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The Genesis of Artistic Creativity by Michael Fitzgerald

In Autism Research Unit, Book Review on June 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Subtitled Asperger’s Syndrome and the Arts, Michael Fitzgerald’s book broaches one of the last taboos as regards creative artists. For some time it has been acknowledged by most unbiased observers that highly regarded scientists, mathematicians and engineers may be autistic. Anthony Storr in his collection of essays, Churchill’s Black Dog, discussed Isaac Newton, for example, as being autistic. It is thought of as being acceptable that what students of the humanities, literature and the arts consider to be the mechanistic mindset of the sciences may be bolstered or at least uninhibited by an autistic temperament. The arts, on the other hand, are a looser, more free-flowing kind of creativity and our arts graduate commentators like to insulate themselves from the unaesthetic notion that artists might themselves be on the autistic spectrum by the notion that, though autistic savants may be able to draw buildings they have seen for only a handful of seconds or reconstitute note-perfect versions of songs they have heard, the resultant art is somehow soulless. The exceptions, such as Erik Satie, prove the rule by the idiosyncracies of their art, which are unique but flawed in the human sense. All manner of reasonings are given for behaviour remarkable for its eccentricity, yes, comfortingly vague word that it is, but also for its need for routine, for solitude, for its incompetence with regards to human relationships and empathy. The weight of more conventionally respectable artistic ailments, from the “black blood” of mood disorders with its history of poetic treatment, to Porphyria, perhaps, that old chestnut of syphilus, or, more implausible denial of all, simply an attraction to the perverse and unconventional.

Somebody had to take apart some of these assumptions, point out the conclusions that can be drawn from the biographies of artists, and state the various ways in which both the negative and positive symptoms of autism could in fact benefit a life dedicated to art no less (or, perhaps, little less, or alternatively, no less, but less probably; all possible conclusions that may be drawn once the subject is further researched) than a life dedicated to science.

Some of these potential benefits ought to be evident to anybody who has worked with individuals on the autistic spectrum. Autism confers an obsessive tenacity. It can remove the distractions of social interaction which might prevent other artists reaching what they might think of as their potential. It provides a different take on the world, the alienation from it that can benefit a creative artist. Similarly, the very social difficulties that autism invariably provokes, as well as the difficulties of finding a place for oneself in the world, the comforts of a job and loving relationship, provokes exactly the kind of life crises that come up again and again in biographies as being the progenitors of a creative breakthrough. And then there is the fact that people with autism do not know how to compromise; their work is all there is.

Michael Fitzgerald discusses many of these factors. The book is divided into sections on writers, philosophers, muscians and painters each with as many as eight and as few as four examples of creative artists. Each artist is discussed in short more or less uniformly headlined sections of as little as five or six pages. Indications of Asperger’s syndrome or high functioning autism are evinced and briefly discussed.

Fitzgerald in his introduction makes the obligatory defence of posthumous diagnosis, which has been controversial since the success of previous such works by the likes of Kay Refield Jamison, whose work Fitzgerald indeed draws on. Since far more evidence can be drawn from the various biographies of long-dead individuals of note than in the interviews and from the school reports etc. demanded by a contemporary diagnostic consultation, since indeed far more social contexts are discussed in such a biography than the two (home and school for example) required in certain diagnostic criteria, and since the development of a given disorder over a lifetime may be evident from such biographies, there is surely an argument that, face to face contact or no, if such a diagnosis is not justified, then no diagnosis based upon contemporary consultation may be either. Were this not the case, the discussion of historical figures and their behaviours to shed light on the disorders they appear to exemplify would nevertheless be of interest to many who work with such disorders or are affected by them. If such defences must continue to be made, however, it might be preferred that they were made rather better than is the case with Fitzgerald here who, though he makes his case, somewhat tramples on it with a discussion of posthumous ratings of IQ in figures thought to be on the autistic spectrum. Following a discussion of the failings of IQ as an objective measure of intelligence, this makes such an exercise as the posthumous rating of IQ seem even more silly an exercise than it would appear in and of itself, and it is unfortunate that Fitzgerald traduces the essaying of posthumous diagnoses with such a practice.

