Thursday, 25 August 2016

So It Goes

What is theft? And before you sigh and think simpleton, my question is not phrased in that manner. Hear me out before you attempt a weary dictionary explanation as if the asker were an inquisitive child. Inquisitive yes, but far too old to be spoken to as one, and yet not old enough to stop questioning nor caring for whatever answers are given in the fullness of time.
Some questions, the best questions, take time to answer, require a little fact-finding or soul-searching by the responder, and if you're one and the same person what a conundrum.
You may never give yourself a satisfactory or conclusive answer. Because the selves considering it are too divided, too filled with uncertainties, and when that's the outcome, seeming to be the final one, the query must be destroyed. Permanently. Its identification mark hung like a man from a noose: the dot shudders as the hook asphyxiates. So it goes.
Which I think you'll agree is a fine expression as inserted by Kurt Vonnegut to good effect in Slaughterhouse 5 to symbolise a death, a pause, an ending. Another unanswered question has passed by, crossed to the other side to a wasteland of lost questionings. These same questionings may revisit but reformed and therefore go unrecognised, as if the thought has never struck you till then before. The mind spins tricks like that and squanders mental energy. It likes to waylay as it is waylaying me now.
And yet although it often feels the mind is being held hostage by riddles, the ambush effect does at times serve, for haven't I just inadvertently (and believe me it was so) exhibited a class of theft, that of plagiarism: quoting somebody else's work and distorting the context to emphasise my point, though the original author was declared in this example. I have no reason to lead readers to believe that catchphrase was mine and besides, they are undoubtedly smarter than me and wise to plagiarising thieves, as well as to petty felons who instead of making away with their ill-gotten gains run after notoriety: help the police to track them down.
Didn't I say at the very beginning that my question didn't in any way refer to this kind of theft? But here I am espousing it, sabotaging my initial train of thought which hasn't thus far been explained. Perhaps I didn't set about it properly or perhaps my unconventional definition of theft never will be stated, at least not in this composition, and so the resounding note will be its alluded to originality. Perhaps that's why my mind is barring me from doing so – because although it might have presented itself as original to me it may not in itself be novel; just something I've picked up from the wave of consciousness. Or maybe it's the mystery I'm after...
Invariantly, my pieces get hijacked by interferences: the station I start out from tunes in to something else, something passing or about to arrive. Am I being given to or stolen from? That I can't decide. But I flow with the impulse, uncaring of the results, good, middling or bad. Whatever I'm doing, creativity is at the heart of it, but I wouldn't be offended if people said it was abstract: still developing. For isn't life about developing? Repeating and circling, making errors?
Is theft an error or intentional? Of which theft am I talking of you enquire, the term as used by society or my undefinable one? It doesn't matter as the reply for both would be the same: I don't know. It hedges; sometimes the compulsion has to be obeyed, sometimes it's planned. Ask someone who has been convicted of a criminal act, not someone whose motivations are more banal and in no shape or form violent or injurious. Obsessive perhaps, fostering further disconnection from the world today to a bygone age of writers, poets and playwrights whom in reading awakens the sense that nobody ever leaves this world fully formed.
There will always be unanswered questions: those that can't be, those that you refuse to acknowledge, and those that you hoped to get round to but somehow didn't, whilst the few that you do form answers to can't always be explained. So it goes.

