Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Just so that… 

…you don’t think I’m grumpy and angst-ridden all the time...

I spent today running this challenge for 2 classes of 8 year olds at the school where my wife teaches. Had a fabulous time and felt far more energised and alive than I ever do in a day at work. Just wish I had more time to write more about it here…

Monday, February 26, 2007


You know what it’s like when you go into a room – a party, perhaps – and there are a dozen conversations all going on at once? The sound level is deafening; your ears are bombarded by wave upon wave of words coming at you from all directions; you catch a few that seem to go together, you try to follow the thread of one single conversation among many, but strain as you might, all you hear are snatches - there aren’t enough words that rise above the hubbub for you to follow the flow, find the meaning, and join the conversation. A phrase from this couple here, a word from across the way there, a cry of excitement from the far side of the room; fragmented outline shapes of stories, but no content. A hint, but no more; the one is drowned out by the many.

That’s a fair metaphor for what’s going on in my head these days. It’s not that there’s a shortage of raw material, but the strands of thought are constantly fighting each other for air-time, with the result that all I hear are fragments, isolated pieces for different jigsaws that wont link up to make whole. Oops, there I go, mixing my metaphors again. But perhaps you get my drift. I need to find a quiet room somewhere where I can close the door on all these voices and listen just to one.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Back on The Artist’s Way 

Thanks to Preethi, I’m trying to get going again with a couple of the ideas in Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way. I realised that I really do not want to let go of what I once had going here, so on the basis that nothing’s going to change unless I change it, I figured I’d better just prise some time away from and JFDI.

The plan is that I DO NOT turn on the computer the moment I get downstairs in the morning so that it’s up and running by the time I’ve emptied the dishwasher; I DO NOT eagerly check Sitemeter and Haloscan to see who’s visited or commented; I DO NOT check Google Reader or Gmail; instead, I eat my cereals at the table instead of holding bowl in one hand and manoeuvring mouse in the other, and then take maybe 20 minutes to write my morning pages.

That was the plan. I failed miserable on day 1; slept through the alarm and had no time left. True, the computer didn’t get turned on so I suppose that was a partial success, but the lack of a negative doesn’t make a positive. Yesterday and today were better; not the full 3 pages – I’m working up to that (and my excuse is that my A4 notebook does have very closely spaced lines and I do write very small…) – nonetheless there’s no doubt I felt better for getting rid of a page’s worth of garbage out of my head and onto the paper. So it’s a slightly slow and hesitant start, but on the whole a step in the right direction.

The Artist’s date is a tougher deal to make though. Two hours a week of something creative, or inspirational, or uplifting, and just for me, is harder to fit in. Clearly weekend time is the only candidate, and the only way to do it is once more the JFDI approach. I figured a couple of hours photography would fit the bill perfectly, so it was that I set out down the road this afternoon, camera over shoulder, towards the edge of town.

Half a mile down the road, the housing estates finish and the fields begin.

I was surprised to find tractor tyre tracks marking the line of the path across the open field, where it leaves the line of trees and heads up to the bridge over the motorway. Although there’s a public right of way, in the past the farmer has ignored it, ploughed it up and planted his crops across it. And so in previous years I’ve had no compunction in trampling my way through the crops, flattening rather more than might strictly be necessary, in order to make clear what I think about his disdain for ancient rights. Maybe this year though he’s had a change of heart. Or maybe he just happened to drive his tractor that way for no particular reason. We’ll see.

We’ve had a lot of rain lately and the local soil is clay,

so my boots had grown a heavy, sticky extra outer-sole by the time I’d reached the bridge.

Just over the other side I found horses in the field; their presence seemed to bring the scene to life, and in spite of the roar of traffic from the motorway I forgot all my grumbles about recalcitrant farmers and just stood watching them for several minutes.

They watched me too,

but eventually got bored and went off to chase the wind.

I thought at first when I downloaded the photos there was nothing there really worth posting here. Taken into the light, the contrast was poor, the colours washed out, and the framing bad because I couldn’t really make out what I was seeing in the viewfinder or on the LCD. But hey, this trip was about creativity! So why not be creative with them? Nothing dramatic, just using the curves setting to alter the greyscale and heighten the contrast, and crop to better frame the result. Maybe these wouldn’t win any prizes, but I was pleased with the improvement. (Not that that says a lot for the originals!)

The sun was going down, a chill wind was getting up, and having stood still for a quarter of an hour I was getting cold. Turning back over the bridge, I wondered how I could have missed this on the way over; I could sense the waking energy about to burst forth in a mass of blossom; the photo really doesn’t do it justice.

