Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thoughts on the universe of 'What the stars mean'

I got thinking today about the universe of my short story "What the stars mean", looking for ways to raise the stakes and complicate things dreadfully for the characters.

Travelling back towards Earth, back into earlier waves of settlement, would mean going back in time in technological and cultural terms.

Whereas going away from Earth implies greater retention of innovations.

This assumes that the pioneers are more inventive than the stay-at-homes. Or it simply assumes that they are forced by circumstance to innovate. But does this imply that stable, settled societies wouldn't innovate as much as disrupted societies? No: it is on the edge of chaos that life flourishes. The closer to chaos, the better; but if it slips into chaos itself, it dissolves.

Then I got thinking of my character's quandary: If you could freeze yourself and hurl your body downtime into an earlier technology, would you? Likewise, if you could freeze yourself and travel uptime into a latter tech, would you? His choice is whether to travel towards or away from Earth. Which way would you go?

I think this story implies a universe which could easily evolve into a novel-length treatment.

From 'The Long Good-Bye', by Raymond Chandler

Here is Phillip Marlow and Terry Lennox in the opening pages of 'The Long Good-bye' in a passage whose excellence lies in the fusion of a number of writerly virtues:

'He looked up with a tired smile. "Maybe I can quit drinking one of these days. They all say that, don't they?"
"It takes about three years."
"Three years?" he looked shocked.
"Usually it does. It's a different world. You have to get used to a paler set of colours, a quieter lot of sounds. You have to allow for relapses. All the people you used to know well will get to be just a little strange. You won't even like most of them, and they won't like you too well."
"That wouldn't be much of a change," he said.'
(The Long Good-Bye, page 12.)

Let's look at what is superb about this passage:

1. Cadence: "a paler set of colours, a quieter lot of sounds" - this reads more like a Lord Tennyson couplet than dialog. Hear the swaying sound in the words "colours" and "quieter"? You may have to read it aloud to catch it.

2. Character: The uncanniness of Marlow's character is established by this brief passage. He is not just a man with a history but a man of insight and character, earned through hardship.

3. Plot. In context, Marlow doesn't know Lennox at this stage, and yet he comes out with this superb passage of experience. He opens up to Lennox, and by doing so wins both Lennox's and our attentions.

4. Accuracy. Through my own efforts to clearly state the reality principle, I notice that it only comes out clearly when it is contrasted with a set of delusions. Set out on its own, the reality principle sounds like either a theory or a truism, rather than a profound actuality. In the above passage, Marlow implicitly contrasts the reality principle with the delusions of alcoholism. He voices the reality of being sober to Lennox in a dispassionate and precise way. It is superb not simply because it is factual but also because it is true.

A possum business

Today I visited the bank and discovered a young male possum scampering between the cars and trashcans, trying to find somewhere to hide. I stood and watched as about six people walked past and smiled or laughed at his plight; my heart went out to him in pity, but I could see I was powerless to help.

After using the ATM, I turned around to note the possum had fled across the road and was bashing against the glass window, trying to get at the greenery behind, of a government building. I went over and two other people stood around wondering aloud what to do with me.

I went to the phone box and rang directory assistance for the RSPCA Emergency. The Emergency line gave me the number for Fauna Rescue. Then my coins ran out, so I ran across the road to the other two people and gave the 40-ish woman the number to ring on her mobile.

Fauna Rescue said they would only come out if we could trap the possum in a box. The woman told me to get a box.

So while the woman - Christine she said her name was - talked further, I went and got a cardboard box. Luckily it was rubbish collection day today and I made a huge mess on the street of cardboard pieces filling one of the boxes. But I got a great big nice box and Christine and I stared at one another, wondering "How do we do this?"

We closed in on the possum with the box open. Now possums are pretty smart with entrapment; he knew exactly what was up, so he fled around the corner into the revolving door.

My heart sank: he was going to escape!

I leapt around in a surge of adrenalin and shoved myself between the exit from the door and him. He leapt up in the air about a foot, hissing, frightened and exhausted. At that precise moment I thrust the cardboard box around him and called for Christine to fetch a piece of cardboard. We closed the box over carefully, and Christine said she would wait for Fauna Rescue to turn up. I got her to weigh down the lid of the box with her armani purse and left: I was late from my 7pm meeting.

So that was my adventure for today.

Prince Andrew gives it straight to Nicholas Rostov

Listen to Prince Andrew tell it how it is to Nicholas Rostov!

'"Let me tell you something," Prince Andrei interrupted him with calm authority in his voice. "Perhaps you wish to insult me, and I am willing to agree that it is very easy to do so, if you are lacking in respect for yourself; but you must agree that the time and place for doing so have been chosen very badly. In a few days we shall all have to attend to a far greater, and far more serious duel, and furthermore Drubetskoy, who tells me he is your old friend, is in no way to blame that my character has had the misfortune to provoke your dislike. However," he said, getting up, "you know my name and you know where to find me: but do not forget," he added, "that I do not consider either myself or yourself insulted in the least, and my advice to you, as a somewhat older man, is to let the matter drop. So I'll be expecting you on Friday after the review, Boris, goodbye" - and he went out.

