Monday, 30 March 2015

Jest for Laughs

Something silly. Because a blog, especially a happy one, cannot always be serious and ponderous.

Week 13: Surprise Someone

The theme for this week is the classic concept summarized in the phrase a "random act of kindness." In its randomness, these actions come as surprises to the recipients. Look for those you can perform spontaneously without a lot of effort (and do some, thus providing you with a surprise of your own!), and at least one that involves you having to plan your action in advance.

For the planned act of kindness, choose someone you think would really benefit from being the recipient of a positive surprise and provide it. Enlist others in support of this if you want to increase the scope of the kindness.

For inspiration, take some time to think about all the things that public employees do to make your life easier. Perhaps your surprise will be for one of them.

Summarize your experience in your kindness journal.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

Friday, 27 March 2015

shower the people you love with me - James Taylor

And he said, Jenn, this one's for you:

How can you stand there with your broken heart, ashamed of playing the fool?... When you tell somebody the way you feel, you can feel it beginning to ease, you know it's true what they say about the squeaky wheel, always getting the grease...better to shower the people you love with love, and show them the way that you feel, I know things are gonna be just fine if you only will...

And I was weeping because I was sad...and it was like a little touch, a little reaching out, a little warmth.

And I drove back through rain-drenched streets feeling, nothing very much, misery and grief that existed but didn't overwhelm. And I felt...well, I felt ease.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

From Convict to Craftsman: Re-Skilling former Inmates in Sicily, Italy

Doing research for an article for work, I found the following you see, people are making a difference, banks (the right kind of banks) are making a difference. So don't believe the naysayers, OK?

The Messina Community Foundation was founded to promote personal development to vulnerable adults by integrating education, welfare and craftsmanship. It is a thriving social enterprise providing training in traditional local skills, employing and reintegrating former inmates of the psychiatric prison hospital of Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto. All surpluses from its income-generating activities are re-invested in social and cultural projects that involve the local community. The Foundation has been recognised by the OECD, UNOPS and WHO as one of the most interesting local welfare and development models in the world.

The Messina Community Foundation is an act of love for people who have been below the threshold of economic and social poverty for years, but who still believe that, with imagination, determination and commitment, it is possible to generate change and freedom.

The Messina Community Foundation is also symbolic because of its location in an underdeveloped part of Southern Italy, where there is a huge gap between rich and poor, and where civil society is still in the grip of organised crime and extortion. The headquarters of the Foundation are in artistic and natural sites, reclaimed from the occupation by the mafia. With this background, the Foundation has the fight against the mafia in its blood – its partners and network of enterprises continue the daily fight against all forms of crime; starting with total transparency in their production relationships through to reporting any observation of protection rackets or extortion. The Foundation is fully independent, not reliant on the government and even generates its own electricity using solar panels.

The Foundation is involved in numerous social and environmental initiatives. One of these initiatives is located on land owned by the Ministry for Justice outside the Barcellona Pozzodi Gotto psychiatric prison hospital, where plants, flowers, fruit and vegetables are grown in order to sell via cooperative buying groups jointly promoted by the Slow Food Movement. “We must remember that first and foremost we eat our food with our brains and then our mouth, because everything we produce and serve must have a positive environmental and human impact” says one of the Foundation’s staff. The Foundation also works on numerous cultural projects for the Strait of Messina, including music festivals, literature promotion and the initiation of music to babies and children from the city.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

To the Beloved

Extinguish my eyes, I'll go on seeing you.
Seal my ears, I'll go on hearing you,
And without feet I can make my way to you,
without a mouth I can swear your name.

Break off my arms, I'll take hold of you
with my heart as with a hand.
Stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat.
And if you consume my brain with fire,
I'll feel you burn in every drop of my blood.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Monday, 23 March 2015

Week 12: On Sharing

What do you have that you can share? Begin right away, today, thinking about this.

Typically, in childhood, sharing has to do with toys or supplies or food, all of which are fine things to share in the spirit of this theme. But also consider things you can share that may not be material items, like your wisdom or knowledge.

Like the children's song "Magic Penny" that says when you give away love you end up having more, use this exercise to see how true sharing actually increases the amount of what's most important: love, joy, happiness. On the flip side, sharing hate and intolerance increases those things, too. Try to share less of those kinds of things this week.

So this week, share something positive and uplifting. And what the heck, try sharing something every day this week. Share a variety of things, including material things like a spoonful of your ice cream, physical things like a hug, and emotional things like your undivided attention. Tune in to those things you regularly share but you might not normally notice you do it.

Include as much of your new awareness about sharing in this week's journal entry.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Date Yourself!

My good friend Anita sent me the following...and I loved it so much, well, here it is on my happy blog:

Date yourself.

In fact, take yourself up the coast for a romantic getaway.

Right now.

Do it!

Throw a bag in the backseat, crank up the iPod and roll the windows down so you can feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your skin. Sing as loud as you can.

When you find that little café that overlooks the sea, ask for a seat by the window and order the most expensive dish and the finest wine—you deserve the best.

Don’t take a book or check Facebook on your phone, give yourself your undivided attention. Savor the meal in silent rapture, let the flavors linger on your luscious lips and incite your taste buds to orgasmic pleasure. Then, look for that cozy bed and breakfast you read about in the Times five years ago and check yourself in.

Flirt with the one who shows you to your room as if you were in olove with the world, then throw yourself passionately onto the big comfy bed with 700 thread count sheets and a down comforter. Sink into that linen embrace and hold yourself tight. Caress one silky shin with your other pedicured foot and cradle your precious face with both hands.

Fall asleep with the memory of every hug you ever received and a smile on your face.

In the morning, linger over breakfast, smiling at whoever meets your gaze. But make it clear you are happily “with someone”—your own lovely self.

For the rest of the weekend, ask graciously,

“What do I want to do now?”

Then do it. And after that,

“What do I want to do now?”

When your thoughts wander, follow them. When your body speaks, listen closely. At some point, you will feel the magic and know it is time to make a commitment.

Marry yourself.

Yes, now.

You don’t even need a license. Just a quiet place to make your silent vows to love, honor and protect yourself; to be faithful and true to yourself. Until death. But be clear, this is for real, and it’s for Life.

Breaking this vow will bring more heartache than you can imagine. And when you return home, feeling whole and holy for the first time ever, call your ex and authentically wish him joy in his new relationship. Then call all your loved ones over to celebrate your union. Then, call the one you have not dared to call before.


You are ready.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Biology of Belief - by Bruce Lipton (full documentary)

If you're one of those people who believe you're going to get sick because of "genetics' you really should watch this video. It thinks otherwise.

Friday, 20 March 2015


Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be fray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

Sonnets to Orpheus, Rainer Maria Rilke

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Music Master

"Our former Music Master was your teacher, of course," Knecht said, "and you were very fond of him. Do you see him often nowadays?"

"No." Carlo replied. "That is, I see him fairly often, of course, when he is taking his walk, say, and I happen to becoming out of the library. But I haven't talked with him for months. He is more and more, withdrawing and no longer seems able to bear sociability. In the past he used to set aside an evening for people like me, those among his former subordinates who are officials in Monteport now; but that stopped about a year ago. It amazed us all that he went to Waldzell for your investiture."

"Ah yes," Knecht said. "But when you do see him occasionally, haven't you been struck by any change in him?"

"Oh yes. You mean his fine appearance, his cheerfulness, his curious radiance? Of course we have noticed that. While his strength is diminishing, that serene cheerfulness is constantly increasing. We have grown accustomed to it. But I suppose it would strike you."

"His secretary Petrus sees far more of him than you do." Knecht exclaimed, "but he hasn't grown accustomed to it, as you say. He came specially to Waldzell, on a plausible excuse, of course, to urge me to make this visit. What do you think of him.

"Of Petrus? He has a first-rate knowledge of music, though he's more on the pedantic than brilliant side - a rather slow-moving if not slow-witted person. He's totally devoted to the former Music Master and would give his life for him. I imagine his serving the master he idolises is the whole content of his life; he's obsessed by him. Didn't you have that impression too?"

"Obsessed? Yes, but I don't think this young man is obsessed simply by a fondness and passion; he's not just infatuated with his old teacher and making an idol out of him, but obsessed and enchanted by an actual and genuine phenomenon which he sees better, or has better understood emotionally, than the rest of you. I want to tell you how it struck me. When I went to the former Master today, after not having seem him for six months, I expected little or nothing from this visit, after the hints his secretary had dropped. I had simply been alarmed to think that the revered old man might suddenly depart from us in the near future, and has hastened here in order to see him at least once more. When he recognised and greeted me, his face glowed, but he said no more than my name and shook hands with me. That gesture, too, and his hand, seemed to me also to glow; the whole man, or at least his eyes, his white hair, and his rosy skin, seemed to emit a cool, gentle radiance. I sat down with him. He sent the student away, just with a look, and there began the oddest conversation I have ever had. At the beginning, I admit it was very disturbing and depressing for me, and shaming also, for I kept addressing the old man, or asking questions, and his only answer to anything was a look. I could not make out whether my questions and the things I told him were anything but an annoying noise to him. He confused, disappointed, and tired me; I felt altogether superfluous and importunate. Whatever I said to the Master, the only response was a smile and a brief glance. If those glances had not been so full of good will and cordiality, I would have been forced to think that he was frankly making fun of me, of my stories and questions, of the whole useless trouble I had taken to come and visit him. As a matter of fact, his silence and his smile did indeed contain something of the sort. They were actually a form of fending me off and reproving me, except that they were so in a different way, on a different plane of meaning from, say, mocking words. I had first to wear myself out and suffer total shipwreck with what had seemed to me my patient efforts to start a conversation, before I began to realise that the old man could easily have manifested a patience, persistence, and politeness a hundred times greater than mine. Perhaps this episode lasted only 15 minutes or half an hour; it seemed to me me like half a day. I began to feel sad, tired, and angry, and to repent my journey. My mouth felt dry. There sat the man I revered, my patron, my friend, whom i had loved and trusted ever since I could think, who had always responded to whatever I might say - there he sat and listened to me talk, or perhaps did not listen to me, and had barricaded himself completely behind his radiance and smile, behind his golden mask, unreachable, belonging to a different world with different laws; and everything I tried to bring by speech from our world to his ran off him like rain from a stone. At last - I had already given up on hope - he broke through the magic wall; at least he helped me; at least he said a few words. Those were the only words I heard him speak today.

