winter has arrived a few days before the calendar officially dictates. yes, snow! cold, crunchy, drier than rain and maybe slightly more preferable...above is a photo of norwich snipped from bbc norfolk.
[just noticed that i caught my cursor in the screen shot---the finger of god!! it has always interested me that the word 'cursor' comes from the latin word for 'something/one that runs'; wikipedia agrees. why do you think that computer use is never relaxing? we're the actual cursors trying very hard to follow a virtual one, which has the advantage of being able to run at the speed of light!]
for the past week, on bbc radio 4, a surprisingly poignant book was read for their 'book of the week' broadcast. [unfortunately, i don't think that americans can access the bbc iplayer] 'dear granny smith' by roy mayall, a pen name punning on 'royal mail', was written by a mailman, who are called 'posties' here. 'granny smith' is the slang nickname that 'posties' give to their archetypal customers, like you and me, but especially to the socio-economically marginalized older women, for whom the postal service is a lifeline. [a bit like 'john or jane q. public' in america] the author writes as a worker on the receiving end of managerial policies of 'modernization', 'flexibility', 'change', 'efficiency' and all the rest of late-capitalist-business-school-speak. in other words: different ways to squeeze more work out of fewer, less secure, more disgruntled employees for less money---the way of all jobs on the bottom of the totem pole.
why poignant? as i listened to the readings, i felt moved by the heart and mind of a philosopher! that is to say, in writing intelligently about the economic dynamics in play which are changing the royal mail for the worse from the perspective of the worker as well as the customer, roy mayall says something very valuable about the state of the world as a whole. by touching a quite specific node of experience incisively, he reflects the big picture and raises big questions in a meaningful manner---a function usually reserved for literature or poetry.
in other words, the royal mail illustrates the template of what is happening to companies within our broader 'globalized', privatized, corporate economy; and we are all 'granny smith'. in a london review of books blog post, roy mayall recounts a meeting between royal mail management and staff: after hearing about new policies which would adversely affect service, an old-time postie asked management, 'what about granny smith?'
the reply? 'granny smith isn't important...granny smith doesn't matter anymore...' and we are all granny smith...
this theme keeps creeping into my consciousness through different cracks: meditations, thoughts, books, articles, probably influencing each other...
rudolf steiner, in his meditation manual, 'start now', places great emphasis on 'imagination', but not in the way currently used. he means it as an act of will, not the 'will o' the wisp' opposite we usually mean, as in, whatever-comes-into-your-head. rather, steiner's version is to conjure a stable image in your inner visual field and to do so long enough so that the object can be manipulated in that space, as if it were a physical thing in your hand. another route he suggests is to picture something symbolically meaningful to the spiritual quest, like a seed, which can then 'grow' or 'blossom' along with the soul that is doing the picturing!
in meditation, i've tried the latter with some success. my gut feeling about this exercise is that being able to conjure [pun intended] images within can directly lead to clarity of vision about one's life---that this is the initial step of 'reality creation' in the outside world. creative visualization works in this way. never before have i equated my inability to picture things with my inability to direct my life! i can now look back at the ancient belief that images and art were magic....because they ARE! or can be...if one keeps at it...right now i'm working with my inner acorn...hopefully, one day to sprout and to grow into my inner oak ;-)
another suggested exercise from steiner is the 'backward review'; simply to picture the significant events of your day, from the most recent, back in time---to rewind the day in order to reinforce the lessons learned and to notice where improvements can be made in the future. we do it in all learning situations: classes. we do it in prose, and call it a 'conclusion'. why not in everyday life, the ultimate school?
lastly, in his 'essential exercises', steiner tells us of the importance of initiating some type of action each day, no matter how trivial. the small act of will builds the capacity for greater ones. my miniscule will muscles are getting sore...
speaking of arresting images...i was browsing the new york times and found that there's an exhibition in nyc of jung's famous 'red book', his personal illuminated manuscript. a review is here. i snipped some images from the article:
summer and i were going to go to the beach yesterday, but as we entered the train station, we saw that the route was delayed by construction. what to do? next down the schedule was a train to cambridge----leaving in 3 minutes! off we ran down the platform...
we arrived in a literal fog...a thick, chilly mist...would we even see the town? quickly we oriented ourselves, with the aid of, or in spite of, a tourist map. my eye was caught by posters for an exhibition of lithographs by odlin redon, an artist i don't know that well, but whose work has appealed to me since my art school days. the admission was free at the fitzwilliam museum and a fine [art] excuse to get out of the cold.
the cityscape was itself impressionistic, due to the mist----thick on atmosphere, literally. i seized some photographic moments:
the digital camera interpreted the fog as a purple haze [cue hendrix].
some fine [art] moments in the fitzwilliam's sculpture park:
summer with an extra hand waving...
like many student towns, cambridge harbored seas of bikes which i thought were particularly interesting visually---more like a scene from a city in china:
no, haven't joined a terrorist organization...just another day partaking in allotment culture...
