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.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

FEATURE 98 - Rosas Danst Rosas

I saw this in the early 1980's, i think as part of Dance Umbrella at The Place in London, though it may have been at the ICA. can't quite remember now. It was knock out then, and still is now. Yes, I am revisiting it because Beyonce has just ripped off bits of its dance style for her video for the song Countdown. Well, I guess its flattering, but this wholesale unacknowledged borrowing is getting to be a habit with Beyonce.

FEATURE 97 - Niki & The Dove

Oh, I feel a new enthusiasm burgeoning for this duo from Gothenberg. Like The Knife, Fever Ray,and even Bjork, they manage to produce quirky, electronic pop, dance-able but with a darker almost pagan edge. These two videos using 'found films' are pretty representative of the breadth of their current style.

Monday, October 10, 2011

FEATURE 96 - Florence & the Machine

The latest single from Florrie - I think this one could be massive.

ARTICLE ~ I Let Go - No 5


He sat in the armchair for seemingly hours, hours that were really minutes pulled unrecognisably out of shape and then plumped up like cushions. He rested heavily on them, glancing at the doors that lay at either end of the room he was in. One door, he knew was the door he'd entered the room by, but that was a long time ago. Sometimes he'd prop the door slightly ajar so he could glimpse inside. The room was very much like the one he was in, but wallpapered with fusty, melancholic memories. In the summer, the room smelt sweaty and soured like blue cheese. He had a fondness for what he remembered, just so long as they sat quietly in his lap like a cat. He didn't like it when they stretched out their paws and stuck their claws in his thighs.

He'd always a strong tendency towards restlessness. Physically he fidgeted, one minute his feet were on the ground, the next his legs were crossed left over right, then swapped to right over left, or slung rakishly over the armrest. In his mind, the images he conjured up in his head would change constantly too, he couldn't stop it, he didn't want to stop it. He could imagine himself as being anyone or anything he wanted, and be whatever it was to a superlative degree. His body would posture, in preparation for his vision to be made flesh. There was a thrill, a creative excitement, a sense of potency, of virility, for the possibilities within his imagination were literally endless. However, what usually became endless, was the waiting. The waiting for the dreams to be fulfilled, to reach fruition, as the days,weeks, months of expectation cranked themselves up. It was as though he was stood on a station platform waiting for a lover to arrive on a train. With each empty train his anticipation became more anxious and tense. His heartbeat turned heavier, began preparing itself, not for victory, but for defeat. As the last train of the day hit the buffers, he'd walk away alone, with yet another crumpled design filed away in his briefcase.

Ah! the potency of the dreaming, designed to quell the regretful tide, designed to stop the murky river from bursting its banks. Dreams kept him going, kept him from going insane. So he understood one door, at least he knew what lay behind that. Tarnished things, painful sensitive things he couldn't really forget or erase the memory of, no matter how much he'd have liked to. What was the other side of the second door he knew not, but that in itself made it all the more enticing a prospect to imagine. Was it a room empty of history, empty of disruptive emotions, a room for the un-dreamt of, where anything was possible? A room where unbridled desire might run rampant.

This turning from door to door, from the definite past, to the indefinite future, was as though he was observing a tennis match that no one else could see. Nothing came or went without him knowing about it. He believed he decided what would stay and what he would let go. Yet even when he was heartily sick of something, would it leave, even when he'd pointed out the exit? No! In extremis he'd have to pick the darned thing up, and kick it firmly into the past. That didn't necessarily solve the problem. It seeped back under the door like smoke, and hung around as the ghost of a fire that was not yet extinguished.

He started to regret his impulsive behaviour, wishing dreams would come back, so he could say he was sorry. Every dream became an intimate, personal friend. When they fell out, he wanted to make amends. His past never seemed to remain benign, inert or fully dead. Old decrepit dreams, half forgotten or half realised were still half alive, just awaiting a fresh magical spell to restore their potency.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

FEATURE 95 - Mrs Slocombe's Pussy

As a tribute to the late great David Croft - here's a compilation of Mrs Slocombe's pussy jokes from Are You Being Served?

