“Battling with incredulity isn’t easy. It’s not a battle Poseidon had to fight.” Bunyip and Selkie, creatures of the waterways. One from Australian Aboriginal mythology, one from Celtic lore. One made up of scraps and patches of stories, and images. The other a seal or a woman. Mysterious, gentle sometimes, predatory others. Or so […]
Billy Connolly has been knighted.
Powerful, beautiful murals of him adorn the streets of Glasgow. He is looking more mythic than ever and it is impossible to picture his face and not hear his voice.
Rob Roy Rebellion, Einstein Humanity, Gandalf Resilience.
Now in the Autumn of his life, knighthood is a tickle. But Sir William seeks neither comparison nor ceremony. Perhaps the real glory came long ago, when Connolly made up his mind to take the left -hand path. When you’re born unto a land that breathes through its mythic bellows like some giant Dragon, donning the hero’s cap and taking the road less travelled seems to be a given. And there’s more. Weaving courage and valour through your life story the natural result, when you are tall, dark and irreverent. Folk singer, actor, comedian, activist. Like all half-decent knights Connolly has been at this authentic heart caper a lifetime now. So you do get this gig?
When I listen to mythologist Joseph Campbell give a lecture on The Left-Hand path, everything shifts. Moving away from the known world and often, the socially accepted codes that form both our safety net and our limitations is at the centre of most all adventures of the heart. Reflecting on Connolly’s views on Knighthood, I am reminded of a radio interview I heard many years ago. In that moment I caught fragments lilting through the waves, and was mesmerised by his folk cadence, the Cànanan Goidhealach all around the edges of his speech like he is my own personal Seanair.
Pegging clothes on the line and watching my baby daughter pull up grass, I turned up the volume and followed his voice. Gentle, innate and reassuring he speaks in a way that seems to make universal law of his view on things. I enjoyed being swept along. Because frankly, the man tells a story with working-class decency. He takes his time, sharing a little of what he has with strangers, like bread on a park bench.
Stories should hold you in their palm for a moment or two, and Billy’s do.
In this instance, he spoke of the abuse he experienced as a child. Sexual abuse from his father, and physical and emotional abuse from his Aunt, with whom he lived. The interviewer is probing and he deflects the questions with grace. Inside, Billy Connolly is a tower and he can let the rope down a little without it hurting. The probing continues. He lets the rope down a bit more.
And here’s the thing. Even here, in the painful recesses of childhood abuse, the irreverence continues. Billy’s unconventional response is to express forgiveness. And love for his father. He explains;
How other people regard me is none of my business. What happened is not my concern. It’s their journey- not mine.
It is an astonishing remark and takes a while to sink in. Even now I still turn it around in my mind. I’m listening in for artifice, for denial, for imbalance. But what comes through is instinctive espérance, like I’m sitting behind the bike shed talking with my best friend. He really means it. The man makes a nonsense of shame.
The Need to Understand Unconventional Behaviour
So. What is This Thoughtform Based Upon?
I look to circumstance. Is the tolerance, nae acceptance of incest some kind of Clan code to which only a Scotsman is born? Is denial so deep it has become liberation? Has Billy Connolly transcended the physical plane as monks might and entirely disconnected from the need to blame?
Or is he simply telling his truth?
Accepting what others do to us as an act of humanity or religious duty has become counterintuitive in our highly individualised world. These days, we aspire to most certainly not accept what is done to us , and indeed, popular dialect supports us to resist acceptance. The empowerment afforded by this great leap forward is long overdue and its rightful place in our moral landscape non-negotiable. However, I wonder to what degree it keeps us engaged with and unable to move on from the complex nature of our personal past. Disappointment, sadness, trauma, defeat, we have all been touched by these. Our parents did their best, in the circumstances they had? Do we expect too much?
If re-engaging with events from the past cannot bring about effective healthful change, then perhaps another approach might work.
Don’t Wait for an Invitation
Not all of the people who have hurt us are emotionally available or alive enough to allow a formal healing process to occur. Not all people who hurt us are willing to be accountable. Indeed, many people who hurt us will actively remain unattainable, and in doing so reshape our story without our permission.
