WOMAD

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I’ve been to WOMAD this weekend just gone and it seems fitting that there should be an article about it. I will explain, but let’s start with the definition: World Of Music, Arts and Dance, at your service.

And the disclaimer: even if I was the one thinking about it, I could not have come up with a better way to entertain myself or with a better expression of the eclectic nature of this particular human being. In short, WOMAD suits me as if it was made to order! Lucky for me, Peter Gabriel is a genius 🙂

I will start with the obvious: it would be very difficult for me to stick with one genre of music. Yes, I love rock, yes, I love classical, yes, I love folk… and I can say yes to pretty much most music, with the possible exception of rap and punk. So WOMAD suits me because it has variety and choices within that variety. Sounds pretty dry, huh? Somehow not enough…. despite every word being absolutely true.

Like most people I listen to the music I love and occasionally delve into something similar to it. But WOMAD means that I can sample a lot more than just the tried and true. It opens up the world, which I assume is not far from the intent. I can listen to Canadian Irish folk then go straight through to Austrian electronica, Brazilian bossa nova, Australian soul, Kiwi rock, Korean drum and this is just one day out of three!

Then it’s the people watching – one of the pleasures of going to WOMAD. You see, the atmosphere at this festival is quite interesting. The experience is more important than individual taste, so instead of competing, people are more likely to settle down and decide they actually like each other. Which, in turns, makes for a relaxed, smiling crowd, mellow during the day (smoking of the green could possibly have something to do with that 😛 ) with an edgier alcohol fueled vibe in the evenings. But its’ family friendly at all times so the little one has come with me since birth 🙂

The food and drink are expensive, as with all festivals, and I have been known to bring peanut butter sandwiches from home in leaner years 🙂

The weather plays an astonishingly small part of the festival despite some real wet or scorching events – if it’s wet then you might see less of the fashion, but that seems to be all.

I don’t know quite to explain why the diversity of people at WOMAD makes me excited and happy rather than apprehensive and on guard. I may know some of them, but we have different taste in music, food, drink and clothes…. we are not of the same age, physical ability, ethnicity. We walk, act, sit and enjoy ourselves differently.

We are not attracted to this festival by any similarity other than our shared humanity – mayhap it’s enough?

Opposite

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Set against? Sounds quite divisive… and I have an issue with that! But there is a line between enemy and difference, and it’s that line that I wouldn’t mind travelling on. I am talking about people, you know, and more specifically about the line between the individual and the social creature. What are the sacrifices? How far should we go? Where do we stop? What do we expect from others?

It comes as no surprise that we live in the world of people, made by people for people’s purposes. Which people, from when and what price this world I will discuss shortly. Suffice it to say that making a living alone on a deserted island (Scotland, anybody? Or maybe the Pacific) is very rare and suits a very few of us. Most people live close to other people, in distance if not in spirit.

And chances are that if you live close to people sooner or later you will bump against certain rules, many of them of the negative sort (don’t…). Provided you don’t have certain health conditions, you are made aware of those rules since when you’re born. They shape your life, whether you will it or not, whether you respect them or not. They become part of you. So when you meet someone who doesn’t have precisely the same rules, you are made aware of difference.

Of course the above is too simplistic by orders of magnitude. The factors that influence our lives are many and complex, the relationship between them is complicated at the best of times. We give the rules different names and different powers and different weights.

But the individual questions remain the same. What is the price I will have to pay to be part of this social group? How much of who I am do I need to restrain, renounce or defend in order to belong? How do I make that choice and will I be satisfied with what is left? Is it worth it? Yes, I am aware that the social contract theory is not the be all and end all of the universe 🙂

Then you get into the self-esteem questions: am I not likeable the way I am? Am I good enough now or do I have to whittle a little bit more of myself?

