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Life forms illogical patterns. It is haphazard and full of beauties which I try to catch as they fly by, for who knows whether any of them will ever return?

– Margot Fonteyn

I hope you enjoyed that period of Imp quietude. I had nothing to say. HOWEVER… that’s all over now.  What an odd blog it would be if the point was just silence. Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy, he of “in Duran Duran before they made it” fame, once told Smash Hits that as a student he was asked to run a talk on anarchy. He agreed. Then didn’t show up. “‘Cos that’s the point of anarchy, innit?”. I thought that was really clever. When I was 12.

Now, today, I’d like to witter on about superstition, fate, coincidence, pre-determination, randomness. I am very grateful to the ever-patient ear of the imp’s lover, who smiled politely as my babbling brook of  consciousness tickled these ideas by the river this week, and who then pushed them to grow. Any blame lies  entirely with the author, however.

OK. Let’s take two extreme views:

Extreme 1) There is no higher power (god or gods)

  • no afterlife
  • no purpose in life except life itself (ie continuation of the organisms that make life – see past Impery on this here)
  • As one of my personal heroes said (yup, it’s Mr William Hicks), it’s just a ride.

Extreme 2) Our lives are – to a lesser or greater extent – governed by a power higher than ourselves (god or gods)

  • live life carefully, according to that power’s (moral) code, because (a) there is an afterlife and reward or retribution for your actions and (b) the code says you have to strive to be good to one another (viz. Bill & Ted)
  • your life is (again, to lesser/greater degree) determined by that higher power’s whims/grand plan [the hamster died to teach you about hygiene; your boobs fell off because you were vain enough to like them; etc etc]

Now, I’d always thought that these two extremes were just that: at opposite ends of the spectrum; unmixable. But then I was hit by a thought, inspired by going back to the idea of us just being cell-carriers, and nothing more. And that thought was this…

Part 1: Throughout nature, everywhere we look (and the better science is at seeing, the more this seems to be the case), there are patterns. Not random weirdnesses, grand exemplars of uniqueness after uniqueness, no, but each and every individual thing is made of the same building blocks, the same patterns – fractals, basically. Yes, there’s singularity – each leaf, each snail, each fingerprint, each person, is different. But when the Darleks call us “carbon creatures”, they’ve got it right. There is newness, from development and growth (evolution), but it is based on what has gone before, inspired by surrounding conditions, and born of what potential already exists within the evolving organism.

Part 2: Now here’s the bit that surprised me. What if – and remember, ideas should always seem batty at first – what if there are patterns not only in cell growth? If you think about it, we can see patterns in geology: erosion, mountains, rock formations, glaciers, caves. And in the weather, too: cloud formations; rainbows; low and high pressure etc.  So that, to me, says that actually, there are not random happenings, but rather there are sometimes huge, sometimes tiny fractal-like patterns of “nature”, that guide these processes.

Part 3: So – what if there are patterns in the way our lives flow, just as there are in these other things? Not ‘cos of a god on high (extreme 1), but in a way that also contradicts extreme 2’s view that everything is completely random? That would bring about a link between the two ideas, wouldn’t it?

Think back to your last funny coincidence, or sense of something prophetic; the strong feeling  that you just knew something would happen. If you’re religious, you might have seen it as something from your god. If you’re not, you may have rationalised it (“my brain knows how to predict things without my consciousness being aware of it”).

What about a third view (after all, being binary is so dull)?

What about it being a case of you spotting the coming curl in the fractal? And that fractal being the flow of the life that is around you? I say “the life that is around you” rather than “your life” for a reason.  It may just be a ride, but we’re all in it together, this primordial soup. It doesn’t mean that the meaning of life is determined by any god, but it doesn’t mean it’s entirely random, either. Nor does it mean that this posting draws a final conclusion…Just enjoy the ride.

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A Freudian slip is when you say one thing and mean your mother…..

I hope that made you smile. I was just wondering about the nature of “control”, as a matter of fact, and trying to think of something funny to say about it, and came up with that one instead (it’s the way my uncontrollable mind works: darn fractally thing that it is).

Here’s another. Walk into a crowded room, shout, “Hey, you! Paranoid!” and see who turns round.

But enough jokery-pokery. Control (behave, Imp!). Control (and breathe…..).

So, why am I on this subject today (when the sun is shining and I am killing time before I can run without getting a brunch-related injury)? Well, I am feeling a little stressed out [thanks, Stu, for your recent comment about meteorites landing while I’m on stage: I’m not sure if that add to or lessens the angst..;-)  ] and I would like to feel less stressed. And as we are all prone to do in such circs, the Imp has been trying to find little solaces, consolations, to provide relief.

And then it hit me.

I’m all a-fizz and a-bother because…I don’t feel in control!

