Figure it out

My reading of the fountain pen scrawl above

I set off without much of a plan other than the newly-embraced idea that simple is good, and there is a lot to be said for repetition and routine if the routine you are repeating is good for you.

An idea was imposed on me as a child, I think, that we change as we get older and that change is always for the better. Growing up was a good thing. Getting older was good. You could wear different clothes, make some decisions of your own. You could, one day, smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, get married and drive a car. Years of just about nothing were followed by a moment in time in which you could make or break your entire existence, mainly without any preparation or guidance from anyone that would be listened to.

And there’s the lottery. We spin the wheel and we have our direction, our course, set. A few early wins and we are off, full of the confidence that means we can face any setbacks and get through them. A few losses early on and the opposite happens. We quickly learn to expect only bad news, bad results, and a pattern that is hard to break establishes itself.

The first fifteen minutes of a long run tell me all I need to know about the hour that follows. Once I get through that early phase I am either happy and relaxed or the opposite. A good start means that even if things go wrong after 50 minutes or so, I will feel confident enough to get through it feeling well. So, what makes or breaks those first fifteen minutes?

No idea. There is no way to know. I only find out once I am running. Any signs, any feelings just before the run are meaningless. I have gone out feeling fantastic and then quickly fallen apart. And the opposite has happened.

We just have to figure it out, step by step.

Pointed

The fountain pen scrawl done in 15 minutes with no plan and no editing.
My reading of the text

I look out of the window to check the weather, the light, the overall state of play in the world outside my apartment. It’s time to run and I want to do it. I have to do it.

Why?

Now there’s a good question. So many reasons, all of which most adults are aware of but none of which answers the question really.

I run because it makes me feel less weak. It makes me feel like I am doing something but at the same time it stops me from thinking about anything other than breathing and the rhythm of my legs, my feet.

As I look out of the window checking things that don’t need to be checked at all, I feel anxious. I feel it now, writing this, just thinking about it. This reminds me of every test I have ever done. I have this serious sense that I am about to be exposed as in some way inadequate. I am 53 years old and still, from time to time, wake from a nightmare that tomorrow I have a test for a course I never attended.

This makes me think more about my running and why I do it. It’s not a simple answer, so that’s why I cannot offer it in casual conversation. Also, I am not really sure this is true. It might just be an answer I feel approximates to the truth, or maybe I think it makes me more interesting than I could ever be if I just said, “I don’t know. I like it.”

I think I run because I can do it alone and later share it with people I choose, people who might understand it, or maybe just find it of interest that a non-athlete can do athletic things. Running is my secret test and if I finish it successfully, I can reveal it. If I fail, I can make it part of a come-back narrative. Running makes me feel less useless. But only less useless is not useful.

The point is not to be useful. The point is to distract from any point at all.

We are aliens

We are all aliens, at home. We awake and rub our eyes, brains warming up as we focus for another day on yet more things that sit beyond us, almost within reach but not quite close enough for us to grasp with two hands.

We are aliens in our own world, no different now, really, than when our pre-historic antecessors watched the Sun rise and the Moon set, wondering in fear when they would stop their mysterious motions.

We are aliens in space, in thrall to the seasons while all the time convinced that we control life itself. Birth and death themselves are the new rising Suns and setting Moons. The last things we have to admit we have no domain over. But we are working on it.

I read a headline in the newspaper the other day. I couldn’t sell myself the idea that time would have been well-spent on reading the text that followed. The report was, I imagine, supposed to be some comfort in trying times. We were assured that some massive asteroid would not strike Earth for about one hundred years.

Well, that was a relief – until I considered that my now six-year-old son or maybe his children would face a very different headline one day.

Asteroids, viral pandemics, microwaves, remote controls, algorithms, IPOs, market prices, the past, present and future. Love, hate, fury, greed, and forgiveness. How long is the list of things I will never really understand?

We are all aliens, at home. We plump up a pillow and try to rest. The world spins round and we all stay still.

Emotional few months

It’s been an emotional few months. Well, an emotional life, really. What are we if not a mixing bowl of emotions? See? I told you. I’m still emotional and am likely to remain so. What is the alternative to emotional? Control? And what is that if not simply the pretence of something clearly not real?

So, a coronavirus pandemic announced itself last year and in June 2020 I was struck down by what everyone quickly learned to call COVID-19. I was lucky. Just five days exhausted in bed and then a few weeks to declare myself close to 100% fit. The rest of the year was a blur. Work, rest. Repeat. Then in December I lost communication with my dad. Phone trouble was all. After a few weeks of re-established contact, dad died, on or around January 21, 2020. I went from fretting that I couldn’t call him to facing the reality that I will never call him again.

So, that completes the set – mum and dad now gone to the ages. Losing dad made losing mum all the more real, oddly enough. I’ve always taken my time to come to terms with the facts of life, but over three years to fully appreciate that my mum is dead seems excessive.

Again I am reminded of the power of denial. Show me an unpleasant fact and I can show you a distraction. It’s survival, when all is said and done. How else are we supposed to go on? We can’t very well wake up every day and embrace the horror that awaits us all at some unmarked date.

And then there is regret. The most useless of all emotions. First we nail ourselves to a cross for being human and inevitably getting something wrong. Then, in the ultimate act of self-hatred, we feel bad about what we have done, and then feel bad for feeling bad. The perfect feedback loop of misery.

And I remember what my mum used to say when I sometimes expressed how worried I was about her latest self-made crisis. “Andrew, get on with your life.”

It’s been an emotional few months. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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.