Made Up Stuff

Quietness

“Where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge.”

I saw this quote – more of a soundbite, I suppose, as it has been extracted from its fuller context – attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Does it suggest anything about da Vinci: was he quietly spoken, or perhaps he was too often shouted down?

It rang a bell: I don’t like to hear shouty men. They seem over sure of themselves. Cocksure. Like a strutting cockerel. Cock-a-doodle-do!

I made a mental list of shouty men in the public domain and media. You might like to add to it or start one of your own. There’s no end of choice.

I found this other soundbite from Bertrand Russell,

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

It may have been in a movie or TV show but I seem to remember a Buddhist master instructing his novice and telling him, “A wise man walks with head bowed.”

Sky blues

I have to remonstrate with myself in the middle of weeding the fruit patch. I need to take breaks more often than I want to. I’m far from my twenties now, and since then have clocked up forty odd years doing desk work.

Now that I’m master of my own time, more of that time is spent doing physical things: as well as tending the gardens, there’s the diy – building jobs, woodworking, decorating, and ordinary maintenance chores such as cleaning the windows, cleaning the gutters and drains, and generally cleaning! To say little of running 5 kilometres or more, every third day.

So, I strike the fork into the dug soil, and taking up my mug of tea I sit down on the wooden sleeper border edging the vegetable plot to contemplate the day.

It is sunny. Between the high hedge and power lines which run across the back of our garden, the sky is a beautiful uninterrupted blue. I think of Yuri Gagarin. Someone must. He was the first human to leave the Earth without having to die.

27 years old and seen the world

Briefly, from his point of view, he saw how thin the blue film enveloping our planet was from outer space; how fragile it looked before petering out into the overwhelming and utterly vast vacuum of black space. Like clingfilm covering a cantaloupe melon.

Through religion first, and then in more modern times science fiction, we have learnt to delude ourselves and avoid thinking of our world-home as being anything short of firm and secure. Even the true sciences deal with a robust mechanism, holding it all together: the climate may change but it will still exist in some form. Will it be blue; bluer, or paler? Will anyone be around to tell?

People all over often wonder whether there is life on other planets; it’s a wonder to me how there’s life on this one.

It begins with a movie…

I was in the mood last night to watch a movie. Mary Magdalene is currently on All4 on-demand so I chose this; but it is one of these films were the director thought it was okay for the actors to mumble their lines during softly spoken moments. I find this irritating so I gave up on it after thirty minutes and switched to an old movie – Fear No More – which I found on Youtube. Even though this was a bit of a B-movie, and one of the principal actors had a distinct accent which suggested English wasn’t his first language, there was no lack of clarity in the dialogues.

Scientific Jesus – 5’ 5” in stockinged feet

This morning, my curiosity of Mary Magdalene had the better of me and I googled it to see how it had been received by critics. Across the board, it averaged 45-50% which is about right, though most criticism was concerned with its dullness, or “toothless” portrayals of the gospel narratives.

Reading further accounts of Mary herself, I hadn’t realised how important a figure she was in the Jesus story – the apostles’ apostle. Her name is written more times in scripture than those of most of his disciples. Later patriarchal christianity turned against her, conflating her character with that of another Mary, a fallen woman, a possible prostitute. This myth still carries weight in some quarters.

Contrary to her portrayal in the movie – as a simple working fisherwoman, seen on the beach, mending holes in nets – some accounts say she was likely a wealthy woman and had supported Jesus in his mission.

Jesus in the film is played by Joaquin Phoenix, so its Jesus looks a lot like Johnny Cash; in his hippy period, no doubt. He looked a lot older than his early thirties too, I thought. (Released in 2018, Phoenix would have been 43.) But it was the unkempt long hair and beard which was the problem. Had wardrobe not kept abreast of the news?

Not much is written about his appearance in the gospels but the prophecy of Isaiah has him as a disfigured man people would turn their face against. Of course, Christianity – a simple faith for simple minds to understand – wouldn’t understand that and so over the centuries, Jesus has been depicted not as an especially unhandsome dude, but looking a bit like you, or me.

Joaquin’s sun-blocked, ageing hippy Jesus

It’s quite a surprise – though not shocking – to see how science portrays the man based on all available evidence and assessments: a shortish, thick set man, dark olive skinned, and with short hair and a trimmed beard. Far from turning away from the sight of him, you’d probably not notice him at all in a crowd. If he was a wanted man, the authorities would need for someone who knew him to point him out amongst the rest. Hmm.

Here is a post in Medium about the visual depiction of Jesus which provided some material for this post.

I like the comments Medium readers leave; this one, I thought, was particularly funny,


“Respectfully, it should be pointed out that Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God. If we accept this premise, wouldn’t he have looked something like his father?”


It reminds me of a story my Mum tells us of a nativity play at some junior school in the 60s. The kids all had parts to play, the more confident and reliable ones play the parts with the most lines to memorise.

