Monday, 22 June 2009

waiting again.

Once again an ancestor is nearing his end. In fact, my sole surviving male ancestor.
My grandfather has hours or days to live and is in hospital fading. Its life. Its how the cycle ends. A long life with little tragedy and many many descendents. One can't really complain about a life lived long and which gave rise to 4 children, 17 grandchildren and countless great grandchildren.
But its still sad.

He left in the ambulance on Saturday to go to the hospice. I thought that the leaving of one's home for the last time must have a significance, but he barely cast a glance as the doors were closed. Perhaps he was past caring. Or perhaps this significance is one I have in my head and is not shared by all.
Many of the family were present, for support and for their own understandable needs. He must have seen the concern and hopefully realises the affection and regard in which he is held.

To see someone who was once energetic, funny, intelligent, reduced in functionality to a husk which, though still sentient, is too tired or weak to express themselves, is quite tragic and it makes you realise that the accepted functional form of a human is actually quite a fragile state, though we mostly enjoy good health and faculties.

Holding his hand, a man for whom emotion was never a comfortable companion and affection rarely accepted with anything other than an aloof "Oh, Right-o!", i see the wastage that happens with such an illness. My own hand looks almost plump and opulent in comparison and I realise that one day, probably, my hand will look as his, and someone will be holding it in theirs and looking down at me and feeling helpless as to what to say or do.
Imminent death has that creamy, rancid butter smell about it. I am familiar with it now and how it hangs around people near their end. I hadnt realised it was so distinctive. The nurse's "Is that your father? I can see a resemblance!" seemed an odd thing to say given the gaunt state of the poor old chap, but maybe I do need a few more hearty dinners.
"No, he is my grandfather." I reply. "He started very young."
She smiles sympathetically and wanders off with her pillowcase stuffing still in process.
He did start young. He was 35 when I was born. Dark haired, deceptively dopey-seeming but astoundingly pragmatic. His childhood memory of the blitz in one of the more heavily bombed areas of Bristol gave him a stoicism that is evident even now as his strength and capabilities fade.

I don't want to get old. I don't want to die this way: Almost vacant, the object of pity as well as respect. Fading gives times for goodbyes, but how does memory work on the image of the lost loved one? How will we subsequently remember them and be remembered? As we were in our prime or as we were last seen?

But the immobility, the inability to speak or gesture, has struck me like a hammer blow. It is this I take from this most strongly, as a tribute if you like, to my father in his fading, his father, similarly struck down prematurely, and my dear old Granfer now lying in his bed in the hospice.

I have my strength, my limbs, my mind. I have my voice, my hearing and my sight.
And they should be appreciated while they persist. hence, i will dance and sing, and look at the vibrant flowers, smell the honeysuckle and stroke the cheeks of my loved ones. I shall ride my bike and take to the waves. And Every faculty I possess, that I have seen degraded and lost in those who left us, I will rejoice in.

To do less would be a disservice to them and myself.

My thoughts are with you Maurice. Be peaceful.

Friday, 19 June 2009

motivation, or Wanting to do Stuff

I suppose this is really about motivation. Motivation is something I don't really understand. Sometimes you want to do something and sometimes you don't. There are things you yearn to do RIGHT NOW! This could be going on holiday somewhere gloriously warm and sunny, drinking a cool beer on a hot day or rushing off to bed with your lover. There are things which, if they were immediately accessable to you, you would have a hard time resisting.
Then there are other things you would rather not do, in fact, you would avoid if possible. Washing up, cleaning the toilet, perhaps even going to work: Tasks that make your spirit sink when you think of their imminent need for attention.
And in between is a whole spectrum of activities of differing levels of attractiveness.

Somewhere along the line from simple early eukaryote to human, the neural reward system developed. The ubiquitously hailed dopamine became the substance of choice for directing the behaviour of organisms. Oddly, it is required to make us eat, mate, even learn: When we encounter a new fact or experience, we get a tiny but pleasurable squish of dopamine to the receptors that tell us "That was GOOD!". Without it, it appears we would just not bother, which seems strange: Surely we need to eat and surely sex is so pleasurable that we would if we could? Actually, it seems not and this appears to be the reason for the existence of this reward mechanism.

So, on an experiential level, there seems to be a variability. Last weekend, i took my kayak to the sea. For so long have i languished here, in this office or working at my desk at home, dreaming about being in big clean, glassy waves, riding down and along in the salty sunshine and howling with the sheer joy of it. And last weekend, that is precisely what I did. At least for two days.
And on the third day, the surf was still good, but somehow, I just didnt want to any more. So, I went fishing instead.

