I wish I could think something useful

I have had a moderately thought-free day today, Praise Be. I have been sat sitting – I was sat sitting there – a colloquial, northern British expression though why I’m suddenly using it I don’t know. I don’t know much today. I probably know even less than Missy (above) who is possibly the world’s least intelligent cat.

So, what have I been doing today? Well, mostly cutting out hexagons for patchwork. This is my kind of work, I have discovered. Stuff that you can do – industriously, obsessively, even – that leaves your brain absolutely free to think of what it wants to think of. Or to listen to the umpteenth repetition of Pink’s Beautiful Trauma on Heart. I’m not averse to a smidgeon of Pink but you can have too much of a good thing. As that male hairdresser said – the one who cut my hair very short and then donked me most painfully on the head four times with his extra-long phallic black hairdryer – Oh, Pink – she’s got a belting voice – and I could tell he actually couldn’t stand her, belting or not.

pink

Or perhaps he was just wishing he could be working on her hair rather than mine. More scope for his creativity.

(Sigh! This is one of those post you just keep writing in the hope it will eventually make sense…)

(So far it hasn’t.)

I was thinking about Stephen Hawking, who died recently. I was thinking several things, the oddest of which was that our one and only Guardian Angel just got up walked out the door – at the very moment when we could do with more than one Guardian Angel. His Guardian Angelness did not occur to me while he was alive. Three cheers for Stephen Hawking, who finally escaped his bone-bound island and is now floating free in the universe he imagined better than anyone else since Einstein.

Beyond this island bound
By a thin sea of flesh
And a bone coast,
The land lies out of sound
And the hills out of mind.
No birds or flying fish
Disturbs this island’s rest.

Dylan Thomas: Ears In The Turrets Hear

The other thing I was thinking about Stephen Hawking is this: that he had the best job in the world. One hour or so a day teaching, and the rest of the day being allowed to Think. In Peace! He had the sort of brain that made Thinking worthwhile, of course. He could concentrate on the nature of the universe for hours – for days, maybe – whereas my concentration span, even when it comes to laboriously cutting out paper hexagons (tongue clamped between teeth) and tacking tiny hexagonal bits of cloth to them, is a microsecond or two.

I was thinking how odd it was that it has taken me all this time to realise that the only sort of work I am capable of engaging in happily is precisely this sort – the sort I once despised. I remember once telling a tutor that I wanted to be a writer, and him kind of snorting (politely) and saying in that case I would be better advised to give up the worthless Sociology ‘A’ Level, the worthless Commercial French ‘A’ Level and his own worthless English Language & Literature ‘A’ Level, and go and get a job in a factory. And he was right. But I was a snob. I was an intellectual, right? It was one of those road-not-taken moments. One of many.

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms…

Stephen Spender: I Think Continually

The Bridge

Still snowed in and woefully unvisited, but now freezing rain on top. Still one-finger typing as desktop banjaxed. Sigh! It does tend to turn one philosophical.

So here goes. Small amount of dense New Age stuff coming up. Won’t take offence if you tune out and opt for daytime TV instead.

Do you believe in Other Lives? I believe I do, as far as it is possible to believe anything when you have no way of knowing. I’ve never been big on Faith but I suppose I do rely on instinct -that internal tuning.

Somewhat suss, of course, that believing seems to become more urgent the older I get. As a teenager at the Methodist I couldn’t help noticing that two thirds of our congregation were elderly ladies, their quavery descants far outweighing those few bass voices. Someone remarked then that people tend to return to religion when they start to get scared of what is or might be to come.

The most  acceptable explanation of Life, Death, the Universe and all that, that I have found so far, is The Michael Teachings. These are [claimed to be] channeled through receptive humans from a collective of advanced souls known, at its own suggestion, as Michael. There are other such entities – Seth, for one.

The Teachings say that human essences (souls) are tiny sparks of consciousness cast out by the Tao/God, in its immense and restless creativity. We/It are here, temporarily, on this lowest plane – the physical – to learn through lives we selected and partly designed in advance, to suit our spiritual purposes. The most relevant of the lessons we learn are recorded, by our essence, which survives beyond the death of the body and this life’s chosen personality.

