Monthly Archives: April 2013

“Pleased to Meet You, Hope You Guess My Name”

I was thinking today about those words that have disappeared from use during my lifetime. And for whatever reason the first example that came to mind was the term Christian name.

Now, strictly speaking, a Christian name is the name given to a child when they are christened, and therefore it is a baptismal name, if you like.

However, when I was growing up, the terms Christian name and given name were totally interchangeable. Whether you had been christened or not, you were always asked by people to provide your Christian name when filling in surveys or forms etc.

I understand this conscious shift away from the term Christian name is an attempt to create a more religiously tolerant society, whereby members of other religions or beliefs (including atheists) don’t feel marginalized or offended by the said term.

Ditto for how we are now encouraged to wish people a happy festive season, as a opposed to Merry Christmas. As an aside, Happy Solstice Celebrations might at least give people a link to the astronomical significance of this particular time of the year.

Ok, whatever. So, look, here’s the thing, I’m not going to argue for or against this push towards secularizing language as it pertains to my own views of the rightness of the Christian faith.

Instead, I am questioning what is being offered to replace what I see as a loss of meaning (or impoverishment, if you will) within language generally.

The idea of a Christian name showed that an individual “belonged” to something higher than simply the family they were born to. Yet now one simply possesses a first name and a last name. Even the terms family name and surname are in danger of being totally eroded, I would argue.

Same for our national holidays (holy-days). They are in the process of becoming nameless breaks from school or work and nothing more.

It’s a way of reducing words to numbers. Easter becomes a four-day weekend, for instance. And it’s that myopic ass, so-called political correctness, that’s driving it. But at what cost to our humanity, ultimately? Where will it end?

How long before the days of the week are also renamed? Monday becoming One Day, Tuesday becoming Two Day, Wednesday becoming Three Day etc. After all, Thursday and Friday are actually Thor’s Day and Freya’s Day respectively, aren’t they?

Surely, the inferred pagan worship of these Norse deities alone, as instituted within the words Thursday and Friday, is cause enough to reduce all week days to a more suitable number-based system of naming?

Hell, while we’re at it, why stop there? I’m thinking, why not do away with our personal names altogether, too? Whether Christian or Muslim or Rastafarian or what have you. Take the omnipresent name John, for instance. It means “God is gracious” or “God is generous”. What God are we talking about here? Jehovah or Allah or Vishnu? It’s a freaking minefield of potential cultural conflict.

Numbers are so much safer. People can’t take offense at them, because they hold no special meaning beyond what they quantify. So let’s replace our names with our social security numbers, which we could have tattooed or barcoded onto our foreheads for convenience sake. What say you?

Let’s be done with the bothersome task of trying to find new meaning in an increasingly secular world. The sacred has no place in either language or our lives anymore. Even a word like enthusiasm is too contentious for widespread use, meaning as it does, in its etymological sense, to be filled with god.

I jest, obviously. But my concern is real. And I believe it is the duty of us writers to help find new meaning within our shared language, before it’s stripped bare. A universal language of the human Spirit, at the very least, is what is needed, I propose. Because if we don’t create new meaning to replace the old, we’ll eventually end up losing a lot more than the right to own our own names, I can guarantee you.

To finish, consider the irony of the following quote:

“Words have meaning and names have power” – unknown

Advertisements

My Ongoing Search for Eutopia

Utopia is a word that was first used by Sir Thomas More in his book of the same name, published in 1516. And by way of association with the subject matter of his novel the word has since come to mean an ideal or perfect society or set of living conditions, more generally.

The Greek etymology of the word, however, points to the fanciful nature of any such place actually existing, meaning as it does “no place” or nowhere.

What fascinates me, though, is that there also exists within the English language another word which is pronounced exactly the same way as utopia but which has a radically different etymological meaning, namely eutopia. And intriguingly the meaning of this word is a “place of wellness or well-being”.

The difference of meaning would also tend to indicate that a eutopia is not some unattainably ideal state of living, in the way a utopia most certainly is. In any event, I’m sure you will agree that a place of wellness is ultimately an extremely desirable prospect period.

Which now leads me to my telling you about my own personal search for eutopia. Or what I like to call my wellness retreat. A place where in mind, body and soul I can feel healthy and alive, while I bring expression to my various competing creative visions.

