Maria, a neglected poet from Moscow, a.k.a“Red Squirrel,” has tagged me to write eight random facts about myself. At this point I can almost see my collective readership heading towards to the little red button in the corner of their browser windows, long suffered already twenty-six facts about me, me, me (Thirteen Facts About Me as a Child and There’s a Sequel in this)—but hey, it’s an official invitation, and self-indulgence a near bottomless topic.

Eight facts about me, possibly involving a Russian theme

  1. One of the courses I enjoyed the most at university was a first year paper entitled“Russian Civilisation,” taken purely by chance and desperation after failing my first semester. It is a mystery to me still why I took Philosophy, Psychology and German (verrückt!), and not entirely a mystery why I failed—passing, I later learnt, requires actual study—but one thousand years of Russian history was something of a hidden gem, and inspiration when such was very much lacking—the Mongol hordes, Peter the Great, music of Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, authors Dostoevsky, Checkhov, Gogol and Tolstoy, painter Kandinsky, the Revolution and of course Gorbachev—all avidly read, listened and consumed. Attendance of these eagarly awaited, two times a week lectures turned an until this point miserable academic career completely around, and as a bonus, was taught by actual Russians—sadly, the same positive didn’t apply earlier in the German faculty. Career diplomats from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs even walked down the road to give guest lectures.
  2. I had a school friend that was Russian. This was somewhat unusual in 1980s New Zealand, and so was he; I was nice to him really because no one else was—I felt sorry for him and the often self-perpetuated misery he was enduring. I even forgave him the time he announced that he had figured me out—“I worked out what you are—you’re pompous!” I tried his caviar sandwiches once but didn’t acquire the taste.
  3. I had a dream once of being in a large school hall surrounded by people from all over the world, feeling happier than I had since childhood, as though I was a child again, sitting on the ground talking to another child, a child who seemed to be my best ever friend—a Russian boy. Almost every aspect of this dream eventually came true.
  4. Despite long wanting I have never been to Russia—except in dream-flight. Another vivid night-time vision, at almost the same time as the previous saw me in Russia, and as a musician. While not exactly booking my flight or practising the piano, I am somewhat curious to see if this will one day come to pass.
  5. I am still waiting for a politician, possibly human being to admire more than Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. Ronald Reagan stopped the Cold War indeed…
  6. A film and drama major at University—once I discovered how to pass (and study)—I went through something of a Russian cinema phase; the watching of mother and father of modern film montage, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin, 1925), course prerequisite and introduction to a host of realistic yet lyrical, near forgotten works. One of my favourites, a example of poetic film-making rare even today is Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s Earth (Zemlya, 1930), which to quote one reviewer:

    Dovzhenko’s“film poem” style brings to life the collective experience of life for the Ukranian proles, examining natural cycles through his epic montage. He explores life, death, violence, love and other issues as they relate to the collective farms. An idealistic vision of the possibilities of Communism made just before Stalinism set in and the Kulak class was liquidated

    Lyrically beautiful, Earth is also deeply tragic, a poignant example of what could have been, in film and in real life; the last film of its kind before Stalin’s iron fist descended.

    I even sat through the dense, almost impregnable works of Andrei Tarkovsky—Ivan’s Childhood (Ivanovo Detstvo, 1962), The Sacrifice (Offret, 1986) and the original Solaris (Solyaris, 1972—Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 remake is surprisingly watchable, and worth it for the soundtrack alone)—all watched but not completely understood; example enough of the graphic realism, lyricism and otherworldly transcendentalism which I dream of one day etching as keywords to my own masterpiece.

    My favourite Russian film of all? Come and See (Idi I Smotri, 1985) by Elem Klimov, a film more brutal than I could stomach a second time, yet containing an near unique, hallucinatory otherworldiness and sensitivity—a young boy wanders in a daze through the countryside and the atrocities of World War II Byelorussia.

  7. My favourite author for a period was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the 1970 Nobel Prize winner in literature. His combination of politics, realism, sense of justice, morality, absurdity and irony mirrored my own at the time of reading, and his personal account of some of the darkest days of Russian history are, like a car wreck, compulsive viewing.
  8. My eighth and final fact? Visitors from the Russian Federation rank eighth in the list of visitors to this site. And I really am not making that up.

Feeling quite the spammer already after my last post, I’m not going to personally tag anyone to participate in this meme, but should you want to list eight random facts about yourself, I’m sure you know the drill.

