Monday, August 22, 2011

The (Perfect) Song Of The Week...

"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" here in the video below sung by Nina Simone.

In 2010, Simone's version was used for the end credits of season one's 6th and final episode of BBC's crime drama Luther. In 2011, it was used again for the trailer for the show's second season.

"You know baby, sometimes I am so carefree...
...with a joy that's hard to hide.
And then sometimes again it seems all I have is worry...
...and then you bound to see my other side.

Sometimes I find myself alone regretting...
some little foolish thing.
Some simple thing that I have done.

Cuz, I'm just a soul whose intentions are good...
I try so hard, so please, Lord
Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Luther and Denial

The BBC has a TV series called Luther. Luther is a psychological crime drama television series starring Idris Elba (from The Wire) as the title character, Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, working for the Serious Crime Unit. Luther is "dazzling, obsessive, possessed - and sometimes dangerous in the violence of his fixations - and he has paid a heavy price for his dedication; he has never been able to prevent himself from being consumed by the darkness of the crimes he deals with". The show has some almost poetry dialogue like this observation about DENIAL from the last episode of series one:

"It turns out people lie to themselves about three things; they view themselves in implausibly positive ways, they think they have far more control over their lives than they actually do and they believe the future will be better than the evidence from the present can possibly justify. But, you're way beyond that now. You are in front of the stand up mirror and lying to yourself isn't going to help anymore. So, please, tell me again, why are you here?"

That could be something we all need to hear at one time or another because the paradox of lying to ourselves is that we do not even know we are doing it. It starts with a simple enough observation "you are way beyond that now" (seeing and starting from where things are) and concludes not with an answer but with a big, important question - why are you here? (not "what can I do to help" but "what do you want to do to help yourself?") Ye gads, maybe I am reading too much into it or maybe it is just me, but that really seems like some smart stuff for a cop show on TV.

Here is a cool video tribute to Season 1 (with a great song used on the show). (Season two begins on September 28.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hoagland part 3 - on gratitude...

In response to yesterday's post about Hoagland and "a different kind of wonders of the world" a reader wrote:

Dear Rough Fractals,

There is within the "Amida Buddhist" tradition of minimalism, a practice of searching for the essence of life by finding meaning in the smallest thing. Once popular in Japan, the Amida monks spent their lives saying "Amida Buddha" or writing their name on paper. They thus find solace and meaning in the repetition of a very limited thing.

It happens that I do not respond in the same way to the "variations on a limited theme or activity." I would have experienced the Datsun brake light incident as a distraction from the main purpose of my trip. I think most people focus on what happens outside the "routine" and find deep involvement in the "flavor of the day" or whatever issue, crisis, or event has arisen and find joy in their ardor to participate in their exceptional (rather than routine) initiatives.

Very Truly Yours,

The Un-Monk.

Dear Un-Monk,

I think we are saying the same thing. The Datsun brake light issue was the "flavor of the day" and I did find great pleasure in executing the initiative required to locate a replacement lens in the middle of nowhere. That is the point - it was the variation on something routine that made the event so exceptional even though it was something I have done countless times (gone to a store to buy a part).

The cliche, time flies, is true. And I think the reason is that our memories tend to compress the routine in between important events. Births, weddings, vacations, illnesses, deaths, holidays. But what if the humdrum (30 years at the job, the weekly food shop, going to the dry cleaners etc) is in some way not merely the filler in between the important stuff - but is the important stuff? Because commuting to the office for 30 years to earn money to spice up the humdrum with the occasional break from routine - does sound like the "rat race" and a losing battle - and when your head hits the pillow and you think about tomorrow you would not likely want to get out of bed if you thought you were losing the battle because let's face it for the most part no matter how much you strive or achieve or covet, no one avoids the stuff of real unhappiness... illness, disappointment, death, hardship, tragedy, boredom, loss - yet most people keep going, even happily, despite the rat race and despite a lot of good reasons to be pretty unhappy and so maybe what the Amida Monks were onto and what the lady who sold me the brake light meant by that kiss is that the small stuff - the quiet and ordinary and everyday as much as the winning and acquiring are things to be thankful for. And as long as you are grateful, and I mean really grateful, for the job and the food shopping and the dry cleaner and for the brake light then, when you lift your head off that pillow, the reason you actually feel good is because you are appreciating just how fucking lucky you are that your head is even on a pillow. That is a start to a good day.

