A Window in North London

I sat on the top deck of an unfamiliar bus, and I looked into the late stages of dusk, which were almost dark enough to be just night.

I said I would be “back by bats”, but this was a slightly optimistic promise. Bats being dusk, birds being dawn (as I expounded over a solitary cider before): there are four times of the day. Bats, birds, dark, and not dark. I sat on the bus and I plugged away through unfamiliar songs sung with familiar voices, or quoth the less poetic: a new album by a band I already liked. Comfort in the same old things.

In the dark the windows are like rectangular eyes. It’s not a new observation: houses look like faces, windows let you see inside. On the top deck of a bus there’s always the chance you’ll see something dramatic or strange inside a room where the curtains aren’t drawn: on the way back from Camden, one afternoon, a girl of maybe ten or so wedged up against the glass, behind the curtain, reading something with a lurid cover and her hand pressed over her mouth at an uncomfortable angle (snap). From a train, some years ago, the memorable sight of a teenage foursome disintegrating into a naked crying girl, a comforting naked girl, and two naked teenage boys looking nervous on the other side of the room (snap).

This time, somewhere between Seven Sisters and Wood Green: a woman and a girl, by a window that has no curtains, with their backs to the road in some kind of grim discussion with a woman standing at the door. The room walls are bare. The bus moves on but the image is stuck: so many people live their life in one room, and once I thought I would too.

White walls, white ceiling, no art, no hangings, no nothing. You sit and you sit and you sit and you sit, and you have nothing to do but think and eat carefully-spaced-out and measured meals. The room becomes claustrophobic, so you go out. But you don’t have any money and you don’t have anywhere to go, so you walk around your immediate neighbourhood until you’re tired, and you sit on a bench until you’re cold, and then you sit and you sit and you sit, then you sleep. And you sleep.

Over and over, for a whole lifetime. One room or another. I couldn’t stop myself thinking: how many potentially wonderful voices are drowned out by sitting, and sitting? How many artists and scientists and nurses and soldiers and comedians and revolutionaries sit, and sit, and sit, and never become more than a sad stain on a lonely carpet somewhere beyond a window in any given city in the world? How much are we missing out on as a culture, as a species? What life-changing thoughts are stored away and never given form because it’s cold or it’s dark and there’s one room with four white walls and overdue rent, everyone tucked away in lonely little pigeonholes, starving slowly to death?

The difference between impassive and apathetic

As I mentioned when I wrote my fish post, sometimes when I check what search terms have brought people to this blog I find certain phrases coming up a lot. Often they’re useful directions  – people looking for a specific Francis Bacon painting which I wrote about, or trying to find reviews of the sadly-neglected A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia. But sometimes they’re things I haven’t quite answered myself, and I know how frustrating it is when Google won’t pony up the goods you need and you end up on some blog that’s making it harder to find your answers by clogging up the search results with posts that contain all the individual words of your query but nothing helpful.

“the difference between impassive and apathetic”

And variations thereon have shown up enough times that I feel honour-bound to address the question. Also, I like splitting hairs about the connotations of individual words and that’s how I managed to get a disproportionately high rank in language skills despite communicating like a monkey with a head injury most of the time.

 

  • impassive.

 

An impassive entity is one which isn’t swayed by external entreaties, and may appear to be unmoved emotionally. While this would be traditionally applied to people, it can be stretched without much effort to cover cliff faces, animals, and anything else that takes brief anthropomorphising well. The key to impassivity is that while the impassive entity may perfectly capable of stirring his or her self should they so wish, responding with passion and ire and activity, they are not demonstrating any in response to external pressures. They are, very much like our cliff face, stony and unmoved, perhaps constitutionally or perhaps merely because of the shitness of someone’s suit. The point is, your impassive fellow is not giving up any of their “feels” where you can see them; they have a good poker face. (There is the secondary definition of “impervious to suffering”, including the infliction of their own).

  • apathetic.