Come and See trialer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMKwMzLj8Ow

hepi-ichikoIt is a constant joy, near form of poetry to read the search engine phrases that, month after month, click after click deliver readers to this site. Like absolute strangers on a train, mundane queries like“sensitivitytothings.com” and“really good writing that I will bookmark and read every day” sit alongside absolute gems—pennies from internet heaven too precious to ignore: “canada state electronic flash churches,” “delusions electricity sensitivity” and “i afraid of three things.” Admittedly one of those phrases might be made up…

My site statistics tell me the most visited post on this site is the deliberately surreal, first exploration of search engine serendipity, Follow the Rainbow, a post inspired by one vistor’s mind-blowing, reality confounding search phrase,“Seeing a rainbow in your living room means what?,” which to consider the irrational rational, abandon serendipity for cause and effect was one assumes ipso facto attracted to these pages by Sri Chinmoy’s intriguing explanation of the spiritual significance of rainbows. The cause, rather than destination of this seeker’s query however is a matter for speculation—but I hesitate to ask for a serving of what they are having.

I can’t say with certainty why other people enjoyed Follow the Rainbow, but for its author it was most enjoyable to write. An exercise in chance, serendipity and the random, it was written during something of a dry spell—inspiration, ability for anything structured or thought through lacking. So often the portrait of an artist as a procrastinator, I have literally dozens of pieces on the table at any one time, awaiting inspiration or moment of clarity for completion, sometimes comprehension; yet find it usually the unplanned, unstructured I enjoy most—probably the reason why so many remain unfinished. Like a fickle child, I am all too easily entranced by the latest shiny, flashing toy.

Now hopelessly distracted, viewing and reviewing my search engine phrases once more, shall we follow the rainbow again?

“john gillespie”
john gillespie mageeTopping the list of Google queries, admittedly by margin smaller than people you can fit into an average car, is“John Gillespie.” Hmm, that name does sound familiar…

Long in search of the true John Gillespie, I hope dear Google user you also found what you were looking for; but should you have been searching for the University of California biologist, failed Republican Congressional candidate from the year 2000, a London based actor, the Canadian hair transplant surgeon or artist from the nineteenth century, I’m little worried—it seems aside from the politician, my namesakes are all worthy of the seeking.

Especially so John Gillespie Magee, Jr, whose all too brief 19 years crash-landed in a 1941 spitfire accident over Roxholm, England, yet lives on in a poem said to be a favourite amongst astronauts and aviators, quoted by a US President following the Challenger Shuttle disaster:

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, —and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

This John Gillespie would almost bargain a fiery, cockpit leaping death to have written that…

I do not wish to imply that I am something I am not. I am not a saint—far from it in fact. But I have never tell the truth ever been in a fight. As in fisticuffs, hurled insults, arms in a flay.

Which is not to suggest that I am of perfect, even temper, or to turn the other cheek, altogether foreign to confrontation and a coward. As most I have my shameful, deeply regretted not forgotten moments, moments I would prefer to remember as exceptions rather than rule in any final summary of self.

The Karate KidLike the time, so long ago it seems almost a dream, all of eight years old and bloated with pride beyond caution from karate lessons, I boastfully challenged a playmate to mock combat and was judo thrown to the ground—pride painfully dented, lesson learned. A storm in a teacup from this distant, adult vantage, childhood ego bruised only slightly on grassy school field, but these are the pride deflating moments that haunt me still. Or to see them more clearly, teach me still.

It is with thanks that what uncontrolled, ill-disciplined acts I do own are buried in the not quite oblivion of a younger, less wise self, and the fact remains that I have never come to outright blows. Which alone may make me a pacifist via count-back decision, but ironic white feather aside I can admit to a few memorable tales of boys-own heroism and physical valour—certainly in my own mind if nowhere else.

At a school holiday football coaching clinic with a friend, both aged about nine, I quietly but not altogether stoically endued two days of taunts, insults and humiliations from a spoiled, obnoxious child one year my senior, several clothing sizes my physical superior. Far more outwardly composed than inwardly, I was equal parts rage and humiliation beneath very thin skin—a violent brooding which found expression on the final moment of the final day. Crossing a field to parents waiting, I walked up beside tormentor and friends and punched him as hard as able in the stomach, hitting and then running to conveniently parked parental get-away car.

Despite several peripheral to character moments like this one, usually spurred to action by strong sense of injustice but at times less, and often standing up for friends rather than myself, I grew up with a deeply held aversion to violence.

