… re-framing the seven deadly sins …

                 Pogo. Walt Kelly 1971

The timeless insight of mystics was frequently censured by prevailing orthodoxies and only available to a few scholars. But even though mystical writings have been made available over the last two centuries, readers form a minority. Meister Eckhart’s quote – “The Eye with which I see God is the same Eye with which God sees me,” – implies that we envision inherent archetypal ideals to then realise and embody them within.

In the projected mirror we may see love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness reflected, or, depending on our state of mind, or, we may equally see indifference, rejection and severe judgement. What if our goodness is not rewarded? What if love betrays and we turn anger inwards? What if we battle with resentment, find fault with everything and despise sanctimonious people? The same process applies; we absorb what is mirrored via our inherent imaginative power.

To direct the moral education of citizen, spiritual offences were formulated in Greek monastic circles and coined as The Seven Deadly Sins: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia (not to care), vainglory, and pride. Over time theologians made various changes – the sin of sadness became sloth, and then Pope Gregory reduced the list in descending order to: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. To counteract sins, virtues were advised as humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, liberality and diligence, qualities not easy to live up to from day to day, while The deadly sins instilled fear and guilt … and left deep cultural marks, self-blame being the most destructive.

Self-blame makes for turbulent minds. Only scapegoats will ease the burden. Among all regulars a perfect scapegoat served Christianity well – Eve. The collective psyche contains not only unknown riches, but also stuff we disregard (much like the plastic that accumulates in oceans,) thoughts and deeds behind our facades we won’t acknowledge or take responsibility for, and instead conveniently place on the shoulders of suitable others.

 “Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.”  Carl Jung

Balancing Freud’s focus on pathology, Abraham Maslow studied self-actualising people and outlined a hierarchy of basic human needs. His map suggests when an early need is not adequately fulfilled; narcissistic or psychosomatic symptoms may result, blocking growth. Little is up to us. Families rarely support this process, as they can be burdened by complexes and dysfunctional behaviour patterns from one generation to the next.

‘The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he’s born.’  – William. R. Inge

No wonder many of us resort to blaming circumstances, parents, state, strangers, or appease all by adopting self-blame. Then again, some people rise from grim circumstances and become inspiring people. What’s their secret? It’s my guess that a strong desire for gratification, bestowed by a no personal archetypal calling, can empower us to transcend seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The idea of deadly sins put the fear of hell in people. Sinner you were not deemed worthy to enter paradise. But if we consider that human behaviours communicates intrinsic needs that seek fulfillment in the expanding spiral of evolution towards wholeness, the very idea of using sin as a threat is naïve, and more, counterproductive. Here a short look at the deadly sins …

PRIDE – an excessive belief in one’s abilities and ignorance of the grace of God. 

This relates to an evolutionary trend of our time, individuation – becoming who we can be – best attempted with the mediation of a healthy ego. This process happens mainly in the West and is frowned upon by fundamentalists whose ideals are fixed on heaven. Where tradition equates with identity, displeasing the expectations of family and state carries a risk of alienation. The challenge of freeing oneself emotionally, intellectually and spiritually then becomes heroic. It means sticking to one’s inner truth against all objections and raised eyebrows. It means regard for the potential that is emerging in oneself and others. I grok these words by my Sufi friend, from a lecture during the 1980’s …

‘The experience you have within yourself of your own separate identity, to allow right and wrong to be re-defined by you, your singular contribution, is where evolution really happens. You, by becoming yourself, can open a new wavelength. What you reflect immediately influences your environment, people close and far away.’ (Fazal I. Khan)

Those who break free from parental commands when their inner truth is compromised do not seek union in the womb, but aim to experience conscious union through embodying their ideals. Life brings along companions who recognise the authenticity and backbone it takes to walk this path, even if it seems foolish and brings no answers. Yes, pride may sneak in, but equally gratitude, humility, and acknowledgement of the interdependence of all life.

