Posts Tagged ‘journal’

It was a cold, rainy morning in town this morning – the sort of day that seems to stall around dawn and gets no lighter. Traffic was jittery, the carparks twitchy with panicky shoppers anxious to get that last space so they could go buy their Christmas tat. I only wanted breakfast, almost fell foul of the season of good-will, but managed to find a slot on the edge of town, then shouldered the rain and headed back in to the greasy spoon.

The town is impoverished, has been since the crash, and getting steadily worse – always looks worse at this time of year though, the people poor and mainly elderly, the doorways camped by homeless looking wretched. I don’t suppose it’ll get any better than this now, but on the upside there was a guy in a giraffe suit dancing for charity. It was pouring rain, and he was a big yellow smile, the brightest light by far and a gesture of jolly defiance. What a star!

I bought a 0.7 mm Staedtler propelling pencil for £6.99 to replace the one I keep losing – a good piece of kit. Same price on Ebay so nothing to be gained there, plus it’s good to get out, even on a bad day, look around, even if it’s only to see what the latest storm of economy and season has done to my town. And yes, I know, shopping on Ebay doesn’t help matters. Greenwoods is the latest casualty – there since 1880-something, now abandoned and looking almost derelict. The landlords are crippling these businesses. I wonder where they do their shopping?

The Charity bookshop that inspired my latest novel was also closed – insufficient volunteers to man it on Saturdays now. I was going to put my name forward when I retired – quite fancied it actually, sitting there in tweed jacket and brogues, an ageing hipster, preserving for my town that last flicker of bookish vibe. Looks like I’m too late though. Damn.

And speaking of that novel, brings me to the shameless self promotion bit. Home from town I shut the weather out,  cosied up with coffee and hit the laptop. Saving Grace, as it’s now calling itself, went up on Smashwords and Free Ebooks this afternoon. I’ve enjoyed the ride, like I always do, and this last bit always leaves me with mixed feelings. It’s like putting it in a bottle and tossing it into the sea. You never know where the currents will take it.

I’ve been serialising it on Wattpad for a while now, but it’s not had much of a following. Those of you who have read and commented and queried my errors, (you know who you are) I thank you. Time to take a break from the long form now though while the next one gestates.

In the pecking order of Austerity, otherwise known in older parlance as “class war” I’m still in the fortunate position of relative security and money to spend on fripperies and without killing myself working three jobs. Those this morning though, staring out at a thousand yards of misery from those derelict shop doorways, are still bearing the brunt of it.

They give me pause – that it’s so commonplace even in the smaller market towns these days is telling me there’s worse to come, and no one to do anything about it. And that quid you toss into the begging bowl, or that pasty and a brew you press into shivering, mittened hands might get the poor bastard through until tomorrow. But what then?

And what’s that got to do with Saving Grace you ask? Well, pretty much everything, but you’ll need to read it to find out. Just click the book cover in the margin on the right. Best if you’re reading this on your smartphone – you’ll need an ebook reader app like Aldiko or Moonreader too.

All my stuff is free.





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PS_20150130152500I was driving home and had pulled up to the line, waiting for a space so I could nose my way onto the roundabout. It was busy, it being that time of night we used to call the rush hour but which now lasts from 4:00 pm ’til 7:00. It was wet, dark, and I was tired. The traffic was fast, unyielding. I settled down to wait for a gap, but I was disturbed by the flashing lights and the honking horn of a van behind me. It yanked itself out into the neighbouring lane, looking for a squeeze past, much to the consternation of those drivers already in that lane. Just then, a gap appeared on the roundabout, so I moved into it and cautiously joined the flow. Then the van came by and I saw a fierce-faced man giving me the finger.

Had I been a bit overcautious in moving off and thus sorely tested his patience? I really don’t know. Had I zoned out for a moment? It’s possible. I had certainly done something to upset him, though I’m also minded these days it takes very little for the fingers to start flying.

My reaction? Self questioning, self doubt, and yes, a little hurt by the face pulling of this stranger whom I had so mysteriously offended, but mostly I was saddened to think such anger might be floating just below the surface of everyday life, that we have only to snag ourselves ever so briefly against the flow of this mad, mad world for teeth to be bared and that phallic finger to be jabbed.

It is the egoic face and the egoic phallus that confidently accuses the “other” of incompetence, of being a knob, whilst bestowing the mantle of perfection on the accuser. It is the same face and finger we see reflected in the public opinion columns of the online media where we quickly learn that public opinion, unleashed en-mass and anonymous, can be a very nasty thing indeed.

One of the great wisdoms of ancient Chinese philosophy is that we can only view the world as it truly is from a position of stillness. Stillness comes when we dissolve the ego, when we react even to shocking events in an unemotional way. Emotions, be they good or bad, come pretty low down on the evolutionary scale, and they hold us back – worse they imprison us and render us vulnerable to manipulation. It’s only through stillness we become aware of these things, that under the influence of strong emotions we are not truly our selves at all.

In spiritual terms, ego and emotional arousal disconnect us from the true course of life, they subvert our direction, our purpose, render us vulnerable to an adverse fate or simply to the meddling of others. While we don’t need to go so far as to subscribing to an irrational belief in such things, I certainly find life is sweeter and smoother, the less my ego has to do with it.

I imagine, in an advanced society, we would all rest content in the unassailable validity of our being, and would not be roused to anger when someone questioned what we said or did, or even if we were a little slow pulling onto the roundabout. On the other hand, in a retrograde society, dissent, or even a senior moment, is met with a torrent of irrational abuse, and then we’d better all watch out.

