Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Whom Will you Inspire Today? by Dan Holloway

I think I must be coming down with something. Last month I eschewed controversy for poetry. This month I am eschewing rant and brimstone for New Year positivity. hmmmmm.
But before I start, a little word about some very exciting things happening in the near future.
First, not just one but two of the Authors Electric will be taking part in this wonderful event in Oxford. Penning Perfumes is a nationwide series of events matching two exquisite art forms, poetry and perfumery. Last year's original tour caused a sensation, earning coverage in the national press, and this wonderful heady mix is now back and better, and on February 21st fellow AE Valerie Laws and I will be in Oxford reading and talking about our poems inspired by the mystery scent we were, er, sent.
And just to confirm that Valerie and I are currently stalknig each other, we will both be performing our solo shows at Cheltenham Poetry Festival on April 24th (full programme available for download here). Finally on the news front, and in recognition that this is, after all, an ebook site, my new collection of poems and short stories to accompany my Cheltenham show, "i cannot bring myself to look at walls in case you have graffitied them with love poetry", is out now for 77p. For the first time in a long long while I can truthfully say it is something of which I am truly proud.

So, to the business of positivity. This is a post that originally featured elsewhere, but I have become such a wanton hippy of late that I wanted its message to be repeated.

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The inscription at the front of my book (life:) razorblades included says simply
"be spectacular and die living"
That's still about as much as needs to be said on the subject of either life or art. The rest, as it were, is just unpacking. It's so incredibly difficult to keep it plastered to the inside of our eyelids as we wade through life, and, to get more specific, as writers setting out "to be published" or "to sell books" or even "to connect with readers". The line itself is something I've become a dab hand at churning out but singularly bad at reflecting upon and aspiring to. My recent lift in spirits and creative direction has been largely a result of thinking about that simple mantra.


Which brings me to one of the catalysts, which in turn got me thinking. Last year, one of my favourite films, Man on Wire, was on TV. Watching it, spellbound (for those of you unfamiliar with it, this a documentary about Philippe Petit, a tightrope walker who, with a few co-conspirators, in 1974 illicitly rigged a cable between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, and proceeded to walk across - and then back, and back again, stopping to lie down, to look down, to kneel to the dawn, almost dancing as he played dare with the police waiting to arrest him at the other end), one line struck me. One of the first things the arresting officers asked him was "why?" Petit's response was one of those lightbulb moments. Odd, because it's a common question - we all think of those "why?" "because" exchanges about climbing Everest. But Petit's response wasn't "because", it was to shake his head and despair that after such a beautiful moment the officer had deflated it with something as banal as a question.

For me, that exchange is a perfect commentary on the cultural life.

It also set me thinking (national cultural stereotyoe alert!). One of the things I'm researching for a new book is parkour. Don't worry, I'm not actually doing it, rather I'm researching those who do, and the philosophy behind it.
Parkour (the art of movng through a space continually forward by finding ways for your body - and mind - to overcome obstacles - you may not realise it but you saw it in that BBC ad a few years ago that you thought was all stunts and mats and tricks but wasn't) was given its shape and identity by David Belle (that's him in the video), who developed it with his friends in Fecamp, in France. And then I thought about the incredible "spiderman" Alain Robert. And the stereotyping part of my brain took hold of the fact that the three people I was thinking about were French. Now, we're used to people talking about literature and philosophy in France and their place in French life, but maybe it's not really Bernard Henri Levy and Michel Houellebecq we should think of but the likes of Belle, Petit, and Robert.

Petit's words have blended sowly into that mantra over the last few days - the need to do something spectacular, beautiful, memorable and, possibly equally important, inexplicable. But for those of us whose bodies are closer to Henri Levy than Belle, and dabble in creativity with our minds, what does that mean? "Be spectacular" - the rest, as I said at the start, is just the unpacking, and yet absolutely everything is in that unpacking. In focusing on a thing - a single, spectacular, beautiful thing, and moving always and only towards it. Sometimes it seems to me as though the thing is life itself - but life, as my last two collections have been written to demonstrate, is nothing without content, without relentless energy and celebration. At other times I think asking the question at all is the problem - a sign of my Englishness? - and yet these remarkable characters don't have the aimlessness of people who haven't honed down their goal to absolute concreteness in the  way we imagine when we think of a lack of questionning.