Appetite, I can understand. I get hungry. I eat. My body produces a hormone called leptin which says " Ok, stop eating now. No need to eat any more. All the digestive buffers are now full to optimum capacity!" At this point, satisfaction is achieved and all is as it should be. (A fortuitous position to be in, I appreciate).

And then there is sex. When i was 14 I was, as gender, hormonal disposition and age dictated, overly preoccupied with sex. Its glory and mystery pevaded all my thoughts and many of my actions and it seemed the most exciting activity one could ever want to participate in.
Then when I was 35, I woke up one morning and found it was no more of interest to me. Admittedly, a huge grey cloud had settled over my mind which would take some years to dislodge fully, but sex was as interesting to me as the study of ancient mesopotamian trumpets, or the lifecycle of the woodworm. Something had happened on a psychological level, which had in turn produced a chemical and hence physiological effect. It was pretty wretched and I missed wanting it. But I didnt want it. I do now. Not quite to the 14 year old level, but still fairly insistently, which I am grateful for, though it frustrates the hell out of me on many many occasions!

Sometimes I dance. I love to dance. I cant wait for Tuesday evening when I can get my dancing shoes on, take to the floor and spin some ladies round and hop and wiggle my hips in time to the music. It gives me sometimes an almost spiritual lift.
But occasionally, I sit at the edge of the dance floor, looking into the melee of mostly in-time bodies, and feel I would rather be elsewhere. The glorious euphoria I know to be possible from this activity, is suddenly absent and it leaves me cold. Somewhere in an instant, the desire to do this evaporated leaving in its place a kind of desolate boredom or even repulsion. How does this happen?

So, what confuses me is, how one moment, one can want to do only one thing to the exclusion of all other passtimes - enthusiasm may overcome one and a kind of hot, happy itch is inside you until you get to do it - and in the next moment, a comment, a thought, an event can puncture the bubble of enthusiasm and all passion is suddenly dispersed, leaving only a flatness.

I pose these questions not particularly because I require immediate answers to them, but because in those moments, I WANT to desire to do those things. The removal of the imperative upsets and depresses me.
The sudden disappearance of motivation leaves me poorer and less happy.

If one could only find the key to what makes one really want to do a certain thing one moment, and then not particularly want to do it the next, how empowering that would be! I could get those tasks done that I put off for ever. I could get good at things I always intended to practise and never really could be bothered to, despite me intense desire for their end result.

Possibly too much introspection on this process is a bad thing. Perhaps it is again "Thinking TOo Much" which I have found to be disruptive, even destructive, in the past. ut when I am sat there feeling sorry for myself and everyone is having a good time gyrating to some groovy tune, I really would like to find some way to rejoin the party.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The wholesome and the stimulating

I had a fantastic weekend: Three days at the beach, two surfing my kayak and one just paddling along the North Devon coast just exploring. The surf was a bit insane on Saturday and what with the injuries sustained by my face and my boat coming together in the boiling chaos of a wave that was way too big for my current capabilities, I decided eventually to forego any further thrills in the surf while my smashed nose stopped bleeding.
But a good time was had and I felt mellow with that radio silence inside my head that I only get after a serious amount of time in the sea. Silence such as this is a welcome relief from the usual clamour of suggestions, arguments, revelry and confusion that characterises the inside of my head most of the time and for a while I like it.
I noticed however that I was a bit distant, though calm and relatively content, for the rest of the weekend after each trip out on the water. Questions would be asked like "Where is the tin opener?" and "What did you do with the mallet?" and I found myself either quiet with amused bafflement at the question or just plain "out to lunch".
It occurs to me that with my small dabblings with meditation that this "quiet" is not actually a good thing from the perspective of imaginative productivity or what I might term, my general "peteness". (People have come to expect a certain liveliness and bouncing around of tempo from me).

