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Posts tagged “Writing

Keeping Secrets And Why We Hide Things

Her blue notebook lay open; a promising vista into the subterraneous crevices in the mind of a fellow human being, a stranger whose variant thoughts (and notes of these), orthogonal to mine, might deflect my own thinking onto a different axis. Her notebook was a virtual open invitation, so to speak, and curious cat that I am I R.S.V.P’d and took a peek out of the corner of my eye while pretending to look out the window. Two minutes later she, absentmindedly (or was it?), closed her notebook and kept it closed. My corner-eye reading skills are positively nugatory and I had deciphered nothing; and even though whatever was in her notebook was none of my business, I am pretty sure whatever it was would have been unfathomable anyway.

I was myself ┬áin the cafe, sharpening my programming skills, and in the process of creating a class object which for fun I was thinking of naming ‘Prick’ with the class attributes: ‘length’ and ‘size’. Yet I was nervous: why? There better be no one standing over my shoulder! No one else has access to my computer (apart from the NSA via Google cookies) and in any case my penis code would be wiped out as soon as I shut the bash unix shell. Yet I was nervous; the naughty boy playing with his fly, apprehensive an adult would walk in any minute. Interestingly, even innocuous items lying around my flat have to be hidden if anyone’s coming round. Why do we hide things:

  1. It’s none of other people’s goddamn business [hard to argue but if you’re writing the new ‘Mein Kampf’ maybe it’s our business]
  2. Shame [people might think us stupid and simpleminded]
  3. Fear [people might think us deviant and dangerous]
  4. Protectiveness [people might steal our ideas and, god forbid, become millionaires off our ideas while we remain in penury]
  5. Egoism [we think something divine has been revealed to us and for us only]

All the written things we hide today will be revealed tomorrow when we die. When one thinks of all the billions who have been before us and all their secrets, little and great, lecherous and noble, high-minded and base: would their lives not have been more delightful and true if they had shared their secret nuggets; would their souls not have carried a lighter burden; would their contributions not have been loftier; their thoughts challenged and refined like fine whiskey? Was it really worthwhile keeping those secrets all the way to the grave?

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Of Stardust Born

This sky, my sky was blue with joy all day. How quickly this sky, my sky turned black from exhaustion; worn out from weary obeisance to King Sun whose splendour is glimpsed one half of every twenty four hours. This night, my night of winking stars; stars shimmering behind fuzzy white clouds; stars alive far beyond the constricted perimeter of our solar cocoon. Tonight’s constellation I can only imagine for the universe, my universe, is walled behind the fog that floats below the sky, my sky. I hear the drones of aeroplanes flying above cotton buds pregnant with vapour and I am comforted that at least someone up there is pondering how wondrous it is to be one with stardust. My stardust.


The Grapes Of Wrath

Forever has to end sometime and it (not forever but the book) had sat on my floor forever. My fingers would from time to time flick through its pages, eyes scanning the words, heart quickening at the one-sure-day prospect of starting this new book. I do this often to all the unread books on my weary floor or at least to the ones that I can reach easy. Today I finally came round to reading John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”; its turn had come; the bell had tolled; its number had come up. Ah, but first the painful thirty pages of Introduction. Who writes these long pro-prologues?

I always read Introductions because from experience they add context that’s more often than not inestimable. For Steinbeck’s book I was moved by the background accounts of dust bowl 1930s California; starving migrants on the quest for a home, to “eat what they raise, use what they produce … and share in the works of their hands and their heads.” The feudal landlords who ran California would hear none of this. Despite the Federal Government’s efforts to provide humane living conditions for the migrants, conservatives in Congress worked to wreck the Government’s plan by slashing the budget (sound familiar?). It’s a sure bet these conservatives were all church-going christians. Helping the poor is just not the American way.

“There are about five thousand families starving to death …, not just hungry but actually starving. The government is trying to feed them and get medical attention to them with the fascist group of utilities and banks and huge growers sabotaging the thing all along the line.” – from a letter Steinbeck wrote to his agent, Elizabeth Otis.

I’m reminded of the famous Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and Gaius; social reformers in Rome almost a century before the great Julius, that dictator for life who has come to define the Roman epoch. The famous brothers planned land reforms to tackle the plight of the peasants who worked the lands of the rich landowners. Not surprisingly these plans were stoutly opposed. In the end both brothers were assassinated by their political opponents and by vested interests. But the thread they unravelled wound its infernal way down the ages until Augustus wound the last metre around the throat of the established order and snuffed out the Republic. After that, the vested interests (that is, those who hadn’t been killed off) adjusted to the new regime of Empire and the poor continued being destitute. Jesus said we will always have the poor (Mark 14:7) and he was damn right. But does he have to be right forever and ever?

After Steinbeck’s book came out the conservative Right went into overdrive. They called the book “communist”, “immoral”, “warped”, “a lie, a black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind.” And there’s the tactic of calling a hated work “an embodiment of Marxist Soviet propaganda.” [Admittedly, this coming in the shadow of Stalin’s show trials must have been particularly damning]. Even in a democracy standing up to entrenched power is often a dangerous adventure.