Now your apathetic entity, who is probably either a teenager or having a bad case of responding like one, is someone who just doesn’t care. They’re not walling up some potentially girthy emotional response behind self-control, they’re devoid of fucks to give. Not only are they unmotivated to feel, they’re unmotivated to act. They have no preference, and cannot be swayed by pathos (appeals to the emotions) because their emotions just don’t want to know. It’s less a case that they have a good poker face and more the case that they don’t give a tinker’s cuss if they win or lose: they’re not concealing anything, there is simply nothing to conceal. In fact, the apathetic entity is entirely likely to make no efforts to hide their absence of monkeys given. Apathethic is closer to indifferent than impassive is.

impassive means y’all don’t know how someone feels, apathy means y’all probably do know that they ain’t give a fuck. 

(For the none of you whom I’m sure actually care about this, the reason these two very similar terms co-exist in English is that they have their roots in different languages. Impassive, as I’m sure is obvious, derives from the Latin passivus, while apatheia passes through Latin but begins with Greek).

100 Works of Art: (Aural) Crow on the Cradle, Sydney Carter

The 100 Works of Art blog series is to do with personal interaction with beloved works of art rather than impartial reviews or focussing solely on the relatable and universal qualities of the work. Because this is a blog, not a book. The first 25 are to do with visual art, and begin with Matta’s Black Virtue; the next 25 will be about aural art and begin with The Cure’s Let’s Go To Bed.

29. Crow on the Cradle, Sydney Carter & Jackson Browne

I grew up on a mixture of folk music and a little of the blues. My mother had what my peers characterised as “terrible” taste in music, and I adopted it: as I’ve got older her taste in music has become genuinely terrible (there was a point where it was all whale noise and Gregorian chant and then as I got into plainchant she managed to undercut me again and asked if I’d get her a James Blunt CD) and I’ve decided to ignore the judgement of a collection of Celine Dion-reared rejects from my childhood and embrace the inner folkie. A lot of the songs I listened to as a child were standard-issue folk music about girls with this or that coloured hair or one particularly brilliant song about an enormous pie – the title of which I’ve never been able to remember, to my great loss. But a lot of the songs, too, were protest songs: other contenders for this slot included Country Joe & The Fish’s Fish Cheer/I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag, a selection of Donovan songs including Universal Soldier, and the Fureys & Davey Arthur’s version of The Green Fields of France. Not surprisingly for someone who was taken to an anti-nuclear weapons protest at six weeks old, I grew up listening to various earnest people – both with and without beards and dungarees – requesting with various metaphors and degrees of urgency that the world consider maybe not nuking itself into oblivion.

Regular readers of this blog will be more than a little aware by now that I am morbid as fuck despite all my best efforts, and this began early, with a love of the aforementioned Green Fields of France and a collection of songs which were, bluntly put, guitar-led dirges about dead people. Crow on the Cradle is no different in that respect, and along with Universal Soldier and an untitled song about dead soldiers in the Vietnam War which I listened to so often that I wore out the C90 cassette it was on, got considerable use as a lullaby for me.

It is a little like a lullaby. There is something late evening, inevitable, and gentle about the version I am most familiar with. It puts me in mind of the festivals I spent all my childhood summers at: the sun low in the sky, the flies rising, a hubbub of voices and the smell of wood fires, music everywhere in the background, and hot, dry earth under bare feet. In that respect it is comforting, although you do have to wonder about finding a song warning of nuclear holocaust “comforting”. 

As with many a folk song, the lyrics work as a poem, and the whole thing is designed to be memorable and easily-recited. It’s a kind of troubadour tradition: make the information simple to pass on and vivid enough to stick in people’s minds. In the case of Crow on the Cradle it’s achieved with snatches of nursery rhymes and nursery-rhyme-esque phrase: hush-a-bye little one, never you weepwith rings on her fingers, and bells on her toes; in each case subverted by a fairly chilling closing part to the pattern: for we’ve got a toy that can put you to sleep; or and a bomber above her wherever she goes. As the fact that I’ve had a French nursery rhyme about wearing clogs stuck in my head for a week can very much attest, nursery rhymes are tenacious once crammed into the brain and arise as soon as a similar phrase is heard. So it is that this is a thing that I leave up to you immediately recalls the rest of the song, and while “Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross” is not the most oft-recited of nursery rhymes, it has been supplanted in my mind all the same by and a bomber above her wherever she goes.

