self-awareness, terra incognita, writing

“Why we are never lost.”

Renaissance map makers wrote the words terra incognita to indicate land (terra in Latin) that was unknown or unexplored (incognita in Latin). By the 21st century there is little left of the world to map. But what do we mean when we say the world?

In some abstract way we imagine planet earth. However, the world is never more than the square metre around one’s feet.

We can never inhabit all of the world (unless you are a super-power) and yet we often speak as if we are intimate with all of it. We speak of how the world is when we can only possibly know how it is for us. How do we form our view of the world? Knowledge of current world events does not constitute knowledge of the world. We hold bits of data in our heads and imagine we know so much.

Other brave people have explored and mapped the globe, but to me it remains largely terra incognita.

I can only hope to know my self, the terrain within. It is difficult terrain and I am not always as brave as I ought to be. I am also not immortal. Time moves on, areas are left unexplored. I grow older, become less curious and more tired. That was yesterday though, today I could take on the, uh, world? Oh dear, it seems we do use the word a lot. It’s figurative you see, the world is an idea, not a place.

I do not know the world, and what I do know is very little. Therefore I cannot assume that what I know of the world is in any way a true reflection of the world. An apple is only knowable to me. It is never the same apple for anyone else.

Some nights I tame the beasts that confront me on the dark plains. some days they shred me.
I am of the ground, terrestrial, but I am unknown terrain. I am, in the words of Whitman – large, containing multitudes, and now I must map myself. Terra incognita was my name before my parents chose the one I have carried all my life. And everything gets worn down with time. Skin loses elasticity and wrinkles form like valleys. There are tectonic plates right under my skin. Joints ache, bones become brittle. Blood coagulates when it should not, arteries block, lungs must heave for air, the imagination weaves webs over the present, and reconstruct the past. The brain becomes atrophied.

My name is so thin in places you can see right through it if you hold it up to the light. It’s the same light I have been walking towards all my life, sometimes running to, sometimes away from but, mostly to. Once my name was new, freshly knitted it kept me warm for a while. Now the chill gets in quicker. People have been using it all my life too. My name, not the chill. When I hear it now it is like a bell clanging a labourer back to task. I used to associate my name with possibility. Now it like someone calling my name in a doctor’s waiting room, I expect bad news. So I’m changing it back to my original form name: terra incognito. Because I still feel unknown, unnamed and unformed.

One would expect that with five decades of breathing there would at least be an incremental increase of basic knowledge beyond the skill set one has accumulated through years of trudge. But no. There is no greater insight. One becomes not so much content with one’s life as resigned to it. If accepting your lot is the beginning of enlightenment, I may levitate soon. Currents still spark from the neurons in my brain. I still have fire in my belly.

There is pleasure in travelling through unknown terrain. Mapped and well signed land makes travel easy but the journey tedious.
Happy is he who can embrace the labyrinth of absurdity that is being. Being is not a set of coordinates.
One is never really lost.

https://medium.com/p/why-we-are-never-lost-b11a8eab2f6f?source=email-c99624de6846–writer.postDistributed&sk=4c7151c10c4faf7511bf6e30b6693e41

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education, existentialism, on looking, poetry, suburbia, teaching, words, writing

How to watch a sunrise: morning

I was going to title this piece something minimalist like “morning” but I’ve found that adding ‘How to‘, to anything seems to gain readership. It’s one of the things a writer does, write and then find readers. So, firstly, thank you for taking the time to read this and to those of you who regularly read what I put out, thank you. I do not take your continued support lightly. I am currently exploring another writing site that hosts some worthwhile content, it’s called Medium and you can click on the name to take you there, after you’ve read this. It’s well worth exploring since it caters to a variety of genres.

Morning

It’s 6:30 am. I’ve been up since 4:30 grading English papers. My students appear to be struggling more than I realised. Now I am. Self doubt rises. After the 10th paper it has convinced me I might better serve the community in some other way. I start an internet search for local jobs, anything … postman! That sounds appealing from where I sit. Bukowski did it.

But, I know I won’t. The same way I secretly know I’ll probably not do so many of the things I said I would: like skydive (why did I even say that?), like ride to Key West on a Harley or travel the world in an old panel van or climb Mt Kilimanjaro, swim with dolphins, smoke a cohiba in Havana, talk books ‘n stuff with Stephen Fry, or … the bucket list disappears beneath an endless pile of essays. No. I won’t become a postman. I would stroll rather than walk, forget to post the letters, talk for too long to lonely people waiting for news from someone, anyone. I’d be a rubbish postman. I owe the bank too much. I am locked in for life.

Soon I am approaching the shadow world I know only too well. The bull that lives there shudders, ready to charge. Its front hooves rake the ground, it snorts. I make a cup of coffee. Sit outside, knees propping up my elbows, the coffee has little appeal. I get Macbeth,

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;

I breathe in too deep, cough. I look up.