We see this in the senseless cesspits of the comments sections of online media – a constant cross-fire of low minded thinking, based upon the dubious fictions that are these days peddled as facts, and in the belief the high ground is owned by those who shout loudest and longest. I might express an opinion on world affairs, or on the weather, or even simply on the comparisons between a Biro and a fountain pen, but my opinion would be seized upon by those of an opposing view, not with the aim of exploring the validity of my thinking, nor seeking, by the sharing of facts, to persuade me of another view, but more, by the finger and the angry face, shut me down, to silence the discussion, because in even allowing the debate, whatever its nature or topic, the ego is challenged, and a population reacting permanently to emotional stimuli finds itself in a perpetual fight for imaginary supremacy.

Of course, in a world where facts are easily checked, easily verified, spurious arguments might be short lived, the liar eventually silenced by the obvious and unassailable truth. But we live now in a post-truth world, where inflammatory falsehoods are blatantly paraded by those in powerful positions as fact, while truths are dismissed as fictitious. We are no longer surprised by it. We expect it, we accept it, and by doing so risk abandoning hope of forming rational opinions on anything ever again. Whatever the headline, whatever the view expressed through whatever media, we must now pause and ask ourselves the question: what emotions are these words intended to manifest in me? At whom am I supposed to jab my finger?

The post truth world presents many challenges if we are to thrive, or even just survive as independent, thinking individuals. The emotional landscape of the future will be a tempestuous one as it reacts to bare faced manipulation, and there will be no safe media on which to rely for facts. There will only be the braying of the crowd on the infotainment channels, in the cesspits of social media commentary, and of course those crass, emotive headlines in the dailies.

But we can at least rest easy in our selves, and in our right to be, regardless of what fictions assail us. We ask questions if we must, but trust no answers that are nailed home by the finger. And in the mean time we endeavour to show kindness, while expecting none in return.

I also beg we all be patient with the guy in front, hesitating to join the Lemming like rush on the journey home.

Because it might just be me.

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When I was five I ran away from school. I didn’t understand my incarceration there, and felt I was getting nothing in return, so I decided to leave. Escape wasn’t difficult. I chose the chaos of a playtime, observed the gate, observed the inattentiveness of the guards and simply walked out. Yes, I went entirely undetected by “authority”, which I learned early on, for all  of its bluster, is actually a bit numb. I was, however, observed by one of my fellow inmates, a bossy, busybody of a girl, who raised the alarm. So, with authority now awakening like a dozy hippo at her shrill call, I decided to run for it.

I did well, made it a good mile towards home. But “authority”, not being sufficiently fleet of foot itself, had dispatched another inmate to catch me, a swift limbed girl, older than me. I gave her a run for her money, but catch me she did, eventually. She would grow to become the most beautiful girl in the village, but for now she took my hand gently, and led me back into imprisonment. The snitch probably became a kingpin of Human Resources in a bland multinational.

If I was reprimanded on return it went over my head, for I remember none of it. I think my father was expected to have a word, which he did, but he was more amused than outraged, more impressed than dismayed. He seemed to be saying that while rebellion was not to be universally despised, I still had a lot to learn about the world, and what it meant to be alive within it.

But I had already learned some important lessons here. Number one, escape was not going to be easy. Number two: ones fellow inmates were blind to their incarceration and could not be relied upon to assist in evading ones own. And number three: a man does well to be circumspect in his dealings with women, especially bossy ones, but even more so those who chase after him, no matter how beautiful , because it’s unlikely to be to his advantage in the end.

Of course as I thought more about the problem, and my father’s words, I realised the bounds of incarceration extended beyond the school gates, so it was impossible to ascertain when safe ground had been attained. Indeed observing the world, I realised the whole of it had been constructed as a fiendishly clever prison, one in which the inmates thought they were free. Escape from such a place would require more than a swift pair of legs. It would require a perpetual awareness of the madness, but also, since one could not rely upon one’s fellow inmates for discretion, it would also require one to go deep under cover, to pretend absolute conformity, and while pretending, to remain vigilant, and to plot!

I was inspired by the true story of the wooden horse, the one where POW’s in Germany, made a wooden vaulting horse, carried it brazenly into the prison yard each day and, while a group of men vaulted over it, another, hidden within the horse, began digging a tunnel underneath it. It was a painstaking business, the dirt grubbed away, scoop by scoop, under the very noses of the guards. It sounds improbable, but it worked, and three men got away.

Me? I’m still digging, still pretending conformity,while dreaming of the freedom to simply be, to not have to get up at crack of dawn every morning , to say to myself: “Now, what shall I do today?” And if the answer is “nothing” then so be it, for there will be time a plenty to enjoy both the nothings and the fullness of days, days entirely of my own shaping, like the days before I was captured as a child from the wild of preschool years.

Of course, time itself is the biggest prison, and my tunnel is taking an awful lot of it in the digging. We begin to fear old age and frailty will deny us the pleasure of our lives when we are finally free to enjoy them, that there is a possibility, having spent the war years digging our tunnel out under the wire, the war will be over by the time we’ve cut that final slice of turf to daylight and liberation. Then we’ll be standing on the other side looking back, the guards themselves having long turned for home anyway, and we’ll be thinking: was that it?

I wonder if it would not be better to have simply joined in a bit more. I don’t mean this in the sense that I have not engaged with the world – at least physically – for indeed I have. I have sampled much of what it has to offer, but while doing so I have always held a part of me in reserve, never forgetting the imperative for escaping the madness at some point.

