Saturday, January 27, 2007

There are some that only employ words for the purpose of disguising their thoughts. Voltaire

Images from Doug Aitken's Sleepwalkers, MoMA New York

Sleepwalkers is an installation of film projections by Doug Aitken outside New York's MoMA, featuring performances that include Tilda Swinton, Donald Sutherland and musician Cat Power, amongst others. Each projected film tells the night time journey of a New York resident as they wake and travel into and through the city. The project is described as exploring "the constant flow of life and energy that is New York" and features the stories of each character, including a postal worker, a businessman and an office worker. As I explored the website, I wondered what characters we might choose to show the night time life of Portsmouth - I'd love to hear ideas. Whatever springs to mind, it would be wonderful to see more projects like this around the city, encouraging all of us to think about the stories of this densely populated village.

In my constant quest to find inspiring cultural projects, I recently discovered one that also manages to be touching, funny, disturbing and beautiful all at once. The website is called PostSecret and the creators describe the project as "an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard." But there is no description for this site. You simply have to check it out for yourself.

Flouncing your skirts, you blueness of joy, you flirt of politeness, You leap, you intelligence, essence of wheelness with silvery nose, And your platinum clocks of excitement stir like the hairs of a fern.
Karl Shapiro

I keep receiving the most bizarre spam emails. Almost all of them advertise Viagra (though how these sites discovered my personal addiction to the stiffy pills, I have no idea), but this in itself is not strange. What is strange is that each one ends with a small and apparently indiscriminately chosen extract from a Harry Potter novel, for instance, at the end of one such email:

"why, when the class gave a particularly loud groan at the amount of
Transfiguration homework she had assigned.
You are now entering a most important phase of your magical education!"

Maybe they have to include a random piece of text to sneak past filters, I don't know anything of such matters, I'm sure. What this demonstrates to me though is that this most technological of phenomena, virtual junk mail, has at its root, humanity. Although I have no intention of taking them up on their proud little pill deals, I have started to read each one as they come in. I like the randomness of the text, like bibliomancy.

If Mika be the food of love

Washing Up, by Jacky Fleming - my favourite feminist cartoonist
You can buy her books and everything - and you should.

I spent last night at Phil's birthday party at the Wine Vaults, Phil is my oldest friend Heather's fiancee and everyone there consumed much, much alcohol, creating an atmosphere of laughter, surprise and even tears. Kit Kat came with me, but we hardly saw anything of each other as we mingled happily with the other guests. I had some strange conversations: on astrology and the power of an ascendant, on the nature of young people and teaching, on conservation and electric cars, and on love, boyfriends, and the power of the break up.

I had a great evening and I was glad that I managed to haul my usually highly unreliable self (as Ben, who definitely won the best-dressed male award, so quickly and keenly reminded me) there. The evening reminded me of how enjoyable some conversations can be, and more than once, how reliably incestuous and small this tiny town can be.

When Kate and I got home, a little gin-sozzled, but wide awake, we opened a bottle of pinot grigio and began to slur the world to rights. We discussed the gendered puzzle of relationships, and whether there is any such thing as the 'perfect one,' and made each laugh with our committed cynicism. An article that I read in The Onion (if you're not familiar with this American satirical newpaper, then check it out) this afternoon summarises the spirit of our late night musings:

FYI, xylophagia is "a condition involving the excessive consumption of wood."

This morning we were feeling a little hazy and somewhat worse for wear, so after heading tentatively into Southsea for lunch, we returned to a safe haven underneath the couch duvet and watched Relative Values - well, I did, while Kate slept like a rather hungover log. It has taken me a further hour to rouse myself from the couch since Kate's departure, in order to update The Daily, but the movement has disturbed the drunken haze here in the Heights, so at least there's a chance I'll eat this evening. I have gammon steaks in the oven even as we speak. I dig the pig.

If you're not a regular on the BBC's own online and interactive culture magazine, The Collective, and if you're interested in new bands and new music (in new music we trust), then you have to check out their playlists. Last week, it featured The View, The Klaxons, and The Maccabees - what more do you want?

Well, actually I can think of something. I'm developing the most futile crush on the absolutely divine Mika, who you can see here singing live at Ronnie Scott's. I need this man, I mean, I need this man's album. Obviously. Look at his trousers. No, not in a pervy way. You're disgusting.

I intend to spend this evening in front of my pc, catching up on blogs and hitting my favourite music sites for a catch up, before retiring for an early night with a new book that I've been looking forward to reading all week. The Do Not Disturb sign is on the door and no one is getting past it. Except maybe Mika, of course.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

It's the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter. Marlene Dietrich

Marlene - Just for the cheekbones, dahling.

