52 The Silk Route

How did I get here? To this point where, Sedartis by my side, I find myself gazing out of moving trains, over picturesque lakes, wondering ‘how did I get here?’ This is a change of mode, this pondering. Is it my midlife? Is this my crisis?

If so it is mild in the extreme. Contradiction in terms. My overall state is snug, within myself. My friends, my family. I live to love not to loathe, so I tell myself and so I feel and so I largely, modestly, believe, I do. I anger slowly, forgive fast. I sense the presence, now much more than I used to; I used to ache for the future, and be in it too. I may just have caught up with myself and that is the keenest source of surprise: hello, here I am. How did I get here. . .

The route my father took. From Thalwil where he was working for a textile company making specialist threads and yarns, I believe (not silk, as such, it’s more of a metaphor, this…), to Manchester where I was born to Goldach where I have my first faint memories of a long balcony and Aldo our dog, to Arlesheim where I went to Kindergarten and Basel where, from Arlesheim, I commuted to school, then Münchenstein where I finished school and made friends I love to this day, to London where I’m at home.

(Or does it start with Berlin, whence my grandmother left at the age of eighteen, crossing into Switzerland and to Zürich, where she met my grandfather. That may be the preamble: there’s a separate story and it’s beautiful, but it needs to be told elsewhere.)

The question perhaps is not ‘how did I get here’, the question perhaps is simply, what next: whither wilt thou, now thou art here? Not geographically speaking, geography matters less and less, I am at home in London, but I can be and be happy almost anywhere, as long as I have my laptop and a decent WiFi connection.

I find myself sitting next to a beautiful woman called Karmen, spelt with a K, at a film festival in northern Italy, and she asks me what my next project is. I list four that I consider ‘current’. It strikes me that this is maybe a lot. Then again, I have always conducted my journey along multiple tracks. Even when I decide to just concentrate on the one, my curious mind and my eagerness to experience tend to open up another soon. I am fine with that too.

It may be that the journey that follows many roads is bound to go on many detours and therefore takes longer to reach any kind of destination, but then: what is the destination? Is there one? Ought there to be one, even, or is it not much more, as many say and know, the trip alone that truly matters.

As I talk to Karmen and tell her what I’m up to right now and in the very foreseeable future, I realise that everything I have done and written and directed and made and learnt so far has been, most likely, not much more than the apprenticeship, because I sense, so I tell her, because I do, that the real task, the real challenge, the real mountain to climb and the real work to do, lies just ahead.

We’re in the chink of an exponential curve that is about to go virtually vertical, and this means we’ll not only have new stories to tell, we’ll want, we’ll need, whole new ways of telling these stories and to make sense of them. Serious Story Telling, that counts.

I never get bored, I tell Karmen, because if you watch a wall of paint dry close up enough, it’s actually riveting. But what I’m really most excited, most thrilled most ecstatic about is that we’re on the verge of understanding ourselves and how we’re connected completely afresh. That the dimensions that hitherto have been considered effectively spiritual and esoteric are coming in touch with the principles of quantum mechanics and we’ll find, so I’m sure, that we can explain things that until less than a generation ago we thought either unfathomable or simply hokum. They will turn out to be neither.

‘Look at me now and here I am’, I say to myself, in the words of Gertrude, and I take a sip of the wine that fills me with a glow of happiness. These people, these good souls, this world that we live in, these paths that we choose or think we choose, these connections we make and that make us.

I’m in the right place, at the right time. I may not know it yet, but I  sense it, for sure.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ice King – 2: The Kiss

The Ice King doesn’t speak and I don’t ask; the questions are too many, too small; too trivial by comparison. I feel my body tremble, not with fear, not with cold; with unfamiliarity? I look him in the eyes and their glint reassures me: I want his power to be benign, if absolute. As I take off my heavy boots and both pairs of socks, I expect the ice under my feet to sting or to burn me, but with my eyes on him still and his gaze still steady on me there is only the glow that expands from inside my spine.

I take a step towards him and his presence feels no longer silent, it hums, or so my mind makes me believe, in truth he lies still and alert and my breathing is no longer shallow: I want to melt into him, meld with him, and as I step closer he sits up just enough to extend his hand and bring me into his orbit.