Or is this talk of escape not merely cowardice? Is the madness not my own? So, the years pass and the school-desk becomes the work-desk, and the puzzling thing is, I can walk away from my incarceration tomorrow. There is no need for a tunnel now, and no swift limbed beauty will come to drag me back to that desk. So why don’t I? I can argue I’m doing it for the money, that a man must eat, that the money is now the trap. Sure, there are monks who go into the world wrapped in only a binding of cloth and with a bowl to beg and that may be a definition of true liberation, but who among us is willing to live like that?

So is it not the falsehood, but the truth itself I am running from?

And is the truth not this:

Welcome to your life. Freedom will come to each of us soon enough. In the meantime, we should make the best of what we have, otherwise the most secure prison is the one we build around ourselves, not so much preventing us from getting out, but preventing others from getting in.

It’s something to think about, but for now, if you’ll excuse me, I still have a lot of digging to do.

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rbThe Graeme household is in disarray, our kitchen in the process of being refurbished, which means we’ve had no kitchen for two weeks now. I’m becoming irritable and unsettled, living off cold things and anything microwavable, every meal being a triumph of ingenuity over chaos as we camp out in the conservatory. Filling the kettle involves a trip outside to the garden tap. And so it was this morning, amid a fine shower of rain, I padded across the cold, wet patio in bare feet and pyjamas in order to kickstart my day. It was then, turning back, kettle in hand, I saw a deep blue late-September sky, slate-blue clouds scudding by, and a vivid rainbow.

The scene had a soft, watery sparkle about it and a sharp contrast to the colours, like an overblown photograph, more real than real. Stunning! It reminded me that for days now we’ve laboured under these stagnant grey skies and a deep overcast, one that’s longed to pour rain but has been held up somehow, frozen. The moon entered the dark last night, symbolic precursor for change. But it’s wise to do nothing, to make no use of the energies that emerge, not until that first sliver of moon returns, when hopefully one can see which way the land is lying – whether it be uphill or down. For now though we must shield our flame – well, perhaps not you, but certainly me. This is magical thinking of course, somewhat nouveau-pagan; I’m okay with that, it helps impose some sort of pattern on the chaos, and restore meaning when nonsense has become my daily bread.

It’s much cooler now, and has rained steadily all day, as it rained last night, perhaps setting the tone for this particular moon, which we must now ride to the cusp of winter. And still the memory of that rainbow! I was alone in seeing it, at least from my particular perspective, and it lasted such a short time too. But then transience can reinforce a memory, render it paradoxically more permanent in the mind, when it is so fleeting in reality. It was beautiful, yes, but as with much in creation that arrests the Romantic eye, there was something poignant in it too.

Traffic was heavy and sluggish this morning: roadworks in several places along the commute, stretching the journey out from forty minutes to an hour. Same on the return this evening. Wearying. Brain and bone sappingly tedious, my journeys to and from work seem these days. Grumpy crawled along without complaining, dull beast of burden he’s become, and proxy for my darker emotions. I promised him a wash at the weekend to cheer him up but he didn’t believe me, and I don’t blame him; the only time I lavish attention on him is when the MOT is due.

Meanwhile an army of tradesmen suck their teeth and pour scorn upon the idiosyncrasies of chez Graeme. Duff wiring, duff plumbing, duff plastering, and the whole lot set to come crashing down around our ears, if you believe them, yet I presume it was a previous generation of teeth sucking tradesmen who put it all together in the first place – well, except for that plastering. I own up to that one, but take all their insults personally whilst paying through the nose for the pleasure. I smile through gritted teeth at their complaints, while wishing they would simply finish up and fuck off (apologies). At this rate we might have a kitchen sink by weekend, and running water, but there are as yet, alas, no promises. I cut the days short with early nights – I’ve been gone by eight thirty every night this week bar this one, head on the pillow, ears rendered deaf by industrial defenders to the peregrinations of my largely nocturnal offspring.

I’ve been getting ten hours a night, instead of the usual, and marginally insufficient, seven. And the dreams go deeper the longer one is permitted to sleep. They are more colourful and strange. Last night, I sought healing for my ills and paid comfort from a lady of easy virtue. (Blushes). She was beautiful, like the rainbow this morning, and watery soft to touch, but wept silently when she came to me.

The memory has proved an unsettling undercurrent to my day.

Thanks for listening.

Graeme out.

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Mawdesley DawnI began my journal entry this morning with a description of the dawn. I’m on holiday at the moment and would normally have been setting out on my commute, so it was a pleasure instead to look out through the window and begin my day in a contemplative frame of mind with my diary, instead of negotiating a tiresome traffic jam.

The weather is  strange – wild and stormy one moment, breathtakingly calm the next and lacking any general theme, any fixed direction. It had been another black December night, a night of howling wind and horizontal rain, my sleep disturbed by the rattling of the chimney pots. But looking out this morning, just after eight am, I was greeted by a perfectly still dawn, and a bright moon, just past full, rising sedately into a pale sky, all delicately streaked with vanilla and pink striated clouds.

Then I thought: what am I doing sitting here, indoors, writing? So I grabbed a coat, a camera, a pair of bins and set off in the direction of what I call Diana’s arrows, a triangular formation of wind turbines out on the Lancashire plain. I’ve lived in West Lancs for twenty years now, and still have trouble with it. I find the the plain to be such a dreary place – more open air factory than open country, and stinking just now of cabbage and sprouts and mud. In contrast to much local outrage at the time, I welcomed the erection of the wind turbines a few years ago, if only to give me something to look at, and set my internal compass by. I’ve adjusted somewhat over the years to life on the plain, but only by developing an appreciation for the dynamism of the sky, which is by far the most dominant feature here – a full 360 degree horizon and at times quite breathtaking in it expressiveness.