Accepting a lack of closure seems problematic at best. How can we accept poor behaviour without feeling like we have submitted to it? Lost a part of our moral integrity, our self respect? Given up the right to heal? At the heart of ‘acceptance’ intersect numerous philosophies central to Western discourse. Questions of morality, transgression, crime, and punishment.
Folklore would raise an eyebrow at the notion of acceptance and light another way for its pilgrims of manhood, womanhood, clanhood.
Spiritual devotees might approach acceptance through the tenets of forgiveness, love, fidelity, and forbearance. The separation of spiritual self from physical self.
But contemporary popular culture frequently finds acceptance inconvenient, old-fashioned even. Something our parents did, but not for us. We are now encouraged to cut out things in our life that aren’t working and become a better version of ourselves. Clear out the cupboards, cut ties, move on. Block, delete, disconnect, re-invent. It seems sensible. Effective. Healthy.
And it’s pretty popular too.
There are numerous people in my life who embrace this philosophy with both hands, happy, righteous even, in their right to delete. And I am tempted. I like the idea that I have permission to ditch a fifteen-year friendship because of some shitty behaviour. But It doesn’t work for me. Moving on without a loved one, while keeping an open heart, is one thing. Fleeing the building in the dead of the night is quite another. Yet, moving towards acceptance without the other party is sometimes the only option. And some detachment can help out here.
What Other People Think of us is None of our Business
If we live as though what others think of us is none of our business, isn’t all behaviour, good or bad, ultimately pointless? To take this to its ultimate conclusion would put us in the company of a vast hall of moral philosophers, and we’re not doing that just now, because we’re hanging with Billy. Whose point is, if we can accept that what a person thinks of us is none of our business, we can see their unkind treatment of us as ultimately not connected to our soul journey. Not our stuff. We remain authentically, us.
Everything from a condescending gesture, careless remark, self-absorbed friendship, from one-way relationships, small minded colleagues, hyper critical parents, lovers who get distracted, partners who just won’t change… when we take it on, and we all take it on, we overload, we struggle to walk on, we become donkeys.
Whether or not Billy Connolly has truly forgiven can only meet confirmation in that marvellous heart of his. The widespread application and success of this philosophy is in this moment, barely relevant and none of my business.
But dammit, I like his style.
to try and stop a woman in love
means devastation in the village
The well is cracked full dry
Crops wither and spit
Cartwheels meet horse heels
The Gaslight will not be lit
The wolves are in the henhouse
The ferryman is drunk
Lucky’s dice won’t roll tonight
The last boat home is sunk
And when the sun has baked the earth like a bowl
And even the night breeze is wilting
The Evenstar breathes
Relief into stillness
And Lucky sings the walk home
“Love cannot be halted
(A horse cannot live life sitting down)
Love cannot be contained
( a cup is merely a moment’s rest)
Love cannot be dammed
Damming is for things that mean to pool
Love is not a fool
Love cannot be tidied
Set upon a course
Love fears not colliding
(With logic’s counter-force)
Love cannot be detonated
Dashed against the rocks
Turned to stone on castle steps
Stuffed in trunks with locks
Cast to embers, transcended, dismembered
Refuted, negated, subverted, berated
The cosmic dust goes round and round
We sing our song without a sound”
When the time came for something to be done,
A dove was sent,
This was not a time for donkeys.
The prophets were beckoned to the town square,
And with that the dove took rest.
No problem too big, no fate too heavy,
They would work together,
Like they always had,
And they would come upon answers,
Like they always had.
Crept from the tower on silent feet
Left shadows in the woods on guard
Sailed from the cove
Packed myrrh in the crook of a cart
Embers still from fires willed
Put them-selves to sleep
Light fell fortune’s way lest time
Be siphoned in the deep
A gentle brow on Prophet One
The skies of intellect
Blue and calm, eternal balm
Leather footed, feathered, padding
Strong is Prophet next
Beaded, painted, holy, sainted
Gather now the rest
In the circle centre stands the leader of the Clan
Ten thousand beads strung onto reeds
The years since time began
A pool of blue-black water
In a cradle on a stand
The Prophets wait to see the Fates
Etched out across the land
One by one they take their place
They’ve already accepted
The human race, future’s face
It’s all to be expected
There are no shrieks, no beating drums
No fainting and no rising
No striking swords or fervent words
Debating or surmising
For when they look into the pool
Each soul is struck with yearning
Their own reflection heralds now
Overthinking gets a bad rap. And these days more than ever. Overthinking has not been sent to the corner to think about what it’s done, ….overthinking is being shamed, by simply being ignored.
