'The time has come,' the Blogger said, 'To talk of many things: Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax — Of cabbages — and kings — And why the sea is boiling hot — And whether pigs have wings.' 'But wait a bit,' the Reader cried, 'Before you start your post, Consider customer fatigue Where some give up the ghost Whenever folk go rambling on With length their only boast.' 'Let's talk instead,' the Blogger said, 'Of what you really need: The benefit of minds like mine Is very fine indeed — Now if you're ready, Reader dear, You can begin to feed.' 'But not on you!' the Reader cried, Turning a little blue. 'To wade through half-baked tripe would be A dismal thing to do!' 'It's tit for tat,' the Blogger said, 'If I unfollow you!' 'Please yourself,' the Reader shrugged, 'It's all the same to me.' But deep inside, well, something cried: A blogger's heart, you see, While over in the Blogger dwelt A reader's sympathy. 'It seems a shame,' the Blogger said, 'To play this spiteful game, When mutual support so far Has been our climbing frame.' The Reader, oh, said nothing but Was thinking just the same! with apologies to Lewis Carroll
Ah, I thought, after reading this – so that’s why I’m finding it hard to come up with a new blog-post!
Once upon a time is out of bounds because it’s all done and dusted. What if can’t be imagined because it’s too damn scary. Now is being squeezed to death by all those memories and expectations. And to cap it all, my conscious mind is nothing but a helpless hoarder who can’t see through his windows for mounds and mounds of useless clutter.
Actually, it comes as something of a relief to know this. Turns out it’s not my fault at all. Living in such a crap culture, well, it’s only to be expected! And at least that means it’s not just me. Now, all we need to do is find the hypnotists who have turned us into preoccupied zombies and get them to click their fingers. Snap out of it, they’ll say, and we will … won’t we?
Or maybe it’s like one of those dreams where you know you’re dreaming and want to wake up but you can’t. Or, worse, one of those dreams where you think you’ve woken up but you’re still dreaming. My favourite film version of Alice in Wonderland was directed in 1966 by Jonathan Miller, who captured this uncertainty to perfection. Where does reality end and dreaming begin?
Ha, if I knew that, I’d be able to write this post … wouldn’t I? Perhaps this clip will shed some light …
Lewis Carroll’s satirical genius was to reflect the topsy-turvy illogicality of Victorian adults as if it was no more than a strange dream.
“I’m sure I’ll take you with pleasure!” the Queen said. “Two pence a week, and jam every other day.”
Alice couldn’t help laughing, as she said, “I don’t want you to hire me – and I don’t care for jam.”
“It’s very good jam,” said the Queen.
“Well, I don’t want any to-day, at any rate.”
“You couldn’t have it if you did want it,” the Queen said. “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.”
“It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day’,” Alice objected.
“No, it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Alice. “It’s dreadfully confusing!”
from ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’
Thank goodness the adult world is so much more sensible nowadays!
Mind you, there are still one or two little confusions that need explaining. Two world wars, for starters, the first a mass sleepwalk into jingoism and the second a nightmare of political extremism. Since then it’s been communism versus capitalism – collectivism versus individualism – and the dubious triumph of neo-liberalism and rampant globalism. (That’s enough ‘isms’! Ed.)
Aw, one more, please! Always room for a little idealism, surely? A world where freedom, equality and solidarity co-exist. Nothing airy-fairy about that, I hope. But getting there will take some hard thinking and plain speaking. And if the price of liberty really is eternal vigilance, we should be on our guard against …
… those who conjure a mythic past that has supposedly been destroyed. Such myths rely on an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for a past that is racially pure, traditional and patriarchal. Beware those who position themselves as father figures and strongmen who alone can restore lost greatness.
… those who sow division; they succeed by turning groups against each other, inflaming historical antagonisms and ancient hatreds for their own advantage. Social divisions in themselves—between classes, religions, ethnic groups and so on—are pre-existing conditions. Opportunists may not invent the hate, but they cynically manipulate it: demonizing outgroups, normalising or naturalising bigotry and stoking violence to justify … repressive ‘law and order’ policies, the curtailing of civil rights and due process, and the mass imprisonment and killing of manufactured enemies.
… those who attack the truth with propaganda, in particular a kind of anti-intellectualism that creates a petri dish for conspiracy theories. For such people, truth doesn’t matter at all. In such an atmosphere, anything is possible, no matter how previously unthinkable.