I have always been a disgusted bystander to fights, sometimes a peacemaker as well. I notice keenly how foolish those who lose their temper appear, how invariably pride is wounded as badly as from any blow, feel almost as strongly as my own a loser’s humiliation and shame—sure price to be paid when temper and self-control are swung wildly to one side.

I have never been much of a gambler either. One methodical and deliberated in his actions—at least usually—physical violence has always seemed a far too risky, high stakes kind of wager; caution and common sense more often stays my fist rather than saintliness I would in confession say.

Still, despite many lessons yet to master, I am thankful to be well-studied, even graduated in one pre-requisite course of my humanity degree—an absolute aversion to physical violence.

My site went down a few hours ago—why I do not know. Perhaps because my index.php file mysteriously left for a long walk, still not to return. Or perhaps because of my current state of fuzzy brain. If you have amnesia, do you actually know when you are forgetting things?

On that topic, thanks for the concern about the head injury everybody—even private messages received encouraging me to get it checked out. I’m really touched—sincerely actually—even if only because you are alarmed that your daily dose of Sensitivity might be disrupted, or decline. And should I be affected, as opposed to“affecting” for the purposes of telling a good story, I will definitely seek professional help. Of the medical kind that is.

In the absence of a handy site backup, and the oft-delayed necessity of upgrading to WordPress 2.2, I have decided to upgrade, manually, so bear with me as I get back up to speed.

I should also say at this point caveat emptor. If you wish to work in WordPress, be aware that it is significantly more difficult than Blogger to maintain and install. But also significantly more powerful.

Luckily, none of the content, glorious content should have been affected—and I know you visit Sensitivity for the writing, not pretty pictures or amazing plug-ins.

And keep an eye out, for as soon as I get these technical matters under control I have a goodie for you all to read—at least in my opinion anyway. Yes, it will of course be about myself (isn’t that the definition of blogging?), and a little Whitman as well…

Lyttleton harbour. Photograph by John Gillespie.I got hit in the head the other day. Never having been concussed before, it’s hard to say whether I was, or in fact still am, but having headaches two days later probably isn’t a good sign.

Boys will be boys as they say—grown men as well. On holiday and playing a game of frisbee, a casual sport some friends are rather partial to, innocent fun soon degenerated into competition and intense struggle—a loser takes a dip in the ocean game of“Donkey.” For those not familiar, the object in Donkey is to make it as hard as possible for your opponents to catch the disc—whether by throwing it with force sufficient to break bones (normally noses in fact), or far enough away to struggle for a clean catch. Drops and poor throws earn a letter of the titular word, the first to spell the animal surely being one. Why a donkey? Said animal is hardly renowned for it’s intelligence or speed…

By the end of the game, played on a precipice with spectacular views of Christchurch’s Lyttleton Harbour, all of the players tied, or close enough because score keeping was taken less than seriously, it came to a single, final throw for redemption, hopefully dry clothes as well. A ‘Hail Mary’ thrown high into the air above, all five of us scrambling to be the catcher.

It looked good for me for a while, with extra incentive as a non-swimmer since ear trouble in childhood. Leaping up to catch the frisbee, admittedly not as high as I might imagine since in stature I am lacking, I came within an inch of clasping the disc, victory as well, glory thwarted only by a mid-air collision of spectacular proportions. Hit from behind, more blind-sided really, I was thrown empty handed to the ground then side-swiped, a brain-shaking, dazing blow to the side of my head by another player as I fell.

Lyttleton harbour again. Photograph by John Gillespie.Like I said already, I can’t be sure if what followed was concussion, but the fact that my head hurt in two places—where collided with and where brain hit skull—is probably a certain sign. There was little time to ponder the finer points of a sore head however as I headed towards the water…

Which got me thinking. A sportsman since the time I could hold a bat in my hand, I have twisted, strained, pulled and bruised just about every single part of me possible to injure, yet touch wood of changing room wall have yet to break a single bone or get knocked out. Sitting here nursing a residual headache, and substantially warmer than when in the water, I am reminded that lack of injuries are truly a blessing, and physical pain, while heroic in the enduring, is not lightly to be invited.

Sri Chinmoy plays the fluteI often listen to the music of Sri Chinmoy while working, while writing as well. Which is not to say that I do not have my moments of wild, popular musical abandon; but over and over again it is spiritual, meditative music, it’s slow moving, profoundly powerful currents of soothing peace and poise in which I rest my oars, close the world’s noisy doors.