Now the colours, the touch, the sensations, the heat from within the cold from without: this surface I lie on is as hard as polished marble, this skin that I breathe is softer than ermine but his grip and his hold and his motion are firm, no longer can I tell what am I and what he, my focus is gone, the ice and The Ice King, the light and the scent are all one; I dissolve into it into him into the fire of him in me, into the ice that is no longer chill but a mould of clean edges that envelop us like multiple layers of soothing gauze, like everything ever imagined but more, and more real, like losing myself, my thought and my fear, like everything ever felt but not known, like owning the universe through being owned, desiring only being desired, like being The Ice King through being his, not wanting not pining not longing not hoping not dreading not doing not acting not willing not giving not taking not talking not buying not selling not looking forward not thinking back not imagining and not dreaming. Being and ceasing to be all at once in the now and forever.

The Now. The Forever. We breathe. We hold on to each other. I think I smile but I can’t be sure. He tilts his head back and exhales. I feel his breath on my neck and bury my face in his shoulder. The light is orange and blue and a little bit purple too, and we are embedded in the ice that feels now as if it has melted and made a pool of clear water that seems to flow warm, although this may just be the pulse in my temple and the beat of his heart and the tender embrace of his arms and the comfort, the comfort of him.

We lie thus for hours or so it seems as I drift in and out of awareness and The Ice King is deep in my mind, quiet and quite majestic. I know I can’t stay here but nor can I leave. I bathe in the silence but words are bubbling inside me. I want for nothing now, but I wonder how deep, how old, how immaterial the ice is. I lift my head to look at his face, in repose. His lips are not of this world. I hesitate. I pause. I cannot ask permission. I cannot resist. I kiss him.

{Connexum}

not the essay, just the idea

not the notion that everything is connected, that is not new

and not the question

how connected is everything

but the question

how

if everything is connected

is everything connected

if things are connected

there must be something that connects them

 

and for many things that are connected

we know what that is

we can see it, measure it, build it, make it

we can name it:

the axles the shafts

the electric current the

data the code the signal

 

but what about things that are connected and we

don’t know what it is that connects them

what about

quantum entanglement

for example

the

spukhafte fernwirkung

albert einstein’s

 

there is no doubt that things are connected of which

we don’t know how this is

and

if things are connected

there has to be some thing that connects them

even if that is

a thing we have not yet detected

a thing we have not yet detected and so not yet given a name to

a thing we have not yet detected but may yet find

we can find

 

that would give us

three things in principle:

energy

information

and the third thing

the thing that connects things

for which we don’t yet have a name

but we have

maybe

names

for manifestations of it

the strong and weak nuclear forces

the electromagnetic force and the force of

gravity

 

what if these forces are to the third thing as

light sound heat motion are to the first (energy)

and as

data code and semantic content are to the second (information)

what if that third thing is a thing in itself

that exists and that is partly

as yet only partly

understood

 

as humans we like sets of threes

trios, triumvirates, trinities

they give us a deeper reality

 

at first glance we seem to be living in twos

in the binaries of

male/female

plus/minus

hot/cold

dark/light

day/night

yes/no

1/0

 

but it only takes one thought to know

that neat and simple as this looks and sounds

it is patently not how it is

 

our reality

here too

needs a third layer each time:

 

male/trans/female

plus/neutral/minus

hot/tepid/cold

dark/twilight/light

yes/maybe/no

1/anything in between/0

 

even yin and yang are not a duality

but a symbolic expression of the way apparent opposites complement each other as part of

the same

 

and this

is when it gets really interesting, when

dualities are not augmented by that which is in between

but are understood as the whole:

 

yin/same/yang

 

for which the quantum equivalent then could be

on/on-and-off-at-the-same-time/off

 

what if

we’ve always known this and have expressed it in many ways

the elements of

the same the other and the essence

in plato’s timaeus

the father the son and the holy spirit

anicca, dukkha, anattā:

impermanence

suffering

non-self

 

what if that third thing

the essence

the holy spirit

the non-self

is

in principle

the thing that connects

everything

the third thing

the thing for which we don’t yet have a name, a

 

connexum?

