Wednesday, 5 October 2016

When; and the art of existential transience…

For a relatively short time, I sobbed my heart out. But then, being the undoubtedly strange creature that I am – and, yet residing on its periphery, probably reasonably representative of my species… – I do seem to devote rather a lot of effort – as well as lend a disproportionate amount of significance to – mayfly moments such as this. It is as if – recognizing (whilst simultaneously attempting to avoid discussion of) our brittle mortality – we treasure the ephemeral above all else; venerate the transitory beyond rational measure. We see, reflected in such twinklings, I suppose, the entropy that must always prevail (until the only thing remaining is entropy itself); and therefore lend them as much love as we can, until they crumble to the sand by which, when captured in entwined glass globes, we would once (long ago) have measured their brief incidence; before mourning their finiteness. As I did.

All we can do, really, faced with such, is remember. Or, at the very least try to – however imperfectly filtered through our emotions and subjectivity. Surely, otherwise, these junctures lose the import that produced them; and – for a paltry while – that sustained them (and us). And, should our memories – the golden threads which fabricate the texture of our lives; the microscopic building blocks of the richness of our realities: ones we hand down, inadvertently, along with our atoms… – be fortunate, then perhaps they will survive, beyond our crumpled existence, as poor proxies. Thus, many lifetimes hence, those that follow (should they choose) can discern their value, gasp at their truths (again) – rather than simply, reflexively marvel at their endurance, the longevity of the poor surrogates themselves.

I cannot – even were I freakishly nominated as literary ambassador for all humankind – speak, speak to… others’ thoughts (unless similarly committed to posterity: stochastic samples of the privileged and able, perhaps; and, yet, I would hope, as contradictory and wide-ranging as those who selected me… but especially those who did not). All I know is that, pick any part of this blog, and – whether of a walk; a play; a concert; an encounter with the weather, or another soul… – the evidence before you would go a long way to demonstrating that my sole purpose here is in making inefficient attempts at tanning the hide of time, pickling the ineffable, pressing the fading petals of awe between my ever-mounting pages. No better than those proud, possessive Victorians displaying pinned moths by the caseload.

Yes, there are strong hints of their quick beauty; but, once slowed by my dull hand, am I in fact merely robbing the life, the mystery, the essential ‘beingness’ from that which I witnessed? Or should I continue to believe that – in pleasing (only) myself; and providing enough clues with my monochrome words to reconjure the original technicolour majesty, momentarily in (only) my head (should I dare to; care to…) – this is all I should be expected to be able to achieve?

Stumble upon the tens of thousands of still images, archived with a similar objective, and you might begin to suspect that, surreptitiously, I was either stashing them with the aim of posthumous fame; or, more likely, concerned that my raddled brain will increasingly require such prompts. (It would be nothing but vanity to imagine that they hold value to anyone but their creator… – words or pictures.)

And yet I persevere. And always will. Both in cherishing and recording. I feel I have no other option. If I only aim to do so to distract myself, though, then I fail. If all I achieve is to say “I was here”: then, again, there is no purpose. If, however, I write to proclaim my bewilderment at miracles frequently flashing by me – and that I managed to grasp a few of them, momentarily – then perhaps I am on to something. It may not be my “responsibility”, as such. But if I convey just to one other person just one fraction of that I experienced – so that the miracle is extended in time and space – then, maybe, maybe, I have a little justification.

For a short time, I sobbed my heart out. Not, this time, because of what I had seen or heard. But, for the third time in the same number of weeks, because the anticipation of such would lie unfulfilled. Yes, I can watch the DVD of the RSC’s production when it is eventually released; and I can also – as I did, over and over, on Monday evening – listen to the mesmerizing CD of the same performers playing one of the most intimately radiant pieces of music ever composed – instead of hearing it live. But, of course – some of it being down to that adoration of the temporal; most of it due to the ‘happeningness’ I seem to spend half my life waving a tattered butterfly net at… – it’s not the same. (It’s not that the digital domain is sterile – the passions are still utterly crystalline… – just that presence overloads every single one of your senses.)

All those months of drooling expectation; the prolonged crescendo of excitement; the knowledge that something so utterly exhilarating lurks over the horizon… – all dashed. Perhaps it is the anticipation – rather than the event – which renders it so special?

I am convinced that it is a combination of both. I am also convinced that not being able to realize the three-dimensional possibility so readily accrued distresses at least as much as the actualization would have comforted… – and carries with it all the poignancy (if not the force, the tragedy) of a life cut short. At this moment, it certainly feels as momentous – however inordinate I know that to be.

