Category Archives: philosophy

A Tragedy of Perfections

It occurred to me at stupid o’clock this morning when my brain had done its usual thing and whacked me over the head repeatedly to keep me awake, that the opposite of a Comedy of Errors would be a Tragedy of Perfections.  That struck me as a nice idea, and I began to ponder what a tragedy of perfections might involve.

The crossword is a case in point.  I may have mentioned before that I do the Guardian cryptic every morning to get – I was going to say, to get my brain in gear but as I said it’s already in top gear and revving hard – well, to get the verbal juices flowing and to sharpen my sense of what words are and how they work.  Cryptic crosswords are very useful for poets, and if I ever teach a creative writing course I will recommend them to my students.  But of course part of the joy of a cryptic is the puzzle.  If it’s too easy it’s not so enjoyable: likewise if it’s too hard.  Most of the time I get through OK but sometimes I’m stuck, and then those few blank spaces torment me.  Oh, if I could only get this crossword finished!  But here’s the thing: five minutes (or half an hour) later when I finally get it, my immediate reaction is disappointment.  It’s finished.  No more puzzle.  Now I have to wait till tomorrow.

And I guess that’s what I mean by the tragedy of perfection.  One of DH Lawrence’s characters (I think it was Birkin in Women in Love) said of the place where he was living: ‘Now that my rooms are complete I want them at the bottom of the sea.’  And that is the tragedy of being human; that we strive to complete things and when they’re complete we feel heartsick.  It’s like that old Chinese curse: ‘May your every desire be instantly fulfilled.’  We must have something to aim for, else what is the point of our lives?  Or, to put it another way, ‘a man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’  (that’s Robert Browning, from this poem:

I like Robert Browning: he’s very direct and conversational.  But I digress.)

What, then, is the answer?  How do we deal with this utterly perverse tendency?  I’m going to turn to yoga philosophy now and specifically to the concept of karma yoga.  Karma is a term everyone knows nowadays – or thinks they know, anyway – and yoga is something every second person practises.  But karma yoga has nothing to do with yoga postures; it is a way of doing everyday tasks which somehow helps you to wriggle free of this endless cycle of desire and frustration – the tragedy of perfection.  For example: suppose I vacuum the sitting room carpet.  As the machine hoovers up the dirt I feel a great sense of satisfaction at the instant swallowing of every bit of dust and fluff (and don’t get me started on the hair-balls which can only emanate from OH’s head).  The task is done: I switch off the vacuum which dies with a satisfied sigh.  I look around me.  I see that it is good.  But! five minutes later someone walks in with dirt on their shoes.  The sofa is moved, scattering fine toast crumbs over a wide area.  Snacks are eaten.  People enter and leave.  OH pulls out tangles of hair and drops them on the floor (and nobody can tell me otherwise).  And in no time at all my (yes, MY) lovely clean carpet is covered in filth.  And if I’m not careful I can get quite miffed about it.

Karma yoga gives a way out of this.  First, when you undertake a task it is done without end-gaining; in other words, without attachment to the results.  This isn’t the same as not giving a toss; it means that if the vacuum doesn’t suck properly or you get interrupted or if for some other reason the carpet is not as clean as you’d like it to be, you don’t sweat it.  At the same time the job is done with focus.  You’d be amazed how much more quickly a job can be finished when you focus your whole attention on it.  Last year when digging the garden I was totally oppressed by how much work there was to do and was unable to concentrate on a little bit at a time.  This year I have made a conscious decision to focus only on what I’m doing and to let go of perfection – and guess what?  I’ve done four times the work in half the time.

That’s all for today folks.  Now to edit this post and make it perfect…

Kirk out






Leave a comment

Filed under friends and family, philosophy, poems, yoga

Is it ‘One of those Days’ or Am I ‘One of Those People’?

Today is shaping up to be a fully-fledged, five-star, top of the range example of One of Those Days.  It started badly at 5 am when I woke and couldn’t get back to sleep: so eventually I sat up and tried to meditate.  But OH was fidgeting too much so I went downstairs, spread out my mat and began.  All was well for about five minutes, when OH decides it’s time to get up.  Footsteps clonking down the stairs.  The door opens.  The steps enter.

‘Are you OK?’

‘Meditating,’ I say.  The word, uttered through gritted teeth, just about makes it out of my mouth.

‘Oh, sorry.’

Well, honestly – I’m sitting cross-legged with my head and shoulders covered: what did you think I was doing?

OH then proceeds to open the curtains with a swish of fabric and a clacking of wooden curtain rings.  And when I complained, he had the nerve to lecture me about my levels of concentration!


So we have re-established the ground rule: if meditating, do not disturb.

