Saturday, December 25, 2010

Atheism, Jesus, Miley Cyrus, Short Skirts and the Festive Season

Brooke Fraser is on C4 for about the 750 gazzillionth time today.  (Such are the joys of spam in the popular music media, but don’t even get me started.) “That’s an awfully short skirt she’s wearing,” one of the energetically Anglican youths that seems to virtually live in my lounge comments, “for a Christian.”
...Say what?!
Firstly, this is hardly the pinnacle of cleavage bearing, coke snorting, reputation destroying, rock n roll. Cite Miley Cyrus’ latest music video, for those of you who have had the misfortune of viewing it, as the quintessential of evangelical pop-star gone wayward. This is wholesome, Kiwi bred, World Vision endorsing, widely respected Brooke Fraser we’re talking about here. As for the skirt in question- certainly a little sexier than a chorister’s cassock, but well within the realms of appropriate hemlines.
But, before I get into the details of the extensive frustration this comment caused me, spare me some time for a little disclaimer. I must emphasise that don’t profess to be any authority on religion whatsoever. There are countless important matters on which I wish I could be fierce and forthright in expressing my own opinion instead of wallowing in some apologetic stage of indecision. But religion is not one of them.  I will always, always attempt to be as open minded as possible about religion. In fact I change my views on religion like I change my underwear, which, I reassure you, is regularly. So the following is just a reflection of my recent train of thought regarding that forever contentious topic. You may disagree, you may want to yell at me for being so senselessly stupid, in fact I’m not entirely convinced that I agree with myself. You may find my argument flawed, hypocritical, or utterly ignorant, in which case I would be delighted for you to show me the error of my ways. 
I divulge. I promised you a tantalising piece on Jesus and short skirts.  I may be over-analysing this particular comment but I believe a person’s piety or spirituality shouldn’t be expressed in abstinence or measured in Church attendance. I know too many people who profess strong theological beliefs in equality, charity and acceptance, yet are the first to make rude and judgemental remarks behind peoples’ backs. People who preach family values on a religious basis, yet regularly cheat on their girlfriends. I personally believe that religion, should you choose to embrace it (and I have no problem with other people doing so), should be about the big things in life, not a pedantic set of guidelines that constrict your drinking and your hemlines.  I understand that religion isn’t always a pick ‘n’ mix smorgasbord which you can approach delicately with a pair of tongs to deliberately and carefully select certain appetising aspects. I also appreciate that we are all human and, I for one, am frequently and ashamedly guilty of often being far from the person I desire to be. I don’t necessarily have a problem with people making decisions regarding drugs, sex or how they spend their Sunday on a religious basis, but it truly pains me when these people live in a walking cloud of religious self-righteousness while committing as many mortal sins as the rest of us. If we are unable to master a messianic perfection of a pious life, surely we should attempt to focus on the important parts- doing to one another as we would have done to ourselves, loving thy neighbour, forgiving your enemies. Hell, do I sound naive and idealistic.
But as I’ve already bolted dangerously along the road of my idealistic circular argument, I won’t repent now. My potentially brash assumption is that it is perfectly possible live charitably, act kindly, love unreservedly, and forgive wholeheartedly without adhering to any specific religious guidelines. There are thousands of different theologies in the world, and yet the majority of them, while certainly allowing for variation, seem to follow one basic principal. While I am very nervous about suggesting such a notion as “universal values,” I do believe that there is one basic, fundamental human value that, however cheesily, supersedes religion, political loyalty, culture and ethnicity- Love.  It is perfectly possible, I maintain, for an atheist to live a wholesome life that benefits and brings joy to others. There is nothing, whatsoever to suggest that a person with no religious conviction is unable to contribute to the world a saint-like virtuosity.
Certainly I think that a large number of religious doctrines are well grounded and entirely sensible. But something instinctively suggests to me that we don’t need to be walking embodiments of Christianity, Islam or any other religion to know that it is wrong to kill, or to hurt others. (Or maybe I feel this way because my upbringing in a Western, liberally Christian society has instilled such values into me, but I’m not convinced by this, and I’m already ranting too much to get into chicken and egg arguments).