Nevertheless, Fitzgerald’s diagnoses themselves appear to be sound. (More so than many given by psychiatrists in the flesh in the cases of students I worked with at a college of special education were I to be drawn into a comparison, but sound in and of themselves.) In each case, I would be very interested in following up some of the biographical sources he draws on. Unfortunately, his discussion of each case is so concise, giving only those anecdotes and discrete items of evidence germane to diagnosis, that I do not feel I am, from this book alone, much informed as to the nature of each individual’s character and eccentricities.

On the other hand, if Fitzgerald does not go into a great deal of depth on each individual, he does provide sufficient examples of autistic individuals in each field to advance his thesis. If he had covered fewer it could easily be said by the usual commentators that these individuals, like Mozart, are exceptions that prove the rule. Also, such breadth as this ensures that each reader will learn something about figures he thought he knew, such as, perhaps, George Orwell and William Butler Yeats, as well as discovering new characters, such as Glenn Gould and Jack B. Yeats.

A look at those names may bring up another objection. From his selection of 21 historical figures, only one, Simone Weil, is female. This may reflect a number of things. Autism, of course, is disproportionately a male phenomenon. Historically, too, women, and even neurotypical women of high social standing, had far fewer opportunities to express themselves creatively. It leaves one question. Where the eccentricities of autistic men more tolerated, enabling them – with the usual life crises, ridicule, and difficulties, of course – to doggedly pursue their interests in the time they made for themselves, while women, failing to fulfil their more stringent social roles, were further disadvantaged, or are there many examples of female artistic genius out there waiting to be discovered and is this another indication of the autistic literature being slow to pick up on the experiences of autistic women.

Whatever the shortfalls, this is a fine book with which to begin to get to grips with this last taboo and, though it will be seen as a specialist interest topic, the viewing of the history of creativity through the filter of autism is as useful as any other more or less arbitary cross section of what would otherwise be an intimidatingly vast area, for throwing up interesting leads. For me these may be Glenn Gould, Bela Bartok and Jack B. Yeats, but each reader will have different names to follow up. Fitzgerald has written an engaging, well laid out book, and Jessica Kingsley has furthered its impressive reputation.

Candida Die Off

In Autism Research Unit, Department of Nutrition, Food diary, Unforgiving Minutes on May 26, 2010 at 10:00 pm

A few lost days recently, and mainly to Candida Die Off. Probably I have mentioned this before, and certainly I will mention it again. It may be that the mechanism for it is not yet quite fully understood and that it will not in future be described as Candida Die Off, but since the self-styled hard-nosed scientists who ridicule such ideas provide no better hypothesis for how and why I come to feel so shite before I come to feel better following the imposition of a strict dietary regime after a lax spell or the ingestion of probiotics, and since they get many details wrong when they swagger into the fray, since indeed those who talk of Candida die off, off-puttingly flaky though they may be, describe perfectly how I feel and give the only plausible reason why I should feel it, Candida die off it remains.

So, the hypothesis goes something like this:

Because of the increasing prevalence of highly refined carbohydrates and sugars in our diet, because of the high-yeast fast bake process, because of the shift towards milling of flours which removes all nutritional value, because of the over prescription of anti biotics by doctors and the use of prophylactic anti biotics in animal feed, the gut flora (the balance of “good” bacteria to bad and other strains), there is increasingly a problem of Candidiasis in Western populations.

Candida albicans is a common yeast-like microorganism which, given the right environment, and in a dearth of more desireable “gut flora”, can flourish, literally threading itself through the gut lining of suffers.