You’re just overthinking things.
Don’t think about it so much.
Stop reading into everything.
Dude seriously, Recycling, good for the environment, not so good for the mind.
BE HERE NOW ( you haven’t clocked off yet)
Excess. Inefficiency. Histrionics. The Feminine. Overthinking may as well be wearing a big pink blouse with frilly sleeves and a dousing pot pourri under the armpits. Disenfranchised and alone, that awkward bulky gait, chorus of clattering cans, singing out as it lopes past, collecting everything in its wake like a giant unsustainable fishing net.
It’s not ‘smart’ thinking when you over think. No one is going to name an algorithm after you.
It’s not ‘sustainable’ thinking when you overthink. Don’t bother feeding that crap to the worms.
Overthought can’t be on it, across it, all over it …..because overthoughts are almost always …beside themselves.
In the days before global warming, when pastoral settings were blessed by daffodils at the right time of the year and not before, poets spent entire summers overthinking things. And when the nights grew cool they warmed themselves with laudanum and kept right on thinking., They were never across it, they didn’t want to be across it, they were right where they wanted to be.
Thinking about it now, it seems overthinking might a punishment for taking one too many rides on the karmic wheel.
You had your time, you didn’t work it out, now scram.
But the thing with wheels… they spin. Who knows, maybe thinking things through has thought of a comeback plan of its own.
The term abject is often defined as a particularly low state of being, misery or disillusionment. But it is also used in a philosophical context to describe the discord which exists between self and other, whereby the other can be ‘other self’.
Bulgarian/French philosopher and feminist Julia Kristeva explored the concept at length, whereby,
” the abject marks a “primal order” that escapes signification in the symbolic order; the term is used to refer to the human reaction (horror, vomit) to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object, or between the self and the other.”
So, what does it actually mean, and how do you laugh in the face of it?
I first came across the concept of ‘abject horror’ while studying Samuel Beckett’s one act play “Krapp’s Last Tape”. The central character makes a series of tape recordings throughout his life, and is then faced with listening back to a younger self. The younger Krapp is filled with ideas, dreams and resolutions that seem at times absurd and repulsive to Krapp, and at others poignant and eternal. These mixed responses invoke in Krapp the eternal love/hate binary of self, in which we become both parent and child unto ourselves.
The play is complex , stark and uneasy and yet the central concept is simple. How to we view aspects of ourselves once we have ‘cast them off?’
Things that were once part of us, can become almost instantly repulsive once we are disconnected from them. Parts of our physical body for example, a fingernail, skin, hair, blood. Once warm and safe in the cradle of our being, these are now almost unrecognisable as part of us, shunned, and sent away. So too our creative or emotional expressions. Words, brushstrokes, sounds, and images of ourselves.
The other day I was doing some voice recordings for my personal work with children’s literature. I spoke my story and it felt ok, nice even. The I played it back and heard it. I cringed, shuddered and closed my eyes. I crept away like a coward . Then blasted it with bravado and told it I was in no way connected to it. Eventually I transformed it with a voice recording app so it no longer sounded like me.
Chastising myself for my precious ego, I was yet pleased with my escape. Later that day I asked my daughter to record a poem. Happily she grabbed the recorder and took off, returning a few moments later excited to hear her work. But as I played it back her face fell. She scowled and grabbed the recorder.
“Turn it off Mum. I sound so horrible. It doesn’t sound like me.”
I cuddled her. I buoyed her . I reassured, cajoled and … then I showed her how to turn it into a chipmunk voice on the app. We laughed together, relieved to have been saved from the abject horror of discarded self.
Social Media and Self
The indisputable impact of social media on individual identity is much discussed, but has yet to be measured. With the advent of regular externalising of self, through posting images, opinions, and passing moods, the self is working hard to keep up with itself. The ever fragile, porous and malleable force that is ego, faces new frontiers in the journey of self. And while many pilgrims elect to travel together, with a like-minded group , family or tribe, still the journey must be taken alone.