Like the weather, my thoughts have  been thrashing about, torn from safe moorings one moment, and becalmed the next, and like the sky this morning there’s also a unpredictable current to them, no firm direction. By the time I’d got under way, the striated clouds had congealed into a blue grey blanket of overcast nothingness – and the land bore no contrast, no shadow. There was just a flat, uniform and rather dim light under which the muddy plain seemed to shiver and shrink. And there was no life, at least not within the sweep of my glasses – just a couple of wood pigeon pecking at fresh shoots of winter wheat, and a lone woman taking her mongrel dog for a dump.

I felt let down, for the dawn had seemed to promise much, but now, like the land, I felt flat, restless for a defining mood. But the sky would not yield and the sun whose munificence I had anticipated was now a presence only hinted at by a few stray rays bursting from behind that bank of steadily thickening blue-grey nothingness.

But then it happened. The sky shifted, it breathed and released the sun. At once the land was transformed – the flat meadows now revealed in all their intricately furrowed detail, the almost luminous green of the winter wheat set in stark contrast against the fertile soil, black as coal and freshly tilled. Suddenly there were stories here, and ghosts to walk with. I snapped the picture, and turned for home. There was a dynamism, a direction indicated by the finger-pointing of long shadows westwards. Likewise my thoughts began to take shape, pointing me along an unexpected course, linking me back to works undertaken a long time ago, and to names I’ve not heard or thought of in forty years, but who seem now to be hove in sight, arrayed on my horizon like galleons of old.

I turned for home and finished up the diary, then reached for the Book of Changes, but it could tell me nothing I did not already know. It seemed the sky had already prepared me for the way ahead and the attitude I must adopt. I’ve no idea what those galleons mean, whether their guns be to clear a path for my escape into a new adventure, or to level chain shot at my masts, and scupper all my hopes, but whatever their meaning, they will not take me by surprise. I raise a flag in friendship, but keep my eye on the tide and on the way the wind is blowing.

Of course, when I’m up to my eyes in the day-job I cannot think this way, I am straight-jacketed within the narrow confines of rational thought, pressed down in a place where I drown in mediocrity, just one insignificant man eternally subdued by the overpowering sense of his own obscurity.  Only when I am free to seek augurs in the sky, like this morning, and allow with impudence my inner self to indulge in them, do I live as I believe a man should.

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marshsideFriday 22nd November 2013

Cool this morning, about 2 degrees, light frost. Dropped T off at the bus stop for college, then drove to the Marshside nature reserve and walked out along the old dumper truck trail to the estuary – at least as far as the mud would allow. The skies were a little hazy first thing, streaked with brown and blue grey, but clearing now to a deep blue, a low sun rising behind me and casting long shadows as I look out over the route I’ve just walked. There are a few other cars about, mostly people taking their dogs for a dump, one bearded twitcher standing alone in the reeds, heron-like, with an impressive telescope on a tripod. Across the estuary Blackpool is crystal clear, also Black Coombe, and I can just make out the Lakes beyond, through binoculars, the fells having a light dusting of snow this morning.

I’m probably going to sit here until about 10:00, then go in search of coffee and a new jumper – I noticed yesterday my old lambswool is coming in holes, a bit like me.  I also seem to be scratching about for socks and underpants – so may restock at Matalan.

I’m also trying to think.

I did eventually download that book “Brain Wars” by Beauregard. Hate the title though. Consumed it on my Kindle in one long sitting yesterday. There was nothing new in it for me – a repeat of studies I’m familiar with from other sources – not that this detracts from the importance of the work. Worth the read, but I think I preferred his “Spiritual Brain”. That the mind is separate from the brain seems now all but proven, at least to my satisfaction – only die-hard materialists continuing to deny the evidence that’s been mounting since Myers and the founding of the SPR in 1882. The argument that the mind is reduced by the brain for the purpose of enabling a physical existence in form is also convincing, and further arguments that the mind is freed upon death, back into a greater, non-physical awareness are also compellingly well supported now by an accumulation of evidence from veridical NDE’s. As Jung said, back in ’61, we have to reckon with the possibility,…

Where this leads us I don’t know, what the purpose of the greater mind’s hamstrung foray into physical form might be, again, I don’t know and am probably incapable of imagining. I did get it once, I think, grasped it intuitively, wordlessly, but that was on the other side of an ME, a long time ago. And I’ve slept a lot since then.

The windscreen is misting now, and I’m beginning to wonder what I’m doing here. It’s like this muddy trail in front of me, heading out to the sea. I’ve been passing it for years, decades even, seeing people wandering down it and wondering to myself what was so special at the end of it that might draw them on. Well, I’ve been down it now and it’s just a twenty minute tramp to a muddy foreshore, a couple of stumps and a seemingly infinite plane of yet more mud beyond – nothing that seems very special, in other words,  and always another frontier stretching before you.

The skies are alive with birds this morning, all manner of waders and the plaintive call of curlews and oyster catchers. Great squadrons of geese are moving up the estuary.

