Saturday, July 31, 2004

On being a chameleon 

I am selfless; I am also selfish. The two opposing characteristics coexist.

Or to be a little more accurate, I exhibit selfless behaviour; I also feel selfish urges. What I do is mostly selfless; a learned outwards behaviour. Selfishness rebels against this but mostly loses out. Sometimes it feels like being a cartoon character, with the two sides – devil and angel – separated out, whispering conflicting advice. Outwardly, the angel seems to have the upper hand; inwardly I know the devil is still there, hiding, muttering under his breath. (Perhaps not such a good metaphor though; the two sides don't feel quite like right and wrong, good and evil, they're just two different aspects of personality, and any morality that comes into it is as uncertain as this whole thesis).

I guess that’s hardly unusual, and matches pretty closely to Freud’s model of the ego mediating between the id’s desire for gratification and the socially derived conscience of the superego. I’m no great fan of Freud’s approach to therapy, but his ideas of personality do seem to fit with experience.

People who know me would flatly refuse to believe that at core I’m selfish. Or maybe in admitting my selfishness they’d have also to acknowledge their own? But that’s another tangent... Maybe at core we all have the capacity to be all things? More tangents that will have to wait for another time…

There’s no doubt that the family environment in which I grew up created some views in me of self and selfishness that are way off to one side of the bell-curve of what is typical. Although I was never (as far as I can remember) directly put down as a child, never told anything explicitly that might have given rise to doubts about self-worth, I didn’t grow up with a strong sense of self-worth either. I think what I grew up with was a lack of any sense of the existence of intrinsic value in persons – anyone’s value, as an individual, either positive or negative. Neither a sense of worthlessness, nor a sense of worth, simply a lack of any concept of personal worth. I grew up believing it was good to be selfless and to do things for others, where ‘others’ was a vague generic term, never really recognising individuality. However the contradiction inherent in that philosophy – that to other people I too was an “other” and therefore they should be selflessly doing good to me – never occurred to me.

I don’t think my parents adopted selflessness because they wanted to; I think they did it because they felt it was “right”. And that, I think, was an outlook that came in turn from my paternal grandmother, her superego passing down through the generations. Sure, they led righteous lives and did plenty of good, but looking back, try as I might, I can’t remember any behaviours from my parents that would have demonstrated to me the worth of individuals. It was all good deeds for the sake of doing good, for the benefit of mankind at large; individuals were only representatives of mankind.

[Aside: There's a feeling, a concept, I'm having difficulty finding words for; something that goes beyond simple respect for the individual; almost a reverence for individuality. Not the modern cult of "I", but the right of every individual to be themselves. Something fundamental enough to be embodied in Article 22 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. More thought needed...]

How would I have known if I had value? How would I have seen it measured? On a material scale I seemed to have less possessions than other kids; got less valuable Christmas presents, less pocket-money. I know we weren’t all that well-off, but I never had any sense of anyone pushing the boat out on my behalf. I resented that a little.

More deeply felt than that though were the times when my just-developing sense of identity was crushed, when I wasn’t allowed to explore what it meant to be me. Not being allowed to join the Cub Scouts with my school friends, because the group was attached to a different church. Especially, I remember clothing. No jeans – jeans apparently were something that badly behaved, scruffy kids wore. And only Sensible Shoes. Eventually, I suppose they gave in to practicality, but not before I’d learned that there were standards I was supposed to conform to and that those standards seemed different to everyone else’s. Standards like having to wear Sunday Best on Sundays, and only those activities that could be undertaken when so dressed were deemed appropriate for Sundays. I may have grown up through the late 50s/early 60s, but to begin with it was as a child of the 1930s/1940s. I'm sure they were convinced that pop music was the work of the devil.

My parents, my father especially, were puritanically strict. I suppose I was loved; but I didn’t have direct experience of what it felt like to be loved. My father was a devout Christian who knew his Bible back to front. He would have known and believed both “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God… Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” and “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Unfortunately it was the latter that seemed to me to take precedence.

Where did that all lead? That approach had severe repercussions elsewhere in our family which have reverberated down through the years, but that side isn’t something for a blog – not mine, anyway.

And that, I think, is what stopped me becoming me. Having to abide by all those rules; learning to suppress individuality in order to conform to type. I still do that; still do what other people want, still appear to be the way that I know is how they want me to appear. A chameleon.

Not having experienced strong acknowledgement of self-worth, of my right to discover and be just whoever I felt I was becoming, I never realised I was missing anything, never knew that something was being taken away, being denied me. That in a sense, I was being killed even as I was being born.

It’s the struggle to break free from that and pick up the threads of individuality that were laid aside all those years ago that is behind so much that has appeared lately here in this blog. Learning that the voice that for all these years I’ve called selfishness may not, after all, be all bad. All those phrases like “discovering my authentic self”, “connecting with my soul” amount to picking up something “I” left off many, many years ago. Way, way back, before “I” really had a chance to form. I suppose it’s no wonder then that it’s not easy.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Never take my word on anything... 

