good and bad running on parallel tracks

bring the happy

It’s been an oddly bipolar week. My friends and I got to do tons of very lovely fun stuff, and celebrate some joyous happenings, while at the same time quite a few difficult things were also going on with us. It’s been a weird one, oscillating wildly between feeling like all is beautiful and we can relax, and feeling thoroughly pummelled by life.

Discovering a bedbug infestation in my room alternated with a visit to this gorgeous home and grounds (they had deer!) with my friends in perfect sunshine on a National Trust Free Weekend. Which in turn was followed by being seriously, horribly slammed with work deadline major crises. But then my dear sister came to visit, and we spent the day out in Coventry. And then it was Earth Day, so we scattered candles across our living room surfaces, turned out the lights, and invited some dear friends over for dinner (made a delish adaptation of this based on what sauces and aromatics I had). Over the course of the week three friends had serious health issues crop up with their loved ones — but yesterday another friend, who has a cartilage injury, got off crutches four weeks early. Plus I got to go watch an arty film (pretty good) with a bunch of friends that I wouldn’t normally do that with, which opened up new topics of conversation and meant that we now know each other that little bit more.

“Good and bad run on parallel tracks, and they usually arrive at about the same time.” — Ron Dunn

I guess most of life is normally like that, lots of different happenings bumping up against each other. But it’s been awhile since my week has felt that extreme, the joy and the pain so sharply delineated.

I could focus either way, and have swung from one extreme to the other many times this week. But I think I’m going to choose to be thankful. That the various raging beasts of work projects have been momentarily tamed; that many of my family and friends are healthy; that I’m seeing some of those friends in Nottingham today; that I have great people to live through it all with — that regardless of how different our situations may be, we are committed to mourning and swearing and rejoicing and feasting together. The fundamentals of my life are good.

When my sister was in Cov, we got to go see this rad happiness mapping project and submit a couple of memories. Bring the Happy started out during the recession a couple of years ago, when city centre businesses were dropping like flies. A theatre company called Invisible Flock decided that they were going to move into a city centre storefront, armed with a couple of big maps of your city, and ask people to log their happy memories on the places where they had occurred, marking them with glass rods (of lengths corresponding to your happiness level in said memory). At the end of the logging period, they would take those memories and transform them into an all-singing all-dancing bells-and-whistles-replete foot-stomping show.

BTH shopfront

BTH overall view

map on screen

walsgrave hospital

The bit I loved was nosily reading everyone else’s memories of my city, from the seriously inane to the life-transforming. The glass rods are a striking visual representation of where people have chosen thankfulness and hope; I was surprised to see a huge cluster of them on Walsgrave Hospital. Participating felt oddly like joining in with some kind of mass prophetic act, speaking hope into the city, hope into our bones.

failure to launch

wrote a muddled piece on the vandalism of the cenotaph, and then left it for dead. for posterity’s sake, i retain the first two lines of the second paragraph: ‘the cenotaph was built by the (then-) present to honour their past and instruct the future. it’s doubly stupid that this future, spray can in hand, should first ignore the intentions of those that came before, and then assume that whatever he had to say was more important than what his forefathers considered worthy to carve in stone.’

some alcoholic days the words flow out like diarrhea, some days it’s more like squeezing an unripe zit. writing’s hard. it’s about the style, the words governed first by instinct and then convention… and then you have the argument. you don’t say anything at all, your logic doesn’t connect, you don’t make sense. you hear the critics and you agree, you give the practice a once-over and then involuntarily glance at the theory, thinking all the time bloody hell, the execution’s shit. but that’s the deal, and you know it well; like anything else that’s worthy of effort, you don’t go in there with the guarantee of success. so some heady days you trust yourself, and you trudge on – you do the whole bad cop/good cop routine with the words. you see the road behind the tumbleweed frontier, the shit finally becomes soluble, after a ton of chicanery you’ve the looks to go with the substance. but other days, dog days and days not necessarily in hell but definitely not in heaven, your crystallization is dessication. you know not even you are under your skin, and it’s sweet to give up and move on.

as a half-apology, in parting, ‘i keep a close watch on this heart of mine / i keep my eyes wide open all the time’… johnny cash, i walk the line, 1956. and bob dylan, starry eyed when caught: ‘when i first heard ‘i walk the line’ so many years earlier, it sounded like a voice calling out, ‘what are you doing there, boy?’ i was trying to keep my eyes wide opened, too.’

She’s really most sincerely dead

So, am not a fan of Margaret Thatcher, or David Cameron, or Tories, or greedy, gawping, grasping people.

This, this is just damn sad.

Margaret Thatcher’s funeral: 23 things you could pay for with £10m | News |

This lady is pretty kick-ass. Even though she’s Labour. I’m more of a Green/ SNP/ independent kind of girl, myself.

Glenda Jackson on the death of Margaret Thatcher: “I had to speak out to stop history being re-written” – UK Politics – UK – The Independent.