The idea is that this all enriches God, or that the Tao/God becomes conscious of itself/experiences itself through us – those little sparks. Without us there would be no It, and without It no us. We strive, through many lifetimes of struggle, to reunite ourselves with God, or if you like to remember what we are, and have always been.

There’s no way of knowing, of course, you just have to follow your inner compass.

I must say, at this point, that there is a whole lot of human-originating ‘tosh’ piggy-backing on the Michael Teachings – or so it ‘feels’ to me. Stuff about planetary influences, soul ages, precise numbers of lives and a hierarchy of spiritual planes, body types and personality ‘overleaves’ of which I am deeply suspicious. It’s a bit like a game of Chinese Whispers, with every channel adding his or her own little human obsession and peculiarity to it – or that’s what it ‘feels’.

You may notice this if you read The Michael Handbook (Stevens and Warwick-Smith), which is a good introduction, though it gets too specific for my liking as it goes on. This is the problem I have with it -it reminds me of the husband of a friend, who spent his whole life designing train timetables for British Rail and was one of the dullest chaps I ever met.

I can’t believe that God would get bogged down in so much tedious detail, or would bother to catalogue and label things like some Victorian biologist. God ‘feels’ fluid to me, like something boiling and churning with joy, or delight, or creativity – yes, something playing.

So, other lives. My feeling, along with Michael, is that all lives are happening at once, but also enternally – this is not difficult to conceive of  once you ditch the idea of time as anything but a convenient illusion – and that some part of us has remained behind – or exists in parallel – and is observing all of these lives. What happens in one life may influence what happens in another, or many others. We may be able to move between lives at will, or choose to live some ‘future’ lives in what seems, from here, to be the past.

And maybe this cycle goes on and on for ever, though you could choose not to reincarnate once your work was done. For when would God/ the Tao ever cease to create?

Increasingly, as I get older, I have an unsettling sense that my this-life memories are being rifled through, and not by ‘me’ -scanned, but so fast I can only get a vague sense of it. And at the same time – and the same unfollowable speed – I begin to ‘remember’ tiny flashes of lives that are not this life – faces, flying as if with wings, landscapes, battles, feelings. Lost knowledge being retrieved, fresh knowledge being recorded or ordered in some way.

To me this feels like the beginnings of a bridging process. Maybe lives are not suddenly cut off or suddenly created but blend seamlessly into one another, with sometimes a rest or transition period in between. So, at the end of our lives there begins a gentle preparation – by some inaccessible part of us – for the Change. What we have learned is retrieved and re-ordered; what we ‘forgot’when we arrived here begins to return, in minute glimpses.

And at the beginning of the next life, in babyhood, the reverse process -a gentle forgetting of our origins and purpose; a clearing of the decks and a restructuring so that a new life’s learning can begin.

Phew! Cup of tea and sandwich definitely required at this point!

The meaning of life passes me by – again

So, I was sat there at the bus stop opposite the station having, as nearly always, just missed the bus home. There is a gap, after lunch, of one and a half hours. I had hit that gap.

I had been waiting there for over an hour already. Other buses came and went, and various other people came and waited – and went, on all the buses that arrived that were sadly not my bus. There was just me and this very, very old man. I was sat in the shelter, such as it is, with the narrow hard seats that slope forwards (on purpose, to discourage sleeping tramps, according to Bertie). He was sat behind me and to the side, on a low bench. The low bench is much more comfortable, though difficult to arise out of if you have been sitting in it for any length of time.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the very, very old man wished to talk to me. He was doing that fidgety, glancing in my direction and then glancing away thing that people do. So I went over and sat down next to him. He told me his sight was really bad and he couldn’t make out the numbers of the buses.

Was I by any chance waiting for the same bus that he was waiting for?

I was.

Would I be so kind as to tell him when that bus arrived?

I would.

