environment


It is cold today – such a contrast from the day before yesterday.

Then, I climbed a hill, running hard. I came to the buttercup field – which I had been waiting for – and was suddenly clasped inside a snow-storm of floating catkin seeds. They were in every look, sailing through a breeze tunnel, spreading and flying, finding fertile nests in which to rest. The birds were gentle, and the grass outdoing itself with its green. The sky was bursting with pride at its own blue calibre and the earth banks swelled as if to say,  “See? We are here, always here, still here; look at this.” I daren’t breathe. How magical.

Moments, these moments, feel Grail-like; they are the alkahest, the philosopher’s stone in my life.  You can only ever capture their flavour in your mind – that is their ineffable nature. But even those pale versions can work magic on your soul on the dreariest day. Un-stopper the memory with care, with respect, and breathe in gently, at times of need.

Have you forgetten what magic bottles lie on the shelves of your mind?

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I think any writer who is interesting to me at least has always a very firm sense of place … It is also a very strong sense of belonging to and possession of a particular territory and I think that is true of almost all the writers I am interested in [Blake, Dickens, Hardy].

– Peter Ackroyd

buzzard_300_tcm9-139736

It’s astonishing the Ready-Brek(TM) sense of well-being that a muddy and hilly 5-mile run (washed down with a good chilli and a fat hunk of bread) can generate, isn’t it?

Fuelled by caffeine afore and aft, punctuated with close encounters of the heron/buzzard/cattle kind, I had a cheeky, speedy sally into the winter-sun hills around my home. And it was good.

It takes time – at times – not just to remember, but to re-experience, strong  psychological sensations. We can become dulled. When I decided to move to this place, I was hit by a very strong sense of rightness.  There’s only one other place that did that to me, and it’s a long way from here. I knew – for the time being – that ‘here’ worked for now.  That  feeling  really glowed again today, just as strong as the first time – or stronger, perhaps, now that it’s fermented with experience.

Our sense of place (which reminds me I have not sufficiently dealt with the issues about our own physical sense of the space around us that I raised in Peepholes of Perception – I will…) is an important one. For example, I was once asked to move to the Balkans; their arid, golden-grey hills sang to my companion’s soul, but in contrast, nothing (save perhaps the flats of the East Anglian fens) could make me feel more ill at ease. At other times, people have all but described certain cities as magnetic – you cannot leave once you come, they say. As Peter Ackroyd points out in his biography of London, some places always feel the same, no matter what you do to them. No matter how much regeneration cash you spend, how many slums you raze to the ground, the locus genii – spirit of the place – persists (my interpretation of Ackroyd; I won’t sully the poor man with my witterings).

Why is it that a sense of connectedness to the land, to location, to terrain, is so rarely discussed in Western culture? We happily (in many cases) import and so acknowledge fung sui principles in interior design or architecture, which must be related, but we do not overtly allow any more than the casual, “it just feels right / funny/ wrong” type comment about towns or homes. DNA research work reveals that people move, over hundreds of generations, hardly at all from the place of their forebears. Could it be that our DNA has a geographical memory?

At this thought, I paused. It might well sound like random rubbish, I thought, but it interests me, and these guys can always bog off and look for more Teletubby pictures (as many people arriving here do) if they’re bored, so let’s see what the magical tinterweb has to say. Would you credit dna_500it? Even the imp’s wildest wittering is not original. Ho hum. The upside of this is that there are some interesting theories out there, suggesting that we might in fact have DNA memory:

  • like musical or other abilities that we inherit, we might inherit a sense of a place being good for us, because our forebears knew how best to survive in and around such landscapes
  • a sense of an individual’s ‘good’ [safe/healthy/fertile] landscapes might thus be imprinted into their DNA
  • lots of nuts theories, too….

If you remove the air of superstition, make it all sciencey, does it become a more acceptable thing for you to ponder? Native (the clue is in the word) peoples all over the world live wholly through their sense of, and profound respect for, the land. (Check out Symbolic Landscapes by Paul Devereux – an excellent, absorbing book on ancient sites, shamanism and the prehistoric consciousness). It works for them.

Look back, see where you are and why, where you felt most right, where you hope to be next and wonder why. It doesn’t matter, all said and done, whether it’s scientifically proveable; your own feelings are what we’re dealing with and you don’t need an expert to give you a gold star for them- do you?

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.

Everything is the product of one universal creative effort. There is nothing dead in Nature.

– Seneca

There I was, impingly (i.e. happily) watching one the most rated films of our modern age when a thought struck me, just like that. No, not like this, just like that. (Sorry, that was a Tommy Cooper moment for those old and British enough). Anyway, the film was Black Narcissus, a finely told and beautifully filmed tale of nuns who are frightfully keen to be good and holy, but who go doolally in the Himalayas, unable to deal with “this place” they have come to.