In itself it can cause a problem, releasing toxins. But this threading through the gut too can cause “leaky gut syndrome”, where particles that ought not to pass through the selectively-permeable membranes of the gut, can pass thorugh. Once they have done so they can in some cases interfere with the function of the central nervous system. In others, they can trigger food allergies which then further inflame the gut lining, decreasing absorption and leading to yet further problems.

To defeat this an anti-Candida diet has to be employed. I have benefitted from this myself, though I have never found myself able to persist in its strictures which involve the exclusion of all refined carbs (I couldn’t give up exercise, for one thing, which makes me crave carbs, I often say that if I had the organisational capacity to carry out the diet, I wouldn’t need it, and I have poor/non-existent impulse control besides). In addition, pro-biotics are important, to build up the immune system against the invasive organism.

While these necessary measures are being taken, though, something called Candida Die off occurs in which, depending on which theory you go for (to me the results are the same and so it makes little odds) either A> dying Candida releases the toxins that would otherwise be left inside or B> the Candida, now that the environment is more challenging, becomes more aggressive in order to bed itself into body tissues. In the process, you experience something called Herxheimer reaction (which also may or may not be the correct nomenclature). Essentially, this is toxic overload. You feel like hell, have all the symptoms of flu, including tingling skin (check), lethargy (check), sleepiness (check), and feeling cold.

Mine came on first a few days ago when I began eating home-made probiotic sauerkraut and took a probiotic capsule or two. I wasn’t quite getting it right. These measures should be rolled in slowly after the strict following of an anti-Candida diet. I hadn’t quite done this. My priorities and obsessions shift so much that I tend to be all or nothing most of the time, and I had come on too strong with the probiotics after too loose an interpretation of the Candida diet. (Another reason I have for believing this hypothesis incidentally, is the severity of the symptoms and the way they corrolate with how lax I have been in applying the diet, how quickly I move from eating badly to eating well – with or without probiotics – and how aggressively I introduce probiotics.)

In addition, I woke up this morning after sleeping badly last night, feeling like I had a cold. Though I had been shaky all day yesterday and knew I was coming down with Herheimer/Die off, I went for a fell run race starting at 19:15 and ran 4 miles with an 1100 feet climb. I came down and felt better than I had all day, but by the time it came to go to bed, I felt alert. My head was spinning. I couldn’t sleep until late, another symptom, now I look back, of Herxheimer. Exercise too helps to kill the Candida and I had ran pretty hard.

And so I have been achy all day, had loose stool (sorry), and felt too crabby for company.

Still, good and bad news. The good: I’ve still got a long way to go. The bad: I’ve found something that works, Sauerkraut and the fermented foods Natasha Campbell McBride believes to be so effective against such problems and the mental difficulties they can cause.

The only lingering bad in all of it, perhaps, is that tomorrow I’m off to do some Dry Stone Walling again and had hoped to chat to the Chainsaw Girl I met last time and who I have been daydreaming about since, but then, since I’m still profoundly ambivalent about relationships and siding, most times, with Gibbon (as Anthony Storr described him in Solitude) who said he often dreamed of being coupled, but was invariably glad to wake up from the reverie and find himself untethered, maybe that itself is no bad thing. All I’ve got to ensure is that I manage to cook something tomorrow morning!

Night Gav-watchers

Gav Belcher

Review The Berlin Wall by Frederick Taylor

In Book Review, Department of History, Department of Politics on May 26, 2010 at 12:41 pm

New Year’s Eve 2009/2010 I wanted to be on my own, as I have many New Year’s Eves, but a few days before a good friend invited me over to be with his girlfriend and a female friend of theirs. Still reluctant, and ambivalent about the fact I was convinced they were trying to set me up, I accepted and drove over.