A boy – playing the principal shepherd, I think – was much more confident than his memory was reliable. Looking into the manger, he forgot his given line and no amount of off-stage whispered prompting from teacher could bring them to mind. So he improvised and said, in the clearest voice, what he must have heard adults say to new parents many a time,

“Ooh! Doesn’t he look like his father!”

He brought the house down.

In Tandem

a flash-fiction prompt

“Oh, Gerald! Can’t we slow down? I think I’ve swallowed a fly.”

“But Gertie, dearest, the thrill of the enterprise is in the speed! We’ll soon be out of town and into the countryside; then you’ll appreciate it, you’ll see!”

“I fear there will be awful mud, and bottomless potholes, and other horrid things.”

“You just hold on to the bars, dear, and you’ll avoid heading the road – if I have cause to stop rather suddenly!”

In Gertrude’s dreams, she relived the moment when Edward had hinted at wedlock. He’s something in the City now; a financier, a close friend had suggested. He not only owned a new motor car but had a fellow in uniform to drive it. Edward had called one day to speak with her father; but Father had persuaded him against it.

“He’s simply not for the likes of us, my girl,” he’d said when she’d asked afterwards.

“Hold on tight now, Gertie!” Catching sight of a scattering of steaming horse excrement in the road ahead did nothing to kindle her enthusiasm.

(176 words)


A found picture prompt. I read an interesting history on the bicycle (and tricycle) social revolution in Britain around 1900s. Cycling became a very fashionable recreation amongst the upper middle class and the gentry.

The photo came up on my Pinterest suggestions yesterday. I think it shows a man who’s a member of a cycling club – judging by his cap and cap badge – and his lady wife, out on a leisurely day’s outing on what would have been a costly contraption in the day – a tandem tricycle.

“Heading (the road)”, in early cyclist parlance, was the process of going clear over the handlebars when coming to an abrupt halt, according to the book.

Damn quotes!

It’s not that I don’t like quotes; it’s that I don’t like vague sentiments unshackled from their full context. (There are many things I don’t like in the course of viewing blogs; I might write a post on it one day.)

Here are some which just about pass muster;

“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,

It’s taken from Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. This was Goethe’s second novel of which I’m unfamiliar. To be honest, I’m not familiar with Goethe at all and it’s only the apparent completeness in the quote above which makes it acceptable for me to use.

Goethe – like Gertcha, a song by Chas & Dave?

I’m a great believer in personal discipline of this kind; the kind which improves mind – and that kind which improves body too, though not this – simply as I have no discipline. It must be nice, but “every day at least”? It’s a tall order.

Maybe it’s not so complete as I’ve also found this by Goethe, almost the same though slightly more expansive;

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

That’ll do for me, and, in a casual way, it is what I do and why I think to do it. On Youtube (though the place has become sullied with alternative politics and “destroyer” culture). It might be nice to have a dedicated blog…maybe?

Here’s a different thought by Goethe,

“If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

See, there’s no proper context to this and we may interpret its deeper meaning as we will, or not at all; maybe superimpose the words in calibri font over the black and white image of a small urban boy with a dirty face; or a sunrise…

Elsewhere, at another time, I discovered this,

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates. At the first gate, ask yourself, “Is it true?”

Rumi anticipates the Theremin centuries before its invention

At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?”

At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”

It’s attributed to Rumi, the poet, and I kid you not, someone had a mind to print those words across a photo of a garden gate; as if we didn’t know gates, and that it wasn’t known that Rumi’s gates were just metaphorical.

(I actually imagined them as “OR” gates in a process flow diagram, which shows you were my mind’s at.)

I would, if I could, print them over the “Publish” button, but it might not be absolutely necessary as evident from the increasing size of my “Drafts” folder.

Be kind, be true, and always be necessary.

Considering the nuance between mystery and just plain esoteric.

“‘you seen the cat, Erwin?” asked Mrs. Schrödinger, spooning out its Whiskas.

“I’m sorry to say it may have died,” said Schrödinger.

Mrs. Schrödinger thought, “funny, he seemed exceptionally ebullient yesterday,” and, looking to the window, said,

“Died?!”

“Only possibly,” said Schrödinger.

(42 words)


Can a story be written in 42 words? This prompt is for a 42 word story on “Mystery”.

Thanks to Deb Whittam at Twenty Four blog. Check out the link below for more stories,

Twenty Four 42 #19 Mystery

photo: by Elena Kloppenburg via Unsplash.com

Composition & lessons in flash-fiction

“Plot is the last resort of a good writer.” Stephen King

I’m fairly new to writing flash-fiction. I only came across this method of writing a made up piece to a prompt this time around in my intermittent blogging endeavours.

Before that, it was all more or less true stuff I published. Before that, the last time I made up a story was for my “Ordinary Level” English Language examination – the trick there was to make up at least three stories in advance, trusting that one could be bent into the shape asked for on the exam paper. It was called “composition” in my schooldays – what is known as today, I wonder? I can’t say I enjoyed it; probably because, like all school work, I saw it as a chore or an imposition. And I don’t think I received much praise or encouragement when I tried (okay, there was one teacher who wrote at the bottom of one composition, in red, how much she enjoyed it. Unfortunately, she was only my teacher for one year).