He had a very soft voice, and unfortunately in the range that I find most difficult to hear. I tried to disregard the noise from a constant stream of traffic, and watched his lips. He told me that he was ninety… something. And now, strangely, that is nearly almost all I can remember of our conversation. I realised he was an educated man. We seemed to be talking about philosophy, and the meaning of life… and all that. I remember struggling to answer him in a way that would make it appear that I had heard… clearly. I wanted to hear. I could tell that what he was saying was really interesting. It came to me that we were kindred spirits of some kind, and that he was meant to be here today, sitting on this bench, and that he had an important message for me.

Finally our bus arrived. He sat next to me and carried on talking, softly. At one point I realised he was reciting Desiderata to me in that soft, kind voice. He knew it, and other poems, by heart. He said when he understood his sight was failing he had begun to memorise poems that were important to him. He said he worked to keep his memory sharp by reciting as many as possible of these poems daily. We discussed the origin of Desiderata, agreeing that it had not been found been nailed to the door of Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore AD 1692 as was claimed in the 1970s, but that this didn’t matter in the least.

And then, whether by reason of my own physical weariness and anxiety to be home (it had been a long and stressful day) or because the bus was negotiating a series of hills and narrow, twisty roads, causing an increase in background noise, I could not hear him at all. Out of politeness, desperately, I continued to watch his old lips, still reciting and philosophising, still asking questions which I could not hear to answer, and could not lip read either.

As we reached his stop, he suddenly became audible again.  “Well,” he said, “here my journey ends. And yours continues.”

Daily Dog

I was going to call this post ‘Groundhog Life’ but decided against. It’s a good title, though I say it myself, but who’s going to click on something that might make them miserable in these dire and depressing times? Maybe I should have gone the whole hog (hog!) and called it ‘Reasons to be Cheerful. But there weren’t any.

So, where did ‘Daily Dog’ come from?

A confession, ladies and gentlemen: I am now the possessor of a Daily Dog loo seat, and this in spite of the fact that I twelve cats and no dog. I have never actually had a dog – can’t remember ever taking a dog for a walk, even.

The old loo seat broke – who knew loo seats didn’t just go on forever? – and I had to replace it. I saw this Dog loo seat online and, despite there being other novelty loo seats available – plants, little fishes, bamboo designs etc – and a whole range of acceptably plain white loo seats, for some reason I ordered the Dog one. I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

It’s kind of an ironic Dog, in that here is this foolish lop-eared Jack Russell reading a newspaper called The Daily Dog on my toilet seat, in the midst a houseful of cats. I thought it might make my sister laugh when she next comes over from Canada (I can hear her now, coming down the stairs (‘Linda, am I right in thinking …?’).  And it’s liberating, I suppose, to have at last overcome my working class horror of bad taste.

And I thought it might make me smile when I was taking myself too seriously, and in fact it does although the novelty might wear off in the decades to come. It’s likely to last decades, this loo seat. Excellent quality, whatever its appearance – got the soft close lid and everything. Well, I suppose it could have revolved or played a tinny version of Für Elise. The cats are intrigued. They sit and watch as instead of the usual crashing and splintering the lid gently sinks and the newspaper-reading pooch heaves once again into view.

And ‘Groundhog Life’?

Every now and then I type into Google ‘What is the meaning of life?’ just in case the All Knowing One has come up with the answer since the last time I asked it. Invariably it hasn’t. However, it sometimes throws up interesting bits of random reading. This time I came across an online university philosophy course by a gentleman called James Fieser of UTM (University of Tennessee at Martin) the first chapter of which is entitled The Meaning of Life. It’s an overview of philosophy, very readably written, and I am gradually working my way through it. I thought it might be available in book form, in which case I would have bought it, but it only seems to be accessible online.

In this chapter Professor Fieser describes a test to determine how much of a grip the ‘What is the meaning of life?’ question has on you personally. This test was designed by German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche and is called The Eternal Return. It’s like a thought experiment. You imagine – doesn’t matter if you don’t believe – that the current universe is just one of an endless series of universes. One universe ends, the next one begins, identical in every detail. You will therefore have no choice but to re-live this same life again and again and again for all eternity. If Eternal Return feels like a nightmare to you, then you have issues with the meaning of life.