The answer that I think Hoagland and Wallace and Tommy (and I guess I can add the Amida Monks ) suggest is to pay attention and be as aware as you can be and to care and then maybe you don't take for granted being on line at the food store or going to the dry cleaners or having to fix the brake light, or your pillow and then maybe time (and life) doesn't fly - it is savored.

As an aside, to my knowledge, David Foster Wallace only traveled outside the U.S. once, to Italy, and he said he hated it. That is kind of interesting. Although I want to add that none of this has to do with travel, which it sounds like I am somehow against - not at all. Travel is very cool and fun (way more fun than going to the dry cleaners - that is the problem).

Rough Fractals

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hoagland part 2...a different kind of wonders of the world.

Yesterday I posted a quote from the essayist Edward Hoagland:

"Country people do not behave as if they think life is short; they live on the principle that it is long, and savor variations of the kind best appreciated if most days are the same. "

I thought today I would try to explain why I like Hoagland's notion that the things in life that we most savor are "variations" within the context of routine.

Take travel for example. It is possible to appreciate the majestic Galapagos Islands or the Rainbow Mountains of Pumamarca, Argentina or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul or Shamu at Sea World in San Diego. But, (at least for me) appreciating large scale stuff has always required a certain effort that I just do not have in me. I get it - "Wow" - but it is more the back story of what got me there than the being there that gives the experience meaning - the place hardly matters in that sense. But if on the way back from the Galapagos you are driving around Ecuador in a beat up rental car and accidentally back into a tree cracking the brake light lens and then spend a day searching in the middle of nowhere for a brake light lens for a 1998 Datsun which miraculously you find in a box in the back of a store run by a woman who has worked behind the counter for 30 years who, to her own amazement, finds she actually does have a 1998 Datsun brake light lens (not to mention her amazement that you are looking for one) and she seems to get just how awesome the moment is and this woman, in the middle of nowhere who sells used car parts in Ecuador, somehow knows that this unlikely gringo feels an even more unlikely kinship to her in some way that she does not understand but senses and she gives you the brake light lens and along with it a kiss - that "small" moment is going to take up a seemingly disproportionately large amount of space in your brain relative to all the hoopla given to the seven wonders of the world.

I think Hoagland was talking about that kind of appreciation - that what is extraordinary about life may not be so much the extraordinary things you do or accomplish but something else. I have always been suspicious of (and a little mad at myself for) my own seduction by the "wow factor" (in people, places and things) whereas simply spending a day dealing with the grist of a beat up rental car (a day that could be described as going to the store to buy a car part) is a moment I can savor without suspicion or guilt.

David Foster Wallace got to a similar point as Hoagland (I think) in his Kenyon College Commencement speech entitled "This Is Water" when he said:

"... there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" - the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing."

My friend Tommy (who has a hard fought arsenal of insights that he deploys like a one man brigade on a mission) put it this way: " The secret to life is size. And that size is small. The smaller the better. If you can get to the point where you can open your entire life with the smallest Allen wrench they make you will finally reach the state of Nirvana."

Tommy's notion that size matters, like Wallace's conception of real freedom and Hoagland's description of savoring small variations in the mostly same days over a long life, all seem less rooted in living large than in the stuff we do every day and really caring (or trying to).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Quote of the day - Edward Hoagland - a savoring life...

Country people do not behave as if they think life is short; they live on the principle that it is long, and savor variations of the kind best appreciated if most days are the same.

(Edward Hoagland (b. 1932), U.S. novelist, essayist. repr. In Heart's Desire (1988). "The Ridge-Slope Fox and the Knife Thrower," Harper's (New York, Jan. 1977).)


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