Whist

‘My girlfriend is getting texty,’ the man who ticks every box and makes me go aglow inside informs 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 just 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 find a certain degree of satisfaction that I try not to let seep into smugness if I can possibly help it, though sometimes I think in this I fail—in being able to find words. I like words, I love—nay, relish!—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 to say things again. I like repetition. Repetition. There you go: I like it. (I like brackets, and elliptical asides…)

In the Game of Love & Chance—I like ampersands! And I love interjections—I am particularly useless, but I have of late started to enjoy that fact, rather than despair over it. It used to trouble me. Astonishing men like my Trombonist Friend 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 and 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 really, and genuinely, well.

I love that kind of love. It’s taken me maybe forty-nine years—seven 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. My Trombonist Friend shows me that I am all right. He is marvellous, in my mind; and let that forever be so: I am perfectly all right with that too.

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 does have 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 connected, and this therefore perhaps really also connects us a little, 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. And this, to me, if nothing else, is true.


< {Loss}       {Mystery} >


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{Loss}

How grown ups ruin things. 

The little boy on the District Line is giddy with insight, his eyes are 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.’ His friend, just slightly taller, but still little, exclaims: ‘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 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.

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 paints the world in colours that but slowly fade, and if it is tainted, obscured or damaged, oh how long a shadow it casts…


< {Thoughts That Can’t Be Unthunk}       Whist >


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{Vignette}

At the Servant Jazz Quarters cocktail bar, the bar lady dressed in wide black and white stripes fixes me with eyes not unkind but commanding attention:

‘Do you think,’ she asks me, her eyebrows like raven’s wings arching high above the cliffs of her teeth: ‘that people are afraid to love?’

‘Yes,’ say I, without hesitation, for I know I am.

‘Why?’ she shoots at me as if I had made it so.

‘I don’t know.’ And it’s true: I don’t know, but I think that maybe it’s because it makes us feel vulnerable, and I say so: ‘Maybe because it makes them feel vulnerable.’ (I change the pronoun, hoping that she won’t notice.)

‘And is that a bad thing?’ she demands, probably having noticed, and I say it isn’t, but it’s what makes us afraid. (I hadn’t really ever given it much thought. Coming to think of it, I hadn’t given it any thought, really, ever.)

I feel I may have short-circuited the conversation by closing the loop with my answer, and maybe she feels so too as she places a Death in Venice in front of me on the bar.

Why are we afraid to love?


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Plea

There need to be nooks and crannies; there need to be inbetweennesses.

There need to be othernesses and odd-ones-out that defy gravity, expectation, formula, form. The enemy of perfection is impatience, I know, and yet I find me a-longing, what for I know not. Could it be as banal as attention? This Monday was bluer than I have rhyme for or reason. Or song. And it was the Blue Monday, by name. Need I dramatise myself better, spectacularise myself? Invite preposterousness, scandal, sensation, or noise? Or simply dress up and say: ‘oi!’?

‘The problem,’ Sedartis muses, in what seems a conciliatory mood, ‘with standing in the room shouting loudest just to make sure you get heard is that you don’t hear anyone else in the room, let alone perceive what is happening quietly, under the din. The greatest menace and greatest wisdom have this in common: they enter the fray in silence. The menace by stealth; it creeps up on you, seemingly harmless, sometimes friendly even, or if not friendly, then maybe quaint. The wisdom though simply spreads, where it can, unspectacular, slow, like the proverbial dawn, until it is really quite splendid and inescapably heralds the day. I’m mixing my metaphors. You get my meaning.’

I inwardly nod. None of this seems new to me, or revelatory.

‘The problem with standing in the room silently, or muttering to yourself, is that you may not just be forever ignored, which is one thing, and bad enough, but taken for mentally unstable, dangerous even, certainly weird. There is nothing in itself wrong with weirdness, but when your task is to be taken seriously, it’s unhelpful. Your task is to be taken seriously. Accept the challenge.’

This piques my interest: how then, I wonder at Sedartis who has been with me for the last twenty months now, dispensing his snippets of ‘insight’ liberally, as a Father Christmas hands sweets to children, do I make myself heard while being able to listen, do I speak but not mutter, do I send signals, not simply make noise?

‘That is easy,’ Sedartis, unsurprisingly, now that I think of it, claims: ‘You stand in the room, upright and tall as you are, not flustered, not blustering, not puffing yourself up, not screaming, not shouting, but saying what you have to say, with confidence, clear. When you’re spoken to, listen. When you see someone in the room who isn’t being paid any attention, go to them: pay attention. Give yourself a rest now and then and sit quietly in the corner to observe. There, if somebody joins you, you may yet have your most meaningful conversation.

