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The light we let in

8 June, 2018

At some point last year I undertook the task of painting my staircase for the first time. I envisioned and planned out the project, bought in all the materials I needed, and spent a number of days sanding, priming, painting (first coat), painting (second coat), painting (inevitable third coat), touching up as needed. Aside from having to scrub clean some ill-timed paw prints throughout the house courtesy of my cat, I was satisfied with the end result as my first amateur attempt at staircase painting.

That was…until I had a skylight installed partially overlooking the staircase. When I first looked down at the steps, I didn’t recognize them. I honestly thought someone had been tracking in dirt or something else to ruin my previously respectable handiwork into something which now looked patchy and discoloured.

As I looked down aghast at the treads, the truth did eventually dawn on me. The steps had not changed. They remained as amateurly painted as before. The difference lay in the light which now shone down on them. Natural, unadulterated, unforgiving beams of sunlight which now literally brought to light every blemish and missed brush stroke. The light which had previously misled me, now let me see my efforts in a new, if somewhat discomforting, way.

Lesson aside to leave some things to the specialists, it got me thinking about light. About the light we let in to illuminate ourselves and our lives. Having recently finished a brief beginners photography course, my eyes have been opened to the variations of light which exist, both natural and manipulated.

By adjusting the amount of light you let into your camera, you can determine the feel and quality of a photo dramatically. Through filters you can capture light and soften or change its shade entirely into something wholly other; with different lenses you can even bend light.

With so many options to choose from, I wonder which light we most often use to examine and enhance our lives. Do you let all the light in, full exposure style, accepting the blinding white along with the inevitable flares and spots which occur, taking the good with the bad as it were. Or do you use one of the filters. Perhaps a diffuser, something to soften the glare, make the light that little more bearable. If that isn’t to your taste, there is always a version of ‘rose tinted glasses’, the so-called ‘vivid’ setting which will make sky bluer, birds chirpier and your world literally full colour HD. And then there is always the choice to remain in shadow, for the lack of light. You won’t be blinded by light, but you may pick up on more subtle accents within the duskiness.

We all know that shadow and light work together, the brighter the light the darker the shadow, but more likely than not, our visual on the world is not nearly as juxtaposed as that. In reality, I imagine we all move between these variations of light fairly fluidly and unconsciously depending on how our brain processes the situation, how we see the image as it were. The important message is not to remain locked in one mode, no matter how persuasive full colour HD is. Just as I was unpleasantly enlightened as to my amateur paint job, who is to say that tomorrow I won’t be mesmerized by the depth that lies in the soft folds of disappointment and uncertainty, or bowled over by the dynamic brilliance of something completely ordinary.

Be aware of the light you let in.

Rx

The brain is locked in total darkness, of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?

– All the light we cannot see, Anthony Doerr –

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The art of distraction

29 April, 2018

I have been watching episodes of the Sci fi series Limitless recently. A spin-off of the film by the same name, it centres around a fictitious neuro-enhancing drug called NZT which ‘unlocks’ the full potential of the human brain, allowing what seem like super-human capabilities.

Its premise speaks to a lot of society’s unspoken desires. Some whisperings of hidden potential, undiscovered genius, unfulfilled tasks in days which fly by unproductively due to our own distractions and limitations. Its what films like ‘Good Will Hunting’, even ‘Click’ perpetuate.

One question thrown up in an episode struck a chord:

If you could make 10 minutes feel like an entire day, what would you do with the extra hours?

In one simple question, we are faced with what encompass the ideals and goals many strive for in today’s world. The need to keep ‘doing’. As if life exists somewhere just one step ahead of where our feet fall.

Maximising (beyond) your work – your life, your experiences. Fuelled by the drive for efficiency and bolstered by social media, our days are deemed best when they are productive, our posts when they reveal exotic locations, or check-ins to events, or crowded with smiling faces. That’s what memories are all about isn’t it?

When our time is perpetually insufficient to our ‘needs’, it can quite easily leave us with a feeling of unfulfillment when our days have not met the ‘standard’. That deflated sigh at the end of the week, too often than not signifying dissatisfaction with our accomplishments.

More is expected of us than ever before in the world today, or perhaps we expect more from ourselves, which can result in the same. This obsession with doing, and completing and adding events and experiences to an endless feed serves an addictive purpose, it is the art of distraction. It is no wonder that instances of stress and burnout are increasing at an alarming rate among the younger generation – unforgiving expectations in a world which is unceasingly mobile and connected.

