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It might just be me. But it seems to me as though there’s a growth in the number of artistic works that deal with the plight of “everyday” Germans during World War II.

This week, BBC 2 showed ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, one of the most affecting pieces of “childhood” drama I’ve watched in a long time. Roughly ten days earlier, the Beeb showed a new one-off (‘The Man who Irritated Hitler’- apols if title wrong; I’ll amend later!). This showed the real-life drama of a Jewish barrister who called Hitler as a witness in a stormtrooper trial in the early ’30s. Meanwhile, London’s brilliant (and under-funded) Tricycle Theatre has just housed the pre-West End run of Arthur Miller’s 1994 play, ‘Broken Glass’ starring Anthony Sher, about an American Jew struggling with both his wife’s reaction to Kristallnacht and his WASP boss’s ill-hid and growing antisemitism.

As I say, it might just be me.

But even so, there’s value in questioning. Why now? What can we, in Britain today, take from 1930s Germany? I don’t have answers enough to commit yet, but I raise the flag and encourage comments…

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“Only connect” is the foreword to A Passage to India – EM Forster’s tale of English colonial arrogance in India – and of how terrible the consequences can be when we choose not to listen to one another.  It’s my starting point today for many reasons:

  • My web access has been madly impaired this last month (temporary location change = lack of wifi = broadband dongle virginity being lost = dongle antennae ‘experiences ‘= absolute, screaming, frustration = invention, of a sort, being born of necessity
  • New life experiences (the Imp’s now a step-parent to delightful mini-imps) and new extended family relationships
  • A new eye on old memories – now I’m on the other side of the parent / child fence (“good God – I did that all the time- that’s terrible! My poor parents!”)

So, lucky you – you get to share my shallow insights, as I sit here with two computers (the family desktop PC with magical tinterweb and my hissy-fit laptop with all my files on it, refusing to find a web connection), two mice and two keyboards, aimlessly (resultlessly) hitting one then the other and swearing.  It’s good to be back.

There’s nothing like life changes to make you see yourself, I now think.  Perhaps I should say, to force to you ‘connect’; to widen your world view, empathise, and take deep breaths.

There I was, this time last year, happily imping, just closer to 40 than 30, with cash, time and liberty. Now I have school runs, after-school clubs, weekends in with the giggly box (mind you, there’s some wonderfully inventive kids’ theatre out there – thank you, Kneehigh!) or out with the rollerskates – and it’s alright, actually.  There’s a great deal about it, in fact, that is jolly fine, when you’re not investigating the depths of your navel!

But there’s this business model thing – you might have heard of it : “form-storm-perform” – and it certainly applies to my inner experiences (inner child foot-stamping vs. any issues with playgrounds or packed lunch-making). The form/storm/perform idea, briefly and perhaps inaccurately, is that when a new team comes together (a family as much as a work team), they go through periods of squabbling / anger / boundary pushing, before they can really come together as a great team to perform. It’s all about boundary testing, creating, forging, understanding one another. 

And with this new team as a background to my life, it’s been my ideas of me fighting my ideas of me! IE, having to accept that I’ve moved up into the next generation, without actually having made it so myself (by deliberately sprogging) ; accepting that my childhood/teen fantasy me being an Imp entirely in charge of her own destiny has – from necessity – had to leave now, become a past experience, because I’m responsible for other people. And it’s been fascinating to watch my self deal with this  (narcissistic? the Imp?! “Don’t you know who I am?!”)  😉 

I didn’t realise that we – naturally – grieve in some ways when we change. Even though change is necessary and very good for us – we ought to go through periods of ‘storm’, of chrysalis-breaking. And when I look at it that way, when I see I’m not leaving something very enjoyable behind, but rather building on it, I’m happy to accept it; excited about the future, instead of lamenting the (completed) past.

These are sometimes things we’re not supposed to talk about, but I now find people whispering to me, because my situation is transparently unusual – and because of that whisper, we’re connecting; showing empathy, feeling relief we’re not alone in having ‘tricky’ feelings about growing up, about leaving child-free / family-lite life behind. And connecting, reaching out to one another – that is very fine indeed.

😉

You do something because you love it, and you do it with everything you’ve got. And then you die. What you leave behind doesn’t matter. How much money you make doesn’t matter. What people think of you doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how you spend every fucking day of your life, how you feel about yourself – and not in the narcissistic, egotistical way. It doesn’t matter how I’m remembered, because I’ll remember everything myself.

– Ralph Bakshi

I could not agree with this quote more – I’m almost temped to delete the post that lies underneath. But I ain’t gonna. For reasons which may become clear…

It has been an interesting few weeks, hence the tumbleweed blowing across this blog.  I’ve been lucky enough to be taken under the wing (for now, at least) of a large regional theatre, who’re encouraging my writing, and that means you give it your absolute all!

Now – this is the thing. How committed are you to achieving what (you say) you want in your life?  Yes, note the cynically inserted brackets. Quite right. What cheek I have to put those there.

Allora – you want to be rich / celebrated for being a great sculptor / a brilliant friend. So what are you doing about it? Sorry? Too many other things getting in the way? Join the club – I’m totally with you on that one. There is never enough time.

BUT

if you don’t commit to your ideal, your passion – how’s it gonna happen?

If you’re too busy doing everything you promised other people (the tax man, the cleaner, the headmistress, the in-laws), when are you EVER going to have any time to keep the promises you’ve made to yourself?