The funny thing is many of us find our peers, our family by choice, based on our individuality. We create clubs, we have coffees and dinners together, we go for walks together. But remember that Clavell quote about the three different hearts of people? The obvious one (shown to the world), the closed one (shown to few), the secret one (shown to no one)…

I am running out of my self imposed space 🙂 I wanted to write about the weight the social factor has on the individual. I wanted to write that the secret face deserves to at least be acknowledged by the individual, not subsumed to the social. I wanted to write about inflexible systems that crush difference and try to fit the person in rather than become fit for the person. I wanted to write about rights (freedom?) and lifestyles.

I was watching “Moana” the other day. I am not the only one whose heart strings were tweaked by her breathless “we were voyagers!”

And I was thinking of the old adage, that if a human wants to live in a tree, we must make sure that the tree is fit for human habitation 🙂

Is there a difference? Or enmity?

Senses

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It is an interesting thing to discover how many senses we have, whether distinct or not. I was even more interested about multi-sensory integration but that subject proved a bit dry, whereas it is anything but when you experience it – I’ll stick with experience, if I may!

But what I found the most interesting of all is the link not only with other senses (official or not), but how senses link with volition, memory, anticipation, expectation and a few other things to create a life form that colours the gloomiest of years. This is what you may share with friends if what you’re after is a deep philosophical discussion about what is normal

Sight is perhaps the first sense one thinks of. It may also be the sense most linked to memory and pleasure. It can be educated (“look where you want to go, not at the other driver”, thank you, my friend) and indulged (how many photo albums did you say you have? No, it doesn’t matter if they’re virtual!). And the anticipation of seeing mountains used to make my tummy roil in a most genuine manner…. I love mountains, you know, and I used to see them only once a year.

Hearing is the next best thing in my opinion and I am not alone – think Sean Connery and your absolute favourite piece of music. And now imagine your body getting ready to dance and the hollow feeling inside that tells you the music is there to replace whatever imperfect organs you might have been born with.

Smell is an odd one. So necessary when it comes to food, so distinctly specific about its preferences (my limits are durian and coriander leaf/cilantro). But I also remember dancing close to a man I liked and respected with good qualities like strength and laughter…. And thinking “he is not mine, he doesn’t smell mine”. Which, of course, makes me the type who carries a small piece of carton with the fragrance of a loved one… even though it is not the same, never the same!

Taste (and flavour) is quite direct in its own way. Orange juice, tomato-based sauces, hot tea with milk and sugar, chocolate… the small bursts of pleasure that can accumulate in fireworks explosions, Ratatouille style… and the odd impulse to bite chubby infant calves or a lover’s shoulder.

And let’s not forget touch. Velvet and silk, soft flower petals, whipped cream, pet fur, starchy linen, mossy boulders, tree trunks and warm sand, popping bubble wrap, ticklish feather dusters… but also the invisible desire for human touch. Children die or fail to thrive without it, we seem to crave it even when we’re pretty convinced we don’t need it. But Virginia Satir said it best: “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

What’s your number?

Poetry

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Please help yourself to the definition, and get mired in philosophy and religion, from the making of a person to creation itself

Disclaimer: I don’t read poetry often, nor do I show my poems to many. I write because I cannot help myself… literally… Many’s the times I almost caused an accident because I was trying to ignore a particular turn of phrase or the numbering of a faiku (that’s like a haiku that has the proper numbering and maybe the link to nature, but does not respect the form or spirit so it’s not real… therefore it’s fake: faiku). Does that even make sense or shall I blame artistic temperament?

It used to seem strange to me that after an education full of poets, their miserable lives, their usually painful deaths and their tortuous paths of creation, I could still (still!) consider writing the dratted things! Nothing to explain, people, you can’t have glory nor money nor most of the time recognition, provided one looks for the above. You get heartache and sleepless nights and odd measures of joy when it sounds just so and tells what you require it to say, which makes sense to almost no one else.