Each verse in itself becomes bleaker and more morbid as it progresses, from cow’s in the corn to carry a gun (and the ominous omen of death in the crow on the cradle of the title and refrain), but overall they also become more and more ominous and threatening, like the returning passes of a bomber. Well-paced in this regard, it is the centre verse which repeats on itself, speeding up the onset of the fearful and the morbid (somebody’s baby is born for a fight / somebody’s baby is not coming back), setting up the remaining two verses with their violence and oppression at the start: your mother and father will sweat and they’ll save, to build you a coffin and dig you a grave. In these remaining verses the blame is attributed: the beginnings speak of the baby in the cradle and the doom overhanging it, while these tell the listener whose fault it is. The generation of the songwriter, apparently, is to blame. 

The song closes with an insistent demand for action delivered by the threat that must be eliminated itself, the eponymous crow on the cradle, repeating: this is a thing that I leave up to you. Even now the assigning of responsibility is palpable and in the context of the rest of the song the refusal to act seems like it comes at a chilling cost. It is not hard to imagine the crow as a mushroom cloud.

In light of all this, even more so, it is strange to find the song comforting, but I’ve always also found a certain level of comfort in nihilism and the idea of accepting the degree of powerlessness an individual has in the face of a very powerful force (in this case, mankind’s apparent yen for self-destruction).

100 Works of Art: (Aural) Best Sunday Dress, Hole

The 100 Works of Art blog series is to do with personal interaction with beloved works of art rather than impartial reviews or focussing solely on the relatable and universal qualities of the work. Because this is a blog, not a book. The first 25 are to do with visual art, and begin with Matta’s Black Virtue; the next 25 will be about aural art and begin with The Cure’s Let’s Go To Bed.

28. Best Sunday Dress, Hole

For most of the turbulent and eventful year that was the first in the Gregorian calendar to begin with a 2 and carry three digits after it, the oft-lyriced-about 2000, this was my favourite song. It’s a B-side, which I can promise you is unusual for me these days, but in the height of my pre-torrents, pre-YouTube music fever collecting B-sides of bands I liked was an art form in itself, and involved petitioning virtual strangers on message boards to send me bad cassette tapes, and trips to various market stalls to acquire bootleg CDs. I had a weekly income of £22 from my Saturday job, which I was technically trying to save, and couldn’t exactly spunk money left, right, and centre on hunting down rare releases – especially when even finding what they were was such a hassle.

Reader, you will be glad to hear that I have since realised that it is not necessary to be a completist to appreciate someone’s oeuvre, and as such Hole more or less mark the point at which I never again put so much effort into investing my interest in a single band. I don’t regret it in the slightest, however: even a few years later, when I’d moved on and was mostly listening to techno, and a copy of America’s Sweetheart came into the offices of the student rag I worked for, I still snapped it up. Nobody’s Daughter, even more recently, still met with a doggedly loyal reception. Connections forged in the emotional overreaction that is adolescence tend to hold more firmly than those found later.

So why this particular song, of all songs? I didn’t come to it first – that honour goes to the title track of third studio album Celebrity Skin – and it probably isn’t the most lyrically or musically accomplished of all the band’s work (most people agree that Live Through This contains almost all the strong contenders for that title); what resonated at the time was, perhaps rather shamefully, the tragedy inherent in both the simple chord structure and the lyrics.

