Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘life’

henry cordier

It’s happened to me before, this thing with computers and writing. The manuscript I’ve been working on, maybe for years, gets lost, the file corrupted, the computer hard drive eats its self, the pen-drive fails to connect in the slot at the critical moment, or I yank it out too soon, there’s a power cut,…

It happened with The Singing Loch, The Road from Langholm Avenue, The Last Guests of La Maison Du Lac, and now The Sea View Cafe. Okay, I was able to recover stuff from earlier back-ups, rewrite the gaps from scratch and generally piece things back together one way or the other, but it’s still a blow when it happens. We think to ourselves: all that work? GONE. It’s a very existential moment.

Computers have many advantages, but the most important of them is simply the ability to backspace and delete. Storage is another plus, so I’m not suggesting they’re a bane – they’re not.  I’ve got everything I’ve ever written on a Micro SD card. A novel as a paper manuscript is about a kilogram and a lot of shelf of space. As a computer file, it’s about a megabyte of RTF, which is basically a flyspec. I don’t need a library or a study to keep my tomes or my reference works, which is just as well because my house isn’t big enough.

Some might say it’s a disadvantage, that I might now lose my entire life’s work down a gap in the floorboards, but my house could get burned down, or flooded, and all that paper destroyed anyway. Nowadays, wherever I am, it’s there, and it’s backed up in so many places I’d have to be very unfortunate to lose them all. Computers are a boon to the writer, but like anything else we need to understand the weaknesses of the system, adapt our approach accordingly and never forget it’s the word that’s king, not the tech.

DH Lawrence famously left his final draft of “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” in the Cafe at Reading Station, never to be seen again. The version that survives is one he cobbled together afterwards from earlier drafts. Jilly Cooper left her only copy of the manuscript of “Riders” on a London bus. It was never found. She rewrote it from scratch, but it took her nearly fifteen years. Robert Ludlum’s first novel “A Literary Effort” was lost “somewhere” in San Francisco during a heavy drinking session. That was never found either, and he didn’t re-write it. Dylan Thomas lost the manuscript of Under Milk Wood three times, the last one being eventually found in a Pub. The manuscript of Carlyle’s “French Revolution” was mistaken for waste paper and burnt,…

It happens. We get over it, we move on.

My advice is never to save your working copy to a computer hard drive, ever, to use removable media instead, say a pen drive or a memory card, make regular backups, guard your primary source with your life, and have it backed up all over the place – say on other pen drives, on your computer, or in the cloud. But regarding the cloud, remember we should never rely on anything someone else has the potential to switch off or screw up. For my works-in-progress, Dropbox provides occasional peace of mind, but that’s all, and of course anything of a potentially embarrassing or explosive nature should never go into the cloud at all – your personal journal say, or your juvenile ventures in writing pornography, even if, or even especially if, it’s encrypted.

It’s not a foolproof system, and no matter how paranoid you are, you’re bound to lose something sooner or later. The first time it happens it’s like the end of the world. You’ve worked for years on this manuscript, and it’s the best of you, and it was going to change the world, have people fall down and worship at your feet, and suddenly it’s GONE, or it’s shredded into fragments interspersed with vast blocks of ASCII. But what you learn from the depth of your despair, and the time it takes you to get over it is perhaps more important than if the novel had been finished and published to resounding applause.

I mean, it’s not like you lost a loved one, is it? It’s not like your soul-mate took off with your best friend, or your house got flattened by a hurricane. These are also challenges in life, and the things they teach us about life and about ourselves are arguably more important. The most we can learn from the loss of a manuscript is to laugh at our literary pretensions. We see our ego, and if we’re lucky we see also how naked and stupid he looks.

My last backup of the Sea View Cafe was in June (I know, shameful!). Fortunately, since I’m struggling to make headway with it at the moment, this amounts to just four chapters, or about ten thousand words. And since I was struggling with it, I’m looking upon it as an opportunity to find a new direction rather than trying to rewrite the chapters from memory. Call it fatalism if you like, or a drastic editorial intervention by the muse, but maybe those lost scenes just weren’t meant to be, and who cares anyway?