No Compromise

When I look at pictures of myself of the time when I was as old as I am now that I am sitting opposite me at the Limonlu Bahçe I don’t recognise myself any more or any better than when I listen to my voice on the tape from the same era.

It feels like an era because it is so remote in the past, so distant, that it might as well be an epoch. Thirty years, thereabouts. Just over a generation. I now could easily, comfortably, be my own father then. That messes with my mind a bit, but it literally figures: I left home, aged twenty-one, ten days before my mother’s fiftieth birthday. It never once occurred to me, then, that it would perhaps be a good idea to stay for my mother’s fiftieth birthday and then leave home, as the last of her children to do so. My mind simply did not entertain that notion. It was not callousness or insensitivity, as such, it was a complete unawareness that that would even be a reasonable thing to do. I did get my wonderful friend Asta to pick up a thin golden ring that I had bought from the jeweller’s, on the inside of which I’d had the words engraved: In Gratitude. Asta picked up the ring with some flowers, for which I presumably had given her the money, and took it to my mother on her birthday. That to me seemed reasonable then. My mother still wears the ring, of course. And while I can’t to this day explain my behaviour to her, I can see that the memento means something to her and it means something to me that it does.

Now, as I’m sitting opposite myself at the Limonlu Bahçe in Istanbul with a sense of wonder, I no longer in that other sense, wonder. This really has changed. For so long I simply wondered, at everything about all things, all of the time. I used to wonder what the future might hold, I used to wonder how things were in the present, I used to wonder what I was and what I was to become, I used to wonder, naturally, why? Why everything, why anything, really, and I used to wonder how I could come back to this place and do it for real.

This used to be a pervading sensation of mine: I must come back to this place and do it for real. It was almost like I was on a recce, accumulating intelligence, information on how to do this when it counted, when it was real. It was never real. Now – now ironically being the time and the age and the era when I do a good solid part of my living virtually – it’s beginning to be real. And I am immensely relieved. A little bit scared, perhaps, yes, but in a good way, the way that you get stage fright before you go on in a play or do a gig.

I thought at first, as I first was beginning to realise who that is, having a mojito with me, that I would want to ask myself innumerable questions. And now I realise, they don’t matter now. Now that they could be asked, they evaporate. Could it be I’m beginning to accept myself just as I am. Love myself, even? Is that conceivable, still? It’s a big word. Love.

I don’t think I ever hated myself, I’ve hardly ever hated anything or let alone anyone, but I also don’t think I’ve ever been able to love myself. I’ve overestimated myself, bemused myself, irritated myself, entertained myself, and imagined myself somehow exalted, but loved myself? I don’t know what that would feel like, so I don’t think I have.

I want to have a conversation with myself about something that isn’t me, and I ask young George how he’s been spending his time travelling across Europe. The details he tells me neither surprise nor remind me: they sound like the indifferent anecdotes of a young man who’s been travelling across Europe. The stories he’s telling me are intimate, even provocative. In a nonchalant way. I had forgotten that aspect of me: I used to be quite provocative, in a nonchalant way. I used to be rebellious, certainly, and deliberately daring. Never quite as daring as deep inside I thought I ought to be though; this too, I seemed to conduct almost as a rehearsal: my daring. George speaks in a measured, quiet tone, not dissimilar to the tone I hear on the tape. I’m beginning to wonder whether I have already listened to the tape and this is essentially a memory constructed from the tape, so as not to call it a ‘dream’, or whether I’m yet to find the tape, but then the chronology, in a situation where I’m sitting opposite my thirty years younger self in a delightful garden cafe in Istanbul, having mojitos and talking about travels and Europe and daring and art does not particularly seem to matter.

‘I cannot bear a compromise, in art,’ I hear myself tell myself, and young me, George, looks up and smiles that nearly-smile that I’m beginning to recognise, even like. ‘I find it abhorrent. Compromise is something, perhaps, for politics, perhaps for a relationship, I don’t know; but for art: no.’ I agree with myself on this, emphatically. ‘Yes,’ George says, ‘I agree with you. Do you smoke?’ And we finally have our first cigarette together.