After that my brain was all over the place.  I managed to drink tea, do crossword and yoga but then there was no bread for breakfast and when there was it was squashed, difficult to cut and impossible to make into soldiers.  I need soldiers with my egg!!!

At this point I decided that today was going to be one of those days.  But here’s the thing: vis-a-vis yesterday’s post, was it the things that happened or was it my reaction to them?  Was I predisposed to react irritably because I hadn’t slept well?  OK that in itself makes it one of those nights, upon the heels of which may well follow one of those days, but sleeping badly doesn’t always make me irritable.  Sometimes I’m depressed; more often than not I’m just tired.

After breakfast I went upstairs to start work.  Everything was going just fine when I got a text from the bank: I’ve gone over my limit again.  Yep, that just about sums it up.  I’ve gone over my limit again; and from having a small but just about adequate amount to see me through the next week or two, I now have no money at all.

I have to say, sometimes it’s very hard indeed to ‘love only what happens.’  But is it the things or is it me?  Or both?

It’s ironic that I should be feeling this on International Women’s Day, a day of celebration about how far we’ve come (when I was young the phrase was, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’, which sounds incredibly patronising nowadays.)

But there it is.  That’s what’s happened.

You’ve gotta love it.


Kirk out

Leave a comment

Filed under friends and family, philosophy, politics

About an Emperor

There’s nothing new under the sun – and not much new on this blog either.  I go to write about a topic and do a little search – and lo! I find three posts on the same subject without even trying.  But so what?  I mean, how closely are you paying attention anyway?

I’m kidding.  I know you’re all taking notes.

So, today’s topic is the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Aurelius was a stoic; which in many ways is not a philosophy I’m drawn to: I’m not much enamoured of cold showers or camping in the snow and I absolutely decline to whisper as I kiss my children good night, ‘tomorrow you might be dead.’  (I tell myself that child mortality was much higher in his time than now – but that’s not the reason.  The reason is that I simply can’t contemplate it.)

But I can contemplate things which are happening at the moment – at least to some extent.  I’m not sure what M A would have made of the constant negative outpouring of news to which we are subjected 24/7; I suspect he would have rationed his intake of it just as I try to do.  I don’t wish to be callous; I know the situation in Syria is appalling but I don’t want to hear about it every day: I know austerity is causing suffering but there’s only so much of it I can read about.  When I find myself becoming angry, frustrated, depressed or anguished I simply turn it off, reflecting that while we have a responsibility to inform ourselves about what is going on, that responsibility needs to be balanced with protecting one’s own mental health.

But where Marcus comes in really handy for me is in the personal arena; and the saying I’m focussing on right now is this:

‘Love only what happens.  No greater harmony.’

Of course you can see a problem right away: how can I possibly ‘love’ some of the terrible things that happen to me?  How can I ‘love’ a partner’s gender dysphoria or a son’s mental illness or a total lack of money?  Well, in order to do this you have to dig deeper.  You have to believe that underlying every life event is a purpose, and that that purpose is for your own highest good.

I wouldn’t presume to say this to anyone else; and neither, incidentally, did old Marcus: his sayings were written for his own use only.  It’s quite heartwarming to read, across the millennia, a man writing to himself things like ‘for god’s sake stop!’ and ‘when will you ever learn?’  I can remember writing similarly frustrated exhortations to myself in my old diaries.

That a Roman Emperor who wielded power over much of the known world should find the time for reflection and the humility to chastise himself, is truly astonishing.  To put his advice another way, ‘If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.’  That quote is from Leonard Cohen who, despite his sexual proclivities, was in many ways a stoic, able to look death and disaster in the face and know them for what they are:

Here’s some more information on Marcus Aurelius:

and a load of good sayings of his:

Incidentally, I can’t help wondering if the title character of ‘About a Boy’ was named for Marcus Aurelius?  He is after all a great stoic:

Kirk out

Leave a comment

Filed under God-bothering, philosophy, poems

Nice Shell Suit. Was it Designed by Fibonacci?

Who or what is a Fibonacci?  Can you eat it?  Do you listen to it?  Is it a bird or a plane?  Is it a fashion designer?

Whatever the truth of this, although I am as ignorant of fashion as to be fashion-comatose, I am in fact aware that Versace was a designer.  I also have the impression that he was a nice guy.  I don’t know why – maybe because he was friends with Elton John and Princess Diana; maybe because I saw him interviewed at some point.  Anyway, I was curious enough about his death, which was eerily close to that of Diana, to click on to the first episode of a new BBC drama, ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’.  Assassination might seem a little over the top, but ‘over the top’ is something of a theme here as is evident from the first scene where Versace is shown waking up and going through his morning routine in a Miami house decorated like a tackier version of Versailles.  So far it’s a highly compelling drama with some similarities with The Talented Mr Ripley:

A serial killer meets and murders Versace because – well, we don’t quite know why, and that’s the intrigue.  With murder there must always be one element of mystery: either we don’t know who has been killed, or (more commonly) we don’t know who killed them.  But far more interesting are the why mysteries: why on earth did a guy who’d had a casual fling with Versace then go to his house and shoot him in cold blood?  Will he be caught?  And if so, will the police discover why he did it?  Will the courts?  Will we?  Therein lies the intrigue: I can’t believe I have to wait till Wednesday for the next episode.

