305834590834590 Whist

‘My girlfriend is getting texty,’ the man who ticks every box and makes me go aglow inside tells me. He’s a trombonist and that alone should tell me everything I need to know. Except he’s also tall and blond and a bit Scandinavian looking and exceptionally friendly, and he has that borderline cute proportion of a long torso and comparatively short legs that make him simply adorable.

I have nothing to say about this. Therein lies the ‘interesting’ realisation. It’s ‘interesting’ in so far as I normally have something to say about things. I pride myself – not ‘pride myself’ so much as take a certain degree of satisfaction that I take pains not to let leap into smugness – in being able to find words. I like words, I love – nay, adore! – them. I use more words than necessary. What is necessary? I get admonished for being verbose. What, pray, is verbose? I say things for the sake of saying them. Thrice. I use language people don’t understand, but I get tasked with making things understandable, as a job. I like that. I like ironies, I like perplexities, I like conundrums and calling them conundra. I have said so before, but I like saying things again. I like repetition. Repetition.

In the game of love & chance – I like ampersands! And I love interjections, or little asides… –  I am particularly useless, but I have of late started to enjoy that fact. It used to trouble me. Astonishing men like my trombonist right here and right now used to send me down a spiral of remorse and regret about what I knew not. About not having loved. About not having lived. About not having taken the chance. Now that I’ve taken the chance once or twice and then thrice or several times more, and notwithstanding the fact that this has sometimes but certainly not always paid off, and now that I realise that a ‘girlfriend getting texty’ is just exactly the kind of thing that would drive me up the wall, even if it were a boyfriend as handsome and delectable as her boyfriend right now, I can smile at the man’s beauty and charm and listen to the resonance of his torso and admire the sounds he produces from his instrument and say to myself: that has nothing whatever to do with me. It’s wonderful, and wonderful for him too. And I wish him to really, and genuinely, fare well.

I love that kind of love. It’s taken me maybe thirty-five years – five heptades! – to get to this point, but I’m now at a point where I can absolutely love a man like that and know his life has absolutely nothing to do with me beyond the set of fortuitousnesses that brought us together in this context, at this moment, for this short period and then let that be as it may. And should our paths cross again, then so much the better, but it would still not mean anything else or anything more or anything less. And should we become friends through our paths crossing further, that too would be just that, and it would be just fine. Trombone man shows me that I am all right. He is marvellous, in my mind; and let that forever be so, and I am perfectly all right about that.

We part and go our separate ways and I think of it or of him no more and I am where I once was and where for a long time I longed to be anew: unencumbered and free. I use these words a lot, I now find, it must mean they have become important to me. I see on the social network that he’s doing something exciting with his trombone and his musician friends and the band somewhere and I am deeply happy and unreasonably proud. I have no cause and no reason to be proud, I have nothing to do with his or any of his colleagues’ achievements, but I still feel a little proud of him and of them as if it had something to do with me. And maybe it has something to do with me in as much as I know him and we’ve once tangentially worked together (worked on the same piece, at least, for a very short while) and so at least in as much as everything is really connected and this therefore perhaps really also connects us it may have a tiny little something to do with me, and that thought alone makes me happier still.

And now the words are there and they are no better and no worse than any other, and that too is just fine and dandy. All words need not be weighty and grave. Some could do with being a bit more poetic probably than they are, but mostly they merely need to ring true.

{Mystery}

I wake up wondering once again, as so often, how the little horse got on the boat in the first place, let alone why it voyaged so far: who let it on, was there no-one to lead it off, by its halter, for example, back onto dry land, to its own pastures, that were maybe not greener but familiar, at least? Why was it by the pier, near the harbour even? I suppose horses do live by the seaside, it is not unheard of, but it vexes me. A horse belongs onshore, as far as I’m concerned, in my inexpertise.