"'You are tiring yourself, Joseph,' he said softly, his voice full of that touching friendliness, and solicitude, you know so well. That was all. 'You are tiring yourself, Joseph.' As if he had long been watching me engaged in a too-strenuous task and wanted to admonish me to stop. He spoke the words with some effort, as though he had not used his lips for speaking for a long time. And at that moment he laid his hand on my arm - it was light as a butterfly - looked penetratingly into my eyes, and smiled. At that moment I was conquered. Something of his cheerful silence, something of his patience and calm, passed into me; and suddenly I understood the old man and the direction his nature had taken, away from people and toward silence, away from words and toward music, away from ideas and toward unity. I understood what I was privileged to see here, and now for the first time grasped the meaning of this smile, this radiance. A saint, one who had attained perfection, had permitted me to dwell in his radiance for an hour; and blunderer that I am, I had tried to entertain him, to question him, and to seduce him into a conversation. Thank God the light had not dawned on me too late. He might have sent me away and thus rejected me forever. And I would have been deprived of the most remarkable and wonderful experience I have ever had."

"I see," Ferromonte said thoughtfully, "that you have discovered something akin to a saint in our former Music Master. A good think that you and none other has told me about this. I confess that I would have received such a story with the greatest distrust from anyone else. I am, taken all in all, not fond of mysticism; as a musician and historian I am pedantically given to neat classification. Since we Castalians are neither a Christian congregation nor a Hindu or Taoist monastery, I do not see that any of us qualify for sainthood - that is, for a purely religious category. Coming from anyone but you, Joseph - excuse me, I mean Domine - I would regard any such ascription as going off the deep end. But I imagine you do not mean to initiate canonisation proceedings for our former Master; you would scarcely find a competent consistory for them in our Order. No, don't interrupt me, I am speaking seriously; I don't mean that as a joke at all. You have told me about an experience, and I must admit that I feel somewhat ashamed, because neither I nor any of my colleagues her at Monteport has entirely overlooked the phenomenon you describe. No, we have merely noticed it and paid it little heed. I am reflecting on the reason for my failure and my indifference. One explanation of course is the fact that you encountered the Master's transformation as a finished product, whereas I witnessed its slow evolution. The former Magister you saw months ago and the one you saw today differed sharply from each other, whereas we, his neighbours, meeting him every so often, observed almost imperceptible changes. But I admit that this explanation doesn't satisfy me. If something like a miracle is taking place before our eyes, however quietly and slowly, we ought to have been more stirred by it than we have been, and would have been if we had been unbiased. Here I think, I've on the reason for my obtuseness; I was not in the least unbiased. I failed to observe the phenomenon because I did not want to observe it. Like everyone else, I noticed our Master's increasing withdrawal and taciturnity, and the concurrent increase in his friendliness, the ever-brighter and more ethereal radiance of his face when we met, and he responded mutely to my greeting, I noticed that, of course, and so did everyone else. But I fought against seeing anything more in it, and I fought against it not from lack of reverence for the old Magister, but in part out of distaste for the cult of personality and enthusiasm in general, in part out of distaste for such enthusiasm in this special case, for the kind of cult the student Petrus practices with his idolisation of the Master. I've only fully realised all this as you were telling me your story."

Knecht laughed. "That was quite a roundabout way for you to discover your own dislike for poor Petrus." he said. "But what now? Am I also a mystic and enthusiast? And I too indulging in the forbidden cult of personality and hagiolatry? Or are you admitting to me what you won't admit to the student, that we have seen and experienced something real, objective, not mere dreams and fancies?"

"Of course I admit it to you," Carlo replied slowly and thoughtfully. "No one is going to deny your experience or doubt the beauty and serenity of the Magister who can smile at us in that incredible way. The question is only: Where do we classify this phenomenon? What do we call it, how explain it? That sounds like the pedantic schoolmaster, but we Castalians are schoolmasters, after all; and if I want to classify and find a term for your and our experience, it is not because I wish to destroy its beauty by generalising it, but because I want to describe and preserve it as distinctly as possible. If on a journey I hear a peasant or child humming a melody I have never heard before, that is likewise an important experience for me, and if I immediately try to transcribe this melody as precisely as I can, I am not dismissing and filing it away, but paying due honour to my experience, and taking care that it is not lost."

Knecht gave him a friendly nod. "Carlo," he said. "it is a great pity we can so rarely see each other any more. Not all my friendships of youth survive reunions. I came to you with my story about the old Magister because you are the only person here whose knowing and sharing it matters to me. Now I must leave it to you to do with my story whatever you like, and to assign whatever term you will to our Master's transfigured state. It would make me happy if you would call on him and stay in his aura for a little while. His state of grace, perfection, wisdom of age, bliss, or whatever we want to call it, may belong to religious life. But although we Castalians have neither denominations nor churches, piety is not altogether unknown to us. And our former Music Master in particular was always a thoroughly pious person. Since there are accounts of blessed, perfected, radiant, transfigured souls in many religions, why should not our Castalian piety occasionally have this kind of blossoming?...It is late by now - I ought to go to sleep - I must leave early tomorrow morning. But I hope to come back soon. Let me just briefly tell you the end of my story. After he had said to me, 'You are tiring yourself,' I was at last able to stop straining at conversation; I managed not only to be still, but to turn my will away from the foolish goal of using words in the effort to probe this man of silence and draw profit from him. And the moment I gave up on that effort and left everything to him, it all went of its own accord. You may want to substitute terms of your own for mine, but please listen to me, even if I seem vague or confound categories, I stayed about an hour or an hour and half with the old man, and I cannot communicate to you what went on between us or what was exchanged; certainly no words were spoken. I felt, after my resistance was broken, only that he received into his peace and his brightness; cheerful serenity and a wonderful peace enclosed the two of us. Without my having deliberately and consciously meditated, it somewhat resembled an unusually successful and gladdening meditation whose subject might have been the Magister's life. I saw or felt him and the course of his growth from the time he first entered my life, when I was a boy, up to this present moment. His was a life of devotion and work, but free of obstructions, free of ambition, and full of music. It was as if by becoming a musician and Music Master he had chosen music as one of the ways toward man's highest goal, inner freedom, purity, perfection, and as though ever since making that choice he had done nothing but let himself be more and more permeated, transformed, purified by music - his entire self from his nimble, clever pianist's hands and his vast well-stocked musician's memory to all the parts and organs of body and soul, to his pulses and breathing, to his sleep and dreaming - so that he was now only a symbol, or rather a manifestation, a personification of music. At any rate, I experienced what radiated from him, or what surged back and forth between him and me like rhythmic breathing entirely as music, as an altogether immaterial esoteric music which absorbs everyone who enters its magic circle as a song for many voices absorbs an entering voice. Perhaps a non musician would have perceived this grace in different image: an astronomer might have seen it as a moon circling around a planet, or a philologist heard it as some magical primal language containing all meanings. But enough for now, I must be going. It's been a great pleasure, Carlo."

(The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse)

Monday, 16 March 2015

Week 11: Do Something Small

As we progress, I want to encourage you to complete small acts in response to each week's theme as opposed to doing something grand. Keep things simple and thoughtful.

To assist, begin this week by considering the "Butterfly Effect," the concept that something as seemingly insignificant as a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world can impact the weather in another part. The flapping wings cause an atmospheric change that then sets off a series of events that ultimately leads to something significant happening. Like the butterfly effect, one small, kind act can set off a series of positive events.

With this in mind, complete a very, very small kind action that does not require a lot of you. Think of this action as being a minor tune-up on the engine of the universe. In its "small-ness" it may almost seem insignificant. But as a "tune-up" it is part of an ongoing maintenance effort that prevents a major problem from happening down the line.

After completing your action, please summarize it for yourself in your journal. What might the effect be of completing a daily small act of mindful kindness the rest of the year?

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Guilty Pleasures

In the music room of the Waverley University Library, Pearl Vambrace had abandoned herself to a deplorable form of self-indulgence. If Mr Kelso, the lecturer of music, were to find her, he would certainly be angry. If Dr Forgie, the Librarian, were to find her he would be angry too, for although he had no ear for music he knew an idle assistant when he saw one. But the chances were good that nobody would find her, for Mr Kelso had cancelled his Music Appreciation Hour for that afternoon, and everybody knew it but Dr Forgie. So Pearl had seized her chance. It had been a hateful day, and it would undoubtedly go on being hateful. She sprawled in a large armchair, her head resting on one arm and her legs dangling over the other, and gave herself up to illicit, healing pleasure.

The phonograph in the Music Room was of the largest and most expensive kind; it would play a great many records without being touched. But it was temperamental, like so many great artists, and only Mr Kelso and Pearl, who acted as his helper during music lectures, were permitted to go near it. Under Mr Kelso's extremely critical eye, Pearl had learned to pick up recordings by their edges only, to wipe them with a chamois, and to place them on the spindle of the costly, fretful machine. She was permitted to act as Mr Kelso's handmaiden, and as nursemaid to the phonograph, because she had, in her own undergraduate years, been a particularly apt pupil in Music Appreciation; she could appreciate anything, and satisfy Mr Kelso that her appreciation was akin to, though naturally of a lesser intensity, than, his own. Play her a Georgian chant, and she would appreciate it; play her a Bartok quartet and she would appreciate that. And what brought a frosty and unwilling smile to Mr Kelso's lips was that her appreciation, like his own, was untainted by sentimentalism; she did not rhapsodise foolishly about music, as so many of his students did; she really seemed to understand what music was, and to understand what he said about it in his singularly unmusical voice. When Pearl, the autumn after her graduation, was taken on the Library staff, Mr Kelso had asked that she be allowed to help him in the Music Room, when he lectured there.

It would never occur to Mr Kelso that Pearl was a hypocrite, or that Music Appreciation as taught by him, was something which a stone-deaf student could learn and pass examinations in. But such was the case, and her post as bottle-washer to Mr Kelso and the machine gave Pearl occasional chances for indulging what she fully knew to be a base side of her nature.

Among the very large collection of phonograph records which the Library maintained were perhaps a hundred which Mr Kelso called his Horrible Examples. These were pieces of music which he despised, sung or played by people whose manner of interpretation he despised. Now and then Mr Kelso would play one of these, in order to warn his students against some damnable musical heresy. It had taken Pearl a long time to recognise and admit to herself that just as there were times when she had to buy and eat a dozen doughnuts in one great sensual burst, there were also times when the Horrible Examples, and nothing else, were the music she wanted to hear.