I am aware that in my comparatively privileged, middle class New Zealand world, it is naively easy for me to deny any strict or doctrinal manifestation of religion in my life. For people who have experienced greater tragedy or greater suffering than myself, perhaps religion inspires a sense of hope, or identity that otherwise alludes them. I am perfectly willing to accept that for many individuals, and even entire communities, religion serves a strong and valuable purpose, to band people together at times of crisis, to give people hope in their darkest hour, to provide a sense of purpose and belonging to the lost. But I guess the crux of my entire, long-winded argument, is that nobody has the right to present themselves as superior because of their own religiosity and, if we are to act “morally,” or kindly, it should because we desire to love and to be loved, not because of proscribed doctrine, religious or otherwise.  I think it is vitally important to find the desire to love within ourselves, and though we may find external sources from which to derive ideas and values, we must ultimately find our own personal justification and impetus for the actions that come to represent our characters. “It is not your beliefs that make you a spiritual person. It is your actions. The decisions you make and how you treat other humans, animals and nature, the way you live your life.”

Some of you may be trying to read into the significance of me publishing this at Christmas time. I can assure there is none. I’m not the Grinch. This is a piece that I began quite some time ago, and purely coincidentally have happened to finish at Christmas. I do, in fact, love Christmas. I still feel a little bit of the magic that kids experience when they wake up and outrageous hours of the morning to discover in delight a stuffed Santa stocking at the foot of the bed. I love the family time, the giving, the food, and even the carols. Fucking hypocrite.
Merry Christmas kids.
I hope it's wonderful, whether you choose to celebrate Jesus or not.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Stranger and/or Friend

Stranger- an individual that one is not acquainted with.


The word poses a little linguistic intrigue. The term implies something of which we are often guilty - assuming there is something strange about strangers. It’s a habit for which, ruefully, I am reprehensible. It is so easy to assume things about another’s character; to judge people without knowing them, to stereotype, categorise, label, and all those horrible and unfortunate human tendencies. Occasionally I catch myself being a snob- a snobby Wellingtonian, a snobby Nga Tawa girl,... Eugh. And believe me, I hate myself in those moments. Snobbery is a characteristic that, in my opinion, is unrivalled in its unattractiveness. There is nothing that can tarnish a beautiful face more than a curled upper lip, but there is nothing that can obscure and spoil one’s view of the world more than looking at it down one’s nose. Things work both ways I suppose.

There is infinite value in being nice to people. Infinite goodness taking just a second of your time to look up and thank the person at the counter who’s just served their one hundred and sixty first irritable Christmas shopper of the day. I believe that above academic achievement, good looks, or style there is nothing that provides a greater insight into a person’s true character than the way they treat others. Your soul is exposed in the way you address the person behind the counter at McDonalds, or your response when approached by the poor, clipboard bearing Greenpeace staff given their unenviable job of converting the pinstriped swaths of impatient and unsympathetic Lambton Quay businessmen. Tragically, and yet somewhat magically, it is those with the least to give that are the most generous. It is the families who struggle to buy their children a pair of school shoes who will gladly drop an extra dollar into the donation box, while the rich brush hastily past outstretched collectors’ buckets as though bright coloured t-shirts and charitable causes pose some intolerable interjection into their  hurried professional lives, and the primacy of an office timetable.  Sometimes I see these people and wonder how they can genuinely be so unhappy with the world.

I think that the faces of strangers, whether they be at shop counters, behind bars, or simply walking down the street, are like mirrors. How we treat them reflects, not only on how we are are treated in return, but subsequently on our own demeanours, or dispositions, our very own satisfaction with life.

So have a bit of time for others. It is often not that we mean to be rude or demeaning, but we occasionally all get caught up in the hectic self-important, riotous chaos that is our day to day lives and forget to spare a smile for others, especially as we get older. And I'm as guilty of it as anyone.