This friend of theirs was a teacher, was convinced of her own intellectual brilliance, and had a tendency to micro-manage conversation until the whole evening became one long, dread, succession of parlour games. Who would we invite to the ideal dinner party (I hate dinner parties), Barack Obama apparently, to which my unenthused response earned me the assured “Don’t you read Time”. No, I don’t. Another such game led somehow to us discussing what would be our Mastermind topic. Hers was Elvis, and she issued a torrent of facts (and those justifications masquarading as facts that are never far from a true fanatic’s lips). B_____’s would be Rallying in the ’90s. His girlfriend’s, I think, would be something to do with the Berlin Wall. At any rate, one thing I took away from the evening, aside from my own unsuitability for company of any kind and my desire to be a perfect recluse, as I had more or less managed that half year, was that, though I had many special interests as fiercely obsessive as our Elvis aficionado’s that night, I was master of none of them; the fact that I had managed one tenuously assimilated fact about the Berlin Wall that night, and that I had for many years had an interest in precisely this period of Central and Eastern European history, and the Cold War seemed particularly stark, and I played a game of Solitaire Humiliations with myself for a long while afterwards.

Soon after moving to North Wales I was walking around Bangor, a University town, and indeed, a university town I could have lived in had things turned out differently – for most of the summer, awaiting A-Level results, I had indeed believed I would end up at my second choice, studying English with Creative Writing, and looking back now I could see for sure it would have suited me better – and taking a look at the Oxfam, I could not hold back from buying Taylor’s book on the very subject I had proven myself to not understand. One thought I depolyed against the compulsive purchase of the book was that I would never in a million years finish it. I don’t do well with such long books. The faltering motivation and shifting priorities of my ADHD see to that. But it was no good.

Two, three months on, I am glad of that. The book was a slog. I stalled on it numerous times and, though I left myself notes and To Do lists, and though I picked up the book again and again and pushed myself on, my self conscious re-focusing sessions were difficult. Something changed perhaps when I got one hundred and fifty or so pages in and the wall was built. Suddenly the recondite machinations of the various political parties and cabals were thrown into sharp relief by the very real human stories of the individuals and groups on either side of the wall.

Unusually for me I zipped through the next few hundred pages, reading them quickly for me at any rate. The realities of events in the GDR and the larger than life characters of those such as Lyndon Johnson, Walter Ulbricht, John F Kennedy, Nikita Krushchev and, more particularly, those lesser known but, incredibly, equally rare individuals, are for me more enthralling than any political thriller.

It may well be that the events were enthralling enough to keep me reading despite the lacklustre text. There were few passages where Taylor’s prose or delivery stood out and it struck me that perhaps at times the scarcely believable events could have been better served. Still, I am glad I persisted, and feel no less determined, at the end of it, that any future games of Solitaire Humiliations will not find me so ignorant of an area of history I should by now be pretty sure of.

Outside of the text I have a few of my usual bugbears. Acronyms and abbreviations can be opaque at the best of times, and histories concerning the Cold War especially so given the fact that many such are taken from the already perplexing initials of foreign institutions. At the very least I believe a history such as this ought to have a list of abbreviations used. Equally useful, though, would be a list of the key figures. It is not only those with ADHD like myself who may find themselves putting such a book as this aside for a time. It needs an investment of concentration and energy many people lack over a prolonged period. It can be difficult to remember a large cast of characters at the best of times.

Overall, though, reading this book has made me less intimidated by serious historical texts, less liable to persuade myself that I would be unable to make it through them, and indeed, more likely to persist. I may well seek out Taylor’s more highly rated Dresden, and try again with such texts as Timothy Garton Ash’s We The People and The Polish Revolution. Whatever my reservations, this itself must be a high recommendation.

What it means…

In A Walter Mitty Character, Autism Research Unit, Meta Gav, The Uglier House Gavzette, Uncategorized, Unforgiving Minutes, UoG Newsletter, Work Diary, Writing Diary on May 18, 2010 at 9:58 pm

…to be diagnosed.

In short I don’t know. Peace of mind it isn’t. Not in itself. Not by a long way.