‘Keep an eye and an ear out for the people regaling themselves, roaring with laughter. More often than not they are harmless, even if they’re annoying. But be alert. Keep a feeler out for the subtleties, the changes of tone in the room, the small movements, the quiet arrivals. The sudden departures.

‘Listen out for the music that’s setting the mood. Who do they dance to, who stand aside for. And then you may just have to pick your own moment. Because this room has no host. So it may never happen that someone who knows you invites you to say a few words and bids the others, “pray silence!” – You may have to pick your own moment and command the attention. As you are. Without fuss, but with authority, flair. Then, though, know what you’re talking about. That moment may just be brief. So be prepared and worth listening to, even if just to one or two, three or four. That’s enough. Be patient. Be humble. Be strong. And if you speak any truth at all, prepare to be shouted down, even chased from the building. Such, I’m afraid, is the world that you live in. Your reward may never materialise: do not expect a reward.’

I do not expect a reward, do I?

‘Yes you do,’ Sedartis thunders, now vehemence in his wrath. ‘Rise above this need to be appreciated.’ Is that even possible, I now seriously ask myself and Sedartis in tandem: isn’t being appreciated simply another expression for being loved?

Sedartis is quiet. Have I managed to shut up Sedartis? Really? I feel a minuscule pang of guilt, but triumph as well. It doesn’t last long:

‘George.’ I don’t think Sedartis has ever called me by any of my names before: ‘Your need to be loved is only human. You cannot, nor should you, be super or let alone subhuman. But learn to be loved in manifold ways, unspoken, unreciprocated, unneedy, generously, unspectacularly. Appreciate love when it is not shown, not expressed, but still felt. Yours is a singular path, maybe lonely, at times: fear it not. You’ve been given advice on this matter before, and you will be again: heed it, it was sound. Accept love, don’t crave it: give love, don’t take it for granted; don’t overstate it, don’t desire it, don’t keep it: be love.’


< Outrage      Phantom >


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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, you just linger. Yes, this has qualities all of its own and makes people quaint and charming, but incredibly wasteful 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 we always talk about and that are so completely unnecessary, shows how inadequate human intelligence is on its own.

‘But let me reiterate, for it is so fundamental: don’t think of artificial intelligence as alien to you. There lies your conceptual hurdle that, sooner or later, you’ll have to take: 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? Not a bit. 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 own individual uniqueness, cherish your beauty, love your capacity for kindness, and know it is but part of the All it emerged from and path to the All 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, in this sense of security I know to be false. Horses are given blinkers to wear so they don’t spook, but they are slaves to their riders, and may still be butchered at last. 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 with wonder. We are on so potent a cusp.

‘I make no predictions,’ Sedartis offers, 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 the way I now recognise. I like him for this, although (or because?) he provokes me:

‘Why do you need a reason?’


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Theory

Sedartis sits and thinks for me, slowly: ‘Let me posit that there is no conspiracy.’

Where did you get your name from? I wonder. I don’t ask; I know it will become apparent. He composes himself. He has sageness about him. He reads my mind, listens to it, more like; feels it.

‘I went for a wander,’ he thinks back to me, ‘along a little lake. Little compared to the big lakes where I come from.’ Where do you come from, I long to know; he stays tuned to my thoughts and replies, without words, ‘the other worlds are many, while the same worlds are few. Of course you cannot know where I am from, even though you do.’ I am content with this, for the time being, and so he continues:

‘I do not know whether there are any conspiracies, or whether there are not, and if there are, who is within them, and who is without. There may be some; there may be many. There may be none. But let me posit that there are none: let me imagine that what looks like people consciously, actively coming together to conspire is in fact no more, and no less, than a culture.’

A culture, I think, is a conspiracy.

‘Exactly. Let me posit that the conspiracy is no more—and certainly no less, which is more grave—than a culture. A culture is a conspiracy. It could be benign, it could be malicious, it is most likely something in-between; it may have, at the outset, no obvious value attached to it: but consider’—Sedartis is now thinking harder—‘the good, the bad, and the ugly: are they truly, are they in themselves, are they actually good, bad, or ugly?’

What of Mephisto, I think, less insistent than he does, is he not “ein Teil von jener Kraft, die stets das Böse will, und stets das Gute schafft.”