 I guess it is easier to live by ideals when you’re young. To follow our passions, ideologies and beliefs, whether they be socialism or environmentalism, before our optimistic balloon string is dragged down by the leaden weight of responsibility in a profit orientated world. But, as an optimist, or maybe as a naive and idealistic youth, I believe that there is still more to life than the nine to five rat race. That, even if it is only in the very smallest of things- in opening a door for a parent struggling with a pram, or in helping a little old lady with her shopping bags- there is great potential for goodness in the human race, no matter how shallow or materialistic we may become. The shape of society is dictated entirely by how we see it, and I firmly believe that it can be a positive and beautiful place. Indeed, we do not know anything about the lives and circumstances of strangers but that is all the more reason to do good to them- we never know how much a small smile might mean. A smile is the easiest thing to give, but it is also the most powerful, the most appreciated and the most gracious. Sometimes a smile may not come easily, we may be tired, or grumpy or simply want to be left alone, but it's worth the effort. It’s Christmas, for fuck’s sake. And, after all, perhaps strangers are not strange, but friends we are yet to meet.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ode to Summer

There is nothing so wonderful for the soul as cloudless blue skies. Days when the sky is not simply blue, but a stretching infinity of pristine azure that banishes even the smallest white cloud tufts and with them all the worries of the world. The magic of summer is to me indescribable. It leaves me absolutely brimming with a seemingly boundless joy that lifts my feet to skip in delight and the corners of my mouth perpetually drawn into an eye-twinkling smile that swells from the very inner core of my being. “If summer could talk,” said Bern Williams, “it would boast it invented romance.” But summer can talk. It speaks in Pohutukawa flowers, the throbbing hum of cicadas, cool cotton dresses and the laughter of friends around backyards and barbeques caught on whispers of breeze well into the long and balmy embrace of dusky twilights.
There is nothing so close to perfection as a summer’s evening. Pearls of condensation glisten exquisitely on pints of alluringly cold lager, then, as though overcome with sheer exhaustion in the summer heat, drop rapidly down, leaving streaks of wheaten golden goodness. I love those glorious, deep-toned days of summer. When, from dawnings of amber to amethyst eves, you can’t help but smile and feel like everything is right with the world. Paradise is in those depths of summer when sun scatters its golden wealth with boundless generosity and there is simply nothing to do but shed worries like clothes and immerse oneself in the sea. Some of my fondest memories are of walking home from the beach on a summer’s evening, sand in sea-spun hair, salt on skin, listening to the syncopated thwack of friends’ jandals with one’s own. After a day of football on the sand, punctuated by episodes of screaming splashes of delight in the surf or audacious swims out to the harbour pontoon, it is impossible not to be contented with life and the warmth the sun’s rose kiss.

Summer is a time for friends to rub sunblock on your back, or chase you in mock indignation after you soak them unawares with a great splash of sea water. Summer is a time for Katchafire and the crisp and utterly divine sound of opening a bottle of cider. Summer is a time to savour- the leisure, the weather, our youth and those tantalising dribbles of icecream that escape over the edge of the cone. But most of all- summer is a time to smile. True summer is not in the climate, but in the happy dispositions the season brings. 
That is the romance of summer.

Summer time an' the livin' is easy, Fish are jumpin' an' the cotton is high. Oh, yo' daddy's rich, and yo' ma' is good-lookin', So hush, little baby, don' yo' cry. 
Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward

In every girls life; there's a boy she'll never forget and a summer where it all began. - Anonymous.

Summer is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces up, snow is exhilarating; there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. - John Ruskin

Summer is the time when one sheds one's tensions with one's clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all's right with the world. - Ada Louise Huxtable. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"What a beautiful place," Dobby murmured, "What a beautiful place to be with friends."

There’s a street light flashing on Aro Street. The intermittent illumination of the pavement gives an eerie feeling, as though some wizard might be lurking behind a lamp-post ready to snuff out the street’s mysterious yellow glow for covert magical affairs. Or, at least, such a scenario is pleasantly easy to imagine walking home alone at 03:49 on an either impressively late Wednesday night or unsanctimoniously early Thursday morning. Certainly not a time for any respectable human activity. Which explains why I'm out.

I often walk home from town alone. And yes, I hear the current reprimanding uproar of the more safety-conscious and general common-sense possessing individual than myself. In fact, of all my blog posts, this is the only activity that I explicitly stress you NEVER try at home. Furthermore, if you ever mention to me that you have something so pointlessly perilous, I will chastise you severely, while for my own welfare remaining daringly blasé. I am, at least, willing to admit my own hypocrisy in such a matter, if not to pay for my own taxi fare.

