Saturday, October 22, 2011
Monday, October 10, 2011
1) Pink balloons and Blue balloons
So, at the moment I am living in Berlin and doing an internship with a group called KreativHaus, which is a Theaterpadagogische and sozialzentrum. On Sunday some of us spent the day working at something called DrachenFest – the word Drachen, here meaning kite. It was held in Britzerpark, which is a big park in a fairly family oriented area of Berlin. It was a really nice day, actually; there were a few different stalls selling kites, and people doing circus fun times (http://www.flying-colors.de/) and we were doing a workshop for
children and parents to work together making little hot air balloons. The idea was, they made a little basket out of origami to go on the bottom and then attached it to a balloon via an incredibly complex system using strings, which we quickly abandoned in favour of an easier method when it became apparent that it was unfeasibly fiddly and frankly unworkable. Anyway, whilst handing out balloons to those who had managed to construct a folded paper basket with varying degrees of success (some were incredibly finicky and precise, others cheerfully and hastily stuck together with sellotape and colourful squashed shapes) I made a few observations about the colour choices that were made.
a) The preference for gendered colours of Pink for girls and Blue for boys didn’t seem very prevalent at all until children were a little bit older (around 7 or 8, by my guesstimate).
b) If little girls chose pink balloons for themselves, they were generally also wearing pink clothes.
c) Within this age bracket, it was more common for girls to choose pink balloons than it was for boys to choose blue.
d) When it came to younger children, if a girl ended up with a pink balloon and a boy with a blue one, it was usually because their parents made the decision for them. If a parent chose the balloon colour for a girl, they chose pink more often than not.
e) Only one little boy chose a pink balloon.
I think this could be a pretty interesting study into gender and social conditioning of children, if it was conducted a bit more precisely by someone other than an idle-minded intern.
*(One thing that I did think was interesting, when I delved into it a little bitmore, was that it’s kind of weird that what colour balloon a child
chooses should have any bearing at all on any aspect of their identity. I was prompted to think this by the little boy who chose pink. It seems like we consider, in this context (or similar ones – for example, children choosing what colour trainers to wear, or what kind of birthday cake to have) the ‘thing’ in question to be somehow an extension of the child’s personality. But why can’t the balloon be considered more like a comrade, an accompanying object rather than a self defining one? For example, one doesn’t expect a boy to have only a male pet dog, or Ash Ketchum to only have male pokemon. Why can’t balloons, and similar objects like bicycles, be viewed as having a relationship of comraderie with an individual, rather than somehow being an extension of them, and being expected to express something inherent about that individual? A boy can have a balloon that fulfils a role that is rather more like a ‘pet’ than a hat, for example – if this was a more common approach, I think we’d be far more likely to see boys choosing pink balloons, which would be kind of emblematic of a view of objects that allowed for them to be things with which symbolic relationships could be developed, rather than merely acting as an extension of the self. I think it’s interesting that the relationship between person and ‘thing’ so often takes this form, and I would hazard a guess that it might possibly work the other way too, in the case of some individuals – with relationships between person and other persons becoming ones in which the secondary individual fulfils a self-defining purpose for the primary individual. The way in which we handle ‘persons’ and ‘things’ is, I think, sometimes inter-translatable, particularly within a society which encourages us to view our selves as primarily constructs of what we can accumulate – creatures who exist only in reflections,be those reflections in shop windows or the faces of others. This is only a tangential thought and, as is probably fairly obvious, not one
I am entirely sure about, but it’s an idea that’s been bouncing around my head for a while so I wanted to work with it in words.)
2) Drachen/kites and Elegant Symmetry
Other than pondering balloons, I also got the chance to look at some really cool kites that were on display proudly in the sky. Some of them were particularly notable – my two favourites were a big octagonal one, which was made up of smaller octagons (or maybe hexagons, my memory is a little fuzzy) and a big long ‘Vietnamese Dragon’ kite, which was made of one larger and about 60 smaller identical kites that all stood in a long stream behind it, like infinite reflections. (I would post photos if I’d had the presence of mind to take my camera with me, but unfortunately presence of mind is not always one of my stronger points!) They were really cool, and there was something a bit magical about seeing them suspended in the sky, sometimes dancing with the wind, other times eerily still.
Looking at the kite made of tesselating octagons made me think about how mathematical nature is, elementally. Like, even though we think about nature as being this big untameable random chaotic force of vast explosive unpredictability, it’s still a mathematical shape which provides the most efficient way of harnessing the power of something so ‘irrational’ as wind currents – and even of bearing the weight of
gravity and weight itself; look at geodesic domes. And honeycombs are a repeating, regular pattern of mathematical precision – I wonder what the formula is for a honeycomb?
*(Bees are a topic of interest for me at the moment, which may perhaps be a result of the excessive amount of honey I have been consuming. I’m going to spend some time next year working on a honey farm, because I want to learn more about how bees live – I think they’re cool.)
And then, that made me think about how maths is everywhere, and howthere are times when we can perceive this more than others, and that brought me back to the question about whether maths is just a human construct created to understand and analyse the universe, and we’re just imposing order on chaos through the lens of our own subjective experience (“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we
are.”) OR, maybe it is external, and we’re just vessels for perceiving the order of external reality, and our inner peace is achieved like a finely balanced equation as we come to terms with the elegant symmetry of the natural universe. I suppose it’s a choice between perceiving existence as being better described by the phrase "the universe is unfolding as it should," or alternatively “All systems tend towards chaos”. Or maybe that’s a false dichotomy and we should be less concerned with taking an either/or approach towards order and chaos, and instead focus on unpacking the relationship between them.
