Tag: freedom

Well, Shiver Me Timbers!

Image result for a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor

This old English proverb, famously quoted by President Franklin D Roosevelt, packs a powerful punch. No wonder it often appears on motivational websites. Chins up, people, gotta roll with them punches! When the going gets tough, the tough get going …

But we’re not talking fisticuffs here, we’re talking sailing! It always amazes me how many English words and phrases come from our proud seafaring past. Here are just some of them:

A shot across the bows
All at sea
Batten down the hatches
Between the Devil and the deep blue sea
Broad in the beam
By and large
Chock-a-block
Close quarters
Copper-bottomed
Cut and run
Edging forward
Fathom out
Full to the gunwales
Get underway
Give a wide berth
Go by the board
Groggy
Hand over fist
Hard and fast
High and dry
In the offing
Know the ropes
Loose cannon
On your beam ends
Panic stations
Plain sailing
Push the boat out
Shipshape and Bristol fashion
Shake a leg
Slush fund
Taken aback
The bitter end
The cut of your jib
Three sheets to the wind
Tide over
Touch and go
Walk the plank

A saying similar to the one used by FDR is, Take the rough with the smooth. Bet that one has a nautical origin too!

I suppose proverbs like these stand the test of time because they express simple, obvious truths. You only learn to handle difficulties by, well, handling difficulties. Children are often, though not always, protected from difficulty but gradually learn to take the strain – another salty saying? – as a natural part of growing up.

But what if we were prevented from growing up? What if our community or society kept us in an infantile state, by chance or even intention, our only role to passively consume the untruths they chose to feed us? Buy this and be happy. Watch this and believe it to be real. Buy into the collective dream. It’s a common enough theme in plays and movies, from Death of a Salesmen to Pleasantville and The Stepford Wives.

One of the very best satires of reality television and its arrested development is Peter Weir’s film The Truman Show which features Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, the unsuspecting star of a reality television show which is broadcast live around the clock and across the globe. His entire life has taken place within a giant dome in Hollywood, fashioned to create the seaside town of Seahaven Island and equipped with thousands of cameras to monitor all aspects of Truman’s life.

SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t seen The Truman Show you might want to stop reading right there! In fact, if you’ve not seen it, do yourself a big favour and see it as soon as you can. Required viewing, I’d say. It often makes for uncomfortable viewing but it’s impossible to stop once you’ve started.

All of Seahaven’s residents are actors, either acting out a script or repeating lines fed to them by the show’s creator and executive producer who seeks to capture Truman’s real emotion and human behaviour, give audiences a relatable everyman and protect him from the outside world with an illusion of ‘normalcy’. We identify with Truman because the people he views as friends and Neighbors are secretly two-faced, a childish fear we can all share.

As you might expect, most of the film charts Truman’s dawning realisation of his predicament and growing desire for independence. This comes to a climax when he tries to escape Seahaven by boat. Will the executive producer continue to play God, we wonder?

Aha, you cry, here’s the link to all the nautical stuff that naughty old Nomad was flagging up and tying to the mast earlier! Well, the following clip from the film should make the connection even more obvious, though I think the proverb A Smooth Sea Never Made A Skilled Sailor has something relevant to say about Truman Burbank’s disenfranchised plight before he makes his bid for freedom and by extension asks us hard questions about how free we are who watch the watchers watching him …Image result for dr seuss bee watchersImages:  Threadless   The Art of Dr. Seuss

 

Sometimes

sometimes don't you just want to 
escape the prison of language
fly free of rational thought and the bounds of respectability
give voice to whatever comes into your mind 
as it tumbles in a spacetime all its own?

sometimes don't you just want to
say something no one else has ever said
to bust apart the bounds of dull conformity
and set things off in a brand new direction
towards love and its urgent compulsions?

sometimes don't you just want to 
overturn the tables of profit and loss
in the moneymarkets that stand where
people like us once shook hands and swore
allegiance beyond all selfishness?

sometimes don't you just want to 
turn off the tide of hatred
rising like blood from a pale land
too fearful to acknowledge its heritage
of mutual tolerance and trust?

sometimes don't you just want to
point an accusing finger 
past poor defenceless scapegoats
to the moneylaundering parasites 
laughing behind closed doors? 

sometimes don't you just want to
turn back the clock
to when time was all before you
and poetry ethics philosophy economics politics
were just classes in school?