Sour grapes? Possibly you’d think that I would have more to show after 30 years of writing poetry than a few typed pages which would absolutely and rightly so be demolished by anyone with a bit of knowledge. Haven’t you been told that if you work hard and apply yourself and all the rest of the virtues then something good will happen? Yeah, right! Dream on, buster!

And the problem is that criticism of poetry can only break the heart. It can’t change the poems though… they always, always sound weird and wrong after editing, they are not yours anymore… so the only thing you get is that your best is not good enough… did I mention heartbreak? And you can’t stop writing… so you learn to hide, and you surround yourself with people who don’t read poetry, and you lie that you’re over it and if by chance you are discovered you say that you are just fooling around… And from time to time, rarely (heartbreak is awful!) you open a book of your favourite poet and you get lost for a minute or so in a world where poetry makes sense, it’s there for others to enjoy and consider and feel… If you are brave enough (not always) you gift a book of poems to someone special, knowing (heartbreak!) that it will most probably stay in their bookcase for years without being read, and the red-hot passion of Neruda, the rueful wit of Basho, the deep gentleness of Tagore are lost again.

There is something terrible about lost words… why can’t hearts be led to the words that describe them?

Sadness

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Sated? Weary? Enough? Strange meanings for such a short word… and my heart is not in it anyway. The modern (if you call middle English modern) meaning is more than enough (there’s that word again) to carry wearily… ok, that’s it! I am giving up on linguistics for now, before I start agreeing with the definition. I am not in the mood to be cajoled out of what I actually feel, which is sadness.

You see, a friend is moving away for a while. That while is not forever and it is not even a very long time as these things go… what’s a season when time goes so fast I can barely recall where this year is up to?

So one puts on a brave face and talks about this and that because there is always so much to say and never enough time to actually say it and make the connections and explore your own ideas and find common ground and share oddments and tweaks. And one laughs and smiles and generally pays attention because, yes, that’s what this is all about, being present, with your friend and never mind that there are another million things you should be seen as doing.

But then the time is up.

And that while mentioned above is actually starting and it will continue to exist, encompassed in this lifetime, and you can’t really avoid it anymore.

Have you noticed how difficult it continues to be to cry? People might even ask what’s wrong and do you need a counsellor with your fries? No, no, no, better wait until you’re at home…. what? Cry in the bathroom under the shower? How very quaint! Let’s be adult about it, though, and defer all this emotional “stuff” until another time… an appropriate time for sadness… that’s sad, isn’t it?

And then, if you please, one realizes that sadness just is and won’t just go away and saving face by appearing brave serves no one. So one says “I’ll miss you” because really, why not? With whom should I banter over memories of a country I have not actually seen?

I will wait and keep busy and be an adult and all that. Distraction does work and so does social media and email and pictures. I will, as the saying goes, “deal with it” and I will not even need a counsellor.

But, my friend, there are so many things still unsaid… the strangely squat mists over the low lying fields that looked as if a faerie sea is slowly advancing towards you, and then driving through it the car lights make alien circles of pale rainbows and cattle appear like spectres out of the clearly delineated layers of earth, fog, clouds and blue sky… then there’s the realization that cloudy skies are always more interesting than the clear ones, and because of the humidity there’s a much better chance of actually finding that precise shade of blue eyes have… and then there’s that song, Piazzolla’s Oblivion, a saxophone solo you would have enjoyed…

I will need a good memory, to last me a season…

School

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In a time and place when philosophy and lectures were apparently leisurely (I am talking about the ancient Greeks, you know) there might not have been discussions about what is best for the children… then again, maybe there have been, knowing parents.

But I had (in the modern world) a discussion with a friend about education in general and schools in particular. I was enthusing about the Montessori method as usual, as that is, to my mind, the way I would have loved to be educated when I was the little one’s age.

My friend quite rightly pointed out that the little one is part of a very small group of people, selected at least three ways out of many: a parent who lives in the vicinity of, who can afford and who chooses to send the little one to such a place. Sounds privileged, doesn’t it? And given how Montessori actually started, that is beyond ironic!