And on that note, these links are interesting:
And the last thing that I have been thinking about recently, which is sort of linked to everything else but I suppose mostly in the same way that philosophy is always the topic that everything comes back to when
you click on random links on Wikipedia, is the relationship between philosophies or religions – in fact, any belief systems – and change. I don’t think that many Insitutionalised religious beliefs account satisfactorily for change. If Religious/Philosophical frameworks are our externalised mechanisms for dealing with our own subjective experience, then surely it should be a positive thing, and not a negative one, when they develop, grow, and ultimately change as we ourselves, both as individuals and collectives, do the same. Why,
then, is there such insistence by established institutions of this nature on conforming to dogmatic belief and strictly codified, rigid rules? *(I suppose differing perspectives on whether religious belief
comes from an intrinsic or external source would lead one to two
different stances in response to this question.)
I suspect that my answer to the question posed above is that the refusal of many established religious, ideological and philosophical standpoints to embrace change and fluidity suggests that many such belief systems are quite worryingly beholden to the power structures in which they are firmly entrenched. It seems like their primary interest lies in further solidifying their static position, not being open to progression as this could undermine their current structure – and of course, in any hierachical power structure, those with the power to change it often don't want it to change, because then they risk no longer being in power. But when anything – an individual, an institution, a belief - is not open to the idea of change then it is in a state of stasis – paralysis, incapable of forward momentum. And then the only progression possible is that from stasis to atrophy, and that seems like an awful lot to sacrifice.
*(I find it quite interesting that some of the healthiest, in every sense of the word, and strongest individuals that I have encountered have, at differing times and points along the continuum of their progression as individuals, professed differing and even contradictory beliefs with equal amounts of conviction and integrity. The conclusion I take from this is that it is best always to have the courage of one's convictions and to believe wholeheartedly, even as one is open to the idea that one day, one might very well believe something else. We are living in a state of flux, why not embrace the change? Occasionally, I feel a little bit like the physical manifestation of that old advert which said something along the lines of,
„xxxxx years ago, we knew the world was flat.
Today, we know xxxxxxx.
Imagine what we will 'know' tomorrow.“
But really, is it problematic that human knowledge is so often revised? Just because something might tomorrow be proved wrong, is that a reason not to believe it today? Rather than living in a world permeated by doubt, I think that I would rather understand my knowledge and beliefs as being in a state of flux – but I don't think this undermines their validity. Permanence is an overrated virtue, I think. Or at least, that's what I think now. Maybe, one day, I will feel very differently.)
Anyway, what I think I'm driving at is that the relationship between fluidity, stasis and epiphany is worthy of further investigation, I think. It's ok, you can breathe – the change happens by itself.
PS I actually started writing this yesterday, so the title of this is a complete lie – it should really be, what I have thought about yesterday. But there you go. I am writing this, on my free Monday, sat before my window in my little Berlin bedroom. The weather has turned now, abruptly, and the world framed so neatly by my big square window is green slowly turning golden and never still, and when the wind blows it looks like the trees are breathing.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
I stumbled across a piece by Morgan Steele on the wall of a scuzzy gay Karaoke bar on Warschauerstrasse in Berlin. The club was hosting the "Tranny Olympics" (some spectacularly appalling lip syncing, cupcake eating, and a 200m sprint in heels)and somehow, the painting seemed right at home alongside trannies in spiked heels and shriekingly glamourous ensembles. It was a picture of Mickey and Minnie Mouse as American hicks, complete with black vests and L7/Black Flag tattoos. The attention to detail and the impish sense of fun captured my attention, but what appeals most, looking at some of his other work, is the way in which he captures a sense of an America that I can only describe as casually manic, gleefully other. Slightly sideways and off kilter, his work reminds me a little of some of Gary Larson's The Far Side stuff - it's strangte, but not threatening in its strangeness; the characters and scenarios within strike me as having only a passing, aloof concern for their audience. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they display a casual indifference, staring out of the canvases with mild aloofness. Fun.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
(What he doesn't know is that I can still spy, elegantly, one of the nymphs discreetly pouring herself back into the rafters like some sweet nectar, around the edges of the room)
Monday, August 08, 2011
I think that the media characterisation of the instigators of riots in London last night as faceless, ominous 'gangs of youths' is a manifestation of the underlying fear of those currently in power (and I use that term loosely to describe all those who are at the helm of, and benefit from, the current socio-economic set up as much as the ConDem govt. itself) that the next generation have realised how much we are being royally fucked over and aren't going to take it lying down. They are taking our NHS, an hours wage buys fuck all, and those of us who are 'lucky' enough to even get jobs will be working until we drop to try and fill the bottomless pit of the previous generation's pension deficit. We are constantly hit with a barrage of images telling us that we are not real people unless we buy our selves from the shop shelves, shiny gadgets and made-up faces and fast cars and homes plucked from the pages of catalogues. We are grasped at by tiny invisible hands that try to snatch away whatever we blindly, naively accumulate in the hope of becoming one of those golden few 'winners' - the holy grail of aspiration, the myth that keeps us docile, submissive, in the hope that one day we too might receive a crumb from that richest of cakes. In a society geared towards winning, there will always be losers. Is it any wonder that a myth of human worth based around our ability to accumulate mass produced objects of desire is inevitably accompanied, when that ability is frustrated, by anger, resentment, and efforts to take by force what capitalism has told us we are worthless without? You told us we need these THINGS to be worthy of being counted as worthwhile human beings, and yet after hours of work and credit checks they still remained so close and so visible but just out of reach, behind the polished glass of shop windows. Of course windows will be broken when alls people can see in them is the reflection of a face that cannot attain what is concealed by the glass. Fuck being a real person. Fuck trying to 'win'. What did you expect?