And then it hit me again (well, not the same thing; I’m not a goldfish): I don’t want to be the sort of person who wants to be in control! I want to be the sort of person about whom other people say, “wow – that Imp is just so relZZZZxed” *

And then when I’d finished beating myself with a slide rule (oh, the angles, the precision!), I got to calculating just why we feel uncomfortable when we sense we don’t have enough control as we would like over our lives.

Many psychological studies show that if we don’t feel in control, we’re more likely to become stressed – or, rather, to react less well to stressful factors (like having too much to do, being tired, a lack of consistency, having uncertain rules of the “game”). Well, it’s hardly brain-science. Oh. Yes, it is, actually. Sorry.

Anyway, the opposite of a sense of control is, of course, a feeling of powerlessness. It’s wholly understandable that the more powerless we feel, the more we will attempt to control our world, to enforce an order on it, so that it conforms with what makes us feel comfortable again.  And the thing is, that enforced order can seem exaggerated, OTT, to others.  For example, everything might have to be “just so” (moving into the extreme of OCD territory), or we might need to know all the details of how something works before we accept it, asking a million-and-one questions; we might bully or nag; we might develop little superstitions, rituals, routines from which we won’t budge. All that hassle, just to feel comfortable again!  So you can imagine, it can’t be feeling good inside someone who’s introducing these kinds of (false, temporary) consolations into their lives.

Now, you might have noticed I have talked about a feeling or sense of being in control – ie, we don’t actually have to BE in control, but we need the security of feeling that the situation is UNDER control. And that means that other people can provide that security if we let them. We can trust parents, friends, bosses, doctors, whoever, to be managing the situation – we don’t HAVE to take responsibility for it ourselves.  But if we let ourselves trust, we can feel more secure – we don’t have to carry the world all by ourselves.

So, in the Impish case, I know I have (as mentioned in an earlier post) identified the facts (I’ve done my homework; done my best) in order to demolish the feary phantoms, and to regain a sense of control, I can have faith in others around me – we’re all in this together and we’re all doing the best we can. I just need to remind myself that the boxes are ticked (a great list-maker, me, at times like this) and I’m happy. Not so anal, after all….

I will leave you with a smile – the real definition of a control freak: someone who swears they wouldn’t correct you about your breathing if you weren’t “doing it all wrong.”

* See? See? I make a typo and don’t need to correct it, ‘cos it’s just, like,  so cool? See? Uhh, like, how totally chilled is that, yes? You do agree, dontcha?

😉

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.

– Auric Goldfinger (yes, the baddie in Goldfinger)

Remember the fractals? In “Seeing the Curl“, I suggested that coincidence could be a fractal curl.

In the last week, I think I’ve been falling down the fractal slide, a little like Alice down her rabbit hole. Either that, or I’ve slipped into Cheap Tabloid Horoscope World.

“This week, Piscilibrarians, you’ll uncover money you didn’t know you had. And watch out for technology. It’s not your friend!”

Every IT problem that could come to pass came to pass. In fact it didn’t pass. Each one of them set up shop, moved in the lover, had brats, who all got ‘flu… The mac, the laptop, the tablet, the printer, the ‘phones. I’m surprised the traffic lights didn’t start telling me where to go: “Don’t bloody walk. No! OK – now!” [just as a 10-ton truck careered out of control].

Mind you, the money wot was hid was good. I’d massively overpaid the tax man and ridiculously underpaid my expenses. It’s not new, it’s not gained any interest, but it’s honestly mine, so I’m not complaining.

But you know how you can go for months without anything ever “happening”? For some people, life just butts its way into thrills and excitement, doesn’t it? Being discovered as the wild face of yesterday while picking your nose in the photo booth, or perhaps eaten by an escaped and rabid dolphin at a beach party -good examples, both, of life just “happening”. So often, you just get on with it, though, don’t you? You know, you think, eat, have feelings, do more or less the same thing as you wander along. You make things happen yourself; you are – you believe – the agent of change. External interference seems minimal (“ah, but is it?”); nothing happens. Well, irritating although the IT cauchemar [pretentious French for ‘nightmare’; I can’t call it a nightmare without putting tongue firmly in cheek] was, its seeming randomness was definitely a happening. As was the cash being refunded – and in both cases, I felt as tho’ they’d happened without me doing anything.

And there’s the widgimaflip*: the sort of thing that scriptwriters (and novelists) love. The events’ seeds had been sown way back (idiots overpaying their taxes, for example) and forgotten. Only the beloved honesty (anality) of the tax man altered the single-minded (egocentric) unravelling of the Imp life. And you see, there’s the fractal! The butterfly flap of Swindon’s finest junior tax inspector caused a minor earthquake in the Imp household (I splashed out on some  fine peanut butter, in all probability).

Ah…glad I got that off my chest….