“When you’re fighting the current you forget how to live” – and so it seems we also have forgotten how to stop. How to be still. Without reaching for music to fill the silences, for people to fill the emptiness, for career to fulfil our sense of purpose, for entertainment to drown out our own thoughts. In individual measure these are valuable therapies to relax ourselves and our minds temporarily, but if these form a continuous stream of activities day after day… then we forget to reflect on and quiet ourselves.

The world calls it ‘unplugging’, ‘disconnecting’, ‘recharging’ – it is the reason for the rise in popularity of mindfulness, meditation and yoga. We go on retreats to ‘detox’ from distraction, we follow courses because we have, both literally and figuratively, forgotten how to breathe.

So, what would I tell myself to do with the extra hours, if I had them – I would say I had asked the wrong question. I would say that time is not to be spent, but to be savoured. I would ask myself if I was brave enough and determined enough to step away from the noise and captivation, and to face the silence.

To stop, and to be, free from any ideas of ‘doing’ for only a little while, to take what Maya Angelou called ‘a day away’. Ready or not…

Rx

At some point, all the horizontal trips in the world stop compensating for the need to go deep, into somewhere challenging and unexpected; movement makes most sense when grounded in stillness. In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.

– Pico Iyer –

The Masterpiece

17 November, 2017

I’ve been wishing lately for simplicity, more specifically the chance to regress. To only be able to return to the trivialities of university life, the mundanity of teenage years, the luscious boredom of childhood. Life can wear you down at times, muddy the waters and cause you to lose a little sparkle.

Where do the complications start?

I imagine the beginning of existence as a blank canvas of nothingness, untouched and full only of the promise of illumination. As soon as you are welcomed into the world, an indentation appears, a yet imperceptable scratch on the surface which casts but the slightest line of shadow. The first mark of distinction on the canvas.

Before long, the first sights and sounds of the world, of family, of nature, conjure up specks and spatters of primary colours against the white background. Crisp and clear, blue, red, yellow screaming out their presence.

The first sense of touch are sprinkles of grains of sand, softly embedding themselves into the foundation of the canvas. As we grow older the experiences become more vivid, more complex, and the colours develop into subtler shades and blends as our moods change and refract. We realise the range of colours we can create by mixing and experimenting. Milestones in our lives resemble concaves and peaks on the canvas, mirroring the juxtaposition of life in all its inspiration and heartbreak.

Interwoven in small thread-like veins amidst the whole are memories, some buried deeper than others, in the contour and myriad of colours this canvas is growing into. As new adventures, careers, relationships, loss, regrets and inspiration, all the elements that encompass living in general come to pass, so the canvas becomes layered with ever more shadow and vibrancy.

If you look close enough, you might even discern paths carved and scratched into the surface. A bizarre maze of oblivious motorways, meandering pathways, dead ends, u turns, shortcuts and crisscrossing of paths adding to the ever maddening concoction and surprising nature of the life lived, and yet to be, on this canvas of life.

From a distance this canvas appears as nothing more than an explosion of colour and chaos. Striking in its own way, yet not to everyone’s taste. I realise with dismay that this artwork has been gathering dust, left and forgotten as a painting not quite up to scratch.

And yet… I can still feel a sting as my fingertips delve into the darkest recesses, a heaviness in the loneliest moments of despair. Did I just feel the gentlest of flutters, and my pulse quickening ever so slightly as my hand hovered over the brilliant purples and yellows?

I can step back and view this unique masterpiece. It is messy and mysterious, full of laughter and depth. Out of fear, I had convinced myself that there was nothing more left to do that had not been done already. Out of fear, I had put my brushes down, locked the paint away. Out of fear, I strangled imagination and creativity. Out of fear, I had concluded there was no more ‘life’ to do.

So here’s to picking up the discarded tools, tentatively blending colours anew, carving fresh lines and creating new landscapes in the continuing masterpiece of me.

Rx

Growing up Vs Growing old

5 November, 2017

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​”I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honour our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias. We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.”

I came across this quote in Maya Angelou’s ‘Letter to My Daughter‘, and as always, Angelou’s words and wisdom have a way of reaching out, grabbing on and holding tight in a safe warm space, waiting patiently until you are ready and willing to take note.

