The Beast of Reality

Various incidents and happenings over the past few months have forced me to be very introspective; the last few weeks have being particularly “interesting” which has had me examining my navel fairly often … this contemplative phase, I am transitioning through, has had me musing on life and all its strange curve balls it manages to throw at one. Being an optimistic person, I have found myself battling to reconcile the rapidly changing circumstances of the past few months. One of the mental activities/mindsets that has kept me going (other than the support, encouragement and belief of my gorgeous wife), is that life is an adventure a never ending journey that we must immerse ourselves in, wallow in, and feast at the table of the banquet of life. Even when the table is set for a simple meal, I believe I must still taste and explore every morsel; even if their are only crumbs .

If we/I do not taste and explore all at my disposal then I run the risk of an unfinished/unfulfilled life, as I have not grasped what is in front of me and savoured it to its fullest. Love is beauty wrapped in the seconds of ones life, if you don’t stop for a minute you might just miss it, and then you might miss out on the next adventure/opportunity. So I am then faced with this dichotomy, of feasting on all that life has to offer and the ever present Beast of Reality. How do we deal with this beast or feed it, so that we can continue to feast at the table of life? This would be the proverbial “Million Dollar Question”?

I have no easy answer/s to that Question, of how to feed the beast and feed at the table of life, as the each of us have our own “Beast of Reality” and we all have to find out what diet it requires. I try to starve the beast and deprive it what it wants (at least what I think it wants from me, ie: to not be able to partake of all that is there to feast upon). I do not avoid the reality of life, in fact I immerse myself in the real world, and all its pain and pleasure, but I starve it by being fully aware of what it does in the world and being aware of how cruel and kind this world can be… I start each day by reading at least 3 newspapers and 2 news magazines (online of course). I think this helps prepare me for what awaits beyond the sanctity of my quiet space (it also stimulates my creativity). Once I have that behind me I can better face the day and then start to enjoy what life has set out on the table for the day. As the beast will not sleep, and has to be faced …eventually, but how we face it and on whose terms and turf, are what we can control. We cannot shut it out from the feast of life, it is always the unwelcome guest at the table, trying to eat more than it should and deprive us of what is ours to enjoy.

This in no way lessens the challenges that I have to face or have been facing, it just helps me to keep perspective on the real world and how I must strive to be drunk on life and long for my/our next adventure.

Things to Live For

“Poetry, Beauty, Romance, Love – these are what we stay alive for.”

The words of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society

My thoughts of late have wandered far and wide, but over the past few weeks they have shifted back to a few core questions; the above quote encapsulates some of the answers to the questions that have been spinning in my head. So please bear with me as I unpack this quote in a wider context of what goes in inside my head – be warned it can be a scary place at times, just ask my wife 🙂

Central to my thoughts of late has been inspiration, creativity, stability and harmony; as in how to achieve these aspirations and what path/s I will explore to best find my end goals. I do find inspiration and peace through reading and music, which then inspire me to explore areas of creativity. Strangely though the words (books and poetry) and music that I immerse myself in, do tend to be on the dark side, and through this darkness I find both solace and an opportunity to see light and a future.

I find myself gravitating back to reading the first world war British poets (Owen, Sassoon, Brooke and Rosenburg), why war poetry you might ask? I can relate to their fears, despair and bleakness from my own time in battle, but through this process one begins to understand that even in the depths of despair and the bleakness of the trenches, their is hope. In Wilfred Owen’s last letters to his mother from the front, in 1918, he said that there was no place he would rather be.

Of his work he said:

“My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”

My work has taken me to black and bleak places on the African continent, so I am always driven to find hope in despair, light in dark and compassion in pain and suffering. I think that is what keeps me sane and focussed on the bigger picture/s in life. It helps me to gain perspective and see the forest and not just the single tree, blocking my path.

Music and poetry form a part of the way I relax and reflect (plus cigars, scotch and bourbon – but that is a tale for another day), that is why I am a huge fan of Bob Dylan.

The poetry of Keats, Milton and Blake (not war poets, they pre-date the first world war some what), also inspire me, and help me to push the boundaries, notably William Blake. He was a revolutionary romantic, he was iconoclastic in his views, notably to the established orders of the day; church and politics. A critical reading of Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” in which the figure represented by the “Devil” is virtually a hero rebelling against an imposter authoritarian deity, clearly highlights Blake’s idiosyncratic views of his feelings towards the established order of his day. (views that I can sympathise with)

“Blake’s theory of contraries was not a belief in opposites but rather a belief that each person reflects the contrary nature of God, and that progression in life is impossible without contraries.”

It also certainly formed part of the revolutionary culture of the period. It was composed between 1790 and 1793, in the period of radical foment and political conflict immediately after the French Revolution. It to then deals with turmoil and man’s search for meaning:

Blake explains that,

“Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion,

Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to Human existence.

From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.

Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing

from Energy.”

For an excellent blending of music (Electronica Folk Black Metal) listen to Ulver’s Themes From William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven And Hell

I am a huge fan of their music, and their most recent album: War of the Roses -(2011), is a mix of Pink Floyd and Radiohead, how is that for a neo progressive rock band with its roots in Norse Black Metal!

So where does all this lead; how does this bring me closer to Beauty, Romance and Love? and a means to finding my end goals?

