“Strip away the sonorous rhetoric of nationhood and bogus history, and you have the neoliberal project at its purest and most explicit… Behind every populist assertion of Britishness stands a smiling Old Etonian with an offshore account.”
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.”
What shape might this be?
forming itself from what clay?
spinning on what wheel?
(Friday 20 February 2015)
There are notions which, unbidden, emerge from the subconscious … sometimes, fully formed. This senryū started out somewhat amorphous and malleable, but quickly conformed to the seventeen-syllable pattern, although it did not seem to be a haiku.
I now know what it is.
grace: the dirty truth is
The words of this poem were on my lips as I awoke this morning. I wrote them down, thinking of them as being in the haiku form. I did not know about senryū until I happened to read a post on another blog that included the word in its title. I am happy to have learned the distinction between the two forms.
“Senryū tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryū are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are more serious. Unlike haiku, senryū do not include a kireji (cutting word), and do not generally include a kigo, or season word” (Wikipedia: Senryū).
The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid of ourselves. The basis of optimism is sheer terror. (The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde)
“Oscar! I don’t get it. Please explain!” That was my reaction when I recently encountered again these words, spoken by Lord Henry Wotton in Wilde’s famous novel. But with time to think, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really don’t do optimism. I’d say I’m a realist. Life is tough enough without setting myself up for disappointment.
You know the old saying referred to in the Grammarly meme: an optimist sees the glass as half full whilst a pessimist considers it half empty. I don’t think that’s the kind of optimism Wilde had in mind: his words (in the mouth of Lord Henry) align optimism with something akin to hope − but a hope predicated on a terrifyingly low self-esteem.
For many of us, optimism is about making the best of a bad situation – it is what we opt for when our circumstances are far from optimal. But hoping for the best is tantamount to fearing the worst. That’s why the words “think positive” so often jar with me: they invariably send the signal, “There’s something wrong here” … or, “They won’t like me” … or, “I’m not good enough”.
“Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed,” was, according to Alexander Pope, the ninth Beatitude (see note below).
All too few of us can meet every situation with equanimity – acknowledging feelings, but not involving them in the decision-making process. So now I’m pondering what Marianne Williamson means when she declares:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
Feeling insecure is hardly unusual among human beings. We’re generally not so much scared of other people, per se, as afraid of not fitting in. But, as Williamson explains, “Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”
On the other hand, St Paul warns his readers “not to have exaggerated ideas about your own importance. Instead, develop a sober estimate of yourself based on the standard which God has given to each of you, namely, trust” (Romans 12:3, Complete Jewish Bible).
That word, trust, is akin to confidence. And confidence seems to work, even when it’s a con. Coco Chanel put it well: “Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.”
But, as is so often the case, it is to Lao-Tzu we can turn to sum it all up for us: “Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”
Read the Wikipedia article about The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
Alexander Pope (in collaboration with John Gay) wrote his “Blessed is he …” in a letter to William Fortescue (23 September 1725), declaring it “the ninth Beatitude which a man of wit (who, like a man of wit, was a long time in gaol) added to the eighth.” (Wikiquote)
Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) Copyright © 1998 by David H Stern. All rights reserved.
The Coco Chanel quote appears in Believing in Ourselves: The Wisdom of Women by Armand Eisen (editor).
Williamson, Marianne. 1992. A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. New York: Harper Collins. [Chapter 7, Section 3 (p190-191)]
Note About Nelson Mandela: The quote from Marianne Williamson is often found on the Internet incorrectly credited as being from Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration Speech, 1994, especially the last sentence, “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
A year ago – almost to the day – I opened a new document and gave it this name, but did no writing in it. My intention, if I recall correctly, had been to use Samuel Beckett’s words (from Worstward Ho) as the seed of something. Since then, the draft has seen the light of day more than once – but with no demonstrable result.
Along the way, I’ve written and photographed … and, from time to time, published. You might have noticed that this is my first post for the New Year … and that I’ve put nothing up since before Christmas. So Beckett’s text is apt. As ever.
Perhaps, I told myself, today, a new WordPress theme will inspire me. Well, yes … having tried a couple, I concluded that the old stuff looked awful in the new themes. So I’ve reverted to the old Tarski.
