Saturday, April 05, 2014

Broken Clocks, Blind Squirrels & The Ability to Forget

I'm composing a ten-minute-play which is overrunning by two milliseconds. I now consider it a blunder to have 12 male characters, 5 female characters, extras, chorus (m/f), and a prehistoric jaw bone that tragically dies of a frozen stomach while eating a sizeable ice-cream cone. The working title I Didn't Come to Stay, I Came to Watch is playing havoc with the plot, theme, and motif. Not to discount my mental and physical distress.

Genre: will it be tragicom, satire, romance (try to forget the prehistoric jaw bone overdosing on ice cream), musical drama, pastoral, or a folk drama? I’m on the verge of collapse. Moreover, I have observed the drama lacks clarity concerning a central question: what compels the jaw bone to climb naked up a tree? a jaw bone that comes from an affluent and devout family? Am I exaggerating my plight? No, but I haven't eaten for days, I sleep on the ground at night, and can't stop shaking the hands of beggars, broken clocks and blind squirrels. What would Molière do?

It is late afternoon. I am surrounded by illness and death. O.K., I’m in a hospital, but is this how patients are treated in the the 21st century? How did I get here? I performed the 'Heimlich manoeuvre' on a man who swallowed his false teeth while dancing the Charleston. I believe his name was Tony Flapper. During the activity Mr. Flapper's dentures flew out and bit my nose. 

I might have been the victim of an unprovoked mastication attack if Mrs. Flapper had not been on hand to wrestle the dentures off, and secure the teeth in a container. I could hear the false teeth trying to escape as I left the scene: gnarling, snapping, and sounding uncannily like a debauched black crested gibbon. A policeman informed me that the dentures had been taken away and destroyed.

Apparently, I require a single stitch on my nose and, considering the trauma, will not be able to eat fish, or to french kiss, without written clearance from a reputable doctor.

Reflections: I'm not waiting for Godot: I'm waiting for an escalope of energy to pervade my existence. My marriage is badly frayed, my trousers and finances in shreds, I've mouths to feed - some with herpes simplex lesions - and my family has grown tired of eating soup each day made from my wife's left elbow. To be honest, my wife isn't particularly happy either, especially during the simmering stage.

At such moments I dig into my memory. If there is no sign of life, I try to recall a time when all I had to worry about was the ability to forget. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Search of Lost Time & Knitters Anonymous

Each year in early spring family members congregated at my parents' house and resolutely nodded at each other without talking. We sat in a billowing silence for several hours and listened to the noise of passing traffic. As the nearest road was 10 kilometers away this ritual affirmed that affinity and honesty do not mix. Eventually someone gravely undernourished would rise from a chair and faint. A sign that food should be served.

We sat down to a restrained meal - usually throttled fish legs - and chatted about all sorts of things: work, illness, death, repetition, work, illness, death, repetition. Occasionally I gazed at the hollow assemble and thought, 'So many people sitting amid the paradoxes of identities and consciousness.' I include myself, of course. On numerous occasions I remember asking, with latent hope of dialogue, 'Where are we?' Did anyone answer? No one answered.

For a while I couldn't fathom my father. He possessed an inability to think rationally under stress. He was a man who said what he thought, formally and orderly. And he could doze in front of the living room fire at any time of day. He had a habit of keeping his cardinal smile for fire light. His favourite hobby was shuffling socks. Sometimes he would suddenly leap from his chair, hold five socks aloft, and cry, 'A straight flush!'

He used a carpet beater to punish his begats for minor misdemeanors even though our home was devoid of carpet. Impulsive behaviour, even disheartening, but plausible for one whose conditions in early life were occasionally difficult to navigate without collecting hurtful wounds. The floors were cloaked in linoleum which held a diversity of smells: buttermilk, cat urine, dirt from footprints, and the sweaty armpits of a hoary man from Bavaria whom no one in our family had met.

My father, with his vanity on clear display, would insist on reading from his favourite book In Search of Lost Time. After a hundred pages - give or take a leaf - someone would usually chant, hyperventilate, or rush from the room wailing: 'It's not easy being a candle', or something of that nature. A frighting experience for the faint of heart, or, indeed, anyone with a clicking hip joint. Of course, my father would promptly stand up and in an uncomplicated and straightforward manner violently throw Proust to the floor. He would storm out of the room through the nearest window; his voice quivering in his wake, 'No man deserves honest ignominy heaped upon him! Plot is not the point!'