Philosophically speaking, writing for the online world, the fact a thing is written in the first place is the most important thing for the writer, no matter if it’s then instantly deleted, and no one else sees it because it’s already served it purpose, to you , the person who wrote it. And if you can’t remember what it was you said, sufficient to rewrite it, or you can’t be bothered, how can it have been that important someone else gets to read it anyway?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

medanaThere’s a debate among collectors whether or not a personalised inscription on an old watch or a piece of jewellery alters its value. The majority view is that it devalues it considerably, indeed on a cheaper piece it renders it all but worthless.

Other collectors, perhaps less concerned with an object’s material value, will say it adds human interest. It can also be useful if the inscription includes a date so we can accurately place the piece in time.

Personally though, I avoid old watches with a dedication. I’m not sure why. I have plenty of old books on my shelf that bear a dedication to strangers, yet I feel I possess them no less for all of that. I mean a book is a book, after all. But a watch is a wearable piece of kit and it will always feel like someone else’s watch if it’s got their name on it and a hint of their history. It wouldn’t feel right to wear it myself. It would be as if I had stolen it. With a book it’s more like borrowing it.

This little Medana is my latest acquisition from EBay. It cost me all of £12.00. It was described as a runner, but the case looked poor, and the lens crazed – and square lenses are impossible to replace off the shelf. But all of that was fine by me because I only bought it for the experience of tinkering with it. I’m certainly not complaining, but a more honest seller would have shown a photograph of the back, which bears the inscription:

To Jack on your 21st Birthday. Love Mum and Dad

I don’t know who jack was, or his mum and dad, but I do know the watch has a fine seven jewel  pin-lever movement, a Swiss MST 374 to be precise, which dates the watch to 1950. It’s a well worn piece, indeed a lifetime of wear by the looks of it, most of the gold plating rubbed off, the case pitted with a million dings, and the plexiglass all finely crazed, but somehow not unattractive for all of that. There is still something elegant about it.

It bears the deep lines of Jack’s life, and as an object in itself, though virtually worthless, it oozes character and old world charm. So perhaps the inscription makes it more than just an old watch. It makes it a story, or rather it has us making up a story to fit it because, without having known Jack, that’s the best we can do. But there are some things it’s reasonable to surmise:

I’m guessing Jack’s dead now, that the watch came from a house clearance or something. Jack would have been in his late eighties, his passing quite recent, his life cleared out, his furniture given to charity, his papers burned, a few items picked up by the clearance merchant and put on Ebay. What else can we surmise? Well, I suspect there were no children nor grandchildren, or they might have held on to the watch, given the inscription, and the family significance, or maybe they just weren’t sentimental about stuff like that.

I find it rather sad to think of this parental gift, marking time for the whole of Jack’s adult lifetime, only to be discarded and wash up anonymously on the second hand market, though I suppose that’s better than it going in the bin. How easily these days we are deleted, our life’s worth scattered to the four winds, how easily we can be forgotten, brushed off, even by kith and kin.

I wonder about him, about his Mum and Dad, and I try to imagine that birthday long ago, when this little Medana was sparkling new, the gold plate unworn and deep with lustre, and Jack was making his first steps into the adult world. Medana was a respectable brand, a sister brand to Roamer, good quality manufacture, though neither of them in the luxury bracket, so Jack’s parents were not that well off, not your Patek Phillipe, dynasty founding types, but they appreciated a bit of quality for a special occasion.

This was an ordinary life, Jack the lad and his mum and dad. Had he any surviving sisters? Brothers? Surely they too would have kept the watch had they known about it. For a reasonable sum it could even have been professionally restored and passed on, kept in the family, but I guess it’s just no that kind of watch. I hope Jack did not die lonely.

