we notice about them? Well, it is significant that each individual verse is prefaced by the same three phases – I let go – I turn aside – I put down. It would be a mistake perhaps to say these are sequential in how they should be read. We don't necessarily first let go, then turn aside and finally put down. As I've previously suggested, the opposite is experientially more true - that first we put things down, then we learn to turn our attention aside from them, and somewhere further down this road we realise we've let go of them. This is just my way of viewing and couching this. It might equally true be to say that letting go, turning aside and putting down are threefold aspects of one progressive cycle. One we go around and around. Perhaps spiralling upward with each circuit of putting down, turning aside and letting go. It may be the same impulse 'to let go' that is driving it all the way through, but it gradually permeates ever more widely and comprehensively.

Currently I view these threefold stages of letting go, as linked to the Buddha's Threefold Path, of Wisdom, Meditation and Ethics. I put down, seems an ethical impulse to stop doing something because it is in some way spiritually detrimental. It's weighing too heavily upon our spirits. We may not yet fully see the wisdom underpinning this, but we feel its ethical imperative nonetheless. But that compulsion alone is not going to be sufficient. Habit will keep drawing, if not sucking, us back into picking up what we've only recently put down. One has to keep turning aside ones gaze and mental attention from dwelling upon it once more. This requires a kind but vigilant awareness, a disciplined form of mindful attention. Something that is primarily cultivated and deepened through Meditation. This practice of turning ones attention away time after time, will gradually wear out and rub away all trace, and erase the root mechanism of our original attachment.

We leave no track marks in this epic journey. Its a journey that is curiously one of self-forgetting. A form of deliberate amnesia created by repeatedly turning your face away from the ardour of ones love for a thing. Until the ardour vanishes. When these things finally dip well below the conscious radar, when we've truly forgotten our attachment, then we might truly see that we've let go. Perhaps there is real wisdom in this seeing. Though our former love or attachment may still be surrounded by an aura of nostalgia, it is now seen for what it was, and more importantly for what it was not. The wisdom, lies in the seeing through. The process of letting go concludes when we can see right through our former love and attachment to something. What was once seen as a solid tangibly visible object of attention, is now seen as a figment of our fevered imagination. Seeing through the self-conjured nature of our love-filled attachments, is true wisdom.

The moment I start to consider throwing possessions away, is the moment I feel my attachment to them most strongly. This is often the moment,at the first hurdle, that my whole intention of putting things down starts to wobble. In order say, to make the process of disposing of redundant books easier, I've taken to making several piles to represent the full spectrum and degree of my attachment. Starting on one side with the stuff 'I definitely will not bin', the next being 'I would, if I was brave enough', then 'I ought to, but wont' then 'maybe, but not just yet' and ending in 'definitely wont, these are too precious' When these sort of responses emerge my intention to have a thorough clear out, falters badly. If I don't develop some firm resolve to see through my intention, the whole exercise will be a waste of time. I'm not turning aside from my attachment, I'm experiencing it and cuddling up to it, like a teddy I'm still rather too fond of.

This is not a new, nor that unique a response. It's not just me who experiences attachments, we all do, Our becoming attached is part and parcel of our coming into closer relationship with anyone or anything. The issue is really whether we can use this as a means of gaining personal insight or not. To create some distance from our attachments so we have some sense of there being a choice whether to respond or not. Otherwise we simply become ever more tightly enmeshed with and bonded to them? We all need to eat food in order to survive, to have energy for all the things we like to do. We can also enjoy and love good food, without it necessarily becoming a problem. There is no point when living in a world of pain, in prematurely eschewing the little pleasures that life can bring us. But when our love of food becomes more akin to an obsession, or a compulsive behaviour, causing us to balloon in weight and size. When love of food makes us become dangerously obese, then something has gone seriously wrong with this pursuit of pleasure.

Freedom to desire, to buy whatever I want when I want it, will not make me permanently healthy and happy. It may well bring about the opposite. Overtime, my youthful enjoyment of what was new and invigorating in popular music, began to lack depth. It drifted from being a simple pleasurable pastime into something I had to do, no matter what. Art that is genuinely new and innovative, can quite easily slip into being merely novelty. Though thrill inducing it may be thin beer, with no aesthetic life or enjoyment beyond its initial effects. Eventually I did lose not just my perspective, but also my desire and enjoyment of music for quite some time.