REVIEW - Bridget Riley - Kettles Yard

Bridget Riley's early Op Art became one of the visual touchstone of the swinging 60's. Her visual experiments have continued since then with the introduction of vibrant bands of colour. The result, though carefully structured and prepared for, is never sterile, it has warmth. Riley seems not at all concerned with putting her heart or the psychological mess of her mind on the canvas. No shock values or the messiness of self-expression here. What her paintings possess is an abundant sense of enjoyment with what she is doing with colour, shape, pattern and form. That said, her paintings do communicate something of her personality, a certain steadiness and balance, an unfussy unpretentious clarity.

Looked at closely, her paintings are never super pristine. The edges are not ultra sharp, the surfaces she paints on are rough watercolour paper or coarse linen, which mitigates against perfectly clean execution. This paint surface, however, does benefit by bringing greater depth and a richer softness to the colour quality. That said, Riley's paintings shimmer, and resist the eye settling on any particular area. Your gaze is kept constantly moving, engaging with being visually scintillated. Reproductions can never quite capture the immediate effect of her painting upon your perception. Her work is ripped off constantly, she's always been accessible and her ideas are readily adopted by popular commercial media, via wrapping papers, cards or wallpaper designs. They have to tame her though, by toning down the colour contrasts and oscillating quality that she revels in.

Other painters like Freud or Bacon might grab the headlines, for what they tell us about the grisly end of the human condition. However,Riley creates huge masterly work that celebrates another aspect of being human, our capacity to express and enjoy our exuberance. This is joyful painting, one that is optically experimental, but also uplifting and affirmative. It also possesses a truth and universality that can be undervalued in the pursuit of, and wallowing in, the oppressive shadows.

ARTICLE ~ I Let Go - No 4


My teenage years were largely agnostic. Followed by a decade or so of rather indecisive atheism that lasted well into my late twenties. Once I passed thirty I seemed to overcome any residual hostility and began looking seriously into what 'a spiritual life' might actually be like, for me. Reading mostly about Taoism, I knew little or nothing about Buddhism as yet. So, when I bought Nirvana Tao* from a bookshop in Camden Town, I was more attracted by the 'Tao' than the 'Nirvana'. As a book I wasn't particularly taken with it. It was structured in two halves; one half looked at the Taoist approach to The Way; the second half the Buddhist approach to Nirvana. Its title implied a philosophical alignment between these two religious strands by placing them in comparative proximity. Yet it made no attempt to forge links at all. It just outlined the beliefs or practices of these two non-theistic traditions. Both traditions, as they were portrayed in this book, appeared to deliberately obscure what a spiritual life in practice might be. Mostly behind an esoteric veneer of inscrutability or circumspection.

Taoism had kick started my spiritual investigations in the late.1980's. Within a short space of time I was very familiar with its basic philosophy and outlook. Even though I remained intrigued, I was also incredibly frustrated and perplexed by it. For all its evident insights into the sources of human dissatisfaction,Taoism seemed deliberately vague about the details. What would you actually do as a consequence of these insights? Where were the Taoist practices? Indeed where were the Taoist practitioners, who could instruct you in the rediscovery of that natural union with the Way? Nada ! 'Nirvana Tao', despite trumpeting about containing the secret meditation techniques of the Taoist Masters, told me no such thing.

The approach to Nirvana, I now recognise was pure Vajrayana Buddhism, Tibetan style. Retrospectively cobbling the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana strands of Buddhism into one seamless progressive path of practice leading to Nirvana. It described the various stages of higher consciousness in such precise detail, that they became quite dense and incomprehensible. I remember finding this an off putting presentation of what the Buddhist path was all about. If this was anything to go by, it didn't seem to be about real human experience at all, but something more akin to an intricately wrought flight of fancy.

Yet smuggled into the pages of these baffling expositions I did find a gem - some short verses about letting go,turning aside and putting down. At the time, I copied them out by hand and kept them pinned above my desk. Where they no doubt stayed until something else grabbed the focus of my spiritual enthusiasm. Whenever I've read them since, what I find in them seems superficially the same, but also subtly different. The relevance they had for me in my early thirties, is not like today's. At the time there was an obvious immediacy that impacted upon me. I recognised the emotional and mental preoccupations the verses covered. Inexperienced spiritually, I knew nothing yet about meditation or even what everyday spiritual practice might be, nor how they might help. I connected with these verses because I thought, somewhat naively, I might be able to do what they said. I was to remain clueless for quite sometime.