ENVY – desire for the status and abilities we see in others and want for ourselves. The need is to emulate, to find aspirations that resonate within. From early on we are looking for role models to reflect our potential. If such recognition is withheld or distorted, the need can take possession of us, with all the consequences of being rejected, belittled, abused, and feeling ill done by, until we realise our own resources. Ralph Waldo Emerson evokes in his essay on self-reliance a more helpful notion of envy:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better or worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is, which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

GLUTTONY – a craving to consume more than is required. In simple terms it is a hunger that knows not what is seeks. And yes, it is bound to become an indulgence – a chasing after stimulation, information, speculation. Until the hunger knows what it seeks it will not be satisfied. The search is intense. In spiritual terms this hunger can develop into devotion.

LUST – a craving for touch, warmth, pleasure of the body and sex. The need underlying lust is a longing for intimacy and ecstasy. It often fails to satisfy, but behind the shadow of excess is the ideal, to be consumed, like the moth by the flame.

ANGER – results from frustration and is all too human. Sadly, when our existence is denied, or we experience and witness injustice, yet lack opportunities to express anger creatively, this powerful energy will make us ill or explode in rage. That said, even conscious resistance is a creative act. We are endowed with natural aggression to even make it here. Each one of us results from the fastest sperm, the one that made it. Oppression and cold rationality feed anger. If repressed, anger takes us over.

GREED is also based on the desire for recognition. If the experience of being seen, heard and appreciated is missing, we must find opportunities to succeed in something.

SLOTH used to be called sadness – brought on by a sense of meaninglessness. Change wants to happen but one is helpless to act. These days depression is a collective phenomenon. On a personal level not acting could be seen as fear of failure, though often it is the necessary dark phase for a kind of alchemy in the psyche that leads to new wings.

What if we have satisfied our basic needs? The horizon is never reached. Beyond every horizon is another. This includes the horizons of our mind, beyond which we hope to find purpose. We go on journeys, outer, inner, to find out why we are here. But the search never ends. We take drugs to kill this yearning, this question of ‘why’, because we can’t face that maybe the only purpose is the search.

‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’ Hazrat Inayat Khan

And yet, the search liberates. The attachments we have to right and wrong, to good and evil, to our own importance, blocks our search for new meaning, prevents us from living with intensity. Our most precious and vital scripture is nature, life itself.

These thoughts were drafted eleven years ago. I would have liked to come up with a fuller gestalt to make my point, but presently I enjoy a holiday in psychic wilderness.

And today’s Haiku …

Devils besiege us

As do angelic spirits

Both hold their best truth

While we are mediators

In the psychic wilderness

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… my love for England – and my brexasperation …

The Alps of Bavaria stand in bright glory or shrouded in mist, depending on the mood of the weather. Their snow-covered peaks were the dramatic panorama of my childhood, and called me beyond horizons, first east, then west.

Already as young woman, drawn by friends and circumstances I’ve lived and studied in England for stretches of time, until in 1979 I settled for marriage and motherhood in the hills of Somerset.

my mother

A special five year period of my life ensued, a calming respite after intense professional years, thrilling adventures and travels. The laid back ambiance of the English countryside offered precious time with my son, opportunity to grow my own food, bake my own bread and strike up tender friendships with neighbours. Our parents visited us from Holland and Germany to welcome their grandson. 

 

 

My dad, who normally travelled south, couldn’t withhold his poor impressions of England at the time, gathered, it must be added, along motorways. His comments: … brown water for coffee, fatty food, filthy toilets, shoddy service, and so on … seemed to underline his disapproval of my life-choices. I told him culture thrives in cities, like London. Rural life moves in slow motion here. The home birth of our son brought the first child into this Hamlet for decades. We were novelty.

However, every small region has its old guarders kicking in when a non-local challenges the status quo. My attempt to save a small oak forest from clear felling met with some success and equal scorn. A tit-for-tat exchange of articles in the local paper was educational – if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen – was the response to my well researched ‘save the oak wood’ warrior call. I countered – why not open a window. The Woodland Trust got involved, a spread in the Sunday Times followed. Politics were never my calling, but I became an activist over trees and was invited to join the local parish, all educational. A day before the clear-felling licence expired, the chainsaw echoed among the green chasms of surrounding hills.