At 17 and 18 I was a fairly stereotypical Sixth Form Goth, and as for much of my adult life, preoccupied with death – this time with all the fire and fervour of youth – and with the tragedy of suicide and all that jazz. My Nirvana phase was squarely behind me, and I’d moved on to scanning the lyrics of Hole songs for Courtney’s obvious and ongoing agony regarding the death of her husband. The song is pretty much rife with references which either are or can be pressed into service as references to the departed:

Pale blue eyes so young
Pale blue eyes so far away
Watch me with his sorrow
Forgive me all his pain

And at the time I was still in thrall to the key-change as an emotional intensifier, having ridden through the first burst of puberty on the back of the Top 40, so the line at which this occurs (roughly around shone like a diamond) also cemented itself into my head as one with great meaning, although now, looking back at the song with an additional 13 years of life in the way, it’s this which seems the most poignant:

and I’ve come here all undressed
all the posion and pain and I take what is mine

possibly because these two lines to me represent adequately what has happened to Courtney in the eye of the beholder. She’s been repeatedly stripped of any right to mourn via rumours and accusations about her involvement or her emotional response (what is the correct response to your tempestuous and troubled love of your life shooting himself in the head while AWOL? Is there one? How do you respond to something so huge and so painful?), and exposed before all the world in the press as someone to be scrutinised at her time of greatest sorrow (much, indeed, as Yoko Ono was). A woman of strong, divisive personality and very powerful emotions, she would never have contented herself with a regal tear and the mannerly withdrawal required of widows: she was a rock star before she met him and she was determined to continue being one after he left. In the second line the poison and pain are as much the vitriol heaped on a grieving woman as they are the heroin and loss; I take what is mine could equally apply to retrieving the image of her dead husband from the media who declared him their property (I suspect she minded the fans slightly less) as to the acceptance of abuse (I take what is mine, I take what is intended for me, ie, poison and pain) from various quarters.

For what is a very, very sad song the sound is defiant. It’s not the sadness that curls in on itself and weeps quietly, but a kind of explosive sadness, a supernova of mourning or a howl of ongoing misery that acknowledges everything that’s fed into it as it pushes all of it outwards. Messier, and less acceptable than the accepted mode of widowhood, but then when I was 17 and 18 I was messier and less acceptable than the accepted mode of adolescence, trying to rescue my entire sense of self from five years in a lock-up and doing very poorly at it. It spoke to me, the way Courtney Love’s music spoke to several generations of unhappy and angry teenage girls and in fact continues to do so. The fans of it are still subject to the same derision and spite as its maker is, but that comes with the territory of being someone with too many uncontained feelings who refuses to beautify them for the comfort of others.

Sight, the least reliable of the senses.

I have no idea what evidence the statement in the title of this post actually has, but it was proudly included in the introduction to the Light Show at the Hayward Gallery. To be honest, given the bright sun outside (in which my friends and I had been lounging, sprawled on a small astroturf island on the sea of the South Bank Centre in the peculiarly British habit of sunbathing violently the moment there is a single clear day), it might have been more sensible to call this the Artificial Light Which Isn’t As Alluring As Outside Is Right Now show, but we had tickets and the Hayward is often good for the weird and the interactive. It is also probably a car park with delusions of being an art gallery, and I refuse to rescind my belief that it and the rest of the South Bank Shambles are some of the ugliest buildings ever created, but that’s not relevant to the content.

Leo Villareal’s Cylinder II kept us entertained for a while, resembling both a cloud of glittering abyssal beasts with their bioluminescence winking in the water, and in shadows a kind of “phase-shifting sea urchin”; Ceal Floyer’s Throw, while uninteresting as an installation, did at least keep the theatre lighting student/practitioner among us happy identifying the gobo in use. The first piece – but not the last – to induce the kind of hypnotic rapture that art which changes must bring about was Cerith Wyn Evans S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E. In this, three columns, floor to ceiling, of perfectly clear glass tubes containing tiny filaments lit up and darkened again in slow “breaths”, at their brightest radiating a lot of heat as well as light. The three columns light up entirely, but do so in different orders. We might have taken in the pattern of their fading and dimming but instead we hung over the wire separating us from hot light bulbs and discussed in four-year-old terms the effects of light and heat on the emotions.

