ideas

Better Places to Read & Write

I want to record this fact, that I’m writing this after reading through the latest posts from my followed blogs, sitting in The Cricklade Club. They are promoting Veganuary but I chose from the menu a chilli bean doodah which came with a soft poached egg.

I am also sinking deep into a wonderfully distressed, tan leather armchair, part of a suite corralled about a low, broad table. I sip an IPA called Pioneer which isn’t over bitter and has distinct floral-fruity notes. The place is buzzing but oddly not distracting, and it is this which makes me think I should read, and perhaps write, more in places like this.

After we move house, I must try to look for a pub with wi-fi and a comfortable corner, and bring along my iPad (the phone I’m using here is a bit too small for typing). Perhaps, amongst noise and strangers, I will be plagued by far fewer interruptions and distractions.


image: on the wall by the comfy corner, a stranger in contemplation.

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Views on Writing: Catching the Light

Clive James wrote of writing that it was turning a phrase until it catches the light.

When I read – and when I write, though this is a late experience and I’m still on the nursery slopes – too often I’m not noticing the glint of light. This is made more obvious when I consider those times when the light appears brilliantly, and it’s as if something magical is happening. It’s quite often an opening paragraph or an introduction to something, and it’s usually quite simple, precise, colourful and concise.

Following a path towards an understanding of Reena’s Exploration Challenge this week, I googled the name Kosho Uchiyama Rōshi. He was a Zen Buddhist monk in 20th century Japan, a master of origami, and an exponent of zazen, literally “sitting”, a method of meditation devised by the Zen master, Eihei Dōgen.

I follow his name in turn and find this passage on zazen attributed to him,

“I have not visited many Zen monasteries. I simply, with my master Tendo, quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. I cannot be misled by anyone anymore. I have returned home empty-handed.

I quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. This is a phrase that catches the light.

Lists: What are they good for? I know, let’s make a list…

I’ve made a start boxing up stuff in preparation for our house move. Lidl’s “Unwaxed Lemons” boxes are a good shape and size for CDs; you may find me in the supermarket, furtively decanting nets of lemons from the top box into the one beneath.

While packing the CDs, I thought I’d make a list at the same time. I don’t like list making but I have a fear of buying a CD I already have. This is a bit nonsensical and made worse by the fact that it’s been a while since I listened to a CD; I’m content to stream these days. But, who knows, I might be tempted by an offer.

It’s become a truism that there’s an app for everything and I didn’t want to be typing out each damn artist and title. The first few CDs I picked up had barcodes….hmm, interesting… but I went down the voice-recognition-transcription route instead, using the Evernote app. on my phone.

It worked so well, it made me chuckle – even when it made the occasional mistake. I was really impressed when it heard me say “J.J. Cale”, initially transcribed it as JJ Kale, then, within a nanosecond, corrected it perfectly. It must have learnt it from some other user, I suspect.

Unfortunately, my little collection of lesser known African artists defeated it. Or maybe it was my bad pronunciation. No matter how many times I said (shouted!) the name of the Congolese singer, “Tabu Ley Rochereau” into my smartphone, sounding increasingly like, and eventually surpassing, Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau, Evernote insisted I was simply saying “Table Lay Rush Hour”. Eventually, I had to type it out myself, just to keep the peace.


As I say, I’m not big on lists but sometimes they can be interesting. I had been looking at a poem on the Lit Hub blog this morning and I noticed how it went into a kind of list of things in the middle part, for about six lines, before returning to its main theme.

I admit that often I regard a lot of poetry as being lists: it’s all that stacking up of words, I guess. I think it was the writer, William S. Burrows, who sometimes wrote using a technique of cutting out words and rearranging them on his desk to make a new work. I also read it was a method adapted by musicians such as David Bowie and Ian Dury. You can hear it in the latter’s Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3; it’s a list rearranged to form a lyrical piece.

Then there’s My Favourite Things, crafted by lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Paul Weller’s That’s Entertainment, a song I’ve always regarded as hauntingly resonant.

Cole Porter’s I Get A Kick Out Of You is essentially a list. Only three items though, each with accompanying explanatory words underneath, comparing his true desire with the thrills which come into many an over privileged lifestyle.