The silence is soothing and reassuring and I’m reminded of a teacher at school whose name I can’t now remember who taught us clay modelling. At the school I went to, this was one of the things we did and I enjoyed it, in principle, but I was going through a crisis. We were modelling heads, near life-size (about two thirds or three quarter) and, having finished one of a girl, quite generic, which I thought looked all right but which didn’t excite me, I had started a second one, this time of an African boy. And I couldn’t get his features right. I was getting frustrated and I must have expressed this somehow, though I don’t remember the how, and our teacher, a German woman in her maybe forties who to me then seemed neither ancient nor young but really curiously both at the same time, and whom I didn’t know well enough to like or dislike but was able, for her empathy and her concern for my work to respect, looked at my head and at me and then said: ‘Ein Kunstwerk muss durch den Tod gehen.’ A work of art has to go through death. I instinctively knew what she meant, and although I couldn’t entirely comprehend it, I liked the fact that she had used the words ‘work of art’ and ‘death’ in one sentence and combined them so that one was to conquer the other, and I thought nothing of the fact that she seemed to refer to my high school project as a work of art, and she did two or three things to my head that took all of about ninety seconds, and the way was paved for me to finish my project.

I completed the head and it spent the next two or three years in pride of place in my bedroom on a black cloth with a round badge pinned to it on which the words “BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL” were printed in small yellow letters on a black background, and when I left my parents’ home, I left it behind, and since then it has been living on top of a large commode in the living room of my parents’ holiday flat in the mountains, and I see it there often and while I’m not sure it is quite a work of art, I certainly know it had to go through a death before it turned into something that still, after all this time, is in its own right, quite beautiful.

We finish our cigarettes and I ask George if he would care to go for a walk and he says: ‘why not?’

{Thoughts That Can’t Be Unthunk)

My dad tells me the story of when he, eighteen years old, back in 1951, goes to the Lido on Lake Zürich – where he’s grown up and where he has turned himself into a Swiss Youth Champion Swimmer – to try out nude bathing. 

Being Switzerland and Continental Europe, Zürich has no problem with nude bathing in 1951, and so there is a designated nudist section of the Lido where swimming naked in the Lake may be relished at nature-embracing liberty by anyone so inclined, even then.

“I walked out of the changing rooms, a little shy and uncertain, holding my towel in front of me,” I’ve seen pictures of my dad at that age – not, I hasten to add, in the nude, but wearing his swimming trunks and in one of them, I believe, his chest adorned with a medal, or so I so seem to remember – and my dad as an eighteen year old is exceptionally handsome, he’s a youth champion swimmer, after all, “and there were all these saggy old men, with drooping bits everywhere.”

I laugh my head off at the thought of my adonis dad walking out into a world of saggy old men and drooping bits everywhere. They put him right off, so he turned around and never went back, unsurprisingly.

The image, though, lingers…

The Ice King – 1: The Chamber

Deep inside the glacier lives The Ice King, supple and smooth. His skin is aglow with the cold and unbelievably soft. He should be milky white but there’s an olive tint to his hue and no sooner do I see it than I want to touch it. Without gesture or words, he demurs.

He is wearing no clothes but it’s clear that he’s warm; he’s in his element: he is The Ice King, and he doesn’t beckon or smile: he stands at the end of the hall that is lined with blue-sheened green walls of ice. They look soft, insubstantial, but they are hard as stone, centuries of gravity have worked them into solid rock. I close my eyes for a moment, the smell of the ice is clean and pure.

I slowly move towards him and as each step feels heavier with uncertain awe, my head gets lighter. I realise for him I’ll have to be all or nothing. Already I’m feeling the heat and I’m twenty, thirty feet from him yet. There, at the end of the hall, tall with ice and nothing else, is a passage, a gateway, in which he stands; he has no need for me, but I am now beholden to him. I slowly advance and as I do so I have to let go, I have to, have to let go.

