I Know Exactly What Prayer Is.

My fountain pen scrawl, done in 15 minutes in response to ‘The Summer Day,’ by Mary Oliver
My reading of the scrawl above and the readable text below

I know exactly what prayer is.

I don’t know who made all this. Who set the ball rolling, or why. I think about it often – like whenever I’m not doing anything else. So, if I’m not translating or washing up or working out, I think about what the point is and why we are here. Not just humans, either – any of us – birds, trees, sky, the hippie triptych.

I look at buildings and roads and I’m amazed that these things were built by people. The recent manifestations of people have only suggested robbery and destruction, with little room for the application and organisation that civil engineering and architecture and construction require. Perhaps hope lies hidden in buildings and roads.

But I don’t know, or even suspect what any of this is about. The human brain has been described as the most mysterious three pounds of matter in the universe. Sure, but the canine brain is the one that we should respect. Any being that can do what dogs do to people deserves respect. Dogs know stuff.

But I don’t know much.

So, it’s a bit of a claim to say I know exactly what prayer is, but I do – for me. Prayer is self-talk, hoping someone eavesdrops, and that someone is a benevolent force.

Prayer is talk therapy with no one else, entered into with the faith that something good could come of it, one day.

Prayer is personal. It doesn’t need to be explained, much less defended or even talked about. I don’t know who made all this, but I know it was made. What else do we need to know?

I’m not sure but I have a couple of dogs who look like they got it cracked a long time ago.

Nothing Like the Truth

My reading Nothing Like the Truth

There is nothing like the truth. The truth will set you free.

There is nothing like the truth. The truth will cause misery.

Growing up, the truth was sold to me as the basis of a decent, civilised, and successful life. Among societal leaders and winners were the local doctor, lawyer, judge, and post office owner. Bank managers, too.

The dishonest were obviously the poorer members of society who lived in social housing, sponging off the honest.

My mother placed a lot of importance on telling the truth, which I instinctively understood very young to mean I had to give her power. There is nothing like the truth to terrify a child. The idea, I imagine, was to monitor me, to protect me. What it did in reality was to teach me that the truth was to be hidden.

Put like that, in the context of my relationship with my mother, this no doubt sounds suspicious – as if I have something to hide.

Well, the truth is, I have plenty to hide, and then some. We all do. It took me 53 years to really understand that, rather than just say it because it sounds interesting.

Here we are in late 2020, and the issue of what is true and not has never been of greater interest, if not of consequence. All our political leaders lie – some more obviously than others. Perhaps this comes at a time when more of the led, as opposed to the leaders, are at least trying to tell the truth.

It’s wise remember right now and forever, there is nothing like the truth.

Write On

My reading of Write On

You should write something. I always enjoy your writing. Why don’t you write? You’re good. More people should read it.

Well, I’d love to, but I just have these things stopping me.

Like what? There are 24 hours in a day.

I know but they tend to be 24 hours of stress and anxiety. Seems it’s been like that for a long time.

We’re all in the same boat, I know. Life is so hard. We’re going away next week. A mini-break. Otherwise, we’d just burn out.  You should get some exercise. That helps.

I know. I like exercise but all the gyms are shut with the pandemic and I have plantar fasciitis that makes running more of a nasty challenge than a way to relax.

Have you tried yoga? We love it.

No. I just don’t see the attraction.

What about meditation? We do a bit of that. Find it really helps when things get on top of us.

I might try it. I bought an app for $100 and never really used it.

You really should write. I love your writing.

Thanks. I will. Just need to get some rest and sort my head out. And my throat. I got this bad throat a week ago and that hasn’t helped.

Good. We like your writing.

___________________________________________

After four hours rolling from side to side in bed last night/this morning, thinking about all the exercise and writing I haven’t been doing, I got up and opened The Unknown University* – a collection of poems by Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. I read the first two in order – I never usually read poetry books in order – and I decided the time had come to write on.

Let’s see, said the blind man.

*The title is correct here but in the audio I appear to say “Universe,” instead of “University.” I could make a dishonest argument that it is my throat, but the truth is I always refer to this book – wrongly – as The Unknown Universe. Under normal circumstances, I’d fix the audio but – this is true – my throat isn’t great and anyway, really, who cares? I do, obviously, hence this note. But other than me, I am pretty sure no one is bothered.

She had horses

She had horses who loved her.

And horses who didn’t but tried.

Horses who didn’t know and never would. 

My reading of ‘She had horses’

She had horses who shivered in snow. 

She had horses who shivered anyway, any day. 

She had horses who were wise.

She had horses who thought they were wise. 

She had horses who couldn’t be trusted ever. 

She had horses who could be trusted always. 

She had horses no one was sure about.

She had horses who loved her.

And horses who didn’t but tried.

Horses who didn’t know and never would. 

She had horses who thought she was a horse.

She had horses who presumed everyone was an enemy. 

She had horses who never thought about it.

Horses who just were, or at least gave that impression. 

She had horses who talked and horses who never did. 

