One of the exercises that I’ve practiced over the past few years is from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, which is to write out a list of your obessions. They are, after all, the things one comes back to over and again, to write about, to obsess about. The obsessions are those, if one can give yourself to them, also the things that will bring you greatest joy. (The healthy ones, at least!). I’ve combined this with something taken from Marion Milner’s book On Not Being Able to Paint: that is, to actually divide these into what one loves and what one hates. Hate is a hard, painful word and sensation. But I think there is no doubt that within us there are mixed senses of things we love, are drawn to, and those which we are also drawn to that cause immense pain, to us, or to others in the world, and things we perhaps do hate, and would like to see the end of. Both in the general (injustice, alcoholism, biodiversity loss, cruelty to animals) and also in the particular (Michael Gove’s attacks on educators, my father’s alcoholism, ash die back disease, bear bile farming).
I’ll leave the development of thoughts around love and that other word, hate, for another post (stuff around accepting one’s destructive urges). But for now what I wanted to do was dive deeper into the generalities I’ve put on my list of things I love. It is detail that makes the artist, the writer. Observation of detail, uniquely told or made. So I’ve practiced some free writing (another of Natalie Goldberg’s, or Julia Cameron’s, practices) on the topics from my list. So I’ve not tried to define or lead where the writing goes. Sometimes it feels creative, other times more essayist. I’ve just gone with the feeling.
First up: feeling healthy and full of energy. Continue reading
I am very angry this morning already—or rather, perhaps, over time I have built up a lot of free-floating anger that attaches itself to a number of objects (it’s how anxiety works). But what does come first? The object that makes me angry (neoliberal practices in the university; a three line whip to attend that lecture on ‘making the student experience better’; the bear bile farming and the fox cruelty images I saw this morning; the fact that ‘Natural England’ have been destroying protected buzzard eggs to safeguard the ‘sport’ of pheasant shooting; my sense of impotence of doing anything about this; the usual rhetoric surrounding the murder of the soldier on the streets of Woolwich about ‘terror’ and ‘resilience’ and no-one ever properly asking ‘why’ these people either a) decide to join the army and go to war and why our governments legitimate killing ‘other’ people, or b) why these ‘other’ people decide to act (retaliate?) in the way they did; about feeling ostracized from a friend in the running club, as if I’ve done something wrong when I know I haven’t?).
Nothing will get fixed. Nothing will render better until questions are asked of why and how we are living, and no questions will be asked while we, as Paul Kingsnorth put it yesterday, are complicit in the benefits that this imperialism brings us, domination over others and nonhuman others to benefit accrued from a comfortable life, and yet a comfortable life that makes less and less people happy, one where we are all more precarious, where deficits are made by tax cuts and then those deficits are used to justify austerity and the decimation of the working classes, where the fantasy of the ‘good life’ is held onto tighter and tighter even as it slips away, even as I seek out a comfortable café in the morning with a Motown soundtrack and regulars I know, including C from Angola off to do his last exam this morning, and good tasting decaf coffee and where the concerns of the staff are regarding the placement of the lemon cheesecake… (Note: judge less, my friend).
I’ve been reading a lot about affect, emotion, feeling and mood, especially Jonathan Flatley’s Affective Mapping, building on Heidegger’s work of being there, talking about the facts of our attunement to the world. In a very real way, says Flatley, we make the world through our mood (Stimmung, in Heidegger’s original) and that it is the moods we do not realise that are the most powerful of course. But also that we are always in some mood, we cannot be outside of a mood, and indeed, for things to change, we need to be in the mood… (for political change, cheesecake), and that it is usually when our moods become intense (joy, depression, mania, exuberance) that we notice at all that it is how we are attuned to the world that makes it this way and not that way. Continue reading