Hamlet’s Blackberry

May 19, 2013 at 2:29 am | Posted in Books | Leave a comment
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William Powers in his provocative, accessible book Hamlet’s Blackberry (Scribe, 2010), relates what happened while he was leaning from his boat to disentangle a propeller blade from a piece of rope mooring another boat to the jetty: he fell in to the water – splash! After some floundering and embarrassing moments he climbed back up to his boat and turned out his pockets. His mobile was in there. It was now dead. Absolutely dead.
At first he was angry and panicked. He was freelance and his clients needed to be able to call him. But pretty soon the initial frustrated rage was replaced by a strange sense of elation, a feeling of expansive freedom such as he had not felt in a long, long time. No one knew where he was. He breathed deeply of the sea air; he was in a beautiful place surrounded by water on a sunny day, and nobody knew where he was!
It started him thinking about the possible dangers of our contemporary state of being constantly connected to everyone everywhere. I am only a quarter through but so far I am impressed with this author’s reasoning and his lucid writing. We are too connected and it does our emotional and physical health much good to have regular breaks from being digitally connected. For depth and fulfilment we need to have time when we are alone and concentrating on one thing, and without the possibility of being interrupted by phone calls or emails or Facebook etc.
With that advice in mind, this blog entry will be brief – to allow more time for me to read, to write, to think! I’m going to conclude with the contents of two telegrams I heard about long ago. A fortnight ago I related Robert Hughes’ funny mock telegram about a looming deadline. I have two other favourites. The first is about the Algonquin Group, the famous group of American writers including Dorothy Parker and Richard Benchley – Richard? The father of the guy who wrote Jaws, I think that was the one) – anyway, they used to regularly meet in the Algonquin room in New York, and one of them went overseas for the first time. He bade them farewell and set off on his journey, and the first place he visited was Venice.
(I don’t know the technical reason but they couldn’t do punctuation so they used to put STOP for a fullstop.)
Another one, surely apocryphal, was that prankster in a high position in his town sent the five most highly respected, posh pillars of the community a telegram one evening, stating simply: ALL HAS BEEN REVEALED STOP FLEE!
And the following morning, four of the five had left town.
Somehow I can’t see texting ever achieving the satirical scope that composers of telegrams were sometimes capable of.

Capitalism and gardening

May 12, 2013 at 7:59 am | Posted in Books, capitalism | Leave a comment
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A businessman was on holiday in a small Greek coastal village where he started chatting to a humble Greek fisherman who had just come in with his small fishing boat with his morning’s catch. When asked why he had come in after only a few hours’ fishing, the fisherman replied he had enough for his family and to give to some friends.
‘But what do you do with the rest of your time?’
The fisherman smiled. ‘I eat with my family, play with my children on the beach and take a siesta with my wife.’
‘But you could spend twice as much time at sea, catch twice as many fish and sell them.’
‘And then?’ the fisherman replied.
‘After a few years you would have saved enough money to buy another boat, employ someone and within a few years you could have a fleet of boats.’
‘And then?’ the fisherman asked.
‘You could open a fish processing plant and with another few years could control all the seafood processing and distribution in Greece.’
‘And then?’ the fisherman replied again.
‘You can retire and spend quality time with your family, go fishing in the mornings, play with your grandchildren on the beach and take a siesta with your wife.’