It made my blood boil. The communities I had mobilised were only a little short of the sum arranged for a purchase of the oak wood from the greedy owner. Outsiders (migrants) tend to have a naive understanding of local power structures, but hey, they can have the guts to ask poignant questions.

The 1980’s were marked by rapid technological changes. We moved closer to London. The world was webbing up. In rural England, within a few decades, fruit meant more than apples, more than two kinds of potatoes were on offer, bread surpassed Home Pride’s white sponge, spices arrived, salads, mushrooms, avocados, berries, olive oil, proper coffee, pasta, ice cream, good wine. Books from around the world arrived, translated. Research from beyond the island enriched sciences, organisations, education, services, construction … an invasion of culture, colour, knowledge and other traditions, other, other, other … progress gripped the world … good, good, good … but, but, but – technology also steamrolled traditional jobs, pride in hard work was fading, rents and house prices soared, entrepreneurs and those already rich prospered and the rest had a hard time, some never catching up. This was – and is – not just an English trend. When change is inevitable, creative adjustments are needed.

But let’s find a scapegoat, eh?

The simple blame game is destructive for any country these days. Europe needs ingenuity. Its territory has cultural learning stored in deep roots, like the giant oak trees worth fighting for. British humour and diplomacy have much to contribute to a sustainable Europe that, nobody is arguing, must adjust.

This is my view.

Wake up Britain, and imaginatively address the global phenomenon, or, I fear, you’ll be nibbled apart by giants across the ponds.

Click here for a few practical issues re: Brexit, by Ian Dunt.

And here my post from 2016 that relates.

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… Alhambra – The Red One …

Me … less than a month ago at the Alhambra. I wonder how many people over the centuries sat on this ledge to gaze out over the Albayzin. Adding to my last post, ‘sunny places,’ these are images taken by my son on his IPhone … 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting the inspiring studio of a local artist.

Entry to our friend’s house.                                

‘Moto,’ our friend’s venerable old cat likes to be comfortable …                                                                                

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talk of fitness … my son ran every morning 5am miles into the hills above Gualchos to catch the sunrise..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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… sunny places …

light and shadow make

daily joys – like twin beings

they sculpt soul dwellings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I enjoyed a week-long break, based in Gualchos, uphill from Castell de Ferro, Costa Tropical, visiting a friend I had not seen for some time. My son accompanied me, a rare treat, since his time is generally tightly booked with work.

The mountain villages in this part of Spain have a simple charm that appeals to me.  They attract strays, artists & creative souls, as well as gentle dogs & cats. During the summer months, swarms of starlings arrive, seeking trees and church towers. Their acrobatics are inspirational.

We swam & travelled through Alpujarra hills  to Lecrin, Lanjeron & Orgiva, and along the way visited a friend, whose life as a horsewoman and a jewelry-maker is an inspiration. I hope she’ll publish her amazing story one day. The place Rachel created is a paradise for all creatures – see the dog’s stylish abode below …

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, of course, Granada … my second visit to the amazing Alhambra Palace and its beautiful gardens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The night of Saturday 23th of June, as is tradition in Spain, fires are lit all along the beaches in celebration of Saint John the Babtist. We enjoyed them at Castell de Ferro’s beach, crowned by a waxing moon. One of my obsession is finding small washed up stones of all colours and shapes, including heart shapes.

 

We even watched last Monday’s 2:2 Spain against Morocco’s world cup football game on a TV screen in the local Plaza of Gualchos, where villagers gathered for drinks and cheers.

There were additional friends I would’ve loved to visit … thank you ‘Albi’ in Baza, thank you ‘Malcolm’ in Nerja. I plan to make space to meet you next time. A big Celtic Hug to Binah for accommodating us in her lovely home.

