Friday, March 30, 2007

I'm strange and I'm beautiful

A Strange Beautiful Woman

A strange beautiful woman
met me in the mirror
the other night.
I said,
What are you doing here?
She asked me
the same thing.

Marilyn Nelson

The last few days have been so busy that I have not made time to post. This has not been helped by my brother turning his birthday into a 4-day celebration. Which is even more than the Queen gets, Gawd bless 'er.

At the Ministry we published our tenth cultural briefing today, and in the absence of Miss Sally (who is attending the exciting Vitality show with Clarky and who has promised to bring me back some exciting freebies from the Durex stand) who usually takes care of all things printing, I plunged bravely into the basement of the Civic Hall to find the printing service.

The lovely Norma was my fearless guide through the labyrinthine depths, much as the poet Dante was steered through the Inferno by the Latin poet Virgil. We weaved past dispatch offices and misty smoking room until at last we arrived at the humming hub of the print room itself.

I love the print room, it reminds me of newspaper movies from the forties, when reporters phoned in their stories to transcribers who ran them down to the print room to be transformed into magical hard copy. And the Editor was a sophisticate with a heightened sense of irony who everyone called The Chief......

As we left, I noticed an old, tattered but well-preserved poster on the wall by the door.

I love this. In the local authority, services are ruled by 'objectives,' 'outcomes,' and 'vision' or 'mission' statements, but this was the first service descriptor I've seen in the Council that is centred on how its workers feel about their work. The only other thing I've seen that even vaguely resembles it is the library descriptor, provided here courtesy of Librarian Avengers:

Why you should fall to your knees and worship a librarian

look it up.Ok, sure. We’ve all got our little preconceived notions about who librarians are and what they do.

Many people think of librarians as diminutive civil servants, scuttling about "Sssh-ing" people and stamping things. Well, think again buster.

Librarians have degrees. They go to graduate school for Information Science and become masters of data systems and human/computer interaction. Librarians can catalog anything from an onion to a dog’s ear. They could catalog you.

Librarians wield unfathomable power. With a flip of the wrist they can hide your dissertation behind piles of old Field and Stream magazines. They can find data for your term paper that you never knew existed. They may even point you toward new and appropriate subject headings.

People become librarians because they know too much. Their knowledge extends beyond mere categories. They cannot be confined to disciplines. Librarians are all-knowing and all-seeing. They bring order to chaos. They bring wisdom and culture to the masses. They preserve every aspect of human knowledge. Librarians rule. And they will kick the crap out of anyone who says otherwise.

I was so excited about the Printroom poster that I asked one of the printmen, a deliciously helpful man called Alan, if I could come back and photograph it for my blog.

"I think we can do better than that, young lady," he replied and promptly made me a copy of it on the spot. It's now hanging on my wall next to my desk at the Heights.

"I must say, I'm rather pleased with my new poster," I told the Chief as we walked home in a mist of fine drizzle.

"Oh, do shut up about it," he replied, and added delightedly for good measure, "Gimli."

I should never have given him my blog address. There's nothing worse than having one's own insults used against you.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Speaking of happiness

The chakras of Antioch

I've been reading a great book by Lucy Eyre called, If Minds Had Toes, (available at a Portsmouth Library near you from Monday, when I return my copy) a fictional journey into the philosophical World of Ideas, which centres on an afterlife bet between Socrates and Wittgenstein on the relevance of philosophy to everyday life. As well as providing a convincing argument as to why philosophy is relevant, the book also functions as a perfect introduction to the world of philosophy to beginners or dabblers, like me.

At one point, the main character, Ben (the unwitting subject of the philosophers' bet), visits a symposium on happiness in the World of Ideas - a kind of heaven for philosophers, and two of the speakers he sees there have some interesting ideas about happiness:

"Happiness is a skill. Anyone can be content, but the faculty to realise it is deficient in most of us. Don;t pursue it - embrace it. It is a mistake to think that happiness is something that you deserve but lack. Many good things are just the absence of bad things - health, security and freedom are fine examples - and we are not experienced at appreciating what is lacking. Happiness is the state where we don';t want anything to be different, therefore if we accept things as they are, we can let ourselves be happy. Decide to be happy and you will be." (page 131)

"The most fundamental element of happiness is unhappiness. Happiness is a complex, mixed emotion. People often prefer things that give them pain rather than pleasure: that is why we choose love over mere sexual gratification, the hard truth over ginorance. We can have no satisfaction if we haven't previously endured a lack. I reject lazy contentment: boredom is the death of happiness. I want suffering so that I may truly be happy." (page 132)

I think my own feelings on happiness are to be found somewhere (unresolved) between these two perspectives. But philosophers haven't cornered the market on happiness studies quite yet, with lots of people from scientists to priests weighing in on the subject.

For example, Tibetan Buddhist Monk (and previous translator for the Dalai Llama), Matthieu Ricard. I'm a bit of an addict on the QT to the Unexplained site and they recently asked if Ricard was the 'Happiest Man in the World' after a series of brain scans on him highlighted the power of meditation:

Mr Ricard, who is the French interpreter for Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, took part in trials to show that brain training in the form of meditation can cause an overwhelming change in levels of happiness.MRI scans showed that he and other long-term meditators - who had completed more than 10,000 hours each - experienced a huge level of "positive emotions" in the left pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is associated with happiness. The right-hand side, which handles negative thoughts, is suppressed.Further studies have shown that even novices who have done only a little meditation have increased levels of happiness. But Mr Ricard's abilities were head and shoulders above the others involved in the trials.

It would seem as though happiness and state of mind are closely related after all. Take care of controlling your state of mind, you can control your happiness.

I knew there was damn good reason why I should start meditating again.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Where angels fear to tread?

Jamel Debbouze and Rie Rasmussen, Angel-A

I watched Angel-A, Luc Besson's (The 5th Element, Nikita, Leon) most recent film, last night. It is undoubtedly one of the best films that I've seen for a while. I was completely drawn in by the simplicity of the film, its visual power and the superb acting of the two leads: Jamel Debbouze and Rie Rasmussen (who has the most impossibly long legs in the whole world. Ever).

Following on from our recent speculations on happiness, here at the Heights, Angel-A could not have been better timed. It tells the story of a down and out petty criminal at his lowest ebb, who having been told he will not live out the day if he cannot pay his debts, decides to kill himself. Having reached the decision to throw himself off a bridge, he meets a tall, beautiful blonde preparing to do the same. She turns out to be an angel sent to change his life.

What follows is a story that tells why everyone deserves a second chance, and how we are never too far from the possibility of redemption. See it. It's available from Central Library (and, according to the catalogue on the shelf waiting for you there now) and at all good video shops near you.

There's an interesting interview on the BBC site here with Luc Besson on the making of the film, which reveals that he shoots all his films in sequence (which I thought almost never happened and has always fascinated me about film-making).

Today I went for lunch with my Dad and my sister to meet Dad's new girlfriend, Yvonne, for the first time. I liked Yvonne a lot, mostly because of her quiet good humour, and for her ability to take my atypical family of oddballs in her stride. At one point she referred to her own family as strange and I thought to myself: if she can sit with us and still think her family is strange, then I definitely need to meet her family.

I made my sister laugh over lunch in Old Portsmouth by making the loudest exclamation of laughter when Amy used the word 'Gimli' as an insult. I am the only other person I know who uses the word - for those of you who are not huge Tolkien or LOTR fans, it's the name of the dwarf in The Lord of the Rings.