When I first became a Buddhist, I mistakenly thought I'd have to forgo enjoyments such as poplar music. However, this side of Enlightenment, when we are not yet free of our desires and attachments, and the depth of our practice is still too shallow to replace more worldly pleasures, we do still need them when things get emotionally difficult. We can do so in full knowledge that that's what we are doing. As Sangharakshita said regarding times when we encounter difficult mental states:~
'When all else fails, distract yourself' 2

1 - Taken from Who Ordered This Truckload Of Dung? by Ajahn Brahm, Published by Wisdom Publishing
2 - taken from Peace Is A Fire by Sangharakshita, Published by Windhorse Publishing.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

REVIEW - Earthquakes In London

Headlong Theatre Company - Cambridge Arts Theatre - Friday 11th 2011

This new play by Mike Bartlett has grand ambitions. Sweeping back and forth across time and in its visionary scope. The back ground to this drama, styled as if in the Brechtian tradition, is the personal and political origins and consequences of climate change. Three sisters, all daughters of an absent but influential climate change scientist, live disparate and hence mutually antagonistic lifestyles. The eldest,Sarah, is a Lib Dem Coalition minister responsible for the environment. The middle daughter, Freya is an anxious,highly strung and very reluctant Mother. The youngest,Jasmine, is a head in the sand hedonist. Their father in the late 60's allowed his environmental research into the possible effects of widespread air travel to be compromised by corporate sponsorship. His personal integrity as both a scientist and a human being, is forever haunted by this self-betrayal. In the eyes of the daughters he's estranged from. he's a complete shit. As this family dynamic is played out, we see how this has influenced their personal ethics, ideals and life choices.

Headlong, under the artistic direction of Rupert Goold, has developed a reputation for boldly executed dramas tackling thorny contemporary issues, such as in the multiple award winning - Enron. All of which are staged with great colour, verve and innovative punch. The original London production had the audience in the midst of the actors and staging. For this National Theatre Touring production, this has been adapted to suit the smaller, more traditional proscenium arched regional theatre. Earthquakes In London, makes extensive use of a double stage revolve. that allows swift and frequently overlapping scenes. This multi-layered visual narrative style frequently achieves quite startling dramatic effects, and gives the production its primary visual dynamism.

The ambitions of both play and the staging of it, are indeed EPIC. At over three hours long, the production needs to keep on the move. In the midst of its sprawling narrative, there were inevitably moments when the production lost focus and momentum. This was often when it fell fowl of its own artistic pretensions, with too many story lines clogging up the narrative arteries like cholesterol. As if we were being forced to eat too much all at once. At times the staging held your breath, whilst the drama caught up.

As the play hurtled towards its finish, it reminded me of a speeding train trying desperately to come to a halt at its designated station, with all its passengers and carriages still intact. It shuddered,stopping and starting like a Mahler Symphony, through a sequence of possible endings. Just when you're prepared for the end, up popped yet another scene. When it finally reached its conclusion, Bartlett had to sidestep the immediacy of the personal, economic, political and practical costs of climate catastrophe, in order to introduce a more mythic level of resolution in the year 2525 (Yes, as in the 60's song by Zager & Evans) In the midst of all this,what punchline there was. got lost.

These quibbles aside, it's undoubtedly a brave, hugely enjoyable and a thought provoking production. One that's rightly been described as carnivalesque in style. It has several truly memorable moments, often found in seemingly fleeting and inconsequential scenes. The Mother's party on Parliament Hill where they are all dressed like Anna Wintour pushing their designer prams and singing about Happiness. Or the scene with the woman who loved the shop Libertys. So much so, that she changed her name to Liberty. Got a job working for Libertys and chooses her cloths so they compliment the Liberty colours. Demonstrating simply how Western Consumer Individualism encourages our self-preoccupation and whims - at liberty to be whatever we want to be. However contrived, bogus or fairytale that may be. This hunger for individual self expression being fed by the very globalised commerce that is having such a huge environmental effect.

The best example of multi-layered visual narrative had Freya the pregnant daughter in birthing agony on a hospital stretcher, in the background, her brother in law and younger sister cavorting drunkenly to a track by Arcade Fire, in the middle ground,whilst the elder sister says goodbye to a lobbyist for an airplane manufacturer she's just had sex with, in the foreground. This showed the personal desperation, infidelity and moral indifference that was earth-shatteringly sad.