The lustre of the case has not lasted a lifetime, but it tells me Jack was loyal to the watch even as it began to show its age, loyal to the gift and the memory of his Mum and Dad. It also carries jewellers marks inside the case, further indicating it was looked after, serviced, loved, valued. I see Jack wearing it from the time he was 21, strapping it on each morning and setting out into the world, his world, and now he’s gone. And I’ve got his watch, a watch that’s worth nothing, and even a little less than nothing for having his name on it, but then such is life. As a story though it speaks volumes, filling the imagination, even though the actual truth of Jack’s life we’ll never know.

But here’s my dilemma: I can’t tinker with it. This isn’t just any old watch after all. It’s Jack’s. So I’ll put it in my little tin of keepers – maybe to confuse my own progeny when I’ve popped my clogs and they’re clearing out my own tat.

“Jack?” they’ll say. “Who the Hell was Jack?”

I don’t know, but I raise a glass.

Here’s to Jack!

Read Full Post »

mariaThe paradox of human life is the evidence of its apparent pointlessness juxtaposed with our innate sense of infinite self worth. We are each placed at the very centre of our universe, yet we are able to make very little difference to it, and instead seem more often the victim of mischance or the misdeed of others. Thus, at times, we feel acutely vulnerable, afraid of injury or even annihilation.

We also find ourselves in a world pre-made by our collective forebears, a machine of rules, ideas and interactions whose mechanism is so complex it beggars all understanding, but whose purpose is more clearly the distribution of money and power – power over others, from whom the more powerful might extract money. Thus the machine defines its only measure of self-worth: money and power. The more you have the more successful you are. That the weak starve and whither is irrelevant. The machine must discard them. It has no choice. We are complicit in this inhumanity because of a self inflicted fallacy that it’s not our problem, or that somehow we cannot afford it, that there is not enough money for everyone born today to be allowed to live out the full span of their natural lives.

The bank is empty, the credit card maxed out – these being the simplistic metaphors used by politicians and the plutocratic machine minders to convince us of the need for a nation to “live within its means”, while at the same time facilitating the mass sequestering a nation’s means into the pockets of the predatory super-rich and powerful. Thus the machine mimics crudely the principles of natural selection, the evolutionary survival of the more well adapted being – in the machine’s case, adaptation being predicated purely on ego, cunning and greed. But unlike nature, which favours the proliferation or decline of a species at large, the machine produces only a small percentage of winners.

The rest, the losers can aspire only to the role of robotic serfdom, that is until the machine replaces them with actual robots, more perfect versions of the human being, at least in machine terms, in the way they function, for robots do not aspire to anything better than they are; they do not wonder about their purpose; they are not distracted by emotion, by cold, by hunger, by danger, by love. They do not require healthcare. We see now why the development of robots are so important to the machine – they are the perfect player in the “world-as-machine”, mirroring its deadness, a dead facsimile of a being for a dead world.

There was a picture in the newspapers this week of a gold plated super car. I mean, why settle for paint, when you can afford gold? The gold plated super-car is remarkably conspicuous. It is also a grotesquely apposite symbol of the end game of the world-construct as a money-game, when in those same cities we find broken and discarded people sleeping in doorways. But this is only to be expected since such mass economic casualties are written in to the machine’s code as a perfectly acceptable consequence.

As the machine automates its functions and increasingly delegates the human tasks to its robotic serfs, it is inevitable, according to machine logic, more of us will be discarded this way. And, since compassion is not a phenomenon that arises from machines, human beings who are not favoured among the rich and powerful cannot help but fare badly.

For all the shouting in this seemingly endless election season, I see no political solution to the machine’s excesses. The radical, humanistic policies necessary for averting such a grim, inhuman future are shredded daily by a psychological warfare of algorithmically targeted media falsehoods, ensuring our votes are for ever cast in the direction that is killing us.We cannot help ourselves. The machine has entered our blood, our bodies, our brains via the proxy devices we clutch daily to our bosoms, and through them it has infested us with its virulent nihilistic memes.

