Thursday, August 17, 2017

On Opposing Opposition

Statues tumble. What once stood for something is torn down. Someone decides that the edifice, the words, the implication, the import, the history itself ought best be erased. And so we lose the visual reminder of not only what once was, but what 'ought not to have been'. Yet censorship or circumlocution can condemn us all. Best at times to call a spade a spade. Surely it's better to educate as to what an Alt-Right is, than to bury it? (Children and innocents may be lured by the clandestine and furtive, rather than by the open-faced.) Are we not better off to see exposed what racism really is; horrendous as is the TV reels of the chanting Charlottesville 'parade'?

Opposing opposition is a lifelong activity. In the six fundamental themes of conflict with which our lives are invested (or infested) there is: Person vs Nature; Person vs Supernatural; a Person vs Technology; a Person vs another Person; a Person vs Society; and a Person vs Himself. (In actuality we are indeed our own worst enemy.) And within these themes of conflict we find ourselves ineluctably and perpetually encumbered. How to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is the main problem; much of what makes a Person is managing his life.

Integration would have it that we are compassionate, inclusive, forgiving, understanding, accepting, and absorbing. But it does not mean that we are condoning. And in order not to condone one simply has to draw a line around an unacceptable action (for any thought given life beyond thinking becomes an action). Problem is, quite evidently, we have entire groups given to hugely variant sets of what is 'acceptable'. How else to explain to a child that there are terrorists and criminals and thugs and rapists and bad people; (in fact, "biggly-bad" people, to quote our latest “most powerful man of the free world”). Yes, opposing the forces of evil (those who perpetrate intentional harm), and opposing that which is unacceptable may well seem all within the status quo, but it is not so. Were the definition of 'unacceptable' be absolute we'd perhaps all be behaving more or less exactly alike, listening to the same tunes, dressing alike, and certainly be contained in an harmonious unity. No individualism. Yes, some dictators would like that.

As I write Barcelona reels from the attack on its tourist filled street. Despite the commentators, there runs in a black band with white type beneath the TV images the news of the Sierra Leone mud slides, with 300 plus dead, and thousands as yet unaccounted for. Those themes of conflict spring to mind: Person vs Nature; Person vs Society. We can hardly escape the horror of it all. But yes, the most impactful, it appears evident, is that which we see as purposeful, intentional, designed, deliberate, and unfair. Women and children are among the hundreds dead in the mud slide. Innocent tourists are hit and hurt and bleeding and shot, with one dead by the restaurant-invading Barcelona brigands. Awful. And what do you think is given TV precedence?

The phone rings. It's a man telling me there's a problem with my computer, and if I provide my details they can fix it. Imagine! How horrid! That the unknowing, the aged, the innocent, the insecure should so be under attack by the insensitive of our world. Imagine. That someone across the seas and in another world can reach with an invasive phone call and so disrupt and so easily destroy trust and sensibility and civility. How very uncivil. How very evil. Imagine!

Opposition to oneself (and also to others) needs opposing. One at some time or other has to stand up for what is right, what is decent, what is fair. If the measure of all three of those last phrases, "right, decent, fair," is seen as the measure of the least amount of harm to humanity as a whole, then we have something civil, indeed. Such is 'civilization'. All else is the tearing down and dismantling of care and consideration. So, allow statues of the Greek and Roman Gods to remain. So, allow edifices of the tyrants and usurpers to teach us. Evolution through education becomes an imperative. Let the past remain our teacher, ever monumentally, lest we repeat it.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017


One identifies, or not. For me, the Victoria Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt, swelling up from the anchored barge, had me enthralled. (I’d twice directed the rather complex play, back in ’91, and then ‘09.) It certainly had a national identification for Victoria’s new Maestro, Christian Cluxen, originating as he does from Denmark. With his first performance at Canada’s annual Victoria Splash (since his new appointment to the Symphony,) the sound he orchestrated had a resonance that reached far beyond mere performance; it evoked passion. 