‘Exactly.’ Sedartis understands me perfectly: he wills me to think the thought further; penetrate it deeper. I struggle. I get so easily distracted these days… ‘Consider people who do terrible things: murder children. Shoot boys and men. Rape women, girls, and boys and men. Devise gas chambers. Throw youths off buildings.’

My heart feels a hollow pounding: I don’t want to consider people who do terrible things; can’t we consider friendly people, people who may yet be friends, though perhaps they have not met? Are we to consider the worst that people do? Why? Sedartis thinks yes, now we must.

‘Consider people who do terrible things for some reason or other. Consider how in every single way they are exactly the same as you, or your neighbour, or your friend Jason, except in what they are doing at this particular time. Why do you find it so hard not to think of the other as other? Because it is exactly the same as you. The thought of it is horrendous, frightening. Of course it is true and you have to, you have to concede, though you don’t want to, that you could be that person, you too could be doing these things, you too are them as much as they are you, you are not separate, you own their horrendousness, and they own your love, and that’s what’s so hard not to be destroyed by: the worst thing that a human being is capable of any human being is capable of, including you; and it overshadows, for a period, in our eyes, the realisation, the hope, the belief, the truth—is it not a truth? say it is the truth—that this self-same man, that identical woman, the person who is doing the worst thing imaginable, is in the very same vein also capable of the noblest deed any human being has ever accomplished. The paradox. The infuriating, numbing, devastating realisation that the man who crushes the skull of a newborn under his boot is the same as the man who lays down his life so a stranger may live. It is not your nature to be one or the other, it is only and only your culture.’

But we are not victims.

‘No, you are not victims, not of your culture, you are the makers of your culture; that is the call: to stand up, to be tall, to accede to the duty of generating a signal, of being a voice in the wilderness, of saying: “No. Not in my name.” Of saying, “no, not in my name,” when terrible acts are being committed; and of being first to hold up your hand and your head and say: “I am here, count me in,” when noble deeds are done, difficult though they be. That is the choice: the choice is not between being born good or bad or potent or weak or ill or well or noble or savage, the choice is simply the culture you want to create.’

Sedartis falls silent. The thinking has quite exhausted him. I want him to stay by my side. His presence feels comforting now and serene. So much have I longed for his presence, comforting, sage and serene.

‘Let me posit that there is no conspiracy,’ Sedartis thinks slowly, in the way only he can, without saying the words: ‘let me assert that instead there is culture. And that the culture there is is the world as it is when we’re in it, and that being in it we are part of and therefore responsible for that culture.

‘And when we give up our hope and say: “that’s just the way it is,” then we have already lost, we have failed, we have yielded in resignation to the bad things that happen, and when we throw up our hands in despair and say: “that is them, they are like this that do these things, they are other,” then we have not understood who we are, not grasped that we are what we see happening around us, that we own every last bit of cruelty, just as we exult every grand act of mercy; and if we say: “they are powerful that have made the world such as it is, but I am weak,” then we give away what power we have, and we empower those that we scorn for wielding their power against us; and if we think, they are evil that hold this power, we forget that we would have this power if we hadn’t so feebly, so faintly, so frivolously surrendered it.

‘What is power, and what is it for: it is the potency to shape the world; and what shapes the world that we happen to live in: culture. Let me posit that there is no conspiracy, there are not categories of people; that there are not those who are good and those who are bad and those who are ugly, nor are there those who are different (nor are they, for that matter, indifferent: they are simply non-different: the same); there is your human conscience, and there is the culture that you create in the world you inhabit.’

What world do you inhabit, I wonder, and think to myself, I could do with an ice cream now.

‘So could I.’


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Istanbul

We wander on for a bit, and I breathe it all in: the people, the tourists, the tram and vendors; the noise and the scent and the flavour.

George, I’m beginning to realise, is telling me everything I need to know. He’s hardly said more than a couple of dozen sentences since we met, improbably and unfathomably, a few hours ago, but I know now that seeing him, listening to him, looking at him, being with him—in his presence, in no other than that simple, literal sense—has triggered in me the abundance of memories, connexions and emotions, the thoughts and the synaptic excursions, the diversions, the captions, the mild insurrections of heart, mind and soul, that I need, to move on.