Actually, after that little lot, a dose of gothic horror comes as light relief!
Happy Halloween, folks!
I’m inviting contributions to another shared poem.
The Lewis Carroll biography has been a blast, all 600 pages of it! You certainly don’t need to share his religious beliefs to appreciate his generous, rational and inclusive philosophy of life.
Good deeds, he suggests, transcend any particular religious affiliation. Good includes ‘all that is brave, and manly, and true in human nature’ and ‘a man may honour these qualities, even though he own to no religious beliefs whatever’. This kind of good that transcends religion, he calls ‘reverence’.
His language may sound a little quaint to modern ears but his message is crystal clear. He was a born communicator who cherished the innocence of childhood. He loved the natural world and campaigned against all forms of cruelty, including animal experiments. He would surely embrace the ecological movement with its powerful scientific understanding of – and deep reverence for – the connections between all living things.
Now it hardly matters whether all this came about by divine intention or just glorious happenstance if we can all agree that life is sacred. And as the creator of the Alice books believed, we live in a fabulous wonderland whose mysteries we are only just beginning to unravel:
A truth … is becoming more and more clear to me as life passes away – that God’s purpose, in this wonderfully complex life of ours, is mutual interaction all round. Every life … bears upon, or ought to bear upon, the lives of others. (LC)
Using this idea as a starting point, in tribute to Lewis Carroll, I would like to invite contributions to another renga. Below is the poem so far …
A renga is a shared poem which begins with a haiku (an unrhymed poem of 5-7-5 syllables) to which are added 2 more lines (each one 7 syllables) to form a tanka (an unrhymed poem of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables). Another haiku then starts the process again.
So each new contributor adds 5 lines, converting the previous haiku to a tanka and then writing a new haiku for someone else to convert. This continues until I decide to bring the poem to a close by completing the final tanka and adding a concluding haiku. The finished poem will then be published with my co-authors credited.
Each life bears upon
Or else ought to bear upon
The lives of others
Symbiosis of the web
A spider spins intricate
In shoots of fine silk
Like the pearl net of Indra
Connections breed fair patterns
Of symmetry and fractals
All bound together
Nature can breed life
Sun, moon and seas sing in tune
A chorus to greet each dawn
Falling on the earth
Within white flesh, five ripe seeds
The fragrant orchard
When I was a child my friends had a nickname for me. They called me The Preacher because I would turn every situation into a moral lesson.
Where did this finger-wagging tendency come from? My dad had a somewhat sententious manner arising from his rather straight-laced Methodist upbringing. And my mum had an unusually heightened sense of social justice which spilled out whenever anything made her angry. Climbing on a soap-box just came naturally to me, I suppose.
I can only pity my poor friends, having their ears bent like that! And now it’s your turn, WordPress people, because looking back over my posts I can’t find one that isn’t a sermon in disguise. Poems, satires, opinions – each of them a little homily to a happier future where prejudice, ignorance and cruelty are unknown.
A world without evil is impossible if you believe in Original Sin – the idea that we are all born bad and must be redeemed. I happen to believe the opposite – that we are born good but corrupted by social conditioning into bad habits. I’m reading a biography of children’s writer Lewis Carroll which explains how he was influenced by the poets Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth towards an idealised yet honest view of childhood – his Alice books show their feisty little hero more than holding her own against the nonsensical gibberish emanating from so-called adult authority.
Carroll works through parody, a skill he honed as a child producing countless magazines for his younger brothers and sisters to read. He was just thirteen when he wrote the spirited poem My Fairy which spoofed the solemn rubrics and prim & proper prudishness of conventional Victorian society.
I have a fairy by my side
Which says I must not sleep,
When once in pain I loudly cried
It said “You must not weep.”
If, full of mirth, I smile and grin,
It says “You must not laugh”;
When once I wished to drink some gin
It said “You must not quaff.”
When once a meal I wished to taste
It said “You must not bite”;
When to the wars I went in haste
It said “You must not fight.”
“What may I do?” at length I cried,
Tired of the painful task.
The fairy quietly replied,
And said “You must not ask.”
Moral: “You mustn’t.”
So finger-wagging isn’t the way to go. Who knew?
And how easy it is to glimpse, in this barely teenage prodigy with his natural genius for companionable hilarity, the witty man who transformed children’s literature by giving children a stronger voice in the bewildering world we grown-ups create for them.