The multiple story lines left no time to touch more than lightly on the many issues it raises. Just one quick sideways swipe, rather than a carefully aimed hit at its target. In this sense it didn't quite match its Brectian antecedents. It was never entirely clear what the overarching point Earthquakes In London was trying to make, other than WE ARE ALL DOOMED! IN A BIG WAY!! It ticked all the usual boxes, and pointed a wagging finger at all the usual targets. To be fair, it was being more honest than polemical (polemic often makes for stillborn or deathly drama) Bartlett, like us, has no answers or quick fixes. We're in a mess, and no one knows really if we are really capable of getting ourselves out of it. In the play,the daughters father makes it thunderously clear, that we are already too late. The earthquakes of chaos and catastrophe are already rumbling in the distance.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

ARTICLE ~ I Let Go - No 7


Should I start by thanking my hands? I suppose I should, but not in a polite round of applause thoroughly English way. That might seem a trifle formal, if not patronising attitude to take towards them. It's certainly inadequate considering what they can do, what they have done, and what they still continue doing. They're vastly underrated, consistently overlooked and taken for granted. My hands have served me well. I'm seeing this now, when perhaps it's getting too late, in an evening that has no discernible moonlight. For there are times when my fine hands can't do exactly what I want them to, or can't do things quite as well as formerly, or as I'd presently like. I have this sense of being a passive observer as my body slowly slowly loses its treasured faculties. This is hard to see as ennobling. For in truth they weren't that treasured until they started betraying signs of being impermanent things. Hands can fail to function. Then they become treasured. One must have appreciated and loved, before one can allow these things to pass, and let ones affection go.

So, there is a premonition of their future theft. As though my hands have become these warning oracles. the lines and mounts of palmistry telling my fortune. The feeling of being prematurely bereft is humbling. One is belittled by bereavement. Ought one to bow down out of respect? Should ones heart be swollen with feelings of gratitude? Sorry to hear your leaving, but thanks a million anyway! It's difficult in the midst of a predicted loss, to feel anything other than existentially betrayed, buggered or baying for blood to be spilt. Life should be made to pay for this, or make reparations.
Meanwhile, I still bear on the ends of my arms these ten digits. Fingers and thumbs pivoting on wrists until the bitter end. From these I shall not part, until I too will bereave someone I love. Their warm hands will touch the wintry coldness of my face, and know I am gone, that I am lost to them. No hands could shake me awake from this sleep. When I have relinquished up the flesh and the bones of being loved. Hands will lower me into the ground of my resting place, or push my coffin into the furious heat of a cremation oven. Handkerchiefs will soak up the tears, muffle the sobs and grip tightly the hands of bystanders. They might even wave me off.
Hands can be loving, have a smoothing calming effect on the troubled surfaces of experience. They break through invisible hurts, divorces or barriers. The empty spaces that can emerges between bodies. Hands physically connect with what has become isolated by touching the skin of me, by touching the skins of them. Yes them, the bright haired handymen and women walking the same grey streets, travelling the same road, on the same train, the same bus as me. Imagine embracing them all, in one nocturnal handshake. Hands pressed together in greeting, in collective prayer or supplication. Faithfully devoted. Kissing hands, bottom hugging hands, the entwined clasping of hands that are in love. A light brush down a lovers back, a feathery stroke outlining a silken face, fingers drift sketchily along lips, hands pressing a ruffle across a chest. These are some of the tasks that hands do for me, that bring me pleasure, besides - the raising of a refreshing cup of coffee - the drawing of a line across a piece of paper - the waving to friends across the street – they help me swim.
I cannot speak or enumerate the full range of their qualities. The attributes they bring, enable me to sculpt the world I want to live and love in. Impossible without their ability to actively grasp, hold, form, twist, whip, lunge, catch, throw, break, bow, turn, throw, drop, swing, swim, whirl, pull, drag, lift, bend, or hang. The padding, the petting, the patting, the paddling, the laying on of hands. An immensely courageous kindness of hand and heart, is the caressing back rub that is empathic and compassionate.
Thumb and forefinger have held paintbrushes for me, with just enough of a pinch. Not too much so it would snap, or too little so it would slip between my fingers. They direct the paint filled mop head in smooth washes and swathes across the surfaces of walls, doors, paper, canvas and floors. Hands have maintained for me a lifetime of too many creative flourishes to mention. They've painted out an idea, an approximate representation of who I believe I am. Who I would, like, love, wish, even will myself into being. This is what I portray by portraying. The spontaneous surface of artistry disguises the innate skill required for its execution. I've spent a whole lifetime in pursuit of an elusive goal. Riding on the back of this-then-that artistic rocking horse. Backing the entirely wrong horse, or thrown from the saddle of bucking broncos. Sometimes hands have to take the reins, the strain, and the pain.
They've taken me far, and yet not far enough for my liking or my racing desire. Hands have done my bidding, but nothing to permanently satisfy the hungry jaws of a half empty pit. I carry projects loyally in my minds eye, in a richly coloured portfolio. Much more comprehensive and better executed than the actual ones were, or will be. These are all mind made hand-me-downs kept in a reserve bottom draw. Designs I'll never get round to resolving or bringing to a conclusion. These ideas can stay pristine, unsullied and clean of poor execution, the unimagined obstacles, the compromised or even the lack of opportunity to bring them to fruition. No way to bring them about now, to expose them to the unflinching light of day or the distorted florescence of the night, or nightmare. These things fade.