This is a weblog. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but I need to remind myself. It is not a book. It is not a magazine. It is not a series of letters. It is not anything but a weblog. There are no set rules here; no editor, no paying customers, no teachers, no standards. Only those I choose.

I said yesterday I needed a break – true; but what I needed a break from was trying to be smart, trying to be wise.

For an hour or two – maybe even as many as twelve - it was a relief not to feel that I “should” be writing something deeply significant. Then I got restless. Sorry guys, I can’t keep away. Never take my word on anything…

[insert sheepish grin here...]


Tonight is the dress rehearsal for a show I’m involved in - “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”. And no, I don’t have a big part – speaking about my role of course; I play bass guitar in the band. I love doing these shows, but they’re a lot of work. I haven’t been playing bass all that long – about 5 years - and it takes quite a bit of practice to get up to the standard needed for something like this. A real pro would just come in and sight-read the whole thing; me, I have to go through the score (all 198 pages of it), marking up fingering, working at the tricky bits. Like I say, a lot of work, but it’s fun too.

I hadn’t realised until last night just how much it had been weighing on me. The band – piano, drums, guitar and bass - haven’t had many rehearsals, and I’ve had too many other calls on my time to get enough practice in. I was horribly conscious that there were still plenty of bits causing me problems; I’d been through the score marking these up with sticky (Post-It like) index tabs, and last night went through just these short sections, about twenty or so of them. And it seems to be coming together. Just in time, and just as well.

So the next four evenings are going to be rather hectic. Dress rehearsal tonight, which if past experience is anything to go by will probably run until midnight, then shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I’ll let you know how it goes. Oh, and some day I’ll tell you how I came to play bass. One of those little stories that seems trivial but… Oh hell, there I go trying to be wise again. See, it’s so hard to avoid…

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


Weary.  Drained.  Trapped.  Just a little; but need a break.  Taste some air; feel some earth.

(Even a hamster should get out of his wheel from time to time.)

Better stop posting pretentious crap; might end up disappearing up somewhere unpleasant.  Maybe should get a life.  Maybe figure out how to live this one. 

(Could have said “…what to do with this one”, but there’s a difference.  Product or process?  The latter?  “Life has no product, only process”.  Hey, I could write some crap about that too.  Already.)

Like I said; enough.  See y’all in a while.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Losing the scent 

(subtitle: metaphor soup - in which we explore how to cram the most metaphors into the smallest space)

The trail’s gone cold.  Parts 4 and 5 were planned, but the experience faded before the words could catch up.  Even part 3 feels distant now; an experience belonging to someone else. 

So busy was I painting the golden rays of the sun, so intent on freezing them on the canvass, that when I turned back to look, the sun had already dipped below the horizon, it’s golden brightness a distant fading glow.

That’s the way of things – the ocean swell drives the wave in, it breaks on the shore, reaches up the beach… and then recedes, its energy spent.  But the tide has risen a little higher, and another wave will follow.  Unless of course the tide is on its way out.  Dangerous things, metaphors.  Especially when they’re as mixed as these ;-)