The “Victoria Splash” is very special. Forty thousand people (announcements affirm) congregate every August around a huge barge in the harbor. Sonorous music wells up from under the cavern-like tent. People come to seat themselves with their own portable deck chairs, self-regimented in rows and rows from the dock-side edge along the ledges of the sea wall, and up across the sectioned off streets, and on the green lawns in front of the majestic Empress Hotel, and over the sloping gardens of the magnificently imperious Parliament Building. It is Victoria City’s front-yard celebration of a lifetime.

Kayaks and rowboats cluster and clump and clank gunwales in front of the barge; the best seats in the house. As far as the eye can travel into and amongst the myriad people, there are no police, no authorities; yet there is no alcohol, no smoking; there is just a munching here and there of home-made meals. Some people purchase food from nearby vendors. The smell of caramelized popcorn drifts enticingly. Some people had been there since dawn. Others still come; and the numbers all day grow and grow toward the magical start time of the main event.

At precisely 7:30 p.m., the Maestro arrives! And eventually, in the four-hour length of Canada’s setting sun, in the seemingly made to order absence of wind-gusts or broiling clouds, in the choreographed glides of flocks of silent sea-gulls, in the riveted attention of the vast and superbly polite audience, in the clarity of excellent sound, the harmony of accord and appreciation of both raw and expertly tamed beauty all around, The Victoria Splash goes on and on.

Virtuosity does not necessarily arise out of a single person; it can be a collective of thousands of fingers and movements all streaming together to arrive at a perfect accord.

Yet the solo giftedness of eight year old pianist, Felipe Jiang, with Mozart’s 21st, was truly mesmerizing. Time stood still. The orchestra played Grieg’s Homecoming, Morning, and In the Hall of the Mountain King, as well as Nielsen’s Maskarade Overture, and Symphony No 2. There was also Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, Sibelius’ Finlandia, and the Violin Concerto (with 18 year old Ryan Howland). Korngold’s Seahawk Suite, Lumbye’s Champagne Galop, Lincke’s Berliner Luft came next, and then, of course, the majestic sweep to the thunder of the culminating cannon and fireworks, at about 10.00 p.m., of Tchaikovsky’s 1812. Wow!

Wow. So too for the specialness of each pin-prick of light, wending homewards. In a fairyland of flashlights probing the dark spaces, of small boats and kayaks with Rudolph-like noses plying the dark waters, of lit-up lamp-posts like isolated molecules in the great blanket of the universe, we each are but a bit of light, a sole pin-prick of enlightenment in the dark, wending homewards.

Would that our collective and isolated home-bound fragmentations might also so readily re-unite in harmony and accord, when solo, and apart. Sound for sound. Light for light. Now for now. 

                                                                                        [Photo by J.Neway]

Monday, August 7, 2017

"It's Not Cricket!"

Old School Cricket (at Pretoria Boys High)

"It's not cricket!" The phrase carries. It reaches into one's past. It calls to accountability. It relies on your knowing the game, playing by the rules. But more importantly, it’s an expectation that one honour civility. Cricket was played in white, by both teams. Eleven men fielded the two batsmen. And everybody, the players of either side, the spectators alike, applauded any good play with a "well done", and "jolly good!" Any good play. It mattered not whose side one was on. And certainly, no unseemly behaviour, or bad sportsmanship, or unfairness was tolerated. The game of cricket was played by gentlemen, and observant spectators came dressed in whites too, with parasols, cucumber sandwiches, and flasks of tea. All so very civilized! Ah, cricket. 

But no longer. Time and competition has eroded much of custom. Like baseball, or hockey, or football, or soccer, or rugby, the players go into exorcisms of glee when the opposing team member is caught "out!" Back in my day (forty years ago,) when an opposing team member was leaving the field, we applauded his play politely "good effort!", and so too did we applaud the new batsman walking on, in a sign of encouragement, "Go on then, give us a good game." But things have changed. Collectively, and generally, we accept if not encourage these changes. (It’s interesting how many patrons at sports games nowadays are disappointed if there was ‘no fight’).