It is not unexpected, for it is a very ancient and human, and accurate observation that all things tend towards excess. They also contain within them the seeds of their own destruction, and the longer a thing stands, the greater the excesses it achieves, the more sudden and violent its downfall. The machine has facilitated an excess of inequality greater than the world has ever known. It is beyond obscenity, beyond systemic correction, beyond control, but will decay of its own accord, and I am not assured it will pass peacefully.

We cannot prepare for it, other than to make sure we are not so identified with the machine we are damaged by its disintegration. Materially of course, we will indeed be damaged – jobs, savings, welfare, all will be hit. But this is not our life. The machine world, though it seems all encompassing, is only the situation we exist in. Mentally, emotionally, life is elsewhere. It is in the stillness of our souls, it is to exist, to co-exist and to nurture both one’s own potential, and that of others. But the potential to what? What is the truest measure of doing well in the world? Is it really no more than a gold plated motor car? Is that the best we can aspire to?

When, in the near future, a robot looks upon the stars at night, it will do so only in terms of quantifiable data. How many stars? What type of star? It cannot transcend the data and be moved by the vision. The vision, the faculty of “being moved” is something distinctly human, born of the emotion and the imagination. It is a thing of the moment, a connection with that which is great and Godlike in all of us. So, if the world seems unrelentingly bleak and fractious and febrile right now, perhaps that’s because it is, and it remains so because we have lost the ability to imagine it any other way.

Read Full Post »

thumbnailOnline social media highlights and exploits our universal human vulnerability, that we all want to be someone. We all want to be recognised, liked, admired, and generally believed to be an awesome human being because we think that, in the acceptance of our awesomeness, we’ll find escape from the horror of anonymity and obscurity in the face of inevitable death. Of course it won’t work.

We are none of us really anybody in this narrow sense. Even those admired and cow-towed to are no different to anyone else. They have their own problems, their own duel with death, one they’ll eventually lose like the rest of us. Then they’ll be forgotten, and even so little as a hundred years from now, no one will care. Many a good and talented man has gone to his grave unknown. It’s a sobering realisation, one we must face and understand why an obscure life is not necessarily a wasted one.

One of the pictures I recently put up on Instagram got forty likes. Experience tells me it’ll not get many more. It’s a about my limit, and seems to be a function of the number of people you follow and the amount of time you’re willing to spend liking other stuff, or somehow gaming the system. But it’s no big deal. It is, after all, just a picture of a hat. Sure, pictures of other people’s hats can garner tens of thousands of likes, and how they do that remains a mystery to me, but it’s still just a picture of a hat and as such will never confer immortality.

My Instagram account leaks a few clicks over to the blog, which in turn leaks a few clicks over to my fiction, which is why I’m on Instagram in the first place. It’s also why I blog. They are both subtle lures to my fiction writings, coaxing readers now and them into my fictional worlds. But my stories are not important either, at least not as influential tools to shape the zeitgeist, nor even just to trumpet my awesomeness. I leave that to others, more savvy, sassy, whatever, and dare I say, more celebrated for their craft.

My thoughts are perhaps too convoluted for a sound-bite culture to make much sense of, and I’m conscious too my outlook, though sincere, may be no more than a mushy blend of pop-philosophy sweetened by archaic Romanticism. The importance of the work then lies only in what it teaches me, and I’m coming to the conclusion what it’s teaching me is how to recognise those useless egotistical compulsions and to rise above words, that the forms of thought we pursue so doggedly throughout our lives, are just shadows of something we will never grasp. It’s not a question of lacking intellect, more that the brain is altogether the wrong shape to accommodate what it is we crave.

You don’t need to write to reach the same conclusion. You just need to live your life as it was given to you, and develop a mindful approach to it. I’m not talking about that self-help-how-to-be-a-winner-in-life kind of mindfulness either. It’s more simply an awareness of our selves in life, and the way we react to situations, and how we can tell if those reactions are the right ones or not, if they contribute to a general transcendence of this fear we have of living, or dig us more firmly into the mire of it.