After all, it was just another point in time, a potentiality. And there have been many such that I have chosen simply to pass by. But I selected the ones that would eventually pass me by because they possessed something significant. They were fleeting, rare, coveted creatures that I will now never hold, even temporarily; therefore never stumblingly attempt to memorialize for others (and, in doing so, secure for myself). Scattered amongst the infinite possibilities of my life, they will haunt me: carving yet another notch into the wall of the cell that holds and punishes me (one that is, in my case, simply labelled ‘disability’) – one whose volume seems to decrease, almost imperceptibly (were it not for those sad markers), trapping me tighter with each vanquished wish…. (I could, though, treat them as ‘friendly’ ghosts: letting them help me rationalize, and gain proportion and balance. More straightforward to write than to execute, though…?)

So, I wonder – having tapped single-fingered at my iPhone for the best part of two hours – why do we cherish the transient so greedily? And then why do we – some of us – try to describe it; or at least cement its effects into our emotions? Surely the experience alone should be enough?

And, of course, for most, it is. And yet… we still purchase the CDs; replay the concerts on iPlayer; peruse the reviews; watch the DVDs until we know each line of dialogue, weep and laugh in the same places…. But then, I wonder – an epiphany prompted by an insomniac stroll… – if, “for most”, this is actually what suffices, even excites… – if only a minority of us genuinely crave the imperfections, the risks, the exponentially unwinding possibilities of failure – the spills – that are, of course, driven to insignificance by the thrills. Do the majority actually relish the reproducibility, the repetition, the safeness…?


During the hours of darkness – especially two hours after midnight – the village is mine. And, usually, only mine. But it is never the same. And that is as much an enticement as is the pretence of dominion. But, I suspect, many people would find the rich, velvety void of blackness quite scary – never mind lying back on a damp church bench for an hour, surrounded by graves and the rustle of tiny critters.

Very early Tuesday morning, I left home under a trillion pin-pricks of flickering, bright, distant suns: constellations spelled out with clarity and precision; and – beyond the blinding sodium – interspersed with clumps of dust: each speckle an individual. Given long enough, head resting on the arm of one of those benches, the Milky Way also emerges.

As I dragged myself away from the treacle-tenebrosity of Sandpits Road, I saw a canine hind leg skulk around the corner into Main Street. Too large for a fox; and no place for a fox, neither… – there is enough for them in the verdant nature and nurture that surrounds us. But my eyes were temporarily blinded. However, intrigued, I followed: expecting a distant ginger lolloping blur. But, it seems, my depression had momentarily become flesh: for there, a few footsteps away, was a timid black labrador (a shy old friend): dark as the shadows itself. Head hung low, it stood stock-still as I headed for the church; but was gone – home, I hope – when I later returned.

Yet with it came – or so it felt – a change. (And it was then that I remembered that such is our species’ bête noire – not the unpredictable delight I personally revel in.) And when I lowered myself into my customary seat (I can be a creature of habit sometimes…) I realized that my perfect sky had been replaced with an encroaching, enclosing mustard-coloured blur – as if the condensation which had earlier veiled the cars was now obscuring all of Tysoe.

Like the pain that had curtailed my day’s enjoyment, it seemed unlikely to disperse: and so I slouched home, again disappointed. There was nothing new to be discovered tonight; and even the owls had been quieted by this descending, dank wool.

Buddhists believe that “It is only by accepting the truth of impermanence that we can be free.” And the Japanese even have a word for that “impermanence” – wabi‑sabi – although this may be interpreted in many different ways: authenticity; simplicity; naturalness; intimacy; especially an acceptance of imperfection, whether that be of one’s life, an object, or the art we surround ourselves with [pdf]. (It’s probably why I love contemporary jazz so much; or struggle to remember the rare mistakes in a classical performance when there are so many moments of bliss.)

And, so, perhaps I should not really have sobbed my heart out? At the time – so swiftly passed, if not yet forgotten – it felt justified: a cathartic reaction to a spiritual cruelty piled atop never-waning physical ones (which it could, of course, have eased – temporarily). I have learned, over the years, though, to absorb those corporeal pains – they have become part of my material concept of self. Perhaps it is time to start learning, though… – accepting that sometimes the excitement I crave has a necessary bleaker dimension… – how to assimilate the incorporeal ones, too…? Not all unpredictability leads to happiness – although some of it may lead to release.

Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.

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