Posted on | March 27, 2015 | No CommentsArt is many things to many people, but one thing it might just do is remind us of what we would otherwise forget, or not even notice, because we’re too busy being our busy selves. Consider these lines from Jorie Graham: I am the only one who ever lived who remembers my mother’s voice in the particular shadow cast by the sky-filled Roman archway which darkens the stones on the downward sloping street up which she has now come again suddenly. It’s a moment that only she could have seen, and which, remembering it now, she knows gave a glimpse into something bigger than we are as we walk through our days. She knows she will die one day and that this memory will be gone – and so in her poem she tries to give us a sense, a hint, of what that was. No one will ever know that moment as she did, looking at her mother. Implicit in this is a question; it asks - you’ve felt something similar too, haven’t you? And if we’re being honest we’ll answer, yes, I have, but I didn’t realize it until I read these words. The final word “suddenly” is also for us, the readers, as we open our eyes and blink at what we almost missed, forever. Poems like this help us to treasure that most important of all sensations – that of being fully present to our world.
Posted on | March 26, 2015 | No CommentsTolstoy famously remarked; “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. That’s a pretty good opening line for any book, let alone something as majestic as Anna Karenina. But let’s not miss the point. Happy families are characterized by one thing above all else, love. That’s all it needs for any family to be happy, come what may. When love is absent, or too fragile, the unhappiness can create its own difficult and tense forms, and each one will be different, specific, and painful. Anna Karenina is a novel about many things, but one of its key themes, surely, is about how the absence of love in a family can destroy the love that exists between people. Love is the answer. It’s not news, but it’s worth repeating.
Posted on | February 17, 2015 | No CommentsPeople leave and people arrive This little picture sat on my father’s desk for about 40 years. It’s badly squared to the frame, which makes me think it had been on my grandmother’s bedside table, that she’d cut it out and framed it. She’d have done that shortly after he was taken prisoner in 1941 – a time when England stood alone against Nazism - and she was still waiting to see if “missing in action” meant dead. They’d have sent his things back to her. Or perhaps he sent it to her when he graduated navigation and bombing school, even though the grouping is sufficiently scruffy and off center to make one think the official photographer wasn’t too fussed about getting a good picture. It was just one class of many that day. Either way, the off center trimming seems to speak of her emotion. After she died he claimed it back. Then he wrote those names he could recall on the back – not many, for by then it had been nearly 30 years. He’d have remembered them, otherwise. Of all that group only he and one other survived the war. I think of it now because on the date of his birthday this year my second granddaughter was born, 13 years after his death. Timing is everything. He’d have loved to meet that little girl. People we love leave, and other people arrive. And we love them, too.
Posted on | February 16, 2015 | No CommentsKindness – we see that word a lot. It tends to be translated as being nice to people and allowing others to be themselves. It asks us to be pleasant, not hold grudges, and not be judgmental. And that’s good. But what about if someone is being basically very unkind to you, or to those you love? What if someone wants to destroy you? Should we just be nice to them and hope it’ll all solve itself? Or is that what a friend of mine calls “idiot kindness”? Kindness here takes on another meaning. Its derivation is the same as for “kin” – those people who are family. And sometimes in a family it’s necessary to stand up and say that something is not acceptable, that you will not stand for whatever it is that is not right. The twist is that in a family, any family, we still remain related to those people no matter what. That means we have to speak to them as if they were part of ourselves, part of our living situation, and not people we can hurt, or ignore, or walk away from. We cannot treat them as strangers even if we disagree entirely. That means that, yes, we have to be who we truly are no matter what others may say, and yes, we have to allow others to be themselves. And, when they do something unacceptable we have to tell them so in such a way that acknowledges that we’ll always have to have them around, whether that suits our plans or not. Like Pi stranded on the lifeboat with the tiger; we have to share the space, claim our corner, defend it, and try not to kill each other. And in the end love grows out of that.
Posted on | February 15, 2015 | No CommentsWhen I go through the upheaval of moving house I tend to throw out a fair amount of stuff on leaving the old place. Then I throw out more when I reach the new place. Then, after about three months I begin to notice that a fair amount of the stuff I so carefully moved is reaching its retirement age. The sofa I ignored so happily for years? It's worn out. The chairs I put up with? Ready to fall apart. The clothes I took along "just in case"? Pretty much too disgraceful to use. The various objects I said will do for now because I didn't want to buy new ones? Time to chuck them away. And so on. The naked truth is that these things need to go or the new place will never be "the new place" -- it'll just be the same place as before, but slightly re-arranged. If I am to change my life I must also review and change the objects in it. I must alter the comforting but shabby accoutrements I've come to rely on implicitly. Otherwise I'm not much better than a snail, carrying my house on my back. It's time to up my game.
