“I'm a winner!” Forgive me my fist pumping, flag waving and shouting into the air. I won a competition the other day. I haven't won anything in a while. There was a drawing competition when I was eleven; a pencil crafted picture submitted to a national children’s television show the winner of a logo emblazoned t-shirt. I didn’t wear the shirt much. My classmates decided it, and its wearer, were not cool. I won a Calendar Prize in my second year of high school, an all-round achievement award named after precisely I don’t know what, and awarded for high marks in exams, being selected for an inter-school sporting team as well. A cheque for $60, I spent it on several books, not exactly disproving the jeers of my ‘friends’—“nerd!” Jeers, and sneers aside—and probably better forgotten—A Sensitivity to Things is a winner, the joint winner in fact of the 2k Bloggers membership competition, admitted with fellow “Down Under” blogger Flabuless and Going Like Sixty to the august ranks of two thousand top bloggers. Perhaps not an exclusive number were we to gather in a single venue, but elitist enough out of an estimated 60 million. Sixty million monkeys typing? To paraphrase Technorati, there’s got to be one or two primates worth reading... Will success go to my head? Friends are doing their best to help me avoid an inflation of the ego—regular taunts of “Johnno Bloggo” suitably deflating to burgeoning writer’s pride. And it is worth mentioning, in a spirit of humility, that friend and far more prolific blogger Tejvan is a member of 2k Bloggers as well, and has been for a considerable time. Once more I arrive on the band wagon late...
Although I continue to argue that I’m not in blogging for the publicity, that I write neither for attention or notoriety, like shouting to the entire world from a mountain-top, appearances can be deceiving. Friends have, irreverently, been calling me “Johnno Bloggo” for a while... 2k Bloggers, a.k.a. “The Face of the Blogosphere,” is holding a contest to admit two bloggers to their exclusive, gold plated ranks; a place in their directory and photo-montage the publicly stated, much desired prize. The price of admission? This very blog post, and the fulfilling of three simple conditions:
- a pre-existing blog (preferably since before January 2007);
- a post containing on your blog explaining why you'd like to become a member;
- submit a comment on their site containing a link to this post and your photo.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows opens, or more accurately is preceded, by two poems. The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus, and More Fruits of Solitude by William Penn.
The Libation Bearers Oh, the torment bred in the race, the grinding scream of death and the stroke that hits the vein, the haemorrhage none can staunch, the grief, the curse no man can bear. But there is a cure in the house and not outside it, no, not from others but from them, their bloody strife. We sing to you, dark gods beneath the earth. Now hear, you blissful powers underground— answer the call, send help. Bless the children, give them triumph now. —Aeschylus More Fruits of Solitude Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that whch is omnipresent. In this divine glass they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal. —William Penn (read the full poem at PoetSeers.org)I think that tells us more than enough about this final instalment in the Harry Potter series... Anyone doubting J.K. Rowling is a real, or serious author, should put that poorly titled book away right now. Any author who can quote Aeschylus, let alone has even heard of William Penn (one of the founders of Quakerism and namesake for the state of Pennsylvania), is worth all the pounds in the Bank of England. I must say I am tiring of prose somewhat—the writing of it that is—for tiring of its reading would be a strange thing to say indeed, 607 pages of The Deathly Hallows still to be turned. Prose is so precise, and therefore so unimaginative. You can joyfully throw precision out the window with poetry—although in the reading that is, definitely not in the writing, which requires an act of concentration at least deeper, if not stronger than in prose. With poetry you can let your imagination paint the words, and the lines in between. I have been writing prose almost non-stop for a year now—the first substantive piece of writing in my entire life (Airport Anxiety) written a year ago during a visit to Japan, and am starting to tire of it’s up and down, black and white limitations; it’s tendency towards haranguing and shouting, as compared to poetry’s soft whispers, varied meanings. Perhaps this is why I had a recent piece of writing declined for publication (Miracles out of Mountains out of Molehills); the editor said obliquely, and not completely helpfully, that he preferred my more simple, straightforward stories. Not so simply, I am growing tired of words in a straight line, trying my best to break them apart gracefully. There will probably be some dreadful experiments to come. I wrote my first poem in about a decade earlier this week—a rush of emotion-bourne words born upon listening to a song, and staring, at the same time, dream-like into a photograph. I then, by habit now an unrestrained shaper of prose, began to prune and rewrite, to my later regret. It will now probably not see the light of day. Ever the melodramatist, I dare saw I am really only a little tired of prose. No doubt, to either benefit or regret, I have thousands of words inside me left. And thousands more to read in The Deathly Hallows. I still haven’t made it past the opening poems...
So it’s time to vote in the Daily Blog Tips Blog Project: Three, choose a top 3 from no less than 115 entries. O.k. 114, because I don’t think I’ll get away with voting for my own entry, Me and three. I must say I had some difficulty wading through all the “Top 3 Ways To Sell Your SEO”—or is that sell your soul?—style of entries, which is not to say they were badly written, or even plain bad, only not my cup of chai tea. So, with much further to do, I should really get to the point and write my list, choose my top 3—necessary for my continued participation in the contest despite my aversion to writing such: “I Hate Lists And So Should You.” Oh, and thanks to those who have already voted for me—my fragile writer’s ego is appreciative.
- Top 3 Things Kermit The Frog Can Teach You About Blogging (and Life) by Dee. As Dee relates, it’s not easy being green, and top marks to her for telling us why.
- 3 Secrets of Writing for Blogs by Tejvan. Lists are definitely o.k. when about writing—one of my favourite topics of all.
- Three reasons to try a marathon by Shane. I’m training for a marathon at the moment, and carbo-loading as well—although no doubt Shane would tell me that buckets of pasta are for the final week of training—so this article on why you should run 26.2 miles and enjoy it gets my vote, and appreciation.
“If you are walking near a chip shop - you will feel hungry. Your body will tell you that it needs some chips. If it doesn’t then you need help.”Talking of deep-fryers and fat covered fat, I am reminded of a flatmate many years ago, who liked to prove his “toughness” by pulling chips out of boiling oil with bare fingers—“Na, doesn’t bother me,” he would say, “I’m tough as nails.” Come to think of it now, he probably did need help.
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
- 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 (verrÃ¼ckt!), 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I am still waiting for a politician, possibly human being to admire more than Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. Ronald Reagan stopped the Cold War indeed...
- 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 liquidatedLyrically 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.
- 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.
- 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.
It 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” Topping 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 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...