I try to think this through and come up with several potential scenarios, none of which satisfies as an explanation. Perhaps the little horse accidentally strayed onto a cargo ship and was mistaken there for one of the ones that were actually being exported, by coincidence, just then. Maybe it wasn’t so much a coincidence, maybe the horse got friendly with, even enamoured of, one of the horses that – very possibly against their own will or better instinct – were being embarked right now and just followed it, in equine loyalty and affection. Perhaps it was being sold: it could simply be that it was ‘mine’ – as in the person writing the song, thus narrating the story and lamenting the absence of ‘my’ pony, wishing it back – only by extension, and really it belonged to the family or to my father, and he, for reasons best known to him (but there are many imaginable: economic hardship, disaffection with the beast, or having gambled it away to a foreign sailor, notwithstanding the riddle as to what a sailor would do with a pony – maybe sell it on?…), had exchanged it for goods or money, or forfeited it, and now, as I sit here on my own watching the waves roll in from afar, it has long since sailed away, right over the ocean, over the sea.

Then suddenly it hits me, out of the blue. It has all been a misunderstanding. Where I went to school, in Basel, we had an annual ‘Bazar’. I can’t be sure any more was it at the Bazar, which everybody pronounced ‘Bahtzar’ and which happened a few weeks before Christmas to raise funds for the school, or was it at the Summer Fete, which happened every year in the summer, probably just before the big holidays, to the same end, or both, but there was a little patch of wood in the school grounds where on occasion, not always, some generous soul would bring along a couple of ponies, so the children could go pony riding for a franc or two. This was almost the only occasion I ever had to see or think of or hear about ponies. Everybody called a pony a ‘Pony’, pronouncing it with a half committed p and without the prerequisite diphthong, making it sound exactly like ‘Bonnie’. For years – years! – I would stand in class amongst my Gschpänlis and intone with devotion a plea for someone, anyone really, to bring back, bring back oh bring back my little horse to me. And for years – years! – I could not fathom why the little horse had ever gone away, there just seemed to be no plausible explanation for this. And now – now! – it turns out there didn’t ever need to be.

At last, one of the great bewildering conundrums of my childhood simply, quietly, evaporates…

01101100 01101001 01100110 01100101 Query

Absolutely.

Sedartis seems to nod at me now. I find it disconcerting. And not in the least reassuring, not yet, not now.

The reason you absolutely need artificial intelligence is that organic humans are so very bad at retaining information or passing it down their generations. Each newborn sets out in a quarter century just to acquire the basics, and then spends another quarter century to become a master at anything. That’s with ambition. Without, they just linger. Yes, this has qualities all of its own and makes people quirky and charming, but incredibly inefficient too. The fact alone that after twenty thousand years of civilisation you still grapple with war, famine, ignorance, murder, violence, religion, all these things that are so completely unnecessary, shows how inadequate human intelligence is on its own. 

But don’t think of artificial intelligence as alien to you. There lies your conceptual hurdle that you’ll have to take, sooner or later: you are the intelligence you give birth to: it is not separate from you, you are it and it is you. It may yet overtake you and render you, the way you are now, obsolete, but think not of this as your failure, think of it as success: you may be no more than the conduit, the bridge. Would that matter? To you, today, maybe. To your universe, in the fullness of its time? Unlikely. So why not make the most of it? Celebrate both what you are and what you can be: let it pass through you, be the best species you can imagine: if you imagine it fully, that is not what you are today.

If you accept that you are one among billions of conscious intelligent life forms pursuing an evolutionary path, you become both vanishingly small and insignificant, of course, but also, in the same vein and by the same definition, exquisite, privileged, amazing. Embrace your uniqueness, cherish your beauty, love your capacity for kindness, and know it is but part of the everything it emerged from and path to the everything that it leads to. It is easy. Be not afraid.

