To judge from the lives that men lead, most men, and men of the most vulgar type, seem (not without some ground) to identify the good, or happiness, with pleasure; which is the reason why they love the life of enjoyment. For there are, we may say, three prominent types of life- that just mentioned, the political, and thirdly the contemplative life. Now the mass of mankind are evidently quite slavish in their tastes, preferring a life suitable to beasts, but they get some ground for their view from the fact that many of those in high places share the tastes of Sardanapallus. Aristotle
Like most of my generation, I was born with parents who came through the horrors of a war with the highest death count in human history. My mother’s first husband was one of those millions of fatalities, a doctor killed in active service that left her bereft with two children. My father’s rank in the army saw him and his squad suffer horrendous mental and physical torture at the hands of the Japanese in Burma.
It’s hard not to wonder what all that deeply invasive conflict stamping out the middle of the twentieth century was about. How did it come to pass that two massive World Wars saw millions upon millions broken into submission, traumatised to the bone and killed? Oh, they were just wars, where the beast fans the flames, so the agent loses his wing. Stifled in muffled cries, crushed beneath the debris below, hoping, preying, waiting, watching blood seep from stone?
With the jackboot genie back in the bottle and a continuing struggle with their private inter-familial demons, although mum and dad were loath to admit it, they had a cross to bear.
After serving his country overseas, my father suffered flashbacks and nightmares for the rest of his life… yet his greatest fears were met as an author and poet, judged and tried, by the publishing fraternity… on rare occasions his frustrations would erupt like a bomb… any sense, along with the air was sucked from the room… he’d leave… absolute silence slamming the door… in his absence our mother would comfort us, tell us not to worry, how he just needs to walk it off… we’d be sent to bed… we slept… witnesses in trepidation, unaware of his return… the following day he was as chirpy as ever, engaging, as if nothing had happened… no mention of why, a wound to balm, a mind to calm, an edge to soften… PTSD no such thing, admission closed, shutters down, locked tight… as with so many veterans, artists and soul searchers you just didn’t go there.
Like dad, mum gained a degree in English at Cambridge University, before the War, endorsing a passion for the written word that suited him perfectly. Erudite, sexy, loved a laugh… her well-informed mind could always come up with an answer, or an opinion, when prompted, particularly in matters of verse and prose. But when my mother’s keen intellect, motherhood, or the fun and games, didn’t equate she would invariably hit an emotional vortex… breakdowns that became more frequent as we grew… and again there were explosions and frustrations, hugs and reassurances… we lived next door to my dear bohemian aunt, a doctor, who gave her phenobarbitone to calm her nerves… the medication did the trick, while the fissures were left to shift uneasily away underneath.
I wasn’t threatened with the gas chamber, or a torturous end at the hands of an egregious leader… yet throughout my childhood and later in the workplace, I found myself strung out, confused and deeply entrenched in the formalities of learning. Illiterate… slow, pushed, punished, and prodded, while the elders remained certain… everything depended on my catching up… bullseye… a fixed target, an educational package designed entirely… for your own good.
For this sovereign belief, I did my best to do what I was told, clinging to the ledge, until it was no longer possible to hold on. And I was one of the lucky ones. From the proletariat to the bosses, didn’t matter which side of the tracks, passed, failed, grandiose, or not, too many of my closest friends and family, convinced by the formalities and subsequent placing of relevance, didn’t make the drop. Addiction, kill or be killed, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, suicide, you name it, the hard grip of social science had done with them… a branch of people classification that shoved them into the pathological grinder of worthlessness.
As a small person, my fourth year on the planet, I suffered a misfortune with an older boy at the village school, where my parents and teachers, those who were supposed to look out for me, turned a blind eye. But that didn’t preclude the fact, that way above the rubble, another eye observes from the wing.
