A kind of manifesto

One

You’ll never die, you’ll never die, you’ll never die

You’ll never die, you’ll never die, you’ll never die

Dropla – Young Lagoon

I let my stubble go a few extra days than normal over the long weekend before I shaved and confirmed what I had suspected.  Just on the left side of my chin some of my facial hair has gone grey.  It goes with the little bit of grey hair an inch or so up above my left ear.  Having had male pattern baldness since my late 20s I’ve long given up on my hair as a possible source of vanity, but grey hair feels like something different, something to do with mortality rather than vanity.  I have the distinct suspicion grey hair will not make me distinguished, or magically transform me into a silver fox, but will just make me look older.

Yesterday Cathy told me my resting face had become a frown.  I frowned when I heard this.  She is probably right.  I find myself frowning a lot.  It’s stress.  You don’t do full-time job, two kids, wife, and household chores without frowning.  Well, I don’t.  I seem to remember reading, when I was about ten, in Usborne’s Future City that we were all going to have a lot of leisure in the future.  This was connected to something about computers doing all the work.  Mind you, Future City seemed to indicate we would all be living in space in the future so it was probably not a reliable forecast of the future overall.  At this point it looks like nothing has eroded the ideal of work-life balance more than computers, cell phones and social media.  Thanks to this three-headed monster your life can always be intruded on by work.  Each great innovation which enables you access to your mobile office further erodes your personal life.  This is something I want to get control of.  I don’t want to say of my life that I spent it on the internet.

Two

It is difficult

to get the news from poems

yet men die miserably every day

for lack

of what is found in them

William Carlos Williams

None of these realisations have been helped by reading Wordsworth again.  I read Wordsworth again because I read a biography about his sister Dorothy.  The story of the handful of years when Dorothy and William were living together in Dove Cottage, and Coleridge was popping over regularly, is the story of an incredibly intense and creative time.  Both William and Dorothy were eccentrics then, and both lived long lives after that intense period and ossified before being given Victorian hagiographies which drained them of their peculiarities.  I always forget that when William was a young man he went to France during the French revolution and had a child with a French women.  What we become in old age might be quite different from what we were in our youth.

I studied the Romantic poets at university and was told that William wasn’t very fashionable.  I was told the same thing about Tennyson.  Thankfully I was obstinate enough to like them anyway.  I liked all the Romantic and Victorian poets we studied except Arnold, but Arnold wrote Dover Beach and Dover Beach is all you need to write.  Re-reading Tintern Abbey it was these two sets of lines that stayed with me this time.  Firstly this, on how the memory of natural beauty can be a balm:

…oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,

And passing even into my purer mind

With tranquil restoration

Then, in the same section, these lines which suggest to the modern mind the ability to access a higher consciousness through contact with nature:

To [nature] I may have owed another gift,

Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,

In which the burthen of the mystery,

In which the heavy and the weary weight

Of all this unintelligible world

Is lighten’d:—that serene and blessed mood,

In which the affections gently lead us on,

Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,

And even the motion of our human blood

Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul:

While with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things.

None of this indicates to me that William was a boring old fuddy-duddy.  To me these lines state quite clearly that he experienced transcendence: “we are laid asleep in body, and become a living soul…[and] see into the life of things.”  It is no secret how he did this.  William and Dorothy made the decision to cut themselves off for a time.  They lived in a very small cottage away from the cities and gave activities that most of us regard as extraneous to life a pride of place.

I often think that one of the great unappreciated characteristics of the past must have been its quiet.  A world stripped of radios, and stereos, and TVs, and cars, and lawn mowers, and planes must have been a much quieter place.  The fact of horses, and bicycles, and walking would also have made people far more aware of their little patch.  There is a world of difference between walking to the shops and shooting past in your car: the stereo and air conditioner on.  Walking is the natural act of people; it is the correct distance between places that requires energy – your energy – to be spent in getting from A to B.  It involves an appreciation of the weather, and a consideration of footwear, and offers the chance to pause, and to think.