Then I thought on, of my recent conversations with friends who know far more than me about zen, Trevor Barton and Viv Tuffnell, and I wondered if they would tell me that the key is not to question but to "know", whcih made me think "but I don't know". But maybe the answer is that it is the questionning - of ourselves, our lives, our world, that stops us from "know"ing what we have to do, and then giving ourselves to doing it. Maybe the answer lies in learning to know oneself well enough that one does not have to question - which sounds a lot like what I have said about confessional art and stripping everything to your most basic truth. I'm still not there, but maybe I'm starting to learn which questions not to ask. The fundamental mantra seems unchallengable, though, for us as artists:

"be spectacular"



That’s where I left it last time, but it seems appropriate to add a few more words. The last thing I want to be accused of is playing the strivers and skivers card and all of this feels very out of the realm of everyday life. But it needn’t be. Being spectacular can be about making thousands of people stand back in amazement, but it needn’t be. It’s first and foremost about giving yourself fully to life, whatever that may mean for you. It’s about leading life by the hand and not having it lead you. That can be something so seemingly simple as getting dressed in the morning or it can be climbing the Eiffel tower using only the pulling power of your teeth.
What will you do in 2013 to be spectacular?




20 comments:

John A. A. Logan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John A. A. Logan said...

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151397745507577&set=vb.150082065062250&type=2&theater

Have you seen that short Alan Watts video, Dan?
"What do we desire?"

A friend left it on my Facebook page the other day and it's led to the viewing of lots of his zen/Jung/Spirit videos on Youtube...

The interesting thing about Watts, and he recognised that he had this in common with Jung...they both believed that the Westerner entering the realms of eastern thought must still hold onto their own roots in Western thought...and yet both of them were fascinated by the eastern viewpoints of zen and Tao, Yin and Yang, and certainly wanted at least half of their consciousness to be taking flight at high speed down those labyrinthine paths...

Pirsig too realised it was a half-and-half arrangement he wished, part zen, but part motorcycle too...the flower growing out of the head of the spanner was the perfect cover for his book.

The Highland Scottish novelist, Neil Gunn, wrote ten western social realist novels...but then a friend gave him Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel...and that was it, Gunn's mind floated off happily for another ten novels with eastern flavour..which the critics hated, public too maybe...until he abjured his art and wrote one last book of "Highland Zen"...his apiritual autobiography, The Atom of Delight.

It sounds like you're getting your dander up, my friend, and are about to head into 2013 with Eye of the Tiger playing in the background!

Good.

Man on Wire...ah, I need to see it now...will go off and search it down by hook or crook...

The thing that caught my attention for years...don't know if you've ever seen it practised...ashtanga yoga...dazzling, moving meditation...

There was that TV series on in the 1970s too, The Long Search with Ronald Ayre...series of programmes exploring different spiritual paths, culminating in a jungle forest and Ayres watching the walking meditation of a monk...walking slowly...but you could almost see the cells and neurones whizzing in that monk...

Or does this all boil down to those lines from the Billy Crystal/Jack Palance film, City Slickers...?

Palance: There's only one thing in life that matters
Crystal...waiting...staring...then saying: OK, what's that?
Palance: That's what you gotta find out.

John A. A. Logan said...

Ah, I knew I'd lost the essence of that City Slickers dialogue with paraphrasing...here's the real thing:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Curly: This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?"
Curly: [smiles] That's what *you* have to find out.

Lee said...

I may have mentioned this before, but if you're interested in Petit, I recommend Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin.

Dan Holloway said...

ah, City Slickers, that brings back memories.
I don't know about Eye of the Tiger but maybe a little Portishead earworming its way into spring with me :) And yes, you do need to see Man on Wire!
Yes, Lee, absolutely you have mentioned it to me before and I'm hoping this year I will get to it - thank you!

Lee said...

OT warning...

Dan, here's a link especially for you:

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/08/30/anais-nin-letterpress/

Dan Holloway said...

ooh, that's wonderful!

Lee said...

Heheh Dan, my memory is becoming abysmal.