as a note: this is an aspect of british culture that hasn't made it to america at all and might seem incomprehensible if judged through american lenses. allotments are public garden plots which are available to anyone for a very low cost per year. these days there are 2-year waiting lists for an allotment, due to the popularity of 'growing your own'/d.i.y. but this clouds over the core of british culture that is quite independent of trend. at heart, according to my pet theory, england's official religion has nothing to do with the church of england----rather, it's nature herself! gardening is the main ritual. others would include birding and walking the landscape.
allotments provide the worshiping ground. social events often take place there: parties, meetings. there are temples on these holy grounds, called sheds. every allotment has one to store tools and practical items, but also are places of sanctuary [from the elements, annoying family members, etc.] some are surprisingly outfitted with conveniences like stoves, kettles for tea and even fridges powered by gas. i've heard it rumored that some even have basements dug beneath them!
this past weekend, i attended an allotment party with about 8 others. we convened to help with the hostess's winter gardening activities: digging compost into the soil, constructing a poly-tunnel [so that plants can be protected from frost], digging of new beds, clearing last year's growth, etc. in return we, the guests, partook of fresh soup, bread, cake, song and bonhomie. i'm not much of a gardener and i was skeptical when summer invited me; digging in the cold wetness wasn't my idea of fun, but i'm proud to say that i had a great time. i grew beyond my childhood associations that gardening equals tedious yard work---a punishment.
so, today, when james suggested that we clear the unwanted overgrown phalanx of blackberry bramble from his new, unworked allotment, i didn't think very hard about it. off we went. at the outset the task seemed daunting. after a time, however, we found a rhythm and a method: surgical trimming with small handheld clippers in order to expose main stems which were then chopped with a hatchet. a healthy bonfire would then consume all brush waste...and then some. notice me, donning the farmer's look complete with overalls and 'wellies', kicking apart pieces of the old shed to fuel the flames with the wood...
...a satisfying day in flow...clearing the land for future growth...with some 12-year-old-boy destruction thrown in! [always important]
i've joined the coming of age millennial 'naughties' just in time for the end of the era ;-)
yes, i'm on skype now...the cool, hip way to undermine the phone companies ;-) in essence i can talk to you via the internet for a scandalously low price per minute. my skype name is similar to my real name with a dot between my first and last name---look me up...hook me up....if i'm in front of my computer and it happens to be on, i'll even answer, probably...
last week, i took a trip out to the breezy, pancake-flat, norfolk countryside to the rambling farmhouse of an antiques dealer. i returned the proud owner of a keech banjulele. keech was the inventor's last name. he apparently was a hawaiian who relocated to london [nice move, eh?] banjulele was his portmanteau word for banjo+ukulele--a ukulele that resonates on a stretched head. it's designed to be as loud as possible for its small size, a function it serves brilliantly!
judging by some minor googling around on the internet, the instrument dates from between the 19-teens and the 20's. [it's about as old as my grandmother...and built just as well!!] the original gut strings are still on it, minus one!! [though it was strung incorrectly] the case is a time capsule: old gut string wrappers, 'the wright way' ukulele method book [very thorough], tuning key that oddly does not fit the lugs to tune the calfskin head, and a 'hawaiian plec-strum'. here's a picture:
a leaflet in my time capsule case states that the hawaiian plec-strum [a play on 'plectrum'] was made by violin makers to 'enable the ukulele player to perform with the correct arpeggio accompaniment', that is, sounding the notes separately and not at the same time. it took me a few minutes to figure out how to use it: you put your fingers through it like brass knuckles [not that i'd know] with the wood bar towards your palm, felt picks towards the strings. [felt is a typical pick material for ukes---firm and gentle at the same time]
it works brilliantly! i wonder if these, or something like it, are still made? if not, maybe i have another job ;-) the leaflet concludes, in run-on style:
'it has taken twelve months of experiment to make the invention correct, and in the form it is now made, it will be found to do all that is claimed, and to be a well made and finished article that will last for years.'
last night during taiko i experienced a typical phase of the learning process, though it's not usually recognized as such---frustration!!! wanting to quit and go home!!
laughed as i thought back to how confident i entered the class [only 4 weeks ago] and realized how easy it is to feel the sudden surge in confidence when you perform the initial basics of an activity well; you're at, or close to a 100% performance level! you're an expert of a very small world! congratulations! you won't feel that way again for a very long time...so there is something to the circular pop-zen notion of the black belt being worked until white once again...
i convinced james to join me in singing with a community-based choir called 'the voice project'. capably and enthusiastically led by jonathan and sian, we're rehearsing for a show in 2 weeks. all the music is taught orally in 5 parts---bass, tenor, alto 1 and 2, soprano---broken down into phrases and gradually woven together, part by part. johnathan and sian are both rich sources of vocal tips, as if they were playing the 'instrument' of the choir, sculpting the sound.
so far, there has been a curious absence of the typical dysfunctional 'i-whip-and-you-take-it-smiling' relationship between the director[s] and the members. i've wondered about the reasons why and it seems that it comes down to the philosophy of the group. a community choir serves its members, hence serving the community---emphasis on 'serve' as as verb. it's a project of teaching and learning not separated from the world. it's embodied, with a place...no need for the anxiety of wondering about place in the world to well up into other manifestations, like put-downs or backbiting!