Move on from what? Had I got stuck? Most severely. Had I manoeuvred myself into a dead end? More than of sorts. Was I on the verge of becoming obsolete, not just to myself, but to the universe that has somehow produced me? I fear me I was. Is that now all at an end? Who knows…

I again put my arm around George, instinctively, without thinking, and he doesn’t shirk or pause or look at me, he just lets it be. My George: that’s how I know him. We wander, like father and son, like brothers, like friends, but not lovers—can one constellation embody all these in one, even, ever?—and I feel me an abundant sensation of love. Of loss too, and of forgiveness. Most of all of forgiveness: I forgive you, George, for everything, really. All your inadequacies. Your presumptions, your misunderstandings. Your aloofnesses and your hesitancies. Your delusions and your noble intentions. Your foibles, all of your weaknesses. Your constant quest to connect, your patent inability to do so in so many senses. There are too many things to mention.

Too many things too, for which I do not need to forgive you, for which I can quietly, humbly, respect you: even admire you. Your sense of justice and your faith in humans. Your optimism, your hope. Your openness, your curiosity. It may, ultimately, have killed the cat, but the cat had nine lives and so it continued. It lived. You’re not unlike a cat, George, I’ve known this for centuries, for all the millennia that I’ve known you. And I’m beginning to know you now, George, and I’m glad on’t.

We reach Taksim Square where we take a turn to the right and keep wandering. Not aimlessly so much as non-directionally. We both have no particular place to go, not at the moment. We end up by a steep small street that looks a little familiar and quite attractive, and decide to head up it, rather than down, and before long we recognise a wooden house and a half hidden entrance: we have inadvertently come back to right where we started: the Limonlu Bahçe.

There is, probably, in some way some significance to this: have we actually gone round in a circle? I like to think not, not least because we are not moving in three dimensions. We have, at any rate, walked a spiral, a triangular shaped one, as it turns out, but that is most likely quite by the by. Some things have meaning, others less so. Some things are profound though we but capture the surface, others are really surface. Or maybe I’m being lazy. At some level, most likely, everything has some other layer, some other meaning, some other significance that could or could not be, or become, at some point quite relevant. We can’t take it all in, all at the same time: we do need a filter. And that’s yet another insight I’m having, right there.

We’ve not walked very far, maybe less than an hour, perhaps a bit more; we’ve been ambling really, rather than striding. We’ve not been saying all that much more. Metaphorically, though, we have come a long way. In my mind I have travelled a little light year. Is there a big light year? Or even one of average length? Aren’t all light years the same? It is not, of course, and I realise, a year, and it’s not one of light. Some metaphors don’t stack up. I have percolated, I feel me, through my own conscience and come out enriched. If that makes sense. Does it have to? Make sense? To me, it doesn’t have to, even though somehow it does. I don’t think it matters to George if it does. Does it matter to you?

I realise I have a reader. I realise I need you as my reader, because without you I don’t exist. I realise I am not alone in this, nor only with George: I realise we are, in our own constellation, triangular. Hello, Reader: welcome to my world.

George and I are both creatures of habit, and having walked for an hour or so—maybe a little less, possibly just a bit more—we both fancy another drink, and we readily, easily, without thinking or negotiation, decide to go back to the Limonlu Bahçe: we liked it there, we were comfortable there, why would we not now go back there, seeing we are already here.

I like that about George and about me: we can stay in one place for hours and never get bored. We both never get bored, George and I. That is a realisation I had and passed on to him long before I knew I would be him: if you watch paint dry close enough, it’s entirely riveting. At molecular level, let alone subatomic: there’s a riot of things happening, a mesmerising display of spectacular wonder. How could you ever get bored?

We head down the hidden staircase back into the garden which is now not full and not empty, but at that agreeable mid-to-late afternoon state when luncheon has petered out and dinner hasn’t yet started. The table we had been sitting at has been taken, but we find one as pleasant in the mid-to-late afternoon speckled shade two or three tables removed and sit down, and our angular waitress returns and recognises us and smiles, and we order another couple of mojitos and some chips, just to nibble.

Now, for the first time in maybe a million years, I am here. George, because of the configuration of the table, the bench and the chairs, has naturally sat down next to me, not opposite, so he can survey the garden with me, this paradise of our own making. This Eden. “Look at me now, and here I am,” she had said, and I had understood her, immediately. Joyce, Shakespeare, Stein. Then Shakespeare again, then no particular order.

I can be at home with myself in a paradise of my making that doesn’t know what it is, in a city I’ve never been before, within an instant and find me not tempted by knowledge, in no need of a companion, at ease. Not forever, of course, just for now. The curiosity and the fascination, the alertness and also the need will soon get the better of me, that I know, it has ever been thus.

But now. And here. We are.


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