It might sound as if I’m some way along the path towards nihilism, but nihilism isn’t helpful, other than as a place to bounce back from. Yes, so much of what we are capable of seeing is indeed unimportant, but the world is also rich with a transcendent beauty we are equally capable of recognising, at least in its more lavish manifestations, say in the natural world. And perhaps progress in the right direction is simply our ability to find such transcendence in smaller and smaller places. Indeed perhaps the ultimate success in life, the ultimate awesomeness, is the attainment of absolute obscurity, and the ability to sit alone, quietly, to stare closely at your thumb nail and go:

WOW!

Read Full Post »

the sea view cafe - smallSo,… what do we have so far?

Man leaves wife, flees his life and his dope-smoking offspring, wife has affair with her boss. Man meets woman, the woman meets a woman, the man discovers feelings for a woman-friend from way back. He loves all these women, even the woman who loves his woman, but he can only actually be with one woman because,.. well, he’s an old fashioned kind of guy. So who, among all these women will he choose? Or, more to the point, who will have him? Or,… actually,… does a man need a woman at all? Is he not better living on his own, sorting himself out instead of running round changing light-bulbs for women, arguing over the washing machine, and who makes lunch?

Given all the upheavals in the world and the stuff I could be writing about, this seems a bit trite, a bit “domestic”, and I don’t know what these characters are trying to tell me, if they’re trying to be funny, profound, or if they’re trying to tell me anything at all and I’m not just making stuff up as I go along, heading nowhere that means anything. It’s the usual creative impasse. To be original you have to write what you’re given by the voices in your head, not simply copy something else you’ve read. But to be original, doesn’t automatically mean you’re creating something worthwhile. I mean, after all, anyone can make stuff up.

But let’s think about it. No, I’m sure my characters are talking to me in the context of more weighty world affairs, and what they’re saying is this: our love triangles and love squares and love scares might seem trivial on the surface, but at least we’re seeking love in both its broad and narrow senses, rather than power. We’re also seeking a modest means of surviving these coming decades, rather than scoring grand fortunes at the expense of others less fortunate. And you know, it doesn’t matter to us, they tell me, what race or gender our friends and lovers are, or even if they’re like they say in the popular media: damned foreigners comin’ over ere and takin’ our jobs, because really that kind of language belongs to the stone age, and we’ve moved on, even if you haven’t.

My characters see through the machinations and the manipulations now; they laugh at the purveyors of “fake news” and “alternative facts” as at the antics of a newly discovered species which, although now the dominant predator on the planet, is actually of only passing interest because they (my characters) accept they cannot alter the way things are, that in order to survive they must make alternative arrangements than the ones apparently on offer which would otherwise do them harm. They are all refugees, economic migrants, waifs and strays, some native, some not, all washed up just the same on the shores of economic ruin, their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations gone. They are all stateless, in that the state on which they formerly stood is disappearing so rapidly beneath their feet it might as well not exist at all, and in any case will not be there for their children.

Yet, they do not turn to drugs, or violence – I mean not like they would in the movies. Nor do they tumble into a twisted aspiration of an Endtimes, where we shall all be saved by “The Rapture”, nor a post apocalyptic future where we shall be saved by nothing. They reject the language of hate and despair, they do not conform to the media stereotypes of the ruined middle class, nor the workless working man, nor any of the million vain conspiracy theories. Nor are they racist, bigoted misogynists, so whatever the world throws at them (and it’s thrown a lot) the Sea View Cafe dares to tell a positive tale of plucky survival against the odds, of cleanliness and dignity maintained against an oppressively murky background.

They take stock, they brush themselves down, they bind their wounds, paint on a smile. Lacking kin they gather into improvised families, seek survival for themselves and the ones they choose to love. They remain steadfastly human in a dehumanising world, a world that sees people not as people, but as economic units of varying viability, to be switched on and off as the market demands, even if half of them starve to death in the process. They are Romantic figures, also pragmatic, but most of all they are Romantic. And I’m talking Samuel Taylor Coleridge here, not Mills and Boon.