As she lay in the chair on the afternoon of November 1st, a bag in which there were still ten delicious greasy doughnuts was on the floor at her side and on the turntable of the phonograph was what she called, to herself, a Vambrace Mixed Concert. At present, in the concert hall of her mind, the world-renowned pianist, Pearl Vambrace, was playing Sinding's Rustle of Spring; as the cascades of sound gushed and burbled from the instrument the audience asked itself how it was that this frail girl could produce a body of tone which might have been (and in plain fact was) that of two players with a piano each; and the only reply that the audience could give itself was that this was the mastery vouchsafed to an artist who lived wholly for her art...Spring had ceased to rustle, the gramophone gave a discreet, expensive cough, and at once broke into the rather thin strains of I'll Sing Thee Songs of Araby, Pearl Vambrace, the contralto marvel of her age, stood by the piano, singing the sweet ballad with a melancholy beauty which suggested very strongly the voice of a once-great Welsh tenor...To cheat thee of a sigh, or charm thee to a tear...With heartbreaking loveliness, with ineffable romantic silliness, the exquisite voice mounted to the last note, and Pearl's eyes were wet as her hand stole down into the bag for another doughnut...This lot of records was nearly done. Only one more to be played. It was Sibelius' Valse Triste, which Mr Kelso was accustomed to call an aberration of genius, but which Pearl thought of in quite different terms. This time she appeared upon the stage of her imagination as Pearl Vambrace, the great ballerina, floating with pathetic grace through a dance of love and death. It was unbearably beautiful, and yet, somehow, it made life much more bearable. It made it possible, for instance, to think with some composure about Father.

Sherlock Holmes was accustomed to think of a difficult case as a three-pipe problem. In Pearl's life, Father was becoming more and more a dozen-doughnut problem. Without the greasy, bulky comfort of a dozen doughnuts distributed at various points through her digestive tract the Professor's daughter found it hard to think about him at all. His behaviour last night, for instance; his terrible rage, his rhetorical ravings after he had finished talking on the telephone with Dean Knapp; it was all that she could do bring herself to think of them. He had not been so much angry as amazed, to begin with, but gradually, over an hour's time, he had worked himself up to a pitch of shouting fury. And what a personal fury! Great as his rage was, it was only big enough for himself. She and Mummy might have been the culprits rather than sharers in any disgrace or scandal that there was.

Mummy had taken it, as always when there was trouble, incoherently and in tears, and finally in agonised prayer. That Mummy loved Father there was no shadow of doubt, and that Mummy loved God was equally apparent. But she seemed always to be so frightened and guilty before them both. Perhaps if Father had not forbidden Mummy to bring Pearl up a Catholic things would have been easier at home, Pearl knew, of course, that when they had married, Father had promised (but "as good as promised" was the exact phrase that Mummy used on the rare occasions when she spoke of it to Pearl) to join his wife in her faith, but he had refused to do so (or as Mummy always said, "had been unable to do so"). He had insisted that Pearl be brought up an agnostic, like himself. Nor was this done by neglect of religion, or silence about it; long before she could understand what he was talking about Father had lectured her on the nature of faith, of which he had a poor opinion. And as Mummy become more and more devout, and gave more and more of her time to meditation and spiritual exercises, Father's unbelief grew rawer and more aggressive. Home was not easy. But Pearl was a loyal daughter and it never occurred to her that home was, in many ways, a hell.

Last night Mummy had spent at least two hours in the prie-dieu in her bedroom, weeping softly and praying. Pearl had no such refuge. Father had paced the floor, his eyes glaring, and at one time foam, unmistakable foam, had appeared at the corners of his mouth. He had talked of a plot, on the part of a considerable number of unknown persons, to bring him into disrepute and mockery. He had been darkly conscious of this plot for some time; indeed it had begun before he had been done out of his rightful dignity as Dean of Arts. That was when the late Professor Bridgetower had been voted into the dean's chair. Bridgetower! A scientist, a geologist if you please, who would not even have been in the Arts faculty if the composition of the Waverley syllabus had not been ridiculously out of date! What if the man was called Professor of Natural Philosophy; in the present day such terminology was as ludicrous as calling a man Professor of Phrenology. They had been out to defeat him and they had done so. But, not content with that shabby triumph, they now sought to disgrace him through his family. Through his only child - a daughter! What would they have contrived, the Professor demanded of the world at large, if he had had a son?

The first part of the Vambrace Mixed Concert had come to an end, and Pearl rose to put a new pile of records on the turntable. But that which was uppermost in the group she had chosen was a violin rendition of The Londonderry Air, and she felt suddenly that she could not bear anything Irish, however good it might be. So she put on Tchaikovsky's Symphony Number Six, and in no time, in that vast imaginary concert hall, the great woman conductor, Pearl Vambrace was letting an enchanted audience hear how unbearably pathetic the Pathètique could be.

No, decidedly nothing Irish. Pearl was pleased, in a vague way, to be of Irish blood on both sides of her family, but she had had enough to Ireland last night. Professor Vambrace was strongly conscious of his own Irish heritage, and in periods of stress it provided him with two character roles which appealed deeply to his histrionic temperament. The first of these was the Well-Born Celt, proud, ironical and aristocratic of manner; was he not a cousin of the Marquis of Mourne and Derry? The other was the Wild and Romantic Celt, untrammelled by petty Saxon considerations of reason, expediency, or indeed of fact. When his intellectual disguise was on him he assumed a manner of talking which was not quite a brogue, but which was racy, extravagant and punctuated by angry snorts and hollow laughter. His mode of expression owed a good deal to the plays of Dion Boucicault, which the Professor had seen in his boyhood. It was a hammy performance, but Pearl and her mother were too near to it to be critical; they feared the Professor in this mood, for he could say very bitter things.

Last night the Professor had given one of his most prolonged and elaborate impersonations in this vein. He was, he said, being persecuted, hounded, mocked by those who were jealous of his intellectual attainments, of his integrity, of his personal dignity. People who hated him because he was different from themselves had found a new means by which they hoped to bring him low. Ha, ha! How little they knew their man! His letters to the City Council about garbage disposal had won him no friends; he knew it. His wrangle with the Board of Education, when he had refused to have Pearl vaccinated at their request, still rankled; no one needed to tell him that. He had spoken out at meetings of the faculty of the University; no man who attacked incompetent colleagues - in public, mind you, and not like a sneaking night-walking jackeen - need hope for popularity. His success as an amateur actor was bound to create jealousy; his performance as Prospero had been something of a triumph, in its small way, and every triumph created detractors. He had fought in the open, like a man, against stupidity, and Bumbledom, and mediocrity, and he knew the world well enough to expect a bitter return.

But that he should be attacked through his daughter! Even his realism had not foreseen that! A false announcement of an engagement when they all knew that no suitor had ever so much as darkened the door of his house! That was cruelty. That was catching a man in a place where he could be hardly expected to defend himself. He was, ha, ha, surprised that they could rise to cruelty, for cruelty on that level demanded a touch of imagination, and that was the last thing he had expected. If they could accuse his daughter of being engaged, they would next be spreading a report that his wife was a witch.

Tchaikovsky, filtered through this splendid machine, was dying by inches; his groans, his self-reproaches, filled the room with Slavic misery. Pearl's eyes were full of tears, and she reached for the second-to-last doughnut.

It had been Mummy who broke first, and went weeping to her room. Pearl knew that Mummy's unhappiness was for her, as well as for her husband. Of course Daddy didn't realise that it was painful to have it said so many times, and in so many different ways, that no young man had ever been interested in her. She didn't care for herself, but she supposed a girl had a duty to her family in such a matter; nobody likes it to be thought that their daughter lacks charm.

Once, by an odd chance, this same Solomon Bridgetower had taken her to the Military Ball, the great event of Salterton's social year. But that was when they were both in a play, and he hadn't meant anything by it. Anyway, it was four years ago and she had not spoken a dozen words to him since. And he was the recognised property, though low on her list, of that local heiress and beauty, Griselda Webster. It was queer that anyone should think of playing a trick in which her name was linked with his. Anyway, no young man had asked her to go anywhere with him since then.

No: that was not quite true. No young man with whom she could be bothered had approached her. She had been conscious, recently, that Henry Rumball, a reporter on The Bellman who came every day to the University, seeking news, was persistently attentive to her. But he was a joe among all the girls in the Library.

Solomon Bridgetower, however, was not. That morning she had been aware as soon as she put her coat in her locker in the staff-room that something was in the air, and that it concerned her. The first to congratulate her had been her great enemy, Miss Ritson, in Cataloguing.

"Well," said she, "aren't you the sly one? Carrying him off right from under Tessie's nose! No ring yet, I see. Or don't you choose to wear it at the daily toil? Congratulations, dear."

Miss Ritson moved away humming. It was an ironical hum, but it was lost on Pearl, whose father had been so determined that she must be an agnostic. For Miss Ritson was humming God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.

Tessie was Miss Teresa Forgie, daughter and principal secretary to the Librarian. She was of classic features (that is to say, horse-faced) and formidable learning. It was obvious that she would make a wonderful wife for any ambitious young professor, and it was well-known among her associates in the Library that she had chosen Solly Bridgetower as the recipient of this rich dower. But Miss Forgie was as high-minded as she was learned, and when she greeted Pearl no one would have guessed that she had cried herself to sleep the night before.

"I am so deeply happy for you, Pearl," she said. "There is so much that a man in academic life needs - so much of simple femininity, as well as understanding of his work." She glanced around, and continued in a lower tone. "So many needs of Body, as well as of Mind. I hope that I may continue to be a dear, dear friend to you both."

Pearl understood the import of this very well. She was in charge of Reference, and that included a locked section of the book-stacks only to be read on the spot, upon presentation of a permit signed by the Librarian. Tessie plainly thought that Pearl had won Solly by subtle arts learned from the Hindu Books of Love, and from Havelock Ellis' Studies in the Psychology of Sex.

All of the girls had congratulated her, in one way or another, within an hour of opening time. Some of them seemed genuinely glad that she was to make her escape from the Library. And Pearl had said nothing to arouse further curiosity. Was this wise? But with Daddy talking about lawyers and suits she did not know what else to do; there would be trouble enough in time. She had trembled, when she overheard some of the girls talking in whispers about arranging a shower for her.

A shower! She had intimate knowledge of these affairs, at which the friends of an engaged girl lavished everything from handkerchiefs to kitchenware upon her. What would she do if she suddenly found herself the recipient of twenty handkerchiefs, or a collection of candy-thermometers, lemon squeezers and carrot-dicers? As Tchaikovsky moaned his last, Pearl cowered in the armchair, licking the sugar from the last doughnut off her fingers, and sweated with fright.

Suddenly the light flashed on in the dark room. It was old Mr Garnett, the Library janitor, with his trolley of cleaning materials.

"Sorry. Didn't know anybody was here."