Regret and self-hatred haven’t been strangers the last few days. Those fifteen to twenty years that needn’t have happened as they did. Those relationships that needn’t have foundered. Those mistakes that might perhaps not have been made. Those mistakes that keep on being made now. The complexities that have gone on in those long days, months, and years building up into my personality. The fact that the direct difficulties of the disorders I have had to face unknown and unrecognised have become outweighed much of the time by second-order difficulties of social functioning, of past hurts. None of these things are easy to ignore, or to simply acknowledge as passing thoughts in the mind.

Still your face doesn’t fit. Still you don’t know what to say. Still you speak and make no sense.

Still the handful of people who make an effort to understand are few and far between, and the necessity of seeing on a daily basis the people who don’t get it, don’t want to get it, don’t need to care, goes on, making life some days like the necessity of walking those last drudging miles home with failing light, aching bones and muscles and blisters rubbing on every step.

Still people take a kind of unfamiliar pride in traducing you in any way possible, feeling better for it, feeling morally superior for it. Because people like you don’t understand the social niceties everyone has hard wired into them, and so you need to be put down for it until you learn.

Every day you trust less.

Mud can make you prisoner and the plains can bake you dry
Snow can burn your eyes, but only people make you cry

It’s the end of the beginning, with a long fight yet. A long walk ‘home’.

– Clatterbach

Brainstorms

In A Walter Mitty Character, Creative Writing Department, Reasons to be cheerful on May 18, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I have been reading J B Priestley’s wonderful Delight of late, a collection of short essays on those things in life which brought him, maybe in his youth, maybe in later life, delight. It’s a simple book, and, aptly, a delightful one which I would recommend to anyone.
I would like very much to one day learn something from the talent Priestley here shows for, to paraphrase Einstein, making everything as simple as possible, but no simpler. It is something I admire more than anything else in writing, in thought, in perhaps any form of creativity.
I came back from a spell living in Prague some five years ago unsure of what I would do with my life. I remember sitting in my brother’s flat compulsively writing notes into his computer. I had an idea. I would write a collection similar in intent, as I see now, to Priestley’s, which I had as yet neither read nor heard of, entitled Reasons to Be Cheerful.
Life had by that time become too complicated. Politics and philosophy had long before become habitual without the balance that ought to be provided by light relief, by comedy, the comforts of friendship, a hinterland. These things I strived for but often missed in the effort. Reasons to be Cheerful was to celebrate simplicity, and simple pleasures.
Somewhere, I’m sure I still have those notes that I typed out and e-mailed to myself. I would love to know what that unknown man wrote to himself and, unknowingly, to me. (I was listening, a simple pleasure, to In Our Time, a kind of Brains Trust for our time, while chipping away at my first green man with my new Swiss chisels the other day – these days I am nothing but hinterland – and the programme was on William Hazlitt, another man who hits that sweet spot described by Einstein; he once practised philosophy and felt that, since a man at one time in his life is not the same as the same man older, perhaps wiser, but different, since he is unknown to himself, self-interest is no more rational than altruism.) Perhaps the pleasures of this old self would be unrecognisable to me now. Perhaps not.
One, certainly, would be the same.
I read with interest one of Priestley’s pieces on the donnee as I will call it (a word thick with the moss of meaning for me).
“The coming of the [i]idea[i]. There is nothing piecemeal about its arrival. It comes as the ancient gods and goddesses must have manifested themselves to their more fortunate worshippers. (And indeed it comes from the same place.) At one moment it is there, taking full possession of the mind, which quivers in ecstatic surrender.”
For me this is so, but also not.
Something one moment is not there and the next is very much present. But in large part this is retrospective. Such initial impulses are many in my mind. These are the initial sparks, as if from a fire steel. The delight for me is when one takes, that spark falling right onto that thinnest, most receptive, of the peelings of dry white birch bark and, with an infinnitessimal pause which only piques the interest, buds into flame.
This maybe is not true. It may be as false a reconstruction of what happens so often in my mind as it is a Donne-ish forced metaphor. It may be that those initial impulses that come as Donnees, as “givens”, as if gifts from the gods and goddesses, are different from the very first moment they cease to be not there, and not only in infinnitesimal retrospect, that briefest moment before it ceases to be unselfconsious and begins, a humunculous, to be manhandled by the various midwives on offer. I can’t say with any certainty.
What is certain, though, is that the arrival of the idea does not stop with the moment of the donnee’s arrival. A true, glorious, moment of successful brainstorming, and delight, is in that first catching of the idea, yes, but then in the sixty seconds of distance run, the dodging of obstacles, the quick footwork, the changing of direction, and the jump to the floor that puts it down behind the line.
That, more than anything is when I am alive. That more than anything, is delight.

