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Archive for July, 2011

It’s been rather a soggy weekend here. I woke up this morning to find that all of my plans for the day were off because it was raining, and I’d have to find something else to do. So, I stood in the back porch and caught up on my Qigong practice, which I’ve been neglecting recently.

It’s interesting that I immediately ran into a consumerist distraction, thinking I was bored with the music I usually practice to – an album (do they still use that word?) of traditional Chinese music by Hong Ting. So I dialled up iTunes on my iPod and began searching on music for Tai Chi. Half an hour passed during which my finger hovered dangerously close to the purchase button – a quick click and £7.99 might be gone on an electronic download – except I resisted the temptation, realising in time that I was suffering from the curse of wanting what I’d not got, and no longer appreciating what I had, so I put Hong Ting on the player and I began my practice.

For the next hour I ran through the 8 Brocades, which is my usual routine, then did some memory jogging on the Yi Jin Jing – another set I learned a while ago, then some standing meditation. Afterwards I sat with coffee, marvelling at the smell of it because I’ve been without a sense of smell now for several years, and for no reason I can think of this week it’s come back and increased the depth and texture of my world immeasurably. But anyway, as I sat there, I was thinking about my writing and where it’s going, and if I should think about charging for the next one, which is called “The last guests of La Maison Du Lac”. Should I, I thought, put it up on Smashwords or Kindle bookstore, or even step over to the darkside again and resume my quest for that most mythical of characters – an agent? Fortunately I looped back through all the same arguments for why I shouldn’t. As a UK writer I need to get as US tax id before those websites will let me sign up, which is fair enough but it seems a complicated process, and am I really going to sell that many copies to make it worth my while? Smashwords distribution on “The man who could not forget” is hopeless, and it’s free. So if I charged for it,… blah-di-blah-di-blah. As for the agent, I find I’m still in not in the frame of mind to want to waste years chasing one. I mean, there are so many other works I want to pursue without getting bogged down again trying to publish something that is for me ‘old news”. At the moment it takes me about half an hour to publish, and I can pretty much guarantee a decent distribution – and isn’t that better than beating your head against a brick wall? So I come back down to Feedbooks and Lulu as my usual outlets and decide to keep things pretty much as they are. It’s a bit like that earlier consumerist distraction – why don’t I want to make a shedload of money from my writing? Why would I want to spend years writing a story – the best part of a decade in the case of “Lavender and the Rose”, beating myself up over it and wrestling it into a shape I think will make a half decent read, and then just give it away? Answer: I’m fortunate in having the day-job to pay the bills, and if I lost that job I’d have to get another conventional kind of job – though probably one nowhere near as well paid – what generation x might call a McJob, just to cover the bills while I go on writing in my spare time. Because this is how it is for most writers, and just be thankful the internet came along when it did or you’d be really bitter and twisted by now.

And then I get to thinking about my life and how it’s such a small thing, and without wishing to appear morbid, does it really matter what I think or feel or do about anything? Maybe I shouldn’t mix qigong with strong coffee, but sometimes I sit there in the qi-tingly afterglow and my mind casts off for lands unknown,… but I’m thinking that it does matter – not that many people read my words, because that’s not the point, and the most important thing in all of this is that you’re somehow offering up a gift of your thoughts for your maker. There’s a hexagram in the I Ching that’s always fascinated me. It’s called Ting, which is basically a melting pot, a cooking vessel. The vessel is you, your life, and what it contains. You heat up the contents and the vapours rise to heaven, and the important thing is that you offer up what’s most sincere about yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s just between you and the universe. It doesn’t matter that not another living soul knows nor cares what it is that you think, and the ability to be accepting of that is an important step along the way to making peace with the world, as well as yourself. Perhaps the first step towards realising your immortality is to embrace the beautiful imperfection and the fleeting ignominy of your mortality, and carry on anyway.

The rain continued, and I tuned in to the news around lunch-time to find there’s been yet another twist in the so called phone hacking scandal that’s currently gripping the British media – where certain newspapers famed for their scandalmongering have been caught out hacking into people’s telephones and somehow accessing all manner of private details – not just of the great and good, but also of the bereaved in certain high profile murder cases. And though I share in my nation’s revulsion in all of this, I’m surprised that anyone is surprised. At the same time I thank God for my small life and that no one would want to hack my phone – not that they’d find much on it, though it impresses me that even though I’d struggle to tell you my own mobile ‘phone number, a newspaper could have it with so little effort, and access details which I probably couldn’t myself because I’ve forgotten my blasted passwords. How is it done? Well the only thing that springs to mind is corruption of those in authority who supposedly guard the digital gateways to this mine of personal information, which comes down to money again and the corruption, not only of those in authority, but through them the values we should be aiming for as human beings: sincerity, humility, and dignity. Instead the ‘phone hacking scandal seems to highlight the degree to which we have become each of us commoditised, our details, our selves apparently up for sale in an amoral free-market free for all.