😉

*patent pending; the Widgimaflip will be 2012’s most thrilling metaphorical and metaphysical linguistic and conceptual invention….

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, [which is] a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

– Albert Einstein (as ever, so wise)

BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week programme (a superb piece of radio – Andrew Marr at his brightest, with fascinating guests, always) included a conversation with James Hall, author of a new book on the left and right in art (The Sinister Side: How Left-Right Symbolism Shaped Western Art – OUP). You can listen to it here, and I thoroughly recommend it. I am sore-tempted to get the book, but let’s be green and thrifty and go to the library. The publisher’s blurb goes as follows, just so you know what’s so interesting…

Traditionally, in almost every culture and religion, the left side has been regarded as inferior – evil, weak, worldly, feminine – while the right is good, strong, spiritual and male. But starting in the Renaissance, this hierarchy was questioned and visualised as never before. The left side, in part because of the presence of the heart, became the side that represented authentic human feelings, especially love. By the late nineteenth century, with the rise of interest in the occult and in spiritualism, the left side had become associated with the taboo and with the unconscious.

I’m not always a philistine, but I must tell you that I’m not really too interested in the dryly historical side of all this; in how cultures have shifted their ‘view’ of left and right. But I am very interested in how people feel about, relate to, their own left and right sides. Why? For several reasons – bear with me:

• Spatial awareness; our sense of space (hmm; is that outside the usual five?); the feeling of contact without actual touch; the near-ownership of the space around our selves, which is (for me) linked tight to the sense of left/right sides.

• Children don’t intuitively know left from right – as an adult, I still don’t, and need to think about it. Why is that? And why is it that we can have very trenchant spatial (and left/right side) awareness yet need consciously to consider the official left or right?sear_goldensection-full

• With the ‘golden section’ or fung shui, in art, architecture and in the science of sound even (think stereo!), we sense things and they feel ‘just right’; a nudge here, a nudge there and utter peace (or turmoil) is achieved (within a framework which is necessarily bounded by the left and the right) – but why? Or how?!

• Could these (and no doubt many other phenomena) link back to our reptilian pasts? I go for the left/right brain stuff, sure, but I wonder whether there’s more instinctive, reptilian brain work going on here…. (not surprisingly, I feel fractals, but will try to delay their joining the game for as long as possible).

• Are we hunting for balance, symmetry? Is it about oppositional meaning, i.e., we see the picture because of the frame; perceive first what is not before we can see what is there?

OK, so them’s my reasons for being interested in all this. Hope I’ve raised some interesting questions for you, too. I’m going to see what we can find out on all of this, then posit a specious conclusion. Or I might instead raise some further, seemingly gnomic, questions, idly and wantonly shirking any pretence of responsibility to give you answers; after all, what are we here for? All together now: “the ride!” I might be back on this – but just not yet. All thoughts happily welcome – you know where the comment box is!

octoI’ll leave you with this little gem. Octopuses have more than 50 per cent of their nerves in their tentacles and partially “think with them” (if we “think with” our heads, I suppose…). They’re smart, have individual personalities and are quite sensitive to stress. I don’t think I’ll be able to eat any more at this rate. Anyway, research is due to be published very soon on whether they have a favourite tentacle – by giving them Rubiks Cubes to play with.

What would the younger you think of you now? We’ve played about with this idea before, as well as with the idea of learning / (not) going backwards in life but there was a fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4 today, looking at the letters and emails that people were sending their older selves, or had sent to their present from their past.

Some quick logistics: there’s a website called futureyou.org which allows you to write emails that will be sent in the future, and of course, the good old fashioned postal service will always offer future you the rare gift of a personal letter through the post – a rarer and rarer thing!

Anyway, what was interesting about this excellent programme (you can listen to it for the next week through the station’s website) was how people reacted to their own selves. “I was shallow / naive / smart”, for example. Or they predict what they “will be”.

One man said to himself, “You’re 27 and an artist today. But when you read this, you’ll be considering business school. Are you a sell-out, or were you naive?” Fascinating.

Like writing a diary / journal, I think the very exercise creates another level of consciousness: it makes you see your life (current or future if you’re writing; current and past if you’re reading) through an altering lens.  I use this when I can’t make a decision easily, or am stuck with a problem. I put 7-year (or 17-year-) old me on one shoulder, and 70-year old me on the other, and I ask them what they think.

Would the former be disappointed in, or excited for, me? The latter: would she tell me not to be such a chicken, not to be so cautious, never to have regrets? And yours for you?

‘Life is like a sewer – what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.’ It’s always seemed to me that this is precisely the sort of dynamic, positive thinking that we so desperately need today in these trying times of crisis and universal brouhaha.