Sunday, August 07, 2011
Thursday, July 28, 2011
(and I remember, last September, when things seemed sunny and I was still enjoying living someone else's life, on my way to poverty aid to buy old furniture with the intention of breathing new life into old beauty, walking past a poster in Hyde Park, stuck on the side of a bin. "You are here and you are alive." And it filled me with joy, that - I was. I am. I was. I am)
Anyway, returning to this blog after some time away is prompting me to consider what purpose it actually fills - both intrinsically, for its own sake, and from my own personal perspective. It seems reasonable, at this point in life, to be blogging about something specific - contributions to the external world being rather more worthwhile when they have at least SOME focus and direction. To that end, I'm going to start a separate blog soon which is focused on reviewing literature - another nice thing about actually having an attention span again (and no dissertation to battle with) is that I'm capable of reading books rather than staring at them and wishing I could repeatedly slam my face into them, which is good. But that does leave me with the question of what exactly the purpose of this blog is? I've had it for - I suppose five years or so now, and really it's always been more of an outlet for whatever thoughts are jostling their way through my mind at the time - the sort of thoughts that tend to run circles around each other and tie themselves in knots when they are not given coherency and form, stood up like little tin soldiers in black and white in neat little lines on the page before me. Sometimes what goes on in my head is too big, it's too much - each thought spins out into an infinite number of tangential sub-thoughts, like fractals so complex that even to behold them feels like an impossible task, let alone imposing enough order upon them to package them up into neat little succinct sentences that can survive the crossing of the massive chasm between my psyche and my mouth. I can't work with them when they're in there - they're too abstracted, too vast. This is why, when I was sad or scared or there was too much stimulation going on in a situation I sometimes did not finish sentences, or did not speak at all - too much to understand, too much that could go wrong, my brain exploring too many different avenues simultaneously with no idea which one to explore, and while trying to construct this sentence, being aware of a million different other things going on in the room - each sparking their own little branch of thought, fraying attention spans further, and by halfway through the sentence I am not so sure what I was even saying - and does it even matter anyway, does it matter, people are familiar enough with the grammatical construct of sentences to infer whatever point I was trying to make, and does it matter, does what matter, what was I talking about in the first place? ((perhaps it's a product of too much time spent staring at a computer screen - longer than spent staring in a mirror, and what is reflected back is not my face but something far more personal, my mind. Instances of fraying minds increasing in congruence with the rise of technology use are well documented - google it, draw your own conclusions.)(or perhaps, it has more to do with a youth spent more or less constantly stoned; or perhaps, just perhaps, I am naturally of flighty mind - personally I suspect a combination of all three, and on the whole, feel little need to attempt to rectify or justify any)) But when I can take these thoughts and lay them out before me - turn them from something abstract, from instinct and emotion beyond language, into those signifiers we call words - then suddenly, they become something I can work with, even play with; like building blocks, I can build homes, I can even take down walls. Consider the analogy: while there is no form, but merely pools of colour, red and yellow and blue all swirling together frenetically in an ocean of unfathomable depth, how can one hope for anything more than simply grasping vainly as all of that colour slips away between outstretched fingers? But when, via language, that ocean of thought is given form, pressed into building blocks of various colours, then the resources of the ocean are tapped; neatly tesselating structures can be built, games can be played, and most importantly - one can avoid drowning.
(maybe I am writing because my thoughts aren't real thoughts until they're written down)
So that's one reason why I write, I suppose. That's how I make sense of the world, and of my own mind, and of my minds reaction to the world. But then, if the act of writing is, for me, a purely personal thing, then why bother putting it on the internet? Haven't quite figured that one out yet - although I suppose one explanation involves some level of exhibitionism, whatever gratification I may or may not feel at having others read my thoughts isn't really what I would describe as a driving force behind writing itself. I mean, it's nice when someone says that, for example, your hair looks nice on a particular day, but that fleeting appreciation isn't the reason why you chose the haircut in the first place, is it? If we were to consider all forms of expression to be essentially geared towards the recipient rather than the expressor, we would surely arrive at some fairly confusing conclusions - and indeed, with some fairly fractured individuals, lacking cohesion, pulled in a thousand different directions (there being, after all, usually more than one observer we are aware of in the social panopticon of contemporary society). Expression serves the needs of the expressor, recipient and, I would venture, also serves a purpose unto itself. The poets of the Black Mountain School (and a whole bunch of the beat era guys and gals, I suppose) subscribed to a sort of Eastern-derived philosophy of art which suggested that when we express something, in the form of a poem for example, we are not creating something from nothing, but rather we are actually channelling something that comes from beyond us. This is one reason behind the mode of writing often favoured amongst them, a kind of stream-of-consciousness process where the writer is, in a way, the medium rather than the origin of the creative output. Your art does not belong to you - you are a channel, you are not the source. This interests me because when I write, it is with an absence of the consciousness which normally dictates that every action become an infinite number of choices and sub-choices that bear in-depth consideration. When I write, I do not think, I write - I think by writing, my thought process becomes completely externalised, as though my hands, typing this on keys right now, are the organ of thought, and not my mind. I suppose that it must be my subconscious that is dictating the structure of the words I write, but even so, my body and my psyche has become a channel for the expression of subconscious creativity, and I am inclined to believe that our subconscious is not so individually 'ours' as we would have ourselves believe - transcendence of the ego, after all, frees up a lot of things that are normally chained to that imposing and definitive of all towers, (the kind of tower that Princesses are confined to and convince themselves that there is no hope but letting down their hair and awaiting rescue), "I".
