It’s been a ridiculously intense week; both here and so tragically around the world. It’s so much so that I’ve lost (or gained) a day already. Yesterday I was confused because I thought it was Tuesday, today I’ve been thinking it must be Wednesday. It was a jolt to the system to realise that the paid working week ends tomorrow and I feel like I’ve really not done any work at all.
Of course it looks like I’m busy and things have been done, hopefully as they should have been. But inside? No, no actual work has been done at all. I realise that I am at that point in my life where my purpose and my work are more and more enmeshed. Maybe that is what they call a vocation. It’s sounds horribly pompous; it’s not meant to. It’s actually more a source of confusion. How can I be so busy doing things that are in the diary, teaching, writing, trying to plan but not actually feeling like it’s work. Work, to me, is that thing you leave when you walk out of the door at that place called work. I suppose it’s partly a by-product of working out on the community, seeing your learners on the street, doing a lot of keyboard-based work after the school run, or before I leave the house in the morning. I suppose it’s because my interest is not confined to a professional one. People, how they tick, how they learn, the stories about their lives… is there anything more engaging? For me, it seems not.
Given that seems now to be the case, it is even more necessary to carve out time where I am not actively thinking which brings me to the title of the post. I was describing my recent experience on a street corner in Chicago, where I had to just sit for over an hour to get my life back together. I was explaining how in that hour, I experienced myself and the world in a very different way. She said that is like the story of the Aboriginal man who, after his first ever trip in a car, got out and sat on the ground. When asked what he was doing, he replied, ‘I am waiting for my soul to catch up.’
Now, after everything I’ve experienced, I get that. And I am sure there are many other people out there who do too. I also now get the idea that the self we create and come to know is deeply rooted in a sense of place. I learned by accident today that there is a name for that: embodied situated cognition. Of course, that is just a fancy name for things indigenous tribes practised long before we came along with our jargon. I know I am not describing anything new or controversial, I am just experiencing something ancient for myself. The sit spot is a place you pick out to go, out in your part of the world, in nature and go to sit and just be every day. Like meditation, or learning, this is not a passive process, or vegging out in the cabbage patch; it is an active intention to get to know every aspect of your sit spot in all the seasons, in all weathers. Which way the sun catches it, depending on the day. Whether lichen grows on the stones and where. The stones themselves, for they all have a name, even if you don’t speak their language. If there is water nearby, the songs it sings, drop by drop. Birds: resident and tourists. Insects, grass, flowers. The trees’ conversation through the leaves or the short snap of brittle branches. All of it and everything, under any circumstances.
The sit spot and the the soul catch up.
Off to find mine…
I figured, if we experience Kandinsky’s innerer klang (see yesterday’s post), we must definitely experience its opposite. And then I reflected, why should these concepts be confined to the art world, after all is not life, art. Or as the American writer and politician John Gardner put it, “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.”
It seems, to me, that we are now suffering from life with a surfeit of, what I will call, outerer klang and not enough of the innerer variety. A world where appearances matter, more than much else as far as I can tell. Where the magic of a child’s world is redacted to a list of functional levels at school and where spin and smoke and mirrors make us so dizzy and sick we just don’t have the energy to care about the things we might anymore.
I could go on, but I won’t, otherwise I would be klanging too much as well!
By which I mean to say nothing quite escapes the up-turned palm of the gate-keeper as time rolls on. A family and a dog ravage a home, a garden and a car in their own particular way and, if you are busy with it all, you can’t quite keep on top of it at the same time.
That’s more or less what I was thinking about when I sat outside in the garden, an outside space that could pass for a film scene set in a nuclear winter. I was uncomfortable on a wooden chair that is coming up for 6 years old and could pass for vintage, on account of neglect. It’s more or less what I thought when I considered the aspect of the car from the inside of the petrol station earlier; when the woman in front pleaded with the inanimate object that was her bank card to, ‘Please work?’. She then simply announced she had no money in the bank when it didn’t work. The assistant asked could she pay with anything else, and she just said, ‘No’ and left. Someone apologised, it could have been the broke woman or the assistant. In my head, it was me.
Really, it was only a fiver or so, and as I too have no money in the bank, but my card was agreeing to work I should have offered to pay for the items myself. I only thought of that after she had gone, so surprised was I by her frankness when I suspect many of us would have offered at least some form of dissemblance.
When I drove into the petrol station I was thinking perhaps I would fill up the car on account of the impending petrol delivery strikes and then I thought I won’t be driving it by the weekend because it’s going to fail the MOT and I can’t countenance what it might cost to fix it. And I was also holding a thought from another, earlier, conversation. I had asked someone in London if there were queues for fuel there yet, and the reply had come, no there weren’t and who could afford to fill up their tanks these days anyway? With this in mind, and the impending MOT failure (no rear brake light offside, no wing mirror nearside, stone chip in the windscreen and god know what damage to the chassis due to a no-fault collision) I put in twenty-two quids worth of fuel (and twenty-two pence), mainly for the satisfaction of lining up all the twos.
These used to be my lucky digits, but I don’t believe in luck anymore, so I can’t claim them as my own. Someone else can have them if they like, I won’t mind.
So, yes, life takes its toll on the outside of everything, it takes away the notion of luck and in its place we can frantically replace and renew and paint and restore and fix-up and rub-down and then do it all over and over again another day, another year because that’s how it goes.
Or we can sit on the parched earth on the rickety old-before-its-time chair and read something about life by an 80 year old writer, translated from the Czech, and leave all of it and everything to its own devices.
I don’t know.
There’s a man who walks some Staffies in the cemetery nearby. He’s often fairly drunk, and often fairly drunk early in the morning after an all-nighter. He supports Arsenal and we used to have a chat but his new younger Staffie and Rudi didn’t really get along so I started to keep a distance.
Now these boots are lined up along the wall outside where he lives. I haven’t seen him for a while, and he always wore trainers as far as I recall, usually with an Arsenal top, so I don’t know what the shoes and boots mean. None of the indiviudal pairs quite have the pathos of Van Gogh’s ‘A Pair of Shoes’ but as a collective they come pretty close
Alcoholism is a sad business. There’s another hard drinking man on the street who also has Staffies. The dogs fling themselves around in a frenzy of barking when you walk past the flat. The tv is always on and even when the windows are closed you can hear the dogs being yelled at to ‘Shut up!’. If the windows are open you can smell the beer. Sometimes the man goes off to prison for assaulting someone. Then he comes back and picks up where he left off. I see him, or his partner who cut off all her long hair like a penance, walking round the corner to the offie to stock up on beer from time to time. In five years, I haven’t once seen them walk a dog.
As yet there hasn’t been a row of shoes in their front garden.
I didn’t preview our pin-up’s chances yesterday. It was hardly worth saying really – if he runs he wins. Which he did, and better than in other races. This is likely due to him, in his trainer’s words, being a heavier specimen than he has been before i.e. he is still maturing and almost remarkably improving!
Now we can continue the somewhat will-he-won’t he tortuous dance to the Arc, or the Champion Stakes at Newmarket, or the Breeder’s Cup at Santa Anita. Wherever he goes, whatever he does it will all very much be for posterity and I for one would not fancy that responsibility – I therefore wish John Oxx and the Tsuis all the luck in the world with their magnificent charge and hope to catch him somewhere (I hope over 10f!)soon.
This blog post is very sadly dedicated to the memory of two young apprentices, Jan Wilson and Jamie Kyne, who needlessly lost their young lives in a fire in Malton on Saturday.