It’s nearly spring.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Second birth

Oh, you who dwell within,
Perpetual foetus, so long hidden,
Will you hide for ever?
Do you not know
The place in which you find protection
Is not your home?

When courage you find at last,
When choice you make,
One home to leave to journey to another
- for in this matter choice is yours alone -
Be loving yet towards thyself.
Expect not fully-formed to greet the world;
Truly, your place awaits you there,
To fill it though you must yet learn and grow.

Your first expressions
Of ungainly limbs, unpractised voice;
These are but the precursor,
A necessary beginning.
Fear not their hesitancy,
Their unskilled clumsiness;
Whence comes skill, if not from exercise?

First though,
Before the lessons of the kindergarten may begin,
There is one necessary trauma,
One doorway through which you must pass;
It is necessary to be born.
To be exposed, become vulnerable,
To feel your shape,
The space your body displaces in the world -
For you are a body, not a phantom.

Put out your hand
Feel the touch of the world.

Publish and be damned 

I can see I’m going to have to change my habits if I want to escape from the continual bind of believing I haven’t got the time or the inspiration to blog any more regularly than I've been managing of late. Perhaps I should try the publish and be damned approach – and if that means half-developed ideas, unfinished and edited, well, so be it. It’s only a blog, after all.

I heard a fascinating and inspiring talk by Preethi Nair yesterday, all about having a dream, and having enough belief in oneself to make it happen, come what may – something Preethi did in a highly unconventional and astonishingly creative way. She tells the story of how she published her first novel and went on to land a three-book deal with Harper Collins here. There's so much I could say, inspired by her story, but as ever time and space - and my own muddled head - seem to conspire against me.

The session – which was presented at work in the form a Masterclass - wasn’t all one-way; the audience had work to do as well. One of the exercises was about writing out our own dreams – work or personal, small or large (but the larger the better). We spent some time individually writing down a description of our desired end state, in as much detail as possible, and in the present tense, as though we had already reached our goal. I struggle with this every time; I’ve NEVER been able to envision, let alone articulate, a clear end state.

But even though I get hung up on stating a clear tangible purpose, I can at least begin to imagine the environment in which I’d like to be fulfilling that purpose - whatever it is. That at least has some clarity, and I’ve articulated parts of it, one way or another, many times in these virtual pages. There are some common themes – a house with character and history; a location close to nature (ideally coastal, or close mountains, or better still close to both) with opportunities for long solitary walks, perhaps accompanied by dogs – but although I can describe the surroundings, I can never latch on to a purpose; never define clearly just what I’d be doing in those surroundings. Although writing and photography are obvious possibilities, they are activities, not results. I don’t have a novel to write or any other kind of story to tell. The abstract idea appeals, but the essence is missing.

By chance, a question popped into my head as I rode to work this morning. If I didn’t attain that vision, poorly defined though it may be, would that be a failure? The answer came immediately, and surprised me. No; that lifestyle vision was never an end in itself, it was only the means to an end.

What is the end? This is where articulation again becomes difficult. What those surroundings would provide is time and space – for thought, for reflection, for exploration of the inner and outer landscapes, and ultimately for communication. Which takes me full circle to where I came in with this post.

But even if the end state is still unclear, I want to hold on to what I’ve glimpsed of it so far. Let Preethi’s words from her first novel explain:
“… - I would like to save you twenty years and tell you what I have learned about hopes and dreams: if you suppress them, you pollute a clean river with fear, regret and disappointment, and that makes it very difficult to swim and find the place which is home.

I will also tell you another thing about the magic of hopes and dreams: at any point along a journey, the day you decide to take back responsibility for your actions and put your trust and faith not in fear but back in yourself, those hopes and dreams will come flooding back and the belief and the energy that charges them will take them forward to a place that is home.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An inmost centre 

Searching back for an old post (which I couldn't find) I came across something unfinished which I'd saved in Blogger as a draft 2 years ago - almost to the day - but never published. A message which it now seems I'd left for myself, to find its way through a time tunnel and pop up in front of me today.

By uncanny coincidence, even though this was a completely different post from the one I was looking for, it held the metaphor I sought, referenced in the words "...streaming through widening channels into the open sea."

There's not a lot I can add - the words speak for themselves, now as then:

"I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels
into the open sea."

~ Ranier Maria Rilke ~

[Today's posting on Panhala]

"I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving...
May what I do flow from me like a river..."