I sooo needed this holiday. For now I’ll let the rich patchwork of impressions settle. Flying is always a pleasure for me, being enamoured with clouds. But how land and sea are re-framed from the sky adds a surreal perspective on life. Now I must make good on a long-held  promise – properly learn Spanish.                                  

Oh, and in case you missed it – I started a Patreon site.

Click on the link to check it out. I might post a photo there later today – of me in the sun 🙂

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… father …

I’m not generally keen on these many special days we are meant to honour in some way.

However, with the media telling me today is designated to fathers, I’m duty bound 🙂 nah, I’m pleased to share images that are  iconic for the kind of love that filled the lives of my both my parents  The love of the Alps.

Many memorable weekends of my childhood were devoted to mountain climbing.

The image of my dad has a Caspar David feel. Yes,  my dad was a romantic, if a grumpy and defended one.

The magnificent range on the horizon is the famous famous Bernina, with Piz Palu.

Alps -198

My next post will also be about place, as a way ahead, or about making peace with where I am,  or …  It’s in the stars. My friends know I have an obsession with Spain, the Alpujarras. My son, I guess, wants to heal me of this obsession and has arranged a trip to visit friends. It would be a major shift at my age. The sheer stress of a possible move is of course both terrifying and exciting. We’ll see.

 

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… have you ever cursed a door frame? …

… for hitting its edge with your toe or elbow? Are dense objects sensitive to our emanations, be they kind or malicious? Call me quaint, but when I collide with a door frame I apologise, press the sore spot to the point of impact and send the pain back, assuming the wood tolerates it better than my soft tissue. It’s a long-honoured small-scale experiment with disentangling subtle vibrations. It works for me – pain and swelling ease miraculously. Try it, for fun.

We accept that people, animals and plants retain the pulse of our attitude to various degrees, from shock to nonchalance, yet how about the rest of nature, down to solid rocks and stones? I assume my relationship with what I see, touch or think about is reciprocal, for better or worse.

As in receiving and sending waves, I converse with my body, with trees, shrubs, flowers and creatures. I caution spiders not to come near my sleeping space. I have heart-to-heart chats with my house, laptop, car, and all manner of things. I say thank you to what I value and depend upon and even use little mantras conveying something like – all is well – I hear you gasp. I do this to disrupt mindless automatic response patterns. With people, I admit, it’s way more complicated.

I reckon all known and unknown life is moved by a force we poorly understand. Call it by any name, god, spirit, psychic energy, the ghost in the machine, it is a power that works throughout the cosmos, including the things we create, like tools, art, furniture, buildings, machines, weapons, ships, cars, trains, planes, phones, computers. As we project our pleasure or frustration into gadgets and the autonomous functions programmed into them, nature’s energy currents flow and oscillate through all, the whole universe.

I conclude that nothing is dead, lifeless, artificial and of no consequence.

Thomas Vaughan puts it poetically: ‘The real world is invisible. Thus in the physical or spiritual or light world – all forms or beings – stones, trees, stars, streams, men, flames and turds are really facts of invisible presences. Mineral, wood, fire, water, flesh are terms of dense soul-full sense.’

During recent centuries, western cultures developed multiple viewpoints. But what is happening to this wonderful diversity, given the hyper connectivity of the internet, where the masses turn for guidance, where people empowered by visibility offer opinions that swing back & forth in dramatic ways? Is this the dawn of a new tribalism that blanks out the unique contexts and realities of individual minds? One has to have one’s wits about these days.

In his time, Walter Benjamin wrote: ‘Technology, instead of liberating us from myth, confronts us with a force of a second nature just as overwhelming as the forces of an elementary nature in archaic times; our need for a practical philosophy of self-knowledge has never been greater.’

You see where this is going … autonomous technological devices will be no less interdependent than us, relying on social cohesion, the spin of politics, networks that harvest electricity –like, a solar flare could halt all digital utilities on this planet. So I wonder about it all, given there’s much we don’t understand about the forces that govern nature, and the input human consciousness has towards its geometry.