"It's all right, Mr Garnett. I'll just put away these records, and then I'll be through. Please go ahead with your work."

"O.K. Miss Vambrace. Looks pretty clean in here anyways."

"There wasn't any class this afternoon. I was listening to some music alone. You won't tell anybody, will you?"

"I never tell what ain't my business. You got a right to be alone, I guess. Won't be alone much longer, I hear."

"I'll put these records away at once."

"That's what they say about marriage. Never alone again. Well, that can be good, and it can be pure hell, too. Ever think of it that way?"

"I'll just throw this bag right into your wastepaper box, shall I?"

"What's the fella's name?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"The fella. The fella you're engaged to? Somebody mentioned it, but I forget, now. One of our fellas, isn't it?"

"Oh, you know how people talk, Mr Garnett."

"It was in the paper. That's not talk. When it's in the paper, you mean business. What's the fella's name?"

"Oh. I forget."

"What? How can you forget?"

"Oh-well-the name in the paper was Mr Solomon Bridgetower."

"Yeah. Yeah. Young Bridgetower. Well, I knew his father. I've seen worse."

Pearl had replaced the records, and she fled. On, what despicable weakness. She had named him, as her fiancé, to someone outside the family! What would Father say? How would she ever get out of this hateful, hateful mess?

Saturday, 14 March 2015


I bought this documentary and watched it the second time. I believe everyone should watch it at some point in their lives. And that point is today.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Making Art

Meanwhile, however, time's arrow seems to have been frozen in mid-air. The boil and bubble of agendas, to-do lists, deadlines, unanswered emails, meetings to be arranged, shopping lists - the press of the hours and minutes we all feel - vanishes. The Things That Must Be Done simply wander off for a while and stand grunting quietly under a tree while I look, and draw, and mix, and brush, and look and mix, and look...

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Marina Keegan

From the introduction to The Opposite of Loneliness written by Keegan's creative writing lecturer Anne Fadiman:

I first saw Marina Keegan on November 10, 2010. I was hosting the novelist Mark Helprin at a master's tea at Yale, during which he said that making it as a writer today was virtually impossible.

A student stood up. Thin. Beautiful Long, reddish-brown hair. Long legs. Flagrantly short skirt. Nimbus of angry energy. She asked Helprin if he really meant that. There was a collective intake of breath in the room. It was what everyone else had been thinking but no one else had been brave (or brazen) enough to say.

That night, I got an email from

Hello! I don't think you know me, but I was the student who asked the question...Hearing a famous writer tell me that the industry is dying ad that we should probably do something else was sad. Perhaps I just expected him to be more encouraging of those hoping to stop the death of literature.

"To stop the death of literature": Marina was being simultaneously self-mocking (if she'd said that line laud, she would have overreacted, with plenty of pregnant pauses and over enunciated consonants, so you'd know it was hyperbole) and 100% serious.

She applied to my class on first-person writing a few weeks later. Her application began:

About three years ago, I started a list. It began in a marbled notebook but has since evolved inside the walls of my word processor. Interesting stuff. That's what I call it. I'll admit it's become a bit of an addiction. I add to it in class, in the library, before bed, and on trains. It has everything from descriptions of a waiter's hand gestures, to my cab driver's eyes, to strange things that happen to me or a way to phrase something. I have 32 single-spaced pages of interested stuff in my life.

In my class, which she took in the spring of her junior year, she drew on those 32 pages of interesting stuff to write a series of essays that her classmates, in their written critiques, festooned with awestruck adjectives; beautiful, vivid, vibrant, visual, fresh, direct, lyrical, compelling, evocative, precise, confident, honest, startling. (Three of the pieces in this book are from that class. Others are from Yale writing classes taught by John Crowley and Cathy Shufro; some are from student periodicals; and three - "Baggage Claim," "Sclerotherapy," and "I Kill for Money" - were written during Marina's junior and senior years at the Buckingham Browne and Nichols School, in classes taught by Harry Thomas and Brian Staveley.)

Many of my students sound 40 years old. They are articulate but derivative, their own voices muffled by their desire to skip over their current age and experience, which they fear trivial, and land on some version of polished adulthood without passing Go. Marina was 21 and sounded 21: a brainy 21, a 21 who knew her way around the English language, a 21 who understood that there were few better subjects than being young and uncertain and starry-eyed and frustrated and hopeful. When she read her work aloud around our seminar table, it would make us snort with laughter, and then it would turn on a dime and break our hearts.

I always ask my students to append to their final essay a list of "Personal Pitfalls" - the aspects of their writing they wish to work on in the future. These were some of Marina's":

* Too much polysyndeton, Watch it! (Polysyndeton is the use of multiple conjunctions. "A and B and C" instead of "A, B and C."

* Don't overdo the anaphora. (Anaphora is the repetition of initial words or phrases)

* Be careful of weird strange phrases and their prepositions.

* Be careful of parallels.

* Make your titles good! Don't just choose them at the last minute! Avoid alliteration!

* Make sure modifiers make sense.

* Add more real stories when talking about general ideas.

* Make sure to spellcheck homophones like "it's" and "its" by searching the document before finishing.

* Don't use too many adverbs in one sentence.

* Similes must actually be capable of doing their thing. You can't "curl up like spoon."

* Unusual phrases work better at the end of paragraphs.

* I lay an egg, I laid an egg, I have laid an egg, I lie, I lay, I have lain.

* Topic indecision - just get over it!

* Make sure tenses are consistent.

* Don't use two prepositions in a row.

* Don't get too attached to things. It took you only a minute to write that sentence!


High on their posthumous pedestals, the dead become hard to see. Grief, deference, and the homogenising effects of adulation blur the details, flatten the bumps, sand off the sharp corners. Marina was brilliant, kind and idealistic; I hope I never forget that she was also fierce, edgy, and provocative. A little wild. More than a little contrarian. If you wanted a smooth ride, Marina wasn't your vehicle. When we met for an hour-long conference to edit her first essay together, we got through three and a half lines. She resisted my suggestions because she didn't want to sound like me; she wanted to sound like herself. In class, she had strong opinions about the writers we read. She hated Lucy Grealy even though most of her classmates loved her, and loved Joyce Maynard even though most of her classmates hated her. She both admired and envied other talented young writers. When I posted exemplary essays by two students from a previous class, she wrote, "AHHHH ALICE'S ESSAY iS SO GOOD OH MY GOD....ELISA's IS SO GOOD TOO! oh my gosh, No i won't get dampened..."

She frequently lost her keys and her cell phone, sometimes for days, sometimes inside her bag, an infinitely capacious ink-stained tote (you might have expected someone as entropic as Marina to choose a bag with a zipper, but, as in all else, openness was her hallmark); she was given to procrastination and the all-nighters that inevitably followed; she was frustrated by deadlines, bureaucracies, obtuse politicians, the gap between theory and practice, her roommates' habit of using a knife to cut bread and then dipping it in the Nutella jar, and her own tendency to forget things, all of which inspired the all-purpose email-and-text expletive "GAH!"

The summer between her junior and senior years, everything went so well for Marina that she had few occasions to say GAH. She had once papered her bedroom wall with New Yorker covers; now she was interning in the New Yorker's fiction department, combing its slush pile for hidden gems, and getting published on its book blog. One of her plays was selected for a staged reading at a major theatre festival, and she wrote much of another by, as she put it, "clocking in 3 hours (no excuses) every day."

During that summer Marina also found time to write an essay in which I'd mentioned the excuses that the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an inveterate procrastinator, had made for his tardy correspondence, she began one email:

I'm so sorry about the delay in writing to you! The fact of the matter is I've taken ill after wearing excessively think breeches in bad weather - not to mention because of my toothache, insomnia, gout, cough, boils, inflamed eyes, swollen testicles, and raging epistolophobia.

And ended it:

And above all, be at peace with yourself, and a double Blessing to me, who am, my dear Professor, anxiously.

Your fond Student

(She explained in a postscript to a later email: "Since reading those Coleridge letters I've become obsessed with these types of signatures. They're just so GOOD. Like, that moment with the comma before the line break. I love that moment. COLERIDGE! Thank you.")

But she couldn't wait to get back to college:

I'm realising how much I love Yale. With my minutes before sleep preoccupied with The Future for the first time in a while, I'm beginning to regard Yale with a kind of premature nostalgia. I WANT TO TAKE EVERY CLASS IN THE CATALOGUE. I WANT TO SEE EVERY BUILDING. I WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH ALL MY FRIENDS.

And she did, pretty much, flying through her senior year with every pore open, collecting prizes, working as Harold Bloom's research assistant, acting in two plays and writing a third, serving as president of the Yale College Democrats, helping to organise Occupy Yale, taking the train to New York every Thursday to intern at the Paris Review, lining up a post graduation job at the New Yorker, writing during every spare minute, falling in love. When a friend who had graduated the previous year asked her permission to show some of her work to his students in Peru, she responded, "Yes to everything!"

Five days after Marina graduated magna cum laude, I got an email from another student of mine:

Anne, sorry to bother you this late, but there's some terrible news that I don't know if you've heard - please call me.

Marina's boyfriend had been driving her from brunch with her grandmother near Boston to her family's summer house on Cape Cod to celebrate her father's 55th birthday. Her parents were waiting with lobsters and, because Marina had Celiac Disease and couldn't digest wheat, a homemade gluten-free strawberry shortcake. Her boyfriend, who was neither speeding nor drinking, fell asleep at the wheel. The car hit a guardrail and rolled over twice. Marina was killed. Her boyfriend was unhurt.

Marina's parents invited him to their house the next day and embraced him. They wrote the state police to ask that no charges of vehicular homicide be brought because "it would break [Marina's] heart to know her boyfriend would have to suffer more than he already is." When he went to court, the Keegans accompanied him. The charges were dropped.

At Marina's memorial service, I have never seen so many young people cry - not just cry, but shake so hard I feared their ribs would break.

Within a week, "The Opposite of Loneliness," an essay that had appeared in the graduation issue of the Yale Daily News, had been read by more than a million people. "We're so young. We're so young," Marina had written. "We're 22 years old. We have so much time."

When a young person dies, much of the tragedy lies in her promise: what she would have done. But Marina left what she had already done: an entire body of writing, far more than could fit between these covers. As her parents and friends and I gathered her work, trying to find the most recent version of every story and essay, we knew that none of it was in exactly the form she would have wanted to publish. She was a demon reviser, rewriting and rewriting and rewriting even when everyone else thought something was done. (THERE CAN ALWAYS BE A BETTER THING.) We knew we couldn't rewrite her work; only she could have done that. Still, every time I reread these nine stories and nine essays, they sound exactly like her, and I don't want to change a word.