Diagnosis

In Meta Gav, UoG Newsletter on May 17, 2010 at 12:19 am

However much closer I may come in the coming years to my goals of developing a facility with words that matches that of many of my heroes, nobody will ever understand how difficult it has been to get to where I now am, that is, to borrow Churchill’s words, the end of the beginning. The Churchill quote is apt, since he has many times been for me a conscious example of how one ought to fight – and in this I mean at least as much his own personal demons as I mean Hitler. The word fight, too, is choice. It has been a fight.

Friday I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with traits of autism. While I might quibble with the diagnosis (I certainly have more than “traits” of autism, fulfilling all of the diagnostic criteria of Asperger’s as a child, with them developing in a manner wholly consistent with highly intelligent aspergic individuals, and indeed, consistent with nothing else), this is further than I have been for years. Read the rest of this entry »

Home, psych appointment tomorrow

In Uncategorized, Unforgiving Minutes on May 14, 2010 at 12:42 am

Why I do it I don’t know. Home after a near three hour drive. I walk through the garage door and there’s the bookshelf my dad organised for me. All the books I impulsively bought and didn’t read. Ten to fifteen wasted years laid out in a more or less arbitrary system by a man who never loved books and never could understand that no system could ever work. A man who has to come tomorrow to tell the man who stands in the way of diagnosis and treatment that all is not right with me, and who I have no confidence in to do just that.

His latest in there in front of it. A magpie trap, three foot high.

The welsh rats fall on me as soon as I sit in front of the computer. Coming back I thought on a lot of things. One of them, the way I have periodically been posting on Dark Mountain Forum – sardonic digressions and the kind of solipsistic private jokes I once had as a feature of Baz’s nihilism in an unwritten novel intended as an update of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons for the postmodern age; Gav Belcher talking to Prof Gavin Belcher; me challenging the world to not understand me – and how I see in myself the preemptive aggression of somebody with attachment disorder.

I sit down and write up a round of fucks on Twitter, like I used to do when I was still on Facebook as something other than a fictional dead St Bernard. That earned me the term Weltschmertz around a year ago, from an old housemate at uni. The kind who never much tried to understand the difficulties I faced. Or in any case couldn’t. His life had been too straightforward to have a clue what might be going on in my mind.

I take a look to see if I can delete the offending posts. I can’t. Glance over them and cringe.

I delete my account on Dark Mountain’s Ning network, leaving the reason: I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member

Initially I sat down to write down a little of one strand of brainstorm that came from the journey back. From a fag break at Llangollen, or thereabouts. My head has been busy. Angry too. Chocolate and caffeine and crap on Anglesey the other day dry stone walling (yesterday in fact. Christ, so much has happened since, in my mind at least, that it feels so long ago). I had a fantastic day as it happens, and believed in something. But then more chocolate and crap walking in the Glyders straight afterwards. And my head was crammed. I wanted to document some of that.

Making up sandwich bags earlier today I was deep in a reverie of walking people down from the mountain. Two lost souls. Me with headtorch walking at night, and seeing them as they rang mountain rescue. Me talking over the phone to MR.

A lot of reveries with someone I met the other day.

Talking to the docs, of course.