Put it like that, the Sea View might sound like one of those worthy but laboured literary texts that’s trying to change the world, but it’s not. It accepts the world as its stage, even if it might not be the world you recognise, and it says: okay, so how do we work with this? And the characters do what they must in all stories, they start out in one place and end up in another, and in the process they either grow or they die, and the only weapons I’ve given them are compassion and a stubbornly infinite capacity for love. I know, I know, Helena Aynslea has just kneed Squinty Mulligan in the balls for being a lecherous misogynist, but no one’s perfect. And I’m sorry but he deserved it. And I rather like Helena’s fiery spirit.

We’re a hundred and fifty thousand words in, and there are doubts about direction as there always are at this point with so many threads running this way and that and all wanting their resolution before the novel can be steered safe into harbour and a new story begun. So I talk to myself, and I talk to my characters, like I’m doing here, and the way becomes a little clearer.

Hermione looks up from the counter as I walk in: “So, what can I get you darlin’?”

“Um,… Americano, please.”

She turns to the coffee machine, bangs the scoop works the levers, makes steam.

Whoosh!

Did she just call me darlin’?

Thanks for listening.

*The Sea View Cafe,… a work in progress. To be completed,… well,… sometime,… possibly.

Read Full Post »

downham-phone-boxSo, I signed up for Instagram in the summer and got busy posting a pastiche of pictures of my imaginary life. As usual though I’m a bit slow in catching on to how you game the system so I get a thousand likes on my pictures. Sure,… I saw a blurry picture of a rusty nail knocked into a piece of wood, and it had twelve hundred likes. My picture of a broken watch got ten. The best I’ve done so far all year, a picture of a red telephone box in Downham village, is about fifty five.

This is not to say I’m disappointed by the response, only that I do not understand the game, how you massage the waves, tickle up the perception of a much liked life, rusty nails and all. You have to follow other people, I know. You like theirs and they like yours, but you can only take this so far. My fifty five max likes is garnered from a followship of about a hundred, which is itself garnered from my following of two hundred and fifty others. An equation governs the relationship – something to do with game theory I guess. But if you follow people, their stuff gets added to your daily feed and you have to spend a while going through actually liking their stuff, so your Gravatar pops up in their feed and piques their curiosity and hopefully inspires them to be kind enough to like you back. But at some point this becomes impractical in terms of the sheer time taken in the nurturing. I mean, I have a real life, you know? And I was always quickly bored with games especially when the rules were so arcane as this.

In short, perception of personal worth through any form of social media then: we fool ourselves. Nothing controversial there. It’s just a game. Get over it.

Of course, our nightly scrolling through this stuff is where the business model cuts in. The adverts appear, cunningly disguised as content, so before you know it you’ve liked that ad for Scarlet Johansson’s latest movie, thinking it was a pastiche artwork by a talented amateur.

I get those inspirational pieces as well. You know the kind: the teenage lifestyle gurus offering me a world as perfect as theirs, if only I’d learn from their canned quotations, taken fresh from the quote-o-mat machine.

And speaking of lifestyle gurus, Ekchart Tolle is on there too. I follow him. He puts stuff up of an inspirational nature, and truly I like it, though I suspect it’s not really Eckhart putting it up. I don’t mind this. What can I say? I like the guy. Recently, Eckhart, or someone channeling him said something like: pulling back into the “now” is often sufficient to make a difference to the adverse circumstances of your life. This won’t make sense unless you’ve read his stuff, and you’re familiar with this idea of letting go of striving and pulling back into a detached awareness of the present moment. And you know, it works, but we forget, so it’s good to be reminded.

Anyway, I thought to myself, okay, pull back into the present moment, and sure enough a lot of the bad stuff I felt was coming at me fell away. I felt re-energised because bracing yourself against adversity takes up a lot of energy. This suggests to many a paranormal effect, but I don’t see it that way. It’s more simply to do with perception. So much of what we take to be a real and imminent danger to our well being is in fact imaginary. We imagine danger and it sours our lives. Happiness is therefore not another life, more a change in the way we perceive the one we’ve already got. Hey, that’s good, I may Instagram that one later (twenty five likes?) But you heard it here first, right?