My favourite Marlene quotes:

I am not a myth.

I am at heart a gentleman.

If there is a supreme being, he's crazy.

When I arrived at the Naval Base this morning, I heard music emanating from the Victory (which is gargantuan!!! I mean, it's proper massive), and after staring gormlessly about for a moment, I realised it was coming from a Royal Marines band on Victory's top deck. I wish I could start every morning like this: the crisp, cold air, shades of a blue sky on the horizon and an old fashioned marching band. I stood outside the Museum for ten minutes until they stopped playing (I might have been freaking them out with my appreciative swaying and goonish expression of delight). It was the best start to the day I've had in ages - well, since I last remembered to buy pain au chocolat and a gargantuan coffee on my way into the Ministry anyway.

I leave the Royal Navy next week, onto pastures new. Well, back to the Heights actually, as technically, I haven't landed a new gig yet, but never mind. My creative writing will soar and I intend to start off with incorporating a creative tour of the city to find the best spots for budding writers to hang and out and pen their inspirations.

I don't always work so well from home, I find, and although it will mean going back to basics with a notepad and pen, at least until I get an Apple Mac of my very own, I'm looking forward to it. The Chasing Freedom project (compulsory plug to follow) has often been a little stressful, and has certainly been a learning curve for me, in terms of professional development in my research and writing, but it has really boosted my confidence and introduced me to some great people, and, I hope some new friends. I will be sorry to go.

One thing I won't miss however, was an experience I had today that yielded a whole new fear, and of the strangest thing. Regular readers may remember that I have, on more than one occasion, mocked G's fear of dry docks and the hulls of ships, and today I received my karmic return. I'm afraid of figureheads. Look at this.

It's not that scary is it? But it is. Quite apart from the fact that so many of them feature women with their baps out, which strikes me as a gendered phenomena - I've yet to see one of a man exposing his wiener. I was sent to do some detective work for Chasing Freedom today in the Victory Gallery, which is home to our new exhibition. In order to install Chasing Freedom, it has been necessary to close the second floor of the Victory Gallery, which in addition to the area where our exhibition will live for a year, is also home to the Figurehead Gallery, which is where I was sent. Alone.

Now it could be, that when the Figurehead Gallery is full of people, that I would find it a less scary experience, but I doubt it. You see, the thing with figureheads is they're really quite big. Look at this one for a sense of size.

They are genuinely large, and they are actually a little grotesque in the flesh (well, wood, really), and to HSP's like me, very, very scary. It's like the fear I have of that dinosaur model in Cumberland House (I'm still frightened of that - I'm 30 years old and terrorised by an inanimate model of a creature that's been extinct for millions of years), and don't even get me started on the Natural History Museum in London. When faced with something very large (put the obvious jokes aside, please- I was going to say gags, but it will only feed the innuendo), I get a bit scared.

When you come to see Chasing Freedom - and I know you all will come to see Chasing Freedom, because I know where you live and I have a web cam trained on the exhibition to monitor visitors - take a walk around the Figurehead Gallery and tell me what you think. Please, before I get paranoid about my latest irrational fear.

Glenn's Favourite Words of the Day
Jumentous - Smelling of horse urine

Aeolist - A pompous windy bore who pretends to have inspiration

Borborygmus - The rumbling sound of gas passing through the intestine

And his personal favourite:

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian - pertaining to extremely long words

Don't say we never teach you anything here at The Daily.

Same Jeans - The View

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Everybody's changing and I don't feel the same (Keane)

There's something in the season, maybe, as I've pondered before on the Daily: something about New Year that sparks a revisiting of our life plans, our dreams, the goals we've met, and the goals we've lost (along the way - thanks Bob). A lot of people in my immediate world are changing, and here at the Heights I've been trying to create some changes of my own. My brother and I were hypothesising over the phone last night whether this is a mid-life crisis thing.

"It's harder for you women when you're pushing thirty, isn't it?" my brother commented in his usual helpful way, "Your womb will have dried up soon."

There was a long silence.

"I've said the wrong thing again, haven'tI," Matthias asked, in a quiet voice.

However, I think that the periodic desire for profound change is just a life thing.

Whether I'm working towards changing something about myself or my life, or even when I'm at the point of achieving one of my dreams, change is never easy: not for me, and not for the people around me either. At the moment, for instance, I have no social life. I'm not feeling sorry for myself, it's been a deliberate move. For one thing, I'm using my time differently, and for another I feel seven kinds of crazy volatile a lot of the time and I don't trust myself to be around safe, normal people without causing some kind of psychological damage to them, or myself.