My Sufi friend, Fazal Inayat-Khan, said once in a lecture: , ‘Let us look at reality as a sort of operating faith, a sort of subjective, self-created assignment of realness … It is radiant intelligence which creates reality.’

Or, in another lecture: ‘The experience you have within yourself of your separate identity, to allow right and wrong to be re-defined by your singular contribution, is where evolution really happens. You, by becoming yourself, can open a new wavelength.’

C.G. Jung spent his life mapping the deeper structures of human experience, the collective unconscious, archetypes, and the shadow. Now that a collective mind is mirrored back to us, magnified on screens via the internet, it present an ideal opportunity to explore what is emerging for the collective psyche in the gap between recurring states of balance.

The flashing mirrors of the media blind me at times. Wary of the hive, I also like to belong. When fed up, in need of digestion, I retreat to a cave in my mind (once real) where I attend to what bubbles up from the unconscious in that zone between dreaming and waking, until I emerge from my cave into the light of a new reality, new beauty, new meaning and new questions.

This post is not about social, political or spiritual affiliations, but shares an attitude that aims at openness towards the unknown.

And I wonder what my readers think about conversing with dense objects 🙂

“If we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.”  Carl Sagan

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… an early phenomenon of recycling …

Marie was one-of-a-kind, a unicum, einzigartig. Considered a fool, she was waddling through the streets of my childhood village in search of rejected items.

Based on a few photos my dad took during the nineteen-fifties, I put a challenge to my Patrons  inviting a short story (250 to 500 words) to include in a post here. I’m starting with my version, in the form of a monologue.

Sweet are the uses of adversity
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.  (As You Like It)

Marie found good – even in the flawed. She says:

… I have you know, my great, great, great grandmother, add one, was a noblewoman in Russia with more material means than King Ludwig of Bavaria, and an equal flamboyant imagination. Like the Fairy King’s life, hers was cut short through envy.

My life, too, is in service to art of some kind, though nobody envies me.

At least that’s what I thought for a while … some do envy me – the treacherous bunch in this village, the ones chased by hungry spirits hovering over their houses. They resent and envy my freedom. I scare them, because I remind them of the ravages of time. I’m beholden to no one, which is why they spread lies about me. I’ve sharp ears.

You know who, down the road, claims I’ve put a spell on his family, so his wife will only bear girls. The bully doesn’t know his blessing. A son would topple him. And his trickster of a neighbour, you know who, blames me for his impotency. He doesn’t know his blessing either. The mishaps some people complain about may actually save them from much, much worse. Just saying.

And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,
And then from hour to hour we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.’ (As You Like It)

There you have it. Ask me anything and you get truth, since I’ve got nothing to lose. The absurdity of human behaviour makes rejection bearable. I learned to live with it. Consequently, my brain cells can’t help being impressed by discarded objects. It’s compulsive. When you get there one day, remember me, the woman in the street, shouting, ‘We ripe, we rot, it’s all the same. Do as you like.’

Nothing goes to waste with me. My backyard is the showroom of my art, for all to see. I give every item the freedom to be and decay, ache over its beauty, and let it speak for itself.

That rusty teapot hanging from the tree over there has outlived its owner. If you gave the pot a voice it would tell you how it was used to kill a burglar, a scoundrel, bringing misery to his family. Blood still crusts its metal edge. There’s justice for you.

That scruffy carpet leaning against the fence, which had three generations walk, dance, fight, puke and sleep on it, holds a rich legacy of tales. The well-used tools in that box among the dandelions could still fix and dismantle implements. And the mangled doll on top was once loved to bits. With your mind at rest you can hear kids scream and battle over its possession.

Each thing stacked up here has a Sermon to tell.

And now you want to see what’s in my shack? You’re a nosy one, aren’t you? I tell you a secret. It’s hellishly empty.

A link to the Shakespeare quotes.