Marina wouldn't want to be remembered because she's dead. She would want to be remembered because she's good.

* * *

I have sene too many young writers give up because they couldn't handle the repeated failures their profession threw at them. They had talent, but they lacked determination and resilience. Marina had all three, and that's why I am certain she would have succeeded.

She once wrote me on the night that Yale's secret societies - senior social clubs, including Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key, and Book and Snake, that meet in windowless buildings called tombs - tapped their new members. She had not been chosen. "I'm in our WaO room right now actually," she began. ("WaO" was the acronym for our writing class, Writing about Oneself. Marina joked that the following year its students should continue to meet for DaO, Drinking about Oneself.)

I ended up getting a bit screwed over on the secret society front so I've vowed to spend the 12 hours a week writing a novel. (Tonight is tap) If I was willing to devote that much time chatting in a tomb I should be willing to devote it to writing! 6-12 sundays and thursdays. Might call it BOOK and BOOK. :)

She had devoted less than two hours to disappointment before she moved on. If she'd been tapped by Book and Snake this book would not exist.

After Marina's death, her father told me about a sailing race she'd entered when she was 14. The race - in Wellfleet Harbor, on the outer end of Cape Cod - was for a class of solo 14-foot dinghies called Lasers. The junior sailors, 15 and under, were to start at the same time as the adults. Marina was hoping for a calm day. She thought she could beat everyone, including the adults, both because she was an expert sailor and because she weighed less than 100 pounds. A heavy sailor slows a boat just as a heavy jockey slows a racehorse.

But the day wasn't calm. There were 40-knot winds and 3-foot waves. Before the race started, the entire junior division dropped out, along with all the women - except Marina.

In weather like that - lightness is not an asset. Especially when the boat is heading upwind, keeping it stable is almost impossible. Marina capsized more times than her parents could count. Each time, the boat tipped onto its side and she was thrown into the water. She had to swim the bow into the wind, climb onto the centerboard, stand on it while holding onto the gunwale, lean backward, pull hard enough to lift 76 square feet of wet sail out of the water, climb back into the boat, and readjust the sail, all with the wind howling and the waves crashing into and over her.

Marina's original goal had been to win. Her new goal was to finish. Several of the men gave up, but Marina continued. In perfect weather, the race would have taken her 15 minutes. It took her almost an hour. She came in second to last, to incredulous applause. She was soaking wet, her hair was bedraggled, and her hands were bloody from gripping the lines.

* * *

A few hours after Marina was told that making it as a writer today was virtually impossible, she arrived late to a meeting of her spoken-word poetry group at Yale. A friend of hers recalls that her face was flushed and her eyes were like sharp, wet stones.

"I've decided I'm going to be a writer," she said. "Like a real one. With my life."

(Anne Fadiman, November 12 2013)

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Across the Universe - With a Little Help From My Friends

This is dedicated to all my friends...who wiped me down and took me home when I was puking all over them...because I had drunk, I had drunk, I had drunk too much, too fast, too many things together....

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Love Song

How shall I hold my soul
to not intrude upon yours? How shall I
lift it beyond you to other things?
I would gladly lodge it
with lost objects in the dark,
in some far still place
that does not tremble when you tremble.

But all that touches us, you and me,
plays us together, like the bow of a violin
that from two strings draws forth one voice
On what instrument are we strung?
What musician is playing us?
Oh sweet song.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

Monday, 9 March 2015

Week 10: Do Something Kind for Yourself

So here we are, 10 weeks into our 52 weeks of kindness and we've come back to the exercise of doing something kind for yourself. Why?

Having had the experience you've had so far, I encourage you to seriously consider what being kind to yourself means to you. To understand this better, please take time to reflect on the past 9 weeks of activities, maybe by reading your journal on how you completed each of the exercises so far.

See if you find a nugget of truth in the idea that EVERY act of kindness you performed benefited YOU in some way, even the one intended for someone you do not like. If so, maybe you'll begin to see that EVERY kind thing you do in your life is an act of kindness for yourself.

If you buy that, that every act of kindness is actually an act of kindness for yourself, then what will you do this week to complete this exercise this time? Consider what has touched you in the most profound way in the past 9 weeks. Feel free to repeat an act or expand on it. Whatever you choose to do, pay special attention to how YOU feel completing this act.

In your journal this week, write about your act AND how you feel.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

What you call passion is not spiritual force, but friction between the soul and the outside world....

The old man gave him a warm look. "Probably that is your path, Joseph. As you well know, there are some who do not think well of the Glass Bead Game. They say it is a substitute for the arts, and that the players are mere popularisers; that they can no longer be regarded as truly devoted to the things of the mind, but are merely artistic dilettantes given to improvisation and feckless fancy. You will see ho much or how little truth there is in that. perhaps you yourself have notions about the Glass Bead Game, expecting more of it than it will give you, or perhaps the reverse. There is no doubt that the Game has its dangers. For that very reason we love it; only the weak are sent out on paths without perils. But never forget what I have told you so often: our mission is to recognise contraries for what they are: first of all as contraries, but then as opposite poles of a unity. Such is the nature of the Glass Bead Game. The artistically inclined delight in the Game because it provides opportunities for improvisation and fantasy. The strict scholars and scientists despite it - because, they say, it lacks that degree of strictness which their specialties can achieve. Well and good, you will encounter these antinomies and in time you will discover that they are subjective, not objective - that, for example, a fancy-free artist avoids pure mathematics or logic because he understands them and could say something about them if he wished, but because he instinctively inclines towards other things. Such instinctive and violent inclinations and disinclinations are signs by which you can recognise the pettier souls. In great souls and superior minds, these passions are not found. Each of us is merely one human being, merely an experiment, a way station. But each of us should on the way toward perfection, should be striving to reach the centre, not the periphery, and at the same time full of imagination and music. One can be a musician or Glass Bead Game player and at the same time wholly devoted to rule and order. The kind of person we want to develop, the kind of person we aim to become, would at any time be able to exchange his discipline or art for any other. He would infuse the Glass Bead Game with crystalline logic, and grammar with creative imagination. That is how we ought to be. We should be so constituted that we can at any time be placed in a different position without offering resistance or losing our heads."

"I think I understand," Joseph said. "But are not those who have such strong preferences and aversions simply more passionate natures, others just more sober and temperate?"

"That seems to be true and yet it is not," the Master replied, laughing. "To be capable of everything and do justice to everything, one certainly does not need less spiritual force and élan and warmth, but more. What you call passion is not spiritual force, but friction between the soul and the outside world. Where passion dominates, that does not signify the presence of greater desire and ambition, but rather the misdirection of these qualities towards an isolated and false goal, with a consequent tension and sultriness in the atmosphere. Those who direct the maximum force of their desires toward the centre, toward true being, toward perfection, seem quieter than the passionate souls because the flame of their fervour cannot always be seen. In argument, for example, they will not should and wave their arms. But I assure you, they are nevertheless burning with subdued fires."

"Oh, if only it were possible to find understanding," Joseph exclaimed. "If only there were a dogma to believe in. Everything is contradictory, everything tangential; there are no certainties anywhere. Everything can be interpreted one way and then again interpreted in the opposite sense. The whole of world history can be explained as development and progress and can also be seen as nothing but decadence and meaninglessness. Isn't there any truth? Is there no real and valid doctrine?"

The Master had never heard him speak so fervently. He walked on in silence for a little, then said: "There is truth, my boy. But the doctrine you desire, absolute, perfect dogma that alone provides wisdom, does not exist. Nor should you long for the perfection of yourself. The deity is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived, not taught. Be prepared for conflicts, Joseph Knecht - I can see they have already begun."

(The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse)

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Flowing Brook

We must have beginner's mind, free from possessing anything, a mind that knows everything is in flowing change. Nothing exists but momentarily in its present form and colour. One thing flows into another and cannot be grasped. Before the rain stops we hear a bird. Even under heavy snow we see snowdrops and some new growth. In the East I saw rhubarb already. In Japan in the spring we eat cucumbers.

Shrunyu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Universitas Litterarum

In an exalted moment, at the end of a training course of teachers of beginners in the Game, he once declared: "Castalia is a small state in itself, and our Vicus Lusorum a miniature state within the state, a small, but ancient and proud republic, equal in rights and dignities to its sisters, but with its sense of mission lifted and strengthened by the special artistic and virtually sacramental function it performs. For our distinction is to cherish the true sanctuary of Castalia, its unique mystery and symbol, the Glass Bead Game. Castalia rears pre-eminent musicians and art historians, philologists, mathematicians, and other scholars. Every Castalian institute and every Castalian should hold to only two goals and ideals: to attain to the utmost command of his subject, and to keep himself and his subject vital and flexible by forever recognising its ties with all other disciplines and by maintaining amicable relations with all. This second ideal, the conception of the inner unity of all man's cultural efforts, the idea of universality, has found perfect expression in our illustrious Game. It may be that the physicist, the musicologist, or other scholar will at times have to steep himself entirely in his own discipline, that renouncing the idea of universal culture will further some momentary maximum performance in a special field. But we, at any rate, we Glass Bead Game players, must need allow ourselves such specialisation. We must neither approve nor practice it, for our own special mission, as you know, is the idea of Universitas Literrarum. Ours to foster its supreme expression, the noble Game and repeatedly to save the various disciplines from their tendency to self-sufficiency. But how can we save anything that does not have the desire to be saved? And how can we make the archaeologists, the pedagogues, the astronomers, and so forth, eschew self-sufficient specialisation and throw open their windows to all the other disciplines? We cannot do it by compulsory means, say by making the Glass Bead Game an official subject in the lower schools, nor can we do it by invoking what our predecessors meant this Game to be. We can prove only that our Game and we ourselves are indispensable by keeping the Game ever at the summit of our entire cultural life, by incorporating into it each new achievement, each new approach, and each new complex of problems from the scholarly disciplines. We must shape and cultivate our universality, our noble and perilous sport with the idea of unity, endowing it with such perennial freshness and loveliness, such persuasiveness and charm, that even the soberest researcher and most diligent specialist will ever and again feel its message, its temptation and allure.