Talented hands have nevertheless externalised something of what I imagined. Tried to express essentially the inexpressible. To breathe something alive onto a lifeless parchment. Birth as always is an exciting event, painful and a bit of a struggle. A wrestling match between the idea and the limits of my ability. Ending in an expression, an emission, a submission to history however impoverished or small. Creation is a fleeting temporary high, followed by the melodrama of the withdrawal symptoms. However, its always been disappointment that spurred me on to the next 'big thing.' The skill of my hands is in executing flexibly. To get the vision out of the way of the handiwork. I just observe the flustered birds of confidence, the febrile nature of frustration, and I shrug. Palms outstretch expectantly. Palms cupped like petals around a calyx hope to catch some divine nectar. I've drunk from that cup. A vessel that my hands created out of nothing.
Hands can be actors too, they've performed like shadow puppets behind a large screen. Hand gestures have played their part in producing a character, a likable comedy, a black and white version of reality. Blocked out, a stage movement of hands upstage will prompt the dialogue and the expression of the faked emotion. I learnt to portray a love, weakness or power that I do not possess. To be a person I am not, or am only in a theatrical dimension. I have mimed the making of miracles using these hands. I've loved every false hand movement, until I tired of the verisimilitude. My dissembling stumbled in the reciting of other peoples words. Though they were not my words, I sneaked my feelings in through the back door. Through my vocal intonation and the loaned language of my body. Simultaneously shielding and picking at my own sores for raw material, which was handy. Eventually my hands would write and perform their own words.
My hands could also slap out a big beat. Tap on the tables and floors, para diddle upon my thighs. They held my pint, tipped the pint into my mouth, or drunkenly spilt it on the floor. I put down my pint only so I could dance. To pogo like a demented pile-driver let loose across the floors and foil clad walls of Seventies discotheques. They flapped around wildly on the end of my arms. Like the ineffective wings of gosling's in a first attempt at flight. Hands Charleston, hokey cokey and jived, dragging the rest of my bending body with them. Surrendering to the hearts beat, its blood throbbing compulsive thrust. The intoxicating rhythm amplified my life's pulse. Whether the dance floor was in my bedsit, the disco or the concert hall. I clapped hands hard together as though I was experienced in flamenco Both my hands should be applauding loudly a life that has been, and is still being well lived. If they are not, its because they're busy nursing themselves, rubbing Ibuprofen Gel into inflamed thumb joints.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ARTICLE ~ I Let Go - No 6


In the midst of a busy day doing countless things, our minds are being eased into letting go. It's happening all the time. Mostly without any conscious effort whatsoever. The things we were enthusiastic about or thought vitally important yesterday, today seem silly, irrelevant, of no merit or consequence. Such changes may have had some time for deliberation, but this is unlikely to have been a conscious tussle. We quietly out grow them, without any coercive urging word being spoken. We barely notice this happening. So, when we finally 'put away childish things,' its done with the minimum amount of fuss. In my early teens I was a huge fan of Marc Bolan and T.Rex. I waited with huge anticipation every new single or album release. Turning the radio up as loud as possible whenever I heard them broadcast. At the time, this was an extremely crucial, life enhancing, thing in my young life. I saw Bolan as a sort of musical guru whose every song was unadulterated genius. His overt camp posturing during the tinselled tackiness that was the Seventies Glam Rock era, became an early touchstone for my then barely understood sexuality. This the idolisation to some extent helped me approach, explore and expose.