I’ve been making governments, on panel shows talking about how my welsh is pretty good (it isn’t) and defending the welsh against charges of bigotted nationalism etc. I’ve been on bizarre reality shows involving going on long long walks. But it all comes and goes so fast that reconstructing it is like trying to reel off the number plates of cars you have passed on a long drive like that one just now. It’s not possible, and then, when you tell of the few prolongued reveries you can recall, it sounds reasonable and wholly ordinary. But it is all the time.

The brainstorm was setting up an internet forum for people addicted to the internal combustion engine. It came from some of the ad hominem posts on Dark Mountain’s response to George Monbiot in the Guardian. A whole philsophy panned out behind it. The Gav Belcher, Prof Belcher interplay I had down pat now. missy g b was on the scene too documenting it. I had it panned out in terms of my day today:

  • Driving the ten country miles over the Llanberis pass to Pete’s Eats to eat something I knew I shouldn’t
  • Chainsaw-related reveries
  • loving the Harley at Pete’s and the Discovery parked at work
  • Loving driving to Pete’s, and being addicted to driving everywhere in North Wales

It discussed how difficult it is to steer yourself to a life where all reliance on the motor car is obviated. It discussed allegations of hypocrisy as not being the hand down winner of arguments people think it is.

It discussed a lot of things. But it is for another time… ie. never. It was long and involved and could have been a good example, not so much of the brainstorms I was talking about in my last post – far from it – but the distractions and part of the pressure of thought in my head even when I’m well stimulated by driving, if not by radio. Besides so far here I’ve been distracted by Twitter and shite all the way and have written this much in an hour and 40 minutes. I’m knackered, have a long shitty day tomorrow and I’m made enough of an ass of myself already.

Clatterbach

The Brainstorm

In Reasons to be cheerful on May 12, 2010 at 8:15 pm

I have been reading J B Priestley’s wonderful Delight of late, a collection of short essays on those things in life which brought him, maybe in his youth, maybe in later life, delight. It’s a simple book, and, aptly, a delightful one which I would recommend to anyone.

I would like very much to one day learn something from the talent Priestley here shows for, to paraphrase Einstein, making everything as simple as possible, but no simpler. It is something I admire more than anything else in writing, in thought, in perhaps any form of creativity.

I came back from a spell living in Prague some five years ago unsure of what I would do with my life. I remember sitting in my brother’s flat compulsively writing notes into his computer. I had an idea. I would write a collection similar in intent, as I see now, to Priestley’s, which I had as yet neither read nor heard of, entitled Reasons to Be Cheerful.

Life had by that time become too complicated. Politics and philosophy had long before become habitual without the balance that ought to be provided by light relief, by comedy, the comforts of friendship, a hinterland. These things I strived for but often missed in the effort. Reasons to be Cheerful was to celebrate simplicity, and simple pleasures.

Somewhere, I’m sure I still have those notes that I typed out and e-mailed to myself. I would love to know what that unknown man wrote to himself and, unknowingly, to me. (I was listening, a simple pleasure, to In Our Time, a kind of Brains Trust for our time, while chipping away at my first green man with my new Swiss chisels the other day – these days I am nothing but hinterland – and the programme was on William Hazlitt, another man who hits that sweet spot described by Einstein; he once practised philosophy and felt that, since a man at one time in his life is not the same as the same man older, perhaps wiser, but different, since he is unknown to himself, self-interest is no more rational than altruism.) Perhaps the pleasures of this old self would be unrecognisable to me now. Perhaps not.

One, certainly, would be the same.

I read with interest one of Priestley’s pieces on the donnee as I will call it (a word thick with the moss of meaning for me).

“The coming of the [i]idea[i]. There is nothing piecemeal about its arrival. It comes as the ancient gods and goddesses must have manifested themselves to their more fortunate worshippers. (And indeed it comes from the same place.) At one moment it is there, taking full possession of the mind, which quivers in ecstatic surrender.”

For me this is so, but also not.