And my spectacular - finishing the novel-in-progress which threatens to defeat me.

John A. A. Logan said...

(I like the bit where Gonazalo does battle with the press/lettering machine!)

Pauline Fisk said...

Found this really interesting on a number of levels which don't have time or ability [fingers freezing here] to go into. Suffice to say parkour, yes. Spent last evening talking to an urban explorer based in Shrewsbury, and seeing some of his amazing rootop - in some cases - spiretop pics.

Loved Man on a Wire too, and for all same sort of reasons. Was in Niagara last autumn - wire set up, didn't see it happening though. Was there on wrong night. Makes my heart stop even thinking about it, but how great to be able to say that about the way one lives one's life.

Pauline Fisk said...

Oh dear, except that you couldn't, of course [say it, I mean] if your heart stopped! Just shows how ridiculous your thinking processes can become when your fingers are frozen by the cold and even your brain is numb. Hpwfully you'll have got the gist of what i mean.

Dan Holloway said...

I am finding having fingerless gloves in every room an essential at the moment!
How wonderful to see people in action in Shrewsbury. Apparently there are some parkour practitioners in Oxford though I've never seen them - perhaps I should look up more. I think the world of wire walking has some wonderful metaphors for life (Viv's blog to which I linked is called Zen and the art of tightrope walking) - I think for me it's about moving forward without looking down, but not because youare in denial of the drop, not because you have taught yourself to ignore it - that's just more self-delusion. Rather it's about not looking down because you have familiarised yourself with and come to accept the abyss on all sides, and move through it with the ease of moving through your natural environment (a parkour of the mind as it were)

Bill Kirton said...

Fascinating, thought-provoking post, Dan. I have to confess, though, that the actions of the Parkour people and the Man on the Wire are so uncomfortable for me to watch that I can only take them in small doses. It's partly vertigo but it's also that inexplicable magnetism of the abyss. When I stand near an edge, I'm not afraid I'll fall over but that I'll actually be drawn to jump. It's a great Romantic theme, of course, the void, the fathomless unknown, the place where selfhood is lost. So, even though I can't confront those physical chasms, their existence supplies me with the imagery of ... well, either despair of triumph. Just don't take me near any edges.

Dan Holloway said...

Bill, I understand that completely. It's exactly how I explain it to my wife when she asks why I don't like edges. It's the feeling of amost physical compulsion, being sucked over into the abyss. Yet it's fascinating at the same time. To try and conquer the feeling, I spend a lot of time jumping off tall buildings, imagining every detail around me. And on holiday I once went on this http://annettewoodford.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/aiguille-du-midi-a-superb-cable-car-trip-in-the-french-alps/ which was a remarkable sensation.

Lee - I picked up a copy of the McCann at lunchtime from Waterstones - it looks wonderful

Reb MacRath said...

That video puts the parkour sequence in Casino Royale to shame. 'Be spectacular'--two words to live by for 2013. Great post.

Reb MacRath said...

Ah, I'd forgotten something: District 13 starring David Belle is worth a look for its sensational parkour footage.

Reb MacRath said...

One final comment. The great spiritual parkour master, Robert Pirsig, was rejected 121 times before somersaulting into print with his masterpiece Zen and the Art. Be spectacular, indeed.

Dan Holloway said...

yes, District 13 is fabulous! I love the start of Casino Royale as well, I have to say - the parkour there is Sebastien Foucan, star of the Jump films and erstwhile friend of Belle

Reb MacRath said...

Glad you liked District 13. Looks as if we'll see more of Belle, the action actor, in 2014: Brick Mansions with Paul Walker. I did love the start of CR, btw--but the editing, though thrilly-dilly, didn't as fully convey--imo--how cool parkour really is. Still, it was a rad sequence and a great intro to the new James Bond.

Dan Holloway said...

ah yes, definitely, there are times when less fancy editing and cross cutting is more so as to let what's happening speak for itself - this is definitely one of those cases (the other thing is that we are primed to think that when something's cut it's been spliced together and stunted - and whilst I'm sure Daniel Craig isn't a traceur magnifique, it would be a shame if people didn't realise that all Foucan's stunts are real)