Posted on | February 3, 2015 | 1 CommentDo people still publish their novels on-line as a first step? It seems to me that there was a great wave of people doing this and then.... the wave passed. I don't hear about it so much. Of course, we still hear about the occasional blog-novel that got bought for a gazillion dollars and turned into a movie, but on the whole I think fewer people are putting their creative efforts on line than before. Is that right? So - what happened? Did people become disillusioned with writing and the very few people who actually read their words? Was this merely a fad - like hair curlers - that lasted about 15 years in which time everyone seemed to be writing their novel and then they all burned out? Or do we just not have time for that sort of thing anymore? Was it like the irrational exuberance of the pre 2008 stock market? I'm asking these questions because I'm interested in the way we behave in our society, and also because I wrote several novels during that time. I still think they're rather good, but then I would, wouldn't I? Was there a novel-bubble, perhaps, of which I was part? Any ideas?
Posted on | January 19, 2015 | No CommentsBreathing. We do it all the time but we seldom think about it much. So here’s a short exercise for you to consider. Lie down, relax, breathe. Who could resist that, eh? Now, pay attention. Does your breathing come easily? Do you find yourself gulping air? Do you breathe through your mouth? Try using only your nose. How easily does the air flow into your lungs and out again? If you’re like most people the answer is: not very well. We grunt and gasp and the exchange of air is not easeful over a five minute period. Perhaps you have a slight cold, or a cough. Something holds up your easy breathing. Notice this. Why does this matter? Simply because the way we breathe is the most basic way we interact with our world. Do you allow yourself to accept the air and then breathe out the carbon-dioxide? Or is it a bit of a struggle? Pay attention to the muscles in your jaw and face. Are they tense? I bet they are. If so, remember, you are doing this to yourself all day, every day, 24/7. Worried about wrinkles? You might want to think about those tense muscles. The way you breathe is an indicator of the way you face your entire life. Can you let the energy of the universe flow through you, like a simple inhalation and exhalation? Or is it a fight? And could you make it easier for yourself? Often relaxing will do that for us – yet we don’t do it often enough. The way you breathe will mirror the way you are in the rest of the world. You can claim easeful breathing, and an easeful life, any time you want. But first you have to notice what you’re doing, and if it’s a struggle, you’ll have to listen to your body and consciously learn to breathe easily. It’s not hard if you pay attention. It’s the natural, default position. But somehow, somewhere, most of us have strayed from this. We’re like high speed cars but we’ve left the e-brake on, and we waste energy stifling ourselves. It’s time to pay attention and make a few adjustments. Take a breather. Change your life.
Posted on | January 8, 2015 | No CommentsThe atrocity perpetrated in Paris yesterday was a strange one as well as a tragic one. We have to ask ourselves what kind of religious view we're dealing with when it has to be "protected" by armed murderers. Any deity that requires such support is surely a feeble one. And yet this action is not that different from the sorts of massacres regularly committed by "believers" in the time of the Spanish Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation and .... well, you can fill in that blank with whatever your favorite historical reference might be. It would seem from this that we are dealing with individuals who see their world in a way that we would consider to be outmoded, as coming from another century. And yet we certainly have beliefs systems with us today in the US that claim they know the only true way to heaven and that everyone else is an infidel condemned to Hellfire. Try talking to those lovely people who stand on the doorstep and want to convert you to be a Mormon, next time they drop by, and once you scratch the surface you'll see exactly the same thing. Ditto for Catholics, actually. And for many another belief. The problem is not religious extremism. We've always had it. The problem is that within those webs of compelling beliefs sometimes individuals choose to enforce their views at gunpoint. Since this is the case we need to think differently. Rather than ridiculing another's beliefs (no matter how bizarre we may think them) we may need to think about respecting any and all religions so we can open a dialog about what it means to be in a society where, inevitably, differences of opinion occur. The Jehovah's Witnesses do not come to our doors with guns, and we are better off for it. In contrast to this in the Middle East all those subsets of belief - Shia, Sunni, Al Qaeda, Hamas, ISIS, and so many more, all inevitably linked with political creeds and regional alliances - regularly fight it out and cause only misery. How to remedy this is problematic, yet it can be done, and the first step is respect. In the meantime we must contain those who would do harm, bring them to justice, and try to lead everyone back to peace.
Posted on | December 16, 2014 | No CommentsNo matter what goes on in the world, no matter if you're doing fine or on top of the world, someone, somewhere wants to bring you down and make you depressed. This seems to be human nature, at least for many people. Find the gloom and stick there. Once we realize that it's simply a bad habit a whole lot of people have, like smoking or poor self esteem, we can choose not to let it get to us. We can also choose not to do it to others.
Posted on | November 17, 2014 | No CommentsI’ve been having a good sort out at home. Things are getting pitched out, donated, or given away. This is good. Today I found myself looking through old photos and uncovered a stash of negatives in their neat plastic sleeves. Trips made long ago to far off places swam into my view. I agonized for a while. Should I keep them? Who reprints from negatives these days, anyway? And what would I do with yet more pictures? How could I tell if they’d be any good? Perhaps they’d faded…. And as I sat there trying to make up my mind I knew, viscerally, that I did not need them. I did not need this stuff from the past. I have memories, and those will do nicely, thank you. I do not need to go back in time and obsess about which bits of the past need saving. That was when I realized that I’d truly thrown away a whole load of “negatives”. keep looking »