Despite the high degree of trauma, I remained alert enough… and this was to be the first of many impactive sociocultural lessons, prompting me to wake up to the fabrications masquerading as virtuous, adult, truths…
whilst retaining a heightened awareness, for my immediate surroundings, I got proficient at zoning out. I remember how the ploy started… sat at my desk, I found I could be in two places at once. Beginning with miniscule leaps, I’d get as far as an empty playground, then pushing the envelope, with a hop and jump, hover across unfocused roof tops, down dip, over dale, like a will-o’-the-wisp… joining the river to greet the sun, a sparkling gateway to the open meadows… the further away the better…
back in the classroom, the light was on and there was nobody home… thereby sat a fool… but Dumbo wasn’t without fire… there was consolation in his discrepancies… labelled a simple idiot, the cane saw fit to beat him less… accepting his fate, he glimpsed a magical incandescent forest… then, as instructed he dissected, chopped, picked, tampered, cut it up, turning the pieces into fragments, for some sterile results, on a starched sheet of paper…
in line, queue up and they’re off… always dashing, rushing for an answer… pulling up the rear, there was absolutely no time… no time, to find that distant hum of the dragon fly, reassuring doves, harmonising chords on the bough, heed the call of rowdy sparrows, rising in expectation of unexpected kingfishers, weaving a cracking melody, while the startled squirrel, drum-brush busy, garnishing food for the feast, skips a beat, as they clock returning salmon defying the eye, as well as rapids, for the bell… straight on to the squeaky turnstile, around Hood’s Hollow, past that fallen cairn, tiptoe through the buttercup meadow, doff your cap to Farmer Jobs, clamber the forgotten kissing gate, apace to a musky scent of fox, mind the badger’s burrow, over broken stile, squeeze through a tunnel green, down by the dell, on the same side of here… by-and-by, way beyond heckle and applause, in that all-encompassing hymn… we’ll rest awhile…
Come along, hurry up, no time for that now and no time soon!
Life’s so very short, just a little more, please, to find what it’s like for the angel of the glens to befriend us?
No! You’ll thank me in the end. You need to get ahead!
Can the sun exist without sky… do elephants cry when they’re upset… what would a tree be without earth… can I have dreams without my body… what’s death, why are we born, is winter invisible, for a summer made visible, are clouds really our father’s thoughts, does he make us go to, leave here, to go there?
Enough already so soon…!
Hierarchies aren’t necessarily set in stone, some form like an aggregation of fish, finetuned to their surroundings and each other… alert, vigilant, at the ready… from a nebulous gathering to the tail, a close-knit school, within seconds.
I’ve been in plays worthy of that indivisible shift, a tightly choreographed mercurial ensemble that moves to the cue, with precision and order, like a shoal of fish. Watching from the front the staging might seem different on consecutive nights, because the emphasis in the play was determined by the inner life of the character. This isn’t to say external form and style are any less important… it’s just that there’s a broader focus on complex psychological roots that use the emotional pallet to dictate the physiological and hierarchical tack. Commanded by a character’s thoughts and feelings the body needs to be agile, able to accelerate on an emotional pin, nought to sixty in an instant, pinpoint sharp. Physically fit? Yes, but not at the expense of narrative.
Setup like this a parody can be so convincing, we sit in a seat of faith accepting a tall tale as absolute truth. Be it in the arts, sciences, religion, medicine, politics, or any which way… when methodology nurtured in hierarchy delivers, the framework, that produces such considered conventions, can seem as if they are made-to-measure just for us… life-changing, thought provoking, deeply personal.
Stories told in books, on stage and screen, have taken me to the edge of my seat… I’ve laughed, cried, churned outside in, while the pin dropped, then paced out with excitement and intrigue at the next turn of the page. There’s been secure footing, space to breathe, to rock, to roll, to think and swoon on the tide of music echoing out across the airwaves… combining art with engineering… I’ve travelled far and wide in aeroplanes, on high-speed trains, in hydrofoil ships and fast cars… I’ve shared gastronomic highs and lows, with friends and foes, in some of the finest restaurants throughout the lands… computers provided a platform to write… builders and architects a place to live… courts of justice delivered a fair hearing… the physician issues a new lease… I’ve been looked out for by the constitution, enlightened in subjects taught by leading practitioners at the height of their game, in classes that transform lives. None of the aforementioned would have been possible without a chain of command, bringing the model, the invention, design, books, films, a project, the house, operation, trial and so forth, to life.