She had horses who liked to be the center of it all and horses who were always hiding. 

She had horses who were blind but always knew where she was and how she felt. 

She had horses who could see but always had their eyes closed. 

Horses who stood out in the rain with her and horses who said they would but never did. 

She had horses who died and were never missed and horses who will always be with her, even when no one else remembers them. 

She had horses who were ugly but in a way that just made her love them more.

She had beautiful horses she thought she loved but didn’t when it mattered. 

She had one horse who she can’t talk about because certain things would amount to self-harm and she must avoid that. That horse had suggested a river of hope but then the river ran dry.

Be vast

Maybe we all need to stop and think. To look at the world and our place in it. To stop obsessing over stupid and meaningless matters. To be vast.
My reading of ‘Be vast’

“Things ain’t what they used to be” – where does that line come from? Must be a musical from my childhood – ‘Oliver,’ maybe. If so, we are going back over 40-odd years to a line that is perfect for today in September 2020, when the first TV debate will air between Biden and Trump. But let’s not talk of that now.

 

Everything has changed, but it seems most people do not understand what that means. University students in the UK are protesting now about getting plunged into debt, paying for courses that have gone online, if they’ve gone anywhere. Some of them may also be aware that in the Brexit environment, it doesn’t matter much if they go to University, anyway.

 

University for me was about many things, and education and a career were among them, but not even close to the top of the list.

 

Nowadays, life is more competitive. Kids have to think carefully about their careers and how much money they could make because even the humbler lifestyles are almost out of reach to so many people.

 

The consequences are there to be seen. The winners and the losers are out in the open, and there’s nowhere to hide.

 

The other day, I had to do a tiny translation for PepsiCo, about something so unimportant I’ve forgotten what it was. To cut a long story short, the person who requested it expressed her irritation that it was maybe 15 minutes late. My plans changed without warning, and I had to pick up Artur from English school I explained this to the irritated client, and she said she wasn’t interested – I had to respect the deadline.

 

This is what she has been reduced to. A tiny-minded robot who has lost the ability to see what matters and what doesn’t.

 

Maybe we all need to stop and think. To look at the world and our place in it. To stop obsessing over stupid and meaningless matters. To be vast.

You bet your life

Unscripted, free-flowing monologue recorded in one take and then transcribed, just to try something different.

Thought process

Some years ago – well, eight years ago – I had an experience. I saw, for the first time in my life, a dead body. It wasn’t a war experience, or anything like that. It was my brother-in-law. It was just before April 1st.  It was the end of March 2012. The reason I remember that date when I don’t normally remember dates is because one of my first thoughts after he died was, “Well, at least it wasn’t April Fools’ Day.”

That’s not supposed to be funny. It’s not funny. It’s just what I thought.

When I stood in front of his newly dead, vacated body, that’s when I saw for the first time what an absence of life really is. In films and so on they do a good job. But when life has evaporated, a corpse is something completely other than the person it was just moments before.

I am not going to go down any kind of rabbit hole now to discuss what that means. I’m just telling you what I witnessed. A person who had been sick for only a few weeks, really – I was going to say months – but it was three months at most.  Less than three months from diagnosis to death. Pancreatic cancer, if you’re interested. And I’d been visiting him in the hospital, and he wasn’t well, but in death he just wasn’t there.

This sounds absurd, I know, but it’s my telling of the experience. It’s the way it is.

Now, this year – 2020 – has been like some kind of insane TV, media event to get everybody’s attention. To freak us out. People are doing different things in the pandemic, in self isolation – staying at home either because it’s the smart thing to do or because there’s no reason to go out because they’ve lost their jobs. People are doing stuff like this, that I’m doing. People are writing, crocheting, doodling, painting, sculpturing – learning languages, drinking really heavily. And in my case quite a lot of that, plus gambling.

I discovered the thrill of a bet. So many people I know took this really seriously. They decided that this was the time I had to be spoken to. All the other stuff I’ve done in my life – no, that was OK. But betting – gambling – no, this requires some kind of counseling.

Well, maybe, but what I can tell you is this: you win some, you lose some. You win, you feel great; you lose, you feel shit. Whatever it is you feel right now, you’ll feel the exact opposite in a couple of days’ time.

Gambling is probably best metaphor for life and death that exists.

Things change

My reading of ‘Things change’

Dust settles; perspective shifts.

The more things change, the more things get weird. I was going to say that we know change happens. The seasons do their thing, as do tides and the second hands of clocks and watches. Bank accounts run down; gas tanks empty. Fridges, in our house, get fuller. Dust settles, perspective shifts. We age, while doctors get younger. The sun rises and sets. TV series have finales.

None of it makes any difference because we always think things will be the same until they really are not.

Democracy collapses. Common good evaporates and some kind of hell descends on us.

Meanwhile, a pandemic confuses everyone but leaves no doubt that things will never be the same again, with or without vaccines or herd immunity. What happened to the property markets in the UK and Brazil? They boomed. Of course they did! The denial of evident fact is the new religion. Ignore death. That’s for the faithless. Buy a house at a time when work itself is under threat. Things change but not the simple matter of human nature. Something will come along and we will all live forever.