Letting go,turning aside and putting down is not concerned with secret teachings on higher levels of consciousness, about which I'd had no experience, and of whose existence I remained unconvinced. Nor is it theoretical or fantastical. It points directly to a multiplicity of attachments that are at the root of suffering, including my own. This was a reality I lived in every day. My life then, had very prominent veins of frustration and discontent sticking out and ruining its health and vitality. I was a deeply dissatisfied person at heart, frequently subject to prolonged bouts of melancholic sadness. Letting go,turning aside and putting down offered some kind of hope.

Traditionally, these verses were meant to be learnt, recited and inwardly reflected upon, but most of all practised. They present the full spectrum of our expectations, aspirations and experiences of life. The implication is that the ideals we hold about our lives, about how they should be, can become a form of prison or tyranny. Expectation and desire is indeed what engages us with our lives. It motivates us to carry on, to not accept defeat at the hands of misfortune. However,this very persistence can also turn on us and become our tormentor. Frequently, what we think we want is not what we really want at all. Our determination can become a substitute for self-belief. By loosening our insistent emotional grip upon these ideals, paradoxically, we could release more energy and a deeper sense of liberty. To be content or at peace with ourselves in the world, but primarily, to be able to just be. To just be, being more than enough.

Now, after a few decades of Buddhist practice, I'm in my fifties. From this time and perspective I can compare myself now with then, and recognise things have moved on. The emphasis I place upon my needs, perceptions and experience have undergone a slow but substantial transformation. Buddhist practice has been a great self-healer. I've a better grasp on the views and conditionings that maintain my unhelpful mental tendencies and emotional attachments. Though I'm still learning how you cultivate better ones. Today these verses on letting go,turning aside and putting down are stimulating a desire to gently put to rest some of the residual ghosts of past pain. Plus the thoughts and behaviours that accompany and ride in its wake. To let the fading spectre of youthful ambitions go. Relieve myself of the regret and the grief for them, that still lingers on in those easy to overlook corners of my present life.

This is the primary reason why I'm returning to these verses now. It's not just out of a fondness or idle curiosity. I've reached a particularly dry and intransigent phase on my spiritual path. Things I used to value highly are presently lacking the import they once had. Perhaps these verses are striking a deeper more resonant chord, because they're pointing towards something that's long overdue. Now is the right time for letting go.

We all tend to carry excess baggage, things we bear, or put up with, however burdensome and weighty they are. Old ideas and desires, the dreams we know we should have said farewell to years ago. We sentimentally regard these treasured past ideals, however moribund. They take up not just psychic space, but also act as a drag on our growth spiritually. Even though we've stopped actively pursuing them, we may still be holding out a slim chance they might happen one day. Lost ideals might yet be found, so we must remain the keeper of their flame.

They might appear innocuous or innocent on the surface, and not something to really worry about. However, I'm finding their background interference induces from time to time a heavy heartedness. One that quietly dampens my fully embracing whatever is currently in the foreground of my everyday life. It's like listening to a pop song on the radio that you really love, but each time it appears on the play-list somewhere in the background Radio Moscow keeps blaring in, hampering the depth and pleasure in your enjoyment. Until I really let go of these remnants of past times, turn aside from them, or simply put them down as underlying motivators, my instinct is telling me this current situation may not only persist, but worsen.

With what remains of my life an unknown quantity, though obviously daily diminishing. These are my final days, weeks, years or decades, so the quality, as well as quantity, of my life is becoming ever more precious. Something within me is asking me to change. The ground I'm currently occupying and working from, is putting in a request for a thorough make-over. I'm taking these verses on letting go,turning aside and putting down to be a sort of guiding guru, that I can learn from line by line. I intend to probe into and investigate them. To see what they evoke or conjure up, in terms of past, present or future perceptions, of dreams and aspirations, random connections or tenuous associations. What will be unearthed, or erupt from my imaginarium, as bit by bit I dig deeper into the emotional sediment they're buried in? We shall see.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

FEATURE 94 - The Best of Arisa

Arisa, so far as I know, is an organisation that runs gay club events in Israel. To publicise them they produce these fun videos, mostly featuring Uriel Yekutiel ( the one in drag) and Eliad Cohen (The Hairy Hunk). All the videos are set to somewhast traditional sounding songs, but the visuals are far from it. Here's a small selection of the best of Arisa.

Saturday, October 01, 2011