Leonard Cohen’s Bird On A Wire is another which sprung to mind; a list of similes, if you can bear it. And Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire; who could forgot that one?

There are so many, I imagine the list is endless but it’s that which gets left off any list which makes lists infuriating.

And that’s why I don’t like them. (Lists, not the songs – they’re okay.)


image by Elijah O’Donnell via Unsplash.com

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3

My Favorite Things

That’s Entertainment

I Get A Kick Out Of You

Bird on a Wire

We Didn’t Start The Fire

The Upright Creator

Sue Vincent’s comment on The Name of the Cloud That Ate The Sun has me thinking about a creator and its motives.

The idea of God, the creator, of the Abrahamic faiths has Him creating us in his image. This is understandable as we readily create imaginary beings in our own image, or partly so. Intelligent alien life is usually bipedal, with limbs and a head on top with eyes and ears and a multi-functioning mouth – and many of them speak fluent English in an American accent. The popular idea of a robot is also a bipedal machine.

Given that bipeds came last in line, whether it’s creationism or evolution, what gives with all the other stuff which came before? Well, robots might be the clue. Getting the things to stand upright and walk. It’s not easy and with a lot of robotics, this is an unnecessary fancy but it doesn’t stop a lot of technicians struggling with the concept. They will succeed but more because of god than being good designers, I think.

But why would a creator be bipedal, being, as it were, out there in space and existent throughout all time? Why would it need to stand up when there is no up in which to stand?


image from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam

Bridge In Time

Why was there not a bridge over the river Styx? A bridge could imply an ease of passage both ways, which wouldn’t be a bad thing: Death and an afterlife in Hades seems so absolute. As for Charon, the ferryman, did he not become too weary of the job as he himself approached his end of days? I can imagine him one day setting off and not coming back, his fare paying passengers, their mouths full of drachma, having to roam the shore, with all the penniless souls, for eternity.

There are many rivers to cross, as the old song says, and the metaphor of a bridge aids the idea of linear time. As opposed to an idea of circular time, giving a sense of continuous renewal. Each is a reasonable assumption were it not for modern science leading us to the ideas of entropy and time’s arrow. Yet, are we not more than physical things? Then there comes quantum theory which includes the idea of particles being in more than one place at any time. Maybe we got time wrong; maybe we’re in the top half of the universe’s hour glass and it’s all we can possibly see and understand.

I was in Sydney at the end of 1984, a year we celebrated Christmas on the beach with barbecue steaks and prawns, and on New Year’s eve, drank chilled beers on the grass overlooking the fireworks in the harbour. It was mid-Summer and it seemed odd. I wondered how the Aboriginal people celebrated the year’s passing. I’m left wondering. They have the tradition of Dreamtime, a timeless existence encompassing all their ancestors lives back to the originals. Though it seems paradoxical to have originals in a timeless place, I feel I know what it means. The innate human desire to return.

Reality and dreams, that’s what it’s all about as we cross another bridge, hoping there are many more ahead. Regrets and aspirations, death and rebirth. I heard old Charon has been given a toll booth now, on the bridge. He collects the coins from passing souls and has a nice electric heater to keep him warm (the gods have promised air-conditioning in the refit for the Summer months). Now he’s not going anywhere that he might not be coming back from, and everyone’s happy.

(382 words)


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #67 – “Bridge In Time

This is the last of Reena’s enjoyable challenges for this year. Hopefully, more to follow in January 2019.

image: painting of “Psyche Crossing The Styx” by John Armstrong (Victoria Art Gallery, Bath)

Stories

Under a previous post, the 99 word challenge story, No Expectations, Charli Mills kindly commented about the story’s shape. I like the idea of a story having a shape, like a neatly wrapped gift.

In Primary School, when we were first tasked to write stories, we were told they had to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. For a long time after, I felt the end was the most important because;

a) Primary School teachers probably require closure (can you imagine having to read and mark 20 – 30 stories with plot lines that left you hanging?)

b) We’d still be sat there, writing sequels.

Personally, I like to read a good beginning;

The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there; It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen; There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.

That kind of thing.