(and then, a few weeks ago, with a year's worth of lessons and truths on a red-wine mission after midnight through streets that now seemed sadder and wiser, too, I stumbled across that same poster - although now, filled with some strange irony and poignancy that harkened my mind back to that day last September. There was a symmetry to it, actually - given the fact that I'd spent a substantial amount of University life trying to run away from myself, to find myself retracing my steps seemed oddly appropriate. I felt as though I had folded up and met myself coming back - each moment was such a perfect inversion of the other; day/night, joy/apathy, naivete/wisdom, beginning/end, lost/found - funny, how words can have such different meanings depending on the psyche of the reader. "You are here and you are alive." "You are here and you are alive." Those same words which had seemed to me, buoyant and hopeful as I was the previous year, filled with a sense of jubilance, a joyful proclamation, now took on a different meaning - one with some deeper power that words seem insufficient to encapsulate. "You are here and you are alive." "You are here and you are alive." When there is nothing else, or even when there is, "You are here and you are alive." You. I. I am here and I am alive.)
I have kept journals since I was a child, but between the ages of 17 - 21 (a particularly enjoyable and horizon expanding epoch, as I'm sure it is for most people) I was somewhat more fastidious about keeping a day to day log of events. I mean, I was never really one for writing "Today I woke up and went for a walk and then ate sandwiches etc etc" (although some days did conform to that particular structure - I remember a passing phase, in the midst of my stoner years, when I was so excited by every activity I undertook that I endeavoured to commit all of them to paper for fear that I would forget them. With hindsight, this was wise, as for the most part, I did) but I had diaries which were essentially, I suppose, ongoing meta-analysis of the narrative of my life. It helped me to develop ideas, and gave me the sense that I was not careening through life in danger of losing all the pearls of wisdom that I was beginning, in my youthful enthusiasm, to collect and treasure. (After the age of 22ish, I switched to keeping notebooks instead, which I still utilise although somewhat more sporadically - they are filled with ideas for unwritten stories and glimpses of epiphany which, should my mind ever collapse in on itself, will hopefully remind me of things I once knew). Looking back at those diaries, I can easily recognise the times when I have been unhappy or lost because suddenly, often and usually without apparent warning, the journal entries stop. Out of the blue, there will be sections of blank pages - some lasting for weeks, others for months. It makes me sad because I know that to be incapable of writing out my feelings, of giving them form and structure, means that they were festering away inside my mind with no hope of resolution. Imagine trying to prove that (sin x)/x = cos(x/2)*cos(x/4)*cos(x/8)*cos(x/16).. in your own head, with only a basic grasp of maths, no idea of the form of the equation and an attention span constantly distracted by shiny things and bright colours. When written down, when such equations are given actual form (and in this case, the aid of the internet, I know fuck all about maths, it's an analogy) a proof can be constructed - but when one's attention span is trying to solve problems one lacks even the language to fathom, nothing can be resolved - the mind becomes a burden, and one resorts to trying to distract oneself by counting windows on nearby buildings, one, two, three, in an attempt to quiet the constant need to SOLVE what ultimately doesn't need solving. (Is it necessary to construct a complex proof for X, when one can accept that X simply is?)
(and there were other clues, really, had my psyche sought them out, rather than folding in on itself like Chinese boxes. On a wall at the end of my street, there was another piece of art, pasted onto a redbrick wall - a woman walking down a street, and emblazoned beside her, the words "Do what makes you happy." I mused upon them often, as I locked and unlocked my front door - it's perplexing that I could have done so and yet so consistently managed to miss the point of what is essentially a fairly simple instruction. Instead, I made myself miserable, trapped myself in cages, tried running away from that word which means so much and so many different things because I thought it would make me a better person and I thought that it would fix me. By the time I realised that ascetic mental self-flagellation solves nothing, there was very little left to fix. I forgot who I was, let alone what made me happy. The day I left that house, I stepped out of a prison that I'd somehow, accidentally, unintentionally, misguidedly, put an awful lot of effort into building for myself. On the day that a very old and very dear friend came to rescue me from Leeds and from myself we stood in the middle of the road and stuck our arms out and spun around very very very fast and the whole road disappeared into a blur and I felt free for the first time in a very long time and perhaps, perhaps, that is what makes me happy - spinning round very very fast, being free, and the whole road disappears into a blur, and when I am standing still again the world still spins slightly and I realise that I could have done this myself, I could have done this all along, not stood still with arms pinned to my sides, my own tower, "I")
and maybe I am writing because I don't know how not to - because the need to do so burns through me, an uncontrollable urge, a need as strong (stronger) than the need to eat or dream or fuck. Maybe it's because a writer who does not write is very little at all - a shadow, a moth with no flame, a dotted line surrounding the space where a person should be, a mirror that bears no reflection. Maybe, as Bukowski said,
" if you’re going to create you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire."
