Posts Tagged ‘john clare’

The question of identity is one that reaches to the core of who we think we are, obviously, but it also has a bearing on how we view the nature of reality and our place within it. It’s unfortunate then how we often misinterpret our identity, mistake it for the mask of what we think we are, or even what we think we’d like others to think we are. We parade this mask every day and we sell it on the world’s stage, trying to convince even our own selves it’s the nearest thing to who we think we really are.

When seen through the eyes of this mask, however, the nature of reality becomes distorted, our vision clouded. It renders us vulnerable to seduction by things we should value the least, vulnerable to injury from things to which we ought to be naturally impervious, and it renders us prone to discarding as worthless the keys to unlocking a deeper understanding of the authentic nature of our selves.

When tested, when challenged by life, our imperfect mask can slip, it can tear, fall apart, disintegrate. If we identify too closely with the mask, we imagine it is our own selves under threat, our own selves tearing, falling apart in the face of the seemingly insurmountable pressures reality imposes upon us. We see it as a battle for our lives against a myriad unseen foes. It can be a terrifying experience.

We lose our footing, and we fall.

It’s important then that we pause occasionally, lift the mask and look beneath in order to get a glimpse our original self, our immortal and indestructible self. We needn’t worry; we are none of us as ugly as we fear – unlike the mask which is guaranteed to be a misshapen parody of our life’s potential, our true self.  Seeking our original face, remembering who we really are, and being content with that, is the only way of being truly grounded in the world and, being grounded, impervious to its storms.

I’m reading Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of now” again, a much thumbed copy, one I borrowed from a colleague who has already loaned it out to various people, countless times, but always seeks its safe return. In its current condition, you wouldn’t get ten pence for it in a charity shop, so battered and creased it is, but I take its fragile state as a testament to its resonant power, that people want to come back to this precious little book, time and time again, in order to refresh themselves, and remember who they are.

Like many spiritual teachers, Tolle is at pains to point out that we are not our thoughts. He tells us it was Descartes who coined the phrase: “I think, therefore I am”, but he urges us not to listen, that who we are is actually not defined by our thoughts at all. A more accurate phrase then might be: “I think, therefore I forget who I am.”

This is a difficult concept to grasp in a culture where we are taught from an early age to identify very strongly with ego consciousness. Ego is easily bruised, and then we find ourselves pointing fingers at the bruiser, seeking redress or even financial compensation for our woes. I’ve read and written about, and pondered on this over the years, but reading and writing, and pondering aren’t the same as getting it. I’m still in the process of getting it, and it looks like being a lifelong journey.

When we sit down to meditate, we are immediately confronted by the rush of our thoughts, chattering, nagging, slipping in under the radar of awareness, so that suddenly we wake up in the middle of our meditation, realise half our time is already gone and we’ve been lost in a storm of anxieties, instead of forgetting them – which is what we originally sat down to do.

Once in a while though, we catch ourselves. We say, no, I don’t want to think about that right now, and we brush our thoughts gently aside. They always come back, but in the between times we eventually become aware of a mysterious part of our selves observing our thoughts. This silent observer seems to sit in the background, watching their ebb and flow from a perspective that is one step removed from the self we think we are. This observer, this silent watcher, is clearly a part of who we are and it’s interesting to note how disconnected from the material world this normally hidden part of our selves is.

To this mysterious, and possibly higher self, all the worldly goings on are no more than froth; all the wars and the famine and the strife are no more than the fleeting interplay of a moment’s light in the deep, dark stillness of eternity. Finding our way into the unambiguous presence of this almighty sense of inner knowing is one of the hardest and most ambitious adventures any human being can undertake but, unlike climbing Everest or voyaging to the moon, it is an adventure open to any one of us.

Such existential musings have been brought into sharper focus for me recently – this business of who I think I am. It started when I saw some of my self-published novels for sale on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace. They were being sold under my name, but I’ve no idea how they got there or who was really selling them. For a moment, it was like staring at myself from across the threshold of an alternate reality – and even though I knew someone had simply stolen them, my sense of identity had been sufficiently shaken to make me think again about who I am and what my purpose is in the world.

The novels – three in all – were the sum labour of about five years work – pleasurable hours gleaned in the evenings and weekends of my day to day life. I’m not saying they’re great novels. They are what they are, I write the way I write, and when I’m done with my stories, I give them away. Certainly, they are of personal significance to me, but only in so far as the events and dialogues they describe are the roadmap of  a personal psychical journey. They plot my trajectory from the immature and egoic masks of youth, to this middle aged guy who sits blinking up now into the starry skies of an evening, partially unmasked at times yet still, it seems, none the wiser for any of it.

That someone else came along, cut and pasted those five years into a hastily cobbled e-book, called themselves Michael Graeme, and tried to make a few bob by pirating stuff I give away for free, should be neither here nor there to me – that is if I’m thinking straight and can avoid my ego feeling bruised. Even the fact that I have to prove my identity, and my legal right to call my thoughts my own, to the almighty Amazon, again, should be of no account to me,… that is if I am sufficiently secure and grounded in the knowledge of my own identity.

On this matter, the muse quietly takes my ego in her arms. She soothes away the angst with the warmth of her embrace, then she brushes off the dirt and reminds me I am not my thoughts, not my words. I am the silent watcher, she says, and like her, always a few steps removed from the tangled web of collective hope and expectation we mortal beings cling to, and which we call reality.