I have come to the conclusion that speed and noise and information are enemies.  They do not permit you to be with yourself let alone with other people.  Speed and noise and information are conspiring against me and making me feel alone; that peculiar feeling of being alone in a room where a party is going off.  Let’s step outside into the cool, thick shadowed night and admire the stars.

I will now take my news from the books in libraries, and return to my feet and my family and friends for my experience and wisdom.

Three

If you look you can find James Earl Jones reading Song of Myself on the internet.  James Earl Jones is like Barry White or Matthew McConaughey in that you could listen to them reading a menu and it would sound good.  On the other hand it’s probably better to listen to any one of them read Song of Myself.

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands,

How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

It’s one of my favourite parts of Whitman’s poem this section on the grass.  It leads, momentarily, to this,

What do you think has become of the young and old men?

And what do you think has become of the women and

children?

They are alive and well somewhere,

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,

And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at

the end to arrest it,

And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,

And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

Life almost certainly goes on and on at a molecular level, but I find this idea unsatisfactory.  Who was ever satisfied with an explanation of the meaning of life at a molecular level?  My problem actually is not that I wonder what the meaning of life is at some meta level – organisms are designed to eat and breed – my issue is with humanity’s inability to create heaven on earth despite knowing how to.  It is easy for many now to dismiss religion as just another discredited ideology, and yet behave as if capitalism, or democracy, or human rights are somehow not of the same quality.  No human has a “right” unless we agree that it is so.  Democracy is merely one way to organise a society.  Capitalism a tool for creating and distributing resources.  Each has its problems, like religions, and each has something good in it.

I should be more open, more Whitman-esque in my approach to life.  The false dichotomies (left-right, conservative-liberal, hawk-dove) perpetuated in media do nothing except divide and destroy actual debate.  Thanks to spin and pundits and politicians we hear oppositional statements and not discussion.  Even when we are not at war we are programmed to expect that “debate” in our society will be adversarial; that balance means two sparring partners on opposite ends of a see saw.

If I had one criticism of the Green party it would be that they waste too much energy proving that the government lies, or is hypocritical, or is immoral.  They have actually been tricked into playing the man and not the ball.  I’ve been guilty of that too.  The ball is the thing.

Four

…the wheels of our curiosity are too often at risk of spinning idly in a soft slush of data.

The modern world is teaching us that there are dynamics far more insidious and cynical still than censorship in draining people of political will; these involve confusing, boring and distracting the majority away from politics by presenting information in such a disorganised, fractured and intermittent way that a majority of the audience is unable to hold on to the thread of the most important issues for any length of time.

Alain de Botton, The News

When I took Rosamund to day care on Tuesday she cried bitterly over it.  I had to leave her anyway because I had to go to work, but I hated myself and grieved for myself and for her.  Why do little kids have to go to day care?  Why is there never time?  What am I going to say about myself when I’m 70?

I have been spending more time with Eleanor and Rosamund after school.  At the moment they want me to bounce on the trampoline.  The main thing that is good about jumping on the trampoline – head injuries, tantrums, and a new medical condition I wasn’t aware of called “trampoline knee” aside – is all the laughing.  It’s pretty nice being able to watch your kids bounding around laughing.  It must be improving my mental health too because Eleanor ran inside part way through a tramp session to tell Cathy that all this jumping about had put a smile on my face.

Which was nice, but made me think that I can’t be smiling too much generally if Eleanor actually notices when I do.

I’m not in control of much aside from myself, and I don’t like how things are going.  Perhaps that is all this post is really about.  Is February too late to make resolutions?  If not then here are my resolutions for 2015.

  1. Spend time with family and friends
  2. Walk
  3. Get my news from books
  4. Read poems
  5. Turn off noise

These might sound simple but, unfortunately, they aren’t.  It’s easier to spend time on the internet, or to jump in the car, or check Stuff, or flick on the TV than do any of the five things above.  Easier to lose connection with everyone and yourself than to not.  Modernity has increasingly become a con.  I will use my own self to judge what is good and bad in it and try to live accordingly.

Wish me luck.