It’s inevitable that the fact of ‘getting older’ at some point rears its head at a certain stage in life. I sometimes feel like an old soul a little wearied by life, and I for one love the perspective that we never really grow up, only grow old. I decided to put this to the test for myself. My own ‘Peter Pan’ list of present immaturities and aspiring childlike behaviour, to help keep at least one of my (small) feet firmly planted in Neverland.

  • There will always be words and phrases which give you the giggles, or at least never fail to make you grin. I for one unashamedly find the words ‘anus’ and ‘fanny’ inherently funny, something I apparently won’t outgrow. Find your own words which have the same effect on you.
  • Don’t be afraid to get lost. It can become an adventure when you come across the unexpected, in my case once stumbling upon a man, swimming in the sea. With a chicken. (true story)
  • Succumb to your oddities and embrace them. I sniff my food before I eat it. I also have a very visual-audio brain. There are certain brands of food I cannot look at without playing out a song snippet in my head. Catisfaction treats inevitably becomes ‘I can’t get no… catisfaction’, and the word ‘sugar’ inevitably follows with ‘doodoodidodoodoo ohhhh honey honey…’. Similarly, ‘this door is alarmed’ conjures up the following image in my head. 

It keeps me entertained at least 🙂

  • If there’s snow outside, always make (and throw) a snowball at least once every winter, and if you can stretch to it, a snowman.
  • Cherish the traditions you grew up with as a child that made you happy. Whether they are family traditions, public holidays or religious festivals, these have more often than not left an imprint in you, and can conjure up that inner child. (You remember the one, when you  couldn’t sleep the night before due to the excitement, started a countdown weeks before the big day, got up in the middle of the night to feel around the presents in the dark, trying to guess what’s inside..)
  • Keep a bit of daydreaming in your daily life. Don’t think all too negatively about a little daydreaming to let your imagination loose every once in awhile.
  • Re-read, i.e. rediscover your favourite children’s stories. Whether it’s Harry Potter, Peter Pan, The chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, The Just So Stories, Dr. Zeus… The list is endless and awaiting your perusal.
  • Keep writing to yourself. Whether it’s a diary, post it notes you discover in unexpected places, blogs such as this one or emails sent out to the ‘future you‘. Don’t forget that who you are now and what you know about life still matters (and is still relevant) to you in the present.

Growing old is an unavoidable fact of life, but growing up on the other hand, as you may have already heard, is optional. Write your own Peter Pan list, discover those elements in yourself and your surroundings that keep you in touch with that inner child. And if you feel you have lost that contact, I guarantee a hug from Donald Duck will inexplicably provide a moment of pure, unadulterated childlike happiness 🙂

Rx

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Chink in the armour

29 October, 2017

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I was on a late train journey to pick up a friend from the airport recently. The time of night where you are conscious of travelling alone, and the majority of the train was filled with slightly intoxicated revellers returning home to sleep off their work drinks, or continue the party into the early hours. A young french passenger signalled my attention from behind me. ”Is this Amsterdam?” Assuming he meant the airport, I informed him the airport was the next stop and the estimated time of arrival. This satisfied him for all of 4 minutes, after which he beckoned my attention again.

“Are you happy?”

I was confused to say the least, and wondered if I had misheard him. I was so thrown and bewildered by this fairly intimate question from a complete stranger, that I hesitated. He indicated to the pitch black landscape outside the window with a sweep of his hand and said “is this normal?”. To these two rather unexpected philosophical questions I found all I could do was nod my head, still completely caught off guard, and mutter yes, mustering as much positive body language as I could in the hope he would also understand I was fine, and praying he would not ask me again about happiness and what constitutes normality. He didn’t say any more for the rest of the journey, but I was still left with a puzzled feeling about the whole encounter. I had not justified his questions with anywhere near an appropriate answer, but then why should I have engaged with this utter stranger at all, at that time of the night, and alone? It was an inherently sensible move to have made, and yet I still feel as though I had missed a valuable encounter of some kind, through the simple fact that I had shut out any interaction from the onset.

And is this surprising, given that in today’s world, we are bombarded every day, often before we have even opened the door. We are assaulted, not just with a constant stream of adverts, marketing, news and opinions, but with expectations, promises and judgements on how the world is today and how we are meant to perform within it. With such an overload of information trying to dictate and determine how we feel and respond, it’s no wonder that we have developed coping mechanisms.