“This place” is Mopu, a mountain summit palace, where formerly the old General (who was Nepalese, not a colonial Brit) kept his women. In less than a year, the nuns each fall to pieces, haunted by memories of life before they joined their order: lives that were in part far happier than the deliberate struggle they have chosen by becoming nuns.

By contrast, the “child-like” native people of the village, whom the nuns have come to “help” (o, the silent editorial power of the inverted comma) are happy, content, laughing, their lives apparently full of joy, although hard. They work because they have to; the nuns work because they want to forget the past and, after a time, blot out their doubts in God.

Mopu, the palace and especially the garden and summit, very much has its own spirit, in a way quite like the Marabar caves in the wonderful A Passage to India.

The idea of a place having a spirit is called ‘locus genii’. That translates first as ‘the geniuses of the place’: but here a genius is a spirit, like the genie in the lamp, not some prodigy/nerd (we get ‘genius’ from the Roman idea that very clever people were tutored by spirits – genii – living outside their body, guiding them forwards).

And the thing about Mopu’s spirit is, for the nuns, is that it demands of you:  you must either live in total harmony with it, like the holy man who sits naked on the hill top, mute (but multi-lingual and with several British honours – KCVO etc, making him a “Sir”), or you must ignore it, like the General’s English agent, Mr Dean, a rugged (denied) love interest character.

The wind blows through the convent at all times, the water is so pure it brings impurities of the body to the skin’s surface, the air so refined at such altitude that the nuns become over-tired, the snow so isolating they have only themselves to deal with. There is no avoiding the locus genii. And here was my interrupting thought: you feel the spirit of the place, so strongly, but the nuns seem alone, spiritually un-nourished: where is God?

Throughout, but unspoken, is a thread of inner-outer, of liminal, conflict. These women are trying to do their best by a code imposed upon them by their order (but which they readily accept, and have chosen).  We see that each has become a “bride of Christ” (how sexist the church is, amongst other things) because of heartache or troubles in the “outside” world.

And that is how it is known: “outside”. So what, then, is inside? What is deemed safe and permissible enough to be termed “inside”? These nuns have taken themselves away from their own families to a religious order, then away to Nepal, then from the large convent there, to Mopu. It is as though they want to become the smallest of the Russian matryoshka dolls. They retreat inside, and inside, and further inside.  But again, where is God? They bristle at the casual (although reverent) reference to Christ made by the General’s son – “we do not speak of our Lord so lightly”. They keep their sense of God apart, as well as inside themselves, and inspire (breathe in) within themselves a resulting conflict so great that it drives one of them to insanity and attempted murder.

Now, you can go several ways from this point:

  • You can say that there is a conflict between a Christian god and a pagan spirit of the place (the word relates to the countryside: paganus = country-dweller).
  • You can say that the nuns are unable to reconcile their isolating, distancing and rigid, rule-bound idea of God with the true experience of God in the world around them.
  • You can say that God is testing them, or has even abandoned them.
  • You can say that their sense of God is misplaced: they are in one of the most beautiful, rarified places in the world (the best God could make), surrounded by good people, but all it brings them is pain because they feel they must cling to an inappropriate, structured religion instead.
  • You can say they have a chance really to see the magic around them, to compare it with their teachings and strictures and draw their own conclusions, but they choose to resolve the conflict by running away rather than asking questions.

What a terrible irony – to be surrounded by the very best the world can offer, only for it to cause you heartache and conflict.

For me, it doesn’t matter what you call the beauty, the spirit, the specialness of a place to yourself. Regardless of your system of belief, it is being (or trying to be) ‘at one’ with the surroundings that matters. The nuns could have seen a Christian God surrounding them there (cf. the thought-provoking and great Gabriel Byrne / Patricia Arquette / Jonathan Pryce film Stigmata -“lift up a stone and you will find me,” writes Christ). The local holy man has obviously found something in it; a pagan might find their own gods or spirits. The experience of and quest for spirituality ain’t about religion. It can be, but it’s not nearly the whole story. The nuns chose religious structure (stricture) over possible love and new experiences; they chose religion over spirituality.

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.” – Buddha

Amazing morning: after days of torpor, sleep fallumping fattily all over me, Lethe dragging me under to wallow in her depths from afternoon ’til mid-morning, and a very bizarre appetite, today’s begun with a 7am up-and-at-’em determination; with vim. Coffee and yesterday’s paper in bed were prescribed until consciousness was attained and then it was time for The Thing: a six mile run in the dreeky drizzle.

heron.jpgGorgeous! The birds were still in charge of the canal’s soundtrack; the clouds were not really weeping, more shaking the damp sleep from their eyes (perhaps with a bit of a sniffle); so few human beings about and none keen to smile or frown, not being really conscious, still taken by whatever subconscious scenes they played in the night before. My imping (not limping, thank you) stride came quickly today, half a mile sooner than usual: this is the point where you could as well be walking for all the consciousness you have of running. So then you push yourself, then lull back, push then forgetfully lull.