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Soul :: part 3 

I'm not quite sure what happened.  This has turned out more like an academic thesis than a deeply personal account; not what I intended at all.  Maybe I'm in greater need of soul-food than I thought.  Or maybe it's just my vanity's way of thumbing its nose at me.  I haven't the energy to re-write it and I'm not sure it would come out any different.  In any case, I need to move on...
Soul energy, then, is what flows through the writing that touches us most deeply.  The greatest joy in reading is when I know in my soul – in my highest, deepest, most complete self, when I know with an understanding that transcends mere knowledge – that you are sharing a little of your soul with me, and for a moment a bond exists between us and we are no longer alone.  When something in the world touches you so deeply, so fully, that the power and depth and truth of that touch shines bright through the latticework of your words and I feel its touch on me also.
But the world was touching me less, or I wasn’t open to its touch.  I knew that this was so, but it was a distant, dull kind of knowledge, known as one knows an impersonal fact in a book.  So in time, writing and reading were losing their vitality, becoming separated from the source of their greatest power.  I’d want to write, but a week or two would pass and I had nothing much to say.  By and large days were tolerable enough - some more or less so than others – but the colour was draining from them.
How do you reach your own soul?  And how do you become disconnected from it in the first place?
Souls have survival needs just as bodies have needs.  Bodies require basic life support of air and water, and to grow and find energy and power they need nourishment.  Without these they become weak and will eventually die.  And it’s not so very different for souls.  Souls thrive in an environment free from toxins such as cynicism, pessimism, mistrust and fear – these are all poison to the soul.  I sometimes say, half joking, that my job is soul-destroying; I’m coming to realise there’s more truth in that phrase than is comfortable.  Those are all key attributes of my work environment.
So souls need nourishment.  What happens to souls when they’re not fed?  They fade; their light dims; they disperse like wisps of smoke driven apart by the breeze.  A frail shadow, vanishing into transparency until you can look right through it and see nothing.  Then all we’re left with is a body, a shell.  It’s animate; it goes through the motions of living, but it can sense also something lost: something missing, a memory barely felt, something without which body and mind are incomplete, forever unfulfilled, however hard they strive.
How can life be breathed back into this shadow?  Can the wisps of smoke dispersed by the winds of heartless fortune again coalesce and find form?  How can soul once more take it’s true place, and the being become whole again, filled,  no longer empty?
It’s so simple.  I nearly laughed out loud with relief when I realised.  Just feed the soul – that’s all it takes.  I’ve been starving my soul; it’s hardly surprising that I’ve felt its weakness, its debility, its dissociation.
Withholding nourishment is so easy to do, too.  So easy to allow a busy schedule to spread its tentacles into every last moment.  So easy to keep prioritising work, chores, duties so that those minutes that are left to nurture and nourish my soul become parched and barren, a desert in which nothing of any substance will grow.  So easy to live according to other peoples' priorities, not my own.
So many of those activities that seem like luxuries are in reality vital to well-being.  Even some of those apparently self indulgent time-wasting things that seem to serve no purpose at all may play their part.  Like sorting through my climbing gear, enjoying the feel of a karabiner in my hand, letting the cow-bell sound of hexes clanking together recover old experiences from deep in the memory, refreshing and renewing them, recreating the pathways of pleasure and fulfilment in my brain.
Of course, this shouldn’t really have come as a great revelation to me.  A very dear friend has been telling me this for a long time.  But some lessons are only learned when you work them out for yourself.
The greatest impact of this apparent king-size serving of motherhood and apple pie comes in my counselling quest.  I’d got stuck up against a barrier of step change, searching for an inner ‘authentic self’, trying to entice or drag this self out into the open and finding a fear I couldn't name or understand.  I’d created an inner conflict but now I'd found a means to dissolve all this.  Quit worrying about trying to “be” anything pre-defined.  Just find what feeds my soul, take the time and energy - and self-love - to do it, and allow it to grow.  Into whatever it wants to become; whatever it already is, if I could but recognise it.
Water it, feed it and it will grow.  'Build it and they will come'.  I watched that film a few weeks ago, on a Saturday evening, worn out after a very busy day of non-stop pressured activity.  I hadn't yet woken up to the idea of soul-food; I just knew that I desperately needed a break and picked it more or less at random from a shelf of videos.  It’s a good movie, although I wouldn't call it an outstanding one, yet it had a powerful impact on me I couldn’t understand.  I’m not even a sports fan, let alone a baseball fan.  Maybe it’s just as well I was watching it alone in the house, because I was reduced to tears on several occasions.  Not just a slightly moist eye either; these were deep sobs that shook my body even though I tried to suppress them.  Now I didn't think this movie was a tear-jerker, but something in it touched something in me in a way that felt full of significant meaning.  Build it and they will come.  Water it, feed it, and it will grow.  It will find the life it seeks and is meant to have.
Easier said than done?  Maybe.  Although I don’t subscribe to the “no gain without pain” theory, nevertheless it seems a fact of life that it takes effort and commitment to reap the biggest rewards.
Just one more thing.  No-one, most of all me, should forget that this is only a metaphor.  This is not the truth.  The truth is something way beyond any words.
And as a postscript, maybe I was wrong about Field of Dreams not being a tear-jerker 

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Feeling smug 

Permission to feel smug?  Please?  Pretty please?
56 minutes and 42 seconds to pedal the 15.1 miles across London to work this morning.  Not quite the fastest ever, but probably up there in the top ten.  School holidays have begun, and the roads are quieter.
Hey, you have to celebrate these things y'know.  Makes you feel good :-)