To calm things down someone - usually myself - would simulate a sudden rise in temperature, fall to the floor, pant heavily, and whimper in a colourless voice: 'Malaria.' This act advised all present, in a simple, productive tone, that farewells were in order.

Reflections: A growing craze worldwide is knitting and crocheting. My addiction started when I read a copy of Stitch 'n Stitch Again in the dentist waiting room. Then, suddenly, I was knitting until the early hours, then night after night, when I was out with friends, or going to the bathroom. It didn't occur to me that my actions were, in anyway, pathological. I was using terms such as, 'I'm in the Zone,' and 'Pass me some thread, man.'

My life was out of control. I sought help through Knitters Anonymous (KA) - a worldwide fellowship of men who share a desire to stop knitting - and it seems to be working. The only downside is that I used knitting as a calming distraction. However, I'm now making customised underwear for young single and married women and it seems to help me relax.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Rendezvous with Literary Agent & It's Hard to Debate Anything at Length While You're Unconscious

Today I had lunch with my literary agent. On arrival she had misery painted all over her face. The maitre d' was kind enough to provide a face flannel to wash it off. Though a slender spirited creature my agent tends to be remote and vague. She has a tendency to walk on all fours when a conversation becomes exciting. For her, I play the fool. To her, I am a fool. C'est la vie.

'Well, what can I say?' She looked perplexed and started tossing shrewd and short comments in the air and catching them in her mouth. 'Your short novel has no plot, hurried syntax, and the title, It's Hard to Debate Anything at Length While You're Unconscious, is unengaging, let alone disconcerting'. I asked if she believed I would ever have a book published? She thought seriously and replied, 'Published is a big word.' She smiled. 'The only avenue left is to translate some of your work into English, even though you believe it already is.'

Her words overwhelmed me. I'm aware I write badly. In fact, in my first novella, Even Vegetables get Homesick, I used the adverb 'badly' eighty-six times in one chapter. This naturally raises questions which frankly are unanswerable.

'Maybe I'm wrong,' she said slowly and hesitantly, 'but I believe you should go on. Even though your stories are, shall we say, without meaning and littered by characters with the souls of sick sea creatures. Continue writing but try to enrich your vocabulary. And if I may say so, long inner dialogues, repetition, lack of a theme, will not attract readers' to your work.'

I thanked my agent for her honesty, intelligence and company, though I felt trapped and wished to escape. I remained smiling as she left. Then my mind went offline.

Good news at last! My new play A Little Bit of Bread and No Cheese is to be staged off-off-off-off- Broadway. It will be staged in a baguette basket on the back of a scooter in Versailles, France. I must find bread that has charisma, that can engage with its audience, remember its lines, and can collaborate with butter without reverting to ominous panic. Slowly, I begin to feel joy again. The quality of the bread will make or break the project. My search begins ...

Reflections: Tonight my wife is doing her best to upset me. She is playing tom-tom drums with her prosthetic hip replacement implant, and yodeling Prairie Lullaby while chewing tobacco: juice running down her face.

I stop writing, grab an apple, and sit on the floor in a corner of the room. I watch my wife from this short distance. Holding the apple, I reflect a day will come when I can stand such discomfort no longer. What should I say? Suddenly my face becomes pale, lifeless. My eyes too tired to shed tears. After thinking about this for a moment, I lean my head against the wall in an effort to embrace sleep.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Greatest Discoveries, To This Day & Don't Worry About Things You Will Never Know

In 1492 Christoper Columbus landed in the Caribbean mistaking it for India. As proof of his discovery he returned with a chicken masala meal for one, a singing snake, and a ventriloquist named Americo. The Europeans became obsessed with discovering civilisations, places, and practices in existence for thousands of years. They became fond of sailing, and the 'World Cruise' was born.