Still, unfairness deeply rankles. We have persons who break the rules, who grease the ball, pull at strings, bet against the team, cut corners, and undermine ethics. In politics and commerce the problems seriously affect us all. And the worst of it is that it is the honest, the ethical, the sincere, the well meaning, and the patient who pays the price. No wonder we seek to buck the system. No wonder we may choose to put "gift" on a parcel sent overseas, rather than "sold to". Especially when there are insurance fees, and brokerage fees, and transportation taxes, and import taxes, and export taxes, and currency conversion rates, and worst of all, clerical errors en route!

Thing is, it takes the slightest slip of a pen to make mistakes. A name can be forgotten by a "change agent" in the address label! Without ‘an official' recipient, an overseas package languishes in a distribution depot, stays undelivered beyond the fourteen day limit, and is charged as per: "** Please note:  Customs will raise possible penalty of R2500.00  + 10% of the VAT for due clearances not done within the prescribed time (14 day’s)  from the date the parcel arrives in the country."

Now add importation taxes, at over $700 Canadian; for what reason? Because it was not 'a gift'? The UPS tracking number enabled the intended South African recipient of my painting, "Old School Cricket", to trace the professionally parceled package to a South African distribution depot. Despite the contact emails of the UPS and Customs manager(s), STILL, to this date of August 8th, that painting has not yet been received. Yet it left Canada on the 6th of July! A UPS agent “in transit” made the error. Yet one pays $599 for the service! In the meantime, the original invoice, proof of the recipient's identity, and mine, as well as the packaging agent has been established. The saga goes on!

The devil is in the details. "I just want to know God's thoughts," wrote Einstein. Yes, if we were to use common sense, to be fair, reasonable, considerate, compassionate, and to play by the rules (yet be sensitive to disabilities) we'd have a more sensible society, perhaps. "One can tell the sophistication of a populace," wrote someone, "by the amount of rules in their charter." Yes, if I were king of the forest, I'd have one rule: 'Respect Everything and Everybody.' (Which part of that do you need further explicated?) But throughout history we've been made subject to the most severe restrictions and excises and hardships that dictators could devise. Still, life's 'rules' have always changed. Always. No, life has certainly not been a consistent game of cricket; nor for that matter has the expected delivery of my painting gone by our expectations, despite the ongoing gentility of the potential recipient. Cricket, or not.

                                          (Giving or Taking, oils, also by this writer)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ego, Ergo, Esoterics

"I've been traduced, abused, and calumniated," averred Hadrian the Seventh, (V two sticks, ha!) It was a phrase that stuck. Back in 1973, in professional theatre with CAPAB (Cape Performing Arts Board) of Cape Town, as Hadrian leaves his apartment en route to being Pope, I was foreman of the furniture movers, as well as a guard. Thing is, the ballet of choreography that might have been applied, as I recall it, was formal, stilted.  Yet of the many words mouthed by the actors, that single phrase has stuck with me through the years. It struck me as the epitome of the slanderous, disingenuous, and self-serving ways in which we abuse others. Traduced and calumniated against, indeed. We each fall victim to the opinions of another. (And sometimes their words make no sense!)

Ego would have one hit, hurt, bruised. Ego would have one rile! Ego would have one at least leap to the defense, if not physically, then in likewise demeaning, derogatory, and incendiary language. Ego determines that one has at least sufficient a boundary in order to protect oneself against the slings and arrows of an outrageous 'other'; we know when a line has been crossed!

But ego is also hurt when the poetry is not accepted, when the art competition was not won, when the potential award was not announced. Ego feels things keenly. It leaps up in anger at wrongs and slights and unfairness. It belittles foolishness and derides idiots. It decides one is unfit to be seen! Ego wants a beach body and a sports car. It wants a better paying job and a grander house. It wants a new hairdo. Ego niggles at imperfections and misspelled words. Ego makes a mockery of another's phraseology. Ego has us feeling inferior at another's diction. We are so comparative. We are so evaluative, yet can be so judgmental. And we operate so very much from what our own expectations are, what our own experience has led us to believe.