SO there we go - that is, to some degree, the conclusions reached from the various thoughts that I have had floating around my brain for the last few months. I can't say that it was a terribly pleasant experience but looking back at this blog post, I seem to have figured one or two things out, for the time being, and the conclusions drawn all seem to be fairly positive. Hopefully this can signal the end of what proved to be a dangerously solipsistic phase of my life - writing this was interesting, and I suppose, with a little bit of distance involved, I will at some point look back on the darker sides of the last few months as having been fairly interesting from an intellectual perspective also. But to be honest, I would far rather be directing all of this relentless analysis in the direction of politics, art, beauty and love, so that's what I'm going to do, for the time being. Writing is how I make sense of the world, so maybe it's time I start trying to do that.
(and maybe I am writing because I am here and I am alive. And maybe, just maybe, that is enough)
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
---and then realise that the last time I looked at you all,
I didn't even use the word fuck
and then realise
I've gotten a hell of a lot older too -
do lessons make us wiser, or just condition us
make us dance to bells that are Pavlovs, not our own
is that wisdom
or just the sound of more doors slamming shut as we fight our way through corridors
that were planned by someone else,
through someone else's building -
fuck that; I've come to the realisation
that I'd rather set the whole thing on fire
than march to the beat of someone else's drum)
Nice to see you."
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Judge withdraws over Philip Roth's Booker win
"Author and publisher Carmen Callil has withdrawn from the judging panel of the Man Booker International prize over its decision to honour Philip Roth with the £60,000 award. Dismissing the Pulitzer prize-winning author, Callil said that "he goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It's as though he's sitting on your face and you can't breathe".
Personally, I have always found something in Roth's work which piques my interest and captures my attention - despite the fact that I am neither male, Jewish, American, have not lived through the post-war years and do not suffer from the complaint of compulsive masturbation. All of these are themes of Roth's literature, and I can only assume it is the ongoing engagement with them throughout his work which is being referred to by Callil as oppressive. One article, critical of Callil's decision, notes that:
"Her expertise is as an ebullient and pioneering feminist publisher from the 1970s. It's hardly a surprise that she should find herself unresponsive to Roth's lifelong subject: the adventures of the ordinary sexual (American) man."
I find it interesting that one's response to literature should be considered in terms of the degree to which the reader is able to personally identify with the subject matter. Do we not read (to some degree) in order to transcend our individual experience, in order for our mind to be opened to ideas that come from beyond the sphere of the personal? Why, then, should we be unable to 'relate' to a novel that deals with themes that are unfamiliar to us? Why indeed, should we disregard as irrelevant to our selves any novel that we cannot 'relate' to anyhow?
I think Roth is great; I have written on his American Pastoral during my studies and I think it is an amazing piece of work. It's subtle, nuanced, complex. Even a year after I first read it, I found my perspective on the novel changing as I unpicked more of the text. He avoids presenting us with one definitive angle of interpretation and incorporates a polyphony of voices towards which he manages to be simultaneously both critical and sympathetic. It's a sad book, it's darkly funny, it's fantastically well crafted, it's powerful, it's elegiac and it has very little to do with anything that I have directly experienced in my life thus far. The last factor has never had the slightest bearing on my appreciation of the novel.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
On the community of man and machine
Thursday, April 07, 2011
Friday, March 04, 2011
My mind somersaults over this concept as I survey late afternoon with morning's newborn eye. Well trodden paths are made new again from the seat of a bicycle; the sounds of life, emerging, and the click-click-click of the bicycle chain. I like that sound. It is the sound of things working as they should be; a sound of quiet efficiency, efficacious, the ineffable satisfaction of all according to a precise plan. There is a maths to it; a balanced equation.
We are supposed to take solace from life, in life. In the elegance of this sort of summation; of everything in its right place. To trace beauty, where we can – trees stretching their winter branches unabashedly, fractal like, against the sky; the rain casting concentric circles in ripples across the surface of puddles; the quiet, yearning hum of the mechanics that are our prison and our mother. I remember, back in Germany, playing the Beautiful Things game, transcending my own self by seeing how many beautiful things I could find to think about so deeply that my mind became them. Raindrops waiting like secrets on the leaves of plants in teracotta, or the smell of gardenias hanging heavy, sultry, in the inky blue black of the summer evening. Sometimes I still find myself cycling on the wrong side of the road (the right side, there – right? Or right? I still check my left from right by holding up my hands in the shape of an L. It is not that I need to, merely that it is a reflex born of treading that same path many times; when it comes to this, the mind is no different from any other creature, preferring the familiar route over the scenic. ((The hands are still the same, but different – still pink, they can hold more sweets now, and chopsticks; but they can play less piano, they have made curse-signs, they have rolled joints, and done other unspeakable things that they are refusing, presently, to even describe by shaping letters into words)) This too, is how I remember which side of the road I should be cycling on – I do not remember what the custom is of this, my homeland, England, but rather in an instant cast my mind back to Berheimer Strasse, und Radfahren zu den Aldstadt, die rechte Seite der Straße, vorbei an bunten Obst und Gemüse, die Barbiere voller türkischer Männer, wo einst das Vorderrad fiel mein Fahrrad und ich stand ratlos und verloren, bis eine Runde lächelnder Mann aus dem Nichts erschien mit einen Schraubenschlüssel und fixiert es für mich, das war die rechte Seite der Straße, radelte ich auf dem richtigen, also in England muss der linken Seite stimmt sein. Das stimmt).