Introduction to “We Will All Go Together When We Go” – Tom Lehrer

What wise words, particularly when we look at our own brouhaha times.  George W being accused of being a socialist? The UK media positively encouraging the country to pick an Old Etonian PR man and his wallpaper magnate sidekick to run the country? Well, now, at last, the UK has something widely available and as good as The Onion in which we can seek solace from the lunacy.  The Daily Mash is an online piss-take newspaper. Neither left nor right, just smart and fun. It makes me feel I’m not so alone in the Stepford World that the Mail would have me see around me. Today’s fave piece for me can be found here, under the heading “MORE CHOICE FOR COUPLES TO PRETEND THEY BELIEVE IN GOD”.

Satirical genius Tom Lehrer said that satire became obsolete when they awarded Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize (he also came out with an absolute beauty of encapsulated thought which I’m going to paste at the end of this posting, so as not to get distracted by it). In the UK, satire and lampooning looked as though they had been sucked up the Daily Mail’s noxious backside in the last few years. The alternative (i.e. leftie) comedians lay on their backs and died, claiming, “it’s so hard to mock New Labour”. – I’m sorry?

What kind of lazy, complacent, non-boat-rocking rubbish was that? What, did they think that if they poked fun, the whole house of cards would fall down? True enough, the mandate was never as solid as some of those in the yore-days of Thatcherdom (all the more reason to introduce proportional representation, you’d have thought; aw, shucks, John-boy: there goes another missed opportunity at not-very-radicalism).

But as any fule know, having the mickey taken out of you is a healthy thing: it makes you aware of how you appear to others; how you behave; the impact of your actions; see your flaws. And let’s face it – any politician could do with more of that. And if Brown has a great flaw –  which is more Thomas Hardy-esque (think Michael Henchard, the Mayor of Casterbridge) than Shakespearian – it is that in the early days, he surrounded himself with people too young or inexperienced or ambitious to have the guts to stand up to him. Now that he is older and wiser, he has created GOATS (Government of All the Talents), a government with people who do dare speak out, who do offer genuinely constructive criticism. But they do not stay for long.

It seems, from the outside, that Brown still cannot abide (I use the word deliberately) contradiction. For all that he is a son of the Manse (non-Brits, this is the Scottish equivalent of being the son of the vicarage), the genuine humility so oft preached by the Bible is missing. Brown is more Old Testament than New: for I am a jealous God, and all that.

Brown needs lampooning – all the New Labour Cabinet does. They need to listen, to act, to have some salt rubbed in their wounds. The Tories are finally learning the lessons taught so long and so hard by their own satire, and they will (like some fast-evolving toxic micro-organism) learn faster this time. Unless Labour genuinely shows humility, humanity and a sense of humour, they will be responsible for handing the country to the sorts of people who think that our state-run schools and hospitals should be a last resort; that the state must be 20% smaller (lower taxes, far fewer public facilities: libraries, after-school clubs; council-run play schemes); who believe that families come first (i.e. not single parents) and ideally best when the women stay at home, that being gay is – to a greater or lesser degree – wrong; that the country shouldn’t let in any more immigrants… You can see where I’m coming from. I know Labour is pissing off a lot of people: but they’ve not (apart from on detention without charge and possibly permitting so-called “rendition flights” and umpteen other civil liberties issues, but that is for another day) been out-and-out Bad.

So come on, you established and aspiring comics, writers, performers. Start lampooning. Feel free to use the comments box!

Back to that peace-inspiring and remarkable Lehrer line I wouldn’t let you see earlier. Here it is:

I find enough mystery in mathematics to satisfy my spiritual needs. I think, for example, that pi is mysterious enough (don’t get me started!) without having to worry about God. Or if pi isn’t enough, how about fractals? or quantum mechanics?

– Tom Lehrer

Better start rushing before the rush begins!– Ashleigh Brilliant

Disorganisation. It’s not an objective state of being – it’s a feeling. And I’ve got it now and need to talk myself out of it. It’s also time-driven: I see a deadline upon me, like an encroaching horizon, and before I reach it (and I’m being propelled; this ‘motion towards’ is not of my own volition), I have to gather and plant a million things in the right place. Or else…? Or else It All Goes Wrong.

So I try to negotiate: there are my Wants and my Obligations. And I suppose I can move some Obligations into the Not Urgents.…but can I ? So then I’ve created another mental folder of mess and doom, called Maybe I Can Get Away with It. And this folder is very tempting, but There Be Dragons. It gleams and shines, like a false Holy Grail and I daren’t trust it.

Ah, but then….chaos. I feel chaotic. And that can only be good, creative, exciting. Which has just injected a stream of peace into the game: how interesting. Because if the sense of chaos can be harnessed, then everything gets richer. It’s about letting the Organising part of the brain cede control. And in chaos, there is natural beauty! Left brain, right brain…So. Enough writing about it; time to do it….