It certainly feels like a nightmare to me. Does it to you? It wouldn’t be so bad if you had the opportunity to change things in each successive life, but to carry on having to suffer the same horror, grief and pain, making the same mistakes and never being able to learn from them?

I do try nowadays not to dwell on such stuff. If I catch myself either moping about the past, obsessing about the future, fantasising about better pasts and better futures or away in la-la land generally, I gently return myself to the present moment. Unfortunately the present moment contains President Trump, old people queuing for thirteen hours in hospital corridors because the National Health Service is disintegrating, innocent children starving to death and getting killed, and then people taking umbrage and ringing up complaining because they have been forced to look into the eyes of a newly-dead child…

It contains February, my birthday month (naturally) and the worst month of the year in the UK. It’s ten in the morning and looking out of the window beyond my computer I see the sort of grey-brown foggy darkness you would normally expect around dusk. A cold rain is falling and there is a crust of sleet and snow over all. The birds gobble up anything I put out for them, hanging on through the icy cold so as to produce another springful of baby birds. Everything seems ravenous. Yesterday I found myself putting out an extra slice of bread for the Ratties. Yes, I am even feeding rats now.

So you seek that’s why I just had to have the Jack Russell loo seat!

Prize Plum

Something I have never understood about writing, or maybe I mean writers, is how the act of writing, or even the sudden rush of inspiration that precedes the act of writing, can make the world seem more or less all right for a minute or two.

You see, I’ve always been tormented by the following thought: that there is no point at all in doing anything, really. Every now and then it strikes me quite forcibly that whatever we do is utterly pointless since we are going to die. Why put any energy at all into doing anything, when for all the difference it makes one might as well curl up in a resentful ball on the living room carpet and simply wait for time to pass until inevitably the living room carpet and one become one i.e. so much indistinguishable dust?

I suppose this is a philosophical dilemma, and no doubt somebody gloomy and incomprehensible like Schopenhauer or Kant has already disposed of it. Or possibly Sartre…didn’t he and his Existentialists say something to the effect that life is totally meaningless and therefore we must create our own meaning? You see, that’s the problem, for me. I can’t randomly, artificially invent a purpose for my existence or a meaning for life in general. Either there is one or there isn’t. Part of me thinks that the only logical response to finding oneself alive for no obvious reason would be Bertrand Russell’s ‘unyielding despair’.

But unyielding despair is unpleasant and one is forced to distract oneself from it as much as possible. The only thing that distracts me is writing, and there it is.

It may be that each of us is gifted one consolation – one thing with the magical power to make everything right, for a tiny while. But this is so odd because of all the things you might be doing to distract yourself from the gloomy inevitability and pointlessness of human existence, writing is about the most useless. What is writing compared to, say, volunteering to help children in war-torn countries? What is sitting around with pencil and paper and, fitfully, making stuff up compared to cooking Sunday lunch for your extended family or painting one wall of the bathroom in Prize Plum? (Which goes well with Magnolia, as the wrinkly-and-probably-famous chap in the advert says.)

plum.png

However, it seems to be the case that when the faint outline of a story materialises inside my head, when I write a single sentence, cross out one word and substitute another – for those few seconds all has become right with the world. It and I – whatever It is, and whether It exists at all – are in synch. I have a purpose. I am alive.

Unfortunately, most of my ideas come to me when I can’t write them down, and especially when driving. Wasn’t J K Rowling on a train from London to Manchester when she got the plot for the entire however-many Harry Potter books, but had nothing to write them down on? Lesson 1: never have nothing to write things down on. Either that, or have a phenomenal memory and high tolerance for stress.

So, yesterday, driving, I got an idea for a story about a cupboard – bit like the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe except that there was no rear exit through the fur coats, as it were, i.e. it wasn’t your classic portal to a fanciful other world, it was more like – a place that retained memories and eventually…retained you.

And then I thought – still not being able to write it down – maybe it’s a stationery cupboard. Think of all the things that go on in office stationery cupboards. And if it was a very old building, things might have been going on in that space before it was a stationery cupboard.