Picture credit: Art Theft, Barry Kite

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Importance of History

History! Glorious History!
My opening and summary done in three words and two exclamation marks.
Do you need more than that? Do I have to sell it?
Well, yes I take your point that a lot of is not only bloody but also elitist, deferential to the aristocracy and if not that then to a person's individual wealth, professional standing or position of power. The earlier ages come across as very masculine as in who can we conquer, how do we keep people in their rightful places, and what do we gain, and yet despite the decorum with which this was displayed, illicit conduct by both sexes was rife and known: to the parties it concerned, to the relatives and friends of, and to those on the social periphery. Of course, concealment was attempted, but the whispers that circulated often contained more truth than denial, and the irony is that you when read now of such affairs it all seems so common and what's more accepted. Almost a badge of honour, for the men anyway, though the women, if unmarried, could be shamed, but if you had a husband (or a wife) it was not only convenient it was protective.
Why should this interest me? Because it makes me reassess our perspective in more recent years to marriage and disloyalty, so that I now need to be convinced that the progression of time has a) been kind and b) illuminating.
Has marriage changed so much that we actually like it? And I guess when I say 'we' I'm referring primarily to women, although homosexual men then were also in a tricky position where marriage wasn't desired but was expected. Women out and of marriageable age were rarely asked their feelings on the matter; it was a rite of passage, with little heed paid to whether they wanted to, and besides most had no idea what kind of creatures men were as they weren't out for very long before once more being trapped.
The question I'm asking may seem strange, but you'd think with this history known more women would break that chain and claim total independence, rather than feel inadequate if they refuse or choose not to marry. Do we now marry for love and not for financial security? Is the future really so bleak alone? The answer to the former might appear obvious, but if we are marrying for love and from choice, then surely extramarital affairs would take a downward scale. We should be happier, shouldn't we? Perhaps we continue to marry due to a selfish fear of loneliness which we think this ultimate commitment displaces, and then disappointingly find it can't and doesn't.
Marriage has certainly evolved in line with the societal values we hold i.e. it's more willingly entered into by partners who consider themselves on a more equal footing, but in my opinion the same uncertainties still abound because nothing in life is fixed, not even after vows are exchanged. There are still duplicities, despite our high regard for transparency in every area of society including between spouses and that's with the added freedom of pre-wedding intimacy and co-habitation. And yet in spite of this liberated openness, relationships can often seem more closeted: confined to the one person, to the notion of everlasting love.
Let's make it clear, I'm not advocating for a repeat of the seventies, just pointing out that perhaps we're not as 21st century people as emancipated as we like to think, and that those before us were almost as equally unconventional albeit in a different setting.
That's what's so compelling about history. The more you find out, the more it makes you think and consider, and relate it to the times you're living through. It's not always pretty, it's not always kind, it can be barbaric and limiting or at least give the appearance of being so to modern brains and eyes, and it's always a surprise to realise that we haven't learned: circumstances differ yet the same fundamental mistakes keep being made, as do our ideals of virtue and philandering.
History surrounds us: in writings, in statues, in buildings and yesterdays which some of you, I imagine, won't yet be of an age to care for. Suddenly, one day you will.

Picture credit: The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, 1771-72, oil on canvas. The Royal Collection by Johan Zoffany.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Sigh Once More

A heart is the origin of every torment, so said E. M. Cioran, a Romanian philosopher and essayist, to which I feel I must concur, and yet I know very little of heartbreak in the ordinary sense. I haven't been deceived, wronged or cheated upon; disappointed, yes, by people in the flesh and by my own suppositions which turned out to just that – with no basis in fact – and unrepresentative of situation or character.
The many sighs I have sighed have not been the sighs of thwarted love, but those of boredom and dissatisfaction...'of dumps so dull and heavy' as mentioned in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Mine are sighs of nothing, where nothing is to be done. And yet I will fall into these 'dumps' time and time again, where the focus then is my stupid, impossible, highly improbable notions, and how my mind, briefly and cunningly, tricked me, not to the belief of the existence of love or adultery but to themes of fight or flee. That both were possible to achieve in the manner I envisioned whether they might involve a new outlook or drastic changes.
Not so. It takes courage and that I don't have in abundance. To build castles in the sky, but not to actually act. On anything. Anything that requires taking a chance or journeying without some sort of map, however rough. Because if it all goes wrong I know I don't have the same resilience kids are blessed with that adults later destroy, and of which I carried over no residue into maturity. I've struggled to come back from detours, whether they be of my own idiotic making or forced.
Too much caution sullies most people: their inherent impulsiveness tempered by practicality, and then further dampened by anxiousness and second thoughts. Where everything, even the accomplish-able, becomes a brief window of nonsense in spite of any seriousness with which a plan might have been considered or discussed. And that also pertains to thoughts of love, particularly in what used to be called the 'courting' stage. Feelings for people, as Shakespeare demonstrated, can be influenced and changed.
Shakespeare's mischief-making was rampant; his romantic entanglements delighting audiences, still today, because of their absurdity and their harbingers of truths, the truths we often don't see unless removed from the principal scenes. In your own play however, you don't realise your own devilry or recognise those that come to cause it, not in the instant of it, and maybe not even when sounds of woe or blitheness subsequently follows. Then comes sighs of longing, sighs of vexation, and sighs that launch monologues, spoken as you pace about the room or stare upwards at the bedroom ceiling. And such sighing causes the heart to pine – for what was, what could have been, if only...
As philosophised, the heart is the root of every suffering because it refuses to learn how not to make its own disappointments. It rather seems to revel in its gullibility and the resulting fallouts; it enjoys the webs it weaves, especially when the mind, its rival, almost acts like a co-conspirator. They have an ongoing quarrel, these two, and yet both are similar in that they set traps: decide on a goal, a person, a thing in which the other differs. They bicker, they shout, they raise misgivings, they erase history or resurrect it, they make passionate and desperate pleas, and never agree. The outcome, as always or 99.9% of the time, is a impasse or a dismissal. The subject given a respite until circumstances favour it, or until such a moment when history wishes to repeat itself, to only reach the same conclusion.
This dispute is lamentable, and yet the heart and mind remains reverently faithful in this discordant marriage.