I like to think the middle can take care of itself but I’m afraid it’s the middle which forms the shape of the story and the shape of it is important; a good story is like water, a poor one like fire. A story must accept the shape which contains it.

In a nutshell. This is what’s said sometimes before recounting an event, or the listener imploring the teller to be considerate and brief. Do not embellish, do not digress, just give me the kernel of the tale, solid and sweet. He told it without an ounce of fat.

But the end is where I usually start. This way I can establish exactly what it is I want to tell – and whether it’s worth telling. Also I have a better idea how it’s going to fit the shape I have in mind for it.

How long is now

My first thought is that poster ought to have a question mark. My second thought is maybe not; perhaps How Long is a name. Perhaps Now is also a name and the claim is that this How Long, an individual or group, is an alias of this other person or group known as Now. So, How Long is Now.

That clears up a lot of confusion, or maybe just discloses a secret, who knows?


My third thought is there definitely should be a question mark.


My fourth thought returns again to the subject of dogs. Does a dog, or another intelligent animal, possess a sense of Now, and if yes, is their Now the same as ours?

I know our dogs have a sense of Now by the way they pester us whenever they think it’s the moment for their food or time for a walk. It’s as if they have an innate sense of the passing of time, an inner biological clock – assuming they can’t actually tell the time from the clock on the wall. Has anyone tested this?

But like most clocks, theirs is slightly flawed. It leads real time by around half an hour. Now, Now, Now!, they implore. Too early, too early, too early!, we stress. Of course, their clocks might not be faulty at all, it might just be emotional overload as excitement builds as the Now approaches.


Okay, let’s not delay tackling How Long a “Now” is. The human idea of Now is, I think, a timeless quantity. It is immeasurable. Yet it lasts for ever. Well, at least as long as there is a sentient being in the Universe, and only up to the point when the Universe ceases to be.

It’s like this ineffable thing, a pinpoint of being moving along the timeline, for ever. It is both no time at all and all time, at the same time.

It’s made all the more odd by knowing that our senses to our environment are lagging behind real time, the senses informing the brain and the brain’s synapses firing to make sense of anything, all take time. Thus, the Now we think we experience was really the Then; we spend our time in futile pursuit of the Now, always nanoseconds behind it but never able to be up with it.

But, strangely, in our imagination, we can be ahead of it. Like the dog wanting her meal or his habitual stroll around the park. Now is before Now, and after Now, and forever, but never actually Now.

Okay, I’m going to post this now, but I maybe be some time.


Inspired by Reena’s Exploration Challenge – week #52.

image supplied by Reena via Maria Popova (click on it for the bigger picture)

Three Things

Little Wheelie Carry-On Suitcases

I think everyone who flies these days makes do with a hand luggage sized suitcase. I mean, who wants to waste an hour watching other people’s luggage go around a carousel? Not me. Not you either by the look of the way things have gone.

One thing about it that baffles me a bit is why the wheels? I see many fit and strapping blokes pulling an incy-wincy case behind them when it could easily be carried. The way I see it is, if it didn’t have the retractable handle to pull it with, it’d have more capacity inside for clothes and toiletries.

For a week, or even two weeks, away, there’s an art to packing these little blighters and though I may flatter myself at my proficiency, the guy at Gentleman’s Gazette, over on Youtube, is the absolute master by comparison. Since discovering the sartorial Sven Raphael Schneider some months back, and blogging on his excellent style tips, his videos often pop up as Youtube suggestions. I’m fascinated and though I have little fashion consciousness myself, it amazes me how often I agree with him.

Anyway, Mr. Schneider advises that it is preferable to roll up some items, as opposed to folding them which I would do without thinking, so as to prevent creases. Well I’m going to be rolling my packing as well in future, just to see. Brilliant!


Iron Rain

This is not going to be about some European Heavy Metal band; know me, I wouldn’t do that to you.

I am still fascinated by astronomers who have discovered a planet which they believe to be the hottest known planet. It is that close to its parent sun that temperatures on its surface are capable of vaporising the iron and titanium present.

It has been imagined that other exoplanets exist orbiting close to their star that their weather systems might comprise clouds of aluminium, iron and other metals, and these systems could suggests it literally rains down molten iron rods. I just wonder what they make their umbrellas out of.