There is a quiet order to such things, that can be seen at such times; before the colourful brash gaiety of summer intoxicates the senses and sparks its feverish dancing, spring wears riches of a more delicate nature. Like spun sugar, and tentative kisses, spring grows as I do – unfurling petals gently, and praying for rain. And slowly, slowly, life ends its hiatus; slowly, sweetly, the music starts again; sweetly, serenely, the world begins to dance. And, briefly, the order of things makes a stark and quiet sense. And sometimes, in the late afternoon, for a few moments, the redbrick houses look like they are made from gold
These are the thoughts that fill my head as I fly through the days, these days. Thoughts of now and then and when, and how and why and what all of those questions even mean and how I fit into the answers. These are good thoughts, thoughts of life and what it means to be alive. Of mornings and afternoons and evenings and nights that loop gently round each other in a loose carousel; and will eventually fold neatly, accordion-esque, into that pack of cards we call a week. Something about the air (pleasantly cold, not in the way of showers and shivers, but clean sheets, a newly made bed I can't wait to ruffle up) catches me dead center and makes me wonder how, when things can be so quietly beautiful, can I be afraid?
NB I took these photos at the beginning of 2008, in the first proper room I lived in in Leeds, at around the time of year we are at right now.
Sunday, February 06, 2011
Saturday, January 29, 2011
I am of the belief that the majority of male TV presenters “of a certain age” can be identified as belonging to one of various subcategories of “Uncle” types. For example, Noel Edmunds is decidedly of the variety of Uncle who you see just once a year, probably around Christmas but not on the day itself, where direct contact is limited to him making a few really gut-wrenchingly awful jokes – at which you laugh anyway, not out of politeness, but with a genuine emotion probably bordering on something that COULD take the guise of pity or even fondness, in the weakest sense of the word. Jeremy Paxman, on the other hand, is a different sort of Uncle – cool, aloof and slightly intimidating, he probably married into your family and likes to see dinner gatherings as a platform for exercising a rigorous wit that would be substantially funnier than that provided by Edmunds, were you not too scared to laugh. His one concession to whimsy is wearing a paper hat from a Christmas cracker, which draws nervous screams of laughter from small cousins, who find the juxtaposition of such floppy cerise headgear in contrast with his steel grey curls shocking in its absurdity.
I can deal with both of these, and other similar, paradigmatic male faces staring out of my television set at me. Like real uncles, their presence in my life is an accident of fate – too distant from any act of volition on my part to demand any explanation, or justification, and of little negative consequence to my own existence. My default position is not one of ill will, more a sort of casual indifference. As a girl, in her twenties, born in 1987 (Thatcher secures a third term in office, British Rail renames Second class as Standard class, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers go for £24,750,000) I have little in common with men born in the 1950s, in the vague climate of post-war altruism; before equal rights for women, before aids, before the internet, when people still paid for things in shillings and nobody got divorced. Why would I? We are creatures of different times, and our interaction must always be analogous to diplomatic missions – this is not to say that we are incapable of finding some common ground, some mutual shared interest that spans the inevitable chasm that arises from generational and gender differences; rather, that any such dialogue that does take place is often one between individuals from very different worlds, and must be treated accordingly. I feel no dislike for them – as I’m sure they do not for me. My response veers between distant curiosity and a polite indifference. Why should it be any other way?
But there is one specimen of TV Uncle who does not give rise in me to such feelings of vague fondness and casual disinterest. There is one archetype who, over a number of years now, has began to grate on my nerves more and more, and is likely to excite dark mutterings from me whenever his portly face barges its way, uninvited, into my living room by way of my TV set. I do not know why my reaction to him has become stronger over the years – perhaps something to do with growing
up, and becoming more sensitive to just how abrasive certain varieties of personality can be? Arrogance, particularly when it is not apparently deserved, fills me with a cold revulsion that leaves little time for the building of any affection, and this genus has it in bucketloads. I am referring to, of course, Jeremy Clarkson.
Clarkson is the sort of Uncle who forgets your birthday, year on year; he is the sort of uncle who notices when you have put on even a pound of weight/accumulated some new spots/are feeling insecure and comments on it loudly, using his boorish wit to undermine and bully you. Clarkson is the kind of Uncle who turns up in his shiny new auto and insists on showing it to the entire family for 40 minutes, telling you all the while about the various features it has in the finest and most excruciating of detail, all the while intimating that he is better than everybody else because he has a better car. The Clarkson archetype not only wants you to know the technical ins and outs of his car, he approaches his presentation of his own life in the same way – and, crucially, not only does he want to tell you all about them, but he genuinely expects you to care. About him, and his things, and his opinion on everything that he deems it relevant to comment on. Which is anything and everything, of course, because Clarkson knows it all.