And then I thought, so what does this cupboard symbolise? I mean, come on Linda, what is He trying to tell you here? What is the cupboard and why are you contemplate locking yourself in it? I should mention that my Subconscious is a He. He wears a long black coat and hides his face, communicating with me by way of stories, poems, dreams and funny little flashes of places I have never seen and selves I can’t remember being – or maybe haven’t been yet.

And after a while I thought (changing gears, negotiating tight bends and traffic lights the while) what if it wasn’t a stationery cupboard but something considerably more gruesome like one of those formaldehyde-smelling rooms scientists keep diseased organs in, or frogs with fifteen legs, or entire Victorian babies? I remembered such a room from school – it was where the lab assistants sat around looking bored, or removed your nail varnish with neat acetone. All these bottles. Yellow. Strange things floating about in them. Fascinating. What would a room like that be called, now? The Specimen Room?

(Note to self, Google this when have access to the Fire and hands not required to be on steering wheel). But – no, maybe the stationery cupboard has more scope.

But the room with the formaldehyde babies, that would be a joy to conjure up. Now, how to convey the suffocating stink of formaldehyde…

And thus am I distracted from the pointlessness of all existence for a tiny while. Maybe the living room carpet can wait for a day or two, while I write it…

 

meaningless

Now out fly the little demons

I have no idea who Godot actually was, have you? But Vladimir and Estragon were waiting for him. Waiting, waiting, waiting… It’s how I feel today – as if Godot, in all his multifarious forms, is never going to arrive, and I haven’t even got a fellow-tramp to grumble with.

I’m waiting for WordPress to email me back with the solution to my ‘no links’ problem. They promise twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Suspect even if they do email me I will neither be able to comprehend nor implement their solution, but you never know.

Waiting…

This morning I phoned a firm I used to work for (twice) and asked them if they would take me back for a ‘third term’. I know they are likely to say no, and it has taken me the best part of a week to muster the courage to even phone them. But – can’t afford to leave any stone unturned. You owe it to the cats, I told myself. Not that the cats care. Anyway, now I’ve gone and done it.

And I’m waiting…. and it’s thirteen minutes past two…

Human Resources need to check round various different departments. I am thinking maybe check round various different departments is HR code for no, but we’re too kind to say so; we will say no later today; or maybe we just won’t call you back so that you can surmise that’s what we probably meant? Or does it in fact mean we need to check round various different departments?

So I’m waiting….

And I’m doing what most people do while they are waiting – trying to get on with other stuff. I watched half a repeat of Stargate but remembered the plot so well I turned off the TV. I plodded through a big heap of ironing. Well, that’s done now… I got an idea for a post and here I am writing it.

Well, that’s good…that’s…positive…

We spend so much of our lives on hold, don’t we? At the moment we are waiting for the Referendum, which is Thursday. I get a postal vote and voted weeks ago but still, I’m waiting…

Until today I was telling myself Que Sera, Sera. My one little vote isn’t going to decide things. Who’d want that responsibility? Que sera, sera – but I am starting to be afraid. Whatever the outcome, by the end of this week things will be altered.

Half of the population will be jubilant. The losing half will be furious and will never forget that the winning half opposed them, and won. Either half may decide to consume all the lager they can lay hands on, wrap flags round their stupid shoulders and riot semi-naked in midsummer streets. We seem to be good at that.

The losing half will lose faith in the democracy they totally took for granted up to this point, and the losing half will spend the next ten years blaming the winning half for Every Single Thing that goes wrong with Anything and Everything, from Friday forward, whether related to Europe or not. We will never hear the last of it.

They gave us this choice – that’s democracy. They shouldn’t have given us the choice, that’s the political and psychological reality of the thing. They opened the little wooden casket: now out fly the little demons.

Waiting… My mother is waiting to die. We visited her yesterday and found her in a wheelchair, too weak to stand or even rearrange herself in the chair once the carers lowered her into it. She had spilt porridge and water all over the place and had just been changed yet again. Grey-faced and distracted, she can no longer speak and no longer looks at us. I write our names on the white-board. She stares at it in terror.