A brand new book, cover unbent, pages smooth and clean and so perfectly flat that they stick to one another simply because there is no space between them for the air to get in and separate them.  I had a friend once who was aghast that I could take such a piece of pristine loveliness and defile it by taking a pencil in hand as I read and writing in it!
Such sacrilege!!  Sheer vandalism!!
Many of the books that have meant most to me are covered in hieroglyphics; mostly marks to return me to places of interest.  One vertical line in the margin adds a border to words that make me think “Hmmm… that was particularly interesting”, two parallel lines for “Hey, this guy/gal is REALLY on to something here”; three for “OH WOW!!  THIS COULD CHANGE MY LIFE!!!”  I wonder if I’ll ever find a need for four lines…?
I’m not a complete vandal though.  I only ever use a pencil for this kind of mark-up.  Somehow, using a pen, making it permanent, would seem just a little like desecration.  There are limits after all…
My favourites are the disposable mechanical variety, yellow body and a tip shaped like a sharpened real pencil, and spirally springy thingy inside that feeds the lead.  Coolest of all are the translucent fluorescent coloured ones, like these.  They’re probably not very eco-friendly though.  Maybe I should find a refillable one with the same feel to it.  But I always find the leads break too easily on those when I’m writing fast.
Does it say anything about me, that I like to use pencil rather than a pen? 
When I was a little kid, pens – proper pens, fountain pens - were something used only by grown-ups and big kids (who seemed nearly grown up to us little kids anyway).  I only knew three types of writing implement – pencils, biros, and fountain pens.  Sure, there were felt-tips, but they were for drawing and colouring - the tip was too fat for anything else.  As for rollerballs, fineliners and gel ink – even if they’d been invented back then, they were still far too esoteric for a schoolkid.  We were never allowed biros at school; not for Writing anyway.  The rationale, I think, at a time when writing still really meant writing, not key-tapping, was that proficiency in the use of a Proper Pen was core to a Good Education.  So it was pencils or fountain pens.
The transition from pencil to fountain pen was like a coming of age, a rite of passage accompanied by inky fingers, smudged pages, and odd little splotches of ink here and there, as hands that had been used to darting freely without constraint, learned to adapt to the dynamic characteristics of an instrument designed to dispense a controlled flow of liquid.  Shake it and it blots.  Or maybe it was hands just discovering and taking advantage of said dynamic characteristics, causing spots of ink to appear in a neat line up the shirt front and across the face of a ‘friend’.  Happy days… 
Having a first fountain pen bought was a developmental stage like stopping wearing nappies/diapers (hec, should I be writing in English or American?), or learning to ride a two-wheeler, or wearing Long Trousers/Pants.  For a while thereafter, pencils became associated with being a little kid; and so we big kids didn’t use ’em.  Not for Writing.  Hey, we were grown up now.  After all, who’d be seen riding a tricycle?. 
So perhaps my like of pencils represents a wish to return to the lost innocence of childhood?
Or maybe it’s the impermanence of the graphite line which appeals?  Maybe I hesitate to commit my thoughts to a medium that might last for a thousand years?  Maybe it’s easier to pretend the grey, erasable words aren’t really mine after all?
Nah, just kidding.  I’m an engineer, right?  It’s nothing psychological, the reason is purely mechanical – I can write fastest (whilst remaining just on the right side of illegibility) with a pencil; specifically one of these pencils.  There’s just the right degree of smooth resistance offered to the motion of the tip of the lead across the page; anything smoother flowing, and in my haste and impatience the letters become smoothed out to the extent that the writing becomes just a squiggly line that even I can’t decipher.  But I’d soon abandon anything more resistant to motion as I’d get frustrated at not being able to get the words down fast enough. 
How about you?  Are you a defacer too? 

Monday, July 19, 2004

Soul :: part 2 

Epiphanies can be daunting.  The curtains draw back and something I always knew to be true, but never dared believe, is revealed - yet instead of welcoming this knowledge, embracing it as a long lost friend, I turn away from it, preferring the familiar comfort and safety of disbelief.  Finding the hard protective outer shell momentarily softened, melted away, and seeing myself naked in front of the mirror, rather than wonder at the truth and honesty, I rush to cover up and hide behind the disguise of normality.
It came as a jolt to realise that nearly three months had passed since the counselling session which resulted in this post.  I knew at the time that it was a kind of watershed; I felt an awakening, a discovery of a truth deep within.  I knew I had to record it, because I also knew that I would forget - or cause myself to forget.  And so it has been.  At first, a glow of new understanding, a flush of energy and confidence, an internal commitment made but then reluctantly (or was it with relief?) laid aside as the full extent dawned of the practical commitment that would be necessary: selling our house and relocating somewhere cheap - very cheap - in order to finance a career change.  Then the subsequent weeks characterised by retreat – camouflaged so subtly as consolidation that I didn’t notice, yet all the while I was withdrawing from that promise of possibility, returning by degrees, without ever intending it, to the old familiar self-image.  Acceptance of what I seemed to have discovered felt like too great a change, too challenging, too demanding - a relinquishing of control, a risk of exposure.
I had inadvertently driven myself into a corner.  By thinking in terms of different 'parts' of self, by 'discovering' a 'hidden part', I'd unwittingly created a model that seemed to demand step change, a coming out, a new beginning.  We tried to explore this 'part' in the counselling sessions, but 'it' seemed to retreat, overpowered by my verbal, rational self.  I began to see an image of this 'part' as a timid little furry creature poking its nose out of its burrow, sniffing the air, and darting back at the first sign of threat or danger.  How could I side-step the power and influence of verbal, controlling self so as to allow this 'other part' simply to be and grow? 
This model wasn’t working for me.  Valid as the experience three months ago may have been, rationality was busy chipping and hacking away, building its own interpretation, reconstructing the experience, turning it into something subtly different.  I was stuck again, up against another barrier of my own making.
Then somewhere along the way, and I honestly can't remember exactly where, a minor miracle happened.  Perspective flipped - what if the object of my searching wasn’t something secret, embryonic, hidden within, dominated by the gatekeeper of left-brain rationality, and so forever its subject?  What if instead this whole controlling, verbal, rational, left-brain self is but the tangible manifestation of a larger whole, and what I seek is something much greater, much more expansive?  And to find it I don’t reach inwards but instead reach out, since it extends out into the universe – indeed, in a sense it is the universe, linked and intertwined with all other manifestations.
What if this ‘hidden part’ is my soul? 
"You are not a human being in search of spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience."  
 - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Soul :: part 1 

