It’s Your Funeral: the D-Word

We seem to be undergoing something which I am resisting calling a sea-change – let’s call it a land-change – on how to mark death.  Death as a subject is almost as taboo as sex used to be when I was young: it’s considered in poor taste to bring it up in polite conversation.  You can talk about illness all you like, but don’t mention the d-word.  On the other hand there is an explosion of public grief at events like the anniversary of the Manchester bombing.

Let me say this at once: the Manchester bombing and other similar events are terrible.  It could easily have been our daughter had she been a few years younger, and the targeting of young people is particularly horrible.  That those directly affected should show grief in public is entirely understandable.  But as Matthew Parris pointed out yesterday:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b39v43

(it’s about 21 minutes in)

the stiff upper lip has gone and is replaced by almost compulsory public grief.  I can’t summon up much grief for the passing of the SUL, and yet I think somehow things have got a little out of control.  Private grief is probably best expressed privately, by which I don’t mean on your own with a box of tissues (unless that is genuinely best for you) but shared with friends, family members or counsellors.  However that is entirely different from feeling compelled to express emotion at events which don’t affect us in the slightest (Tony Blair comes irresistibly to mind here.)  It’s not enough to care; you must show that you care, and the best way to do that is by shedding a tear.  If you’re being interviewed about some crisis in your life, better cry a little – that way people will take it more seriously.  They will ‘feel your pain.’

On the other hand, there’s the whole funeral phenomenon.  Funerals used to be a time for wearing black and looking solemn; for walking or driving very slowly behind a big black hearse; for wearing veils and looking at the ground.  But nowadays you’re as likely to be asked to ‘wear bright colours’ and ‘celebrate someone’s life’ – and I can’t help feeling there’s an imbalance in all this.  I dislike enforced cheerfulness even more than I dislike enforced misery: at least when wearing black you could look sad; but now we’re all supposed to be joyful.  I’ve even seen a blue hearse – and don’t even get me started on the speed of the average cortege as it nips down the road.  It’s like the one in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ (I can’t find a clip but you know what I mean.)

So on the one hand we have ubiquitous grief on the media; on the other we have bright colours and fast hearses.  What is going on?

Kirk out

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Please Do Try This At Home

I’ve no idea what this post is going to be about but the title came to me and so I put it in.  But I’ve started so I’ll finish, as Magnus Magnusson used to say, and tell you all about easing.  Not quantitative easing (not that I know what that is, though I seem to think it’s about easing the economy by putting a bit more money into it; a sort of Keynsianism lite) nor dressmaking ‘easing’ (which means sewing together two pieces of fabric of different lengths so they end up at the same place) but the normal everyday kind of easing that comes after a period away from work.  Of course, not all of us have that luxury; in today’s exploitative work environment holidays are a luxury, not a right and you are expected not only to hit the ground running but also to make up for lost time.  Bastards.

But since I am my own boss and only crack the whip when I deem it necessary, I am easing myself back into work.  This involves a morning of cutting the hedge (hardly a relaxing activity) followed by a nice cup of tea and a sit-down.

http://www.nicecupofteaandasitdown.com/book/

This is of course a British institution and needs serious conservation work in the age of people having ‘a latte to go’ or some such nonsense.  I mean, most places don’t do proper pots of leaf tea – and when do you EVER get extra hot water?  It’s an outrage.

Anyway, that’s my morning of easing.  Nice’n’easy – and yes, maybe you should try this at home.

Kirk out

Good in Parts? Is There a Cure?

The latest in a loooooooooong line of pretentious verbs all got up to make ordinary tasks seem like something special, is to curate.  This may have been a verb in museum circles where people quite legitimately curate exhibitions, though publicly I recall the usual form was to state that ‘the curator of the exhibition was so-and-so’ rather than ‘so-and-so curated this exhibition.’  I think there’s a sort of ramping-up of importance going on here, an attempt to make things sound much more thingish, as Pooh bear would say; things which are otherwise quite ordinary.  So you have a person who puts a few things together and, hey presto, you’ve curated something.

Viz: this thing that came through my door this morning.  Now like many people I get little enough post these days and what I do get is generally unwelcome.  So when an envelope with my name on it came through the door, even though I knew it was probably junk, I bore it upstairs and ceremoniously prised it open.

It was a nice maroon envelope containing a piece of thick card.  An invitation, it said.  Do they really think that works on anyone any more?  I opened the card and read:

Invitation to join our exclusive membership programme that brings you a host of members-only ballots, incredible events and great offers.  We’ll also bring you guides, interviews and features…

Now like me you will not only have noticed the cliched ‘host’ but spotted that this is long on verbiage and short on information.  What are the ballots about?  What exactly are these incredible events?  Will I even want the offers?

It’s all irrelevant to me anyway because no matter how tempting the offers or how incredible the events I won’t be able to afford them.  That’s one thing about having no money – you can make your mind up pretty quickly on things.  Life’s too short to bother about special offers unless it’s for something you really need.  But here’s the killer blow:

… all specially curated for our members.