Rostov only remembered how he ought to have answered when the prince had already left the room...

...One moment he thought spitefully what great satisfaction he would get from calling this small, weak and proud man up to the barrier and the next he felt with surprise that of all the people he knew, there was no one whom he would have been so glad to make his friend.'

Page 324 of the original version of War and Peace.

This passage, with its mix of egotism and nobility, I find sublimely beautiful. So often I read Tolstoy with a sigh of relief: "Ah, so that is how it is!" I say to myself, and feel as if equanimity has been restored by Tolstoy's equally luminous depiction of vice and virtue existing all at once in the same soul.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why Andrew Bromfield's original version translation of War And Peace rocks

I have tried War and Peace several times since I was a teenager, and each time I have enjoyed it UNTIL I get to the same bit. This is the bit where Tolstoy decides it's time to give us all a little lecture (say, a mere hundred and fifty pages) on his theory of history.

I think this is in an inexcusable flaw in a story, book, or epic. Worst of all, it makes poor Leo Nicholayevich into precisely the pretentious git which he didn't want to be remembered as.

Because of the pretentious and boring quality of the classic War and Peace, I quit reading this book. But I felt like I had failed when I was a teenager. Now I am a mature adult and I know better: Tolstoy was being a pretentious bore.

What we English readers didn't know then is that there are other versions of Tolstoy's novel. One, it would seem, written while he was still part of everyday society, and one written after he gave up in disgust on society. And the version which has reached the Anglosphere is the latter version, infected with his disgust at society.

Tolstoy considered titling the earlier version "All's Well That Ends Well". It was his first full draft. This version has a number of improvements over the classic or canonical version. It is half the length. It has not of the pretentious digressions into essay-lectures. And it has more of the peace and less of the war. In addition, when I recently learned that the earlier version doesn't have the extreme pessimism in it, I leapt up to buy a copy.

It's really fresh and engaging, with little of the heaviness of the latter version.

Tolstoy being one of the most gifted naturalistic observers of all time and a keen vitalist also had a significant shadow side: you can also view him as a really fake guy (he saw himself that way sometimes), and reading him could be exhausting and delibitating.

If you want to read Tolstoy really shining, with less of the parched earth negativism and pessimism of the later man, then this is a fantastic read. If you are new to Tolstoy and have read Jane Austen or Thackaray, then here is your perfect entry-point into Russian literature. The text preserves the jagged edges, the pleasureable style, and the smooth dialog of the original. The story moves faster than the classic version, and the breaks between scenes are sudden and unexpectedly pleasurable. It is much more the modern work than the classic version in this sense.

I love it, and I think many other readers will love it too. I suspect the purist readers who have given this negative amazon reviews may mostly not have read this version, or perhaps they simply are snobs. This delightful book is a great read and free of all the greatest faults that mar the better known version of War and Peace.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Blue Day Thoughts

I'm having a bit of a blue day tonight. I feel unattractive; heavy and ponderous. I have slept all day... exhaustion has been with me for 4 days now, and DGT suggested I "just sleep" to get rid of it.

It feels as if I'm somehow still carrying the intense physical exertions of the past fortnight around with me. I don't know how to let go of the feeling. A heaviness of spirit in me which I do not know how to process. I have tried administrating, mindfulness, and now just surrendering to the state.

When will it pass? When can I begin to live again? Who is the writer who wrote "If the darkness is so deep, surely sunrise can't be far"? Sam Beckett in "Godot" perhaps. This too will pass.

Friday, February 08, 2008

What I totally hate about classical music

You know what I totally hate about classical music?

When I play a "keyboard" concert, say by Bach, and someone's decided to use a piano instead of a harpsichord. What, couldn't they be assed hiring a harpsichordist?

Or even worse, if I hear a "string" concert, say by Handel, and someone's playing a guitar. As if that isn't the most overused and overrated instrument in the entire field of music. Why not use a lute like he intended?

Here's the deal for the next few decades and probably centuries:Piano and guitar are auditory cliches. They are passe already. They are so common they are the musical version of oxygen and nitrogen.

Simply put: when I hear a violin or lute or harpsichord my heart leaps; when I hear a guitar, my belly rumbles for a hamburger.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


Thanks to

Notes toward an essay on responsibility, part 7: Administration, Awareness, Surrender

The three base paths of the Qabalah indicate three paths towards taking responsbility for oneself. Their traditional names are Tau, Shin, and Qoph. I see them as three kinds of intelligence, or three modes of responsibility towards myself in a material sense. Do not be put off by the olde worlde jargon, Qabalah makes for exceptionally powerful psychology.

