Thursday, 26 December 2013

india diary 1

Whenever I've travelled, I've almost always wished afterwards that the writing  I did  at the time had been less personal, more descriptive, less reflective. And yet this seems to be what I do. You could say it's just an obsession with the self, but it doesn't feel like that, in the sense that what interests me is not myself, per se, but what it feels like to be a human in a body; to be an awareness, perceiving, a consciousness in this world. This is really what this blog has been about so far - what does it mean to be an awareness in the world that is trying to create, to make art, to play music?

What helps this awareness to create, what stuffs it up and stops it from flowing? How does consciousness and mind and feeling interweave with creative products coming into the world, or not? From this point of view, it seems to me that I might be able to document this journey to india in a way that is relevant to the overall aims of this blog.

As I go to sleep my first night here in Dubai, I have an image of being clogged up with smoke, of being congested, stuffed up with lists and intentions, with thoughts and plans, coiled up and crunched into a tiny ball.

A few hours earlier, in the  arrivals hall, back here in the middle east, where all of my adult adventuring started, I begin to feel myself open to the huge world that for so long was the only home I knew. Crisp white cotton reaching to the floor, the Arab male constantly rearranging his perfectly non-creased red and white headscarf, the religious figure, provenance unknown, in a long navy gown, dark female eyes ringed with black, profiles from India, Arabia, the Philippines, Thailand.

Lyng in bed, I  feel the smoke that I didn't even know was there starting to clear, my lungs starting to splutter and cough and heave as the accumulated blackness of decades begins to heave itself out of my system.

This morning, in the warm, breezy winter sun, I begin to feel my spine gently uncoil, remember how softly straight I felt at the end of my last trip to India. Some sort of weight is already slipping off me, a scaly snake skin eager to drop off and leave itself behind. Sitting on the roof of hotel looking out across the city skyline, the drawing that so often feels like an effort is as natural as breathing. I think of Matisse leaving his wife and child in winter for the sun of Morocco, of impressionists going south for the light. Perhaps I just don't vary my environment enough in normal day to day.



Saturday, 21 December 2013

solstice reflections

A lot less blogging these days. This is a period of creative recuperation, of being out in the world and looking and feeding, of listening and watching.

I see now that it's also a period of transition. My show this year was an extraordinary bringing together of years of work; a harvesting of the intuitive, of all that had come as I tried to step out of my way, holding my breath, looking for lightness and fun, for life itself.

I will paint again in the fractally world of deep cells and stretched out universes. But now whatever it is that calls and resonates in that way is now calling and resonating (again) in its second form, the constant return to India. Not only literally, but conceptually, emotionally, existentially.

I remember when India broke through... Wondering what was going on, how these two things were going to connect, work together.

I can remember posts where I looked at what I called the two strands and could not see how it was going to happen. Innumerable posts, on both blogs/sites, about this relationship, including ones about times when I just decided to just stop trying. 

And I remember coming back from my-first-trip-to-India-for-nearly-two-decades last February and feeling all this moving again. And then I got the chance of the show, and it all went back underground, or so it seemed, back to waiting in the damp earth.

Except that actually it didn't. I remember a time soon after the show, when it suddenly became clear that everything that I was interested in, in terms of the Indian aesthetics, and the purpose of those aesthetics (because they do have a very clear purpose), was actually happening with the sand. Most importantly, not just in the image, but in the process; and not just between me and the image, but between the process and its audience.

Sandpainting as performance was actually creating the conditions that the aesthetic image is designed to create within the ritual spaces of India, and its effects. Eventually I'll write something about this, but for now, I can see it, and I know that it's true.

What emerges always seems to come from the corner you least expect it.

And, without this kind of reflecting and writing here, especially with something as transient as a sandpainting, it's easy to miss what has happened.


Monday, 16 December 2013

why emotional excess is essential to writing and creativity

'I like to live always at the beginnings of life, not at their end. We all lose some of our faith under the oppression of mad leaders, insane history, pathologic cruelties of daily life. I am by nature always beginning and believing and so I find your company more fruitful than that of, say, Edmund Wilson, who asserts his opinions, beliefs, and knowledge as the ultimate verity. Older people fall into rigid patterns. Curiosity, risk, exploration are forgotten by them. You have not yet discovered that you have a lot to give, and that the more you give the more riches you will find in yourself. It amazed me that you felt that each time you write a story you gave away one of your dreams and you felt the poorer for it. But then you have not thought that this dream is planted in others, others begin to live it too, it is shared, it is the beginning of friendship and love.
You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith.'
Anais Nin

From a brainpickings post at:


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

working more, working less, working

In relation to my constant sense that I should be producing more, or differently, I found it very refreshing to read these thoughts from David Whyte:

'....we long for the everyday with a work we can love and have and hold, and then we find that it is a rare living art form to keep... a work fresh and alive.