That story has been around for a while and but it bears repeating; this version is from Trisha Dixon’s Adagio: Living and Gardening Mindfully (Murdoch Books, 2012, p. 37). As that author writes, ‘So easy and yet so hard to just live life instead of racing through it.’ (p. 39)
And this society’s aggressive capitalism – someone recently coined ‘totalitarian capitalism’ for what it is – makes it very hard to slow down and really do what we want to do and find out who we are and what we want. We’re supposed to be out shopping for white goods or clothes or whatever or working to earn the money to buy the white goods or clothes or whatever.
The best book I’ve read on the global financial crisis is John Lanchester’s Whoops: Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay (Penguin, 2010). Lucid, funny, accessible. Lanchester has written a novel about the financial situation too, called Capital. When I have time I’ll read it; definitely on my list.
‘For every dollar spent on UN peacekeeping, $2,000 is expended for warmaking by member nations. Four of the five members of the UN Security Council, which has veto power over all U.N. resolutions are the top weapons dealers in the world: the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Russia.’
(Paul Hawken. Blessed Unrest: How the largest social movement in history is restoring grace, justice and beauty to the world. Penguin, 2007)
Depressing. But that book isn’t. It is a book full of hope. And as Voltaire advised about what to do when politics etc is distressingly malevolent – cultivate your garden. And our garden is writing, art, books, ideas or anything creative. Or indeed for some of us it is gardening. I used to have a green thumb. But then I had a change in circumstances that necessitated living in flats for many years and I lost the habit – and maybe even the talent. And now I don’t have time – But I love having a garden. It reminds me of that saying: ‘I love work. I can watch it for hours.’ Someone else does the work in the garden and I get to reap the benefits. I do the simple things like strawberries and jonquils.
My mind is not on this blog because I feel guilty not working on the commissioned book. So I am going to finish this one with a quotation from somewhere – it is quoted in Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element. (Fabulous book on creativity and how our education system does us no favours in this respect.) I’ve got two years for this thing (somewhat less than that now) but I’m approaching the third phase.
The six phases
Search for the guilty
Punishment of the innocent
Praise for the non-participants

How to be Idle and The Two Percent Solution

May 5, 2013 at 1:45 am | Posted in Books, Quotations | Leave a comment
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It was the old days of telegrams. You paid per word for the speedy delivery of your message, so they often had a particular tone of terse urgency. They had a tendency to contain either very good or very bad news, news that could not wait for the post. Robert Hughes, late with his commissioned book, Art of Australia (published in 1970), in a spirit of affectionate mockery, wrote to his editor/publisher Geoffrey Dutton, exaggerating the flavour of Dutton’s previous telegrams to him:


My situation will be like that if I don’t start seriously writing my own commissioned book soon. There is always so much else to do. (What did I say last week about time management, in ‘Big Rocks’? I need to heed my own advice.)

But we seem to have had so much more time before electronic communication was invented. In the bush my mother posted our correspondence ‘sets’ when we’d done all the work in them and we received the month’s new set by the post. I can’t remember how we got our post (once a fortnight?) but it was exciting when it happened. In the city it came twice a day. In Charles Darwin’s time the post came five times a day, which is practically as good as email. I guess it went gradually down until today’s once a day.

We’ve gained much from our instant electronic communication but I can’t help feeling we’ve lost much too. The speed of contemporary life can give you vertigo. Just like the speed of the cars. Last week’s book, Car Sick: Solutions for our car-addicted culture by Lynn Sloman does indeed have solutions. It is a very accessible book, fascinating, illuminating, full of hope and beautifully written. One of the solutions is decreasing the speed limit in suburbs, which radically reduces the accident, injury and death rates plus changes the feeling of places by making them safe for children and cyclists and improving social life and social cohesion.

We, most of us, have a tendency to go too fast in every area of our lives. There is always too much to do. And when are we supposed to squeeze in our art: our writing or singing or painting or dancing? Okay: two solutions. The first lies in Tom Hodgkinson’s How to be Idle (2004) and the second in Marcia Hughes’ The Two Percent Solution.

How to be Idle describes the slow food movement or the International Movement for the Defense of and the Right to Pleasure. Founded in 1986 by a group of left-wing Italians who were appalled by the cultural ascendancy of fast food, it aimed to bring pleasure, quality, variety and humanity back to the production and eating of food. It spread all over Europe and is now in the US and here as well. Their logo is a snail.

Their philosophy goes beyond food and is a protest against the dehumanising mechanisation of life. Their Manifesto states: ‘Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilisation, first invented the machine and took it as its life model. … We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life … May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency.’ (p. 65)

So how are we to write or paint or practise our art in these times of unprecedented frenzy? Another way is proposed by Marcia Hughes in The Two Percent Solution. She reckons that all we need to practise our art and then become fulfilled and happy is 2% of our day, ie, 30 minutes. Surely we can all squeeze 30 minutes for ourselves and our art every day?

Yeats wrote, ‘Art only comes when there is abandon, and a world of dreaming and waiting and passionate meditation.’ Could we get into that state within 30 minutes? Well, let me close with another quotation, from Marcia Hughes’ The Two Percent Solution: ‘Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.’ (Anon, p. 33 of Hughes). So I think we can.

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