Something one moment is not there and the next is very much present. But in large part this is retrospective. Such initial impulses are many in my mind. These are the initial sparks, as if from a fire steel. The delight for me is when one takes, that spark falling right onto that thinnest, most receptive, of the peelings of dry white birch bark and, with an infinnitessimal pause which only piques the interest, buds into flame.

This maybe is not true. It may be as false a reconstruction of what happens so often in my mind as it is a Donne-ish forced metaphor. It may be that those initial impulses that come as Donnees, as “givens”, as if gifts from the gods and goddesses, are different from the very first moment they cease to be not there, and not only in infinnitesimal retrospect, that briefest moment before it ceases to be unselfconsious and begins, a humunculous, to be manhandled by the various midwives on offer. I can’t say with any certainty.

What is certain, though, is that the arrival of the idea does not stop with the moment of the donnee’s arrival. A true, glorious, moment of successful brainstorming, and delight, is in that first catching of the idea, yes, but then in the sixty seconds of distance run, the dodging of obstacles, the quick footwork, the changing of direction, and the jump to the floor that puts it down behind the line.

That, more than anything is when I am alive. That more than anything, is delight.

Reveries 4 April, 2010

In Reveries on April 4, 2010 at 5:29 pm

I have been meaning for years to regularly attempt to write down some of my reveries. This is part of what I had always intended with what I call The Unforgiving Minutes, trying to get down the “minutes”, that is, the verbatim chatter, of my daydreams. It is an ambition that is doomed to failure, since in any unfilled minute of any day, and oftentimes, in every filled minute of every day, so much is spinning out in my head that it would take thousands of words to begin to get down even the background, which tends to be based upon other landmarks in my mindscape such that nobody could possibly hope to have any access to them. Of course, if I begin to attempt to adumbrate any of it, my lack of concentration kicks in once again and I am thinking of something else entirely even while I try to remember the old reveries, which have in any case, not been laid down in my memory so well. At best I could only ever give a glimpse of a vanishingly small fraction of any such daydream. Still, without this attempt, I am failing utterly to communicate what is the most remarkable, and most substantial, aspect of my consciousness, the most of my life and character, which is invisible to all.

Doing so shoots up the priorities list once in a while, only to falter when the drain on my time of doing so seems to be so much, for something which seems so unproductive. Once again it has done so because of my upcoming consultation with a shrink who is supposed to know what he is about.

Today I was cleaning the hotel I work at, as I do most days. And, as happens on most days, an involved reverie began to unravel in my mind.

This time I was disciplining and throwing out some unruly customers. They had turned up, a group from Microsoft, demanding to be treated with some respect as befitting their status as representatives of a world-renowned business. In the evening, however, they turned up drunk and began to be noisy and exceptionally inconsiderate to other guests. This has become quite a feature in some of my reveries, with guests from office outings having to be disciplined for being inappropriate behaviour towards groups of young school girls over and over again. On this occasion it was a little different. These guys wanted to go out of their way to be boorish and to make work for myself and the others at the hotel. Most often¹ they put their fingers down their throat to throw up, intentially, over the floor. Such willful ignorance is, of course, calculated to anger me. Read the rest of this entry »

Guilt/Regret

In The Waste Posts on April 3, 2010 at 4:32 am

The one thing you ought most to regret, if you can harness that regret, is not what you have done to others, but to yourself. Most often, what you do to others is a result of what you do to yourself. Solve that – remember, or find, how to treat yourself right – and you will, as near to invariably as may make no odds, treat the important people around you right.  If you have hurt somebody, which if you are into your twenties or beyond and living life with anything other than a restrictive risk-averse outlook, you will have done, it is their responsibility to do their best to help themselves heal, the same as it was yours when someone hurt you, which, if you are living life open, and not so scared to trust and to hope that you hurt yourself this way before anyone else can inflict the damage first, you will have experienced. It is your responsibility first, to look after yourself. All other responsibilities follow. With luck, as near to invariably as makes no odds, it’s never too late to start taking care of yourself, nor to start making amends.