Discussion of cars in the office, two colleagues seriously questioning the purchase of older cars on account of them having no central locking button, one you can hit when travelling through a shady part of town, so the trolls don’t come and drag you off down a dark side-street and eat you. I’m perplexed by this, wondering if I inhabit a different world, one where there are no trolls, and where the shady parts of town are simply the parts of town you do not know. I’m sure my car has a central locking button, but I’ve no idea where it is, nor have I ever felt the need for one.

Perception of  danger therefore: How easily we frighten ourselves, and mistake the unknown for something sinister and threatening!

But jumping back to Tolle’s “now” there’s also a misconception about what it means. There must be zillions images on Instagram, and all of them the valued nows of Instagrammers. I see a cross section of the nows of people I follow. Look again in an hour and those nows have sunk, no longer fresh, buried under new nows, new images. It is a dizzying dynamic and it reminds us of the fleeting nature of existence. But these former nows are not lost, just forgotten. The machine soaks them up and my mind boggles at the terrabytes that must be devoted to the storage of this stuff no one ever looks at. What use such an accumulation? What use the mediocre picture of sunset over suburban Manchester a week last Tuesday? And that rusty nail? Are there algorithms that can interpret them, profile us and target advertising in response?

Misperception of the “now”: it is not something to be preserved or captured. We observe, we let it go.

I was stuck on the motorway for an hour last night, a pitch dark, misty night, and a string of red tail lights leading off into the distance – ten miles of it. There was a temptation to eye up the angles, the light, the geometry, to squeeze off a few shots for Instagram and say: hey look here’s me stuck in traffic; what a drag!

Sack that. An hour’s a long time in a traffic jam, sure, but our perception of it is improved if we can observe the present moment without judgement or agenda – like: I really need to be somewhere else right now. The lights, the contrasts, the sounds, the scents – there was an aliveness and vibrancy to the experience when viewed with a relaxed detachment, but even attempting to share it as I’m doing now dilutes it, because before we can describe a thing we must gain a perspective that’s remote from it. And then we do not live it. It becomes like a butterfly pinned in a display case – a dead thing. They are dead moments then, these Instagram snaps, these terabytes of server storage nothing more than a mausoleum of dead things.

It’s just a game.

Misperception of reality, and craving. They render us vulnerable to control, to suggestion by people who understand these things better than we do. I’m thinking of charismatic politicians, and other sellers of stuff. We are most of us asleep, but every moment offers an opportunity to awaken. The perception is one of a bumpy ride, that we’d better hold on as the going gets tough. Awakening is having the courage to let go. To switch off life’s record button, and simply observe without a thought for how one can game the system.

Read Full Post »

souls-codeDr James Hillman (1926-2011) was a renowned post-Jungian analyst, depth psychologist and latter day guru of the human development movement. His books offer ideas that draw on early Western (Greek) philosophy and mythology. If we want to understand, to accommodate and direct the forces of the psyche, says Hillman, then we do well to think on what the Greeks wrote about their gods.

I find him difficult, but if one perseveres bits of him stick. In the Soul’s Code he tells us about Plato’s myth of Er, part of his magnum opus, The Republic, in which we are acquainted with the idea of a personal Daemon, an internal, psychical companion who carries the map of our lives, according to a plan laid down before our birth.  Our future then, according to this myth, is not determined so much by the environment we are born into as by a kernel of potential, like an acorn, that will grow into what it was meant to be regardless of any adversity we face in life, or possibly even because of it.

