Good Morning? If You Say So

I’m feeling rather gloomy and Eeyoreish this morning.  When I feel like this I’m unwilling to foist my Eeyoreishness onto others, because I know what that feels like and it ain’t pretty, so instead I thought, what better time to compose a cheerful blog post?  Because I know that being cheerful outwardly can lead to feeling cheerful inside.  However, before I begin smiling, this requires a caveat.  I think there’s something deeply wrong with enforced cheerfulness: as I said before in the post about Dismaland:

enforced ‘happiness’ can be terrible for your mental health because it’s not real.  Before you can begin to be happy you first have to acknowledge your sadness or depression or pain or gloom: otherwise that’s called denial.

But once you’ve done that; once you’ve acknowledged the pain and sadness, there is much to be said for a cheerfulness which is a considered choice: one which looks at the awfulness of a world where Brexit threatens to smash up just about everything; a world where Trump is still President and where Brazilians have just elected (albeit by a narrow margin) a possibly even more repellent leader than DT and where just about the nicest, most generous football club owner ever has just been killed in a helicopter crash:

Image result for mourning Leicester city logo

image removed on request

What sort of a world is this?  It’s a bloody awful one.  So give me my parachute because I want to bail out right now.  I don’t want to be here in this place where everywhere you turn there are more and more reasons for despair.  I want to leave, thank you very much.

So, having said all that (and taken cognisance of the fact that there’s nowhere else to go*) you can do one of two things: despair or hope.  And I choose hope.  ‘Strong men know not despair, Arjuna,’ says Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (let’s be generous and take ‘men’ as including women) and so I choose hope, even in the midst of despair.  Even in the depths of Dante’s hell there is, as Dorothy L Sayers points out, a tra-la of happiness:

Per me si va ne la città dolente,
per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.

(Canto III)

Literature is full of such examples: in the land of the dead where there is no hope at all, Lyra refuses to accept the reality she is presented with, insisting instead on finding a way out:

and, terrible though the Inferno is, Dante eventually finds a way through to Purgatory

As for me, when I feel despair I think of a river.  No matter what obstacles a river faces, whether rock or stone or earth or deep chasms, it will find a way through.  It may take time and persistence but the steady drip-drip, the insistent push of water will in the end break down the hardest rock.  Even dams need an outlet – and constant maintenance.

So be the river.  Find a way through, not a way out.

Kirk out

* without either committing suicide or trying to live on Mars, neither of which appeal



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

An O, an Ass, a Gnat

This seemed like a great title for a post at 6 o’clock this morning but now I can’t think of a single thing to put with it.  So… I’ll just tell you about my morning.  It was great!  Epiphany at Epiphany (ie on 6th January when it’s supposed to be) and some thoughts on how for most people Christmas is over and done with whereas religiously speaking it’s Still Going On, what with the three kings on camels etc etc; a makeshift camel and some limbo-dancing by children with the hump – and then! my Martyrs end-of-year poem, which is reproduced in the e-book.  I’ll just give you a taste:

The Trapezoid Kestrel

It’s been a year of high and low

– a game of two halves, in a sense;

as Dears return and Castles go

the one, the other’s recompense;

there’s sadness at the loss of Sarah,

we’ll miss her coloured opulence

and likewise Martin’s morning prayer

but that’s another poem, so

to sum the year up in a pair

or two of verses that I’ve hoarded

forever and a day recorded –

or till the Chancel is re-ordered.

That’s the first verse.  I’ve done it, as you will have spotted, mostly in terza rima, which was the rhyme-scheme used by Dante in his Inferno and which gives an impression of time and events going on relentlessly.  The end of each verse has a number of rhyming lines leading up to a running joke about the chancel re-ordering, which seemed to take forever.  It was well-received and I gave out loads of bookmarks and cards afterwards publicising the e-book.  I don’t need to tell you the address:

I’m trying to think of a way to link in the title.  What’s that quote about straining at a gnat?  Well!  Whaddayaknow?  It’s about camels!  The thing fits in by itself: ‘You strain at a gnat but swallow a camel.’

So here we are.  ‘O what an ass am I.  I’ve swallowed a camel.’

And that’s the thought for today…

Kirk out

On Limericks

Thanks Doug for your comments on my limericks.  Here’s another one which I wrote for someone who was my guide through a dark place:

I walked in the temples of hell

those halls where the famous do dwell:

I said, Let’s up the ante

you Virgil, me Dante –

there’s a market, so get out and sell.

(the last line was a quote from Thatcher, reportedly speaking to arms dealers.  That woman made my blood run cold)

Abandon hope…

Poetry is pouring from every pore.  Here’s another

The Post

More bad news; the world

wants our money

it wants it here, and it wants it now

– that’s the end

of the news.

Incidentally, there’s a reference there to “Withnail and I” the excellent film with Richard E Grant and Paul McGann

In this scene, Richard E Grant corpses so badly that in the end they just keep it in.  (Incidentally, I find the “death” imagery in comedy interesting – eg “I died”, “I killed them” etc.)

I’m working on another poem called, “On Not Being Published”.  It’s not fit to be seen yet, but when it’s thrown a few clothes on and brushed its teeth, I’ll give you a glimpse.

Discouraging event this morning – I received a comment from someone about the blog which I thought was genuine but which turned out to be spam.

There is a circle of hell reserved exclusively for spammers.

Per me si va tra la citta dolente

per me si va tra la perduta gente

Dante is awesome