 

Image result for heaven on earth

 

Image:  Ground Zero Web

 

Communication Breakdown, Part 2

As 2016 finally implodes in a shitstorm of fake news and false facts, I find myself in need of consolation. If I was a hedgehog, I’d hibernate. My previous post ended in a soothing flurry of proverbs but their analgesic effect has now worn off, so here’s another one:

‘When the heart weeps at what it has lost, the spirit laughs at what it has found.’

Arab proverb

Gulp, think I’m going to have to wait a while before that one works!

In the meantime, here is some music:

Hmm, that’s blown away a few cobwebs, if only because it was 1970 and not 2016! My life was ahead of me then, all speculation and no nostalgia. Who was it said, I wonder, that nostalgia is not what it was? I reckon we were the first mass-media generation and the fusty old past was a backward-looking book we were only too keen to close. Like Bob Dylan, we went along with Rimbaud’s injunction that it was necessary to be absolutely modern. Adults in the 1950s, wearied by the war, usually seemed happy enough to let us get on with it. After all, our freedom was what they had been fighting for.

And by comparison with children today, we were allowed to run pretty wild. But don’t run away with the thought that it was a golden age. My cousin Helen makes this thoughtful observation:

As children spawned just after WW2, we remember what it was like before the screws tightened on British society: schools were often appalling, there was little Health and Safety, and we had rights now gone for ever thanks to Thatcher and Blair. While this meant industrial accidents, child deprivation and unfairness, it also meant freedom to protest. Freedom of action. When in Marrakesh for my 60th, I was overjoyed at the lethal collapsed pavements which we had to navigate to avoid breaking our ankles. I felt once again the thrill of being in control of my own path – literally! I suppose what I’m saying is that you need some danger, mayhem and confusion as the crucible for inspiration and change. What have we lost in our present over-protected first world?

We learn best through trial and error: without mistakes, no achievements. How else can we grow up and not just older? Here is Helen again:

Young adults today don’t know anything different from the over-scrutinised, coddled society we have today. They don’t suffer from the feeling of loss of rights. How much more obedient will future generations be? They will accept without question their body-chipped, iris-recognition life. We also have to be vigilant for signs of the return of repression under the excuse of protection and safety.

We have always been contaminated, heavily, with the infantile responses programmed into us by all the “Sit still, be quiet, do as you’re told” directives of childhood: but looking over the parapet today it seems (Warning, generalisation alert!)  that younger generations are lacking in the cussedness, determination and daring that makes my generation such an inconvenience to the Establishment when we cross swords with it.

1984 has been and gone, with no obvious sign of Orwell’s Big Brother, but soon enough our every move will be followed by the often shadowy forces of control and commercial exploitation. Can you have a true democracy where adults are, in effect, infantilised? Helen traces the problem to our shallow ‘soundbite’ culture:

I blame the internet in part – the tsunami of information which helps to desensitise compassion and stifle curiosity. But why be curious anyway? The apathy of today is a realistic assessment of our political system. When you’ve grown up with celebrity culture, naturally you’ll be more interested in the Kardashians than the fact that there’s been a 6.5 earthquake in the third world.
Helen and I used to exchange long illustrated letters in our early teens and we’ve just resumed our correspondence on, ah yes, the internet! Perhaps we can prove Marshall McLuhan wrong when he said The medium is the message … in our case, I very much hope and believe, it’s not the how but the what!
Anyhow, no more talk of hibernation, I’m inspired to write and post an epic poem in defence of freedom before the weather closes in completely …
Image result for sun and storm

Child Father To Man! The Shocking Truth!

I was struck by this comment from siddiebowtie in response to my previous post:

It’s as if the powers that be are determined to suck the souls out of children as early as possible so they’re nice and pliable – devoid of will or hope – by the time they reach adulthood so that they can be more efficient slaves.

That might sound a little extreme but what if you could only reply True or False? Which would you plump for? With a heavy heart, I’d say True. And how about this for an educational philosophy?