Picasso, Dali, Pollock. These were painters who broke the mould. Seurat, Dada, Monet. Shall we go on? In theatre too there are a host of names. Boleslavsky; Alexander; Laban. All were masters. And all were misunderstood, maligned, traduced, abused, and calumniated against. But their ego survived the onslaught. They persevered, and eventually succeeded. Others too!

In theatre, such newfound qualities of subtle semiotics and the unique spiral-dynamic proclivities of character, along with conscious psycho-geometric variegations of personality, let alone the endemic deployment of the intrinsically affected Actor's Alphabet of staging principles, is hardly elementary. It takes one to know one. The masterful adaptation from the stilted staging and black and white verbatim of a script can best be appreciated by those who've read that script, seen others' laborious staging of it, and are so used to the traditional methods of production that when something is challenging, suggestive, demanding, and original, it is entered into with a spirited and comprehensive sense of suspended disbelief. Yet we bring our expectations, lose our childlike humility in believing that our outstretched finger is a six-shooter, and castigate a fellow actor when imprecision is perceived as necessary where no precision was intended. (Go ahead and do it, offhandedly; make my day!) Bang! Such is the power of suggestion. Such is the reason we slander and squabble and dispute and castigate and relegate another to dross.

Let me not to the marriage of like minds admit impediment. There are great gatherings of highly structured organizations whose members adhere to sets of expectations. Some most evidently necessarily so! Aeroplanes require fundamental tenets to be adhered to. Still, there are very many types of aeroplanes. We each fly by what we need, by what we most prefer, and mostly we even choose our own destination. Yet we are necessarily given to being birds of a feather. (A true Holland's Theory.) Thing is, the more we know the more we can be comfortable with just how much we do not know. We can sit back, let go of prejudice, and enjoy the ride. Yes?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

From A for Applause to Z for Zoubi

Authenticity needs no specific forum. Songbirds can sing wherever they're caged. Or do they? It takes a rare talent to be able to be just who you are, wherever you are. And any artifice one may add to another's stirring performance would perhaps be just that, a conscious accretion of stylistic values held by others to make a performance more palatable, more professional, more sophisticated. But there'd be no falsehood, not if the raw deal, the profound talent, the ‘real’ authenticity of the songster, the poet, the artist already is abundantly grounded. Such is the voice and artistry of Zoubi Arros. Such is the privilege of spending time with this invaluable songbird whose reach is beyond her grasp, whose great potential is as yet unrealized, whose affect upon others is yet sufficiently to be broadcast so that her voice may become a household heart-held 'tumble' of lyrics given a familiar sound. Then those stylistic artifices of presentation semiotics, emotional chiaroscuro, polychromic and personal tastes may indeed give alternative perspectives. (We each are given to preferential tastes.) But there is no denying another’s secure voice of authenticity, however stylistically someone else (like me) might appear to tinker with the experience of performance.

We are each affected by art in its many renditions. And the five principles of enduring art (see: ) are subtly there if art is eventually to become all-reaching, self-consciously or not. So too for the addition of the Classical Mountain Diagram to any rendition, exponential song for aching song, as well as the effective drama that over-arches the entire performance. Then too, the unique Alphabet of Performance Principles might be applied, patina for patina, layered over the performance until habitual, natural, and absorbed into those comfortable conventions of being in front of others, performing, singing, and ‘acting’. (Acting, it is such a 'dirty' word.) Yet when in front of others, on any stage, we are 'actors'. And whether a speech, a song, a monologue, or a metaphorical ballet of suppositions for any art, we are at once in the spotlight of others' eyes. We are seen!

We see. We bring ourselves. As onlookers we identify primarily with that which is inside us. To not have been homeless, or abandoned, or drunk, or hit and hurt and abused, is to bring oneself, one's identity, merely as a relational entity to the art. But although we may not know the precise recipe by which the painter achieved his effect, or the real specifics of the weaving story behind the songster's rendition, or the iambic craft by which the poet achieved words affecting a relational significance, we can be reached. Our souls are touched. Our emotions are plucked. It is in identification that we most relate with another, with a place, with a sense of connection, and with The Art, piece by piece, or as a whole. Just show me "your integrity" is a phrase that resonated with Zoubi's stellar performance.