Disclaimer aside, I quite enjoy being alone in those underappreciated and unfamiliar hours when the sky’s palette is just beginning to show the first inklings of dawn. While the majority of normal folk lie between sheets and explore erratically the fleeting disorder of our subconscious, the world seems to quiver with anticipation of the coming light.  This mysterious predawn world and I are relatively unacquainted, but our occasional meetings bring for me a paradoxical mixture of serenity and invigoration. This morning the dusty bushfire hue of the city emerges above the jagged tree line- ponga, pine and pohutukawa through which the Wellington wind whistles its morning fanfare.  

Most haunting and pertinent of all are the melodies of the Tui which are punctuated into episodic three note melodies by the noble little birds’ timber clicks. In these very small hours Aro Valley’s resident, cravat wearing choir are already in full song. At what time do the birds start singing, I wonder? They are gossiping about the likely scandal of the day, before mother daybreak has even stretched her slender fingers over the Rimutakas.

Occasionally I like to sit on my window sill and watch the sunrise. From that window sill I have panoramic views of the habour, dotted with the shimmering lights of cars that zoom along the motorway. Once, on a windy day, I left my favourite dress on the window sill to dry. That mischievous wind that torments girls’ dresses, and upturns our umbrellas whisked it away in one great gust, right over the pohutukawa tree. I searched the street and the nearby houses, but my favourite dress had flown away, right over the Cook Strait for all I knew.

This morning the sun rises quickly. There is no treat of skies bathed in splendid peaches or golden glows, but rather an incremental and anticlimactic shift from black to blue. As the occasional whizz of cars along the motorway slows to a steady crawl of commuters, the Tui song is lost amongst the loud collision of detail, noise and hurry of the day. The world awakes and we all return routinely to the riotous chaotic pace that is everyday life.  But, I know that only a few hours before that this place was unruffled and magical- as though part of another world. So, if you ever feel overwhelmed by the flurry that is city life, take a walk with a friend, or sit on a hill to watch the sunrise. “What a beautiful place,” Dobby murmured, “What a beautiful place to be with friends.”

The view from the roof, 14 Essex Street

Sunset over my family farm, Taumarunui

Aro Park at twilight

Aro Park

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Dummy's Guide to Life and Stephen Fry on [Almost] Everything

So often have I heard my now-fellow graduates bemoaning their BA and who, after three long and fairly arduous years, still do not enjoy what they do. People who have entrenched themselves in the debt-ridden world of mountainous weekly readings, dungy damp flats, unfailingly clustered assignments, and caffeine-fuelled all-nighters of studenthood- only to ask, for what? It is of absolute importance, I believe, to love what you do. Above qualifications, money, or any other material quantifiers of ‘success,’ the ultimate achievement in life is to find and snuggle right into that niche which is entirely your own and in which you can immerse yourself wholeheartedly in your passions. That, to me, is sacrosanct.  My current genius of choice, and point of reference for all matters concerning art, life and everything in between, Stephen Fry, insists that “...everyone has it in them to express in themselves that fundamental thing that they know they are inside.” That inner person may contradict all our notions of respectability, and may be silenced by the economic imperatives, but exists within all of us- even if we haven’t discovered it yet.

I am tired of these generic classifications of success. Why, Fry asks, are we so obsessed with money, title, prestige and longevity of life? We seek these things as if there is some methodology to living and being, as though there is some unfailing formula in the pages of a best-seller. And what is most atrocious, is that these proscribed ways to ‘get thin,’ ‘get rich,’ and ‘get popular’ do become best-sellers. Are we really so misdirected as to believe that the answers to the complex and constantly evolving mysteries of life can be condensed into three hundred pages of one decisive and overpriced handbook?

Thus, it holds that we must fight against the malaise of commonality and  common expectations to find that which Henry Miller terms “...that Paradise of his own creation, that middle realm which is not a bread-and-butter Utopia of which the masses dream but an interstellar realm in which one rolls along his orbit with sublime indifference.” But such is the world that this is easier said than done. It seems glorious to idealistically rebel against the consumerist materialism of means to ends, and to break free of the dead weight of realism on our passions, but while dreams are free, following them is not necessarily so. Sometimes the artist within us must be temporarily subordinated to the unfortunate human requirements of food, clothing and weekly rent. 