My mysterious Amazon doppelgänger did not make that journey. Their actions betray only the fact that they have not evolved emotionally, spiritually, or philosophically very far at all in human terms. Their life’s journey has been perverted by a misidentification with a mask they take as being the most fitting, but sadly one which makes them only ugly to the rest of us.

One of the hardest things to grasp in the quest for  maturity, and a sense of groundedness is that the right thought, the right deed, is right whether anyone bears witness to it or not, whether you profit personally from it, or not, whether the intrusive cameras of that reality TV show are switched on, or not.

The existential contract outlining this, our three-score years and ten of material reality, requires no verifying witnesses, and the presence of only two signatures, in order to make it valid and spiritually binding – our own, and that of the eternal sense of being rising beyond even the silent watcher of our thoughts.

I am, but what I am none cares or knows (John Clare, 1848) – we are each the self consumers of our woes. For “woes” here, we can read “thoughts”, which are for ever poised ready to warp into woes at a moment’s notice. We must all try therefore to remember we are not our thoughts, otherwise we end up consuming what we perceive to be our only self. This in turn results in a distorted vision of reality, one in which we see only a barren wasteland of broken promises and ruined hopes – or to quote John Clare again – the shipwreck of our life’s esteems.

But much as I revere John Clare, it really isn’t like that.

The times when reality comes most sharply into focus are the times when we are thinking about it the least, when our thoughts are stilled. Then a truer vision comes rushing in, presenting the nature of all things in their sublime glory – not as separate, but as an integral part of who and what we think we are.

It’s always been this way. It’s just that we’ve forgotten.

Good night all.

Graeme out.

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I’ve just come across this term: “Indie Author” and I think I might be one, which is very exciting because it sounds so “hip”, so “wikid”, so “anarchic”, so “sticking it to the man”, and I’ve never been any of those things before so well done me! Except of course “Indie Author” is just a label and utterly meaningless. What I am is simply someone who likes to write, and will explore any means of  disseminating my work. The natural endgame of all writing is not necessarily publication, but I think for most of us it is, so others can read what we’ve written. So, if you like to write you’re going to have an interest in publication. But publication, as you’ll soon find out,  is a tricky business. Editors might not want to print your stuff. It’s a mystery. It might be that it’s crap – but you’ll never know because they won’t tell you. It might be because they don’t publish that sort of thing. Whatever the reason, if you try to figure it out you’ll only end up tied in knots, with years and years lost when you could have been doing something else, like,… well,… just writing.

So, you stick your short story up on Feedbooks, you publish your well travelled novels on Lulu. And they get read. Maybe that makes me an Indie Author, I don’t know, but if Random House offered me a generous advance for, say,  “Push Hands”, tomorrow, trust me, I wouldn’t be an Indie Author for very long.

I am what I am, and what I am I do not know, and in the words of the blessed John Clare: what I am none cares or knows.

Sure, I know that.

Self publishing online? Why not? Publish and be damned – just don’t expect to make anything out of it. But that’s okay, because you’re not that sort of writer, right?

I read a very sniffy piece today about self publishing online. It suggested that not all those ebooks out there amounted to very much and that a great many might indeed be very badly written, and not even worth a free download. It was the biggest statement of the obvious I’ve heard in a long while. If anyone can publish anything, then of course there’ll be a lot of  rubbish out there. But the  public are actually quite smart when it comes to judging a piece of writing. You don’t need to be a literary critic to decide if you basically liked something or not.  It might be corny, clichéd, of no recognisable genre, a mish-mash of styles that the educated guardian of “taste” would demonize on the spot, but I think people just like to read, and if a story touches them it doesn’t matter if it has literary merit or not, so long as it is reasonably well written. The theme of the story might have been done to death a thousand times by better authors than you, but Joe-public might never have heard of them, and on that one day they were simply fated to download your story – so you can forget about the rest. I’ve read a lot of stuff on Feedbooks, and some of it is very cringeworthy indeed, but some of it was well written and entertaining, and some of it made me think. Is that not the whole point?

A writer posting a badly written piece isn’t going to do himself any favours. Sloppy grammar, poor spelling and eccentric punctuation will all reflect badly upon him, and the next time his name crops up, the ebook-downloading Joe-public’s going to think twice. Quality control in the indie ebook market is built-in and self-regulating. Joe public might forgive an author once if they paid nothing, but if there was a price to download, that author can expect a lot of instant and universally negative feedback, which means they’re dead in the water.  Mud sticks. You have to take special care as an indie author because there’s no pernickerty editor  at the back of you cleaning up your grammatical howlers. Your only defence is to respect the intelligence of your mysterious reader. You also have to be sincere. If you mean well in what you write, I think that will come across,  then you might be forgiven the odd typo, but don’t push your luck.

Are you an Indie Author? My advice? Don’t think about it for too long. Better ask yourself instead what did I write today? What were my impressions? What did I feel?

Maybe John Clare is right, what we are none cares or knows. But that doesn’t mean the view of the world from the inside of your head  doesn’t matter.

And that’s reason enough to write.


I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am, and live with shadows tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest -that I loved the best –
Are strange -nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod,
A place where woman never smiled or wept;
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie, –
The grass below -above the vaulted sky.

John Clare 1793-1864

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