I've been trying to make my creative writing a part of my everyday world. I get up at seven and write for an hour (three pages of stream of consciousness; often half-asleep nonsense) before work, and now I come home and write for at least an hour (an hour is my rule of thumb, but I often find I keep going after that).This may not be big news to other people who write, but making a steady, solid and real commitment to my own writing is actually a huge step that has brought me face to face with many of my deeply held fears: about writing, about success and failure, and about myself.

The thing about change processes is that I can often get carried away with what I am trying to achieve. 'The Goal' becomes the central focus of my life and I can easily forget that it may not be the same for other people. When that happens, I can become quite resentful - if I'm not careful - with those closest to me. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking 'Dude, you know I'm trying to change things right now, why aren't you supporting me on it?"

But to come full circle, a lot of people in my world are doing exactly the same thing. Everybody's changing! And it feels exactly as terrifying, exactly as confusing, and exactly as vulnerability-inciting as it does for me. I realised yesterday that this goes some way to explaining why some of my relationships have been quite disjointed over the last few weeks: I've been in conflict with a close friend and members of my family since New Year, and this sense of "Why don't you understand/Why are you being so unreasonable?" has been at the root of a lot it.

Over at the Happiness Project, which is well on the way to becoming one of my all time favourite things, Gretchen has been talking about the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, and about taking responsibility for her own happiness when moments of conflict like this arrive. I have a lot to learn from this, as fundamentally, it's disempowering to place so much responsibility for my happiness in the hands of other people.

Sermon over!

Today's Quotes of Love, Peace and Understanding

On life's journey faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day and right mindfulness is the protection by night. If a man lives a pure life, nothing can destroy him.

Generosity is another quality which, like patience, letting go, non-judging, and trust, provides a solid foundation for mindfulness practice. You might experiment with using the cultivation of generosity as a vehicle for deep self-observation and inquiry as well as an exercise in giving. A good place to start is with yourself. See if you can give yourself gifts that may be true blessings, such as self-acceptance, or some time each day with no purpose. Practice feeling deserving enough to accept these gifts without obligation-to simply receive from yourself, and from the universe.
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.
James Thurber

Image courtesy of the Pebbles Sangha website

Monday, January 22, 2007

I'm a high-functioning depressive

Li Wei, performance artist, 'Freedegree over 29th Storey'

I discovered Li Wei today- who you should spend at least five minutes familiarising yourself with and asking why and how? - while perusing my very favourite of all Urban Legend Sites: Ok to be fair, it is the only urban legends site I know, but doesn't that just prove it's the only one worth knowing?

I should post a word of warning here: Snopes can seriously damage the amount of time you spend actually working at your desk. Not for those of us slaving devotedly in the Ministry of course: why, nothing could tear us from the pursuit of cultural excellence. But definitely the rest of you.

Do you ever get emails promising that you'll get free Gap vouchers/£1000 in cash/an Apple Mac if you just pass on the email to ten of your friends? Ever get emails offering you a dead cert way to make money if you'll just cash a cheque or allow someone to deposit money in your account? Appeals for a missing child that you're not sure are legit? Fantastic stories of how if you translate information pertaining to 9/11 into Word into Webdings, it reveals a prophecy about a plane crash conspiracy? If any of these or anything like them apply to you, and actually even if they don't, then Snopes needs to be a regular port of call.

Alternatively, if you, like me, have a passion for urban legends (Ghostly voices on the phone telling you to 'Go and check on the children......'), or all the arbitrary weirdness the web has to offer, then you have to spend some time at Snopes. Oh, and for the Disney fans out there? There's a whole category for you, but start with the article on The Rescuers. What I like best about Snopes is that it even tells you the legends that aren't true - which often yields some fascinating insights, like Who the hell is making this stuff up??? But I guess this is the mystery of the urban legend, they aren't made, they evolve.....

The feedback on the weekend blogs has been an enormous boost in confidence for me, so big thank you's go out to Anthony, Shonagh, Kate and the Chief for being such great cheerleaders when I need them most! As some of you may have noticed, the weekend format for the blog was very different than previous posts have been. I don't want to abandon my previous format for the Daily entirely, however, I may continue to place my own writing experiments on the site from time to time, possibly just at weekends. There is room for all formats, as well as all audiences here at the Heights, so don't worry if you didn't enjoy the difference.

The last two posts were the fruits of a new commitment to write every day, and signs of a deeper commitment that 2007 will be my year of writing - my material, my way (subject to professional edits and the needs of potential publishers - sort of). It's taken me over a year to take the advice of a good friend and a fantastic writer, Miss Lisa Clark: to put my dreams at the centre of everything I do. I have turned down one job this year already to honour my dreams, and I hope I have the courage and commitment to turn down one hundred more, because if I don't, then the dream cannot be what is meant for me.

