If you hear a voice within you …

painted pole (11 January 2015)

painted pole (11 January 2015)

There are times – yes, you know them, you have them, too – when the world clicks into a new position and nothing can ever be quite the same again. Or maybe it isn’t the world that goes ‘click’. Maybe it’s something that happens in the mind, as a response to or a consequence of one’s experiences. Okay, I need to be specific.

For more than three years I have been professing that I’m writing a novel. It’s not the first I’ve attempted – my personal history is littered with the wreckage of those failed projects. My previous major writing effort – ‘clinically obese’ might be an appropriate diagnosis – boasted double the planned word-count, and it was only halfway through when eventually abandoned.

In recent days I’ve been looking back over the text which purports to be the stuff of the ‘new’ novel (working title: You Wouldn’t Dare). The opening scene I wrote on ‘day one’ is delicious, delectable. I’m really keen to continue. But aside from a few promising scenes, very little of the rest of it will find itself in the final draft.

So what’s clicked? what’s shifted? It’s something I’m still fathoming. In the meantime Vincent van Gogh’s advice is pertinent:

“If you hear a voice within you saying, ‘You are not a painter,’ then by all means paint … and that voice will be silenced.”

 

 

 

Giving up the past

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

A little piece I wrote back in 2010 – Sanitation? … or sanitization? – has been receiving a bit of attention from blog-readers in recent times, so I took another look at it myself … and it seems quite an appropriate topic for the season of Lent (which began last Wednesday (05 March).

Responding to a comment on the original post, I explained that “The between-the-lines inferences and implications of my post [had] to do, on the one hand, with destroying incriminating evidence, hiding my inner life … and, on the other hand, with holding on to mementos and souvenirs, and maintaining a record of things I [wanted] to remember.”

A bit cryptic – to say the least.

In the original post, I quoted something from A. Whitney Brown: “The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down.” (A. Whitney Brown, in The Big Picture)

What I didn’t make clear, in that 2010 post, is that what happened in the past is still in the past – nothing of the event itself is actually happening now. In effect, all that’s happening now is that a voice in my head is reading aloud what got written down in the past, and maybe reminding me about the wrong I have done and the good I have not done … and maybe I’m cringing, feeling guilty.

An act of contrition is one thing; getting rid of the rubbish is another. But this is not a lenten sermon, so back to the crux of the matter: “Giving up the past”.

In my experience, the inclination to clutter is often the outcome of either of two impulses: at one extreme is the Proustian urge to document everything (see note 1 below); at the other end of the scale, I hang on to things I cannot find the inner resources to attend to, process, or deal with.

Of late, I’ve been managing pretty much all the day-to-day chores and commitments, but there is a persistent residue that is harder to shift. A high percentage of that stuff still clutters my living-space; the remainder clutters my mind and my heart. The physical clutter is the manifestation of inner states, and its persistence is invariably anchored in the past.

The prophet Isaiah – who, by the way, had some worthwhile things to say about fasting and repentance (see Note 2 below) – said: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” (Isaiah 43:18, NIV). Whilst digging around on the interweb, I found a nice paraphrase: “When your past calls, let it go to voice-mail. It has nothing new to say.”

So I have plenty of work to do – giving up my past, and putting out the psychological and emotional trash.
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NOTES:

1/ Proust, who claims to have no memory, keeps track of everything. His letters (there are several thousand) provide a running inventory of his bodily functions – letters to his mother providing an update of his respiratory condition, letters to his doctor listing the details of his menu, little notes handed to his housekeeper every morning reporting the number of times he coughed the night before. (Rebecca Comay, in Proust’s Remains)  

2/ The symbolism of the familiar Ash Wednesday ritual – a cross smeared on the forehead using the ashes of palms gathered up after the Palm Sunday procession – connects back to repentance practices in Old Testament times – see Isaiah 58, for example. 

Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!

"La Marseillaise"

“La Marseillaise”

Yesterday, on the eve of Bastille Day, I experienced “patriotism” more profoundly than ever before. The agent of my enlightenment was Mireille Mathieu – and I have not a drop of French blood. 😉 PS: I was listening to a radio programme of music by French composers on Radio New Zealand Concert.

This post appeared on a certain Facebook page on 14 July, but I did not have the opportunity to post it here at that time … so I have adjusted the publication date.

You are the sky

Sky over Washington Monument

Sky over Washington Monument

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You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather. (Pema Chödrön)

It’s the height of summer where I live – in Wellington, New Zealand. For some of my friends and loved ones, the summer sun is welcome; for others, the heat and humidity are enervating.

Meanwhile, in the northern hemisphere – in Turkey, in London, and in western Massachusetts – others are wrapped up and rugged up against the snow and the dark, cold nights.

Some of us “experience a serious mood change during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. This condition is called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.” (US National Library of Medicine / National Institutes of Health)

“Although experts were initially skeptical, this condition is now recognized as a common disorder, with its prevalence in the US ranging from 1.4 percent in Florida to 9.7 percent in New Hampshire. 

“The US National Library of Medicine notes that ‘some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.’ The condition in the summer can include heightened anxiety.” (Wikipedia)

Someone very close to me seems to be under the mistaken impression that they have power to influence the weather: “If I hang my washing out, it’s sure to rain.”

As handy and versatile as the weather is as a topic of conversation, when all is said and done, it’s just the weather.