Enduring the undesirable in order to achieve a particular goal is, in many instances, acknowledged as admirable determination. Persistence is often more exalted than wallowing aimlessly in a constant state of creative indecision and undefined dreams. But at what point do the ends no longer justify the means? Is it okay to work long and virtually intolerable hours in an equally intolerable job, if we insist that it is only a temporary step in the process to achieving our ultimate equilibrium? What is dangerous, to me, is how easy it is to become absorbed in the money driven routines of necessity and, in doing so, lose touch with that fundamental state of creative honesty and freedom in which we are our own and true self.

So where does my paradoxical argument lead me to? How are you to balance having to exist within a society driven by material needs and yet maintain your own creative individualism? Stephen Fry insists that goal orientation is absolutely disastrous in life. And here I have to diverge- but only slightly. I think he is wholly correct in saying that meeting your goals does not necessarily bring happiness. A life structured entirely around the pursuit of goals is, I concur, inherently dangerous. But a life without aspirations is equally wasted.  

Once again I am guilty of presenting seemingly contradictory arguments. How do you maintain hopes, dreams and aspirations without them becoming rigid and consuming? All my relatively young and admittedly naive intuition suggests is to be malleable. Let your goals be evolving, ongoing and adaptable. Allow yourself to step back from the rigidity of life formulae, of explicit intentions and of exalting material achievement, and subject your desires to constant revaluation and contextualisation. Step off the ridiculously linear work pace of the world just occasionally and clarify whether all that you profess to love and desire, is actually that. One should always have room in their minds to be astounded, and one of the greatest qualities in a person is to be willing to have their preconceptions exposed as misconceptions. So often, in the relentless and uncritical pursuit of our goals we forget to reconsider our aims in relation to the changing circumstances of our lives. There are times when we all have achieved that which we so fervently professed to desire, only to be left feeling hollow and melancholically unfulfilled. I am personally guilty of frequently loving an idea, or my perception of someone or something, rather than the actual reality.

Life, after all, is not linear but a twisting and pothole ridden road, we cannot simply coast along eternally perpendicular motorway lanes, but must diverge from the straight path to avoid obstacles and to intersect safely with others on their journey.

Often it is the journey that is the most important part. Henry Miller claims that his intention was never to become a writer, but somewhere in his attempts to express himself, became one of the greatest literary figures to grace this earth-  “Very much as if a warrior, challenged to mortal combat and having no weapons, must first forge them himself. And in the process, one that takes all his life, the purpose of his labours gets forgotten or sidetracked.” On the journey we may be forced to make sacrifices and at time accept the mundane realities and rude interjections of money in our lives. But even so, never lose sight of that which inspires you most. Constantly reassess how you are spending those precious and invaluable moments and ask whether you are truly happy, or are simply seeking an end that derives not from your true self, but projected into our minds by materialistic society. If you must subordinate your creative self in the short term, create an inner sanctum and reserve time to pursue your passions, whether they be music, art, football... anything.

To me, that passion, among other things, is writing. My love for writing has caught me quite by surprise. I have always enjoyed it, but recently I have found myself waking in the middle of the night and frantically fumbling for a notebook to jot down the rampant musings of my mind. And while I am unnerved by Thomas Aquinas’ words; “all that I have written seems in the end to be so much straw,” I write because I feel I simply must. I may not have any talent, but because at times I feel almost overwhelmed by an incredible desire to put into words what I have seen and experienced in this extraordinary world. Having worked fulltime over the past week or so, I have been denied of virtually any opportunity to write, and for some indescribable reason I am finding it quite intolerable.  I am beginning to wonder if the money is really worth it, and if I am destined for a life of a struggling, and forever unpublished writer. Here I am reassessing how I envisaged my life in a terrifying and entirely unprecedented manner.

As I am discovering, it is frightening to confront the nature and basis of our desires. I believe that we should always seek that which makes us happy, and beware of how we determine exactly what happiness is. I suppose, as a very insightful friend, just pointed out, the question is- what is orientating your goals? But that is only my humble opinion, hence I leave you in the inspiring hands of the wonderful Stephen Fry who has something wise to say on virtually everything.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Impossible is nothing.