It is immense. How did the sky stretch so wide? Has it always been so? So high (it seems daft to state the obvious. It feels I am noticing it unfold from space for the first time) and so low it feels that if I held up my arms I could stir the colours like I was Monet and God. Something within, that unidentifiable aspect of ourselves that is lost in the day to day doingness of things alerts my senses. I want to find words and the voice from that inner region grabs me by the scruff of my nightgown and says: “just look. Just feel. That’s all you need to do.”

So I do. I lose the need for words. I soak in the glorious warmth of burning pastel light. As the light grows brighter and the sky shifts to blue I take out my phone again and start finding the words. I can’t help myself. It is an impulse too ingrained. If I have not squeezed words onto the page, it never happened.

But, soon the moment will strain under the weight of the day. Pressed cold, olive like, the essence of it anoints me. Not as king, my kingdom is overrun by barbarians who have taken my crown and placed a number to live by in its stead. No, I am anointed as something better than a king. The sun anoints me renegade, maverick on walkabout in a world gone mad. I grade the papers with my old eyes. The ones that prompt the tongue to say

“here are your grades, but what is more important, I saw you loved the book and that will stay with you longer. Trash the paper, let’s read. Let’s read about sunrises and mushrooms and walls and old men on blasted heaths and then you may stand a chance.”

“A chance for what they will say”.

To which I shall reply: “If you can hold onto a poem longer than your mortgage contract then you might just survive this life. Then, scattered randomly through the interminable days of drudgery ahead of you, there will be sunrises that will take your breath away and remind you that in the light of that, nothing else really matters.”

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short fiction, short story, writing

Malevich at midnight

There are low hanging clouds tonight. They look like steam. The city cooks us all, devours us and you wouldn’t know it but for the likes of me so I will do my bit for the illusion of progress and mimic the ritual of success. I will move without purpose. I will begin now, here, by standing. No one likes a reclining dude in the city, except if it’s lunchtime in a park and you have expensive shoes and unholy socks which display to everyone that this is a deliberate rest and not a stupour, not a cry for help or the decline of a once respected soul. Steam clouds, ice cream clouds, I scream at clouds. I feel like a hot turd meting out my miasma. People look for clouds during lunch break or smoke break but who notices clouds at night? Vagrants and poets thanking God for the cover of darkness, cursing him for the cold but grateful the noisy city workers with their high heels clakking, their cappucinos, their $500 suits and dresses have gone home to give the city dwellers some peace. Hope Malevich comes by tonight. I want to show him my black square of night, just behind you between the bank and the hotel, the road and the billboard.  If you look up from where I am now there’s a perfect square of sky. I only see it unblack for a short time before sunrise, before the arrival of the masses, the walking dead as my mate Jude and I call them, the one’s who think they are safeguarded by their suits and distance from the bitch of bad timing and one more for the road. We catch you sneaking glances like the buildings catch the sky between loathing and compassion depending on how your day has gone so far. See the disgust in your eyes, the same looks i avoid in shop windows. The streets are a hall of mirrors at night. We’re all passing through, but we pass variously.

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art, philosophy, Scallan, writing

Learning not to fly

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It is the swift overhead passing of a seagull which suggests to me that my fascination with flight is not that I yearn to fly but that I wish to escape completely my inner demons. My fallen angels of idealism. My automated days of work, of incessant calculations of the infinite responses to the interminable thread of responsibilities that seem to govern my existence.
I realise that the moments of peace I chase after are forever just moments. I will never stretch them out to anything more than a moment. The most I can hope for is a more expansive heart so that these moments fill up more of the empty space inside me.

The desire to fly is the breath of weariness. It is the tired exhalation that leaves my body as I understand that I am living the life I have, not the one I imagined I would live. In that life I am wiser,  writing text widely read, creating art with words and paint and clay. And people buy my work which allows me to do it again and again.
However with this understanding there is also,for the first time perhaps, the knowing that the life I have could not be better for it contains the people I love. And love is more important than words or paint or clay. The real art of my life has been surviving my mistakes.

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Besides, relieved of the ghastly responsibility of having to create art,  I can write without hindrance,  with honesty. I can experience days of trudge knowing that most people feel the same way. I can drag myself to work and once there realise I actually enjoy it. I can, like everyone else, hanker after freedom from  responsibility. And yet, it is that same responsibility that allows me to look up at a seagull and see its beauty.

I imagine there must be at least one seagull out there who looks down and imagines how fine it would be to walk every day on the earth.

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art, philosophy, writing

On art

image

Visiting my brother in Ingagane,  South Africa recently I found this piece I had made sometime in the early 90’s. It returned me to the emotions I felt then. It also made me realise why I have always been drawn to image, sometimes more so than words.

An image is a more immediate conduit of the soul. Writing is more difficult for me because the material,  words, are not as pure as colour. Colour is essentially honest and to find honesty with words involves intense excavation of the self.

It reminded me as well that the primary task of artists is to find and express that honesty.

That’s a tough gig. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Maybe I’ll get there,  maybe not. The effort though has made all the difference.

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