Tau: Administration.

I used to disrespect my administrative self, calling the Work of administration "administrivia". Now no longer. Administration matters. Not only does it matter, but it is the source of that bridge between the insivible world of feelings and everyday life which we ordinarily refer to as "sanity". It doesn't matter how screwed up my life is as long as I am tending to it, every day a little and no more. Balance in everything even balance itself.

There is a lot more I could say about administration which only applies to me. So I will content myself with a warning: administration has a life of its own. I cannot precisely describe how, but trust me on this: pay the same respect to your detail work as you would to a household pet. Disrespect this quality as your peril.

Shin: Mindfulness

How do I get safe enough to drop my act? When I have administered enough and created enough inner space, then mindfulness tends naturally to arise.

Mindfulness is always 'on'. It may seem like we sleepwalk much through the day, which is true for experience, but I think it is fair to conclude that some aspect of consciousness is always 'on', always watching impartially and recording everything. It is like forgetting about surveillance cameras in public: mindfulness is the ultimate surveillance. It is continual, persistent, constant, impartial, and very easy to ignore. So easy, in fact, that Buddhists propose a whole body of practice around creating mindfulness.

There is no need to work at mindfulness. It already is. If I just clear away stuff through administration, mindfulness appears as if it is always there. Which it really is.

Unlike Administration, Mindfulness cannot be disrespected. If you abuse it it simply vanishes from conscious awareness like quicksilver. You fall asleep and wake up again an hour or day or decade later wondering what happened to "you".

I don't think I need to mention how absolutely essential mindfulness is to responsibility. And I want to reinforce that the only way to clarify it safely is through Administration. There are other ways that are more esoteric and not sensible or practical in the context of a blog.

Qoph: Surrender.

Surrender to what? To body intelligence. To inklings and intuitive hits that you can't put into words. To the non-sensible. To the chaotic. To the overwhelming.

Surrenders basic message is this: there are some things you can control, some things you can't, and some things you cannot control or not control but instead must surrender to. The stuff you can control, you can Administer until it is fixed. The stuff you can't control, you can be Mindful of it until it passes away. The stuff you cannot control and not control is a bit beyond language.

The best example of the Surrender path is relationships. You can't control, nor can you let go of control. Either way causes backfiring. It is a paradox which is only resolved at a higher level and that higher level is this:

You have to surrender to the process of the relationship; go with the flow; let it be and let it happen. If it hurts, deal with it. If it feels good, keep your head down.

There are some things in life you can't completely control. The body is one of them. Feelings are another. And relationships are the big one. I find it helpful to consider how I treat my body, my feelings and my relationships as training wheels for how I treat the universe, the powers that run this universe, and the divinity that creates it continually, That is to say, I respect my body AS the universe. I respect my feelings AS angelic and archangelic forces. And I respect my relationships as divinity itself. Anything less is a copout to me.

Disown Surrender, and you automatically fall back on to controlling (Administration) or witnessing (Mindfulness) as a solution to the chaotic, and I can tell you now that both these attitudes really piss Surrender off! Imagine someone very intense, sensitive, and beautiful is trying to express his feelings to you and share his soul. Do you do your tax or read a bus timetable as he shares this stuff? Or, what is sometimes worse, do you coldly witness and impartially reflect back the essence of what you have heard. You would be pissed off too if someone you cared about disrespected you vulnerable feelings like that. Treat your relationship with body, feeling, and others, then, with the same respect and reverence.

Most people are skilled at living with the first two intelligences, Administration and Mindfulness. They like and enjoy working with them. But very few people are apt at Surrender, and I believe this can be the greatest bottleneck which stops higher levels of responsibility.

This is the final notes on responsibility in the series. Coming up I will post sundry extra pieces as they occur to me, and perhaps one day I will post the complete essay that these notes are working towards.

How dance music lives and dies

I am listening to the astonishing KLF's White Room album. I cannot praise it highly enough. It is really extraordinary.

Most dance music, being some glittering illusion like a shell fished out of the ocean floor, loses its shine almost immediately. You have to be on the nightclub floor the day it comes out to catch the reflected physical luminosity of its ritual composition.

Then, more horribly still, the mainstream radio picks up the most substantial dance songs and plays them on work and car and kitchen radios. The ritual charge of the music is dissipated thereby. It is not that the context changes alone: the actual energetic rush of the song vanishes, and is replaced by the distaste you feel finding a dead thing of the deep on the beach.

The KLF is that remarkable combination of deep unconventionality and profound physical illumination. Their music never made it, or made it only briefly, onto radio. It simply worked... and works.