It’s clear that aspirations in leadership and governance, some good, some bad and much indifferent, brought me security and domestic survival, in a freethinking society that prides itself on the right to satirise and question our adherence to these dedicated hierarchical forms.
There is no doubting: a diligent captain, along with a crew’s skill, assures an outfit is shipshape, able to run at optimum speed when necessary. There is nothing fundamentally wrong… our system works for us, but placing it at the heart of reality, where the sole purpose of being human is based on a priority of how important we think we are, remains troubling.
Evaluated and blinkered as I might seem to be by this race to the top, am I not cutting ties with nature, turning my physiological, biological, and cosmological intelligence, that which defines us completely, into a death knell?
As empathetic and emphatic the means, however significant the outcome, brushing aside the greater part of our existence, for a people system, is like draining the sea for fish, it doesn’t make sense.
If I was born to evaluate time according to theatrical ascent… peeking in at the top, tussling with vertigo, from a rung in the middle, sliding, rank and file, back to the bottom… pick yourself up dust yourself down and start all over again… objectified, commercialised, regulated, amended, rejected, celebrated, berated, approved, degraded, applauded, devalued, awarded… never-mind the essence of we, I’m braving snakes, to hug ladders… that place in a market marks out the sum total of life and the default purpose, for being here, finishes here!
As with actors, humans are two a penny. Whatever the business, the profession, the industry, be it in entertainment, academia, the sciences, economics, politics, law and so on, there are a disproportionate number of hierarchies to fulfil and we’re told that less than one percent, of a majority populous, take the crown. Really? Is getting as near as we can, to this rare prize, the ultimate authentication for our time on earth?
Let’s say, for the sake of a healthy perspective, the best of our hierarchical manifestations are miniscule gems in an ever-expanding universe. Then, holding that viewpoint in mind, refute the fact that parents, teachers, and leaders, prompting the apex of academic and occupational success, as the main account, don’t bring a poisoned chalice to the table.
You might say that it’s normal for children to be forgotten, or shutdown, by the aspirational mistakes made by adults trying to do their best in child care and I’d have to agree; I’m a parent, a father, a son, with a gamut of rights and wrongs under my belt.
It was to be decades before I accepted that repercussions, driven by the fundamental loss of our defining nature, are passed on from one generation to the next… along with this innocuous claim…You’re nobody, unless you’re somebody.
The vessel needed to empty its cargo of riches before it could restore the hold for the next batch.
A well-known English actor once advised me to be far more ruthless if I wanted to make a mark in show business. Come on, they said, think of the glory, the accolades, the money! As I stood there, trying to sum-up a quick response, they hissed like a venomous snake, then spat out how they’d clawed their way up the ladder. That won’t really work for me, I countered… I‘m still trying to secure a deeper stability for the adult, entrapped in the physical, by making peace with the little boy struggling with the weight.
Waiting at the station, in the short time left before the last train, I began to expel my smug reply and the advice, because the impression made me feel edgy, cold, like steel. In absolving the slicer making mincemeat out of my brain, warmth trickled back to heart.
However high I climbed, wherever I ended up on the score sheet, whether it’s a sore loser, pissed with the process, or the breadwinner, showered with superlatives, sacrificing a life for that myopic throne at the top, seemed like taking a sword to the sense of wonder.
A frost was starting to catch the iron rim of the bench. I got up, stamped my feet, then walked down to the end of an empty platform, lost to the world.
I began as I end, a mortal creation, heralding the ground, between this world and the next… somewhere between the letter of a snowflake and the stars stands a broken man, relinquishing the child from this timeless sphere of play.
A staccato shriek broke the silence, short static bursts, announcing the cancellation of the train.
I looked up from the steppingstone of thought, to the night sky.
A billion years of interplanetary shifts… nothing and everything had changed.