Wednesday 30 March 2022
Monday 28 March 2022
Monday 21 March 2022
I follow Marcia Brady on Twitter: Mo McCormick, Actor/Author.
She posts a video with her older brother and they dance, a fast waltz,
under an oak tree with dozens of hanging pastel paper parasols.
She holds his hands, looks up into his face: he watches her feet.
I wish we were friends. I'd call her, Mo, too, one syllable, low:
prayerful, bovine. Mo asks her brother, do you have a girlfriend yet?
She leads, spins him around: I love her in a way I couldn't back then.
As a child, I loved the middle girl, Jan, the jealous one, Eve Plumb,
Bible spondee fruit, with a TV J-name, and that blue crochet vest.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child.
When I was a child, I'd see Mo's face on my tin lunchbox, but now I see
her freckles mirrored a small star cluster visible on clear nights -
Constellation of Bejewelled Silver Studs on Soft Velvet Bell Bottoms.
Constellation of Kindness. Constellation of Purple Devotion.
Stay safe. Be kind. Miss your daughter.
Saturday 12 March 2022
After our shared lemon muffin we wandered back down Piccadilly and whiled another hour away in the impossibly huge Waterstones. Then we wandered back to the embassy. It is so posh that during the winter when the trees are bare it has a view of Buckingham Palace. I sat in the park while Monkey sat in a queue to have her documents checked. She must do the whole horrible coach journey again next Wednesday to collect her visa, but all being good she will fly out a week on Monday.
I have enjoyed John Green's easy and slightly sentimental novels and also enjoyed 'The Anthropocene Reviewed'; he revels in the human world, what we have done to the planet, both the good and the bad, even when it descended into nostalgia and sentimentality. Each essay just talks about a particular thing that humans have created, how it has impacted the wider world as well as his own life, and then gives it stars, as if it were an online review. He is a thoughtful person and a good writer so although I flicked past the essays on Super Mario Cart and CNN I found myself very engaged in the history of the QWERTY keyboard. Here he talks about a conversation he has with a casino dealer:
"There's a certain way I talk about the things I don't talk about. Maybe it's true for all of us. We have ways of closing off the conversation so that we don't ever get directly asked what we can't bear to answer. The silence that followed James's comment about having been a kid reminded me of that, and reminded me that I had also been a kid. Of course it's possible that James was only referring to Wendover's shortage of playgrounds - but I doubted it. I started sweating. the casino's noises - the dinging of slot machines, the shouts at the craps tables - were suddenly overwhelming. I thought about that old Faulkner line that the past isn't dead; it's not even the past. One of the strange things about adulthood is that you are your current self, but you are also all the selves you used to be, the ones you grew out of but can't ever quite get rid of. I played out the hand, tipped the dealer, thanked the table for the conversation, and cashed out my remaining chips." (p.188)
He, in many ways, tells you far more about himself than I feel might have been his initial intent in any of these essays. But also, of course, about the human condition. Very readable. I will certainly be checking out The Mountain Goats on Spotify and possibly buying his wife Sarah's book 'You Are an Artist'. He ends most upliftingly, and in pleasing synchronicity with Oliver Burkeman:
"Sometimes, I wonder how I can survive in this world where, as Mary Oliver put it, 'everything/ Sooner or later/ Is part of everything else.' Other times, I remember that I won't survive, of course. But until then: What an astonishment to breathe on this breathing planet. What a blessing to be Earth loving Earth."
Stay safe. Be kind. Breathe.
Thursday 10 March 2022
Also so much for all the blog posts I was going to get written (travel time can mean plenty of reading time) but this is due back today so will just get the one done.
I have followed Oliver Burkeman's column in the Grauniad and he has written lots of books, of which 'Four Thousand Weeks' is the most recent. Four thousand weeks sounds like a lot in one way, but hardly any in another (it is only an average, I plan on having well over 5000). I liked this book because it is more about having some perspective on our ideas about time and how we use it, rather than yet another time management tome. I am not one of those busy busy people anyway. I fritter my life away in huge swathes some times. I can't remember what I have done with the last decade. And I have developed my 'saying no' skills over the last year. I noted when I looked at my payslip yesterday that I have earned less this year than last, and that's because I have done less overtime, taken my days off and enjoyed them. But I do still worry about wasting time and that I should have some kind of long term plan with things I want to achieve. Along comes a book that basically tells me not to stress about it.
He talks here about how people try and 'clear the decks' of all the small clutter of life before they feel about to apply themselves to the big important projects:
"One can waste years this way, systematically postponing precisely the things one cares about the most.
What's needed instead in such situations, I gradually came to understand, is a kind of anti-skill: not the counter-productive strategy of trying to make yourself more efficient, but rather a willingness to resist such urges - to learn to stay with the anxiety of feeling overwhelmed, of not being on top of everything, without automatically responding by trying to fit more in. To approach your days in this fashion means, instead of clearing the decks, declining to clear the decks, focusing instead on what's truly of greatest consequence while tolerating the discomfort of knowing that, as you do so, the decks will be filling up further, with emails and errands and other to-dos, many of which you may never get round to at all." (p.50)
I liked the book because it is a philosophical musing on existence as much as it is advice:
... but now here comes mortality, to steal away the life that was rightfully yours.
Yet, on reflection, there's something very entitles about this attitude. Why assume that an infinite supply of time is the default, and mortality an outrageous violation? Or to put it another way, why treat four thousand weeks as a very small number, because it's so tiny compared with infinity, rather than treating it as a huge number, because it's so many more weeks than if you had never been born? Surely only somebody who'd failed to notice how remarkable it is that anything is, in the first place, would take their own being as such a given - as if it were something they had every right to have conferred upon them, and never to have taken away. So maybe it's not that you've been cheated out of an unlimited supply of time; maybe it's almost incomprehensibly miraculous to have been granted any time at all." (p.66)
This one drew my attention because it coincides with my own feelings about parenting and children. Too much parenting focuses on what the child will become and does not allow them to just be, though it is just as applicable to adults:
"In his play The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard puts an intensified version of this sentiment into the mouth of the nineteenth-century Russian philosopher Alexander Herzen, as he struggles to come to terms with the death of his son, who has drowned in a shipwreck - and who's life, Herzen insists, was no less valuable for never coming to fruition in adult accomplishments. 'Because children grow up, we think a child's purpose is to grow up,' Herzen says. 'But a child's purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn't distain what only lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment ... Life's bounty is in its flow. later is too late.' " (p.132)
And this, most of all, because it proposes the idea that a life well spent does not mean you have to achieve something significant, and it is the one I felt that I really took to heart from my reading:
"No wonder it comes as a relief to be reminded of your insignificance: it's the feeling of realising that you'd been holding yourself, all this time, to standards you couldn't reasonably be expected to meet. And this realisation isn't merely calming but liberating, because once you're no longer burdened by such an unrealistic definition of a 'life well spent', you're freed to consider the possibility that a far wider variety of things might qualify as meaningful ways to use your finite time. You're freed, too, to consider the possibility that many of the things you're already doing with it as more meaningful than you'd supposed - and that until now, you'd subconsciously been devaluing them, on the grounds that they weren't significant enough." (p.212)
He ends the book with some questions and some points of advice but also with a quote from Jung that says, to paraphrase and abbreviate, put one foot in front of the other and quietly do the next and most necessary thing.
Stay safe. Be kind. Relish the miraculous.