I thought I had found it once. I’m not joking. It was the perfect rural property on which to found my own eutopia. In fact, the whole end of my novel is actually set at the location I’m speaking of, albeit with a bit of embellishment here and there. And so, in order to describe it for you, I’ve lifted the following passage directly from the book:

“Thelapis House Cabins Resort sat perched at the topmost point of a range of mountains famous for their once-rich deposits of red gold. No central dwelling or structure actually marked the property as such. Instead, there existed a ramshackle collection of shingle-roofed slab huts and slap-up sleep-outs made from various bits of recycled timber dotted over the landscape, along with a traditional North American Indian tipi for good measure. In one corner of the paddock furthest from where Ipsum waited there also stood a converted railway dining carriage with a psychedelic mural painted down one side. The mural depicted a Nag Hammadi-inspired “Dawn of Creation”-type of scene, in swirling fluorescent day-glo colors and drew the eye from every angle on the property. Just as striking, though, were the billowing outcrops of wild bracken and glorious old-growth eucalypts which grew around the edges of the improbable bohemian fairyland.”

I was so ready to go ahead and buy it. And you were all going to be invited. It was going to be the perfect quintessential artists’ commune. There was going to be an organic farm on site, growing all our food needs, and free-range chickens and goats for milking. Man, I had a dream. If you’d also seen the claw-foot bath and its attached candelabra out under the stars, like I did, I believe you too would have thought this place represented a true eutopia.

So what went wrong? you ask.

Well, they call it the root of all evil for good reason. Money. Yep, I ain’t got none of it. But in the dream I had of founding my own eutopia, my novel was going to sell a whole heap of copies and end up financing the whole crazy fantasy. I’m not greedy, believe me. I just wanted enough of the cursed green stuff to bring my dream to life.

The property has since sold. And the new owners are undoubtedly completely unaware that where they live forms the setting of the climax of my novel. I certainly don’t begrudge them their prize, obviously.

However, it does mean I am still searching for my own personal place of well-being. My eutopia. My ultimate artist retreat, where you are all still invited, if and when I can find a way of actualizing the grand eutopian vision my novel ends with. A big name publisher with a penchant for darkly satirical surrealist fiction would be a damn good start, I’m thinking…

But that’s enough about me. Tell me, what does the idea of eutopia mean to you?


The Blog that Broke the Camel’s Back

The other day I had an exchange with another blogger here on WordPress, during which he told me that there are some 600 million blogs in the world.

Later on, I read a recent survey that put the total number of blogs at WordPress alone at close to 74 million. FYI Tumblr hosts over 100 million blogs, as well.

It’s mind-boggling, really. Or should that be mind-blogging? Boggling and blogging are, after all, anagrams of each other, aren’t they?

Anyway, whether the initial figure of 600 million blogs is accurate or not, I did some rough calculations about how long it would take to visit every single blog in existence. As part of this equation I allowed 10 seconds per blog view and the number I got was 190 years.

In fact, to be honest, I actually got 19 years, but now I’ve re-done the sums I think the answer should have been 190 years. If it is actually the latter, then this would be proof enough it’s in no way humanly possible to see every other blog in the blogosphere.

Who cares? I hear you cry out in despair at my lack of a discernible point.

To which I reply, all right already! Be patient! For here is my point. Are you ready? OK. Let me ask you this, how is it out of the literally hundreds of millions of other blogs (that are just blogging around out there) you ended up here, reading this?

Think about it…Life’s short, and it would take you somewhere between 19 and 190 years (trust me, math is not my strongest suit) to visit every blog in existence. And yet here you are reading this.

Is it fate or kismet or synchronicity, perhaps? Pure chance, maybe? What is it that makes us visit and follow the blogs that we do? I’m sure, most of us would like to think we exercise the power of choice in such matters. But I’m not so sure.

My primary criteria in selecting blogs to follow is a perceived sense of like-mindedness. That and curiosity. By which I mean, if a blog diverts me from my habitual preoccupations, in some interesting or unexpected way, for long enough, I might also give it a go.

Whatever. What I’m really trying to get around to saying is that what we’re seeing with this whole blogging phenomenon is actually the next evolution in writing. For in many ways we are currently witnessing the end of the novel and other more traditional forms of the written word.

And so, ultimately, I believe, the next big shift in writing will be towards a more collective approach. And that’s exactly what I would argue is taking place right now within blog-writing communities more generally. People are aligning with each other and forming small collectives, whereby they can freely exchange comments and feedback, almost immediately after a piece of written work is posted.