Now, as I’m sure you all know, a Fibonacci is None of the Above – neither a fashion designer nor an Italian dish nor an opera singer: it’s a sequence of numbers, sort of like Pi, which seems to be present in nature as well as geometry and architecture.

Like Pi it is a never-ending sequence: I’m not sure to how many decimal places Pi has been calculated now but the Fibonacci sequence goes on forever and is much easier to calculate, being a mere matter of addition.  It goes like this:

Starting with one, each number is the sum of the previous two.


That’s it.

So, starting with one, you get one again because you’re adding one and zero, and then it goes:

2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,144… and so on.  Add infinitum (lol).

What’s the point of it?  Well, it occurs in many natural objects: spiral shells, for one; cauliflowers, for another.

It also has applications in geometry and architecture: this slide sequence also covers the Golden Ratio which has applications in both classical architecture and in the proportions of the human body, and uses the number Phi (I said it was like Pi):

And in an exciting new development I have decided to use the Fibonacci series in my latest novel ‘Tapestry (a picture of modern Britain’.)  This means that the first two chapters will have 1000 words each and the last chapter about 48,000.  I have no idea if it’ll work, but it’ll be interesting to see.

Kirk out


Leave a comment

Filed under language and grammar, novels and longer works, philosophy, TV reviews

Lincoln, Mandiba, Maya and Dante

I don’t know much about Abe Lincoln except what everyone knows: that he was shot in the theatre (ouch) but apparently before he died he suffered from depression.  ‘If there’s a worse place than hell, I’m in it,’ is how he put it.  ‘Ouch’ doesn’t begin to cover that.

Nelson Mandela was despised as a nobody, imprisoned for twenty-seven years and yet became the first black leader of South Africa.  The regime took away his marriage to Winnie and his only son.

Maya Angelou became an elective mute as a child after suffering abuse, as her memoir ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ relates.  And yet she rose to become one of the foremost authors of the US and gave a recital at Bill Clinton’s inauguration.

What these people have in common is both darkness and greatness – and that’s no coincidence.  Most of us spend our lives avoiding darkness.  It’s painful and confusing; it’s unpleasant and frightening.  It can be absolute hell with no let-up.  Yet in the darkness lies the way to greatness.

Darkness comes when everything else runs out; when all the tried-and-tested methods for keeping your life going have ground to a halt, when habit seems meaningless and loved ones remote.  The darkness comes when you are at the absolute end of your strength; when there is not one ounce of energy left within you to try to make things work any more.  It’s like floating on a black sea: there’s nothing you can do but let it happen.

It’s the same journey Dante made when he ‘woke to find himself in a dark wood where.. the right way was lost.’  Dante has one hell of an Easter weekend; going through the inferno on the Friday, purgatory on the Saturday and finally arriving in heaven on Easter Sunday.  What’s interesting is that he never loses sight of the world ‘outside’, knowing at any moment what day and hour it is, where the sun and moon are and whereabouts he actually is (hell is located in the centre of the earth in his cosmology.)

Hell is the worst thing the human imagination can conceive: read James Joyce’s sermon from ‘Portrait of the Artist’ and then try sleeping, if you can:

I couldn’t.  But you don’t need to believe in Biblical sin and damnation to read Dante.  Like all works of genius it transcends the age which spawned it, and today it can be read as a dark night of the soul; a journey through the depths of depression towards realisation and enlightenment.  In Dante’s cosmology the damned are quite separate from those in purgatory who, though they suffer, have hope.  But we need not read it so: for us, as for Dante himself, there can always be the possibility of transformation, of transition to a better place.

Nowadays we have little concept of sin and punishment.  We have thrown out the sins of our fathers and decided that we are our own judge, jury and executioner.  But the greatest sins are those which separate us from others and from our common humanity – which is why the centre of Dante’s inferno is not fire but a frozen lake.

What melts the frozen lake is compassion.  One of the most moving scenes from the film ‘Gandhi’ is where a man comes to him in despair.  ‘I am going to hell,’ he tells the Mahatma.  ‘I took a Muslim child and bashed his brains out against a wall.’

‘I know a way out of hell,’ says the ever-practical Gandhi.  ‘You must find an orphaned Muslim child and raise him yourself – as a Muslim.’