Words.  Intermediaries, carriers, transporters of a kind: transporters of experience.
Experiences occur – as whole, complete undivided events, but thought and words and ideas can’t readily handle such wholeness, so I divide these ideas up, package them into little parcels called words and send them streaming off to you.  You unwrap them, and with a touch of magic reconstruct an experience from them.  I do the same with your words too, and if the magic is particularly powerful, every so often each of us knows the thrill of experience shared.  For a brief moment, our isolation is broken and we connect - understanding or love or fear or pain or happiness or sorrow crosses a chasm that may be inches wide or spanning the earth.  Bridging a gulf of years, or even the final gulf of mortality.
There is joy in that moment.  Not only the deep insight of ‘A-ha’ moments, but also in sharing the simplest and most mundane of experiences.  The joy may be in the content, the substance of the experience, but it can also be in the simple factof true communication; the recreation in me of something that is in you, whether physical, intellectual, emotional or spiritual.  Perhaps my heart beats faster, or tears flow, or my spirit soars.  Or perhaps it is simply that I can say “Yes, I’ve been there, I’ve felt that too.  I know…”
There is but one essential prerequisite that must be fulfilled in order to be able to communicate, and it has very little to do with language or skill.  It is simply that you or I have to have experienced something in the first place.  To have something that we want to communicate.  Truly experienced it, engaged in it with our whole selves, with an awareness that encompasses body, mind, heart and soul.  After all, even something as seemingly dry as a text book works best when the soul of the writer comes through in their enthusiasm for their subject.  
Experiencing – truly experiencing – seems to have been difficult for me of late.  The world has been going past behind a filter; perception has acted as a kind of inverse sieve that lets the coarse chunks through but blocks the subtle detail.
But at long last I have an inkling of what’s going on.  To explain though, first I need to backtrack a couple of months. 
To be continued… 

Friday, July 16, 2004

Hyde Park: Feelin' Groovy  

I always knew Simon & Garfunkel were good, but I didn’t know they had cosmic connections – how else do you explain the amazing cloud formation that created a kind of second-tier proscenium arch above the stage in Hyde Park last night?  A narrow curving band of high cloud, horizon to horizon, wisps radiating outwards from a focal point at the centre of the stage, lit bright silver, then gold, then pink before eventually fading into grey.  Cosmic.  Even the rain clouds were diverted to pass far to the south of us, leaving us bathed in glorious summer evening sunshine.
The set itself was roughly 100 yards away from where we sat; Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel just two unrecognisable spotlit figures in the distance, but with four huge screens and a PA system including 156 speaker cabinets (yes, saddo engineer that I am, I counted them!) we were completely immersed in the experience; one gigantic stage, one mega-show, at one with one huge audience.
Usually I avoid crowds like the plague.  Something about crowd behaviour and loss of individuality repels me.  But this crowd had a good feel to it; there’s something magical about the way the positive vibes of quiet anticipation spread amongst the crowd and join us together.  Perhaps it was we knew we shared something in common – and that wasn’t just age, although it wasn’t too hard to see from the percentage of heads in front that featured greying and/or thinning hair that the age profile of the audience was heavily weighted around middle-age.
The show was near-perfect.  I guess everyone hoped and expected it would be, and I didn’t see anyone disappointed.  The magic is still there - Art Garfunkel can still sing, Paul Simon can still play guitar, and the songs sound as good as ever; maybe even better, like with the new acoustic guitar opening to Homeward Bound.  Every one a classic, and with none of the softening of the sounds or smoothing of the rhythms that you sometimes get as ageing hippies try and fail to recapture the hard edge of youth.  That this was so was rather reinforced by the appearance on stage at half time of the Everly Brothers, who looked every bit what they were – a couple of ageing rockers, sporting sagging jowls and bellies.  They didn’t appear at the closing bows – they must have already been back at their hotel, tucked up in bed sipping warm milk. 
How can I possibly describe the atmosphere?  The exuberance that had the entire audience rising from their seats and jigging happily to the rhythms of Mrs Robinson?  And getting up on their feet at every opportunity thereafter?  Or the rapt attention to the timeless American Tune?  You had to be there…
I could stop there, with the uplifting feel of a wonderful evening of great music, but this is a weblog, not a critical review.  My evening didn’t end there; when eventually we got back to King’s Cross station we found that, owing to planned engineering works, there were no trains home.  We’d have to take a train part of the way and then transfer to a bus, adding half an hour to the journey.  Apparently this had been displayed in small print on a poster hidden in some quiet corner of the station.  Not, as you might reasonably have expected, on an unavoidably eye-catching notice on the way in.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been easy to find this information out, but no-one I asked seemed to know a great deal and in the process of getting redirected from one blank face to another I rather lost my rag, shouting some rather uncharitable things to the retreating back of the ticket clerk.  Completely uncalled for, quite out of character for me, and in total contrast to the feelings of happiness and well-being from earlier in the evening.  It’s left a rather unpleasant taste in the mouth, a barrier between me and the memory of that evening.
Where did that anger come from all of a sudden?  I don’t know; I’m baffled.  Sometimes I find I just don’t know myself; I wonder who I really am. 
Many's the time I've been mistaken,
and many times confused
Yes, and I've often felt forsaken
and certainly misused.
Ah, but I'm all right, I'm all right
I'm just weary to my bones
Still you don't expect to be bright and bon vivant,
so far away from home,
so far away from home.
And I don't know a soul who's not been battered.
I don't have a friend who feels at ease.
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered,
or driven to its knees.
Ah, but it's all right. It's all right.
For we've lived so well so long.
Still, when I think of the road we're travelin' on
I wonder what's gone wrong.
I can't help but wonder what's gone wrong.
And I dreamed I was dying.
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly,
and looking back down at me, smiled reassuringly.
And I dreamed I was flying,
and high up above my eyes could clearly see
the Statue of Liberty sailing away to sea.
And I dreamed I was flying.
And we come on the ship they call the Mayflower.
We come on the ship that sailed the moon.
We come in the age's most uncertain hours,
and sing an American tune.
Oh, and it's all right, it's all right,
it's all right.
You can't be forever blessed.
Still tomorrow's gonna be another working day
and I'm tryin' to get some rest;
that's all - I'm trying to get some rest.