Nature is so wonderfully diverse and complex; we look at it and wonder at the purpose of it. But it has no purpose, no meaning, other than what we grant it. The meaning is perhaps what we aspire to, or something we grant it without even knowing we’re doing it. It’s an idea dimly grasped through the fog of an inadequate intellect, and perhaps the full awareness of that purpose will dawn only when there’s been a global shift in consciousness, maybe centuries from now, something that restores us to the perspective of our  immortal selves, temporarily camped out and shivering down here in the mud.

And then what?

But having advanced so far along the trail, I find myself withdrawing from such thoughts now, withdrawing from the mysterious frontier. Life is where it’s at, down here in the mud. Life is where it’s happening, it’s where consciousness lights up if only briefly in form, so with my life more than half over should I not be waking up to the fact of it by now and living it a little more? Should I not be more focussed on simply being instead of sitting here at 9:00 am on a Friday morning with my head up my own ass, ruminating on matters that greater minds than mine have foundered upon?

Okay, time to move on. I need coffee, and underpants and socks.

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drreamIn the biological sciences, dreams don’t amount to much. Bizarre and useless, we’re advised there is no meaning to be extracted from them. We dream of a rabbit, look it up in a dream dictionary, and learn the rabbit means we’ll have good luck. Hmm – seems superficial at best.

But wait!

What if we dream we’re naked among people we know – family, friends colleagues? Depending on which book we look this one up in, it can be interpreted as meaning we are afraid of showing others our true selves. In this case then, the dream appears symbolic of personal unconscious complexes, and that’s meaningful in that it reveals to us aspects of our selves in a potentially helpful way, prompting further questions like: what parts of myself do I not want others to see, and why not?

Maybe there’s more to dreams after all?

In fact dream interpretation has been an important part of psychoanalysis for over a century. Sadly though, for the layman, dreaming still languishes in the realm of simplistic dream dictionaries. Serious literature is more elusive,… but infinitely more enlightening.

We all dream, every night. It’s just remembering our dreams that’s the problem. But it’s actually not that difficult and consists merely of making a mental note as we lay down to sleep that we will try to remember our dreams. And in time, we remember them. And the more dreams we remember, the more richly we are rewarded with our dreams – the first foggy, disjointed fragments maturing into vivid dream canvasses resplendent in allegorical meaning and which leave us tingling all day in their numinous afterglow.

By interpreting my dreams I sought a new direction in life. The experience was wholly positive, but not in the way I expected. Most dreams remained inscrutable; life was unchanged; I did the same things, the same job, faced the same problems. However in retrospect, I realised the dreams had guided me towards the centre of a newly reconstructed self, one in which the same elements were present, but had been rearranged.

I had gained a different perspective.

Dreams, it seems, serve a potentially transformative function of the psyche, if we can only bring ourselves to take them seriously.

And now?

I admit I’m out of the habit of recalling dreams. My journal is rarely updated and what few dreams I spontaneously hold onto these days have lost their depth and their power. But I’ve been wondering if the time has come to make an effort to uncover my dreams again, or even to crank it up a bit,…

…and go flying in them!

In all my dreaming, I have simply let the dreams wash over me, so that like most dreamers, I do not know I am dreaming, when I dream. But dreaming can be taken further; we can train ourselves to dream lucidly.

In lucid dreams we are no longer passive observers of the dream, but self determining participants, capable of critical reasoning and intelligent engagement. We can shape our environment, talk to dream characters, and we can get about by flying. How cool is that?

Lucid dreaming requires a more advanced skillset, one I don’t possess, but one I’m led to believe can be acquired easily. The question is, should I make the effort?

The fictional characters in my current work-in-progress are adept at lucid dreaming. The dream space allows them a more flexible stage on which to explore the nature of their being, and I find the philosophical implications irresistible. But if one writes of Australia, how authentic can one be if one has never been there?

The tales of lucid dreamers have been like Siren voices for a while now urging me to make the push and become a lucid dreamer myself. But a wise old friend cautions me that to enter on this path is also to risk losing oneself inside one’s own head, becoming mired in a different kind of mud – one of self-generated and entirely hedonistic dream-content – none of which means anything.

Lucid dreamers talk of directly engaging with the unconscious, rather than being passively subjected to its whims, as in ordinary dreams. They talk of strange, paranormal things too, like precognitive dreams, healing in dreams, and even of meeting the dreaming selves of other people. But while such things fascinate and feed my hunger for interesting fictional scenarios, to actually bluster in and interrogate one’s own unconscious, seems an immodest thing to do. My wise old friend reminds me that when we travel the liminal zones bordering the Faery lands, we are always better going quietly, and on tiptoe.

I do need to move on from where I’m at. I sense a stagnation in my ways and in my thoughts. So, I have blown the dust from my dream journal, and made a few fresh entries, but the dreams I seek are strictly of the ordinary kind. I’m sure lucid dreaming can be a wild party, but I’m also thinking it’s better to wait for an invitation than to use one’s cleverness and egotistical wit to gatecrash a gathering where nobody’s quite sure what’s going on. Notwithstanding the extraordinary exploits of my fictional characters, to dream lucidly is perhaps to risk dragging the expectations of the real world into the realm of the Faery, to inform it, to shape it, and ultimately I fear, as with any other environment we seek to exploit for our own aims, to irreparably corrupt it.

So, while I may continue to appear, on occasion, naked and embarrassed in my dreams, my dreams at least are seeing me as I truly am, rather than how I would prefer myself to be seen. I think they prefer me that way.

And who am I to argue?

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diaryQuestion: should a writer keep his dialogues with his soul secret, even from those he loves?

