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Sweet Dreams

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Ouch!

The brutal truth behind this comic representation is hard to face – any laugh the cartoon evokes is likely to be a bitter one.

By way of preparation for my own writing I’ve been reading the poems of John Clare, an agricultural worker whose life was blighted by the forced enclosure of common land almost two hundred years ago. People fled the countryside in droves for the towns and cities.

In his rough verse with its gentle dialect, Clare describes somewhat sadly how a sustainable way of life lasting many centuries gave way to the first stirrings of capitalist agribusiness. With hindsight we can glimpse in his words the beginnings of the process whereby relatively balanced ecologies mutated into sterile farming factories run by machine.

Is it too far-fetched, I wonder, to imagine a future where this process is reversed – where humankind and the natural world have once again learned to co-exist in symbiotic harmony? I read this from a report on the Hay book festival in today’s Guardian Review:

Climate is at the forefront of the minds of novelists, particularly John Lanchester and Amitav Ghosh, the latter recalling being caught in a freak tornado … ‘In novel after novel, I tried to write about this … and I could never do it … What happens in real life is more improbable than what happens in a book – and this is the paradox of the modern novel,’ he said.

Lanchester … championed the ‘moral obligation to be optimistic, because … if we despair we won’t act’. Most of the people set to be affected by the climate emergency are yet to be born. ‘That’s why works of the imagination are so important,’ Lanchester said. ‘In effect we are having to imagine these people into being and then act on behalf of their interests. This is a new thing.’

In the spirit of this, I wonder if it’s possible to read John Clare’s words not only as the chronicle of a tragic past but also as the prophesy of a more hopeful future?

 

The Moors

Far spread the moorey ground a level scene
Bespread with rush and one eternal green
That never felt the rage of blundering plough
Though centurys wreathed spring’s blossoms on its brow
Still meeting plains that stretched them far away
In uncheckt shadows of green brown, and grey
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
Nor fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect of the following eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself, which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the horizon’s edge surrounds
Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours
Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers
Is faded all – a hope that blossomed free,
And hath been once, no more shall ever be
Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave
And memory’s pride ere want to wealth did bow
Is both the shadow and the substance now
The sheep and cows were free to range as then
Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men
Cows went and came, with evening morn and night,
To the wild pasture as their common right
And sheep, unfolded with the rising sun
Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won
Tracked the red fallow field and heath and plain
Then met the brook and drank and roamed again
The brook that dribbled on as clear as glass
Beneath the roots they hid among the grass
While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along
Free as the lark and happy as her song
But now all’s fled and flats of many a dye
That seemed to lengthen with the following eye
Moors, loosing from the sight, far, smooth, and blea
Where swoopt the plover in its pleasure free
Are vanished now with commons wild and gay
As poet’s visions of life’s early day
Mulberry-bushes where the boy would run
To fill his hands with fruit are grubbed and done
And hedgrow-briars – flower-lovers overjoyed
Came and got flower-pots – these are all destroyed
And sky-bound moors in mangled garbs are left
Like mighty giants of their limbs bereft
Fence now meets fence in owners’ little bounds
Of field and meadow large as garden grounds
In little parcels little minds to please
With men and flocks imprisoned ill at ease
Each little path that led its pleasant way
As sweet as morning leading night astray
Where little flowers bloomed round a varied host
That travel felt delighted to be lost
Nor grudged the steps that he had ta-en as vain
When right roads traced his journeys and again –
Nay, on a broken tree he’d sit awhile
To see the moors and fields and meadows smile
Sometimes with cowslaps smothered – then all white
With daiseys – then the summer’s splendid sight
Of cornfields crimson o’er the headache bloomd
Like splendid armys for the battle plumed
He gazed upon them with wild fancy’s eye
As fallen landscapes from an evening sky
These paths are stopt – the rude philistine’s thrall
Is laid upon them and destroyed them all
Each little tyrant with his little sign
Shows where man claims earth glows no more divine
But paths to freedom and to childhood dear
A board sticks up to notice ‘no road here’
And on the tree with ivy overhung
The hated sign by vulgar taste is hung
As tho’ the very birds should learn to know
When they go there they must no further go
Thus, with the poor, scared freedom bade goodbye
And much they feel it in the smothered sigh
And birds and trees and flowers without a name
All sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came
And dreams of plunder in such rebel schemes
Have found too truly that they were but dreams.

John Clare

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The Dog Ate My Homework, Miss!