“Unchanged? Sudden back unchanged? Yes. Say yes. Each time unchanged. Somehow unchanged. Till no. Till say no. Sudden back changed. Somehow changed. Each time somehow changed.” (Samuel Beckett, in Worstward Ho)
During the past twenty-four hours, I’ve been considering that |cross-ties| is fundamentally – or, at least, primarily – a photo-blog. And the photos I seem to like best are like this one. So that’s it … for now.
“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (ibid)
“Samuel Beckett is sui generis … He has given a voice to the decrepit and maimed and inarticulate, men and women at the end of their tether, past pose or pretense, past claim of meaningful existence. He seems to say that only there and then, as metabolism lowers, amid God’s paucity, not his plenty, can the core of the human condition be approached … Yet his musical cadences, his wrought and precise sentences, cannot help but stave off the void … Like salamanders we survive in his fire.” (Richard Ellman)
Worstward Ho is a prose piece by Samuel Beckett. Its title is a parody of Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho!. Written in English in 1983, it is the penultimate novella by Beckett. Together with Company and Ill Seen Ill Said, it was collected in the volume Nohow On in 1989 (Wikipedia: Worstward Ho [stub]).
Colin Greenslaw has done an elaborated version of Worstward Ho (interpolated with what he calls ‘expansions’ of the original text), which can be found on the Samuel Beckett On-line Resources and Links Pages.
On the Empire of Lights web-site is a ‘picture series’ which photographer Tobias M Schiel has titled “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Samuel Beckett). Very good.
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.
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.
So long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on writing. (Clarice Lispector)
Reading Rachel Kushner on the subject of Clarice Lispector: “… a visionary instinct, and a sense of humor that veered from naïf wonder to wicked comedy. … novels that are fractured, cerebral, fundamentally nonnarrative …” As I read, I find words I myself might have considered writing.
Truth is, I have never read any of those novels – have somehow not even consciously heard or read the name of this Brazilian writer. Regarded by some (including Benjamin Moser) as the most important Jewish writer since Kafka, acclaimed internationally for her innovative novels and short stories, Clarice Lispector was also a journalist.
As a child, so many of the responses I wanted to give could not be given using any of the logical templates available: Yes/No. Good/Evil. Right/Wrong. Black/White.
Eventually, I began to develop an understanding that was all paradox and antithesis, uncertainty, indeterminacy … shades of grey.
In her 1973 novel, Água Viva, Clarice Lispector writes: “Reasoning is what it is not. Whoever can stop reasoning – which is terribly difficult – let them come along with me.”
I am heartened. Encouraged. Inspired.
I have some unexpected reading to do. And some more writing.
How many people do you know who – even though they don’t profess any sort of religious affiliation – are convinced that “everything happens for a reason”? Or else they say particular things are “meant to be” … or “not meant to be”.
An example: A customer comes into the store you work in and looks at a set of dinner bowls, or a beautiful French knife, a hand-crafted scarf, or a pair of gold earrings. You come out from behind the counter and spend time with the customer, attentive without being pushy. You know she really wants that lovely thing, and you intuit that she’s trying to convince herself it’s okay to make the purchase.
“If it’s here when I come in on pay-day,” she tells you, “I’ll know it was meant to be.” And you realise there’s a ‘back-story’ underlying her behaviour – one about which we know virtually nothing – like the string of silk handkerchiefs a magician might pull from his sleeve at a children’s birthday party. (Yes, it’s a trick, a deception, but very effective when expertly handled.)
“Everything happens for a reason and this reason is usually physics.” I’m on Facebook, and this meme has been posted by a page calling itself Empty and Meaningless. One pedantic person has commented: “Except that it’s called a ’cause’ instead of a ‘reason’.” Yeah, yeah. Yadda yadda yadda.
The point is that the machinery of “life, the universe, and everything” operates on the basis of cause and effect. Chaos theory and quantum physics have tried to explain it, of course, with talk of things like the butterfly effect – but it’s still mindbogglingly complicated.
And what about when things go wrong? Do they really happen in threes? “The perceived perversity of the universe has long been a subject of comment, and precursors to the modern version of Murphy’s law are not hard to find” (Wikipedia: Murphy’s Law). But there’s nothing perverse about it. Everything that could possibly happen is waiting in the wings, eager for its opportunity, its big moment. And as soon as it gets a chance, it’ll happen. Don’t take it personally.