"Your problem, Richard," an actor once leveled at me, "is that you do not know how properly to receive a compliment. Praise is a gift. Your dismissal of the compliment, of the applause, is like saying that what is given to you is worthless. Instead, look a person in the eye, thank them for their gift, and honour the fact that they bothered to give it to you in the first place."

We can share lessons. We can learn from others. We can absorb and change and adapt and accrete and mature and more effectively resonate with life. Such is the value of adding to that which we already know. Pablo Casals, at 90, said when asked why he continues to practice the violin, "because I'm hoping to improve." It is that very entelechy, that quality of inner drive and ambition and instinct that has one always reaching beyond one's grasp ("or what's a heaven for?" wrote the poet, Robert Browning.) Yet in our reaching for yet more, even in all our authenticity, we may fear losing our integrity, our old paradigms of practice. But not Zoubi!

"I just want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details," Einstein said. Yet we are still best to learn, and to keep on learning. One can sing atop Mount Tolmie, or perform in one's basement. If you're like Zoubi Arros, your authenticity will always shine through. And even in our learning, yes, integrity can remain.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Attenuated Acceptance(s)

They lied! The deception rankles. Yet we perpetuate it ourselves, ad infinitum, it seems. We teach about Tooth Fairies and Santa and Father Christmas. We teach about the Easter Bunny. It's kiss the Blarney Stone, and love little leprechauns. And it's watch out for black cats and cracks and the Tokkelosh. (Of course, you'd have to know what a Tokkelosh is, but that's why many Africans have their beds up on bricks, just to prevent the Tokkelosh from leaping up!) Children learn to fear it. So too for the Boogeyman! Yes, we advance the Gods of yore too (especially in reincarnations of Greek mythology). And how easily we o'erlook the Roman Gods, never mind Ra or Isis. Yet although not everything is scary or real, there remains the sense that, Icarus like, one's flights of fancy ought not to go too near the Truth. Still, Ockham's razor divides, (we’ll learn.) But deceit and prevarication marries the self, and in its guises we respond with emotion. We feel things. We are touched. No wonder when someone outright lies, or is in and of themselves false, we are uncomfortable, outraged, incensed, and deeply cut. Or not.

Who amongst us has never (ever) lied?

William Ockham, in medieval times, outlined a split between perceived reality, and that which is actually real. It was the dawning of science. To one side was declared that which is True, and to the other fell that which is 'good' (or bad, for that matter). Religion became divisive. Science triumphed. And the Ptolemaic system was replaced by the Copernican. Knowledge of itself became a pursuit of facts. Intuition, that ephemeral substance of superstition and supposition, was sliced aside by the incontestable, by the rational and actual-factual. And to this day our schoolchildren and our populace are led to place a higher order of value on the materially attainable, on that which can be measured in accountability. Spiritualism and Angels and Friday the 13th are for zombies. It is no wonder that the marvel of Spider-Man and Wonder-woman and Thor and Harry Potter entertain us so; we easily delight in our suspended disbelief.

Which of us still really believes in the Gods? Believes in magic? Believes in miracles? Believes in ghosts and goblins and sprites? Believes that our sacrifice will do much to tally the balance of our karma? Believes that our connections with others are 'forever', and are independent of our actions that disconnect and dissolve and fragment and bifurcate the expected from the actual? It is in our very politics. We argue. We are present to each moment, yes, but Future and Past are adjustable, even so for the very depth of breath one may take at coming to a single tiny period.

We breathe. We are alive! But let us not unto the farce of our fragile thoughts admit that we do not search for some succour for our present predicament. “Somebody, save me!” We each feel insecure in the perpetual climate of uncertainty around us (since it is predicated so much on the actions of others: how they drive; how they dance, dress, think, behave, speak; and what their avowed politics are!) We feel helpless in the face of all the conflict. We are victims. We cannot do much else but exercise our one poor lonely little vote. Say our piece. And the bank rates will change. Taxes will change. Death will steal us each away. Ideas will rot at our stability. New habits will break our comfortable old paradigms. New expectations will threaten our very soul.