How does one have the courage to say such powerful words? I shy away from their boldness, their honesty, their piercing light. Far easier, far safer, to hide; to pretend that their simple, shocking truth is pure fantasy. After all, what if they were true?

These messages keep coming: Lois [a dear blogging friend now no longer active in the blogosphere] posted this by Browning:
Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things, whate'er you may believe.
There is an inmost centre in us all,
Where truth abides in fullness; and around,
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect, clear perception--which is truth.

A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Binds it, and makes all error: and to know
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape,
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without.

"There is an inmost centre ..."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

This and that 

The day I start posting blog entries of the form "Yesterday I did such-and-such" - pure diary, no more - will be the day I know it's time to quit this game. I'm coming perilously close with this one, but having taken the camera out for what I think is only the second time since last August, I figured I needed some words to explain why I'm posting what is after all not the most eye-catching of scenes.

Yesterday, we (see what I mean?) drove down to Bath with a car-load of miscellaneous stuff which my son had managed to leave behind when he moved down there a couple of weeks ago, to continue his studies. Bath is a wonderful city - full of history and character; we both agreed that it would be so much more stimulating to live somewhere like that instead of in our rather dull corner of suburbia. In between emptying the car and reassembling furniture, there was just time for a quick stroll into the centre of Bath for a very late lunch - just how late is indicated by the fact the street-lights are already on in this picture, taken as we left the restaurant.

Whilst I'm at this diary stuff, I might as well mention that Saturday marked the 52nd anniversary of my appearance, one snowy February day, in this little corner of the world - almost literally this corner; a mere 6 miles from where I now sit. The inescapable fact of ageing has been on my mind lately. Not in a fearful way, thankfully, but certainly with an increasing awareness that my days on this planet are numbered, and if I really believe I want to Make A Difference here, it's high time I got on and did it.

Whatever 'it' is...

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Yes, yes, I know... it's rather out of context. But it's been a long time since I posted anything for Photo Friday and I just happened upon this shot when browsing through my photo files (using the wonderful Picasa). It dates from May 2005; an almost Turneresque sort of sky, wouldn't you say?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Obligatory snow scene 

One of the advantages (the only one?) of travelling to work by train is that I can carry my camera with me...

I had some more words to go with this; the words that sometimes fall out of my head onto the page in those moments when - as is the case with rail travel - captivity of the body renders the mind free of its shackles of must-do tasks. They're messy, naive, unfinished words - or at any rate they reflect thoughts with those characteristics - and although they have meaning for me, I think I'd have to do a lot of editing and filling in of gaps before they made much sense to anyone else.

So, for now, I'll make do with just the picture - another one from yesterday. Already, much of the snow has gone. They don't make winters like they used to...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Definately not motorcycling weather... 

...even though yesterday, at -5.5 deg C, was.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Show's over 

Several times today I’ve sat down to try and write something about the show, but each time failed to come up with anything coherent. Just a jumble of ideas which refuse to be tied down in words, or at any rate in words which form any sort of rational structure. Flashes of inspiration; dozens of partial sentences which seem as though they ought to slot together somehow, yet the edges don’t join, like a random collection of jigsaw pieces.

I’ll try the easy stuff first. This was an amateur production – we think the first, as the license was only released last autumn – of We Will Rock You, the musical based on the songs of Queen. It was a great success –sold out most nights, and several people who had also seen the west end show said they actually preferred ours. The standard was amazing, on all fronts – not only the on-stage performers, but lighting, sound, and stage crew also. The latter are real unsung heroes – the scene changes, often the Achilles heel of amateur productions, ran like clockwork.

In spite of easily being the oldest rocker in town, I’m also the least experienced in the band – it’s only about ten years since I picked up a bass for the first time – so I really had to push myself so as not to let the side down. Every time I do one of these shows, it pushes my playing up another notch. I guess it would be nice at this stage of life to have put all that hard work behind me and be able to relax and enjoy the playing a bit more – but I’m not complaining; I would never have dreamed ten years ago that I’d be performing rock songs to a paying public.

Right now I have odd mix of feelings. Relief that the pressure is off, relief that I have some choice back in my life, that every spare moment isn’t being spent practising or rehearsing; but also a sense of loss. No-one involved wanted it to end; we’d all worked so hard, with just 10 weeks from auditions to first night, and Christmas coming in the middle of that time Taking part helped to fulfil my personal need for purpose and achievement; now that it’s over, I’ll have to find something else to fill the vacuum.