In the past a new idea would find expression through the writing of a single individual, be it the societally critical insights of a Charles Dickens’ novel or even the evilly distorted vision of something like Mein Kampf, for that matter.

But is it possible that maybe humanity is now moving towards a point where new ideas will find their expression through the kind of “writing collectives” that blog-writing communities naturally engender?

So put another way, are we really choosing the blogs we follow? Or is there a larger purpose bringing us all together? Because, sure, while it might prove to be an extremely long and gradual process, it’s entirely possible there are certain yet to be formalized ideas actively seeking new modes of expression through our various collective on-line groupings. Just what those ideas might be is only limited by the extent of our imaginations.

It’s either that, I guess. Or that instead of 600 million blogs, there’ll soon be 6 billion and not a single one of them will be read by another individual because we’ll all be too busy blogging ourselves into oblivion.

Makes you think, though, doesn’t it? 600 million blogs…


Man’s Work

There exists a specific
gravity to the
weight
of being a pallbearer
delivering a dearly
belovéd to
the open grave

such undertakings
hang heavy on the hands

the honor and finality no gentle
reminder of the fate each of us
waits patiently
in line for

to commit and surrender
the freshly dead unto the earth
a mother who devours
her children

now finished with
heavy labour

having accomplished our task

we fall back darkly
from whence we came.


Confessions of an Inverse Snob

Just recently I had the opportunity to meet one of the heroes of my youth. And while both of us may have aged somewhat over the last 25 years, it was still a real buzz.

The hero I’m referring to is Joe Satriani, and believe me he is still very much at the top of his game.

For those of you who don’t know of whom I speak, it is probably easiest to describe Joe as being the ultimate guitarists’ guitarist. He can do things when he plays that causes mere mortals like myself to question why they ever bothered to pick up a guitar in the first place.

I do believe the Devil himself would sell his own soul to be able to play as well as Joe (or Satch as he is known to his legions of fans).

But enough. I could enthuse about Joe’s mad skills forever. However, that is not my intent. Because what I really wanted to focus on here was the man himself.

You see, in person, Joe happened to be everything you would want your hero to be: humble, polite, very centered and totally inspiring. And I know all this from a quick handshake and a brief exchange of words as I got my photo taken with the great Professor Satchafunkilus

So what of it? I hear you ask. Well, I suppose, this is meant to serve as a confession of sorts. For as much as I am ashamed to admit it, I didn’t conduct myself in a totally dignified fashion throughout this fleeting interaction.

The problem was that I initially approached meeting Joe with the wrong attitude. I thought he would be all aloof and dismissive with me, his being world-famous and all. And so, I therefore acted like an “inverse snob”, sort of almost snubbing him before he could snub me type-thing.

Fortunately, his gentle, zen-like demeanor cut through all my crap real quick. And that’s when I realized it’s not always enough to be the very best at something. Because if you’re going to rise to the top of whatever it is you do, you’re also going to have to learn how to deal with other people on a major scale. Something which is an entirely different skill set again.

Anyway, that was my recent celebrity encounter and subsequent bout of self-analysis. And so now I wonder if any of you have had a similar experience? And, if so, what did you take from it?

20130427-013840.jpg


Human, All Too Human — Putting Into Words What Makes Us Who We Are

I’ve recently become friends with a guy who is a literary anthropologist. Let’s call him Ben, for argument’s sake; although that does also happen to be his name, coincidentally enough. And anyway, as you do, I have decided to have a go at reading his doctoral thesis, in my abundant spare time, as it were.

So, having survived the learning curve of reading the 36-page introduction to his thesis proper (and I only just survived, at that, believe me), I feel I’m now in a position to share some of what I have since learnt.

To begin with, it would seem the whole subject of literary anthropology is vexed by the paradoxical nature of its dependence on deferring to language to explain the origins of language itself. A fact that makes for a whole lot of self-reflexive logic loops along the lines of the Internet meme that asks, “If two mind readers read each other’s minds, would they just be reading their own mind?”

However, be that as it may, once this fundamental paradox is understood as a given, many other deeply intriguing ideas and theoretical concepts soon come to light. Ideas that are of deep interest, I would argue, to those of us who identify ourselves as writers and therefore as the frontline upholders and protectors of language, especially the written word.

Following on from this, the most fascinating concept I have yet met with in my reading is that of the “originary event”. And in my own words (later ratified by Ben himself) this idea can be explained thus: The originary event is not only when language first emerged (out of a kind of singularity-type event), but also when we first became human.