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… everything matters – nothing matters …

Having succumbed to waves of nostalgia, I’m unsure what will emerge next, which is fine for now. My father’s death at 99, while sad, is also a relief. During the last two years I’ve been on tender hooks, waiting for the telephone call, and the prospect of sorting and processing a left-behind-part of my life. As anticipated, the reality of it was exhausting. There’s no financial reward, since what’s left of my father’s estate will just about cover the bills. His furniture was too damaged to be accepted at auctions, and anything else of value he had given away to people whose support he appreciated. He resented me for not living up to his ideas, and I resented him for his total lack of support. He had fun, spending a fortune on years of luxury cruises around the world with his second partner. While often justified, resentment is entirely useless. I tried my best, so I’ll drop my misgivings and wish my dad’s soul a good journey onwards. It frees up my life.

It’s ironic, because my Dad had artistic leanings resembled my own. We only occasionally clicked, for a short while, especially when he needed me, after which he retreated into his controlling paranoid mode. He may have been jealous of the self determining freedom available to my generation. I should add that his psyche was injured by the last horrific war.

Friends in Munich and other places were my rescuers. I deeply appreciate their existence. Around the world, we shared the magical April moon.

It’s an apt moment to remember a wondrous Sufi saying – ‘Everything matters, nothing matters,’ which, for me, means I have a choice as to what things matter to me.

Once the horizon clears, I’ll pick up my editing and writing, and attend to you, my WordPress friends, and my Patreon friends: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=10520241

In case you missed my daring venture, I took the courage to ask for support from people who value the sharing of my quirky reflections. A little support goes a long way. I’m still exploring how the Patreon platform works. Beyond regular postings, I’ll share more private stories and images there, and offer rewards that only Patreons can access. It’s given me a boost to have found two friends and supporters there – big cheers and a Celtic hug to them.

For now, here are some Haiku style thoughts on time and perception, to be continued …

… a glimpse of turnings …

earth has countless realms

each held in their private time

the one-day wonders

such as mayflies and drone ants

surreal creatures in dark seas

faint glowing planktons

trillions of unknown microbes

nature dances our cells

in the whirling waltz of spring

we glimpse time turning

during rare blissful moments

the whole of our life

may rise up as one in death

curving through our myths

the worlds without and within

where we deeply imagine

and create the yet unknown …

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… into the unknown …

The photo below is of my talented and complicated dad as an eight-year-old boy in carnival outfit during 1926. He did

Dad – in 1926

not quite make it to 100 … He died last Friday, 99 years old. I’m glad he went peacefully and without pain.

His parting released me of the anxious waiting for the day when I must sort his things, though I had a taste of this ordeal two years ago when I organised his care.

Even though I was an only child, my dad never supported me financially, not even my education, or the education of his grandson. There’s an endless list of what I could not do right for him.

And I still I loved him, and wished for his approval. What he leaves behind will not ease my situation, but most likely incur expenses I can ill afford. Age is often extended these days, and children tend to experience more and more that a parent’s last resources are eaten up by their care needs.

Even when communication within relationships is loving and open, the other will always remain partly veiled, and a mystery. My dad survived hardships after the First World War, the Spanish Flue, and the Second World War, which traumatised him. He could not quite adjust to the intellectual freedom of my generation. I admired his thirst for knowledge, his fine-mechanic and inventive skills, his achievements as a photographer and painter, and his up-and-go cruising around the world with his second partner after my mum died 30 over years ago.

Earthrise, Dec 1968

Most importantly, my father and my mother  gave me the invaluable adventure of life – an embodied consciousness in this amazing time, when the outer and inner universe so rapidly expanded. For this gift I’m deeply grateful.

Still, I wish I had not allowed my dad to diminish my self-value quite to the extend I did, which came home to me once more in this dream.

Strangely, the week before last I started my very own Patreon site, hoping to spark a little support for my creative output.

I held back with the launch – feeling scared. I’m an introvert after all. But here it is, for my readers to explore.

Go and click on the link, have a look what I made of this platform so far, and bring up the question …

For now, I’ll hang on to my constructive mantra, something I heartily wish for all my readers:

A little more freedom, a little more happiness, and a little more beauty.