Our task in life is to live out the potential of the acorn, to allow it to grow down from the fertile earth of the deep psyche into the blossom of material realisation through the physical entity that we are. But the Daemon also has the power to bend and shape events to suit the attainment of its ambition for us. So,… we miss the bus, the car gets a flat tyre, we miss the crucial meeting, we lose our job; seen from the Ego’s perspective as personal disasters, such upsets can now be re-interpreted as part of a grander plan, releasing us to pursue another path, one closer to what the Daemon has intended for us. It’s a catch-all – so even the bad hand we are dealt can be greeted with a philosophical acquiescence. It was simply meant to be.

But we can also resist the daemon, resist the call, run capriciously and contrary to the Daemon’s aim. When this happens though, we will at some point feel resistance, feel a gnawing dissatisfaction with our lives and our tireless wants. Persist long enough in a contrary direction and the Daemon will make us ill, or even kill us off altogether, write us off as a bad job, and start afresh.

To realise the Daemon’s plan is to live the life we were intended. The challenge though is divining what it is the Daemon wants for us, and knowing if we’re on the path or not. Personal happiness is not the key, for many who have lived Daemon haunted lives do not end their lives well. Their achievements may stand out, make history, save lives, bring comfort to millions, while their own lives end in apparent ruin and ignominy.

What I find confusing about The Soul’s Code is Hillman’s use of remarkable lives as illustrations of the Daemon at work. He does this, he says, to magnify the phenomenon, to render it visible to analysis but, though he tells us the Daemon is at work in all our lives, the temptation at a first reading is to conclude only those names lit up by fame have listened well enough, and the rest of us are losers.

I’m sure this isn’t what Hillman is saying, or maybe it is. I find much in him that’s contradictory, elusive, beguilingly and beautifully poetic, rather like the psyche itself: alluring, intangible, ambiguous, shape-shifting. There are no firm handles, no answers, nothing to gain purchase, nothing one can test by putting into practice, no ten step plan for contacting your Daemon and realising your full potential. He is the dream to be interpreted, and like the all dreams perhaps not taken too literally.

I’m not unsympathetic to the idea of a personal Daemon. Indeed I think I met mine once, during a brief, spontaneous moment of transcendence, when I recognised myself as being interconnected with everything. Everywhere I looked, there I was. And the Daemon was there, felt, rather than seen, a formless presence reminding me, wordlessly, that as remarkable and unlikely as this vision of seemed, I had always known it to be the truth, but had forgotten it. I had drunk, as Hillman might have quoted, from Greek Myth, from the waters of the Lethe.

But the puzzle for all of us is what I feel Hillman did not address in any depth, and I’d hoped he would – this being the sense of our own importance, our own mission, which is at complete odds with the reality of a small speck of life played out in an infinite, cold and unfeeling universe. In company with our Daemon we feel how interconnected we are with world, that man and world cannot not be said to exist at all in isolation from the other. But in my case, my awareness underlined how much this was, my universe, my journey, that the Daemon and I are alone in working towards our purpose, no matter how insignificant a thing that might appear to be on paper. The Daemon is the captain of my vessel, while my ego-self, the thing I think of as me, is more the sole deckhand, as we sail the tempestuous seas of fate and mischance.

But where does this leave you?

In the working out of my journey are you merely the personification of my own fate and mischance, to be used by my captain as an object lesson – friends, lovers, family,… ill or well met, the whole damned lot of you? And how about the man who talks to himself on the bus, and whom I’d rather avoid? Is he a God in disguise, come to test my own godliness, my own compassion? Are you all merely the humours and the godlings come to test and steer, as in those old Greek stories.

Are you not really there at all?

Perhaps I should have listened more to those Greek myths as a child, for as Hillman teaches, there’s probably many a metaphorical clue in there I’ve missed that would be of help to me now. But the Greeks, like Hillman are not exactly an easy read, and diligence seems rewarded with only more questions, while the answers, far from clear, seem lacking altogether.

Or I could just leave it to the Daemon, and hope I’m on the right path anyway. Then none of it matters and the acorn of my life will, out in spite of all my protestations to the contrary.

I leave you with a taste of the late great, Dr James Hillman (1926-2011):

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »