The Prosaic, and the Wild

Loving strangers and people I don’t know very well is easy. In my day-to-day exchanges with strangers and people I don’t know well, often I feel a clear, warm feeling coursing through me. My heart swells as I listen to their stories, or simple comments, observations about this or that. Our common humanity sparks my love that pours forth with no effort. It’s simple and I’m gratified.

Relationships on the other hand, even when anchored in deep love, are different.  Repositories of so much stuff – of the individuals and the partnership accumulated over time – make a relationship a complex animal, full of moodiness, varying flavours, intense whirling swoops and dark heavy dips. But in this very tactility lies its preciousness. 

Egon Schiele – Seated Semi-Nude with Hat and Purple Stockings (Gerti) -1910

Romantic relationship is much like performance art that requires the other person. Only in this edgy relational playing field can one let the subtle bubbles of the deep erotic self rise to the surface.

Egon Schiele had an uncanny way of penetrating this space. His art provokes, asks directly: Do you experience expansiveness in your relationship, enough to express the diverse aspects of your and your partner’s selves, even those less acceptable, not conventionally pretty parts that are still urgently real? Is there space to perform your hidden under the skin desires?

Whilst we crave the anchoring sense of loving “home” with a romantic partner, our internal antennae are in spontaneous revolt at the first hint of stifling constraint. In revolt, when we find ourselves having to suppress our individual desires.

Whilst cherishing the other is at the heart of relating, safeguarding our erotic vivacity is paramount, if we are to make space for both the prosaic and the wild that pulses in each of us.

The Suffering of Day to Day Drudgery

It’s 3 o’ clock Friday afternoon, and the entire office is shut-down. Not officially shut down, except that individual energy centres have been switched off. Human bodies sit around, moving papers without purpose, glazed eyes furtively scanning phones. Like children holding out for the scream of the school bell, that will finally set us free.

Where’s the rush to? What comes next for each of us?

Well, there’s negotiating the hardships of taking minibus taxis, stressful traffic, and then at last consumption! The bliss of mind numbing soapies, the bingeing of large meals, sweet treats, or the temporary fogging-out with alcohol. You accuse me of negative bias? Thing is, I haven’t made up these scenarios, I’ve asked people, and so my anecdotal evidence is real, including my own experience.

William Kentridge, ‘If we ever get to heaven’

Let’s fast-track to Monday morning, the next beginning of the week. What does that feel like?

Do you jump out of bed with a feeling of aliveness, with a sense that you have something important, worthwhile to do? I don’t mean earth shattering, mind blowing, change the world kind of missioning, though come to think of it, why not that! How about it’s something that makes you want to open your eyes, maybe even smile gently as you swing one leg onto the ground, and then the next to face the day?

No? You mean you groan inwardly, as you suffer through the drudgery of beginning the humdrum cycle all over again? Filling the hours with activity. Making some money, not too much, to feel safe and evade homelessness, the shame of not being able to take care of yourself, and your family? Or you’re secure but weary, filled with unnamable ennui, depression skulks in the shadows?

Ok, ok, I paint too dark a picture! Our days do have moments of fun, laughter and kindness. BUT, but the underlying droning tenor, I’d like to argue, is as I sketch it – mostly unsatisfying for too many of us! Why, and more pertinently how can we change this?

The answer: consciously devise a personal philosophy and accompanying strategy to inject meaning into your days. Meaning-making is an individual undertaking. It calls for an inner dialogue with the Self, exploring to actively bring forth guiding principles, an idea, a manifesto that steers your actions, shapes your behaviour, moves you out of unconscious bumbling into the bracing arena of decisive and chosen pathways.

Not easy, I know. You must be willing to excavate your deep thoughts and feelings, to find what truly matters to you, what defines you.

Being awake means taking personal responsibility for everything in your life. And gosh, that takes Grit!

Like any great operating system that must regularly be updated to stay relevant, you must do the gritty business of refining your personal philosophy on an on-going basis. Or else, it becomes just another dogma that entraps you.

Living without the day to day fuel of life-giving-juiciness, the sense of aliveness and expectancy, is suffering. Without a personal philosophy one is unhinged, moving from this to that, without the incandescence of meaning, self-decided meaning.

Bernadette, and Squashed Creativity

There’s a wolf within each of us, custodian of our creative selves. With unerring instinct, our wolf knows when we’re in touch with our dreams, and flowing our ideas. In the precise moment that we loose contact with our vision, become disconnected from our deep selves, well that’s when the howling begins. Softly at first. Then louder, if you don’t pay attention.

On restless nights when you toss and turn in the half light, surely you’ve heard the howling, the weeping, haven’t you? Often I’ve written it off as belonging to my neighbour, or to the occupants across the street. But I’ve known, I’ve known that I’m lying to myself. That the howling, the weeping emanated from my own breast.

Bernadette, a character in Richard Linklater’s quirky, slightly oddball movie, is an architect with a trail of stellar accomplishments in her youth. Now in her middle years, no longer practicing her art, she lives in a large ramshackle mansion, is married to a loving Microsoft executive, and has a brilliant daughter who loves her. Bernadette is anti-social, feels nothing in common with her neighbours, hates Seattle where she lives, is devoted solely to supporting her daughter. She has opted out of architecture and socialising, for a narrow life of mothering in the suburbs.