I was working on a video project recently, an easy job but stressful task due to the total, irrevocable loss of a hard drive from which the project—and for project read economic sustenance for the next several months—was lost completely. Yes, I should have a back-up procedure, but you can back that finger-pointing up; this particular wisdom I have now learnt, albeit after the fact, and very much the hard way, remaking this and several other projects over, completely from scratch.

While working, and in much need of meditative soothing—the thought of other jobs, perhaps more so their owners pressing upon me like dark clouds, and like clouds just as hard to scatter, I stopped a while to actually listen to what I was listening to, gathered clouded attention to bear upon a talk on poetry by Sri Chinmoy.

Here are a few choice words that momentarily, happily stopped my train of work, lightened my pain of thought:

“Ancient poetry pined for inner freedom. Modern poetry hungers for outer freedom.

Since, according to many, I am a modern poet, I do not know how I can escape from Goethe’s irrefutable observation of modern poets: ‘Modern poets mix too much water with their ink.’

Ancient poetry paid more attention to the Unknowable than the knowable. Modern poetry maximises the power of the knowable and allows the Unknowable to remain a stranger, a perfect stranger.

The ancient poetry-boat was quite often overloaded with poetry-passenger-readers. The modern poetry-boat is quite often empty of poetry-passenger-readers.

Now what about those who are not poetry-lovers at all-no, not even poetry-readers? They do not care in the least either for ancient poetry or for modern poetry. Dear audience, with your soul’s permission, I am crying ditto to a statement by Anthony Hope Hawkins: ‘I wish you would read a little poetry sometimes. Your ignorance cramps my conversation.’ ”

—Excerpt from a talk entitled Poet and Poetry at Sri Chinmoy Library.

You can listen to Sri Chinmoy’s music at Radio Sri Chinmoy—flute, cello, Indian esraj and synthesiser among the many instruments available, and probably instruments easiest to approach initially. Listen to Sri Chinmoy playing for at least 10 or 15 minutes—put it on in the background even, and marvel at the sense of calm and peace that, like a medicine slow working, has seeped into you. Without you even noticing…

Thumbelina lifted overheadWhat do you do with the world’s smallest horse? Lift it of course—especially when it is too small to lift you.

For 75 year old New York based weight-lifter, humanitarian and world harmony leader Sri Chinmoy, the choice to lift Thumbelina, a miniature horse standing just 44.5 centimetres tall was obvious—he has made a practise of lifting people, unusual objects—even animals of all shapes and sizes, a novel and inspiring twist to the normally mundane practise of lifting weights into the air.

Less than two weeks after lifting 58 white “wind horses” in Mongolia, Sri Chinmoy not only lifted Thumbelina—at 57 pounds (25kg) just heavy enough to incur a penalty if you took her to an airport in a suitcase—but her owner Michael Goessling and handler Tago DePietro as well, a combined weight of 568lbs (257kg) lifted on a specially constructed machine.

Founder of the global Oneness-Heart-Tears and Smiles humanitarian organisation, Sri Chinmoy awarded the tiny horse the Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart award, in recognition of her tireless strides to aid children. The award, where recipients are honoured by being physically lifted overhead by the weightlifting and fitness advocate, has previously been given to 8,000 people. And now one very small horse.

Thumbelina with dogThumbelina is no ordinary horse, and more important than her diminutive stature may suggest. Inspiration and namesake for the Thumbelina Children’s Society, this miniature chestnut mare rides an uplifting mission of her own—raising money and awareness for children in need around the world. Says Michael Goessling, “Every day, thousands of people fall in love with Thumbelina and every day, she gets one step closer to fulfilling her mission. She is a blessing that we are thrilled to share with the world.”

Thumbelina’s fund raising activities benefit disabled children and children with cancer, and her owners have set a goal of raising one million dollars this year alone.

And why does Sri Chinmoy use weight, and now horse-lifting, as the foundation for his very special award? In his own words, to encourage people to strive to fulfil their dreams—as a child intuitively does: “If we remain in a childlike heart, then age can never be a barrier and there is no end to our progress.”

What’s next for this animal lifting poet, author, musician and founder of many humanitarian initiatives? Lifting airplanes, cars, motorcycles and boats of course…

Further info:

Photo credit: Thumbelina lifted overhead by Jowan Gauthier.