The exhibition is classically Hayward in the sense that a lot of the pieces require going into a small room and looking at something, or interacting in another way with it: the first one that did so in a fun way was Anthony McCall’s You and I, Horizontal, which in having patterns of smoke swirling through what the exhibition guide calls a “solid-light” installation, led to the three of us lying on the floor underneath the beams of light and watching the patterns move as if “we’re lying at the bottom of a pond”, (as Maud explained to the stranger who joined us: soon several people were lying on the floor). After a while we discovered if we stuck our legs up into the beams, they looked as if they were being pulled apart by a cold and penetrating blackness. Possibly not “art” in any real sense of making us think about ~society~ or ~death~ or ~big questions~, but it was fun.

A lot of the works also required the viewer to be in a specific place in relation to them in order to understand them: Jim Campbell’s Exploded View (Commuters), for example, looks like an endearing forest of randomly off-or-on berry-like bulbs of light hanging from the ceiling, until you stand behind it and realise the patterns of extinguished light are not random but outline the shadowy forms of passing humanoid shapes, some near, some far, moving fast. This is deeply unsettling, and gives the room a sense of being inhabited by unseen presences. Other works in this vein like that by Brigitte Kowanz, whose dangling fluorescent tubes only elicited a scoff of “Stairway to Heaven again”, were less successful.

An unintentionally fine performance addition to James Turrell’s ambiguous and not especially impressive installation Wedgework V occurred while we were viewing it. The three of us sat and discussed, quietly, how the lines of the room caused shifts in perception, and then what would make the business more interesting (“giant black reflectionless tentacles rounding the corner”, “a viscous dark fluid dripping from the ceiling”); the small baby behind us expressed his dissatisfaction with the weird colour scheme in a more voluable and, I suspect, honest fashion. And then someone along the row from us uttered the immortal phrase How am I supposed to experience the art with that going on, which kept us all going for some time: we made fun of him until he left, and for a little while afterwards. After all, the experience of others in a group viewing is a factor in the overall understanding of an installation piece.

Sometimes, the reactions of the audience to a piece lead to expectations which cannot be met: Conrad Shawcross’s Slow Arc inside a Cube is a fascinating piece both in the mechanism of how it works, the end result of geometric patterns moving and “changing shape” across the walls of the small room, and in the artist’s source of inspiration (for once), Dorothy Hodgkin’s description of examining diffraction pattern of X-rays bounced off insulin atoms as “decoding the shape of a tree from the shadows cast by its leaves”, which actually makes sense as an inspiration for this work. Unfortunately while queuing for the disappointing Turrell installation I overheard one of the people in front of me claiming he’d been unable to remain in the room for long because it made him feel nauseous, and was subsequently so scornful of his queasiness that I wasn’t able to appreciate the work in isolation of that.

The remaining work on the ground floor of the exhibition which ignited any emotion was Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Chromosaturation: we enjoyed examining the effects of the different colours of light (blue, red, green) on each other’s faces and hands, comparing notes on which made us look more mottled and which more smooth, and on our minds (blue bored me, red energised me, and green made me feel content). The way the light seemed to “pile up” and become more intensely coloured when we’d left it and looked back on it was also impressive.

Upstairs contained works that were both a good deal less interesting and one which was the highlight of the entire exhibition. The greatest confusion was probably caused by Ivan Navarro’s Reality Show (Silver), where none of us could work out what the point was supposed to be, and even inside found the effects described by the notes weren’t as clearly-defined as expected. Personally I mostly found that I didn’t like standing over a yawning abyss, even illusory, and got out again very quickly.

I shall pass with reasonable grace over my intense dislike of Jenny Holzer, as we had to pass through a room containing her work to get to (and back to, for a second visit) the high water mark of the exhibition, Olafur Eliasson’s Model for a timeless garden.