Last night, I worked on my allotment, which I have had for a decade or more. I planted up some courgettes that were long overdue for transplanting but which had to wait on account of my other, aforementioned passtimes.
I pottered around and prepared some beds wich had been languishing under black landscape fabric for nearly a year and were consequently lovely and easy to dig.
I left the place partly completed awaiting growth and subsequent harvest and other ground prepared and languishing in the feeling of potential that prepared ground always leaves me with.
It was very satisfying. A good wholesome feed for the soul. And I left feeling quiet and mellow.
And yet, when I came to talk later, I found my head devoid of the usual buffet of tasty conceptual treats, buzzing sparking notions and whimsical trains of thought that I generally enjoy when left to my own devices on an aeroplane or in a dentist's waiting room.
I had, I felt, somehow, lost that "spark" that people comment on and which characterises one of the reasons I enjoy being me.

So, mellow spiritual creaminess: Is it a good thing? It might bring a kind of peace, but after a while, how does it leave us?

And if we are in this state permanently, and feeling fainly content with it, is that a bad thing?

I confess that I see many pallid faces on a daily basis which seem happy to be devoid of any other thinking beyond what is for the next meal, who will win Britain's Got an Excruciating Lack of Embarrassment, or where to go on holiday this year. Is that a bad thing?

I feel it is, for me, a bad thing. So often, it is a joy to let the mind run, like a greyhound kept in a small flat who has been let out on some huge common to bound with delight over the ant hills and over the bracken. Occasionally to race with or frolic with a like minded soul who is released to run, or who live wild and free on the Heath brings a realisation of what is possible. The changes of pace, the sharp turns and twists and the sure-footed grace and speed is exhilarating.Surely you know what I mean with this?

And then, the confinement which seemed mildly comforting such a short time before, suddenly seems a shame, a waste, a minor tragedy of potential.

Radio silence is good for a while. This much is clear. But in moderation.
Wholesome is healthy as long as it is not all there is. To run across the horizon of the mind as fast as one likes can be a release for the soul and allow the full functionality of a personality, but probably done all the time would result in a kind of scatteredness of focus leading to drifting.

And so once again, the most important word in the English language appears to be "balance".
At the moment, the flights of glorious fancy and resultant enjoyable melee are too few and fleeting. Wholesomeness has become the norm and like bran consumed to excess, is beginning to cause an irritation that will need some richness of diet to relieve.
Now where can I find such a morsel?

©Pete Earlam 2009

Saturday, 6 June 2009

A drought or climate change?

There was a time when ideas fair tumbled from my mind. The pressure of all the thoughts and their associated tangents was almost too much to bear. The inside of my head was like some riotous after-show party in a theatre of the absurd and the only way to ease the discomfort was to write them down. To choose one thread and express it, with all is associations and implications, was to make some space where the rest could grow and flourish and the gap thus made was a breathing space of sorts.

It seemed as though there was a never ending spring of inspiration. I didnt know where it came from: Seemingly from some deep down natural source with equal mystery to the endless flows that pop out of the Cotswold hills hereabouts. There seemed no end to it.

And then I noticed the reduction in the rate of flow. There were interruptions and eventual cessation of supply. The space inside became bigger until my mind contained mostly void and a kind of desert of the soul resulted from the lack of irrigation. Where a once lush jungle filled my inner spaces, replete with luscious fruits and brightly coloured fluttering things, now there was only hard baked ground with the odd skeleton of a dead tree standing starkly against the sky to remind me of what once was there.
The dry soil yields enough for subsistence but its not what one would call a flourishing.

So, where did it go? What happened or stopped happening to cause this profusion to shrink to such a meagre harvest? Is there a dam somewhere which may burst? It doesnt feel like it actually. It just feels as if it stopped raining somewhere, as if the damp fecundity of Summer showers or the deluge of welcome monsoons somewhere just over the horizon has ceased due to some inevitable shifting of weather patterns outside of my control.

Certainly, there have been droughts before and they ended after a fashion. But this time it feels different: As if some internal El Nino has been redirected by the course of life and a huge high pressure region has held the course of the winds and rains elsewhere.

The strange thing is, it is not unpleasant. I miss the growth and fertility, certainly, but there is a kind of calm in its place - an undemanding constancy of existence that brings no discomfort. Will it stay this way? I don't know. It has been some time now and it shows no sign really of improving. There is the odd small shower that happens and green and flowers are briefly in evidence. But it rarely stays for long. My fear is that though it is no hardship, the dry winds may blow away all the topsoil; an irreversable process preventing future regrowth.
Were I superstitious, I would pray for rain, rain on the inside. Seeds blown in from elsewhere cannot germinate here without my own fertile soils to allow them to take root. But for now, I will wander, sipping from the odd oasis and trying not to walk in circles in the featurelessness of my own mind.