I actually do not have an immediate quick answer to the above questions, but what I can say is that by exploring these paths, the mist often clears and I can get to the top of the ridge and see the forest that I thought had me surrounded was in fact just a small copse of 10 or 20 trees.

What is clear for me is where I want to be, the trick is how to get there :).

One of my end games is to actively pursue a path of being a more active writer, than I currently am, and to publish some of my works in the foreseeable future (I have placed time-lines for myself on 2 of my projects). These will bring more harmony to my life, which will in turn make me more balanced (only for awhile, I am a restless soul), this then will positively resonate in my life, bringing more love and peace to my soul and those that I love and hold dear.

Until next time my gentle readers, peace, love and hope to you all.

Learning from Creative People – Bob Dylan

I have been making a concerted effort of late to spend at least an hour a day reading books on creativity and/or interviews with creative people (mainly writers, artists and musicians); to understand what inspires them, how they work, where they work, and how they tap into their creativity to access the ideas/inspiration which allows them to write with such beauty and intensity.

A hefty tome that sits on my desk at present is “Song Writers on Song Writing”, the expanded 4th edition by Paul Zollo.

It covers every genre of music form blues to pop and rock, interviews with 62 musicians/song writers. What is so interesting and inspiring for me, when reading the interviews is to discover that not all the writers just grab the lyrics from the air, some of them really anguish over them. Leonard Cohen took 3 years to write Hallelujah!

I have spent the last week, reading the Bob Dylan interview over and over again; I am a huge Dylan fan, have almost his entire song collection on vinyl and mp3, plus all his song lyric sheets and numerous biographies. For me he is a musical genius and one of our greatest living poets. Van Morrison agrees with me re him being our greatest poet 🙂

His comments on the environment that one needs to be creative ties in with what I read in the War of Art; one needs a peaceful, invigorating and stimulating environment to write. Although he does go on to say:

“Some songs are better written in peace and quiet and delivered in turmoil. Others are best written in turmoil and delivered in a peaceful, quiet way.”

He also says that he does not consider himself a professional song writer, and he clarifies this by saying it has always been more con-fessional that pro-confessional. That got me thinking about my writing, and what aspect/perspective am I writing from, i.e. inward or outward looking, and just how naked does one want/need to be, how close to ones “soul” must we dig, when one is writing?

Dylan refers often to how songs “come to him”, which brings me full circle to the muse/genius train of thought. Even if that is the case though you need to be receptive to the “arrival” of the inspiration. This is an area of my creativity that intrigues me, especially as I am science, logic and process driven. Despite this I too am finding ideas coming to me at strange times of the day and night.

Well that’s enough of my musings today, but I will be back with more ramblings and thoughts on making the entrance hall welcome for the muse/genius to arrive, and spoil me with his/her thoughts/dreams/visions.

Eternity is in love with the creations of time – William Blake

The War of Art

I just finished reading this fascinating book by Steven Pressfield yesterday and want to share some of what I learnt/discovered during the process.

The book subtitles itself as:
“Break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles”

I highly recommend this read, I found it both inspiring and thought provoking it also has pushed me to think deeper about what it means to be a writer and the responsibility that the tag carries.

Here are a few extracts which have got my mind buzzing: (I have paraphrased or changed some of the sentence layouts to make sense to me), but they are still Steven’s words.

The professional seeks order and eliminates chaos from his world and he wants the threshold swept and kept clean, so that the Muse may enter and not soil her gown – page 77

We must not become distracted by our own nonsense – page 123

The instinct that pulls us toward art is the impulse to evolve, to learn, to heighten and evaluate our consciousness. The Ego hates this. Because the more awake we become, the less we need the Ego. – page 140
This is a form particular interesting few chapters that delve into Jungian psychology. It explains the difference between the Self and the Ego and how having an understanding of this can nudge us towards our goal of being a writer/artist.

Our biggest fear holding us back, might be the fear that we will succeed, that we will become the person that we sense in our hearts we truly are; the artist/writer. – page 143

And his closing sentence at the end of the book (spoiler alert) 🙂

Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got!

This is so true, let just do it .. and write, paint, create, lets achieve our own greatness.

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic and power in it. Begin it now.”  – WH Murray

Thoughts on getting lost as a means of finding oneself…

Rebecca Solnit, whose mind and writings are among the most consistently enchanting of our time, explores this tender tango with the unknown in her altogether sublime collection of essays in A Field Guide to Getting Lost 

I thoroughly enjoy her writings, having indulged in a few of her books and essays. And Getting Lost is one of the more personally transformative collection of essays I have had the pleasure of reading. Solnit, explores themes and issues of uncertainty, trust, loss, memory, desire, and our place on this planet.

Solnit writes in the opening essay:

Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go. The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration — how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?

Henry Miller wrote: “On how one orients himself to the moment, depends the failure or fruitfulness of it.” we are all apart of this transitional process called – Life.

“There is an illusion of ‘end,’ a stasis seemingly like death. But it is only an illusion. Everything, at this crucial point, lies in the attitude which we assume towards the moment.”

Henry Miller

T.S. Eliot’s poem Four Quarters –  expounds on the journey of life and its self discovery, and ultimately learning to know ourselves. we are on a never-ending lifelong journey of exploration – of our self, environment, the world in which we live.Life is a destination, but prehaps we never really travel further than we really are at this present moment, all that changes is our understanding of the now …

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Sometimes we have to lose ourselves to find ourselves. Never to get lost is not to live.