The way out of hell is reconciliation.  Reconciliation melts the frozen lake and allows people to come together.  Where would South Africa have been without the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Mandela instituted?  Where would Maya Angelou have been if she had stored up bitterness and hatred in her heart?  Instead she turned the hell of her childhood into a powerful work of art.  Reconciliation is the way out of hell.

None of us knows for sure what happens when we die, but anyone can find out what happens when we live.  Embrace the darkness, find the truth within it, and move on.

Here’s an article I found helpful when writing this post:

Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, God-bothering, philosophy

Black Dog

OK well it’s not going away so there’s nothing to do but write about it – depression, that is.  Quite unexpectedly along with a chest infection I was recently plunged into a most unpleasant depression: not the kind of blank, grey blanket which descends like a fog, but a squirming black horribleness which threatens to engulf my consciousness and, though the infection has receded, refuses to go away.

I’ve not been so prone to depression in recent years, though I had plenty of it in my twenties: thanks to a firmer footing in life, a grounded family, a reasonable work life and a daily yoga practice I was able to keep myself on a fairly even keel.  And although I had some psychotic episodes about a decade ago I’ve barely suffered an hour or so of depression since I got married.

But lately certain things have been spiralling downwards: a lack of material success in spite of huge daily efforts to make it as a writer; persistent poor sleep, struggles with my thyroid, a partner with gender dysphoria and a son with mental health problems have all taken their toll and I’m sure prepared my system to host the infection in the first place.  I have never been so wiped out by a bug as I was by this one: I was completely exhausted for days.  But as soon as the steroids and antibiotics kicked in, the depression made itself felt.  I haven’t felt like this since my twenties when a promising career and love affair went completely into free-fall.

But this is different – and although I know what it’s about, I don’t know what to do about it.  When I was eight I started to write a novel: that novel got squashed by huge and inexplicable forces which I still don’t understand.  I’ve been trying to get back to it ever since and now I’m there: I just never expected the process to be so deeply unpleasant.  I thought it’d be a kind of liberation but instead it’s utterly horrible, like opening the door to a deep dank hole with all kinds of monsters living in it.

All I know how to do is keep writing – and to believe that things are working out.  As Marcus Aurelius says, ‘love only what happens.  No greater happiness.’  In other words, believe that everything happens for your good, even though it may not feel like it.

I find great comfort in Marcus Aurelius when things seem grim.

Kirk out

Leave a comment

Filed under friends and family, novels and longer works, philosophy

Hell is Other Facebook Friends

I have been reflecting recently on the difficulty of interacting with any decency on Facebook.  I have long since withdrawn from political discussion since any slight disagreement can degenerate in the blink of an eye into a nuclear standoff and the mildest of phrases such as ‘I’m not sure I understand your position here,’ can somehow translate as ‘you are an utter arse and have no right to exist’.  But I thought I’d be safe with closed groups; particularly groups which are there for mutual support.

I can’t say too much without giving away confidential stuff, but yesterday we had a situation.  This situation involved potential harm to a person close to me and I wanted some thoughts – not necessarily advice, but support, consideration, sympathy, comments from anyone in a similar position: the phrase I used was ‘positive thoughts.’  No sooner was my post up than someone commented: not someone I knew in real life, nor someone I’d interacted with before, but still a member of a support group.

What was I thinking?  This is Facebook, for god’s sake – you might as well stick your head above the trench in World War One and ask for the enemy’s opinions on dialectical materialism.  What I got was a blast of hot air from someone who in no uncertain terms told me I had no right to do what I was doing and should do x, y and z immediately.  Clearly to some people the phrase ‘send me positive thoughts’ translates as ‘please give me your strong opinions.’  It hurt: I deleted the post.  Maybe I shouldn’t have done; but I felt wounded by the encounter and unwilling to risk more criticism.

Isn’t it a bit of an over-reaction to feel that way about a few words from someone I don’t even know?  But I don’t think I’m the only one – lately people are opening up less and less on Facebook.  There’s far less personal stuff (even good news can attract some nasty comments) and far more general information.  It’s a shame, but I understand it.  When even a support group turns out to harbour nastiness, where do you go for support?

All of this feeds into the trans debate.  Obviously there is abuse and that shouldn’t happen; but equally, the mildest of questions can trigger an incredibly aggressive response.  I recently had a debate with a F to M trans person who got very angry with me for asking questions and not simply accepting their view of things.  They were rude and aggressive and when I’d had enough and signed out, saying I’d tried to debate respectfully, they said I’d failed.  Well at least I tried, I thought.

Sometimes Facebook feels like a highly dysfunctional household where you have to keep your thoughts to yourself because anything you say can and will be misconstrued.

And yet every time I think of leaving there’s something that pulls me back.

Kirk out



Filed under Facebook, friends and family, philosophy, politics