These mechanisms are our protection, layers to prevent us feeling gullible, cheated, foolish and overwhelmed, they are shields of neutrality which we have in many ways already built into our daily lives. We sometimes refer to this mechanism as desensitisation, to the media, to the poverty we see on our doorstep and injustices committed abroad. In an age where we have more choices and permutations than ever before, this filtering and condensing of information spills over into more than the selection process we go through at the supermarket. We have learnt from a young age to pick our battles, because we come to understand we cannot conquer them all. As we choose the fights we will fight, the truth we will accept and the sacrifices we are prepared to make, we have already locked away a wealth of other causes, filtered out endless other versions of truth, and justified our deeds and actions in the face of it all. It is how we survive each day without drowning underneath the information overload.

I see our defenses up like this in us every day, including in myself, and in essence there is nothing amiss in a ‘thicker skin’ to take on the workings of the world. What concerns me is that our ‘survival response’ has become so innate in our behaviour, that we have created multiple layers so tough that we are left with a certain imperviousness. I wonder if the balance has tipped over all too often to a jaded indifference, I worry we have lost the art of vulnerability in its stead.

In the news today there are distressing stories of heartlessness. Of teenagers laughing while watching a man drowning, and filming the whole scene; people unconcernedly stepping over a collapsed man to get money out of the ATM machine; and one story from a few years ago of a man who tragically failed to stop after spotting a toddler on the road, not wanting to be suspected of abducting the child. These are extreme and tragic examples, which in themselves bring up innumerable issues on the state of society, but are also, at heart, linked to the extent desensitisation can numb our humanity.

I am not saying that we should all engage with strange men on trains as to the meaning of happiness, but that we should not build our defences so strong that we are unaware of those moments which may unexpectedly impact on our lives.

To be moved, to feel connected, often requires a certain degree of vulnerability, letting go of a certain amount of control, letting in a small amount of fear in the unknown. I was made aware of my own defenses in this unusual encounter, of the imperviousness of the armour I have built. I was also made aware of the blemishes and bruises, scratches and scrapes just visible on the surface. Evidence of other less succesful happenstances desparately trying to break through my barriers. And among these are a few deeper cuts, chinks within the armour which have allowed moments such as this to effect me unexpectedly. A signal to me that vulnerability is not all lost, and that thankfully, light can still break through.

“The wound is where the light shines through
The wound is where the light finds you
The wound is where the light shines through
The wound is where the light finds you
.

 Rx

Nostalgic puzzling 

7 August, 2013

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I am by no means a ‘gamer’, I must convey this from the start, for if you are looking for intelligent gaming jargon of any kind I fear you are in the wrong place ; )

What I do have, however, is nostalgia. The kind which clings on and seeps in to such an extent that the very idea, however fantastical and unreal, manages to root itself in you.

And so it was that many summers ago my young impressionable mind discovered the game ‘Day of the Tentacle’. Or, to put it more accurately, I hovered and lingered over my older sister and our neighbour playing the game together, then secretly and diligently tried to complete it myself when the computer was free. It is one of the only video games I have been fascinated with and obsessed with in equal measure, and I believe it took more than just my summer holiday.

Portrayed in a classic cartoon style graphic (msdos classic 😉 ) Day of the Tentacle incorporates some of the best elements of a story; a mad scientist, time travel, monsters, (very loosely based) historical background, imagination and ‘teamwork’.

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The premise:

As a sequel to Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle’s plot involves trying to save the world from evil purple tentacle, a deranged lab assistant creation of Dr Fred’s who strives for global tentacle domination. In Dr Fred’s attempt to send Bernard, Laverne and Hoagie back in time to that decisive point in the past, a malfunction causes Bernard to be sent over 200 years in the past, to rub shoulders with the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Laverne to be sent 200 years into the future, to a world where tentacles have enslaved humanity, and Hoagie to remain in the present where he left off.  The game involves you controlling each character in past, present and future, sending small objects back and forth in time and using them to effect changes in time to move the game forward, solve the puzzles and complete Dr Fred’s original plan.

Bizarrely and inexplicably, this rather insane cartoon world that could transport items through time by flushing them down porta-loos (also known as ‘Chron-o-Johns’ – don’t ask…) somehow fixed in me a certain understanding about time.

Beyond the ‘fact of time’, the idea was pressed impressed upon me that the past, present and future are inextricably linked. The inane, seemingly useless (sometimes disgusting) items picked up in the timelines of the game were all key in some way, if you could only figure out how, and when, they fitted into place.