Although agriculture had been practiced in central and southern America for thousands of years, the Europeans showed the indigenous peoples how to make more food than they could eat. And also how to make a profit. The Europeans soon discovered that guns and swords were unnecessary to control the population. Smallpox, measles, and the flu were faster and didn't involve night raids. Silver from the mines was a driving motive of Spanish colonization. It helped that the Spanish Conquistadors had an unpronounceable name and looked like Cubans.

The slave trade proved a valuable lesson to the Portuguese, British, French, Spanish, and Dutch. While exploiting the silver mines, and agricultural plantations, the Europeans discovered an important working practice. It was more cost effective to work people to death, and replace them, than to improve their working conditions. This 'principle' is advocated 'to this day' in some management and leadership books, organisations, companies, human resource departments and military dictatorships around the globe. And, despairingly, in some families and schools.


I know - I think I know - about dinosaurs, despite never having met one (not while sober, anyway). I suppose it's just information passed from generation to generation. In the West we tend to accrue a vast amount of knowledge about abstract words, for example, truth, justice, freedom, reality, and to worry about things we shall never know, no matter how hard we look, or by seeking the advice and knowledge of others.

People from different cultures think about things differently, and perhaps that is the way the world has existed, and shall continue to do so. Who has the right to say the worldview of an individual, or a culture, is wrong if it does not intrude in the lives of others causing physical, mental, or spiritual harm?

Perhaps we should just enjoy life as it happens - each second - and try to shelve all worry, concern, and beliefs we have no control over, which may, paradoxically, control our lives to the detriment of our well-being. The solution sounds simple, but remains difficult to put into action. A human fallibility, but strong and destructive, nevertheless.

Reflections: The office environment in the 21st century is a time bomb: full of testosterone and estrogen, and rats if it's an old building. The rise of working singles working round the clock, and those working near a clock, has turned some offices into 'Singles Bars' with bouncers on the door, and the water consumed during 'Happy Hour' is charged to your credit card.

And let's not forget those who are in a relationship and suffer 'transient global amnesia' for five minutes while having sex with their secretary. This can be particularly disquieting when it happens during a board meeting, especially for fellow board members. Where I once worked a monthly lottery was held to guess who the CEO's next conquest might be. One list included females, males, and a coffee vending machine on the 2nd floor.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Tell Me The Truth About Love & Mahler's Fifth

I remember we had passed each other during the interval. After that moment I never grew tired of looking at her. We shared a love of the theatre, classical music, literature and poetry, and an enduring interest in writers and writing. Following the performance of Mahler’s Fifth we met at the embankment, and talked and laughed as the lights of the city danced breathlessly on the river.

When she smiled with her lips slightly parted I thought that any woman would be envious of her. She wore a black dress and her mass of wavy black hair tied up. Her beauty was indescribable. She exuded a social and cultural confidence to which I felt I could never aspire. We said nothing about our past, or present, relationships.

I adore Mahler,’ smiled Kirsten. ‘I feel I’ve been on an epic journey ... His obsession with death is evident, even to me. Then the triumph, the wonderful pinnacle of the final movement.’ Her gaze transferred to the boats dancing in rhythm on the water. ‘He was obviously passionately in love. What about you? Have you been in love?’ She scrutinised my face with amused tolerance and satisfaction. 'Answer me,' she said, delicately touching my hand.

The night was warm, and a soft, impatient wind blew across the greyish blue river. 'I prefer to say hello than goodbye. Hello radiates an air of anticipation, the beginning of something either funny or tragic.' Already I felt a deep affection for Kirsten, bordering on attraction.

'You still haven’t answered my question.’ She playfully poked my ribcage.

I looked at her, and smiled. ‘Tell me the truth about love ...’

‘When it comes will it come without warning, just as I'm picking my nose?’ Kirsten recited, her voice breathy and passionate.

‘Would you care to go for a walk, something to eat?' I said. 'French? Covent Garden?'

As we walked across the Millennium Bridge our hands accidentally touched. Kirsten smiled and kissed me on the mouth. I felt my heart rise. Then she turned away to look at the light in the stars. I noticed a suggestion of sadness in her eyes. Kirsten laughed softly and breathed in the night air. 'What an engaging night. Let's make it a memorable one.' Her voice was clear and winsome.