Well, a nomad in cyberspace – true to his online monicker, at least! – has been going AWOL of late, wandering zig-zag byways through the mists of his mind in search of old memories and new memes with a view to writing a magnum opus that his kids and grandkids might one day care to read.

That’s his excuse, anyhow, for the relative paucity of posts. Wonderings and wanderings, it appears, aren’t always adjacent. But he does appreciate the value of sharing his thoughts on the interweb and intends posting occasional observations about this project to help him maintain focus and perhaps gain a little feedback.

So here’s a taste of a philosophy that could be useful, both to structure and to theme. He – ah, what the heck! – have written about it before but hit this link for a succinct summary which may be of interest to other would-be writers.

https://www.sgi.org/resources/introductory-materials/ten-worlds.html

And finally, a fresh new update on the tired old canine alibi …

 

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A Backwards Look

If I’ve taken my eye off blogging in recent months, it’s because of my single-minded sorting through old stories and memories with a view to writing a first-person narration which uses actual experiences in a lightly-fictionalised form. I expect some of this to surface here in due course, but just for now let me share a little of my stimulus material.

If this nudges any nostalgic feelings in you, I’d love to hear about them!

Top 50 most common childhood memories

  1. Christmas dinner
  2. Going to the beach
  3. Going to your grandparent’s house
  4. Hearing the ice-cream van music
  5. Playing in the park
  6. Getting pocket money
  7. Buying penny sweets from the village shop
  8. Learning to ride a bike
  9. Playing playground games
  10. Getting a pet
  11. Pick n mix sweets
  12. Buying your first album/single
  13. Building sandcastles
  14. Counting down the days until the summer holidays
  15. Playing conkers
  16. Climbing a tree
  17. School dinners
  18. School sports days
  19. Your first crush
  20. Fish and chips on the beach
  21. Listening to your favourite song on repeat till you get bored
  22. Caravan family holidays
  23. Blowing out the candles on a birthday cake
  24. Skimming stones
  25. Swimming lessons
  26. Singing hymns
  27. Searching through rock pools
  28. Sitting cross-legged in assemblies
  29. Learning to read
  30. Going out with your friends for the first time without your parents
  31. Sleepovers at a friend’s house
  32. Being in the school play
  33. Catching frogs, newts, tadpoles in a pond
  34. First day of secondary school
  35. Family holidays abroad
  36. Spelling tests
  37. Flying a kite
  38. Watching films which were above your age rating
  39. Being read a bedtime story
  40. Winning an award
  41. Your first time on an aeroplane
  42. Painting / arts and crafts
  43. Bath time
  44. Jumping in puddles
  45. Finding a rope swing in the woods
  46. Buying a school uniform
  47. Going to theme parks
  48. Playing with leaves
  49. Going to church
  50. Handwriting lessons

Sorted!

Well, that went well. Plenty of action, anyway. No more big piles of paper.

Plenty of small piles, though – so many that my spare room has all but disappeared. My other half looked in at one point and commented – a little tactlessly, I felt:

Thought you were supposed to be tidying up! That bin’s still empty.

I explained how some of the piles were moving closer and just awaited a final check to see if there was anything – a pleasing turn of phrase, the merest germ of a good idea – that might save them from being pulped. And then there were those pieces that weren’t much good but had nostalgia appeal … little poems I wrote to stave off the crushing boredom of exam supervision back in the day, slightly inebriated dialogues written late at night when I should have been getting my beauty sleep, hastily scribbled accounts of incomprehensible dreams I’d woken from … and there, in a pile all its own, my historical novel whose narrator’s heavy dialect made its eighty-thousand words well-nigh unreadable.

That thing? You’ll never get round to doing anything with it. Unless it’s a comic short story about a bloke who reckons he’s a writer.

When she stopped laughing, I told her it wasn’t a bad idea. I’m well known for my stoical acceptance of mild adversity. Don’t know how I’d go in a real catastrophe but that, perhaps fortunately, is for the future.

29 March, at the earliest …

Actually, anything rather than recycle something I spent the best part of five years researching and writing! One of these days, you never know, I could get my second wind and turn it into a smash-hit stage-musical or a block-buster movie-scenario. Laugh all she likes, bless her, she’d be happy enough to sip exotic cocktails on our luxury yacht moored in Monaco or Cannes …

She left, still chuckling, perhaps planning her own best-seller. Perhaps not.