"Let us imagine for the moment that we players were to slacken in our zeal for a time, that the Game courses for beginners became dull and superficial, that in the Games for advanced players specialists of other disciplines looked in vain for vital, pulsating life, for intellectual contemporaneity and interest. Suppose that two or three times in a row our great annual Game were to strike the guests as an empty ceremony, a lifeless, old-fashioned formalistic relic of the past. How quickly, then, the Game and we ourselves would be done for. Already we are no longer on those shining heights where the Glass Bead Game stood a generation ago, when the annual Game lasted not one or two but three or four weeks, and was the climax of the year not only for Castalia but for the entire country. Today, a representative of the government still attends this annual Game, but all too often as a somewhat bored guest, and a few cities and professions still send envoys. Toward the end of the Game days these representatives of the secular powers occasionally deign to suggest that the length of the festival deters many other cities from sending envoys, and that perhaps it would be more in keeping with the contemporary word either to shorten the festival considerably or else to hold it only every other year, or every third year.

"Well now, we cannot check this development, or if you will, decadence. It may well be that before long our Game will meet with no understanding at all out in the world. Perhaps we shall no longer be able to celebrate it. But what of the Game in its own home, in our Province. Here our struggle is hopeful, and has repeatedly led to victory. Every day we witness the phenomenon: young elite pupils who have signed up for their Game course without any special ardour, and who have completed it dutifully, but without enthusiasm, are suddenly seized by the spirit of the Game, but its intellectual potentialities, its venerable tradition, its soul-stirring forces, and become our passionate adherents and partisans. And every year at the Ludus sollemnis we can see scholars of distinction who rather looked down on us Glass Bead Game players during their work-filled year, and who have not always wished our institutions well. In the course of the great Game we see them falling more and more under the spell of our art; we see them growing eased and exalted, rejuvenated and fired, until at last, their hearts strengthened and deeply stirred, they bid good-by with words of almost abashed gratitude.

"Let us consider for a moment the means at our command for carrying out our mission. We see a rich, well-ordered apparatus whose heart and core is the Game Archive, which we gratefully make use of every hour of the day and which all of us serve, from Magister and Archivist down to the humblest errand boy. The best and most vital aspect of our institution is the old Castallian principle of selection of the best, the elite. The schools of Castalia collect the best pupils form the entire country and educate them. Similarly, we in the Players' Village try to select the best among those endowed by nature with a love for the Game. We train them to an ever-higher standard of perfection. Our courses and seminars take in hundreds, who then go their ways again; but we go on training the best until they become genuine players, artists of the Game. You all know that in ours as in every art, there is no end to development, that each of us, once he belongs to the elite will work away all his life at the further development, refinement, and deepening of himself and our art, whether or not he belongs to our corps of officials.

"The existence of our elite has sometimes been denounced as a luxury. It has been argued that we ought to train no more elite players than are required to fill the ranks of our officialdom. But in the first place, our corps of officials is not an institution sufficient unto itself, and in the second place, not everyone is suited for an official post, any more than every good philologist is suited for teaching. We officials, at any rate, feel certain that the tutors are more than a reservoir of talented and experienced players from which we fill our vacancies and draw our successors. I am almost tempted to say that this is only a subsidiary function of the players' elite, even though we greatly stress it to the uninitiated as soon as the meaning and justification of our institute is brought up.

"No, the tutors are not primarily future Masters, course directors, Archive officials. They are an end in themselves, their little band is the real home and future of the Glass Bead Game. Here, in these few dozen hearts and heads the developments, modifications, advances, and confrontations of our Game with the spirit of the age, and with the various disciplines take place. Only here is our Game played properly and correctly, to its hilt, and with full commitment, Only within our elite is it an end in itself and a sacred mission, shorn of all dilettantism, cultural vanity, self-importance, or superstition. The future of the Game lies with you, the Waldzell tutors. And since it is the heart and soul of Castalia, and you are the soul and vital spark of Waldzell, you are truly the salt of the Province, its spirit, its dynamism. There is no danger that your numbers could grow too large, your zeal too hot, your passion for the glorious Game too great. Increase it, increase it! For you, as for all Castalians, there is at bottom only a single peril, which we must guard against every single day. The spirit of our Province and our Order is founded on two principles: on objectivity and love of truth in study, and on the cultivation of meditative wisdom and harmony. Keeping these two principles in balance means for us being wise and worthy of our Order. We love the sciences and scholarly disciplines, each his own, and yet we know that devotion to a discipline does not necessarily preserve a man from selfishness, vice, and absurdity. History is full of examples of that, and folklore has given us the figure of Doctor Faust to represent this danger.

"Other centuries sought safety in the union of reason and religion, research and asceticism. In their Universitas Literrarum, theology ruled. Among us we use meditation, the fine gradations of yoga technique, in our efforts to exorcise the beast within us and the diabolus dwelling in every branch of knowledge. Now you know as well as I that the Glass Bead Game also has its hidden diabolus, that it can lead to empty virtuosity, to artistic vanity, to self-advancement, to the seeking of power over others, and then to the abuse of that power. This is why we need another kind of education beside the intellectual and submit ourselves to the morality of the Order, not in order to reshape our mentally active life into a psychically vegetative dream-life, but on the contrary to make ourselves fit for the summit of intellectual achievement. We do not intend to flee from the vita activa to the vita contemplativa, nor vice versa, but to keep moving forward while alternating between the two, being at home, in both, partaking of both.

(The words of Magister Ludi, Joseph Knecht, the Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse)

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Miracle Walks

One of my greatest gladnesses is going on what I call "miracle walks." This sis here you go out with no agenda or destination and say out loud or to yourself: "Miracle, find me now!"

Yesterday I went to my favourite beach to take a walk and asked for a miracle to find me. This time I used the words: "Show me miraculous people."

I arrived at The Warming Hut, a marvellous state park cafe right near the Golden Gate Bridge, and ordered my favourite sandwich. As I waited, I noticed that all the tables were full, except for one spot in between lots of people, so I wedged in there.

The two people sitting next to me - a woman with sparkly eyes and a young man of some succulence - were exhibiting a certain luminous energy. So I asked the woman about her soup, and she said it was delicious tomato basil and that she would be happy to share. I said that I'd be happy to share half my sandwich too.

So we happily shared.

The young man asked me how I was, who I was, and I leaned forward and answered: "I am just so madly in love with myself!"

The both laughed heartily and deeply and shared that they had just been at Grace Cathedral hearing about "finding the miracles in every moment" and that clearly this was one!

And so I had met my first miraculous people: Ann and her son Dodd from New Orleans and New York.

Two women at the next table were happily eavesdropping and asked me about the miracle moments and about loving myself.

We all began talking together and I discovered two more miraculous people: Alissa and Marianne, who run a nonprofit and were at The Warming Hut solving a business challenge. We all started discussing resources and serendipities.

I shared that I was SARK, who they knew and as it turns out, Marianne lives in my neighbourhood in San Francisco! Marianne then had a vision about Dodd, who is involved in New York theatre, and Marianne had a fabulous resource for him. I then had a vision about Dodd, and asked if he knew about parallel universes, and that we're all living in them, all different times in history stacked up next to each other. He did know about them and said that his off-Broadway play called Luck has a section in the middle about parallel universes!

I actually saw three versions of Dodd through history as he sat there - different ages, different clothes, same person. Dodd then realised that he also knew SARK. He had gone to Hawaii with a previous girlfriend trying to get a job at a Noni farm. While clutching the SARK book Succulent Wild Woman, his girlfriend had told him that they must apply for the position using the word "succulent".

They did get accepted at the Noni farm.

I told Dodd that he was a succulent wild man and that Dodd is a "succulent ass name".

His mom especially liked this.

By this point, other people at other tables started joining our conversation, including authors, artists, and one very loud poet.

Marianne and Alissa and I walked down the beach and continued our serendipitous conversation marvelling at the results of our respective "miracle walks" and miraculous people.

Recently, while creating this book, I got sick and while recovering, could only go on a tiny miracle walk - just a few hundred yards - close to my home. I stood on my front step and said: "Miracle, find me now."

And my next-door neighbour materialised, out walking her dog. I've known her for about 20 years but had never been inside her home. A few years ago, she completed a two-year total renovation of her building and invited me to see it, and it just never happened.

So she invited me this night, and I went in. I swear I heard angelic music playing as I looked up the curving wooden steps - like a snail shell leading up to her gorgeous loft-like living space. I immediately noticed that her kitchen table was the same as the one from my childhood, and that her cupboards contained the plastic horses I used to play with.

She let me take them out, and I played and marvelled that these toys from the '50s were in her home. I began to feel like I was in some kind of movie as she showed me around, and I saw her gleamingly beautiful closet full of what appeared to be costumes. I saw a huge computer screen and blurted out: "What do you do for a living?"

She smiled and replied that she designs Barbie doll clothes.

I was just glowing at the idea of this creative woman living and working right next door to me all these years and wondering, if we lifted off all the rooftops, how many other miracles, here in human form.

Remember to ask for miracles to appear, and then practice recognising them when they do. They are sometimes disguised as something unattractive or even ugly. Adjust your vision, and request more information.

Incorporate miracles and miracle walks into your life, and I promise that you'll be more delighted and able to more easily delight others.

(Glad No Matter What, SARK)

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Talking Flowers

The following is excerpted from Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals. I always found the idea of flowers talking to each other delightful and to be able to hear them...well....

It was not long before I received the unwelcome news that yet another tutor had been found for me. This time it was a certain individual named Kralefsky, a person descended from an intricate tangle of nationalities but predominantly English. The family informed me that he was a very nice man and one who was, moreover, interested in birds, so we should get on together. I was not, however, the least impressed by this last bit of information; I had met a number of people who professed to be interested in birds, and who had turned out (after careful questioning) to be charlatans who did not know what a hoopoe looked like, or could not tell the difference between a black redstart and an ordinary one. I felt certain that the family had invented this bird-loving tutor simply in an effort to make me feel happier about having to start work once again. I was sure that his reputation as an ornithologist would turn out to have grown from the fact that he once kept a canary when he was fourteen. Therefore I set off for town to my first lesson in the gloomiest possible frame of mind.

Kralefsky lived in the top two storeys of a square, mildewed old mansion that stood on the outskirts of the town. I climbed the wide staircase and, with disdainful bravado, rapped a sharp tattoo on the knocker that decorated the front door. I waited, glowering to myself and digging the heel of my shoe into the wine-red carpet with considerable violence; presently, just as I was about to knock again, there came the soft pad of footsteps, and the front door was flung wide to reveal my new tutor.

I decided immediately that Kralefsky was not a human being at all, but a gnome who had disguised himself as one by donning an antiquated but very dapper suit. He had a large, egg-shaped head with flattened sides that were tilted back against a smoothly rounded hump-back. This gave him the curious appearance of being permanently in the middle of shrugging his shoulders and peering up into the sky. A long, fine-bridged nose with widely flared nostrils curved out of his face, and his extremely large eyes were liquid and of a pale sherry colour. They had a fixed, faraway look in them, as though their owner were just waking up out of a trance. His wide, thin mouth managed to combine primness with humour, and now it was stretched across his face in a smile of welcome, showing even but discoloured teeth.