Wow, epiphany.

=“The sudden realisation or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something.”

There are some things in life that we can be told time and time again and yet simply cannot or chose not to believe them. There are those truths barraged at us in a deluge of constant fire from all sides, which fail to permeate our armour. They can pound at the gates of our consciousness, or can gradually attempt to caress and ease us into believing and embracing them. But so frequently we chose to remain an impenetrable fortress of pre-conceptions and sometimes sheer fallacy. We know, on a subliminal level, that what people are telling us is honest, heart-felt, well-meaning and often infinitely valuable, but we, for seemingly inexplicable reasons, are unwilling to acknowledge what we know to be true in our heart of hearts.  Sometimes it takes a cataclysmic moment for us to truly and unreservedly accept what suddenly seems a blatant and self-evident truth. These moments are often unremarkable in themselves; a particular quote we stumble across in a book, a passing comment from a stranger, or a sight we encounter during the most routine of activities, but they can illuminate a deeper frame of reference in which the truth is simply undeniable. In a single second we can experience something that can crumble the facade we have tenaciously maintained, and we can finally gain a holistic and applicable understanding of what has been impressed upon and explained to us throughout our entire lives. It is often in the places we least expect to, that we find the most profound truths.

Self-belief is one of those truths. To believe that you are beautiful, fabulous, and valuable is one of the hardest things in human existence. Our modern world has seen a proliferation of inspirational media, of blogs, books, music- all attempts to impress upon us our own magnificence. A multitude of can-do literature insists that we can achieve anything, that we can surmount the proverbial Everest in our lives, that impossible is nothing. Yet, no matter how many tales of astonishing audacity we may hear, how often it is asserted that everyone is special in their own unique way, we, as humans, remain fundamentally insecure. A compliment can sit pertinently with us, but one irking negative comment too can consume and fixate us.

“Tall poppy syndrome” needs no introduction.  It is, everyone from our politicians to our primary school teachers reiterates, a plague upon our nation, a debilitating and progress-hindering characteristic of our people. Indeed, I think New Zealand is an inherently, and sometimes overly modest nation. We find it hard to accept compliments and insist that we are undeserved of praise even to the point of ridiculousness. There is almost a social obligation to appear modest and to keep our accomplishments quiet so as not to show disdain. But why? It seems that we could benefit from lifting our chins up with the certain pride and imperviousness that Sophie Ward claims serves New Yorkers well it seems.

In my opinion, this syndrome of cutting down our most blossoming is in decline, but it remains a damaging and deeply etched imprint on our psyche. I think that my greatest exposure to tall poppy syndrome occurred during my early life in small, rural and isolated Ongarue. I remember a time when it was phenomenally “uncool” to do well in school, and the phrase “try-hard” became generically derogatory. I spent the latter of my primary school years desperately trying to adjudicate a balance between what I knew I could achieve and adopting a rebellious, apathetic persona. I would put on a front of deliberate laboriousness in doing my maths work and walk with my friends during cross country training when I knew I loved to run.

But, at least increasingly, in the real world it’s not cool to play dumb anymore. We have developed an almost congenital paranoia that people will judge us for being ourselves, and for expressing confidence in our own abilities when, at least on the majority of occasions, I like to hope this is no longer the case. Maybe this is my inherently optimistic side liberal Wellingtonian self in full voice, but, increasingly, it’s not homosexuality that’s frowned upon, but homophobia. Intelligence is highly regarded, success to be aspired to, hard work admired, and self-confidence can be sexy without being arrogant.

That isn’t to say that modesty isn’t virtuous. Our down-to-earth nature is something that New Zealanders can, and should take pride in, but we should not become a nation of self-apologists. Humility is becoming, yes, but being a shrinking violet is not.


So, what was my epiphany?
Until recently when people told me, “he’s not out of your league,” “there’s no such thing as leagues” their well-intentioned words fell deaf on my ears as I ascertained that they were simply “being nice.” Undoubtedly they were trying nobly to bolster my confidence while painfully aware that I was destined to fall victim to the inevitably unrequited pangs of the heart. Ironically, words of wisdom from one of the very people I designated as “way out of my league” were the beam of truth that finally and fundamentally challenged my obstinate intransigence - my moment of realisation.