But of course we do tend to take everything personally. And rightly so, because each of us lives in a unique – and uniquely personalised – world that exists only in our mind. “Reality is not what it seems to be, nor is it otherwise” (Tibetan Buddhist teaching). Furthermore, “We don’t know what matter is any more than we know what mind is” (Christian de Quincy, in The Paradox of Consciousness).
So if most of what is happening within us and around us can be explained by (or at least attributed to) physics, what else is there which – albeit less frequently and/or less likely – might have something to do with driving what’s happening?
There’s a Talmudic tradition that “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow’.” Alan Lurie explains that “everything yearns to grow; it is an inherent drive embedded in all creation”(Listening To The Call Of Growth). “According the Talmudic writer, one of the forces that angels carry is the urge to grow – to develop, improve, and evolve. By noting that even every blade of grass is imbued with this urge, the Talmudic saying teaches that, like light, gravity, and electromagnetism, growth is a ubiquitous force of nature.”
Life is opportunistic. Everything yearns to grow.
1/ The origins of Yadda yadda yadda can be traced back with certainty to the controversial comedian Lenny Bruce in the early 1960s (see The Straight Dope for further information).
2/ Recommended reading: Consciousness and Reality (Peter Russell).
3/ “Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.” (René Magritte)
Jadin Bell dreamed of being a cheerleader.
Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan had all been high school cheer-leaders. In their day, cheer-leading had been an all-male activity. Until as late as the 1950s, in fact, female cheer-leaders were banned.
“The reputation of having been a valiant cheer-leader,” wrote the editors of The Nation in 1911, “is one of the most valuable things a boy can take away from college. As a title to promotion in professional or public life, it ranks hardly second to that of having been a quarterback.” But, like so many other things, cheer-leading in America has changed since those days.
During his sophomore year at high school in La Grande, Oregon, Jadin successfully tried out for the cheer-leading team – the only boy to do so in recent memory. Jadin had hoped that cheer-leading would be a path to some measure of social acceptance in his broader community. It wasn’t.
On the afternoon of Saturday 19 January 2013, carrying a length of rope, the fifteen-year-old climbed onto his school’s playground equipment and hanged himself. A passer-by found him nine minutes later, but in that time all brain activity had shut down, and Jadin never regained consciousness. After ten days, his parents, Joe Bell and Lola Lathrop, decided to take him off life support, and Jadin died on 3 February 2013.
Jadin Bell’s suicide, in the words of Pauls Toutonghi, “became part of the nation’s ongoing dialogue about bullying,” (See Note 1/ below.)
In late April, Joe Bell set off on a walk across the country to share the story of his son’s death and raise awareness about bullying.
On 15 October, The New York Times published an item under the headline, Oregon Father’s Memorial Trek Across Country Ends in a Family’s Second Tragedy. On 9 October, Joe Bell’s life had “ended in an instant on a two-lane road in rural eastern Colorado. He was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer whose driver had apparently fallen asleep, the state police said.”
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year in America, 4,600 young people take their own lives,” Pauls Toutonghi tells us. “This number is astonishing in its bigness. Yet the shocking truth – the idea that the way we live, as a society, is killing thousands of our children each year – produces little disturbance in our collective consciousness. Maybe this is because each suicide feels so individualized.”
On National Coming Out Day (11 October 2013), Brendon McCampbell wrote: “I am queer. With the loving acceptance of my family and friends, I can unabashedly admit this. As a child, however, I struggled greatly with my sexuality. I was poisoned by our society to believe that there was something wrong with me. The truth is this: there is something wrong with our society. We need to accept, support, and love people regardless of sex, gender, race, shape, ability, religion, or politics. Today is National Coming Out Day, and I hope you accept everyone in your life. We need to live in a world where Jadin was accepted by his peers and lived happily with his father and family.” (Facebook, 11 October 2013)
In his posthumously-published autobiography, Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (From My Life: Poetry and Truth), Goethe wrote that “suicide is an event of human nature which, whatever may be said and done with respect to it, demands the sympathy of every man, and in every epoch must be discussed anew.”
1/ Much of the information I have used in this post was adapted from Pauls Toutonghi’s heartfelt article – “They ripped him apart”: Searching for answers in the suicide of bullied teen Jadin Bell – published in Salon on 8 September 2013.
2/ Read about the passing of Joe Bell on Joe’s Walk for Change. Also see La Grande remembers Joe and Jadin Bell: ‘Stand up to a bully’ .