Both my friend and I also know of children (way, way too many) for whom books are a rarity and life at home has infinitely bigger stresses than not being able to watch “one more and no more” cartoon.

And we know well that by the time a child goes to school some things cannot be fixed, some things cannot be learnt and some things can never change. So school methods should really be late developments and the focus should be on the first three years. Which means that school begins at home (Philosophy? Lecture? Leisure?). And that’s when I trotted out that big fashionable statement that my friend arched his eyebrows at: it’s a systems fault – only I didn’t use the term fault 🙂

I can’t help it, truly! There are very few things I see as not systems faults – professional bias, you could call it! The way I see it we are the only species on Earth who doesn’t know how to raise their young anymore. So we have to substitute cultural imperatives for natural ones… but cultural imperatives change a lot quicker than human nature. We are overcrowded so crying babies are discouraged (from apartments, planes, cafes). We work industrial hours, so we train babies to sleep. We praise independence so we raise isolated, lonely children. We lose contact with our families and communities so we raise children who do not know where they belong.

Then we treat the consequences (attachment issues, sleep and eating disorders, anxiety) while still demanding resilience, good behaviour, hard work and achievement. At school. Which is not set up for the above.

What to do though? These children will raise children of their own one day – and choosing our rest homes, too 🙂 What will they teach their children?

Educating future parents helps. Child care and human development should be in high school curriculum, alongside sex, relationship and civic education. But that is a band aid. If this is, indeed, a systems fault, it is our lifestyles that need changing. The feedback loop doesn’t sit still just because “we’ve always done it that way”…

Brain

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Storms are supposed to be rare events in the year. They are not anymore. It does not seem quite so fanciful, after the 10th storm of the summer, to believe that the entire planet has decided that humans are better off kept inside, where they cannot do so much damage. It is, of course, ironic that humans can and do make more damage when they are inside and not in direct contact with nature. It is inside that we seem to forget just how small a piece of nature we actually are. It is inside our cities, our houses, our minds that we believe ourselves stronger than nature.

This is, it seems, how we grow up. It is nurture (for want of a better word) that makes us forget nature. It is our brain, our big, biased, besotted brain that makes us forget ourselves. We are against nature even when we pay it a compliment, for we separate it from ourselves.

Brains are terribly good at doing what they are supposed to do, provided we don’t try to override the rules. Which we do, children of our age as we are. Then, the brain becomes a terrible thing of beautifully articulated destruction.

I get quite passively misanthropic at this stage, usually because I tend to use the brain in the human way and of course there is no hope. Of course there is no way to return to an idealistic and idealized noble savage existence. Of course there is no hope for humanity. How can there be, when I can see and follow the news and read between the lines in serious articles about the desperate state of – insert any subject you can think of here – and it is clear to any logical brain that hope is futile. Resistance is futile. Life itself (as far as humans are concerned) is futile – pun not intended and of quite bad taste, wouldn’t you say?

And yet hope remains, quite aside from the futility that is evident. For truly we are not meant for a life of leisure, it is terrible for our health. 🙂 When all the avenues are closed (by ourselves, of course!) our brain remembers defiance. When one cannot succeed, one eventually finds out (and grumbles about) someone else has an idea that will work. When alone we despair we find that we can sing in unison.

Even more idealistic, do you think? And yet I have seen it, time and again. The best movies we watch are about this – you know the ones I am talking about. The books we read and re-read year after year all talk about this. The revolutions that sweep through nations are all about this.

The reason hope was shut within Pandora’s box (urn, whatever) is because most of the time it is a torment for the brain. It doesn’t allow it to just gorge on sugar and infer stupidity out of mere annoyance. It pushes and prods and chases away all logic. For what is logic other than a tool, and how true that once you have a hammer everything around you seems to become a nail?

The wrench, however, is just near the plier….