So, Clarkson has decided that it is his place to wade into the media dialogue about the recent Richard Keys/Andy Gray controversy.For the uninitiated, Keys and Gray were caught on microphone making sexist comments about a female lineswoman. Something of a gaff in itself. They criticised Karren Brady, West Ham vice chair-man, who had recently written a newspaper column about sexism. Then, later footage emerged of them basically behaving like teenage louts, with Gray asking a female assistant to tuck a microphone cord into the crotch of his pants, and later making lewd remarks to Jamie Redknapp and referring to an ex girlfriend on multiple occasions as 'it'.
Clarkson weighing in:
Note the comments on these two youtube videos – often, people seem to struggle with the idea that this behaviour was sexist, preferring to refer to it as “sexist” in inverted commas – as if whether it's wrong to be asking a female member of staff to put her hands next to your dick is open to interpretation. Or here are a few other common angles:
“I think sky sports was wrong to sack gray, firstly this is common joke that men make about women and the second things that football players has a lot of pass and the game is played very fast it is hard for women official’s to keep up with them. If they cannot keep up with them then it will be difficult for female official to make a decision based on off side.
1913Highbury 1 day ago”
“This a laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of PC and sexist stereotypes of women. Ironically because of PC it has screwed two great sports commentators out a job. Women constantly make jokes about male sexist stereotypes such as how men can't multi-task and such.
But when we have a go at them for not knowing the offside rule it's a different story. The only victims of real sexcism here are Andy Gray and Richard Keys.
ScotlandForever1986 2 days ago”
“actually men are protective towards women...and despite the media lies actually like women...conversely women hate men even their own family members and wouldnt save a man drowning in front of em...its women who are sexist...not men..
RichardKeys10 2 hours ago”
“What a way to get sacked... almost like kissing your girlfriend and getting jailed for it...
CraigoohHD 23 hours ago”
“ARE FIFA 11 GOING TO STOP SELLING lol,,thanks to you stupid bitches FOOTBLL is going down the toilet.. what the heck do you want to play or take part in a mans sport,, we havelost our best pundits down to u slags, hope ur happy
spurskimo 1 day ago”.
What concerns me about the furore surrounding the sexist behaviour of Richard Keys/Andy Gray is not necessarily the actions of the two men themselves, who are, let’s face it, just dinosaurs – sad loser remnants of an old industry in the process of rapid modernisation but filled with a pervasive structure comprised of individuals too arrogant to change their ways. (let's face it, they were probably set up by Murdoch, anyway).I feel no bile towards them – no anger. Perhaps this in itself is worthy of concern – that such sexism is, still, so ingrained in our society that I can’t even work up the energy to be offended by it. They’re just a pair of idiots, and when you get caught being an
idiot in the workplace you get called up on it, and that’s just how it goes. Either you don’t behave stupidly, or you do and you don’t get caught. Getting caught leads to facing the music. That’s how it is and that’s what’s happened. No, what I find the most worrying about the whole scenario, is the response of the surrounding media discourse. The narrative woven around any event that permeates the public consciousness is a performance constructed, that the “audience” of the UK may use as a
backdrop for the playing out of their various perceptual fantasies. Hence, to me, this is a story about sexism, and the inevitability of inter-generational conflict, and about how once again, the establishment doesn’t care about the feelings of twenty something females. But for someone else, it is a story about football, and about sport, and about watching the match in a pub when you could still smoke indoors, and a world that’s ever changing, and the sense of losing ones place in it. And for people like Clarkson, this is about the irrelevance of mocking women. It is about how much it DOESN’T MATTER to make derisory comments about girls in a workplace environment. It’s about the fact that, in his eyes, it’s a non issue – it’s about how him and his entitled little cronies should be able to swagger around, staggering under the blunt weight of their balls, ensuring that everyone is exposed to whatever irrelevant bit of fluff they wish to espouse. The media furore surrounding Gray and Keys leaving has become a platform for every one so inclined to express just how unimportant they think it is that two men in a position of power and influence should be held accountable for being caught behaving with astoundingly sexist impropriety and generally behaving like utter idiots. People have weighed in to show just how negligible an issue they think it to be when men behave in a misogynistic fashion in the workplace – apparently advocating the view that, because Keys and Gray are respected sports broadcasters, this should somehow provide mitigating circumstances for their disgusting comments. The implication is presumably that if you are higher up and well respected in your career, your reward is a free license to behave with as much prejudice as you see fit. Misogyny is a reward for success.
Now I am not for one moment suggesting that Clarkson would be remotely bothered by my opinion. In fact, as he has aptly demonstrated, him and his ilk have no concern for the views of me and my kind. Clarkson is as incapable of understanding the feelings of a woman in her twenties as he presumably is of understanding the subtleties of power dialectics in a male dominated industry, of the frustration one feels at being patronised by those with less knowledge or experience purely on the basis of their position of privilege, of the humiliation of having to put up with such behaviour because the hierarchical power structure still so prevalent in our society means that any attempt to challenge it results in ostracisation. Clarkson doesn’t give a fuck what I think. Clarkson cares about what Clarkson cares about, and Clarkson will think about whatever he damn well chooses, it seems – and not pay any heed when the “thought police” come along and start making outrageous requests for things like a respectful working environment and some level of common decency in treatment of co-workers. You know; the sort to point out that anyone with a position of influence funded by license payer money and a platform beamed straight into people’s living rooms has at least some sort of obligation not to justify sexist behaviour in the workplace and, by implication, assert that people shouldn’t be held accountable for violating common standards of decency and respect because it’s all just a bit of banter, after all.