....From the outside very little seems to be happening, but in good work we return every day to the desk or the workbench to push it along a little further. We inch along or fly along, depending on what part of the cycle of endeavour we have entered. What we remember looking back, is the rhythm and constant sense of returning to the frontier we have just established...'

The Three Marriages, 2009

This seems to connect to his idea of being satisfied simply with getting some kind of purchase (discussed here); of working from the point of contact that you actually have, right now, instead of a fantasy about 'the right way', or some other future-projected insubstantiality.

I like the idea that what's important is not what you feel you manage to do or achieve on any given day, but that you keep coming back to do some more. This idea seems to be much more forgiving, a more real description of some sort of creative process, than the cultural fantasy of the artist disciplining and obsessing and producing without cease all day long. The endlessly productive fantasy leaves out the need for feeding and reflecting; for periods of rest and gestation, the time for things to come in from the outside and contribute something new, for disparate images and colours and thoughts to bump into each other so that there is at least a chance that occasionally something unexpected will emerge...

And all for what?

'...I (was reminded that I) could work wherever there was a knee or a pen or a pad, wherever there was a pause in the besieging clamour of the world. I didn't need a paradise in order to work, but work itself, given focus and given time for that focus to blossom, could open a little Eden of its own...'


Sunday, 8 December 2013

whatever it is

whatever it is
inhabit it
go deeper in
this is experience
this is life


Monday, 2 December 2013

keep changing how you do it

Oliver Burkman in The Guardian seems to have been looking over my shoulder. Ok, it's a bit glib compared to David Whyte, but I think he's got a point...

My favourite bit of "meta-advice" – advice on how to deal with the advice that rains down on us from friends, books, columns like this – comes from the novelist Rick Moody. He happened to be talking about writing routines, a topic with which I'm dangerously obsessed, but his wisdom applies to any work, and to relationships and life in general. "The insight I offer you is this," he told the Writeliving blog. "There's no one process, and as soon as I imagine some approach to generating work is foolproof, it becomes suddenly worthless to me, and I have to start over." If, like me, you're always fiddling with your work systems, reorganising your stuff, testing new tricks for cultivating habits… take comfort. One tactic works for a while, then the self-sabotaging part of your brain gets wise to what you're doing, and the cycle begins again. The problem isn't that you've failed to find the One True Secret of productivity, happiness or love. The problem is believing you ever might.
Indeed, there's one view of psychology according to which everything we do to make ourselves miserable – every dysfunctional behaviour, from minor to destructive – begins as an approach that once worked well, often in childhood, then passed its sell-by date. We're not idiots who choose unhappiness; rather, we develop coping mechanisms that make sense at the time. The psychotherapist Suzanne Lachmann recalls a typical patient whose mother was "so volatile that [the patient] never knew if she'd come home to find all her belongings strewn across the front lawn… As a result, [she] developed her own set of rules to navigate these situations, remaining on guard at all times." That's a pro-sanity strategy – until suddenly it isn't. Unfortunately, we often then respond by pursuing the old approach more vigorously. We're like drivers stuck in mud, accelerating and wondering why there's no forward motion.
This trap is what Donald Sull, a London Business School professor, calls"active inertia". Companies do it, too: time and again, he's watched established firms respond terribly to industry changes. They don't adapt nimbly, but nor do they pause to take stock. Instead, "stuck in the modes of thinking and working that brought success in the past, market leaders simply accelerate their tried-and-true activities. In trying to dig themselves out of a hole, they just deepen it." One case study is Laura Ashley, which thrived in the 60s as an alternative to miniskirts and knee-high boots, but floundered as the demand for stylish workplace womenswear grew. Panicking, the firm hired a string of new bosses – the televangelist Pat Robertson even joined the board – but just drew nearer to collapse. It was only much more recently that it made the changes necessary to move on.
What's the answer? This may be a rare case in which business school insights are truly useful outside business. Sull recommends "active waiting". When an old technique's not working, stay watchful. Contemplate alternative techniques, explore likely scenarios and focus on general readiness. (Can't figure out where to go with a relationship? That's OK; for now, try paying attention to exercise and sleep.) There's no shame in not yet knowing what the right next approach will be, and no single path to unbroken happiness anyway. Take it from a man named Moody.


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