This is pretty funny:

Anti-Thatcher song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” misses top spot in Radio 1 charts – News – Music – The Independent.

“Wake up – sleepy head, rub your eyes, get out of bed.
Wake up, the Wicked Witch is dead.”

a tuesday entry done on saturday after a conversation with a thursday

after having way too many drinks with the mysterious, magical, and almighty mr thursday and a coterie of absolutely random people, this poem came to my mind amidst my slightly hungover state this morning:

Paul Auster

No one here,
and the body
says: whatever is said
is not to be said. But no one
is a body as well,
and what the body says
is heard by no one
but you.

and night. The repetition
of a murder
among the trees. The pen
across the earth: it no longer knows
what will happen, and the hand that
holds it
has disappeared.

Nevertheless, it writes.
It writes:
in the beginning,
among the trees, a body came walking
from the night. It
the body’s whiteness
is the color of earth. It is earth,
the earth writes: everything
is the color of silence.

I am no
longer here. I have never said
what you say
I have said. And yet, the body
is a place
where nothing dies. And each night,
from the silence of the
trees, you know
that my voice
comes walking toward you.

I am reminded this languid saturday morning, metallic taste of last night’s excess still in my mouth, brain still addled,  of why we write, and how the act of writing can define who we are.

Reminds me of a postapocalyptic tarkovsky  film i  watched a few years ago where a nameless writer utters:

“A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts. He needs to constantly prove to himself and the others that he’s worth something. And if I know for sure that I’m a genius? Why write then? What the hell for?”




recent interestingness

pan's labyrinth

Ofelia and the faun in Pan’s Labyrinth

May this roundup fascinate, tantalise and perturb you:

Pan’s Labyrinth. (Okay so I may just be the last person on the planet to have watched this…) Gore and horror elements are not really my thing, but still, what a great realistic fairytale.

Carrot batons steamed and flavoured with honey, thyme, salt and curry paste. From here (it’s rule number 69).

19 things to stop doing in your 20s. You got me there.

Summer is coming. I must make these.

This talk on the different human motivations for green behaviour and how to tap into them.

It’s not every day your church leader gets killed for attempting to assassinate Hitler. Whatta guy. (Also, this is a classic text on living in community.)

And finally, because as a fundraiser I get to keep tabs on interesting events, this! And this (oh please come to England. We will still run, for sure).

Have a good weekend, everyone.

(Photo from here, with thanks.)

at the end of the week, a little hope.

It’s not been a very encouraging week in the world, has it? I was up in Manchester on a fundraising training course when the indescribably awful bombs blew up in Boston, and lots of my classmates there (being fundraisers) knew people running the London Marathon this weekend. So there was a lot of uncertainty and anxiety.

But the London Marathon is going ahead anyway, this Sunday. The security forces and police have done a ton of extra work. Prince Harry is coming. And Mo Farah is running. And so are about 37,500 other people.

Wilson Kipsang, the defending champion, has declared that he is going to have no fear during the race; that “we are going to run feeling free”.

I love that. I love the refusal to be scared, and the deciding to live that out, by actually turning up and actually running. Go people.

a thursday entry done wednesday

death is in the air – iraq and afghanistan as usual, boston in a rare turn of events, serbia with a grim take on america. so i thought i’d share an episode from way back – mortality equally meaningless, except perpetuated by nature and not man.

in may 2011, i made one of my first trips to the disaster areas in tohoku. the volunteer leader told us that our job was to clear the tsunami sludge and debris from the destroyed areas for incineration. along the way, if we were to find anything that had nostalgic value (teddy bears, photo albums, the like), or anything personal (identity cards, passports, wallets, money), or anything that looked like human remains, we were to alert higher authorities. so we were paired off, equipped with shovels, sacks and wheelbarrows, and sent on our ways.

my buddy’s a university student at meiji gakuin, who’s been there and done that twice before – an old hand, expert with the shovel. we have two jobs – one opens a sack and ties it up after it’s filled; the other shovels the shit into the sack. so my friend says in passing – the shovel’s hard work, but with the sack, your face is that much closer to the sludge. clearly he’s a shovel person; i get his hint.

the first drain we come across – the cover is literally plastered to the drain edges. it’s the sludge, all organic waste and petrochemicals, and it’s caked everything up. i get the crowbar and prise the shit open, and in the gloom that is waist-high sludge in a very deep drain i see something clearly semispherical bobbing on the surface.

i’m the one to stutter first.

‘shit, dude, what is that?’

‘dunno.’ my friend stares, and then steps back – normal tsunami sludge has a foul stench, all gasoline and decomposed fish, but this one is particularly pungent. ‘it’s round, ainnit?’

‘yeah, duh.’ we look at each other. we have the same thoughts, but we’re not budging. ‘you going in?’

‘yeah. but you gotta go in too. i can’t possibly raise the shovel that high, won’t be able to reach your sack.’