Translated into the ‘real world’ I have been left with a completely unfounded yet extremely potent notion that all the living and learning, however trivial, past, present and future will find its place, and its use, as time unfolds.

Aside from the fact that this is a handy delusion to have as an Arts graduate twice over (and in Theology no less… ;), I like to think it’s a rather healthy way to view the roundabout routes we more often than not take in life. Skills and experiences come in all sorts of unlikely forms, and my rational self definitely gets some pleasure out of the idea that our lives are meant to be ‘puzzled out’. A weighing in of the achievements and disappointments, exhilaration and the unanticipated that comes along over the whole span of living, past, future and present. And sometimes, just sometimes, you recognise the minutest causal connection, an inane choice or surprising event that became a bridge (or two, or three) into a present or future place.

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This mindset came to be even more apparent to me when I received, not too long ago, the email I had sent myself two years ago as discussed in my ‘future me’ post. It was a surreal experience and one I would still urge anyone to do for themselves. In many ways it was a message that could have frustrated and saddened me, full of times and circumstances that hadn’t changed in the way I had intimated. And yet, it was no longer me who was reading it in the here and now, at least not the past ‘me’ who had written the words. I was keenly aware of the fact that I had grown, at least in some small way, and have the intuitive belief that even that experience is an additional piece to the puzzle.

And, as this particular puzzle is still looking a little sparse and sketchy to say the least, my geekish self will be content with the notion that even a bottle of wine, kept contained for an age until it is ‘ruined’ could become one of the secret ingredients needed to power the time machine and ultimately save the world from the evil purple tentacle. ; )

Rx

We’re all part of the masterplan…

25 August, 2012

I feel the need to burst a few bubbles. A few mildly delusional yet calming quips that are thrown around genuinely enough, but which I personally have a great desire to slap into oblivion. One in particular has irked me for some time, I think most of all because I found myself using it the other day and had to check myself for it. – “everything happens for a reason”.

Whether it’s to try us, compel us, sedate us or validate our choices, it crops up in some form or another in times of trial or exaltation. It’s said so often it hangs in the air like some kind of hypnopaedic rhyme, and I can easily understand why.

Leaving aside matters of fate and predestination for a moment, this one phrase portrays a vision of a world that you need take no personal responsibility for. With a shrug of the shoulders and a worldly sigh (or smirk) it can seem to emanate a silent wisdom, a sense of speaking the unspeakable that life can hurl at us. Yet this one phrase doesn’t say anything at all, it just seems to hover uselessly, stopping all further discussion in its tracks. There can be a fine balance between recognising our unknowing, and propagating indifference, and it troubles me to think we are being taken in by a line that is something of a wolf in sheeps’ clothing. To respond to every situation believing it is always part of a bigger plan is not respectful of the unknown, it can very easily be insulting to it, not to mention rather narcissistic.

We attach meaning to the events which affect us in life, yet there is just as much chaos and randomness to contradict our reasoning. Life happens to us, but to think every occurrence has been custom-made for our character development is nothing more than ridiculous, and it can sting one person while ‘comforting’ another.

In fact, I am not as much a cynic as this makes out. I do believe events can arise, choices can be made and opportunities can present themselves at times where it really does seem like a guiding hand is showing the way. I have an admiration and interest in fate and karma, as I am not fool enough to show anything less, and certainly do not have it all figured out.

What seems to have been forgotten, however, in this simplified fateful phrase, is that we have autonomy! We have the scope to make choices throughout our lives which are neither black nor white, but grey, and often indiscernible. From the outset then, this is a much more intricate ‘path’ that we travel, in which we are changed by the choices we make, and the meanings we incessantly give them can make them weights that are dragged behind us, just as much as putting a determined spring in our step.

I do not mean to take away what I see gives some people comfort, but it is a phrase that simply won’t hold up to tragedy. Sooner or later the cotton wool will fall away from this adorable package at a time when we may need to believe it the most. Like the contrast between darkness and light, there is a pervading senselessness in our world that we cannot explain away, indeed should not. It is in facing these unreasonable happenings and utterly disbelieving events that the strength of the human character can really be shown.

Rather than seeking hidden explanations for all that happens to us and others, perhaps we would be better to look for a hand that heals those wounds, and for eyes to open up to the raw truth that exists in companionship.

Let’s rethink the ‘blueprint’, and for those intrigued by a little theological discussion, read this article 🙂

Rx

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