Hmm. Cue long rambling answer:

There are people who think imaginatively, people who inhabit an inner world as much as the outer. They are strongly introverted, prone to depression, and neuroses. They’re driven to write, to paint, to sculpt, to play musical instruments, and they lack truly intimate familiars, even among those they would count as loved ones.

Although amply possessed of artistic leanings, these people are not all recognised – even by themselves – as artists, and therefore do not qualify for the Bohemian enclave where their mysterious whims can be indulged in privacy, safe from the prying eyes of incredulous “normal” people. They are in fact fated to live among “normal” people, spend their lives pretending to be “normal” people, doing “normal” things, like holding down regular jobs, getting married and having children.

And I’m one of them.

If you also recognise yourself here, then read on.

Otherwise don’t.

The introverted personality makes up just ten percent of the population, and we all know the difficulties faced by any minority group. We are misunderstood by the extroverted majority of our fellow humans who believe we are quiet in company because we are cowards and lack the necessary confidence in our ideas. We are easily defeated in debate for sure but but to have experienced the inner world is also to have experienced something the “normal” person is unable comprehend, so we tend not to waste our breath expounding upon it, other than through our art. Our most important ideas are related to this inner world and therefore unassailable to criticism from those ignorant of it. The inner world also dictates our priorities, a phenomenon that makes the business of asserting oneself in public tiresome and foolish to us. So we don’t do it.

Of course the introverted thinker is prone to feelings of alienation. We are like castaways in a land where no one speaks our language. It also means our occasional unguarded utterances are easily misconstrued, so we develop a more  circumspect approach to conversation than our more more blathermouthed brethren. We are also masters of disguise.

In the normal life my persona is that of a middle aged guy making way, making a living doing normal things, things that have nothing to do with my artistic pretensions. I drive a boring old Vauxhall Astra, wear a shirt and tie to work, collect pocket watches, old books, and I eschew foreign travel, preferring to holiday in the UK. In short, I sound like a boring old fart (forgive me) – to whit I am gifted books that bear the title: “grumpy old git’s guide to life” or variants thereof.

But no one is what they seem.

I also have this computer, you see? I spend a lot of time with it, often late into the night, when my family are asleep (like I’m doing now). Among all the master copies of the stories I have written, and the blog drafts, there’s a special file and it’s encrypted. Creepy, isn’t it?

I mention this in order to test your reaction.

I wager a “normal” person will smirk and assume my secret file hides the pornographic gleanings of the internet’s seedier side  – possibly of a darkly perverted nature – because “normal” people are wont to assume the worst in others, especially of the introverted loners of this world, who are always the first casualties when unsavoury aspersions are cast, and girls go missing. If you’re thinking the same, I forgive you, but there is no pornography on my computer. The file contains only text – millions of words of text. It is the sea upon which my stories float.

It contains my personal journal, along with various other writings – free writing, active imagination, my dream journal too – dark, sometimes, yes,  and strange, but hardly pornographic.These are the accounts of the inner life I lead. They are the dialogues with my soul. Incomprehensible to others, but entirely innocent. So why lock them up?

Well, in the real world a man might be happily married, but that won’t stop him from experiencing dreams in which he’s having sex with unknown women, or of being romantically pursued by other women – and enjoying it – or that he’s in love with other unknown women. To the unimaginative man, otherwise loyal to his mate, such dream material will be a source of concern – even torment. To the religious zealot it will be morally shameful and worthy of self flagellation. To the unimaginative mate presiding in judgement over them, they might assume they are dreams of wish fulfillment and grounds for divorce.

But this talk of extramarital sin is dull. What else might I have dreamed? That I am a murderer? a sodomite? or worse: a woman! Well, mostly my dreams are less controversial, just your usual surreal strangeness. But those of us who live the imaginative life are obliged to enter into deeper dialog with the denizens of this strangeness. Failure to do so results in troublesome neuroses as these psychical energies bubble up in ways both unexpected and shockingly various.

Conversations with such strange archetypes allow us to make the necessary accommodations with unconscious energies, and we are rewarded for our trouble with pertinent insights into whatever ails us, also a greater sense of wholeness when we begin to see the interconnected nature of the inner and the outer life.

Meanwhile, to the unimaginative thinker, our writings will appear as the ravings of a lunatic, or as literal confessions to unspeakably vile cravings, because the unimaginative person tends to keep to a very narrow definition of “normality”, and fails to grasp the subtle differences between the literal and the non-literal world.

A romantic might write of pining for a lost love, for a warm hand to guide them through the fog of their lives. I’ve done this, and find there is no other cure as effective for a bad case of the black dog, but would a future reader of my private notes be able to tell the difference between a psychical muse and a mortal lover? I am not concerned with posterity here, but the day to day smooth running of the ordinary life I cherish and would not sacrifice on the rocks of misunderstanding for anything.

So to answer my own question, the private notes of the imaginative thinker can be shown to no one, least of all those we love. I think of this in terms of protecting others from the full force of the imaginative world, because not everyone’s equipped to deal with it.

When a writer puts pen to paper and publishes a story, whatever the content, there is always the assurance that it is “only a story” and we might therefore be forgiven much that would otherwise appear dubious. But the imaginative person also knows the story floats upon a sea of other words – an ocean of free writing if you like – a mish mash of  outpourings from the unconscious. And the free-est writing is pursued when we’re not worried about it being fished out of the waste bin by a curious lover or progeny, then picked apart with a lexicon that is ill equipped for the task of accurate translation.

I know – we introverted artist types are difficult to live with. Indeed it’s cruel we’re inflicted on the lives of normal people at all. We are uncommunicative and secretive, but we exist, and we must deal with stuff that would scare the pants off others. We do this the best way we can. And sometimes that means in secret.