My Walter Mitty moment passed and I gazed despondently at all the paper covering the carpet and single bed like giant wedding confetti. My own plan, to pass all these rough drafts through the eagle eye of my hastily-devised list of aesthetic principles, was in tatters. Night was gathering and I’d got nowhere.

Time was of the essence. I had to act and act fast or I would be crying myself to sleep in the spare room surrounded by the appalling evidence of my own failure.

Yes, time was ticking by. No last-ditch flight to Brussels for me. It was either all in the bin or else back into big piles as if nothing had ever happened. Was I a complete and utter waste of space?

And then, in a blinding flash, it came to me …

The fault lay in my plan, of course! It had been too hasty. My red lines were far too rigid. Or else far too pink and hopelessly vague. And as for that ludicrous catch-all conditional at the end, what fool would devise a set of rules which ended with Rules are there to be broken?

It would have beggared belief if I hadn’t already known what an idiot I was. But there was no time to be lost. I had to come up with an alternative set of aesthetic principles and fast! However, too much of my intellectual energy – such as it was – had been frittered away trying to decide whether old scribblings were Almost Finished or Barely Begun or Half-Baked But Could Cook Through or Good In Parts or even Patchy But Full Of Unfulfilled Potential. It didn’t help that my ability to judge was hopelessly inconsistent, veering between feverish delight and febrile despondency as my ego and id battled it out before a supremely indifferent superego.

As chance would have it (and any readers of this account who are still awake might hope) there was a deus ex machina in the form of one I’d prepared earlier – the ‘one’ in question being a set of aesthetic principles I’d devised for an epic poem about something or other which I’d never even begun – the ‘set’ in question having come to light while I’d been going through my papers but which, preoccupied as I was with the search for literary gold, went unrecognised for what it really was.

I’ll leave you with a copy, in case it’s of any assistance in your own fruitless searches, because I must take to my bed tout suite so that I can be up bright and early tomorrow morning. After all is said and done, who knows what a new day will bring?

Besides, my crystal ball’s down the mender’s …

  1.  First thought, best thought   (Ginsberg)
  2.  Intuition attains the absolute   (Bergson)
  3.  Unity in diversity   (Hegel)
  4.  Without contraries, no progress   (Blake)
  5.  The words must be irrefutable   (Orton)
  6.  Show don’t tell   (James)
  7.  Write the story only you know   (Fountain)
  8.  I write to find out what I didn’t know I knew   (Frost)
  9.  In art, the subject matter is nothing   (Maurois)
  10.  What then?  No then.   (Kafka)
  11.  Be true to the earth   (Nietzsche)
  12.  Re-enchant the world   (Brazilian eco-artist)
  13.  It is necessary to be absolutely modern   (Rimbaud)
  14.  Make it new   (Pound)
  15.  Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order   (Proudhon)
  16.  Invent new values   (Nietzsche)
  17.  Forget yourself   (graffiti)
  18.  I is another   (Rimbaud)
  19.  See all beings in yourself and yourself in all beings and lose all fear (Eastern saying)
  20.  Only connect   (Forster)

PS  The above are paired – meant to be 10 of them but I couldn’t get the numbers right!

Bon nuit!

 

Image result for broken crystal ball

 

Image: America’s Survival

Rabbiting On Again

Words.
No shortage, is there?
Words, words.
Dictionaries and thesauruses are full of them.
Words, words, words.
Airwaves are abuzz with them.
Words, words, words, words.
Persuaders, hidden or otherwise, bend our ears and break our spirits.
Words, words, words, words, words …

And so, before contributing a further fourpenny-worth to the existing word-mountain, let’s pause a moment to consult two world-renowned authorities on the higher arts of human communication … Chas ‘n’ Dave … whose cheeky erudition goes some way to excuse a whiff of political incorrectness:

You got more rabbit than Sainsburys … honest to goodness, has a better line of poetry ever been written? And if it has, might it have come from the pen of this cheerful geezer?

Talking in Bed

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.

Outside, the wind’s incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why

At this unique distance from isolation
It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

by Philip Larkin

Putting two and two together – and probably coming up with five! – it appears that too much rabbit and related background noise from outside can drown out the delicate inner promptings that allow for meaningful human communication. And if you’ll forgive the comparison of blogging into the blank aether with talking in a darkened bedroom, you may also accept the notion that uncertainty about reception can make it hard to string words together online.

As a little kid I had an invisible friend. I only ever confided in him while sitting on the toilet. I called him Naughty Man and his supposed worldly wisdom must have made him an ideal audience for my secret confidences. Perhaps I was aware that the real people around me could only take so much. Communication breakdown begins early and always remains a possibility, which is probably why I (and, may I suggest, we?) need art to bridge the gap. And comedy. Both bring perspective.