A brief description of it to a friend on my return home: a black room with a black foam bench at roughly chest height, several metres long, full of a variety of sprinklers throwing out water in different patterns*, light by strobe lights.  * Some of the flow of these interfered with each other, but I didn’t include that in my description. The effect of the strobe light on the falling water was utterly mesmerising, because it turned what is usually a continuous motion into a series of still images, ever-changing, often slightly-repeating, but never truly-identical. That these images were three-dimensional and clear but highly-reflective gave the impression of a garden of beautiful abstract sculptures in ice or brilliant crystal (some like flowers, some like impossible hanging diamond rain, some like huge glass spiders whose bodies disintegrate on a loop) somehow animated by Harryhausen-esque stop-motion. It felt a little as if Swarovski had been commissioned to create a horror movie, or Yves Tanguy to advertise an ice-maker. We cast around for a while, trying to work out what about it was so soothing, considering how otherworldly and alien and profoundly unnatural-but-organic it all felt. I’ve had to fall back on saying that it was beautiful, but it wasn’t beautiful in the manner of a glacier so much as beautiful in the manner of highly cultivated orchids or bizarre and delicate hanging sculptures knocked by the breeze: utterly without function, and only there to dazzle.

On a side-note, the strobe lighting completely threw off my depth perception so I’m sorry to the several people I bumped into!

Book Release/Art Post: Sketchbook

In a possibly damning indictment of how I choose to spend my time, I’ve discovered that my line drawings and warm-up sketches, done while avoiding work, have mounted up to the point where I can shove them all into a little sketchbook thing and make them available more cheaply (alas also at correspondingly lower print quality) than the individual finished images on Redbubble.

Click for sales page

The majority of sketches in this book have appeared on this blog, and can still be viewed by checking the category “content: artwork” (in the sidebar).


In the grand scheme of entertaining myself at the moment I am doing well: thoroughly enjoyed the first two episodes of Hannibal with Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne, and Mads Mikkelsen, and am looking forwards to more. From what I’ve seen online opinion is split. I wouldn’t call it a revolutionary and fresh approach to television, but I’ve grown so jaded with scripted TV dramas that I am frankly just pleased the dialogue and characterisation don’t immediately make me want to punch a hole in the screen and forswear the experience of owning eyes.

In the field of written media I’m taking a break from my relentless consumption of every single Cadfael book ever published in order to finish reading G W Dahlquist’s Glass Books trilogy, ploughing through The Chemickal Marriage with the same urgency that took me through the first two in short order. I hope to write about the trilogy in more depth when I’ve finished the final part.

Jewellery Post: Silver Spring

Silver plate fish hook ear wire earrings with fine vintage silver plate chain, silver-tone leaf charms, silver plate pins, and acrylic beads.Long, delicate earrings which sway and tremble with every movement. Perfectly eye-catching shiny beauties which shimmer and soak up the sun.£2.99
Click on image for listing

Silver plate fish hook ear wire earrings with fine vintage silver plate chain, silver-tone leaf charms, silver plate pins, and acrylic beads.

Long, delicate earrings which sway and tremble with every movement. Perfectly eye-catching shiny beauties which shimmer and soak up the sun.

£2.99

7 and three quarter inch / 19.5 centimetre bracelet with silver tone spacer, vintage metal disc chain, silver plate pins and hoops, acrylic beads and glass crystals.Unusual five-spoke crystal bracelet which recalls the placement of notes on a scale, held in place on your wrist by a smooth, comfortable series of vintage metal discs. One of a kind.£8.99
Click on image for listing

7 and three quarter inch / 19.5 centimetre bracelet with silver tone spacer, vintage metal disc chain, silver plate pins and hoops, acrylic beads and glass crystals.

Unusual five-spoke crystal bracelet which recalls the placement of notes on a scale, held in place on your wrist by a smooth, comfortable series of vintage metal discs. One of a kind.

£8.99

Seven inch / 18 centimetre vintage polished disc chain bracelet with dark silver tone stamping charms and a lobster claw closure.Combining the polished metal discs common in Arab peninsula and North African jewellery with delicate sycamore leaf charms recalling the temperature forests in the north, this bracelet represents a fusion in cultural icons and looks great as part of any casual outfit or costume.£6.99
Click on image for listing

Seven inch / 18 centimetre vintage polished disc chain bracelet with dark silver tone stamping charms and a lobster claw closure.

