Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"I think that it is an uncovering process, and I try not to necessarily accept the first or easiest solution. Making a work is a digging down process. I was thinking about it last night — how one of the things in practice is to really be in the moment and accept things as they are. And I was wondering about that in terms of the dissatisfaction aspect, because often one of the problems in art is that people are too easily satisfied. There needs to be some kind of sifting process, where you take the time and patience to work through the easiest and most superficial solutions in order to discover something deeper.

I always think of the way that I work as similar to making a soup. You have vegetables and then you put them in the water and then the vegetables stay vegetables for a while. You just allow them to be separate — the carrots are carrots, the peas are peas and everything is just simmering. You’re working very slowly, and little by little the vegetables start boiling down, and then little by little the soup becomes absolutely essentialized. That’s what I really think the process is about. And that takes some time and patience."

(Meredith Monk)
What seems a lifetime ago I taught a handful of students from Shimer College as part of their Oxford Programme. I can remember their faces & enthusiasm (& excruciatingly bad prose) as well as the conversations - but the names ... sadly no. A Kelly, an Eric maybe? Strange to think they'll be in their mid-forties by now.

Strange, too, to read that Shimer has been rated as the "worst college in America" (at least according to an article in The Guardian). The usual caveats apply but it really does seem that the institution is struggling - numbers dwindling, the educational philosophy out of synch with the times.

I remember being struck by the earnestness & unabashed confidence with which they talked about ideas it would be fair to say they barely understood. I mentioned Beckett - "oh yeah, we did him last year in Nothingness". The Hundred Great Books (the very concept jarred with my Critical Theory riddled intellectual soul) were ploughed through at an alarming rate.

However, without Kelly & his mates I might never have realised Talking Heads were worth a listen. & how a farewell remark by their supervisor - "you know, they really dug your classes - you should teach" - lodged somewhere despite all the denials that were screaming in my head & perhaps began to shape a future of which I was utterly unaware.

Since then I have taught many generations of students & found almost without exception that the ones I warm to are the 'oddballs' - the very characters to which a college such as Shimer offers a home.

In a university climate which is increasingly determined by student-consumer 'value for money', career advancement, cynical self-promotion - or pure hedonism - maybe Shimer is exactly what's needed. Dispense with the secondary texts. Read for yourself. Have an opinion. Connect what's on the page with your life. Care about ideas.

Isn't that what going to college is really all about? ...

Monday, December 08, 2014

Strikes, road blocks, pickets, no go ... the various discourses of protest.

The car is frozen up - what do you call that when machinery imitates the human (technological pathetic fallacy?). We leave under cover of darkness - scabs, dissidents, or simply the uninvolved.

We drive unimpeded. If anything the traffic is more fluid than usual. Park. Walk through the gates with - if we're honest - a vague sense of disappointment. Little to triumph.

The return is similarly uneventful.

Yet - as often happens when the quotidian routine is uprooted - there's a pleasure in discovering different relations, conversations, cracks through which possibility emerges.

Irrespective of solidarity with the cause (or not) it has been a Deleuzean day: blocks & flows.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Jog Blog update.

This week: outings on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday & today (30 mins, 30 mins, 30 mins, 25 mins respectively).

I've now worked out a circuit in the woods which depending on mood I take clockwise or anticlockwise taking in the ducks & the pond (or not). The beech leaves are darkening into a deep red. New hellos - yellows, but I like the auto fill for once - from the chestnut trees.

Yesterday I left earlier & ran in the pre-sunrise dark along the roads. There was a soggy pink notebook on the ground near the tram stop which I placed on the bench. (Good deed for the day). Few cars but it's not the same running on pavements with only the street lights for company. Give me the birds & the trees any day.

Obviously only an idiot would decide to take up jogging in the approach to winter - ever later dawns, ever earlier dusks, rain ... drizzle ... ice ... . However, I'll persevere. Some secret hunger within my Puritan soul is being assuaged. The girls wince at my outfit - bobble hat, amorphous layers, clashing colours. Who cares? I defy Lycra!

Thus we shuffle on ...

Russell Hobbs recalls exploding irons that 'burst into flames' ...

... I read & just for a moment think now why would he do that? A surrealist Proustian epiphany? A missed episode of some Reality TV show?

& then the penny drops.

Good name for a character, though, in that novel I am perpetually not writing. Armitage Shanks another. & I remember Kimberley Clark from Bristol days & Jacob Delafon down in Burgundy (but Keith Waldrop nabbed him). Otis in the lifts ... & those two Belgian lads Villeroy & Boch ...

Dominoes for the numerically challenged or Scrabble for illiterates?

A Vispo crossword puzzle?