And so, which of us has not disliked that with which we do not agree?

Learning to accept and allow for and integrate and have compassion for and include that which is not understood may take lifetimes. (Or is that stretching 'a truth'?) We can feel the other's upbraiding of our Self as a physical punch, as a slap in the face of all that was meant, that was intended, that was learned. Potential and purpose, or presentiment too, dissolves to disillusion. We are incomplete. And in accepting incompletion, so are we more accepting of another. No?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Coordinating Contrition

Immediately wrought contrite over a childhood thought, of more than fifty years ago, the old man deeply shuddered. The searing of it had resurfaced, unwittingly. But why now? What was the cause? Where did it spring from? Who else had he hurt in the long hurtle from the 'there', in the once-upon-a-time, to the here and now? How aware had he been? And why had he not, as far as he could remember, recalled with sufficient regret having had that ‘bad’ thought, again, until now?

Guilt is an awkward thing. It resonates with rancour. One easily can beat oneself up. What self-serving impulse, what shallow instinct has not invaded any one of us? And how can one be forgiving of another if not having had, albeit in some smidgen of a way, a similar 'sin' visited upon the self? Have you never (ever) wished someone dead? Have you never-ever filched, stolen, or sneaked so much as a cookie when not supposed to? Not even thought of it? But there are much more subtle issues at stake in the monitoring moments of the self than taking actual action. There is thought itself. And such thoughts that we know instinctively to conceal are those that we might examine in ourselves more closely. For they indubitably saturate the consciousness. They can cause others to feel uncomfortable. They can be unethical. They can harm one's integrity. Yet we think of almost everything, (and which part of Everything is 'not'?)

Indeed. "I am not to be held responsible for the thoughts that enter my head," said Einstein, "just the ones I entertain." Yes. We easily have thoughts ballooning by, but being conscious of them, learning when to look away, to veer off course, or purposefully to go higher (if not deeper) into the realms beyond their immediate import, now there's the thing! We are too easily impregnated by “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". We too easily (especially men) can lean at an atavistic slant to one side and with cocked heads study the click-click of high-heels bobbing by. Distractions abound! Thoughts infiltrate. Yet it’s in deeds that we perpetrate who we are, indeed.

"We are what we think", writes James Allen (in 'As A Man Thinketh'). It affects our character. It affects our circumstances. It affects our health. It affects our purpose, our achievements, our visions and our ideals. In fact, the effect of our thought affects, ultimately, not only ourselves!

Thing is, the territorial imperative would have us linked by constellation to the genetic code impelling us since Adam. (We can hardly be held responsible!) Yet 'sophistication', (that word that connotes a veneer of civility yet denotes the management of one's animal instincts, one's selfish desires, one's self-serving impulses,) sophistication would have us manage our motives, manage our base natures, manage even our memories. Yes, how does one free oneself from the tyrannical grip of the past? Somewhere in thinking-about-our-thinking (that essentially meta-cognitive process of practicing more than being predominantly led by intuitive feeling, and with our using the perpetual bridle of thought on the free range of emotion) we attain a sifting through the shallow, callow, lewd and rude. We slough off the dross of objectifying and vilifying and adjudging those whose condition renders them insensate to our own preferences. In effect, we become more and more enlightened, if such a thing be recognition of being more and more at peace not only with the self, but with everyone and everything, despite their given predilections.

That ‘ill’ teenage thought felt by the old man, a day or two ago, had him shudder with regret. Thing is, even though he tried throughout today, and with this writing, to recall precisely what that thought was, he cannot. It is as though we eventually shudder at our past sufficient to sift beyond its effect on us, such that forgiveness of the self becomes a primary platform from which to realize yet more compassion, acceptance, and conscious of others too as they are connected to the self. Always.

After all, "All for one, and one for all!" Yes?