I detect a Biblical flavour now in his thoughts and it troubles me. But I allow myself to think it is better to be open minded and troubled than to close myself off in safety, security. Horses are given blinkers to wear so they don’t spook, but they are slaves to their riders. That cannot be my purpose. My task, Sedartis reminds me daily now, is surely to open my eyes. To take it all in. To be part of it all. And if it scares me. And if it puzzles, troubles, disconcerts me. And if it inspires me, overwhelms me with awe and wonder. We are on such a potent cusp.

I make no predictions, Sedartis delivers, as an afterthought. I know no longer what comes after, what before. What is thought, what the cluster dust of nebulas sprayed across time. But then it matters not. Of course, there can be no predictions. There can only be stories. There can be only presence, in a consciousness that beyond the boundaries lies calm across the mind. Why, though, I wonder, is this here here, this now now?

Sedartis smiles at me in a way I recognise. I like him for this, although (or because?) he provokes me:

Why do you need a reason?

120664 Loss

How grown ups ruin things. 

The little boy on the District Line is giddy with insight, aglow with love, his voice alive with excitement. Swinging round the pole he’s meant to just hold on to he tells his friend, ‘sometimes I think that everything is just a dream.’

The slightly taller but still little boy, his friend, says: ‘so do I!’

It’s a moment of sheer wonder. A wonder dad has lost. Dad says: ‘That’s the question my dad likes to think about, how do you know that everything isn’t just a dream, that we’re not in someone’s brain…’

The boys try to ignore him, they’re not quite ready for his existential, inherited angst. But dad now has the upper hand: ‘How do you know,’ he insists, ‘how do you know you’re not dreaming right now?’ There’s a smile on his face, but it doesn’t look as benign as he possibly means it to be: there is power at play now, it’s a smirk.

Slightly older but still very young boy has no answer: ‘I just know,’ he says.

Dad – to the younger boy, they don’t look like brothers to me – is like a dog with his bone: ‘But how can you be sure? Have you ever had a dream?’

This strikes me as near-cruel a question. These boys are maybe seven, eight?

Older, slightly taller, but still nine-years-old, I imagine, at-the-most, boy is now unsure: ‘Yes…?’

The uncertainty infuses a slight quiver in his voice now.

My heart breaks, I want to hug him and say: everything is all right, and you’re quite right too, and your little friend: sometimes everything is just a dream, but not in this cynical, clinical way your little friend’s dad now makes you think and worry about.’ Still dad won’t let go and instead pushes on with his inquisition, until: ‘you start freaking me out,’ the little boy says.

At last dad relents, sensing the fear he has just poured over his son and his son’s gschpänli, who were just a moment ago so excited that everything could still be a dream, and to whom until just a moment ago it probably was…

The tear I shed for these boys is as heavy as the joy was light that I felt for their innocence. If only dad had had a wiser father. The prism of your childhood casts the world in colours that but slowly fade…

1 Design

Sedartis thinks we are far from doomed as a species. That, he makes me understand, is the good news. The bad news, as far as he is concerned, is that we are hopelessly inefficient. We evolve, but reluctantly so, and so slowly. He makes me feel this is my responsibility, and in a way it is: we have some ten, twenty, thirty thousand years of civilisation behind us, and we still allow ourselves to be stuck in our ‘from zero’ troubles.

The wars, the bloodshed, the struggle for survival, the hunger, the despair, the fighting each other over trivial issues and slices of land, the ideological battles, the religious zeal, the blind and wilful stupidity. The blind and wilful stupidity. That, above all, is a crime. Sedartis doesn’t mince words when he thinks his essential thoughts:

‘Stupidity is a crime.’ Not, he hastens to add – aware and fearful in equal measure that this part of his thought may get lost and he now forever be misunderstood – not, he emphasises, ‘not the crime of the stupid. You cannot blame the stupid for being imprisoned in an unevolved mind. The responsibility for disallowing the perpetuation of lethal stupidity – the kind of stupidity that leads one of your leaders to speak of “deplorables” – lies with the educated and the informed much more than the trapped, the leaders much more than the followers. Unless you’ve been given a taste for learning and an insight into what insight opens you up to, you cannot – not unless you’re exceptional – rescue yourself from stupidity. Dullness of mind begets dullness of mind, enlightenment enlightens, it was ever so.’