Now I can’t think what was in my mind when I had a go at blogging a piece of flash-fiction a couple of years ago. But I enjoyed it a lot. Having read consistently since my teens, and nearly always trying good books too, it doesn’t surprise me that a time came when I thought I’d see what it was like to write fiction; if not a novel, then a short story; if not a short story, then a tiny piece of flash-fiction.

On doing it, it made me realise I’m not especially into the idea of a story. What do I mean by that? Well, casting back to school classes – as a small boy in short trousers, not an O-level student – we were probably taught that a story had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Though it might not have been as explicit, it was no doubt inferred that it had to have a purpose beyond the writing: a message, meaning or moral, in other words.

I find that this idea has not died. Among the plethora of blog post articles on how to be a writer (better/successful/published/professional), I came across one suggesting how to write better flash-fiction. The author included a link to a free class and being a born-again student, I thought it might be interesting if not fun to do.

But having enrolled, I’m not sure it’s a wise thing to do. I’m not a serious writer and have no inclination to be one, to wish to support myself financially, even in part, by writing. I wouldn’t want this anymore than say wanting to be a one-star Michelin restaurant chef off the back of a love for preparing an enjoyable meal for two, each evening. I believe the work would destroy the love.

However, the class, and its forum, are dominated by wannabe serious writers. And, it transpires, these peers are also your teachers and judges – it is free after all – and they hold on to the rule of a story needing a beginning, a middle, and an end – and a meaning, and absolute clarity, and linear progression, and almost anything which ensures formulaic adherence to the traditional idea of a story. And that is not where I’m at after all these years of reading good books!

It seems ironic to think back to when I was studying English Literature – a separate subject and O-level examination at school – I would question why we’d be picking over an isolated passage from a novel instead of reading the whole from the beginning. And now this is what I like doing!; although in the course of reading a book in the usual way.

Maybe those lessons have finally taken root and flourished in my mind; or maybe I’ve been subconsciously conditioned to discover the beauty in the paragraphs, and pay no mind to the plot. I don’t know. But here I am, and enjoying it, and this boat is not to be rocked!

Distraction

She stood in a field quartered by the crossroads; the main road between the two towns, and a side road between a large farmyard and nowhere in particular. We – me and this complete stranger – waited fifty yards down at a stop for the bus, both connected only in our mutual intrigue for this picture of a girl.

She was as still as a statue, arms stretched aloft: posed, like the qigong fighting crane; the vogue manikin; the stringless puppet; the girl on the cross, unseen; the dying swan-queen; she had been hung out to dry.

Was she trying to fly? Summoning the power to remove herself from the ground; the unseen force of self-determination simmering beneath that tranquil pose? The only perceptible movement came when the light breeze rippled her thin blouse.

I sensed the stranger beside me edge closer, though without dropping his gaze from the spectacle.

‘That’s funny,’ he said, ‘that scarecrow’s scaring crows where there ain’t no crops!’

Something familiar about his words struck me and I turned to look at him for the first time. His profile reminded me of the filmmaker, Alfred Hitchcock. At that precise moment, in the far distance I could just make out the No. 78 bus approaching beneath his accumulation of chins. The light drone of a small aeroplane passed uneventfully overhead, barely breaching the continuing silence. I forgot about the girl and thought about the shopping instead: what was it the wife wanted again? Bread, pint of milk, and…something else?

(250 words)


a writing prompt from a selected photograph from a random search of the licence-free website, Pexels. Photo by Maksim Goncharenok, titled ‘Woman At A Flower Field’.

Really, I nabbed this photo off a post on Medium having seen it credited to the above site and photographer.

Gold

a flash-fiction prompt

There was little blood; a mere trickle, long since dried, on his lips.

“Sergeant?”

“He’s missing two teeth. Front incisors.”

“Anything on his person?”

“No ID; wallet’s empty; but there’s this card…”

The Inspector took it gingerly,

24-HOUR DENTIST. House calls made.

(42 words)


Can a story be written in 42 words? This prompt is for a 42 word story on “Crime”.

Thanks to Deb Whittam at Twenty Four blog. Check out the link below for more stories,

Twenty Four 42 #6 Crime

Trapped!

a flash-fiction prompt

In the attic; inside the perspex box a mouse huddled motionless beside the chocolate bait, imprisoned.

“Gotcha!” Keith exclaimed. He gingerly reached for the device; the mouse moved!

Keith jumped back, knocking the access ladder down and dropped his flashlight; busted!

Trapped!

(42 words)


Can a story be written in 42 words? This prompt is for a 42 word story for “Trapped”.

Thanks to Deb Whittam at Twenty Four blog. Check out the link below for more stories,

Twenty Four 42 #36 Trapped