Earth

‘There has to come a point when it stops being about anything, when it just is,’ George tells me, as we climb up the steep, picturesque Yeni Çarşı Caddesi towards the main drag that leads from Galatasaray to Taksim Square, ‘when it’s not about the numbers and not about the acknowledgments and not about the recognition and not about the rewards and not about the money. It’s never been nor can it ever be about the money.’ I’m a little impressed with this insight – not that it’s not about the money, that’s just stating the obvious – but that there has to come a point when it stops being about anything, ‘when it just is.’ I don’t remember having that insight then, but clearly I did. How and when and why did I lose it, ever? What loss. What rediscovery.

I marvel at the people around us and, as I always do, I feel a profound love for them all. I wish I could tell them, or, if not tell them, make them sense it, let them know that they are loved, all of them, but I don’t know how, and I realise it doesn’t matter. I’ve left my Eden. I have done so alone. I am in the world. George walks next to me up the hill in silence, and I wonder how far can I take him with me now. Does he still belong here, by my side, or do I have to let him go. His place may be taken by somebody else some day, but I don’t know who and I certainly don’t know how. Having left my Eden, I realise for the first time that I had an Eden. A garden of peace. Of innocence. Of everything being possible and nothing yet being done or undone. The Serene Confidence of the Now. I left it and searched for the Thrill of the When only to be reunited with the Certainty of the Then. Is there a Certainty? Is there a Then? The expanse of time is funnelling not to the future but to the present. That’s what so reassures me. And so excites me too: has leaving Eden landed me on a planet that is but a springboard to a place where all possible consciousnesses collide?

I want to hold George by the hand to signal: I can guide you. But I can’t guide him. I know what he’s about to embark on, and I want to tell him that he’s going to be fine. But he’s not going to be fine. He’s going to be in pain and in love and in anguish and in joy and in despair and in awe and in uncertainty and in these moments of bliss that seem to make it worthwhile and in the turmoil and in the quiet and in the other and in the self. Does it need to be worthwhile? What worth, what while?

As we reach the top of the hill and turn right to immerse ourselves in the current of the city, I put my arm around George’s shoulder, and we walk the now even street, still in silence. He knows who I am, I am sure. He won’t remember when he is me to have met me, but he’ll sense my presence, and that’s enough. He knows that he’s not alone. I want to hug him to my chest and I feel my arm pull him into me just a little harder to reassure him, but he is too sure of himself now to notice. I like that about George, though it also scares me a little. I take my arm back, but I glance across to him: you are not alone in this world, I want to say to him, but you’re choosing a lonely path. They won’t get you, most of the time, they won’t join you, or walk by your side; they will see you wander and think: there goes George. And that is all right. Because after all, that’s the only path you can go that takes you to where the universe needs you. If the universe needs you. And if it doesn’t, it is still the only path you can go that you recognise as your own. It will lead you here, to me, caring deeply about you, much more than you do, but who knows whence from now: maybe the person who knows is the us in his eighties, sitting on a bench or in a café or in a bar, waiting for us to join him, in thirty years’ time…

We walk on a bit through the throng and suddenly I stand still and my heart jumps: have I lost him already? That quick? So accidental? Ah no. I sigh with relief, he’s just paused to give someone a light. The young man, a little older than he, cups his hand around George’s as George holds his lighter up towards his face, and he looks George in the eye and gives him a smile. George is oblivious to anything this might mean, wanly smiles back and, to the young man’s flirtatious ‘thank you’, not unfriendly but factually replies: ‘you are welcome.’ Oh George…

The Ice King – 3: The Thought

I feel the ice melt under my skin, I sense us slip away in the rush of torrents, surging up, then drowning into the depths; my eyes closed, I heave into his brain; where there were colours there is now only green and blue and that purple and the white in the flashes between: I bounce and dissolve, the water rushes through me, the glacier crashes all about us as we tumble down the mountain, turn into a stream – the quicks, the pools, the depths, the shallows and the waterfalls – into the valley, then the river, then the calm. Then the meadows passing and the flowers and the cows on the hill. The trees. Is that a sun in the sky? I haven’t seen one in years. The Ice is gone, the King is no more. What have I done?

I float on the easy current along the stately swans and the comical ducks and I wonder. Was that necessary? Was that emotion? Was that too much? The cloudlets above sing a round that lulls me into a new kind of sleep and I dream that I am already restored to my senses, but senseless in love. I know not what that means; it’s a feeling I have.

As we reach the towns and beyond these the cities, it is more a case of becoming a boat, or a ship, from which to salute the other farers of waterways and nod at them gravely: the river has turned so regal, so slow. I’m not sure I want this. I’m not sure I’m ready to leave him behind or see him head off, onto land, into the streets, the multitudes, to be what, a citizen? Like the others. I cling on to him, but he is no longer there, has he never existed at all?

I refuse to panic and say to myself it’s only a phase, it will pass, it’s all in my imagination, soon I’ll wake up in the glacier, gazing at him by my side, and I’ll marvel at the tone of his skin and the glint in his eye and the nearly smile that says, I nearly get you, you’re not quite alone.

I dream that I’m not alone and for a moment feel warm and the glow that encompasses me is enough for a while to soothe, to restore. We yield into the wide and buoyed by the salt and cheered by the seagulls we stretch our limbs and with strong strokes make for the open, the free. I half expect a dolphin to greet us but it seems we are heading north, which is just as well. At least we are now at sea.

Soon the seals and the icebergs. I’m not at home here, although the shades are familiar. I feel I have lost myself and I want not to mind. He’s in my head now, I in his body and against all odds we’re afloat, but are we together? I don’t even know who he is. He is the Ice King, but I’ve turned him into a fish. That is not true, of course, I have turned him into a captain. I have not turned him into anything he’s still the Ice King but like me he is out of his element now and so he may just be a prawn. He may be a wave or a plastic bottle discarded in old Amsterdam. He may be a thought or a lover. He may be my nemesis. Can he be my salvation?

I want to say, ‘polar bear, be not afraid’ and mean it. We’re here to help. The Ice King looks at me with compassion now, maybe for the very first time, and thinks a thought of astonishing beauty. This, I know, is the noble mind. And the thought alone that a thought can be beautiful and merely to know that a mind may be noble, that fills me with joy.

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 present, 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…