Success would be wonderful, publication would be fantastic, but before all that, I just want to write, every day, in my own voice, my words. Some of our most loved artists lived their whole lives unrecognised, they were honouring their own dreams for something far bigger than success. They were living out their dreams - and in the words of the great philosopher, Lily Allen, "I know it sounds lame, but it's so true."

So, what news in the world of Culture? It's nearly budget time again for the Ministry, and it's te same story in authorities up and down the country. We have been hit hard before, and those of us who have the choice to (i.e. the ones who just turn up to work every day and run a library, or a museum) are working very hard not to think about that which we cannot control. Meanwhile, those involved in the budgets try very hard to think of new words to say that will convince those in power that it is very hard to keep the libraries and museums open when their budgets keep being hacked at. Keep your fingers crossed.

I'm closing with a special something from Tenacious D, and remember, if you don't love the TD, you don't love the JB. Oh yes.

Collected Words

1. So there I was, an Englishman, sitting in the heart of Germany, drinking cappuchino in an Irish bar!

2. Where there is no vision, the people will perish

3. The trumpet sounds within my soul

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Memories of Snow

'Snow in the City' by Kingcool6, over at

I recently went to visit my Uncle. He lived with my family when I was young and was responsible for my care. We were very close. The last few years have brought a stilted, and sometimes difficult, nuance to our relationship, despite the strong bond still between us. I struggle with this: partly because his influence on my life is immeasurable, mostly because I miss him. After dinner, we sat in the living room in silence; I at the dinner table, notebook open in front of me, and he on the couch, a book resting, face-down, on his chest.

“Do you remember when it snowed that time,” he said, “When we lived at Jessie Road?”

I was surprised that he mentioned it. Jessie Road was my childhood home when my parents were still married. One Christmas, when I was five or six, it snowed very heavily.

“I remember,” I answered. “What made you think of it?”

“I don’t know; it just came into my mind. I haven’t thought about it for years.”

He smiled to himself and laughed a little.

“You insisted we go out walking in it,” he said, “I was worried what your parents would say because it was so cold; that it might not be responsible to take you out.”

He looked at me for a long moment.

“You were so small. You refused to come back inside, insisted that we walk a while longer. I thought we’d just walk around the block, and that would be enough, but you insisted. We walked round and round, and then up to that long old alley behind our house. Do you remember?”

“Yes,” I say, “I remember.”

There is a pause. He settles onto the sofa, his face in profile.

“How do you remember it?” he suddenly asks.

I struggle to answer. Hearing the question literally at first, an image comes to life behind my eyes: neurons flashing electric pulses through my cerebral cortex, stimulating memory.

I ask, “What do you mean?”

"Well, what do you remember about it?” He pauses, “You were very young.”

I consider this. “It’s not the same as you remember,” I begin, “It’s more like flashes, images.”

I see the long alley, coated in shining white and endless. I see my purple pram.

“Did I have my pram with me? You know, that I got for Christmas?” I ask.

“No,” he answers with certainty, and I look up, surprised. “No, not your pram. You were holding my hand. I took you to the alley because the snow was so heavy. I couldn’t see where the road ended and the pavement began. I didn’t want you near the road. You were so small.”

We stare at each other, remembering. It occurs to me that our memories, unsurprisingly, differ; he is recalling this event with an adult’s memory and I with a child’s. I think to myself that memory is like this: rarely a subject to be agreed upon. I look at the images again in my mind. I rearrange them; remove the pram. I cannot say for certain I had it with me that day, only that I recalled it that way when we began to talk about it.

My Uncle speaks first. “Do you know, I’m not sure now that you say that. Perhaps you did have that pram…” his voice trails off.

“The purple one,” I prompt, “Corduroy material, with lines, you know?”

“Yes.” He draws the word out, thinking about it as he speaks. “Yes, I think you did have that pram with you.”

In my mind, I replace the pram, but its presence does not matter. What matters to me, what makes this conversation worth having, is that both my Uncle and I remember that day. What matters is that some twenty-five years later, we are both remembering that day.

The man and the child that walked in the snow are not the two people that now remember; and yet we are. I am an age away from the child I was; my Uncle is not the same man he was then. I know my childhood self only from photographs, and from images like my pram in the snow (which may or may not be true). That child seems unreachable to me now, and for a moment our remembering saddens me. Yet my Uncle links me to her, the five year old who was me, and I link him to the man he was then. I am comforted by this: that the two people that now remember are also the same two people that went walking in the snow, one Christmas when I was a small child.