If you live among normal people, yet keep a private diary, or you like free-writing, you mustn’t be afraid of pushing it into areas you would ordinarily avoid lest your blather be discovered and instantly misconstrued, because then you’re not being true to your inner life. Your life is being distorted by seeing yourself through the lens of someone else’s eyes. Let your free-writing, your personal journalling  take you along the roads less travelled, to the core of your self, through the dense forest of your innermost thoughts. Be not ashamed then to discover your most surprising beliefs, nor to indulge in your most self indulgent fancies – it can be profoundly rewarding. But, encrypt it or be damned.

Because normal people are weird.

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The dangers of and the reasons for keeping a private diary.

There’s a touching scene at the end of the Bridget Jones movie where Darcy and Bridget have finally declared their love for each other but, just when you think you’re within reach of this long-awaited happy ending,  Darcy chances across Bridget’s diary in which he reads unflattering comments about himself. Horrified, poor Bridget tries to explain that diaries are “full of crap”, and fortunately for her Darcy is wise enough to understand that. He does the gentlemanly thing and buys her a new diary. Cue happy ending. Ahhh!

But why does Bridget risk it? Why does she feel the need to commit potentially damaging material to such a notoriously insecure confessional as a paper diary? Does she have a self-destructive streak? Does she enjoy the constant danger that her diary may fall into the wrong hands, or is there something else going on here? Why do people ignore the risk of embarrassment, and keep personal diaries?

I’ve kept a private diary since 1974. I was fourteen and I can only say my excuse at the time was there’s a lot going on at that age. Your emotions are being pulled in all directions and your head feels like the inside of a pressure cooker. Throw in a mix or two of unrequited love and a school environment that’s incomprehensible no matter how hard you try to appear normal in it, and sooner or later you’ll end up looking in the mirror and feeling like there’s an alien staring back at you.

Until you write it down.

Writing it down is like opening a safety-valve.

You’re still aware of the mad mix of life, but keeping a diary is a vital means of subduing the occasional demons who are bent on eating us. It is as if by the simple writing of their names, they are rendered less substantial. Diaries are also where you can explore the incomprehensible by writing down what you think about it – without the inhibitions you might normally feel if you thought someone was going to be reading your words later on and tut-tutting at your stupidity or your depravity. You put it all down, you write around it from all sides, and even if you never actually get to the bottom of things, the diary has a way of at least clarifying what it is you think about a subject because certain words resonate – they feel right, or they jar awkwardly, and then you know they are wrong, you know you are being stupid.

We explore ourselves in diaries. They are a meditation. They are cathartic. Diaries do not solve our problems, but they do grant us a means of rising above them. If you’re being really clinical and condescending about things you could say diaries are a useful coping mechanism.

When I look back on my first diaries however, I wonder where all the emotion went. The prose is not quite as purple as I remember my thoughts being at the time. My entries were merely suggestive of the emotional turmoil of my life, while being descriptive more of mundane events. None of those names, either heinous or precious to my memory, are mentioned. All is carefully rendered deniable. It is as if I were writing with someone looking over my shoulder. I dared not say what I really thought, or felt. I was devious,… and wise, because paper dairies are not the secure things they ought to be. They are bombs waiting to go off in other people’s faces. And they’ll get you into trouble as well of course because not all peekers at other people’s diaries are as wise and magnanimous as Bridget Jones’ beau.

So,… how can a diary be cathartic if you’re not saying what you feel? It’s a good point: for them to be really useful, you need to be able to express yourself freely, without fear of censure. You need to be able to say the stuff you’d never confide to anyone.

In my later teens and twenties, I became more open in what I wrote.  Those diaries were subsequently compromised by individuals who read the crap, saw only the crap, and were hurt by it. I was hurt too, by the break of trust – that someone I trusted, could ever read my diary. But that’s life. You live it, and you learn.

Paper diaries are not safe, unless you lock them in a strong box whenever they’re not actually in your hand. If you keep them under your pillow, you might as well be sharing your most intimate secrets with the whole world. This is a shame, because the confessional nature of the diary allows us a measure of control over our emotions. We write down what we feel: I hate him/her. And then we think: how childish, that’s not true at all, I’m just upset because such and such has happened – I really, really love him/her. However, we don’t always put the good stuff in the diary, because it’s the good stuff we’re looking to get at and carry away with us, so all we leave behind are the dark traces: I hate! I hate! I hate! But even if we do put the good stuff in, the fact that we ever thought or felt the bad stuff is sufficient of itself to hang us.

He/she comes along and sneaks a peek at your diary. The darkness shocks them. It morphs into a  spike with a poisoned tip, and springs from the pages to pierce your thought stealer between the eyes. Rest assured, they will never see you in the same light again. Of course it’s not your fault. We all think dark things, silly things, things we don’t really mean. Diaries catch them and keep them safe, that’s all – better in the diary than carrying them around with us all the time! But that’s no comfort when your girlfriend/wife/significant other is heading up the road and your relationship is in tatters on account of something indiscreet, or shall we say “emotionally exploratory”,  that you wrote in the supposedly sacrosanct confessional of a private diary.

Got kids around? Rest assured they’ll make it their life’s ambition to get a peek at your diary if they know you keep one. Is that something you’d be happy with?

At the risk of repeating myself, that paper diary’s going to hang you. Get rid of it! Burn it. Shred it now! Never ever keep a paper diary! We are not politicians, we do not write for posterity, nor the future calculated embarrassment of our peers. We’re different. We write only for ourselves.