There it is – that word again.  Basically someone has put together a few things and called it curating.  There’s a word for this ‘bumping-up’ of importance, and the word is ‘reification’ – making a thing out of something that really isn’t anything:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reification

Oh but wait!  Down the bottom there are some examples: I can win tickets to see Tony Hadley (who he?) or go on a cruise to the continent (no thanks.)

So all in all I think it’s a no.  But it was the misuse of the word curate that clinched the deal – in my day curate was a trainee vicar with a dodgy egg…

Kirk out

PS – Tony Hadley is apparently ex-Spandau Ballet.  So that’s a definite no then…

Freedom of Sp-

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Freedom of speech is a very thorny issue at the moment, and the latest spike in this thorn-bush is the proposed visit of Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, to the UK.  Here are two views on that proposed visit:

https://www.premier.org.uk/News/UK/EXCLUSIVE-Franklin-Graham-on-visit-to-UK-I-m-not-coming-to-preach-hate

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/07/us-evangelical-preacher-franklin-graham-uk-critics

Now I never particularly liked Billy Graham; I’m generally suspicious of popular preachers and prefer dialogue to evangelism, but his son seems to take it to a whole new level, denouncing Islam as a religion and gays and lesbians for the usual tedious reasons.  Apart from the fact that he seems to have a very short memory about the practices of Christianity (many of which are similar to fundamentalist Islam today) people naturally take offence and think that his views have no place in a multicultural society.  And when I read about him in Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_Graham

I tended to agree.  I don’t want those views spread over here.  No thanks.

But there’s the thing: people used to say, ‘I disagree profoundly with what you’re saying but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’  People used to say that freedom of speech meant the freedom to say anything except to shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded building.  So here’s the question: does insulting Muslims in a multicultural society constitute shouting ‘fire!’ in a burning building?

Last weekend’s Observer contained an opinion piece entitled: ‘Even Those with the Vilest of Views Have a Right to be Heard.’ (I can’t link to it as the whole thing is behind a paywall.)  But the premise of the article is that people like Martin Sellner of ‘Defend Europe’ who stop charities from rescuing drowning refugees, or Lauren Southern who thinks Hitler was just a Social Justice Warrior who got lucky, should not have been prevented from entering this country because their views, no matter how vile, have a right to be heard.  I totally disagree.  But here’s the thing: where do we draw the line?  Where is the division between strong opinion and hate speech?

I’m quite uneasy about some current tendencies.  I disagree profoundly with Germaine Greer’s comments on transgender women (although according to the article here she seems to have backtracked a little)

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/12/germaine-greer-tells-qa-her-trans-views-were-wrong-but-then-restates-them

as they were not a helpful contribution to the debate.  But I don’t think they constitute hate speech.  They constitute strong, blunt, even rude opinion – but that is not something that should be shut down.  Yet many universities have decided to ‘no-platform’ her.

We should think about this concept of ‘platforming’.  There is a difference between somebody having a ‘platform’ – being allowed to express opinions unopposed – and being on a platform as part of a debate with other speakers.  But surely, even if you have a platform, in a wider sense the debate goes on anyway?  People respond on social media and in the press; often these things make the news and magazine programmes faster than the speed of light, triggering an even wider range of opinion.  So maybe instead of ‘no-platforming’ people like Greer we should be saying, ‘come and have a go if you think you’re cogent enough.’  Robust debate is essential in any healthy society – and surely if universities are about anything they are about fostering this?  If students cannot hear and rebut strong opinions, no matter how much they dislike them, then what kind of adults are we producing?  There is already too much of a tendency for people to stay in their own little enclaves (especially on social media) where rarely a voice is heard from outside.

On the other side of the debate I hear stories of vulnerable young people struggling with identity and sexuality; I hear stories of attacks proliferating after certain people are allowed to speak; I hear of hatred on the rise.

So what do we do?  A line must be drawn somewhere.

Personally I was pleased that Martin Sellner and Lauren Southern were turned away at the border.  Their views are so extreme and their actions so horrid and harmful that I don’t want them here.  Then again at the same time I would like, Louis Theroux-style, to have the opportunity to debate with them.  After all, how else can we change their minds?

It concerns me greatly that nuanced debate is being shoved aside in favour of something resembling a gladiatorial conquest.  Yes, it’s painful to have your deeply-held views challenged, but it can be beneficial.  A debate can often (though not always) change people’s minds: it can also help to clarify your own views by setting them up against other people’s.  How well do your arguments stand up?  Do they have holes in them?  Are you as well-informed as you imagine?

As I’ve said before with the trans agenda, only with debate can true acceptance (as opposed to putting up and shutting up) come.  Only with open debate can understanding arise.

Yes, there is a line between free speech and hate speech.  But where the hell is it?

Kirk out

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:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43745/andrea-del-sarto

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

 

 

 

 

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!

Grrrrrrrr.

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.

Grrrr.

Kirk out

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:

https://www.leonardcohenfiles.com/goodadvice.html

Here’s some more information on Marcus Aurelius:

http://www.society-for-philosophy-in-practice.org/index.php/publications/pp-journal/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=131:ppr-spiritual-teachings-of-marcus-aurelius&catid=61:ancient-philosophy-reviews&Itemid=77

and a load of good sayings of his:

https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/marcus_aurelius

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:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0276751/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Kirk out