Our aim is to prepare young people for the workplace by developing the habits, skills and knowledge they will need to secure employment.

At first sight, that may look OK. But then the questions begin. Do we live to work or work to live? Can it be right that our children spend over two-thirds of their precious and irreplaceable development years on little more than job applications?

And even if you think we humans have no value beyond our economic function, it doesn’t stack up. Who knows what the world of work will be like in 2035? And when these kids step on the first rung, what then? What use will they be if they only have starter skills?

Starter skills – aka ‘the basics’ – are popular with politicians because they can be tested on the cheap. Don’t worry that they narrow the curriculum to the point of dumbing down and take all the fun out of learning. Schools don’t need real books when they’ve got reading schemes, nor computers when learning is by rote and the teacher holds the key to knowledge. And don’t get me started on original sin and the need to curb enthusiasm in the very young!

You don’t make something heavier by weighing it. That is to confuse cause and effect. Similarly, I’m good at grammar but I learned to read and write fluently without it because my interest was fully aroused. I just got it. I didn’t learn to talk by mastering phonetics and I didn’t learn to ride a bike by naming its parts. Time enough to become technicians when we’re up and pedalling.

We need a Plan B. How about this for a starter skill?

“Every child is an artist. The challenge is to remain an artist after you grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

Let’s go beyond it. Every child is an artist, poet, philosopher, dancer, nature-lover, explorer, comedian, scientist, sceptic, teacher, boundary pusher, truth speaker. This morning I heard about an experiment where they gave unschooled slum kids computers and asked them to find and understand advanced concepts. The results astounded the scientists. No instructions were needed. The key was to have a group of nine year olds round a single computer.

The best teacher I ever had gave us afternoons to do themed projects guided by her questions which asked for much more than research. We had to share our findings with classmates and then – working in groups to organise and adapt our material – present it to other classes and groups of adults. Helped by our watchful primary school teacher we did displays, lectures, readings, performances, interviews, recordings and more. She expected us to aim high and trusted us to take risks. We struggled to interest others. We gave up our free time. We didn’t need to be tested on what we’d learned. And we learned loads.

Nietzsche said, ‘Become what you are’. This is rather like the Buddhist notion of waking to our innate nature. Learning, meditation and compassion are the ways in – or perhaps, the way back, because what we discover was there all along. TS Eliot (Little Gidding, Four Quartets) puts it as well as anyone:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

I want to write about childhood because it is the common ground we all share beneath the cultural divides that come later. Every child is a natural rebel and together they are the archetypal cross-border tribe. The indigenous Australians had the right idea giving their kids mentors in neighbouring tribes. Ah well, our kids go walkabout online …

I’m getting silly. Time for my cocoa. When you’re my age the past looms large, so be warned … there may be self-indulgent writing about my childhood to follow! In the meantime, here’s Don DeLillo talking to The Guardian’s Xan Brooks about his regular reunion dinners with long-lost childhood friends:

‘And when we meet, we talk about growing up. And all of us remember absolutely everything the same way. I mean that there’s no argument, it’s very strange. It’s as though the last 50 years have been …’

A happy dream? A hallucination? ‘A waste of time,’ he says and laughs.

 

Free Radical

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The idea that life unfolds to a pattern laid down by gods or fate or whatever has never appealed to me. Whenever people – worse still, peoples – believed they had a pre-ordained destiny, it was bad news for indigenous races and minority groups. Modern science has replaced the model of a clockwork machine universe with something much more fluid and dynamic and, yes, exciting. My poem explores this idea of a creative potential that is the polar opposite of passive acceptance. Only as free individuals can we become one people.

 

                 Thinking Out Loud

The particle collider in our head
Holds fragments of the past that whirl around
In circles, frozen orbits of the dead
Through inner space. They never make a sound.

When silence grows too loud we open wide
Perception's doors and welcome in the new,
Observing past and present worlds collide
In teasing spiral glimpses - all too few -

Of what's to come. They crash and burn,
Though not before the camera of our mind
Snaps every possibility in turn
As if the future's there to be divined.

But how could everything be stuck that way?
We generate the world afresh each day.

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