- American Tune, by Paul Simon –
From "There Goes Rhymin' Simon", 1973

Thanks to Pineapple Girl for the lyrics; you can also hear the song at her site.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004


I didn’t know it at the time, but that little venting of anger and frustration earlier today turned out to be an absolutely necessary precursor to an extraordinarily powerful session at counselling. I’m not sure I have any hope of capturing in words what happened, if indeed happened is quite the right word. More may follow later, or may not. It gets a bit, well, mystical. For now, just note that the post earlier today was fulfilled in the writing, without the need for anyone actually to read it, and ignore my ill temper (which, incidentally, has evaporated completely).


What IS the point? What IS the fucking point? I try to understand, I try to take charge of myself, be positive, optimistic. Then I come here, sit in silence in front of this screen, pretending to find things to do. The words on the emails swim before my eyes; I’ve read them all but still they have no meaning. One word follows another; they seem to obey grammatical laws yet I can’t decode them, find any meaning, any purpose in them. Just one disjointed valueless word after another. Written by minds that seem to work on different principles to mine. Or mine to theirs.

And does it matter if there’s any sense in there anywhere? Would it make any difference to anything, anyone, anywhere? I could fall under a bus tomorrow, and apart from an empty seat here there’d be no difference to this organisation. I come here because in return for the presence of body in this room, money is placed in my bank account each month. I don’t actually have to DO anything, achieve anything, fulfil any purpose. Just go through the motions; tap keys, like I am now. Tap, tap, tap. Busy, busy, busy. Pretend it all matters.

What a waste.

Ok, I’ll get back in my box now and carry on tapping. Or maybe one day smash the box to smithereens. One day…

Sunday, July 11, 2004


I guess this wasn't quite what Photo Friday had in mind in setting the theme for this week as "Cool"...

All the same, it felt pretty cool in every sense to be there..

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Uses for Thumbscrews 

Bugger. Wednesday went so well, and Thursday was feeling good…

Then I got home Thursday night to find this email from my ISP waiting:

“Dear Customer,
It has come to our attention that a source of unsolicited email has been linked to your account with us...

“An abuse management case is currently open against your account regarding this matter. Please read the following and take any remedial measures that are required…

“Please note that if you do not respond to this warning, your account may be suspended.”

Me? A… (drops voice to a whisper) spammer? No, you’ve got it all wrong. Surely there must be some mistake…?
Four hours later... cleanup on four PCs (well okay, that needed doing anyway), Windows confirmed up to date, virus scanners confirmed up to date, 2 hopefully non-malicious adware Trojans removed, router firewall config confirmed ok – but nothing located that could account for my apparent inadvertent alter-ego as a spammer.

Not only had my PC apparently been hijacked; in trying to sort it, so was my head. Nightmare scenario after nightmare scenario played itself out in my imagination; were emails going out in my name hawking – ahem - anatomical extensions; something beginning with V; offering the secret of fuller, fatter lips?
It felt like being in the dock for a crime I didn’t commit. Like being transported in my sleep and waking up in some sleazy strip joint, frantically looking for the way out before anyone notices I’m there.

I’m a gentle soul at heart, honest I am, but it would have given me the utmost satisfaction to know that medieval instruments of torture were being applied to the tender parts of those responsible. Thumbscrews on the gonads oughtta do it…

Not just because my good (ha!) name may be besmirched, although the thought of being mistaken for one of that hideous breed does make the hackles rise. It also brings home all too clearly how the internet may be sitting dangerously close to a tipping point, its freedom of use threatened by abuse of all kinds so that it may become strangled in a new era of controls, constraints, restrictions.