She stares out of the window, hoping that a bird or a squirrel might land on the boundary fence. Sometimes she points at the boundary fence, but we but we can’t see what she’s seeing. Her hands shake. Her nails have grown long, like claws. I can’t help her and she can’t help herself. Even the carers can’t help her, only change her, lift her, feed her and bring her beakers of cranberry juice.

It kind of puts paid to my theory of souls. Until this last thing happened to Mum I chose to console myself with the belief that we designed our own life, between lives, when we were again souls. We passed on what we had learned from our past life, rested for a while and then gradually became aware of what we still needed to learn; with help from the wise ones we chose our next incarnation. And down we came, flutter-flutter-flutter, into our new bodies, to continue the eternal learning process. But what can this day-to-day, hour-to-hour, week-to-week suffering possibly be teaching her? What possible purpose is there in being like she is now?

Waiting… waiting… Learning to wait.

waiting 2

The rain it raineth on the just

I was just wondering what the worst possible personality trait to have been born with. What would be a real curse? So, internet-says-this:

  • Arrogance
  • Rudeness
  • Dishonesty
  • Moodiness
  • Conceit
  • Unreliability
  • Condescension…

The trouble with all these nasty traits is that the person who possesses them is almost certainly not the person who suffers from them. That’s other people. If you’re conceited, arrogant or condescending you’re most probably unaware of the fact. Think of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice; think of Mr Collins for that matter: Condescension and Conceit in league with one another and comfortable in their own skins.

Rather, it seems to me that the worst trait to be cursed with, from the point of view of the individual him- or herself, is a Sense of Justice. It’s the unshakeable conviction that the world must be fair – that things just have to work out right in the end. Most of us are afflicted with it and it’s so difficult to shake off.

The advice always seems to be: man up, get over it. The world isn’t fair; it never was and it never will be. Fairness/justice – that’s just something people invented so as to feel a little less scared. Who can bear to know that they are at mercy of an unfair, unjust world where just about anything could and might happen at any time?  Once again we are floating specks in a vast, impersonal universe.

I was talking to my sister yesterday – the Canadian one whose husband is gradually dying of cancer. She is tormented by this concept of fairness/unfairness as never before. They had planned their retirement together – time at last to drive off and discover the rest of Canada, time to travel the world; the new ‘retirement’ car that was already on order and now has to be cancelled; time to get stuck into all those much researched and looked-forward-to hobbies. How can all that not be going to happen now?

Having never really considered it before she finds herself tossed into that most basic of philosophical debates – the Problem of Suffering and Evil. She made the mistake of mentioning to a woman at her crafts group that she was feeling angry at God for what he had done to her and to her husband. How can he be a Loving God, she asked, and inflict such pain on the human beings he is supposed to have created?

She regretted this, rather. The woman didn’t say much at the time but went away looking troubled. Later that evening she telephoned my sister to deliver a long, long lecture on the necessity for Faith, for Prayer, and most especially for Hope. Her husband had also been quite ill in the past, she said, but she had prayed for him; she had put herself in the hands of the Lord. My sister said yes, but your husband wasn’t actually dying, was he? Dying’s different.

Why can’t we just say to someone who going through a terrible time, of course you’re angry? Anyone would be. What are you worth if you’re not even allowed to be angry and say so when life rears up drooling, like Alien, and bites you on the bum? My sister’s decided not to mention the God problem to anyone else, in case they turn out to be a tactless, deluded, insensitive do-gooder.

My only thought during this transatlantic telephone conversation was that if there is indeed a God he surely has far better things to do than torment the tiny people he created in his image and claims to love. Why would he put so much energy into creating Heaven and Earth, broad skies; towering mountain ranges; fathomless oceans – all the way out to the farthest, star-strewn reaches of the universe – only engage in such despicable, lily-livered, nit-picking tinkering and meddling? That’s the way humans behave, not gods.

It’s an age-old problem, not solvable by anyone else. Rather, it’s something each of us has to wrestle with alone, in the silence inside our heads. Life refines and changes us – we are tempered in the fire, like swords in the making; and maybe that’s the point.

stolen umbrella

The rain it raineth on the just

And also on the unjust fella:

But chiefly on the just, because

The unjust steals the just’s umbrella.

Lord Bowen (1835-1894)