Disconnected from her inner wolf, Bernadette has muted his howls, banished him to the shadows. Though her wolf continues to reach out to her, Bernadette has ceased to listen. The years pass, as they do, until one day she disappears, and is flung into a series of events that haul her out of apathy, when she pounces on a new architectural project.

“If you don’t create Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.”

Bernadette’s creative shut down, we get to discover, happened after she had spent two years building a magnificent glass house that someone bought and immediately struck down. He wanted only the land, not the piece of her soul that the glass house represented.

The centrality of creative expression in a life, and the suffering and pain of its thwarting, is the story of Bernadette. In truth, creative expression has the same centrality for each of us. Just ask our inner wolves.

Facing the Frontier, 60

When I was 40, and 45, and even 50, I used to think about life as ending at 60. Beyond 60 was a kind of hinterland that I had no thought to consider. Living beyond was a blank.

But now, just a year and a bit from 60, I’m peering into a distance that is no more far flung. I stand at a frontier and am watchful.

In this navigation-less journey, how to know how far I’ve come, how far I’m yet to go? Is there somewhere to get to? Something other to become? In this moment, I’m clueless.

Facing the frontier, my vision is peculiarly bifocal, looking forwards and back at the same time. A creeping unrest fills my breast, a bizarre wail of melancholy singed with anger: Is this all, is this all there is to living?

I face the frontier, and I’m watchful.

Hues of the Landscape

Structure and form with layered softness. Ensembles of earthy browns, strong rusts, hints of black, moss green, petrol blue, natural khaki, golden cream and crisp white. A melange of hues that reflect the landscape as it blends into the sky.

In the movies they roam the desert, thunder the earth on the backs of horses, write history, love, live, and die.

Ralph Fiennes in ‘The English Patient’ (1996)
Kristin Scott Thomas in ‘The English Patient’ (1996)

Styled in a suede or leather jacket, a white voile or crisp cotton shirt,  khaki jodhpurs; a voluptuous coloured silk pussy-bow blouse here, an elegant printed silk neck scarf there. Theirs is the glamour of the trailblazer that stirs the imagination with romance, and the restlessness to adventure.

“The sky was rarely more than pale blue or violet, with a profusion of mighty, weightless, ever-changing clouds towering up and sailing on it, but it has blue vigour in it, and at a short distance it painted the ranges of hills and the woods a fresh deep blue.”

Karen Blixen Out of Africa

High Heels, Bane of My Style

I love them, I hate them. Not that sleek tall feeling when my feet are poised in raised elegance, no – that I want! The lengthening, preening power of a heel can’t be beaten. It’s the other, the doddering, tottering unbalance, dis-ease, dis-comfort, soreness, maybe not initially but a while into wearing – that’s my unravelling.

“I used to wear heels every day,” my friend Sofia tells me.

“It was the norm in those days, you know, the 80’s, and so I grew used to them. Even now (in her late 60’s) I like a heel.”

I don’t believe Sofia’s story. I don ‘t believe that those who wear them every day, don’t experience distress.

Vanity Fair, Palais de la Porte Dorée

Pause, so here’s the rub. If every day, I could slip my feet into beautifully made shoes with elegant 6cm heels, I would. I’d walk in them through the mall, to work, to café’s, on the sidewalks – I’d be loath to take them off!

But I don’t, because I can’t. Can’t tolerate them for too long. I wear trainers, though I hate trainers. I wear flat shoes, though I hate their imbued dumpiness.

When pray, is a genius designer going to come up with a chic, sharp high heel beautifully balanced and structured, so that I can buy a dozen pairs to wear every single day comfortably, when?

My Mythic Cowboy

When I was growing up, I watched Western movies incessantly. When playing together, my siblings and I, if I wasn’t allowed to be John Wayne, I refused to play.

I was always John Wayne.

Adam Jahiel Photography, ‘The Last Cowboy project’
Natalie Portman, ‘Jane Got A Gun’

Now that I’m grown up, I wonder about my connection to the cowboy? Not the real ones, you understand, not those cowboys in Colorado or Texas, or the Pampas of Argentina, not those actually herding cattle on a ranch. For me, it’s the mythic cowboy figure that took shape all those years ago, as my young heart absorbed the man on the silver screen.

A strong, silent man, who walks tall and proud, is how I think of the cowboy. A plain talking man of few words, who when he does speak, speaks with directness, says what he means. Honour is his internalized code. Courage flows in his veins. Softness, when he chooses, shines in his eyes.

A solitary rider, unafraid to move beyond the frontier, adventuring, pioneering as he traverses the wilderness. Riding for a course, saving the world. Romantic. Seductive. He exudes that magnetic quality, the real embodiment of character.

Each day, each hour of the setting sun, finds me looking outwards, heart restless, scanning the horizon for a lone figure on a horse, riding homewards.

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