Listening to "Last Train To Trancentral" I am astonished over and over at the PHYSICAL INTELLIGENCE of the creators. They knew on a physical level exactly what movements the body in ecstacy wants, and exactly what sounds will imply those movements, and exactly what words will ward off the too-superficial enquiry of the listener unititiated into physical intelligence and physical ecstacy.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

How to be rewarded financially for your creativity

There are three kinds of creative people:

First, the dreamers who do nothing towards creating their dreams.
Second, the dreamers who create their dreams.
Third, the dreamers who create their dreams and earn a good or great living, directly or indirectly, from their creations.

Based on the 80-20 principle: The first group, the dreamers who do nothing, accounts for MORE THAN three quarters, or more than 75 percent of all creative people. The second group, the dreamers who act accounts for LESS THAN 20 percent of all creative people. Most significantly, the third group who are rewarded for their creativity accounts for LESS THAN 4 percent of all creative people.

To creative types, then, I have questions:

Which of the three categories are you in?
A. Those who dream and create little or nothing.
B. Those who create, finish their creating and create some more.
C. Those who are rewarded for creating.

If you are in A. or B., then the next question is: Who are three creative people who are rewarded in the way you would like to be rewarded for creating stuff more or less like yours? Write three names down.

Then ask and invent three answers to each of the following questions:
1. What do they do differently to me?
2. What do they do that I don't do?
3. What don't they do that I do do?

Reflect, compare and contrast, in the form of between 3 sentences and 300 words, on what these differences mean to you and how you understand them: specifically, trace action and consequence for your and their actions, examine motives and ethos, and check for blind spots.

Now, instead of forcing yourself to change, just let it go for a while. Go off and stare at something mysterious. Listen to something trickle or purr. Sense your body stretch or respire. Whatever takes you out of your head.

Then, when you are ready, go back to your list and choose the first thing to do differently.

When I asked a very successful musician how he got into a position where he was abundantly rewarded for his creativity and his reply was revealing. He just did what he did and ended up getting paid for it. Simple. There is no talk about personal growth or any such rubbish in this man. He is a great example of how natural and easy it is to create and be rewarded for it.

Every creative field is different. You need to find out for yourself what works by actually living out something for a while. You can't think your way into being creative. You have to act your way into it.

Want to know how to be rewarded financially for your creativity? Reflect on what works and doesn't work, compare what works and what doesn't work, constrast motives and habits, let go of fears and doubts and overthinking.

Then do something different, do something done by someone who is highly successful in your creative field. Do it for a good long while and see how it works. That's the only real way forward, which would be depressing if it were not also the most pleasureable way to live imaginable.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Notes toward an essay on responsibility, part 6: Equanimity

Everyone is exactly the same in wanting happiness and not desiring suffering. The extremes of tremendous attachment to pleasures and tremendous aversion to the pains create imbalance, then disorder, then insanity, then death. Examing these factors carefully easily keeps your mind balanced and healthy.

Here's how: memorise the following:

Pleasure equals attachment.
Pain equals anger.
Neutral equal ignorance.

When you have a feeling of being caged or imprisoned by pain, pleasure, and neutrality, then it's working. It needs to be revisited sometimes. Knowing that equanimity takes practice and careful forethought is already a big advance over the normal run of humans.

In the final sections of these notes I will discuss the three paths of practice which support responsibility. They are what is known as initiatoric paths, in that they are not for the faint hearted, nor are they easily gained except through daily practice. Such daily practice presupposes the equanimity to be dedicated and persistent.

Notes toward an essay on responsibility, part 5: Sponsorship

On Sponsorship and Responsibility.

Responsibility can be transmitted, as it were "energetically", from a sponsor to a sponsee. I use the words sponsor and sponsee because they use the same root word ('spons') as responsibility. So they resonate with me.

Here's how I view it:

Sponsorship doesn't mean giving a man a fish; sponsorship means teaching him how to fish by giving him instructions for making a fishing rod; sponsorship means being there when he needs further instruction and support and going out with him on his first fishing mission and celebrating with a meal together with his family.

On my new neighbours

Normally I like hearing my neighbours having sex. It reassures me on an animal level that, yes, they are not just the social masks I get to see between my house and the letterbox.

However, a disturbing trend seems to be developing with my immediate next door neighbours. The sounds of their afternoon delight came to me the other day while I was reading, and they were unusual in their prolonged intensity. There was an aggressive and grasping edge to the females several moaning crescendos which disturbed me. She is a little yellow skinned girl with sunken eyes, and her bricklike partner was nothing if not efficient at his work.

There was a period of absolute silence from them for two and a half days, then they argued violently, then sex. Then silence again.

I uneasily detect a pattern emerging tonight of codependency and pot addiction in the girl, combined with undifferentiated aggressive maleness in the boy. The girl left "for good" and has now returned and insisted on staying in the same house where he has made her unwelcome. I find the guy a whole lot more sensible than the girl. She needs to get out before her codependent passive aggression triggers him to hit her.

follow me on Twitter