The better thing was that this is the first early morning run for months, since the stretch went over the four mile mark. Everything in 2008 so far has been mid-morning or mid-afternoon: a very different experience. And this morning thing really works – it’s why I’m writing this now, while I’m fresh with it. Great creative ideas for various writing projects (some very wicked and truly Imp, of which more in the future, I hope), a feeling of privileged access and insight into the route’s environment – just a peek, but special, nonetheless. Fantasies, half-anchored in reality, of the future life of the Imp’s play: who will play X character, would Y be a good director, an Imp-goading list of who will be in the first audience. Followed, not surprisingly, by resolutions and deadlines: this draft complete in days, before the next public reading on Tuesday – how fast can I commit for the third draft?

The play is definitely maturing. The first draft took three months. the-creation.jpgWhat delight, what pride, such celebration! Then we had some time apart – we were on a break, so to speak. Paying work intervened and to be honest, I neglected my honey. Thankfully, I came back. Thankfully, I now think, I went away. But what flaws I’d left it with: what a terrible lover, a terrible parent! So me and the play, we’re into some heavy nurturing, some repair, some shared, quality time. We’re helping each other – it doesn’t always do what I tell it to, but it’s often right and I am wrong. This may mean the original idea gets subsumed, but for something better.

OK, it’s calling….may your weekend be hale, hearty, full of love and smiles.

– TLI

Some words from a genius which blew me away:

No other element has such accreted layers of significance for us, such complex archetypal meaning. The sea’s moods and uses sex it. It is the great creatrix, feeder, womb and vagina, place of pleasure; the gentlest things on earth, the most maternal; the most seductive whore, and handsomely the most faithless. It has the attributes of all women, and all men, too. It can be subtle and noble, brave and energetic; and far crueller than the meanest, most sadistic human king who ever ruled.”

– John Fowles, Shipwreck (1975) in Wormholes (1999)

As you will know from the About The Tricky Little Imp page, the Imp is mad about water. This has been a developing thing, year on year, a gentle erosion of my coastal regions, until my 70% inner water has developed such a whispering dialogue with the world’s outer water, that I don’t stand a chance.

So many cultures, histories, have had their sea (and river) gods and goddesses: from traditional Neptune, Enki, Proteus, and Poseidon, to Old Norse Aegir, Celtic Mannannan-Maclir, and the Incan Mama-Cocha. And they’re all very different; all embodying the sea’s wild variety. For example, Greek Poseidon’sposeidon_theoi-com.jpg the worst elements of an alpha male: raping, fighting, stealing, competing… Whereas Enki (God of Water, Wisdom, and Creativity) is wise, fluid and lubricating in all ways, giving life to wastelands, mischievous (aha!), breaking the rules, receptive and healing.

And this captures the allure of the sea for the Imp: as Fowles explains. In music, Britten’s Four Sea Interludes (from Peter Grimes) really capture the sea’s character better than anything else I know (some argue that the sea is the main character in the opera). Go on, really, listen. I can’t get you a freebie link, but seek it out on itunes: it’s there. The storm is the most exciting but the others are beautiful and should be heard together, for contrast and the calm after the storm…

“There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed” ~Mohandas K. Gandhi

Two interesting pieces in the news today: tackle obesity, you save the planet. And more shark species are disappearing. Both come from the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston.

shark.jpgUnregulated fishing is wiping out sharks faster than you can sing the Jaws theme. There’s been a 50% fall in the numbers of all shark species in the NW Atlantic since the early 70s. For some species, it’s far worse: there has been a 95% fall in population for the tiger, scalloped hammerhead, bull and dusky sharks. There are just 5 left where there were 100 when I was born.

And during that same time frame, as we all know, we’ve become a bunch of fatties. Again, in Boston, the London-based International Obesity Task Force is screaming loud and clear that “Much of the present high-calorie-density food production has a massive carbon footprint and requires wasteful amounts of energy and water.”

gloop.jpgSo, is there a symbiotic relationship between salty, fat-luvvin’, wheaty, meaty pre-prepared crap food and the planet collapsing? Speaking purely personally, of course there bloody well is. Cheap crap meat encourages demand. Which (like any cash crop) takes more land away from healthy, sustainable, local provision and earmarks it for Billy The Blob four thousand miles away, who’ll devour it as a thoughtless snack between one of his five meals and it won’t even touch the sides. It’s not called ‘grazing’ for nothing.

I read a great line by William Golding (The Paper Men) this week: a creep talking to the alcoholic anti-hero: he talked of how our man “positively rape[s] the bottle”. Well, carry on like this and we’ll not just have raped the land, we’ll have disembowelled it, over-fried the innards and smothered them in tomato sauce.

The solution’s simple. And even I will try to follow my own advice: eat slow, eat luxuriously, never buy pre-prepared, eat long, linger, love it, cook before you’re starving, buy from small providers. Do one of those and it’s taking control of your own innards, remember. Hmm – all sounding a bit Slow Food ….have a look, see what you think….

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