Until we start losing people. Suicide rates among young people are increasing at incomprehensible speed, and this is in the world’s biggest economy where everyone is a winner. Until they are not. They appear not to be sick of winning in the way it had been sold. Winning is the new losing. Losing is the new death. Death itself is the new lifestyle change.

The more things change, the more stupid I feel for not being able to enjoy the old times. Things change while human stupidity and arrogance stay the same.

The ocean remains blue and peaceful

Then I remember that I tried.
My reading of “The ocean remains blue and peaceful”

My friends are a mixed bunch. I’m lucky in a big way – I don’t choose friends with any idea of what they can do for me professionally. This is one of the benefits of working for myself. It’s also one of the major disadvantages. There’s never anyone to help me. When you’re alone, you’re alone.

I often wish I had gone another way and been as corporate as possible. Then I remember that I tried. I put myself out there and was roundly told to fuck off. So, doing what I do is not brave or different – its survival.

I do okay. I’ll pay for my own funeral. But I worry sometimes that I just failed. I’m not recognised as anything. No one knows what I do. Which is strange when I get data reports telling me that in the last five weeks, I translated the equivalent of War and Peace. That’s almost 600,000 words. And it’s not even exceptional. I do this all the time. I’ve done it for 18 years.

And what bothers me is that I have lost so many people. And it occurs to me they too had lost so many people. And that all of this is a shit-show. It’s a waste of time. I was childless for years and now have a son I love more than anything but still sometimes all this feels stupid and useless.

And then I think again. I think about all the others who confessed to such strange feelings in wild writing and I feel better.

Never mind the stupidity we have to face day after day created by men who stink of hate.

The ocean remains blue and peaceful.

Blinding

My reading of ‘Blinding.’

I’m not the kind of person who goes to a doctor for a check-up. This isn’t a brave boast, it’s a confession of stupidity and I need to change my ways. Thing is, I worry that if I go, something will show up.

I know. I know.

Back in January of this year – before the wildfires in Australia and the pandemic and the latest hell from far-right politicians – I had to go to the optician. I’d driven from the south of Brazil to home in the southeast and it had taken about half a lifetime. I wear- or wore – contact lenses and in the air conditioning for endless hours I suffered some kind of drying of the eye and it was all very uncomfortable.

This week I went back for a check-up and did a battery of tests on comically sophisticated equipment. If there’s anything – even the suggestion of a potential problem – they will find it. Anyway, all clear. But I still have to use drops and cannot yet wear lenses. I have to go back in December. I really liked the doctor, Juliana. Very friendly and attentive. No rushing. But for a minute, I confess, I considered I was revenue stream. I could go back every three months for the rest of my life. OK, no. But medicine in Brazil has more to do with business than health. Maybe it’s like that everywhere.

Juliana and I talked about the reasons I should not use lenses yet. First, because of the pandemic. I hadn’t thought about that. She explained that if I had to fix a lens while I was out, it could represent a risk, what with sticking my virus-bathed fingers in my eyes. I was convinced. But then she added that my left eye is still a little dry and I would also be risking a return to the secretion and scratching I suffered back in January in the half a lifetime I spent in the car. I was doubly convinced. We then talked about the pandemic ending soon. I said I doubted the likelihood. Juliana said we have to pray.

I looked behind her, up on the wall near the ceiling. There was a crucifix with Christ nailed to it. I had to admire Juliana’s faith.

It was blinding.

Living it up in the apocalypse

The world has become like this big old mansion you can walk or run through, opening doors into rooms without knowing what to find when you go in. 

My reading ‘Living it up in the apocalypse’

Having been banned from Twitter for seven days, I find myself looking at the news from a slightly different standpoint. The Twitter ban means I can look, but I can’t touch. I can read tweets, but I can’t like or comment or interact in any way other than to talk to myself. This ban pushed me just a little bit away from all news, and I’m starting to think maybe it’s all been for the best.

The world has become like this big old mansion you can walk or run through, opening doors into rooms without knowing what to find when you go in. Open this door and everyone is nicely dressed, sitting in a large lounge, talking discreetly amongst themselves, some smoking, some drinking, but everyone basically acting like decent human beings.

Then you open another door and the noise and stink hit you like you’ve walked into a warm, steamy cattle shed filled with maniacs tearing chunks out of each other and gobbling human flesh that is still body temperature, all while recording it on their phones, or live streaming it, pushing for that pot of gold at the end of the bullshit rainbow: influencer status.

You get the idea. Of course you do. You’re in the same mansion, you’ve opened the same doors and been welcomed and horrified the same way, sometimes on the same day.

Increasingly I am eschewing the mansion for the cramped but loving confines of our apartment, with its two adults, one little boy, two dogs, and a fish that somehow survives living in a clearly toxic tank. I sit down and look around, and I’m learning just before I turn 53 next month to love what I have.

I’m living it up in the apocalypse.