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… visability – Italo Calvino – imagination – writing …

A tile made for me by E. Cordier for photos in his studio.

In a previous post I mentioned my erratic filing, which, when working on a writing project, results in phases of strolling through my inner jungle in search of a spot marked for attention, often years back, or wandering through a library in a kind of trance, ignoring categories, with only a vague sense of purpose. On route, I explore seemingly unrelated and often incongruous themes, before a match creates coherence in a new context.

While searching for an invisible gestalt, I tend to reread authors that inspired me. Last week it was Six Memos for the next Millennium, by Italo Calvino (translated by Patrick Creagh.) Like him, I’m all for the shared magical. His Memos are lectures he prepared during 1984 for presentation at Harvard University. It was the year when computers moved into our lives. Maybe he was concerned about Orwell’s dystopian Newspeak being just around the corner. In any case, it made Calvino reflect on a set of literary values. His sudden death meant he never presented these lectures, and only five Memos made it later into print:  Lightness – Quickness – Exactitude – Visibility and Multiplicity … keywords, expanding on ways we perceive.

Though it’s a small volume, the material is too rich and diverse for my humble post. Still, I want to share a few quotes and reflections from re-reading the chapter on visibility. Calvino wrote …

… For successful imagery, writers must do two things: convert the visuals of the mind into words, and at the same time make sure that the words are so well-crafted that when read, the reader can instantly visualise every setting, every character, every chosen detail as if they were looking at it directly, and not at a page. It’s a deliberate process, this transmogrifying from image to text and back to image ….

He describes the progression … something that is painstaking but not necessarily painful, from the moment you grasp the significance of a single image and then associate it with other images, forming a field of analogies, symmetries and confrontations, and then organising this material, which is no longer purely visual but also conceptual, to try and give order and sense to the development of a story. Here the writing, the textual product, becomes increasingly important. From the moment you start putting black onto white what really matters is the written word, first as a search for an equivalent of the visual image, then as a coherent expansion of the initial stylistic direction, so that eventually it is the image that is being pulled along by the text, and not the other way around …

My poems, and certainly my first novel, started with a spark, a solitary image, like a cypher compelling me to uncover its meaning. An unfolding message can be drowned or crowned. Writing (like any creation energised by passion and craft) occasionally achieves such a finely tuned nuance that an invisible quality resonates deeply through the visible.

During my recent reading of Calvino’s chapter on visibility I recalled my entry into black and white photographic processing, which, before digital technology, happened in the darkroom  … to start with, in complete darkness, with the celluloid film being developed in a chemical bath, regularly shaken, like the preparation of a homeopathic tincture, then rinsed and fixed in another bath, rinsed again and dried. Creating prints is the next stage, for which red light is allowed. The negative is placed into the enlarger, from where it is projected through a lens with a sharp beam of measured light onto a light-sensitised sheet beneath. Correct duration of the beam results in a positive print that, at best, develops very slowly in a tray of chemical developer.

Watching the print of a well exposed negative emerge under the red light has always given me enormous pleasure. Like a dream emerging from the unconscious and becoming visible.

The image first appears as a sketch, until grey and dark tones assume saturation, ideally without losing highlights. Once perfection is achieved, the print is shortly rinsed and transported into the fixation bath for a while. Only then is it safe to introduce daylight, for further rinsing and drying of the print on a hot press.

No doubt the experience of a slowly developing image in the darkroom influenced my writing. A sketch to start with, suggesting a mood, a lightness of touch, and, with some stroke of luck, an emerging symbolic element, which black & white photography is particularly well suited for. In short, a feast for the imagination, inviting associations for … poems, stories, and even cosmologies.

Are you a visual writer – in Calvino’s sense? Do you bring vision into focus with your eyes shut? Do you use images to think, and words to imagine what never existed?

Back in 2012 I posted a very short review of Italo Calvino’s Six Memos on Goodreads

related post – imagination …

 

 

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