"Gerry Durrell?" he asked, bobbing like a courting sparrow, and flapping his large, bony hands at me. "Gerry Durrell, is it not? Come in, my dear boy, do come in."

He beckoned me with a long forefinger, and I walked past him into the dark hall, the floorboards creaking protestingly under their mangy skin of carpet. "Through here; this is the room we shall work in," fluted Kralefsky, throwing open a door and ushering me into a small, sparsely furnished room. I put my books on the table and sat down in the chair he indicated. He leaned over the table, balancing on the tips of his beautifully manicured fingers, and smiled at me in a vague way. I smiled back, not knowing quite what he expected.

"Friends!" he exclaimed rapturously. "It is most important that we are friends. I am quite, quite certain we will become friends, aren't you?"

I nodded seriously, biting the inside of my cheeks to prevent myself from smiling.

"Friendship," he murmured, shutting his eyes in ecstasy at the thought, "friendship! That's the ticket!"

His lips moved silently, and I wondered if he was praying, and if so whether it was for me, himself, or both of us. A fly circled his head and then settled confidently on his nose. Kralefsky started, brushed it away, opened his eyes, and blinked at me.

"Yes, yes, that's it,» he said firmly; «I'm sure we shall be friends. Your mother tells me that you have a great love of natural history. This, you see, gives us something in common straight away... a bond, as it were, eh?"

He inserted a forefinger and thumb into his waistcoat pocket, drew out a large gold watch, and regarded it reproachfully. He sighed, replaced the watch, and then smoothed the bald patch on his head that gleamed like a brown pebble through his licheny hair.

"I am by way of being an aviculturist, albeit an amateur," he volunteered modestly. "I thought perhaps you might care to see my collection. Half an hour or so with the feathered creatures will, I venture to think, do us no harm before we start work. Besides, I was a little late this morning, and one or two of them need fresh water."

He led the way up a creaking staircase to the top of the house, and paused in front of a green baize door. He produced an immense bunch of keys that jangled musically as he searched for the right one; he inserted it, twisted it round, and drew open the heavy door. A dazzle of sunlight poured out of the room, blinding me, and with it came a deafening chorus of bird song; it was as though Kralefsky had opened the gates of Paradise in the grubby corridor at the top of his house. The attic was vast, stretching away across almost the whole top of the house. It was uncarpeted, and the only piece of furniture was a large deal table in the centre of the room. But the walls were linked, from floor to ceiling, with row upon row of big, airy cages containing dozens of fluttering, chirruping birds. The floor of the room was covered with a fine layer of bird seed, so that as you walked your feet scrunched pleasantly, as though you were on a shingle beach. Fascinated by this mass of birds I edged slowly round the room, pausing to gaze into each cage, while Kralefsky (who appeared to have forgotten my existence) seized a large watering-can from the table and danced nimbly from cage to cage, filling water-pots.

My first impression, that the birds were all canaries, was quite wrong; to my delight I found there were goldfinches painted like clowns in vivid scarlet, yellow, and black; greenfinches as green and yellow as lemon leaves in midsummer; linnets in their neat chocolate-and-white tweed suiting; bullfinches with bulging, rose-pink breasts, and a host of other birds. In one corner of the room I found small french windows that led me out on to a balcony. At each end a large aviary had been built, and in one lived a cock blackbird, black and velvety with a flaunting, banana-yellow beak; while in the other aviary opposite was a thrush-like bird which was clad in the most gorgeous blue feathering, a celestial combination of shades from navy to opal.

"Rock-thrush," announced Kralefsky, poking his head round the door suddenly and pointing at this beautiful bird; "I had it sent over as a nestling last year... from Albania, you know. Unfortunately I have not, as yet, been able to obtain a lady for him."

He waved the watering-can amiably at the thrush, and disappeared inside again. The thrush regarded me with a roguish eye, fluffed his breast out, and gave a series of little clucks that sounded like an amused chuckle. Having gazed long and greedily at him, I went back into the attic, where I found Kralefsky still filling water-pots.

"I wonder if you would care to assist?" he asked, staring at me with vacant eyes, the can drooping in his hand so that a fine stream of water dribbled on to the highly polished toe of one shoe. "A task like this is so much easier if two pairs of hands work at it, I always think. Now, if you hold the watering- can... so... I will hold out the pots to be filled... excellent! That's the ticket! We shall accomplish this in no time at all."

So, while I filled the little earthenware pots with water, Kralefsky took them carefully between finger and thumb and inserted them deftly through the cage doors, as though he were popping sweets into a child's mouth. As he worked he talked to both me and the birds with complete impartiality, but as he did not vary his tone at all I was sometimes at a loss to know whether the remark was addressed to me or to some occupant of the cages.

"Yes, they're in fine fettle today; it's the sunshine, you know... as soon as it gets to this side of the house they start to sing, don't you? You must lay more next time... only two, my dear, only two. You couldn't call that a clutch, with all the goodwill in the world. Do you like this new seed? Do you keep any yourself, eh? There are a number of most interesting seed-eaters found here.... Don't do that in your clean water... Breeding some of them is, of course, a task, but a most rewarding one, I find, especially the crosses. I have generally had great success with crosses... except when you only lay two, of course... rascal, rascal!"

Eventually the watering was done, and Kralefsky stood surveying his birds for a moment or so, smiling to himself and wiping his hands carefully on a small towel. Then he led me round the room, pausing before each cage to give me an account of the bird's history, its ancestors, and what he hoped to do with it. We were examining – in a satisfied silence – a fat, flushed, bullfinch, when suddenly a loud, tremulous ringing sound rose above the clamour of bird song. To my astonishment the noise appeared to emanate from somewhere inside Kralefsky's stomach.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed in horror, turning agonized eyes on me, "by Jove!"

He inserted finger and thumb into his waistcoat and drew out his watch. He depressed a tiny lever and the ringing sound ceased. I was a little disappointed that the noise should have such a commonplace source; to have a tutor whose inside chimed at intervals would, I felt, have added greatly to the charm of the lessons. Kralefsky peered eagerly at the watch and then screwed up his face in disgust.

"By Jove!" he repeated faintly, "twelve o'clock already... winged time indeed... Dear me, and you leave at half past, don't you?"

He slipped the watch back into its pocket and smoothed his bald patch.

"Well," he said at last, "we cannot, I feel, achieve any scholastic advancement in half an hour. Therefore, if it would pass the time pleasantly for you, I suggest we go into the garden below and pick some groundsel for the birds. It's so good for them, you know, especially when they're laying."

So we went into the garden and picked groundsel until Spiro's car honked its way down the street like a wounded duck.

"Your car, I believe," observed Kralefsky politely. "We have certainly managed to gather a good supply of green stuff in the time. Your assistance was invaluable. Now, tomorrow you will be here at nine o'clock sharp, won't you? That's the ticket! We may consider this morning was not wasted; it was a form of introduction, a measuring up of each other. And I hope a chord of friendship has been struck. By Jove, yes, that's very important! Well, au revoir until tomorrow, then."

As I closed the creaking, wrought-iron gates he waved at me courteously and then wandered back towards the house, leaving a trail of golden-flowered groundsel behind him, his hump back bobbing among the rose-bushes.

When I got home the family asked me how I liked my new tutor. Without going into details, I said that I found him very nice, and that I was sure we should become firm friends. To the query as to what we had studied during our first morning I replied, with a certain amount of honesty, that the morning had been devoted to ornithology and botany. The family seemed satisfied. But I very soon found, that Mr Kralefsky was a stickler for work, and he had made up his mind to educate me in spite of any ideas I might have on the subject. The lessons were boring to a degree, for he employed a method of teaching that must have been in fashion round about the middle of the eighteenth century. History was served in great, indigestible chunks, and the dates were learnt by heart. We would sit and repeat them in a monotonous, sing-song chorus, until they became like some incantation that we chanted automatically, our minds busy with other things. For geography I was confined, to my annoyance, to the British Isles, and innumerable maps had to be traced and filled in with the bevies of counties and the county towns. Then the counties and the towns had to be learnt by heart, together with the names of the important rivers, the main produce of places, the populations, and much other dreary and completely useless information.

"Somerset?" he would trill, pointing at me accusingly.

I would frown in a desperate attempt to remember something about that county. Kralefsky's eyes would grow large with anxiety as he watched my mental struggle.

"Well," he would say at length, when it became obvious that my knowledge of Somerset was non-existent – "well, let us leave Somerset and try Warwickshire. Now then, Warwickshire: county town? Warwick! That's the ticket! Now, what do they produce in Warwick, eh?"

As far as I was concerned they did not produce anything in Warwick, but I would hazard a wild guess at coal. I had discovered that if one went on naming a product relentlessly (regardless of the county or town under discussion), sooner or later you would find the answer to be correct. Kralefsky's anguish at my mistakes was very real; the day I informed him that Essex produced stainless steel there were tears in his eyes. But these long periods of depression were more than made up for by his extreme pleasure and delight when, by some strange chance, I answered a question correctly.

Once a week we tortured ourselves by devoting a morning to French. Kralefsky spoke French beautifully, and to hear me massacring the language was almost more than he could bear. He very soon found that it was quite useless to try to teach me from the normal text-books, so these were set aside in favour of a three-volume set of bird books; but even with these it was up-hill going. Occasionally, when we were reading the description of the robin's plumage for the twentieth time, a look of grim determination would settle on Kralefsky's face. He would slam the book shut, rush out into the hall, to reappear a minute later wearing a jaunty panama.

"I think it would freshen us up a little... blow the cobwebs away... if we went for a short walk» he would announce, giving a distasteful glance at Les Petits Oiseaux de I'Europe. «I think we will make our way through the town and come back along the esplanade, eh? Excellent I Now, we must not waste time, must we? It will be a good opportunity for us to practise our conversational French, won't it? So no English, please – everything to be said in French. It is in this way that we become familiar with a language."

So, in almost complete silence, we would wend our way through the town. The beauty of these walks was that, no matter which direction we set out in, we invariably found ourselves, somehow or other, in the bird market. We were rather like Alice in the Looking-glass garden: no matter how determinedly we strode off in the opposite direction, in no time at all we found ourselves in the little square where the stalls were piled high with wicker cages and the air rang with the song of birds. Here French would be forgotten; it would fade away into the limbo to join algebra, geometry, history dates, county towns, and similar subjects. Our eyes sparkling, our faces flushed, we would move from stall to stall, examining the birds carefully and bargaining fiercely with the vendors, and gradually our arms would become laden with cages.