‘But’, Sedartis continues, with a concern that troubles me just as much his observation: ‘your problem is not that you don’t have wisdom: you have it in spades.’ I like the way he uses the word ‘spades’ in the context of ‘wisdom’. It seems incongruent and endearing both at the same time. ‘Your problem is that it reaches nowhere near far enough fast enough, and you allow the majority of you to treat it with disdain. You grow entire generations in whom nine out of ten don’t ever entertain any notion of wisdom; don’t even know what it means, let alone recognise it as something that’s worth aspiring to.’

I realise this is true. And sad. Who even uses the word ‘wisdom’, and doesn’t inwardly smirk? Have we lost, entirely, the way of the wise?…

‘Your problem is that you have to keep starting from scratch. Every human born has the potential to be wise and enlightened, gentle and kind, generous, strong, humane and embracing of human nature, but evolved from the baseline of simple survival. And yet only a fraction reach their potential.’

I concur.

‘Never even mind your developing nations, the poverty stricken and destitute – why are they poverty stricken, still, why, after all this time, after this many centuries of science, of progress, technology, wealth, are they still destitute, why? – never even mind these, and they are your responsibility too, but your most advanced societies, your richest and best connected: you still allow half of their populations to get to the point only where they can barely fend for themselves. Where they still feel they have to fend for themselves. How is such a thing possible.’

I wonder. And often. And I know Sedartis thinks me these thoughts in response to my puzzlement at where we are.

‘Your problem is you keep having to start from scratch.’ I appreciate the nuance. ‘Every single individual specimen of your species is born with an empty brain. It’s a beautiful thing, this potential, this clean slate, this innocence innate, and you think of it as inherently human, because it is.’

I believe it is. This innocence innate: it is inherently human. Could we love our children, if it weren’t so?

‘It’s also incredibly inefficient.’ This, I fear, may be more bad news. Sedartis thinks not, he thinks it a challenge, he wants to convince me that this is not a good thing nor is it a bad thing either, it is just a thing, and one we need to embrace:

‘If you want to advance to the next level, if you want to take your next major leap, you are going to have to do something you may think of as inconceivable, but that will become as normal to you as walking upright and speaking in sentences has become to you now: become hybrid. With your own invention: information technology. It is part of you already, you created it: far from being separate from you, it is you. Augmented intelligence. You’re already augmenting your physical capability all the time, you’re building body parts, you’re transplanting at will, you’ll be printing organs ere long, you shy away very briefly before you embrace the advantages of a body that works, and overcome any squeamishness you may have about manipulating what you were given by nature. Your next step, unless you want to stay stuck in this repetition of ‘from zero’ learning – which entails all your quirky, adorable failings – is to tap your brains into the network and allow new generations to start from a base above zero.’

That, I instinctively shudder, is surely wildly problematic. ‘Indeed,’ thinks Sedartis, ‘it is. Your ethical challenges have just gone exponential. You have a task on your hand; there is no way around it, because this is as inescapable as reading glasses or pacemakers were at their time, and you’ve quite readily got used to them too, but this is a step of a different magnitude, and beyond magnitude of a different kind altogether: you will have to think about what you want your species to be. You have to define what it is to be human. Shudder you may, and recoil for a moment, but then you have to get over yourself and grasp this nettle like all the others you’ve grasped and take your people with you. Allow not half of you to be left behind and become the servants – the, dare I say it, slaves – of those who push forward. Allow not your species to be torn apart into two, three tiers with some going all the way and some being stranded and some unable, unwilling or unallowed to proceed simply because they do not understand. If they understand and choose different, that is another matter. But help them at least understand. You’re on the brink of a development in your species that will define the next few hundred, maybe few thousand years. Do this well: you have a lot riding on it…’

Do this well.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

{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…