Picture credit: The Pained Heart AKA Sigh No More, 1868, Arthur Hughes

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Portrait of Disassociation

With my little eye I spy a woman that looks like me, that in fact is me, sitting with a friend at a restaurant table, so how has this autobiographical I been set-apart from this seated body? That I couldn't tell you, for I've no idea how this works, except it's by no means the first occurrence. Nor is it infrequent, quite the inverse.
Yet that same unanswered question arises whenever I loiter outside my body and begs for an answer. Any answer, however ill-conceived or brilliant.
Tell me, how is it possible to be sitting there and conversing, and standing here observing my behaviour?
And why don't I instantly recognise that the person I'm so obviously interested in, is not an unknown twin or a freak of nature, but from the same raw material I'm supposedly made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice, with the exception that I'm not, contrary to popular opinion, still a little girl. I'm not really sure quite what I am, where I fit in the hierarchy of womankind, but little and girl is decidedly not it. Youth? No. Youthful? I guess that could be applied, just not to my mind nor spirit. Immaturity, even when I was of an age to be at that stage, was not a hat I wore well, or at all. In appearance, sure; that, I don't appear to have outgrown, but in manner, no. I was always self-contained and not easily swayed; that was my defiance, my two fingers to the world though I would never have made that gesture. It wouldn't have been seemly from a girl who wanted to be an financially independent woman with absolutely no ties to hold her back. Others of the feminist persuasion might say it would have been just that: very apt to tell the world in no uncertain terms to shove that domestic trap, the trap of M: Men, Marriage and Motherhood.
However, whilst I may have stuck to avoiding that letter, my thirst for independence arose foremost because of being a solitary creature, not because I was exposed to the glass ceiling: told you can't do this or that, this is your level. No, my awareness of that came much later. You could say my upbringing painted the opposite picture, except it wasn't done entirely from choice but necessity. Mum was one of those women considered to have it all: a well-paid full-time job, a hard-working husband, a nice house, a car, a kid. Hers was the greater wage. And though it also gave her purpose and sanity, I wasn't aware quite how much she wrestled with her conscience to perform those three different roles: working woman, housewife, and mother.
It's just how it was. And yet in my feelings there was disparity: I approved and longed for a more present mother, though if pressed now I would say I wouldn't have had it any other way as I benefited from seeing both my parents in their respective workplaces. I saw the world of work and women at work, and how the two commingled. It was an interesting period; one that gave me aspirations of achieving the very same.
However, those promises I made to myself were empty.
Empty because even with the best will in the world I couldn't fulfil them, not to my satisfaction or to the levels I witnessed others attain. To do so I would have had to be made of sterner stuff. And I wasn't. The stuffing instead got knocked out of me, and the positivity with which I first entered into further education and then work hasn't re-emerged. Did I abandon it or did it abandon me?
I think it would be more truthful to say my efforts extinguished it as did the pressure I exerted on myself. I'm a Type A, where good is not good enough, where being more than good could mark your flesh, burn your spirit. Unless you nip it in the bud or learn how far to push; or if you get spat out one too many times to turn your back because when did being equal mean you have to have it all. To be more than man. In role and in manner; and yet still be woman. It's a sure-fire way to fail, to feel a failure, and suffer from disassociation.

Picture credit: Portrait of a Young Girl after Ghirlandio, Massimo Tizzano