Combining the polished metal discs common in Arab peninsula and North African jewellery with delicate sycamore leaf charms recalling the temperature forests in the north, this bracelet represents a fusion in cultural icons and looks great as part of any casual outfit or costume.

£6.99

17 inch / 43 centimetre silver snake chain with simple silver plate cross charm.Silver plate fish hook ear wires with simple silver plate cross charms.£4.99
Click on image for listing

17 inch / 43 centimetre silver snake chain with simple silver plate cross charm.
Silver plate fish hook ear wires with simple silver plate cross charms.

£4.99

10 inch / 25.5 centimetre bracelet/anklet vintage disc chain with silver plate cross charms and chunky silver plate clasp.A fantastic addition to any goth or high street jewellery box, this can be shortened: please convo/include instructions in your order regarding the length you would prefer.£7.99
Click on image for listing

10 inch / 25.5 centimetre bracelet/anklet vintage disc chain with silver plate cross charms and chunky silver plate clasp.

A fantastic addition to any goth or high street jewellery box, this can be shortened: please convo/include instructions in your order regarding the length you would prefer.

£7.99

Book Release: Science Poems

In the wake of the very talented Chrissy Williams releasing Flying Into the Bear, a manageable volume of poetry which now sits eagerly on my Amazon wishlist thanks to the magic of the Universal Wishlist button and  Chrome, it occurred to me that a small and simple collection of poetry at an affordable price might be what people need to get them enthused. The other option is that I’d have to be as good as Chrissy Williams, and we know that’s not going to happen overnight!

To this end I’ve collected up four little books of diminutive length and negligible cost and arranged them around different themes based on their content, and the first of them, a compendium of poems about [science], is now available from Lulu.com – and only from Lulu.com – as a taster or introduction to my work. You can, of course, also go through the content: poetry category on this blog both for my poems and for my inepty attempts to analyse other people’s, if you are so minded, but buying this little thing will allow you to turn off the internet and have a moment’s peace with some poetry, and I find that’s the best way to enjoy poems.

Available from Lulu.com

 

If anyone is at all curious, the cover of this modest collection of verse is a photograph of a fence near Highgate, taken in the depths of autumn back when I was working on a project called Postcards from an Explosion. There are also explosions contained within this book, which is to do with the miracle of poetry: one can put a great deal into a very small space, because words are actually magic.

(I’ve also recently bought the eBook version of I Will Kill You With My Bare Hands by Jessica Hayworth, which was one of the most sensible investments I’ve made in a while. 219 pages of being berated with sometimes frightening and sometimes passionate intensity by a disembodied voice in a hole was apparently just what I needed).

You are your own desert

In this pledging of their endurance, it disgraced men if, from weakness of nerve or insufficiency of courage, they fell short of the call. Pain was to them a solvent, a cathartic, almost a decoration, to be fairly worn while they survived it. Fear, the strongest motive in slothful man, broke down with us, since love for a cause–or for a person–was aroused.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T E Lawrence

When we find so perfectly encapsulated in someone else’s beliefs the ones we hold ourselves it must behoove us to ask if we are really hearing what the other is saying, or if we are painting onto them – in desperation for companionship or validation – what we already believe and what we feel fits well enough. I cannot help thinking that Lawrence’s masochism, later shaped and expressed in what John E Mack calls his “flagellation disorder”, originally shaped and expressed in his profound need to sacrifice himself for the love of a people while simultaneously doing a deed of sufficient magnificence, bravery, and unquestionable kindness that his mother (and possibly also God, whether or not the conscious belief held him) would be moved to be proud of him as an individual entity at last and not as an extension of her own guilt… I cannot help thinking that Lawrence’s masochism finds itself almost too neatly reflected in what he claims is the attitude of the men he rode with. It is easy to express a sentiment which is not acceptable in one’s own society if one puts it into the mouth of an outsider, especially an outsider who is not around to correct that sentiment, or does not have the cultural grounding to see where they are being misrepresented.