PS The edition I have is the Penguin one introduced by Robert DeMott


Magic Carpet

Those that I envy the most are not the rich or the great or even the famous, the young or the beautiful but the souls who live spontaneously in non-metronomic rhythm; in step with the drum that calls a man to life and to live. I, on the other hand, feel mostly, girdled, girded round, encircled, a bone-dry mummy entombed in a crypt and sentenced to a display cage in a museum. What hell to be constrained within the prison cells of pragmatism and convention! It is as if the souls of the bodies that I see outside of me are actually inside of me; maggots wending a slimy pathway through my thoughts, giving the thumbs up to ideas that meet not the dictionary’s definition of common sense but the public interpretation of it and then shooting down all my attempts to escape and float upwards on the lofty air of rhapsodic discovery. Those souls out there, outside of my imagined reality, living erringly or truthfully but always spontaneously: surely they are my true brothers and sisters; my long lost aunts anxious to send me on my merry way laden with provisions of honey and ambrosia. My magic carpet is ready to fly.


Cafe Wit

“Cafe wit may be divided into jokes about those who are absent and jibes at those who are present. This kind of wittiness is known elsewhere as mere vulgarity. There’s no greater proof of an impoverished mind than its inability to be witty except at other people’s expense”

– Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

That just about rules out all comedy and satire which, to be candid, are only funny when you’re not the butt of the joke. Still …


(Un)Craven Attention

Bullies come with little brains. I think this as I observe a young family walk down the street. The little boy is a spark of sorts. It’s a wonder how this four-year old, or so he seems, skipping alongside his mum thinks he can catch the adroit pigeon scooping breadcrumbs from the ground or that he can recapture the balloon that slipped through his fingers. He watches, helplessly and with wonder, the yellow ball of air drift unquestionably sky-bound and the way the inflated rubber is bouncing in the wind looks suspiciously like a victory dance, a celebration of being free of the little rascal. As his mother pauses to look at a shop window bargain he makes a face at his older sister and from her reaction I am pretty sure this is a mask he has worn before to mother’s disapprobation.

One of my great regrets is being unable to remember not just what pretty thoughts I contemplated when I was still a child but how I actually thought – the process by which I laid down Napoleonic schemes to outfox my watchful father for my mother’s limited and, therefore, precious attention. Was I aware of cause and effect; pride and punishment; id and super-ego? And so when I see how that little boy pushes his sister so he can be the one next to mum I know that there is more than dutiful innocence in those puppy green eyes. No puppy he is; he is riotously naughty. He knows exactly what he wants and no sister, for love or punishment, will stand in his way. Perhaps he’ll turn out alright in the end. I did.


It’s All Trifles, Not Truffles

‘Only one thing astonishes me more than the stupidity with which most people live their lives, and that’s the intelligence of this stupidity.”

It’s the second day of the tenth month of the second millennium (and thirteenth year) since Time Zero (AD) and this pudding of a calendar year is rapidly going off. For humans a year is like “oh my god, it’s been like a year!!!” and our bodies age, our careers careen and our graves siren ever louder and grimmer. But let’s face it, the concept of time is a meaningless construct. It feels like ‘only yesterday’ I celebrated last christmas (in cold Chicago) and New Year a week later (in warm California) but I’m hard pressed to name all the exciting things that have happened to me since (a new MacBook, does that count?).

To spend a year on Earth is to spend one month on Jupiter and two days on Neptune and while in my imagination I see galaxies where a ‘lifetime’ is forever and where the dazzling luminary that colours the sky never dims; yet this dreamland is odious to me for I am married ’til death do us part to an evolutionary body that can’t deal with the concept of not sleeping. A place where eyes remain wide open? Oh no. It is good to sleep – in fact I am quite looking forward to a few days hence when I can (and shall) poop for twelve hours in one swoop. Yes, I know Solomon in his famous proverbs was quite severe on sluggards but what did he know of resting tired bones, he being a king and all? If I had three hundred concubines on top of seven hundred wives I think I could also find the energy to stay awake for some extra jiggy jiggy.

The obverse of sleep is not wakefulness but death: when the lights go out and life can go fuck itself. If I’m honest my life is pretty banal most days and so are the lives of the legions that I see boldly rushing to jobs that pay just enough (except for those in the top 2% who are granted the luxury of working from home or from the golf course when they feel like it). Our whole existence is aimed at just that: existing. We don’t get to ride a sunbeam at lightspeed. We don’t get to camp a night on Mars or the dark side of the moon. We don’t get to traverse black holes and live to retell the tale. The closest we get to magic is when babies are born or we come up close to animals we’ve only seen on TV or in books. Or when we dream.

Banality is the one certain bane of mankind. And each year we are weighed down more and more by the banality of life trying well-tested tricks for fun: from class A drugs to X-rated sex; from reality TV to absent-mindedly surfing the net. [Actually reading good books is pretty cool; and so is good music; and high quality theatre; and of course intelligent conversation and long rambunctious dinners with good friends settled with excellent wine – gosh there’s a growing list of things that make living worthwhile].

I feel somewhat like those poor souls sent to training courses only to return to the office to continue doing what they always did (and expecting different results) and I shall wake up tomorrow morning with a rotten sense of how much of my time, tomorrow, will be spent doing things that are … trifles, all in the name of a job that looked like a truffle when I started. Unlike Fernando Pessoa whose words I quoted above, it’s not stupidity that I marvel at; what astonishes me more than the banality with which most people live their lives is the intelligence of this banality.