It's in the nature of being a 'fanatic' that you surrender your critical faculty to the adulation. Wholeheartedly gazing upwards towards something or someone seen as greater. Was there a conscious moment when I stopped being a fan,where I decided that was it with buying T.Rex? I'm not sure there was. The fanatical edge of my idolisation waned incrementally over time. A number of lacklustre, and clearly naff singles undoubtedly dealt it repeated and severe blows. The godlike Marc Bolan demonstrated his fallibility and fell off his guitar amp.

When Bolan actually died in a car crash a few years later, I was quite deeply stirred up. However much I'd grown out of actively being a fan, he still stood for something. What this consisted of had shifted over the intervening years. Moving from idolisation, to disillusionment, to a nostalgic sentiment for a golden age now irredeemably tarnished or vanished. Was this mourning then for him, or for the ideal of godlike human perfection that he'd once stood for in my eyes? It was clear he was no genius, and my disillusion when it arrived was deafening. My belief in him had expired long before he did. His untimely death proved to be an additional and unexpected stage in my waking up. He wasn't immortal either, and neither was I. The death of a person or of an ideal, can highlight the imperfect and impermanent nature of everything you're left with. A solemn assurance that there will be further things to say goodbye to.

This variety of letting go lies forgotten whilst we loosen our bonds of love and attachment. What was once prominently placed in the foreground gradually fades into the background. Bright new things start to grab our attention. So by the time that we recognise we've let go of an old way of being, it has been gone quite a while. Recognition of letting go happens in retrospect. Its part of the conscious winding up phase of what has been until then a largely unconscious process. A process that wasn't necessarily kicked off by a prior decision to let go. They've left without properly saying goodbye, so we need to grieve for their newly identified absence - 'Oh I really used to love Marc Bolan.'

It seems to be entirely in character that letting go should happen quietly and imperceptibly. The human life cycle too, is subtle and silent. Everything within it is interlocked, is changing, is readjusting. It runs according to its own rolling agenda. A baby leaves the womb, that baby becomes a child, the child becomes a teenager, the teenager becomes an adult, the adult becomes a middle aged person, and that middle aged person becomes older and older until their body dies, and that body will become manure. Life itself is a seamless process of letting go and becoming. Of course there's always a possibility we might die prematurely of an unexpected disease or accident. The assumption is that our life will unfold smoothly without a hiccup, that it will have a reliable steady constancy to it. However, I know of no life that doesn't have its fair share of sudden swerves, diversions, obstacles and opportunities that arise unforeseen along the way. What has consistency and actively maintains our sense of their being a continuity, is the perspective we confine our experiences within. This deliberately mis-perceives reality as incrementally stable, flying in the face of its slow slow quick quick slow shifting style of evolution.

The delusion is ours, and ours alone, and is commonly ruptured by sickness, the symptoms of old age, or death. Only then do we experience what's really happening, and never liking what it is we see. We don't like gazing on the deathly palour of that face at all. Everyday life moves constantly through cycles of growth, degeneration and death. This is the stuff, the grist and gist, of life. Its what being alive is wrapped around. Humans are propelled unwillingly forward into an as yet unformed, unknown future. Frequently forced to let go of a way of living, to mourn the loss of a loved one, or even to die ourselves, against our will. We cannot stay the hands of death. So when we grieve, our grief is invariably twofold; we grieve for what has already gone, and for what is yet to go. But leave us it will.

Ageing brings its own distinctive forms of letting go, turning aside or putting down. Usually prompted by our physical condition or mental agility deteriorating. Getting older ushers in unwelcome challenges, arriving like a smelly tramp at a genteel tea party. Initially, it might start with small departures from an established life style. We aren't prepared to stay up dancing or partying till dawn, because the tiredness and bodily aching that follows becomes a greater deterrent. Physically demanding activities gradually drop off the list of things you like to do at weekends. Quieter, gentler, less exerting, more sedate activities start to have more appeal. We have to stop doing things, not because we want to, but because we can no longer do them. What is doable starts to trump our desires.