While I may live to be humbly disproved I am finally convinced that “leagues” are a crazy and obsolescent, if not obsolete, relic. The notion of 'leagues' is no more than a convenient lens through which to view life and relationships, without having to address the realities of each individual situation. By dismissing someone as 'out our league,' routinely labelling a task as ‘too hard,’ or a goal beyond our reach it makes it easier to ignore the real, individual and sometimes incomprehensible, or even hurtful reasons why things may not transpire as we envision. And indeed, reality is such that our feelings may be unrequited, or we may not achieve what we had initially aspired to. But by attributing an outcome in relationships (or lack thereof) to an overarching and unchallengeable principle such as "leagues" or "hierarchies" I think people are trying to find simple and blanket explanations for complex and unique situations that we often find hard to understand.

In a way, I certainly at least, have tended to use the notion of leagues like a security blanket. By convincing ourselves that something is unattainable we are anesthetising ourselves to the pain of shattered expectations. Yet, at the same time, if we approach life/situations with a defeatist attitude or preordained sense of inadequacy, it can too easily and become a tragically self-fulfilling prophesy. Dismissing ourselves, our worth and our prospects is not only to undermine the fundamental principles of equality, liberty, and socially mobility that have shaped some of the most valiant battles history and become the celebrated hallmarks of modern society, but it is the death knoll of proactivity, self-improvement and progress. Where would Cinderella be if she had never gone to the ball?To accept the notion of leagues is to solidify oneself rigidly on an artificial social stratification, in which we convince ourselves that we have only certain and limited entitlements. This is false. By are, by virtue of our comparative privilege, endowed with an ability to make of ourselves what we wish.

For a multitude of reasons we may find ourselves hurt or rejected, yet if we never take a chance our hollow negative convictions are given empirical resonance. It is circular logic that is particularly dangerous in matters of the heart. We may shroud ourselves in security blankets of preconceptions and pre-determined failure, but ultimately these blankets are damp and unflattering, serving only to wrap us in self-perpetuating misery and lingering ‘what-ifs?’
Clichés are written for a reason. It is only through exposing ourselves at our most vulnerable that we are ultimately able to reach the highest pinnacle of strength. It takes braving the cold, the elements, but most of all one’s own self-belief to conquer Everest. Freezing your heart will only confound those irking insecurities which gnaw constantly at you, themselves gaining strength for the next opportunity to rear their ugly head. Mark Twain left us with the impeccable wisdom that “In twenty years time you will more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than what you did do.” Carpe Diem. My four favourite wise men sang that “the love you take is equal to the love you make.”  Seize the day. Emmy award winning director Bertram Van Munster observed that “the world is smaller than you think, and the people on it are more beautiful than you think.” Succour all the marrow out of life. Humanity is endowed with an unbounded ability for pleasant surprise.  Take a leap.  Allow your preconceptions be blown out of the water by something extraordinary. Dream. It’s incredibly refreshing to approach the world with just a little bit of faith. Love.  And even if that faith proves unfounded there is remarkable freedom in knowing that you have been unapologetic to your own potential. Live.

I said that we often find the most profound truths in the most unassuming of places. It was Winnie the Pooh who said “ are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think...”

For once-
Believe it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Don't tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass."

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I believe the opposite.
A word is not static. Just one word can have hundreds of definitions and countless more connotations. A single word is loaded with sights, smells, emotions and can, in just an instance, invoke a thousand pictures.