She leaned towards me and grabbed my hand. Her smile, like the destined light of day, became a laugh. Kirsten half closed her eyes and slightly tilted her head to let the tender trembling wind caress her eyelids. Her softened eyes still revealed a hint of sadness.

‘Why New York?’ asked Kirsten.

‘That’s what it’s called.’

‘Very funny. Are you travelling with anyone else?’ asked the prettiest woman in the restaurant.

‘Hopefully the pilot.’

‘How long will you be gone? I’m already missing your acerbic wit.’

‘Hard to say. I’ve been east. I believe it's time to go west. In fact, that reminds me. I'm booked in for a bikini wax tomorrow morning.’ We continued to eat and converse, attracting disgruntled glances from fellow diners'.

Once outside the restaurant we became insensitive to the surroundings. We kissed like two lovers in sensuous harmony and balance; as if we existed outside of time, outside of monotonous existence, outside of ordinary life.

As Kirsten sat in the taxi, she held out her hand. I briefly kissed the fingers of her right hand. Her engaging face was calm. 'Goodbye, and thank you,' she said. As the taxi drove off I still felt warm and sensual. As if I was part of some secret, beautiful and distant world. I knew, however, that Kirsten and I would never meet again.

Reflections: Beauty and love are inexpressible and ephemeral. Your heart may rise as you recall a romantic encounter, a kiss, a chance meeting, a pleasure in your life; but it is just a memory. One should not live with illusions of happiness, love, or, beauty, as one gets older. For there are only moments of anticipation, passion, and desire, that fill one's life. Only surprising and beautiful moments.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Groundhog Day at the HR Department & What Constitutes a Heap?

The inner sanctum of a HR Department. The midday sun beats through the windows and lights on two individuals.

'Peter, you're great.'

'And so are you, Selina.'

'Not as great as you, Peter.'

'You're still great, Selina.'

'Do you think so? You're not just saying I'm great because I always say you're great?'

'I mean it. You're great.'

'That's great. Here's Mary. Mary, you look great.'

'Well, thank you. You both look great.'

'Not as great as you, Mary.'

'Do you think so? You're not just saying I look great because I always say you both look great?'

'No. You look, and are, great, Mary.'

'That's great. Here's Maureen. Maureen, you look great.'

'Do you think so? You're not all agreeing I look great because I always say you three always look great?'

'No. You look, and are, great.'

'Never complain if someone says you look, and are, great.'

'Maureen, that's why you're so great.'

'And never confide in those who are greater than you are. That way one can't be improved or corrected. Heaven forbid, if one's greatness was to be judged and found wanting.'

'Maureen, you are indeed great. Isn't it wonderful that matters like the prolonged economic downturn, restructuring, organisational changes, job insecurity and cuts, planned redundancies, stress, never impact on our "divine" department?'

'Indeed, Selina. That's precisely why Peter is so great. He has a double face. He is supremely vain. He never speaks without boasting. He recognizes inferiority. He considers himself more intelligent than anyone else. He never hesitates to perform the 'dirty work.' When Board Members, managers, staff, union representatives, ask awkward questions Peter never gives a straight answer. That's why Peter is so great.'

'Oh, Peter, you're excruciatingly great. Shall we all go to the works canteen for lunch?'

'I confess to feeling ill at ease eating close to staff whose jobs are on the line. Let's go somewhere decadently extravagant. After all, we have the money and job security even if 'major reforms' are implemented in the near future. How many people can say that in this day and age?'

'Oh, Peter, you really are so, so, great.'

Reflections: One day, while surreptitiously taping a meeting at work (later transcribed into my diary*), I began to count the number of hairs on my head. I lost count at 82,469 when one hair fell on the floor. I had to start from scratch. It's a widely held belief in scientific circles that if a person is in possession of a full head of hair they should have approximately 100,000 hairs. My mind began to race:
  1. If I pull one hair a day from my head I should be completely bald in about 270 years. Who will continue the process after I am cremated?
  2. I have another 99,999 single hairs to pull out. What if I don't suit being partially, or totally, bald?
  3. Could I sell my hair on eBay? Is there a market for single hairs, or must I have a heap?
  4. What constitutes a heap?
 *Appearance does not deceive the watchful observer. Neither do words nor reputation.