In fact, our first game of Qwirkle.

Good old St. Nicholas left it behind on Saturday morning (what a jolly nice chap he is).

I came third, E second, & - thank God - L won (that way we might get to play again).

Much hilarity was evinced by all concerning innuendo when saying "I want a Qwirkle" etc.. No doubt a word that will pass into the belgianwaffle family lexicon.

Good game, good game ...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

(doorway, 29.xi.14)

Jog blog update ...

This morning - having already stretched the limbs a bit walking down for the bread - I set off from the front door (7:30) jogging up to the main road, along to the lights, then into the woods & the full circuit down to the pond.

Just me & the ducks.

& the clock says 8:00.

A personal best - & no pauses. Rewind two weeks & I wouldn't have believed it was possible. As C. says, we hardly realise what our bodies are capable of. Maybe those two months of regular walking have made the transition easier. Or it's the magic shoes.

Admittedly, the first 5 minutes are an effort. The calf muscles complain, the front of the shins, too. However, by the time I'm up to the end of the main avenue of trees & the steep climb is over, the body is getting into rhythm. Entering the return path & I really feel I could go on for another half an hour. Hard to credit. Prudence takes over (she runs by my side, always - accompanied by Sheer Sloth) & I decide not to push my luck. If I can maintain 30 minutes as the limit for the next few weeks then that's bloody amazing as far as I'm concerned. Three outings per week (this week it's been Monday, Thursday & today) that'll do.

Another big thanks to those people who've said an encouraging word.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jog Blog Update ...

This morning I go for an hour's walk through the woods. It's tempting to break into a trot, push it, but a little Welsh voice is reminding me not to do too much, too quickly.

Yesterday, I managed a 20 minute jog with ten minutes of walking either side. So, looking back over the week, that means three outings (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) with the proper foot equipment.

For anyone reading who is wondering whether jogging is for them, I'll share these thoughts.

First, it is true that you can shift a gear above walking pace if you remember to keep your jog rhythm within your heart rate. Try & run & you'll be coughing your guts up within 2 minutes. (Exactly what I used to do). That said, I have the impression that I'm going a little quicker on the home strait - as if the body's adjusting.

Second, forget trying to compete with the Lycra crowd - they've been doing this for years. Just follow your own rhythm. I find I enter into a strange space of inner & outer awareness - my feet, my arms, sweat, breathing & leaves on the ground, the sky, bird calls ... Dog walkers don't seem to notice you. Other runners give you a friendly nod or are off in their own world. Maybe the trees are smiling.

Third, intersperse with walking &/or pauses if that seems right. I noticed that yesterday I was able to go further than either Tuesday or Thursday.

Fourth, the 'runner's high' is a fact & bloody amazing. Maybe it's even more acute for a beginner as your body is wondering what the hell is going on. Even as I walk back I can sense the difference. After a shower you're almost floating. The brain seems sharper, colours & smells more intense, your palms 'buzz'. You feel (in my case) decades younger. Although the legs are obviously getting a work out, the stomach feels tighter & your back 'open' (if that makes sense). So far I cannot complain of any aches or pains - perhaps as I had been walking a lot before & I'm also getting into it gradually. That's why the non-running days are crucial.

I suppose what this all amounts to is: it's worth a go.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ten days after I was in Fnac buying that travesty of a new album by Pink Floyd, there I am again this morning & this time buying the 'new' collection of old Wyatt recordings released under the title Different Every Time. It's very clearly timed to coincide with the biography by Marcus O'Dair - & there's nothing wrong with that.

Imagine how I smile as I read the booklet containing a quotation from an email sent by RW to O'D:

"I can be kind and easy going in the social world ... but I am utterly assertive and ruthless when it comes to what music is released in my name ..."

Well, quite. & there's more music of interest in 5 minutes of this collection than the combined efforts of Floyd & their array of producers & session men managed in the entire sorry length of Endless River.

Highlights so far - Shipbuilding (of course), God Song, the collaboration with Anja Garbarek (a real find).

Is this a 'last album'? I hope not. Anyone who loves good music would want to hear more from this man - quietly establishing a William Blake-like tradition of modest home production of Works for Eternity (just look at that photo!).

Cheers the ears up no end.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jog Blog update ...

... 20 mins with a 10 min walk either side up to the woods & back. Beautiful autumn afternoon sun, smells of leaf rot & dog faeces grace the nostrils ...

Lest I be misunderstood, I record this not to show off. More to prove to myself I can break a stupid habit of a lifetime & just maybe there's someone out there who'll feel 'well - if that lazy sod can do it, so can I'.

Thanks to the Encouragers out there.