Read a word within a sentence and it develops a context and an agenda. It is not there inadvertently but deliberately and meticulously handpicked to express a viewpoint, to exact a certain emotion, or, conversely, to spark your own, specifically personal response.  Even words that alone stand innocent and powerless in the pages of dictionary, when harnessed in the perfect phrase, have the power to shoot straight at your heart or etch the corners of your lips into a knowing smile. To me, there is something delightful about reading those delicious phrases that transport you immediately to a specific moment, those magic combinations of words that simply ooze and glisten with exquisiteness. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining,” Anton Chekhov once said, “show me the glint of light on broken glass.” I would kill to write like that.
When you read a great novel, or a short story, or a poem, you are not simply reading words from a page, but you are becoming part of an entirely interactive process of consuming and giving life to verbs, adjectives and nouns. Words are not constrained to their physical presence on paper, but leap into the complex inner workings of your mind and mingle with your experiences, emotions, hopes and dreams to inspire images and emotions. A sentence is like a new colouring book which each person shades uniquely. Some will render it gradually while others fill it in with block primary colours or stray haphazardly over the lines. The final product is a reflection of the reader's age, mood and interpretation. Your response to a piece of writing is a reflection of your own viewpoint, and yet, simultaneously what we read constantly reinforces or remoulds our perceptions of the world around us. No sentence will ever hold exactly the same meaning to any two people. So frequently I have been a participant in debates sparked by a completely different interpretation of just a few words. Never does the reader play a passive role vis-a-vis the writer but a true writer is one who inspires the artist in the reader to colour the words with the most vibrant crayons or waterpaint them with tears. The reader brings words to life and the words change (even if only minimally or subconsciously) the life of the reader.
As I child I would frequently disappear into the forts I built of flimsy sheets and sturdy imagination to rapaciously devour page after page of Enid Blyton, becoming completely enthralled in the fantastical world of The Faraway Tree for hours at a time. I would imagine myself feasting on Pop-Biscuits with Moon-face and sliding gleefully down the ‘slippery-slip’ in the centre of the Faraway tree itself.  The rhododendron in our back garden was transformed into a pirate ship, raucously teething with swarthy buccaneers on unruly seas and the hollow tree stump in our orchard became a treacherous and mysterious  smugglers’ cave from The Famous Five. In those days I wanted not Barbie dolls, computer games, or television: I had novels and a place in the countryside to let my imagination run wild.  Occasionally I would envy the children who would go home from school to sit in front of Nickelodeon, but I now know that an almost outright ban of television was the greatest gift my parents could have ever given me.
Today, I firmly believe that children are missing out on so much due to an overexposure to television. This is not to undermine photography, visual art and cinema which can be undeniably thought-provoking, intelligent and interactive, but to say, that too many children’s programmes are engineered to provide the opportunity for unimaginative and uncritical consumption. Rather than being a catalyst for our imagination they provide entirely pre-constructed settings and characters which allow us to watch passively and emptily. While some programmes are informative and valuable, I believe that no amount of government funded educational television can ever be equal to the immeasurable benefits of reading. The written word is one of the greatest sources of magic we have in this world and it is a tragedy for the world to turn away from it.
Instead of absently flicking on the tv today’s modern family could do with stopping and picking up a good book. Some of my earliest and most precious childhood memories were of reading, or being read to. And today I can still be moved to tears by Hans Christen Anderson's The Little Match Girl, or Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince. A picture may tell a thousand words, but the power of the right words is infinite.

Writing, I think, is not apart from living.  Writing is a kind of double living.  The writer experiences everything twice.  Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.  ~Catherine Drinker Bowen, Atlantic, December 1957
A word is not the same with one writer as with another.  One tears it from his guts.  The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.”  ~Charles Peguy
"What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.  ~Logan Pearsall Smith, "All Trivia," Afterthoughts, 1931
"The maker of a sentence launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight."  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Forever Young

We were three.
The memories are hazy now
but certainly there was a time
when we ran naked with reckless abandon,
we drew on each other with bright coloured crayons,
and fell clumsily on our noses in the playground.
We danced without a care in the world,
dug moats and buried treasure in the sand.

We climbed,
We swam,
We sang,
We laughed.

We dressed as pirates
and tigers
and Elmo.

It was Paraone St
and you were the king of the castle.

I am twenty, and you twenty-one.
The memories are hazy still
but certainly, there are those times,
when we run about naked without inhibition,

when we draw on each other with vivid,
and fall drunkenly to the ground.

We still dance without a care in the world,
and bury our friends in the sand.

We climb.
We swim.
We sing.
We laugh.

We dress as pirates,
and tigers,
and Elmo.

It was Weir
It is Wellington
And you are still the king of the castle.

(and a dirty rascal.)

Happy birthday kiddo. May you be forever young at heart.