Then we would be brought suddenly back to earth by the watch in Kralefsky's waistcoat pocket, chiming daintily, and he would almost drop his tottering burden of cages in his efforts to extract the watch and stop it.

"By Jove! Twelve o'clock! Who would have thought it, eh? Just hold this linnet for me, will you, while I stop the watch... Thank you... We will have to be quick, eh? I doubt whether we can make it on foot, laden as we are. Dear me! I think we had better have a cab. An extravagance, of course, but needs must where the devil drives, eh?"

So we would hurry across the square, pile our twittering, fluttering purchases into a cab, and be driven back to Kralefsky's house, the jingle of the harness and the thud of hooves mingling pleasantly with the cries of our bird cargo.

I had worked for some weeks with Kralefsky before I discovered that he did not live alone. At intervals during the morning he would pause suddenly, in the middle of a sum or a recitation of county towns, and cock his head on one side, as if listening.
«Excuse me a moment,» he would say. «I must go and see Mother.»

At first this rather puzzled me, for I was convinced that Kralefsky was far too old to have a mother still living. After considerable thought, I came to the conclusion that this was merely his polite way of saying that he wished to retire to the lavatory, for I realized that not everyone shared my family's lack of embarrassment when discussing this topic. It never occurred to me that, if this was so, Kralefsky closeted himself more often than any other human being I had met. One morning I had consumed for breakfast a large quantity of loquats, and they had distressing effects on me when we were in the middle of a history lesson. Since Kralefsky was so finicky about the subject of lavatories I decided that I would have to phrase my request politely, so I thought it best to adopt his own curious term. I looked him firmly in the eye and said that I would like to pay a visit to his mother.

"My mother?" he repeated in astonishment. "Visit my mother? Now?"

I could not see what the fuss was about, so I merely nodded.

"Well," he said doubtfully, "I'm sure she'll be delighted to see you, of course, but I'd better just go and see if it's convenient."

He left the room, still looking a trifle puzzled, and returned after a few minutes. "Mother would be delighted to see you," he announced, "but she says will you please excuse her being a little untidy?"

I thought it was carrying politeness to an extreme to talk about the lavatory as if it were a human being, but, since Kralefsky was obviously a bit eccentric on the subject, I felt I had better humour him. I said I did not mind a bit if his mother was in a mess, as ours frequently was as well.

"Ah... er... yes, yes, I expect so," he murmured, giving me rather a startled glance.

He led me down the corridor, opened a door, and, to my complete surprise, ushered me into a large shadowy bedroom. The room was a forest of flowers; vases, bowls, and pots were perched everywhere, and each contained a mass of beautiful blooms that shone in the gloom, like walls of jewels in a green-shadowed cave. At one end of the room was an enormous bed, and in it, propped up on a heap of pillows, lay a tiny figure not much bigger than a child. She must have been very old, I decided as we drew nearer, for her fine, delicate features were covered with a network of wrinkles that grooved a skin as soft and velvety-looking as a baby mushroom's. But the astonishing thing about her was her hair. It fell over her shoulders in a thick cascade, and then spread halfway down the bed. It was the richest and most beautiful auburn colour imaginable, glinting and shining as though on fire, making me think of autumn leaves and the brilliant winter coat of a fox.

"Mother dear," Kralefsky called softly, bobbing across the room and seating himself on a chair by the bed, "Mother dear, here's Gerry come to see you."

The minute figure on the bed lifted thin, pale lids and looked at me with great tawny eyes that were as bright and intelligent as a bird's. She lifted a slender, beautifully shaped hand, weighed down with rings, from the depths of the auburn tresses and held it out to me, smiling mischievously.

"I am so very flattered that you asked to see me," she said in a soft, husky voice. "So many people nowadays consider a person of my age a bore."

Embarrassed, I muttered something, and the bright eyes looked at me, twinkling, and she gave a fluting blackbird laugh, and patted the bed with her hand.

"Do sit down," she invited; "do sit down and talk for a minute."

Gingerly I picked up the mass of auburn hair and moved it to one side so that I could sit on the bed. The hair was soft, silky, and heavy, like a flame- coloured wave swishing through my fingers. Mrs Kralefsky smiled at me, and lifted a strand of it in her fingers, twisting it gently so that it sparkled.

"My one remaining vanity," she said; "all that is left of my beauty."

She gazed down at the flood of hair as though it were a pet, or some other creature that had nothing to do with her, and patted it affectionately.

"It's strange," she said, "very strange. I have a theory, you know, that some beautiful things fall in love with themselves, as Narcissus did. When they do that, they need no help in order to live; they become so absorbed in their own beauty that they live for that alone, feeding on themselves, as it were. Thus, the more beautiful they become, the stronger they become; they live in a circle. That's what my hair has done. It is self-sufficient, it grows only for itself, and the fact that my old body has fallen to ruin does not affect it a bit. When I die they will be able to pack my coffin deep with it, and it will probably go on growing after my body is dust."

"Now, now, Mother, you shouldn't talk like that," Kralefsky chided her gently. "I don't like these morbid thoughts of yours."

She turned her- head and regarded him affectionately, chuckling softly.

"But it's not morbid, John; it's only a theory I have," she explained. "Besides, think what a beautiful shroud it will make."

She gazed down at her hair, smiling happily. In the silence Kralefsky's watch chimed eagerly, and he started, pulled it out of his pocket, and stared at it.

"By Jove!" he said, jumping to his feet, "those eggs should have hatched. Excuse me a minute, will you, Mother? I really must go and see."

"Run along, run along," she said. "Gerry and I will chat until you come back... don't worry about us."

"That's the ticket!" exclaimed Kralefsky, and bobbed rapidly across the room between the banks of flowers, like a mole burrowing through a rainbow. The door sighed shut behind him, and Mrs Kralefsky turned her head and smiled at me.

"They say," she announced – "they say that when you get old, as I am, your body slows down. I don't believe it. No, I think that is quite wrong. I have a theory that you do not slow down at all, but that life slows down for you. You understand me? Everything becomes languid, as it were, and you can notice so much more when things are in slow motion. The things you see! The extraordinary things that happen all around you, that you never even suspected before I It is really a delightful adventure, quite delightful!"

She sighed with satisfaction, and glanced round the room.

"Take flowers," she said, pointing at the blooms that filled the room. "Have you heard flowers talking?"

Greatly intrigued, I shook my head; the idea of flowers talking was quite new to me.

"Well, I can assure you that they do talk," she said. "They hold long conversations with each other... at least I presume them to be conversations, for I don't understand what they're saying, naturally. When you're as old as I am you'll probably be able to hear them as well; that is, if you retain an open mind about such matters. Most people say that as one gets older one believes nothing and is surprised at nothing, so that one becomes more receptive to ideas. Nonsense! All the old people I know have had their minds locked up like grey, scaly oysters since they were in their teens."

She glanced at me sharply.

"D'you think I'm queer? Touched, eh? Talking about flowers holding conversations?"

Hastily and truthfully I denied this. I said that I thought it was more than likely that flowers conversed with each other. I pointed out that bats produced minute squeaks which I was able to hear, but which would be inaudible to an elderly person, since the sound was too high-pitched.

"That's it, that's it!" she exclaimed delightedly. "It's a question of wave- length. I put it all down to this slowing-up process. Another thing that you don't notice when you're young is that flowers have personality. They are different from each other, just as people are. Look, I'll show you. D'you see that rose over there, in the bowl by itself?"

On a small table in the corner, enshrined in a small silver bowl, was a magnificent velvety rose, so deep a garnet red that it was almost black. It was a gorgeous flower, the petals curled to perfection, the bloom on them as soft and unblemished as the down on a newly-hatched butterfly's wing.

"Isn't he a beauty?" inquired Mrs Kralefsky. "Isn't he wonderful? Now, I've had him two weeks. You'd hardly believe it, would you? And he was not a bud when he came. No, no, he was fully open. But, do you know, he was so sick that I did not think he would live? The person who plucked him was careless enough to put him in with a bunch of Michaelmas daisies. Fatal, absolutely fatal! You have no idea how cruel the daisy family is, on the whole. They are very rough-and-ready sort of flowers, very down to earth, and, of course, to put such an aristocrat as a rose amongst them is just asking for trouble. By the time he got here he had drooped and faded to such an extent that I did not even notice him among the daisies. But, luckily, I heard them at it. I was dozing here when they started, particularly, it seemed to me, the yellow ones, who always seem so belligerent. Well, of course, I didn't know what they were saying, but it sounded horrible. I couldn't think who they were talking to at first; I thought they were quarrelling among themselves. Then I got out of bed to have a look and I found that poor rose, crushed in the middle of them, being harried to death. I got him out and put him by himself and gave him half an aspirin. Aspirin is so good for roses. Drachma pieces for the chrysanthemums, aspirin for roses, brandy for sweet peas, and a squeeze of lemon-juice for the fleshy flowers, like begonias. Well, removed from the company of the daisies and given that pick-me-up, he revived in no time, and he seems so grateful; he's obviously making an effort to remain beautiful for as long as possible in order to thank me."

She gazed at the rose affectionately, as it glowed in its silver bowl.

"Yes, there's a lot I have learnt about flowers. They're just like people. Put too many together and they get on each other's nerves and start to wilt. Mix some kinds and you get what appears to be a dreadful form of class distinction. And, of course, the water is so important. Do you know that some people think it's kind to change the water every day? Dreadful! You can hear the flowers dying if you do that. I change the water once a week, put a handful of earth in it, and they thrive."

The door opened and Kralefsky came bobbing in, smiling triumphantly.

"They've all hatched!" he announced, "all four of them. I'm so glad. I was quite worried, as it's her first clutch."

"Good, dear; I'm so glad," said Mrs Kralefsky delightedly. "That is nice for you. Well, Gerry and I have been having a most interesting conversation. At least, I found it interesting, anyway."

Getting to my feet, I said that I had found it most interesting as well.

"You must come and see me again, if it would not bore you," she said. "You will find my ideas a little eccentric, I think, but they are worth listening to."

She smiled up at me, lying on the bed under her great cloak of hair, and lifted a hand in a courteous gesture of dismissal. I followed Kralefsky across the room, and at the door I looked back and smiled. She was lying quite still, submissive under the weight of her hair. She lifted her hand again and waved. It seemed to me, in the gloom, that the flowers had moved closer to her, had crowded eagerly about her bed, as though waiting for her to tell them something. A ravaged old queen, lying in state, surrounded by her whispering court of flowers.