The description of what is antithetical to “the Arab mind” here is also a description of what preoccupies Lawrence. He is afraid of his own weaknesses, and disgusted by them, and seeks to immolate what he considers his personal weaknesses: fears, desires, any motive that involves the self, which he also wishes to destroy or give over entirely to improvement, in the purifying flame of pain and endurance. There is something undoubtedly medieval and chivalric about his ideals of self-sacrifice, just as there is something deeply selfish in their motivation. I am convinced that whether or not his companions viewed endurance of pain as a badge of masculinity, they did not have the same passionate desire to cause themselves suffering where it was avoidable with prudence.

The conception of antithetical mind and matter, which was basic to the Arab self-surrender, helped me not at all. I achieved surrender (so far as I did achieve it) by the very opposite road, through my notion that mental and physical were inseparably one: that our bodies, the universe, our thoughts and tactilities were conceived in and of the molecular sludge of matter, the universal element through which form drifted as clots and patterns of varying density It seemed to me unthinkable that assemblages of atoms should cogitate except in atomic terms. My perverse sense of values constrained me to assume that abstract and concrete, as badges, did not denote oppositions more serious than Liberal and Conservative. The practice of our revolt fortified the nihilist attitude in me.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T E Lawrence

Here I am guilty of just what Lawrence is guilty of. These ideas of atomic sameness and the absence of difference between body and mind (Monism) and what he refers to as the nihilist attitude which the revolt in the desert “fortified” in him (suggesting that the attitude was present before his exercises in the peninsula) are facets of my own beliefs: the unity of matter and forces and the nature of consciousness as a variety of neural processes working together after the motion of natural selection funnelled them into plan-making and communication devices, the firm belief in a lack of greater meaning and the unattainability of any created meaning are the often gloomy foundation on which I build what there is of my beliefs. I do not think, on sensible reflection, that Lawrence is even using the word “nihilist” in its correct sense, but looking at this paragraph in the hot moment of charging through the finer points of his philosophy (arising out of his description of a bodyguard made up of the most brutal and brave and belligerent of men from across the tribes) it was hard not to wonder: did I find myself drawn to Lawrence because I already knew we had some shared beliefs? Did those shared beliefs lead him to grow into the shape that fascinated me, like some sort of training for tree branches? Could I see their shape in the thing he became?

Or am I just projecting, as he did, the things inside me onto a canvas that is partially adapted to the flaws I have?

Jewellery Post: Bridal Choker

Occasionally the internet is too much for me. It’s a portal to a special kind of hell wherein lies all the alarming news the world has to offer, sliced into bite-sized pieces for easier consumption, and repeatedly shoved in my eyes by upset/horrified/confused friends who need to make sure everyone else knows how much they don’t approve of the current UK administration kicking disabled people in the face or sacrificing babies or deciding to teach children a curriculum entirely made up of skills that are no longer useful with some institutionalised racism on top. The problem with all of this is that while I generally tend to agree with my friends’ broad political perspective (we are, after all, friends) and find these things just as lamentable, I also find that once the idea’s been introduced it sticks in my head and cannibalises my thought processes and makes me, in a word, ill.

So I fling the laptop irritably in the corner, put on various David Attenborough documentaries, and make stuff instead. It’s more expensive than self-harming, but it’s also less messy, and I get to play with toxic glue sometimes. Also, David Attenborough.

Anyway, this one took absolutely ages, and while I was making it I learned a lot about how volcanoes work, some of which I already knew and a lot of which is probably out of date as it’s from a documentary made in the early 80s.

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17 and three quarter inches / 45 centimetre vintage lace choker with gold plate findings, gold plate and plastic pearl chain loops.

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This light, easy-wearing necklace or choker features a selection of plastic pearl chains which weigh almost nothing, and which hang in cross-over loops to create the effect of a sumptuous waterfall in white and gold. Perfect for costuming and for stage or carnival use.

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