I half expect servants to take off my coat and my woolly hat, but there are no servants and no attendants, there is only he and he looks at me unsmiling but kind. He is ageless, of course, he is dark-eyed and strong. The Ice King waits for me to come to him, he knows that I must, now. For a moment I’m tempted to look back to see what’s behind me, to confirm that this is the path I have chosen, but something tells me that for that it’s too late; now there is only forward, and so the snowfield, the mountain, the moon, the cavernous void of the night, the narrow, low gap that I happened upon and through which, more curious ever than brave, I had entered, fall away and become immaterial. There is no echo in the glacier and no breeze. There is no fire and so there’s no smoke. There is air and the air is still. Cold as it is, it doesn’t move; it envelops me and so it feels warm. The Ice King knows that I am now in his power, and he turns and walks ahead, I follow.

The gateway, the passage, the transition. A corridor of light and dark, of shapes and patterns. It neither narrows nor widens, it extends. The Ice King, naked, not tall, not short, of a human-scale build, moves ahead and each step he takes on the ice, the ice seems to light just a little under his feet: it may be in my imagination. It may be just a reflection. There is no other life in here, only he and I. And there’s the light that plays on us. Deeper into the glacier we go and the deeper we go, the narrower the corridor through which we pass must become now, but it doesn’t get lower, only less wide, until it is possible, just, to walk in a dead straight line, just about, without your arms or your shoulders touching the walls. He walks ahead of me, and I now follow closely; I sense the warmth off his body, and the icy walls look as though they glow just a little as he passes. It may be just my imagination. Maybe a reflection. Every surface is smooth but not flat: the curvatures of natural ice.

We arrive in the chamber: the chamber is empty and neither dark nor bright, there is a greenish whitish blueish light that comes from all directions at once, and in the middle of the chamber there is a large elevation where the ice rises to knee level, just: is this our bed? There is no fire but I am not cold and while the Ice King reclines, I loosen my scarf, I take off my gloves. I want to touch the ice but his eyes are on me, and I take off my coat and my jumper, my shirt…

∞ Pyromania

The police had no trouble getting the boys to confess to their actions, in detail. What they had great trouble with was understanding them: their motives, their emotions, their reasons; their unnerving casual calm, even now, even now that the extent of the damage, the depth of destruction, the heinousness of their deed was put before them.

The boys, in turn, seemed to understand and simply accept that all of this was exactly the way it was. They expressed no regret, or if so then only when pressed on an angry detail: the twin girls; these beautiful, lovely, five year old girls: did they not feel sorry for them. Yes, they said, they did. And the dog? The cute little spaniel? And the dog too, yes.

The police were not alone in being incapable of understanding the boys. The moment they issued a statement confirming their arrest, hate rose from the ground, like the stench of poison and decay. It spread and quickly it turned into anger: fury against an incomprehensible evil that the people, the good people of Bournemouth and Boscombe felt had nested in their midst and that had, as far as they could tell, nothing whatever to do with them. 

The Earnest Psychologist who had not actually met with or spoken to the boys, invoked many possible causes: disillusionment, suppressed sexuality, self-loathing, confusion, disorientation, parental neglect, parental overbearing, nondescript feelings of persecution, projection, detachment. The words to the people who had lost their huts, let alone those who had lost a friend, a lover, a husband, a wife; a sister, a brother, a mother, a father; least of all though to those who had lost their gorgeous twins, and also not to those who had lost their little dog, to them, these words meant nothing, they were just noise. And it made these people, these good people, angrier still, and more hateful.

And the hate ate into them and turned their misery into madness: a kind of madness, an uncontrollable fear and loathing. For their first court appearance, the boys were driven in two separate vans – why the two separate vans, some people wondered? – the short distance from their police cells to the court building and angry, hateful crowds gathered and shouted vile words and curses at them and called for their heads. Banging on speeding police vans, endangering their own lives, rather than keeping the peace.

The ugliness was pervasive: faces distorted in pain and wrath and dismay. Loud voices, high pitched declamations, over and over again: ‘they’ve ruined our lives.’ ‘They should be shot.’ ‘These two: they belong locked up and the keys thrown away.’