Here are some more rabbits if you have the stamina, though a minute or three might be enough to give you the idea!

Unsettling, isn’t it? That bloke Kafka hardly knew what he’d started, shuffling off his mortal coil before most of his work was published and after leaving strict instructions that it should all be burnt!

It’s easy to view the wind out there as cold and unforgiving. So it’s a comfort to know that people whose talents I admire and even envy can also struggle to express themselves. But where I whisper into a zephyr, in the intimacy of a personal blog, they often have to shout into a maelstrom.

Image result for joni mitchell quote on music corporations

Another musician-turned-painter was Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart. The short film that follows offers a great insight into what made him tick as an artist – it’s also, at least to my ear, hilariously funny. The wobbly footage shouldn’t impair enjoyment too much.

He dedicates his music to animals and children. How cool is that? If I’d known about Captain Beefheart as a kid, it would certainly be him I’d have confided in! He would have known all about the glory of words as well as understanding their limitations.

Hmm, maybe there’s a connection …

A Word to the Wise

I’ve never been one for New Year Resolutions. There’s a natural rebel inside me who kicks against rules of any kind – especially those I try to impose on myself. I mean, really, who wants to be told what (and what not) to do by a finger-wagging fool who can’t even follow his own instructions?
And yet … come the turn of the year I always feel in need of a little gentle encouragement. I’m looking for inspiration from someone who’s been there, done it and bought the T-shirt. And who better than Anton Chekhov, a physician who was also a playwright often compared to Shakespeare and perhaps the most influential short-story writer of all time?
Image result for anton chekhov
First, a few random quotes …
Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
Love, friendship and respect do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something.
Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out.
We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.
People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.
Perhaps the feelings that we experience when we are in love represent a normal state. Being in love shows a person who he should be.
Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress; when I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other.
In a May 10, 1886 letter to his brother Alexander, also a writer, Chekhov noted six principles of a good story.
  • Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature.
  • Total objectivity.
  • Truthful descriptions of persons and objects.
  • Extreme brevity.
  • Audacity and originality: flee the stereotype.
  • Compassion.

 

Finally, here are a few pieces of encouragement and advice Chekhov wrote in letters to Russian writer Maxim Gorky in the late 1800s.

 

“You ask what is my opinion of your stories. My opinion? The talent is unmistakable and it is a real, great talent. For instance, in the story ‘In the Steppe,’ it is expressed with extraordinary vigour, and I actually felt a pang of envy that it was not I who had written it. You are an artist, a clever man, you feel superbly, you are plastic—that is, when you describe a thing, you see it and you touch it with your hands. That is real art.

There is my opinion for you, and I am very glad I can express it to you. I am, I repeat, very glad, and if we could meet and talk for an hour or two you would be convinced of my high appreciation of you and of the hopes I am building on your gifts.

Shall I speak now of defects? But that is not so easy. To speak of the defects of a talent is like speaking of the defects of a great tree growing in the garden; what is chiefly in question, you see, is not the tree itself but the tastes of the man who is looking at it. Is not that so?

I will begin by saying that to my mind you have not enough restraint. You are like a spectator at the theatre who expresses his transports with so little restraint that he prevents himself and other people from listening. This lack of restraint is particularly felt in the descriptions of nature with which you interrupt your dialogues; when one reads those descriptions one wishes they were more compact, shorter, put into two or three lines.”

 

Like all good teachers he begins by praising achievement before offering a single word of criticism – and even then he is constructive, offering his student a positive way forward.

Don’t know about you but I can’t think of a better way to start 2019!

Let’s hope it’s a good year for us all …

Post Haste

As someone who tries – and frequently fails – to post on WordPress at least once a week, I decided to look at the sites I follow to see how often they publish. How long was it since their most recent post?

The results of this little survey surprised me. Just 13% had posted within the previous 24 hours. The other 87% had posted as follows:

13% in the last week
14% in the last month
36% in the last year
10% in the last two years
14% no information, presumably deleted

Another way to look at this, I suppose, is that 40% are frequent or infrequent bloggers and 60% are no longer active. It seems harsh to unfollow people but I’d like to whittle down the list so that I can concentrate on those who publish fairly regularly.

How does this compare with your experience, I wonder, and how would you deal with the percentile categories above? All comments gratefully received!

 

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