Fixity and control are the enemies of creativity. Complexity theory has a view that, on a scale which runs from total, rigid control at one end to total anarchy at the other, maximum creativity sits “at the edge of chaos”, where control is loose but the anarchists’ bombs haven’t yet blown the entire structure apart. The internet has thrived at the edge of chaos; minimal controls, just an emergent order. There seems a real danger that in trying to remove the threat of the spamming, hacking, virus writing anarchists we might swing too far the other way and enforce controlling structures which would risk stifling those very features of connectedness that make the internet such an exciting, unpredictable place of emergent creativity.

But I digress…

Armed with an arsenal of alternative Trojan scanners and removers after an intensive Friday morning’s surfing I went once more into battle.

With four computers in four different rooms (two belong to my sons) it must have looked to an observer like one of those stage farces where the actors are forever popping in and out of doors, as I dashed hither and thither, a manic glint in my eye, downloading, configuring, scanning, one package after another, one machine after another.

Ha! Got you, you little sucker. “Spamrelayer.diskserv”. Missed by Norman, AVG, Trojan Remover, Adaware but captured by Spybot – Search & Destroy. So if you want a moral to this little story, it’s that a single anti-virus programme just isn’t enough.

I’m glad that’s all over. Like I said, this week had been going well and posts are brewing…

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Physics of Consciousness 

“We are focus-points of consciousness, enormously creative. When we enter the self-constructed hologrammatic arena we call spacetime, we begin at once to generate creativity particles, imajons, in violent continuous pyrotechnic deluge. Imajons have no charge of their own but are strongly polarized through our attitudes and by the force of our choice and desire into clouds of conceptons, a family of very-high-energy particles which may be positive, negative or neutral.

“Some common positive conceptions are exhilarons, excytons, rhapsodons, jovions. Common negative conceptions include gloomons, tormentons, tribulons, agonons, miserons.

“Indefinite numbers of conceptions are created in non-stop eruption, a thundering cascade of creativity pouring from every centre of personal consciousness. They mushroom into concepton clouds, which can be neutral or strongly charged – buoyant, weightless or leaden, depending on the nature of their dominant particles.

“Every nanosecond an indefinite number of concepton clouds build to critical mass, then transform in quantum bursts to high-energy probability waves radiating at tachyon speeds through an eternal reservoir of supersaturated alternate events. Depending on their charge and nature, the probability waves crystallize certain of these potential events to match the mental polarity of their creating consciousness inot holographic appearance.

“The materialized events become that mind’s experience, freighted with all the aspects of physical structure necessary to make them real and learningful to the creating consciousness. This automatic process is the fountain from which springs every object and event in the theatre of spacetime.

“The persuasion of the imajon hypothesis lies in its capacity for personal verification. The hypothesis predicts that as we focus our conscious intention on the positive and life-affirming, as we fasten our thoughts on these values, we polarize masses of positive conceptions, realize beneficial probability-waves, bring useful alternate events to us that otherwise would not have appeared to exist.

“The reverse is true in the production of negative events, as is the mediocre in-between. Through default or intention, unaware or by design, we not only choose but create the visible outer conditions that are most resonant to our inner state of being.”

...more from Running From Safety, by Richard Bach

Use it or lose it 

“If we’re afraid to choose anything but what we’ve got, what good is choice? Might as well leave choice wrapped up in its box, don’t bother to read the instructions.”

From Running From Safety, by Richard Bach

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Hidden wonders 

"What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen."

Henry Thoreau

Sunday, July 04, 2004

One Today... 

One year on.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

True Grit... 

It's been quite a while since I posted anything for Ecotone. This offering is for the July 1st topic of "Courage and Place".

We sat uncomfortably on whatever horizontal surfaces we could find - mostly hard, angular, and the wrong shape and height - or stood and fidgeted uneasily. A dozen or so of us had taken the lift to the twelfth floor, then through a normally locked door and up a single flight of stairs to the very top level of the building, picking our way along unfrequented corridors, past office flotsam and jetsam abandoned and tossed here on the waves of successive office rearrangements. Through a heavy metal door we found ourselves in this confined space surrounded by machinery that from time to time would spring unexpectedly into whirring, clanking life - the lift machine room.

This particular odyssey had begun several weeks earlier. Posters had appeared in shop windows and public places around town, advertising a charity abseil event. Raise a minimum of £100 in sponsorship by daring to abseil from the top of the town's only high-rise building. At thirteen storeys including the uppermost services level, it may be a mere stump by city standards, but it's by far the tallest building in our little town and a well known landmark, sat squarely on the highest piece of land for miles around.

Those posters stirred different feelings in different people. For me, I’ll own up that my prime motivation wasn't to raise money for charity, or to face a personal challenge, it was simply to have fun and to see the town from a novel and usually inaccessible viewpoint. Others' feelings though may have been very different. The poster that appeared one day in the canteen at a small local factory attracted only limited casual interest. Bill, late middle aged but wiry and energetic, was attracted by the challenge, but it never occurred to Lottie, his colleague and close friend, that she might take part in such a daring event. At first she scoffed at the idea, but Bill was persistent; maybe he saw something in Lottie that she couldn't see herself, or maybe he was just throwing down a friendly gauntlet. But whatever was behind his challenge, to her own surprise, once she actually stopped to consider it Lottie found herself accepting, and as word spread around the factory her sponsorship total shot way past the minimum necessary, eventually reaching many times that amount.

We heard this story sitting together packed into that tiny room, breaking off every now and again as, behind it's safety cage, the lift machinery whirred into action. Lottie was full of excitement - nervous excitement to be sure; her words tumbled out, tripping over each other; a simple, almost superficial description of events in that canteen and the subsequent disbelief - shock almost - of her colleagues. But in her eyes was something much deeper and clearer - a pride in herself for what she was doing. Almost hidden under the words that seemed to be expressing fear and doubt was a voice also saying "Yes! I CAN do this!" Hearing her talk, seeing her determination and sensing the drive which propelled her, I had the impression of someone who was able to face this apparent adventure into the unknown because she saw that, beneath the alien paraphernalia of abseiling, really this was no more - and no less - of a challenge than those she faced daily as a mother, and as carer for her own ageing mother.

In the corner of the room a fixed ladder led up through a trapdoor onto the roof. Lottie struggled rather with the unfamiliar dependence on hand and arm strength needed to climb the vertical ladder and with the awkward sideways step off the ladder, over the high rim edging the void of the large trapdoor opening, down onto the roof. There were two abseil ropes fixed, allowing two people to descend at once. The instructors had asked her and Bill if they wanted to go down together but Lottie was adamant she didn't want that - I guess she was worried in case she flunked it, and felt she'd rather not have anyone she knew watching her that closely. So it happened that I followed Lottie out onto the roof. The view was stunning; unlike the flat two-dimensional view you'd get from a window at a similar height, the three-sixty degree panorama was intensely vivid, something real and present and involving. However there was little time to admire it - the organisers had several dozen people to get down during the morning, and there wasn't time to hang around, metaphorically or literally.

I had to wait for the person ahead to reach the ground, so Lottie was already some way down when I started down the rope a few feet to the side of her. She was letting herself down very slowly, inch by inch. As I caught up with her I could see the tension in her body – her shoulders hunched, arms drawn in, hands in heavy protective gloves gripping the rope tightly, the upper half of her body curled almost into a foetal crouch whilst her legs stretched straight out to maintain contact with the wall in front of her – the nearest equivalent in this vertical world of terra firma. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a look of intense concentration and determination on anyone’s face, every part of her being focused on following the instructions she'd been given when we practised on the ground. Eyes wide and staring intently at her hands on the rope inches from her face, lips drawn tight, illustrating perfectly why the adjective “grim” so often precedes “determination”. If she saw me at all as I drew level with her, she gave no sign, and I said nothing, sensing that any intrusion would be at best unwelcome, and at worst might destroy the focus on which she was probably depending to take her mind off the drop beneath her.

I reached the ground long before her and had to move out of the way to make room for the next participant, so I missed seeing her expression when she finally landed. In any case there were many of her friends and colleagues waiting to congratulate her, and a pat on the back from me, a stranger, would have gone unnoticed amongst so many. So I looked up, silently saluted her courage, and went on my way.

Tipping the balance 

Such little things can tip the balance one way or the other. From optimism and energy to victim-hood and lassitude, see-sawing between these two extremes or balancing precariously on the knife-edge between them.

This morning it was a busker on the London underground. Busking used to be disallowed on underground stations – one of those rather pointless rules of officialdom, prohibition for its own sake; after all, why should anyone have a good time going to work? I think the station staff never liked having to enforce the rule; I’ve seen them, and even uniformed transport police, walking very, very, slowly in the direction a busker, giving them ample time to pack up and move on so as to avoid the ugliness of an unwanted confrontation. Thankfully a compromise was reached - busking is now officially sanctioned and authority still has its way, through licensing and the creation of designated busking spots.

But I digress. Sound – especially the mid-range frequencies of musical instruments - carries well in the rabbit-warren of underground passages linking lines and platforms, even when those passages are crammed full of the sound-absorbing bodies of commuters. So I had plenty of time to listen to the familiar opening of “Stairway to Heaven”. (Which film was it had the sign up in the guitar shop “Positively NO Stairway to Heaven”? Well, this wasn’t a guitar shop, so I guess that made it okay).

The guy was playing a battered Fender Stratocaster lookalike, and playing it not half badly either. Okay, he wouldn’t make the stage at Glastonbury, but it was pleasant enough as a musical interlude on the way to work. I know the song well – I’ve even played it myself in my time – and I couldn’t help but sing along in my head, all the way down the platform even though he was now out of earshot, and on into the train. Maybe even a few hummed notes escaped into the air around.

It wasn’t just the music. I think there was a touch of the anarchy of the era that, through the music and the associations it has, found a path through the anaesthetising effects of morning routine and woke up a remnant of free spirit in me, gently nudging me off that knife-edge towards the start of a Good Day. So I’m rather sorry now I didn’t take the trouble to drop any coins in his guitar case.