This sort of science cracks me up. There’s all these Sci-fi books and movies being made – The Martian, Mars Mission, Fly Me To Jupiter and back, whatever – and it’s all bollocks. It’s essentially Science Fantasy rather than Science Fiction; it belongs with stories about ghosts, hobbits and zombies. Sci-Fa, not Sci-fi. The truth is far more amazing yet the fools seem oblivious to it.


Drink Like An Italian

Yes, apparently, according to statistics and an analysis of my alcohol intake last week, I drink like an average Italian. It makes me want to shout and gesticulate whilst wearing a playfully severe expression at the BBC TV article which suggests it.

Actually, I think it’s the Italians whose lifestyles we are told to emulate – good food, long life, and they certainly wear the best clothes (I’m sure Mr. Schneider would agree).

It’s a bit disappointing to read we have a serious drinking problem in the UK despite having the lowest recommended limits for consumption of alcohol in the known universe. The presenter, Adrian Chiles, whose own consumption is the basis for the BBC’s new show about “moderate drinking”, admits to drinking every day though believes he’s not an alcoholic. If he drinks every day, how can he know he isn’t addicted?

Ah, there’s too much of this government guideline business, I don’t think I’ll be tuning in to see Mr. Chiles and his tormented liver do a U-turn; I’m happy to carry on being an Italian.

Arrivaderci.


How To Pack A Carry-On Suitcase (Youtube)

KELT-9b – The first exoplanet discovered with an iron atmosphere

Booze Calculator By Nationality (BBC News)

Freedom

“You only are free when you realise you belong no place; you belong every place.”

Maya Angelou (in conversation with Bill Moyers, 1972)


I’m unfamiliar with Maya Angelou, but I don’t imagine she means it geographically. I think it’s about acceptance, about being accepted as a person.
Toleration. Respect.

But what has this to do with freedom? Freedom, from what?

If you live free from obligation, from responsibility, from commitment, then how can you expect to hold onto respect?

And what is it to be free of compassion, and free of love?

John Donne, in his Meditations, in 1624, wrote of man being not an island, entire of himself. He is connected to others by human experience and shared values, of life and death. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

So what of freedom? Elusive?

Richard Lovelace, while imprisoned for political dissent in London, 1642, wrote to Althea in verse. The famous final stanza reads,

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage:
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

The line that impresses most is, minds, innocent and quiet. If we do not feel at ease in our own mind, then where on Earth do we go to find it?


inspired by Reena’s Exploration Challenge, week #50

It’s a good, and difficult, challenge from Reena, this week. Being overprivileged as I am in this old world, I wonder how much of value I can say about the sense of freedom, unlike Maya Angelou, say. Mine is just thoughts and words, and participating in Reena’s challenge.

No man is an island, by John Donne (spoken poetry / youtube)

To Althea, from prison, by Richard Lovelace

I have just invented the hitherto impossible backwards in time machine

As I approach the final day of work, I’ve noticed a phenomenon where extra weeks seem to be slotting in between now and that day, seemingly from nowhere (or should that be nowhen?) For example, I was looking at the project planner the other day and hadn’t realised August has five weeks, not four, so I’m a week further out in my estimation. What a drag.

It dawned on me how this phenomenon is likely a universal one. I remember now when we were kids, the approach of a birthday, or Christmas morning, seemed to slow the nearer we got to it. It obviously has to do with the intensity of looking forward to a desired event.

So if I can gather in a room enough people approaching the end of a mundane career, we would experience time gradually slowing down. Then, adding more and more such people, we could stop time completely.

It doesn’t take a quantum leap in imagination to see that the addition of just one more similar person would effectively reverse time’s arrow. Those fortunate enough to be in the room closest to the window will see the seasons slowly change from Summer to Spring, and soon enough little children will be wrapping their presents up to give to Santa, turkeys will be resurrected from ovens the world over, and leaves will begin attaching themselves to trees.

So let us forget the impracticality of going to Mars. Let us save our planet by going backwards. If you’re up for it and have an itch for a future date, get in touch. Our time room awaits us.

Refreshments will be provided.


Exactly what is time? – The Arrow of Time

Psychology Today – The way we experience time is no illusion