The Angry Prophet wasn’t having any of it: ‘don’t you see,’ he berated them, ‘you made these boys and you will make more of them: unless and until you look into yourselves and begin to ask questions of you and what kind of people you are that you ignore in your midst those you dislike, there will be ones at ever recurring junctures that will do some unspeakable thing, just to be heard, just to be seen, just to know they exist. Wake up, you dull, you smug, you sleep-walking idiots and ask why you are so punished!’

The people did not like to hear this, they shut off his rants, if not from their ears – he was loud! – then from their minds: he has ever berated us thus, he is the madman here, this has nothing to do with us, these kids have gone wrong.

The Sacred Sage was silent for a long long time. He feared not for his life nor for his wisdom, he feared for the humanity in these humans. After the Hapless Messenger had been kicked to the ground in The Square and punched in the face and kicked in the guts and stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle and been left to bleed to death, the Sacred Sage knew: we’re undone. We’re undone: we need to redo ourselves.

She was just a journalist, but not of the kind that quickly make up a convenient narrative that is simple and clear and easy to understand and that puts the headline “MONSTERS” on the front page with pictures of the two young perpetrators, as others did, without hesitation, she was one who had spoken to George’s crestfallen, hollowed father, to Andy’s shellshocked mother, to one or two teachers and one or two friends and who had written a piece that simply and plainly and in gentle, differentiated language, but clearly, had stated that these two boys, Andy and George, were not evil, or different, or monstrous or inhuman: they were simply two boys who had done a terrible, perhaps inexplicable thing, but that it was not unforgivable. That in fact perhaps the only way we who now grieve for the elderly couple, the twins and the dog, and the others, perhaps the only way we can now move on and make things better again is to forgive them. Soon. Not absolve them, not shrug our shoulders and say: shit happens. But forgive them. Step towards them, embrace them, comprehend them.

The people were not ready to hear this, to read it in their local paper. They let a day pass, then another, then their rage took over and they waited for her, in broad daylight: she stepped out of her office at the Bournemouth Echo on Richmond Hill and was making her way towards the Koh Thai Tapas on Poole Hill for a bite to eat with a friend, when they pounced on her in The Square and took her life for speaking a truth they were not ready to hear.

The Sacred Sage saw only Sorrow. But he knew then that he needed to counsel, and be his counsel never heard. He knew that his lone voice would be drowned out and that the anger, the fury, the pain and the hatred would stir these people and eat into them for a while, but if ever the the anger were to surrender to wisdom, the fury abate into knowledge, the pain ease into power and the hatred reveal itself to be love, then he would, sooner or later, have to counsel, and this would be hard and seem futile but it was all he could do and it was at the same time everything that he must.

And he spake thus to anyone who would listen, though nobody would: you are these boys and they are you. Every fibre, every molecule, every thought, every heartbeat, every quantum particle that they are is you. You have not made them, you are them. You are them as much as you are the lovely twins and the cute little dog and the beautiful elderly couple. Own this part of you. And then heal it. Heal it not by hating it, attempting to expunge it, heal it by accepting that you are capable of this. You are capable of building these huts and putting into them quaint souvenirs and enjoying them with your lover, your neighbour, your friend, your gorgeous five-year-old twins and your grandparents who have been together for sixty years and who have never done or said anything vile in their lives, and you are capable of blowing them up and burning them down. You and these boys are one. I and you, we are one. I am no wiser, no sager than you. I am you too. The Messenger, whom you destroyed: she is you. All is one. We are this. This is who and what we are. We are Boscombe Beach, we are Bournemouth Town, we are the country, the world and the universe. We are God. And we are Andy and George. And Andy and George therefore, too, are God. Everything we do and everything we do not do and everything we say and everything we do not say and everything we think and everything we do not think is who we are. And since we are God, it is for us and for us alone and for us together to make ourselves Divine.

And having spoken thus, the Sacred Sage, unheeded, stood, bare but for his simple robes, forlorn, and smiled. He smiled because he knew, being sacred, and sage, that no matter how angry, how furious, how pained and how hateful these humans were now, they were also still God and their godliness would one day – perhaps far into an unfathomable future not yet envisaged, unknown to us yet and deep as the reach of the Thought of God itself – come true. For surely, surely it is so.