And who’s most important here? (The exception, natch, being promises to your children / family / partner – as long as they’re reasonable and you’re not a self-hating, self-sabotaging doormat!)

So – what’s the promise you made to yourself? Say it out loud. Oh, go on. Eh? …thank you. (I trust you…)

Now, this is not an exercise in self-flagellation. But just ask yourself what you did to make that promise come true recently.

OK. Now think. If that was a promise to anyone else, would your committment to it be ample? Fair?

If the answer’s no, then find the time this weekend to do something- anything – to get that promise back on track. And another thing the following weekend. Or bin it. Altogether.

…whatcha fink?

Thaw with her gentle persuasion is more powerful than Thor with his hammer”

– Thoreau

…By which snee in the title, I mean ‘snow’, but I prefer the sound of  ‘snee’ (the word for ‘snow’  in Middle Dutch, so it seems.)

The part of England I’m living in just now is not used to such whiting and ice. But it brings lovely things, if also sadly, some tragedies. The hills are resonating with screams, yelps and laughter as snowball fights and snowmen-manufacture are interrupted by make-do sledging; the laughing bouncing off the walls of the houses below.

The melt began early, after several inches of snowfall overnight. As I explored this morning, I could hear the slow, inevitable drip, drip, of melting snow, and the beguiling bubbling of newly-formed brooks; surprising rustles as the little snow piles let go and branches rediscover their bounce.

The sound of the thaw is unique.  I know several of you reading have had Proper Snowfall in your parts of the world and are more used to it than we are here, but I hope you still notice that special sound of nature doing its thang.

It is a fine word, tho’, thaw, so indulge me a moment’s exploration. It’s an Old English verb, not surprisingly (þaw,  where the ‘þ’ is one of two signs for ‘th’) and it became an English noun in the early C15th.  Now, there’s an interesting (for me, at least) thing to spot here. English didn’t seem to need a word for “the thaw” until c1400. Why not?

Apparently, the south and central parts of England had a very favourable climate between the late C12th and late C13th. There was then a cooler period , until the late C15th, and during the early days of this time, ”thaw’ becomes a noun. This suggests to me (just a theory!) that  the thaw was itself a newly observable phenomenon – presumably quite a lengthy one, after a long, snowy winter – and this weather ‘event’ needed naming. In time, the thaw would have become one of spring’s first heralds, most likely, and in Chaucer’s age, would tell you to ready yourself for spring pilgrimage: (translated below, but look at this lovely Middle English, from the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales)

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth 5
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye, 10
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes

When that April with his showers fragrant
The dryness of March has pierced to the root,
And bathed every vein in such liquid
By which power engendered is the flower,
When Zephyrus also with his sweet breath
Inspired has in every woodland and heath
The tender crops, and the young sun
Hath in the Ram has his half course run
And small fowls make melody,
That sleep all the night with open eye
(So rises the nature in their hearts),
Then long [yearn] folk to go on pilgrimages,
And palmers [pilgrims who carried palm fronds] for to seek strange strands,
To far-off shrines, known in sundry lands….

Just a quickie to say the Imp’s been hit by goblin fever and will reply to comments as soon as poss! 😉

LOUD MUSIC, rudely, unpolitely, SHOUTily (in this case, PJ Harvey, The Piano) exorcises a house like nothing I know.

For hours today, I was living mouse-like politely in my own hole, intensely communicating away, nibble-nibble, by email, by face, by ‘phone and by smile and then  – I stopped. But  – gah, horror – the flavour of the careful listening stayed. It sat on me, squishing me down.

I turned up the volume. Some more. More, up to ‘naughty’; more, up to ‘taking the proverbial’. And now, right now, PJ (on a repeating, monomaniacal loop, but happily between the Pixies and Placebo should I need variety) is deafening anyone within range.  I can’t quite get it loud enough, tho’.

We forget the importance of music too often, I think. In the last fifty years, we must have become more singularly-visual (since TV and latterly, computers). Music might accompany  this new visual intake, but in its own right, it must receive less attention.

But music has a power over our selves which is rivalled only by great art; and the beauty is that the tinkliest pop song can bring you to nirvana (with a capital N, if you like). A combination of notes, a sequence of chords, a variation in volume, pace, tempo and instrumentation all quicken or calm the senses, evoke moods and memories, inspire ideas – it takes us backwards, forwards, down, up and inwards.

Research shows that stroke patients recover a wider range of brain functions and are less depressed than those exposed merely to language. Einstein put his braininess down to his violin playing (he was slow at school, written off by teachers – until his mother bought him a violin). And many animal species use music in ways similar to us (humpback whales’ songs are structured much as ours, although last up to 21 hours). Seals and of course, birds, also sing – and learn songs, most importantly. For them, however, it’s always social – whereas we practice (hum, howl) alone as much as in groups.

For us, musical euphoria lives in the same part of the brain as sex and drugs, with endorphin rushes. Male birds have dopamine rushes when they sing to females (girl birds don’t sing): they enjoy it.

Get up and SING – or at least, turn up the volume (not for too long, mind you; lifelong tinnitus is too hig a price!). Beat the gloomy blues (one of the search terms that has brought people to this site in the last few weeks is ‘miserable’, sadly.) Reclaim your dopamine!

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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