Simply put, we became human at the same moment language discovered us or vice versa. Words make us human. There is no understanding the human animal without language. The two are one.

And that’s what I love about being a writer, ultimately. I love that as writers we have made a craft out of the very thing that makes us human. We are true humanists in the most profoundest sense.

Sure, less romantic types might cite opposable thumbs as the great distinguishing attribute of our species, but, then, such people couldn’t make their point without the use of language, could they?

You see, in theory, most primates can use their thumbs to tap out a random tweet on a smartphone, but it takes the rare genius of a writer to fit the following into 140 characters or less
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

QED. Have a banana, science nerds!

20130425-230838.jpg


Sunshine Award

Image

Many thanks to http://anonymousmisanthrope.wordpress.com/ for nominating me for the Sunshine Award! This is my first award, so I really appreciate being nominated. Thank you, Mr Anonymous Misanthrope, whoever you may, in reality, actually be! I look forward to reading more of your blog, having enjoyed what I have read in recent weeks.

Here are the rules:

  • Include the award’s logo in a post or on your Blog.
  • Link to the person who nominated you.
  • Answer 10 questions about yourself.
  • Nominate 10 Bloggers.
  • Link your nominees to the post and comment on their Blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.

 

Ten questions about me (constituting a virtual 3rd degree):

Favorite color: Every shade of blue
Favorite animal: Felis catus
Favorite number: 22
Favorite non-alcoholic drink: Freshly squeezed orange juice/iced tea.
Favorite alcoholic drink: Long Island Iced Tea.
Favorite types of music: Anything with guitar-playing in it, from swampy blues through to high-speed neoclassical metal back to acoustic balladeering.
My passion(s): Nature, the human mind and Spirit, works of mystery and imagination, loved ones.
Prefer getting or giving presents: Depends on the present in question 😉
Favorite cities: New York, Amsterdam, Cairo
Favorite TV show: I don’t watch TV, I can’t sit still long enough.

 

Here are my 10 nominees, in no particular order of preference:

http://chestermaynes.wordpress.com/ Chester’s tagline to his blog says it all: Poetry and Poems. Straightforward and to the point, exactly what I like in a poet/poetry.

http://elizabethmeltonparsons.wordpress.com/ I really enjoy how down-to-earth and calming many of the posts (poems/photos etc) on this blog are. In fact, I have even reminisced with Elizabeth, on occasion, about our respective marble and rock collections!

http://shrinksarentcheap.wordpress.com/ A daily must. Shrinks posts as many as three poems a day. She barely reins them in, she tells me. She sings too, I have now found out! Multi-talented, much? Mostly, I’m left either jealous or speechless. Or worse, both…

http://rooktopia.wordpress.com/ This blog and El Santo are a very new find for me. But I have enjoyed and been intrigued by everything I have read on this blog so far. Looking forward to reading more.

http://amuseless.wordpress.com/ The Procrastitorian is a writer/poet who possesses a superbly quirky way with words. I can never read one of this blog’s poems or stories without being caught off-guard or mentally wrong-footed somehow.

http://readfulthingsblog.com/ Ionia is a powerhouse blogger and brings sunshine to my daily blogging experience. Hence a very worthy nominee for the sunshine award. Always an interesting read, from book reviews and personal rants through to poetry and author interviews. Exemplary.

http://musewriter.wordpress.com/ Always something heartfelt to be read in the poems on this blog. It’s a pleasure, as a reader, to be invited to share in what MuseWriter is most grateful for on any given day.

http://tipprblog.com/ If I have read her blog correctly Tamara is only “21 years young”. But I sense she must be an old soul, because there is a subtle wisdom in everything she writes. I definitely count myself a fan.

http://khmazzola124.wordpress.com/ Kristen describes herself on her About page as an “open book”. And that’s what makes her writing so compelling to read. Whether she is writing about love, loss or heartache she never hides behind her words or pulls any punches.

http://harmony77uk.wordpress.com/ Angie humbly describes herself as a “wannabe writer” and (like so many of us aspiring author-types) she’s finding real life is currently cramping her creative output. So I’m hoping this will send a little sunshine her way!

To finish, I’d like to (once more) thank all of these nominees for what they bring to my daily blogging experience, without them I’d quite literally be at a loss as to what to read each day. Cheers, one and all!