‘bloody hell.’ i prise open the next drain cover, making space for both of us in that ditch; we both go in.

he’s looking at me. through the mask and under the helmet, i’m wondering whether i should breathe through my mouth or my nose. death by impurities, or death by stench? then i realise he’s got the first load of sludge stacked thirty centimeters high on his shovel. two months after the tsunami, and that shit’s multi-layered, like a ghastly kueh lapis.

i open my sack, he sticks it in, some shit gets dislodged, i get gunk on my goggles and face. at least my eyes are protected. in due course my face breaks out in rashes. no shower facilities in the disaster area, and so i spend the night smothered under talcum powder.

but back to the drain, our noses puckered, our words economical. ‘you’re not getting the round thing.’

‘yeah. was waiting for you to get ready.’ he waves his shovel. ‘it goes into the sack. like everything else. right?’

at that time (may), and in that area (ishinomaki), tsunami debris did not need to be separated into combustible and incombustible rubbish – i think.

‘yeah. into the sack.’ my legs plod into a dynamic, defensive position; my hands with the opened sack thrust as far as possible in front of me, my head reared way back. ‘scoop it.’

he goes for the kill. that instant i have gruesome thoughts of a decapitated head; nothing else could have been so round. it seemed as if the universe had lined up a joke for us, that we should have opened our drain cover precisely where that unverifiable object should have been, while there were kilometers upon kilometers of uncleared drains waiting for us. and that head, recalcitrant, would have escaped all the conscientious efforts of the self-defence force but not a pair of unfortunate twenty-somethings. but it wasn’t a head. why would there have been a head and nothing else? some locals told me afterwards that the bodies of victims (god rest their souls), if they were not immolated by subsequent gas explosions, were somewhat recognisable neck-up – the first instinct of man is to keep the head above water. not to say that their expressions weren’t ghastly. i gave a lift to a kamaishi resident to morioka on a day of a large aftershock, and his exact words were ‘minna no kao ga oni datta‘ (everyone’s faces looked like ogres) – but, if you talk not of expression but of injury, the undercurrent mostly destroyed everything torso down. so you hear locals recognizing their deceased relatives by virtue of the shirt collars that remained (the collar being the strongest part of the garment).

but back to the topic – no, not a head. the object turns out to be too big for a shovel to handle, and my friend can’t help but flip it. turns out it’s a pot of left-over rice from march 11th, and it’s positively brimming with maggots, worms and whatever else decomposes stuff. as with the time i helped clear out the bento shop at kamaishi, two months later and in the heat of summer, with the sludge still there as it was from four months back, (red flags in the shop beside indicating a body had been found in the wreckage there; the locals saying ‘the lady was more than eighty years old, she couldn’t run’), the smell is unforgettable. you start thinking to yourself, shit, this is the smell of whatever happens when we meet our end, if it’s communal and violent, and you start retching because you can’t help it – you can be inured to the fact but not its gradations, the way it instructs not only what but how and on top of that how many, and the way it sticks to your waterproof gear and boots, inciting you to a decision three days later in the sanctity of civilization between destroying the shit or destroying your washing machine in the act of reckless salvation; and then before you know it, hand on the sack and eye on the gunk, you’re like, hey, no appetite. but fuck appetite. more time to get this gunk out of the way.

and so it goes, and so it bloody goes. humans devise ugly ways to kill, but you can’t beat nature’s playbook; she’s got the ugly ways to die, and she’s got it since we found ourselves in this rut. and one day in a disaster area and you ask yourself for what raise your hand against man, our world is a gordian knot of loose ends, but you come back to that concerted sterility that is the nearest civilisation and you’re as dumb as those stone monuments from eighty years back, along the same sanriku tohoku coast devastated two years before, with inscriptions like don’t build your houses past this point, the tsunami of 1933 destroyed everything. and here we are, those that have seen neither killing nor death, but wanting to spread the gospel of humanity, simply because we’ve unearthed a pot of rice, or a photo album (of families visiting the merlion), or a rather whole winnie the pooh plushie. nature will take us; why take each other? we’re better than this. we have to be better than this.

Best articles on the Boston bombing so far…

“Is that what “terrorism” is? “When multiple (explosive) devices go off”? If so, that encompasses a great many things, including what the US does in the world on a very regular basis. Of course, the quest to know whether this was “terrorism” is really code for: “was this done by Muslims”?”

The Boston bombing produces familiar and revealing reactions | Glenn Greenwald | Comment is free |

“What made them suspect him? He was running—so was everyone. The bystander handed the man to the police, who reportedly thought he smelled like explosives; his wounds might have suggested why. He said something about thinking there would be a second bomb—as there was, and often is, to target responders. If that was the reason he gave for running, it was a sensible one. He asked if anyone was dead—a question people were screaming. And he was from Saudi Arabia, which is around where the logic stops. Was it just the way he looked, or did he, in the chaos, maybe call for God with a name that someone found strange?”

The Saudi Marathon Man : The New Yorker

And less depressingly, this

Inspiring Images From Boston – Business Insider

and this:

To Boston. From Kabul. With Love. – Principle Pictures.