When Lost Selves are Beautiful
It is no secret that anxiety is the fastest growing medical phenomena around and unlikely that the two are not related. Yet this is the topic for a deeper discussion. Yet the beginning point of that anxiety, the fracturing of self that occurs when we express ourselves and commit to an idea, feeling or point of view in a passing moment. And to ask the question, why do we ultimately, reject ourselves?
It is unlikely we will ever see our own cast off fragments as truly beautiful. It is a beauty we could only ever glimpse, from the perspective of self.
And this is why we have loved ones to glimpse them for us, and tell us they’re ok. We need that stuff. That stuff is great.
As the performance of ‘self’ in the public arena is only just getting warmed up, we have much to learn about how to safely navigate it all and plenty to teach our children.
When I look back at things I have written, images of my self or comments I have ventured and cringe and recoil as though looking down at my own sawn off ear, I remember Beckett. And I remember the alarming and wonderful discovery I have made in recent years.
When a loved one dies, there is one profound resonance that remains for me. It is not so much the look of them or even memories shared. It is the sound of them. Mostly their laugh. I can remember the way they laughed. I can hear it so clearly, high above the dross of all the detail, pure and eternal, rolling out across the heavens as though they are literally sitting up there blasting away the darkness with a never-ending chuckle.
Whatever comes, we must always remember to laugh at ourselves. Let the sound of our laughter immortalise our former selves.
I am standing at the sink scrubbing potatoes. I am doing it more quickly than usual as I am still editing the final copy of an article, and there is a very high possibility that the distraction of the spots on the potatoes will surpass the importance of dots that come at the end of sentences.
As I scrub, I think of Jane Austen, as I so often do at these times, who wrote her novels “in between peeling potatoes.”
I have always loved this image, ever since I first encountered it in Jane Austen Class at University. And how I loved that class. The way it sat so unapologetically against the backdrop of inner city share house squalor, boots that I had managed to fix using a bicycle repair kit, and the taunting persistent possibility of its complete irrelevance.
The magic of Jane Austen class was illuminated further by the fact that I was in love with the boy who sat in front of me. There was no greater Mr Darcy than he. Indeed, he was proud, brilliant and scornful, and even wore a cape. I think I just dropped my pencil.
While Mr Cape was a heady distraction, I did manage to absorb a great deal of the actual course material, and later encountered Austen over and again, in various courses on women’s literature and the like. Her relevance took many forms, and now, years later, in the absence of Darcensical distraction, the currently relevant part, is the insurmountable interference of women’s work in the creative life of a woman (or domestically tethered man). Peeling Potatoes.
Now Austen was not of the serving class, so we can imagine she had more time than many to attend to her craft. She was also without children, or husband and this would indeed have freed up some creative energy. But is it so, that as it was then, so it is now, and to support one’s creative inclination in life, one must hope for the passing of a very distant relative with a great deal of money. Or marry well?
Happily not. We are many of us free as individuals now, to make our way, as best we can. And this is a wonderful thing. But with basic needs met, the fact remains, that attempting to create quality creative work amongst the cacophony of domestic duties, work commitments and so on, can leave one feeling slightly disembodied. Ok, maniacally frustrated?
Morning dawns, the cat crows at the window and doves alight the branches of the Amber tree. I am, as always, awake before every one, and I smile at the new day and tip toe across the floor. Outside, I sit in half lotus and drink coffee, like I’m not supposed to, and get ready to go running. In this moment I cast out the net and fish for half remembered dreams, enlightened solutions to problems , and heart’s yearnings, and bring in the net to see what I’ve caught.
I could write a novel, right there and then. I could sit on the rose coloured decking boards hunched over a typewriter, until the light faded and the evening had no choice but to come. I could sleep, curled up on the cane couch, and in my dreams I could write again, and the next day, throw food in a pack and drive to the lake and write, and stand in the kitchen stirring a pot with one hand and write, I could get it all down if I just started now….
A dove takes flight, and a leaf falls to the ground in its wake. Moved on by the sound of footsteps that even I have only just heard now. A sleepy child pads towards me, peering out under bothered hair, casting my way, a vaguely accusatory look, as if I personally made morning come too soon. She climbs onto my lap, an elbow to the ribs, a knee under my chin, and the novel drains away.
Later, I go walking across barmy paddocks, greeting pretty cows with a smile and rousing ducks from their marshy reveries. If Darcy were here he’d be breaking a sweat. And I’ve barely written all week.