And then as the day closes, we have a two hour TV special of “The Apprentice” – not about apprenticeships as I understand them of course, but a reality TV show where the future captains of this free-market free for all have the opportunity to strut their corporate stuff – and a pretty tawdry show they make of it as well. And I wonder, with the economies of the western word in such dramatic decline, if we don’t have need of a different model of leadership these days? That you can only go so far in undercutting the financial bedrock and the dignity of the vast majority of the citizens of the world – who just want to make a living – without the whole lot coming crashing down on top of you.

And now it’s 9:00 pm and the rain’s finally abated, and the sky’s a uniform blue-grey, deepening by the minute, and it’s work in the morning, and I’m contemplating a pile of stunning novels I’ve managed to pick up for a few pounds from the charity shops in town, and I’m wondering if I should start one or save them all for my two weeks annual leave coming up next week, and how, living such a small life those two weeks are the world to me, and I wonder what’s the world to those captains of the tawdry sleazy landslide of the western economies?

And what can we do about it? Well,… believe there is a power working silently for the good – behave yourself, and never mind the rest.

Thank you Beatrice.

Graeme out.

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July. High summer. Already the solstice is a memory and the year is rushing headlong, glossing over details I really wanted to linger on for fear of missing something important. The garden’s looking shaggy after weeks of wet, and I really need to mow except I can’t seem to find a period when it’s dry enough and I’ve stopped working for long enough to get around to it. As for other matters, Old Grumpy needs new tyres, but I can’t seem to find the time to get to the garage, and I’ve just had the renewal notice on the motor insurance – gone up 50% this year, so I’m going to have to shop around again, because the differences in premiums are huge at the moment. Everyone wants a piece of you and they’re hoping you’re just too overwhelmed with the nagging details of your life, or that you’ve been pummelled into such a state of fatalistic apathy you won’t bother to challenge them and you’ll just pay up because you’ve been conditioned into accepting that things can’t be anything other than really, really bad right now. Right? Wrong,…  It’s a pain of course, and it’s with a sort of reluctant determination I add this item to my list of things to do.

We’re all the same of course, trying to keep pace with that endless list of chores, a list that occasionally gains on us so fast we feel in danger of finally having to accept our total inadequacy, our complete unfitness to live in the modern world, that what the world need us to be is a kind of machine in order to match its own machine-like demands.

But we are not automatons, s0 when you start to feel overwhelmed this way you should take it as a signal that you need to hold things at bay for a while. Take a breath. Push that list of chores into the periphery because its self- important triviality is beginning to hide the deeper truth of who and what you are. This truth is a vision of the world that needs time to cultivate and an inner eye to see.  And the eye sees nothing in the wearing of old Grumpy’s tyres, nor in the saving of a hundred pounds on your car insurance. These are material things, and as such a form of madness, as much as they are maddening to have to deal with. They are the faintly disgusting froth caught in the eddying currents of  a silty brown river, a river rendered thick and sluggish for want of the clarifying charm of any sense of a higher purpose – a charm visible only to the human part of you, because its nature is divine and you were made to know it when you saw it.

<At this point the spontaneous flow of my words is interrupted by my laptop suddenly switching itself off. So I reboot, and contemplate in disbelief the blank Wordpad page, wondering if what I had to say was that important anyway – or at least important enough to warrant the effort of reconstructing it piece by piece from a memory rendered sluggish by too many late nights. We decide it is, and continue>

Where were we? Higher purpose?

What I’m building up to is that I saw it briefly yesterday, in an unsuspecting corner of my garden – one I neglect because it seems to be able to take care of itself – and I’m not aiming for a manicured look or anything. It’s impossible to describe this thing, but it comes as a glimpse of something “inner”, a thing hinted at by the way the light falls upon it and in the mysterious pattern of things. It contains a warmth and a certainty of purpose one cannot put into words. It is a quality, the ghost of something divine drifting through and you only know it by the way it feels. It is a moment of pure Zen.

And all right, on a certain level is was only my gardening gloves and my clippers, but foolishly, I ran inside for my camera, thinking I would take a picture of it – this miraculous thing. The batteries were flat. I found fresh ones. There was no memory card in the camera – it was in my other camera, whose batteries were also flat. So I recovered the card, slotted it in place and returned to that little unkempt corner of my garden. Miraculously, the light was the same, the pattern of things the same, so I took my picture, but of course the quality had gone and it was after all of that just a picture of my gardening gloves and my clippers. I would have been better lingering a while longer in its company than rushing off, thinking I could capture it for all time – when I know such things are transient, fleeting, unpredictable,… and invisible to anything but the inner eye.

Never mind. At least it seems I’m still capable of seeing things in a human way – possibly also slightly mad. Never mind. Let’s have a coffee.  We’ll sort that car insurance out tomorrow.

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