No, Clarkson et al do not understand me. They don’t understand girls like us, who grew up in a world very different to theirs – who have, thankfully, never had the experience, an everyday one for our mothers, of having to grit our teeth and smile while some older lumbering dinosaur of a man patronises and insults us. Of being a second class citizen. We have always known that we are, by default, equal to any man, no greater or no worse; we have always known that we are entitled to have any evaluation of our character and abilities be derived, not on the basis of our gender, but from who we are as people. No, we have no patience for indulging the outdated minority of men who are like Clarkson – and soon, some of us will be in a position to do something about it. The slow progress of the gender equality movement means that more and more girls who think like me will finally begin to infiltrate positions of influence. Soon, girls like me will be hiring, not hired; they will not be lewdly asked to tuck in microphone cords to the crotches of cringeworthy, middle aged men – they will be telling such men to pipe down and do the job they are paid to do. We won't have to indulge your hyper inflated egos – why would we put up with being talked to like that? You're on the way out; we're just discovering our own power; you're the old, we're the new. Don't mistake your dominant ideology for ours. Our generation, both male and female, is one that has grown up expecting equality; of both males and females in the 20 -30 age bracket, views expressed jokingly by Gray and Keys vouched for by Clarkson seem antiquated and soon it is us who will be in charge. So here is my message to Clarkson, the man who does not understand, us, and does not wish to – I don’t wish to understand you either. Stand aside, dinosaurs – your time is nearly over. Soon, this will be our world – and do not be surprised if, given how irrelevant you deem our feelings to be, we extend you a similar courtesy.
Monday, January 17, 2011
This interview with University President of Yale, Rick Levin, discusses the issue of 'legacies' being given consideration when deciding amongst university applicants. Although this idea might seem alien to us in the UK, it is standard practise for universities like Yale - elite institutions, privately owned and as such with more freedom to decide the criteria on which they accept applicants than in our own country.
We admit applicants need-blind. The admissions applications are kept separate from the financial statements. But we do advise the admissions office about applications coming from the children or grandchildren of significant donors and of alumni who have given significant volunteer service.
So there you have it, in black and white. You can buy your way into an elite American educational institution if your parents are wealthy enough.
The admissions rate for legacies is about 30 percent—three times the rate for non-legacies.
Is this really the direction we want our own education system to head in? Surely admission to University should be based upon academic ability, not how wealthy a background one comes from.
Friday, January 14, 2011
As tablespoons to Prufrock, so my life is measured out in cigarettes. I stagger between walls of books like a madwoman, a cigarette dangling limply from my lips like so many unspoken words...I wish that I could eat my words. The temptation to do so, to actually physically sit down and chew every single reading that somehow my brain needs to incorporate into my mind, is actually far more tempting right now than identifying one more set of Key Terms and Action points.
Facebook has ceased to become merely a mosquito-like distraction and has instead doing a passable imitation of being a window to the real world; when one is seated in the darkest rooms of Revision Hell, it is always SO appealing to look out of the window.
I simply CANNOT WAIT to remember what it's like to have fun again. Come next Wednesday, you will not see me for dust, because I am going to paint this town so gloriously crimson red, you will think we are living in a land of perpetual sunrise. See you on the other side...
Saturday, January 08, 2011
He becomes a man through violence. It is with fire and brute strength that he asserts his existence. Out there, in the wilderness, there are no mothers. There is no love, or compassion - these are luxuries for others; the slick, sharp-suited fast talker. The frontiersman is no fast talker. He is a fast shooter - shoot first, don't-ask questions later, don't think. Do Not Think. If you think, for one moment, you would see that the myth you seek to inhabit is one with origins that pre-date the stage on which you draw, each morning, the curtains. Do you really cast your gaze, out of your window on the world – mailboxes and sunshine, Americana and waving flags, white picket fences and resilient life - and see a desert, a forest, a harsh land to be tamed?
The forests you stalk are towers of glass and concrete, the wilderness is not one that can be conquered with the gun, the axe, brute strength. You are acting and reacting a simulacra; you are playing a part in a myth that was forged of necessity in a time when the land was still alien and new, and the frontier still crawled its way westward by blood. Those times are gone now. The myth which harkens back to it works in service of something darker. Yet still - when the moon warns of danger, the cries of war echo across ancient planes laid supplicant to the powers of modernity. The frontiersman hears the cry, and he knows only blood.
It upsets me, that far from being an anomaly, events such as today's tragedy seem disturbingly at home in such a landscape. A landscape which calls for individualism, thrives on competition, propagates the myth of the hero, worships the bullet, kills for the dream. "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants."? But the golden fruit it bears is rotten, rotten to the core. I would not seek to shed blood for that.
“American Democracy was a form of self murder, always. Or of murdering somebody else.” - DH Lawrence.