What about a coded diary then?

Already been there. Samuel Pepys, the seventeenth century diarist wrote in an obscure form of shorthand, which kept his words pretty safe from casual scrutiny. Such codes are easier to master than you might think, and I developed my own, which I still use occasionally in my notebooks. However, while it’s possible to eventually write flowingly in an obscure, self invented code, I found it was far more difficult to casually flick back through entries and read them, and reading them is an important part of the process.

No,… coded diaries are fun, but a laborious thing to peruse and if a coded diary’s discovered, it doesn’t matter what your code is obscuring it’s all going to be interpreted as dark – otherwise why cover it with a code? Also you should be careful of taking a coded diary abroad, say on holiday, in these terribly paranoid times, as it might get you into trouble at the airport if the security people get hold of it! And you could really do without the embarrassment, or the rubber gloves – right?

So what do you do?

Well, if you’re reading this on my blog, the solution is already at hand. Computers! Computers are ubiquitous and cheap these days. Old ones get thrown away when they’re still useful, or they can be purchased off eBay for very little money at all, and sooner or later they’ll be giving them away free with bags of potatoes at the supermarket. So, write your diary on a computer, but keep it on a memory stick because computers sometimes go wrong and lose everything. Most important of all though is that you get some freeware encryption software off the internet, and secure your diary under a password. Welcome, dear scribbler to the cyber age. Samuel Pepys, would have loved it!

There are, of course, a lot of diary programs you can download, some of them for free, and I’ve experimented with a few, but I find I end up fiddling too much with the software instead of simply writing stuff down. Personally  I prefer a simple Rich Text Format file – along with the encryption software – the simpler to use the better (I like the free Encrypt Files by Pow Tools)

If you’re particularly paranoid and afraid of cyber-snoopers and those dastardly key click capture devices, then don’t write your diary on a computer that’s connected to the internet – though if you’re at this level of paranoia you’re either a conspiracy theorist, or you’ve got something on your computer you really shouldn’t have!

Now  you’ve finally got a diary that’s safe from everyone except perhaps a  state salaried cryptanalyst, so you can write down anything you want, no matter how icky or potentially embarrassing. At last! A private diary you can really trust.

But how do you use it?

Well, that’s up to you of course, and it doesn’t matter, so long as you do use it. I’m a compulsive writer, and perhaps my scribbling habits are different to others, but I’ll describe how I’ve come to use my cyber-diary and where it fits in to the greater scheme of all things literary.

The way I see it the modern scribbler has three levels for self-expression nowadays: We have the private diary, and what we put in here is basically not for human consumption, on account of its occasionally poisonous, unguarded or explosive nature. Then we have the blog, which is a sort of publicly available diary, carefully sanitised and smiley-safe. And then we have the work itself.

The work is the ultimate expression of the cyber scribbler’s imagination. It possesses no personal details. It is informed by the person that you are, but anyone reading it can have no clear idea of the state of your mind, nor the whereabouts of your front door. The work is what you basically do,  what you turn into an e-book, and put up on Lulu or Feedbooks or Smashwords or any of those other means of self publication. The work is the fruit of your labour as a cyber scribbler.

Now we go down a level to the blog:

All right, the blog contains a little crap from time to time, especially if you write it when you’ve been drinking, or within 24 hours of an emotionally upsetting incident. Trust me – never do either of these things! Although sanitised, the blog is a more personal expression of the mind behind the work. It’s a sort of journal – it captures events, or thoughts,… things that catch your eye and which put you in mind of a certain other thing that you feel compelled to share with your mystery reader, but for all of that it is still impersonal. There is no way by reading it your reader can unlock your state of mind, nor again the whereabouts of your front door.

Down another level now, and back to the personal diary.

The diary is the melting pot of your daily experience. It is the confessional, the personal account, the dirty washing, the crucible of your pain, grief and anxiety. It is the repository of the stuff that will hang you, the stuff that will get you into trouble with the girlfriend, neighbour, colleague, boss, policeman, wife and so on. Here you can name names, call names, swear and rant and drip all the poison you like. Here you can tear your hair out in private and you can cry tears of bitterness. When all else fails and the words won’t come, you will always be able to turn to the diary and write something – even if it’s only that the words would not come today.

Can’t make sense of the story you’re working on?… Maybe you can say something on the blog instead, some wry observation, something that caught your eye that day and made you think. Can’t even blog? Wonder what the hell you’re doing even keeping that blog in the first place? My, aren’t we low today? Don’t despair! Settle down somewhere quiet, brew yourself some coffee or crack open the whiskey bottle,… and dig out the diary.

The diary is your best friend.

It’s always there. You can fill it with crap, and it won’t mind. In return, it will point out your stupidity, and you’ll take it better coming from your diary, than from someone else.

My cyber diary goes back to 2002. It’s interesting to read back now over those years, and also to be able to use the search function for finding specific words that haunt me. You’ll be surprised how often things come back at you. You write about them in passing, when they crop up, then forget them and when they crop up again you have this odd feeling of deja-vous  – well the diary will reveal these things to you, like loops in the code of your life. But the diary’s not a place I go to for inspiration. I think its function is more indirect, more mysterious, and therefore best left alone. Just write things down in it. Flick back through it from time to time. And between times,  keep it encrypted.

An encrypted cyber diary is both useful, and deniable. What diary?

The paper diary is highly visible, vulnerable and potentially damaging.

Get rid of it.

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