Once I entered my fifties, physical ailments that had previously been niggly, but manageable, began to significantly affect the quality of my daily life. An occasionally troublesome back, now quickly rose to a throbbing discomfort if I stood for too long, or walked too far without a break. Hip and shoulder pain causes me to turn restlessly in bed or wake in the early hours because they're too sensitive to lie on any longer. The texture of my sleep becoming more frayed at the edges. Osteoarthritis inflames and damages the joints in my hands. This stiffens the dexterity and weakens the strength of my fingers. Simple tasks like opening jars, turning anything that's stiff or requires force, holding weighty objects, fastening shirt cuff buttons, keeping screws in place whilst you screw them in, painting walls with a roller, doing delicate paintwork or sawing wood, all are becoming difficult to execute without there being a painful consequence. Gradually this wears out the spirit that wants to carry on regardless. We become exasperated, if not exhausted, by the effort to just keep going.
I can't let go of these ailments nor the pain they cause, they are how my body is. Our horizons tend naturally to narrow anyway. As we get older we refine our objectives. Yet what we are, and what we have been, is so tied up with what we are able to do. So each embodied deterioration requires another readjustment of what I see myself doing, not just now, but also in future. Redefining what makes me, me. Pain imposes its own constraints. Previously straightforward desires are reconsidered in the light of a possibly painful outcome. Taking off for long treks in the hills or along the coastline, moving or lifting heavy objects, or creating detailed things using ones hands. These are either going to happen less frequently, or just not happen at all. The moment for them is on the wane.

I've losing personal control here, by small degrees. The ability to direct my life in whatever way or direction I wish is being frustrated. When I was younger, I had abundant energy and power with which to take charge of my life and circumstances. As I age, those same life and circumstances seem to be starting to take charge of me. There is still an element of choice, but its more in the realms of when I will have to surrender to the inevitable. When fighting them off uses too much energy, then I'll let them win. Through such small relinquishings I hand over my power and destiny to conditions and circumstance. This is a reluctant parting, one tinged with regret. Letting go of the things that I've loved doing, existentially hits right at the core of my being. My sense of who I am is being rocked. I'm having to bring something to an end, accompanied by the sort of mental states I normally associate with a premeditated murder.

Though this experience of ageing saddens me, I am becoming more resigned to it. There is no doubt much weeping and gnashing of teeth, some 'raging against the dying of the light' yet to be done with. It bears its own vein of poison - poignancy, because it matters not one jot how much I rage against the deterioration of my physical capabilities, there is nothing I can do about it. No magic wand can reverse this. The osteoarthritis slowly damages joint linings, that lining is irreparable, affecting what a hand can do. Hands cannot be replaced, relined, and their sensitivity and control regained. The usefulness of my hands is being 'malevolently' eaten away from the inside. I'm left impotent, holding the redundant remnants of desires and aspirations, that can no longer be fully fulfilled. Even my self-pity and hankering has to be let go of. But lets be honest here, such concerns will vanish anyway when my mind eventually goes gaga. Dementia has one benefit and one benefit only, in that I really will be past caring.

It would be tempting to be cynical or bitter about this, but so far I've resisted such slippery slopes. I have, however, found myself experiencing regretful melancholy and yearnings for things I've not done, and now will never do again. Dreamy ideals that I've had to abandon. Though physical disability is undoubtedly a major limiting factor, its not alone. It has a world weary companion called – I can't be bothered with all this any more. As youthful energy and enthusiasms tapers off, the range of things I wish to put time and effort into, also dwindles. I want a cleaner life, cleared of useless clutter, paired down to the essentials, somewhat radically simplified.

I no longer want to put huge effort or initiative into making things happen either. I've been there, done that, enjoyed the successes or endured the failures. I don't necessarily have the need to do it one more time, or start again from scratch on a new venture or career. Time, energy and ability is running out for such things. These are the sort of aspirations or dreams, that in old age we let go, turn aside and put down, and for their loss we silently grieve. There's been no great insight into them, we may not have even out grown them necessarily,nor a mature perspective been arrived at. We've just given up wanting to try.

Life contains many of these 'little deaths', where one becomes resigned to letting go of something we previously have loved. Its similar to the end of a long and passionate love affair. At the close of any romantic relationship a decision is taken to part, but the letting go the sense of intimacy takes longer. The love and attachment we've felt, and indeed may still feel, doesn't drop away in an instant they tend to linger and mope. It may be many months before you realise you're no longer in love with them. No longer grieving for the loss of their love. No longer feeling betrayed or hurt by their leaving you, for someone or something else. The tumble of emotions you were once engulfed by, does eventually evaporate. Letting go, as a process, is similar to this. Yet whilst we were weeping inconsolably for what was absent, we were unaware of what was present. After the grieving is over, is the time when you're emotionally freed and fired up to move on, to see everything anew. The benefit of letting go is in the feeling of release. The liberation from bondage. What was shackled is now free.