Mental Furniture

We live in a world where everything is a click away and therefore there’s no need to learn anything off by heart any longer. Bu what does that do to, for want of a better phrase, let’s call our ‘mental furniture’? The ideas, images, thoughts, memories that form the backdrop and bedrock of our minds. If all that’s there are the burned-in images from films, or burnt-out memories of excess or sadness, then that doesn’t give us much to fall back on should we ever be reduced to our own devices. Let’s pray we never find ourselves kidnapped or held in solitary confinement, but even in the everyday isolation of travelling on the tube, or daydreaming, or simply allowing the froth of the day’s events to settle, surely such events would proceed better in a mind stocked with beautiful, deep, rhythmical words than stuffed full of screaming headlines.

So, I’ve decided to try and stock my mind with something that’s both defiantly pointless in today’s culture, and one of the few things that actually matters: poems. I’m going to learn a poem a week; fix it firmly in memory and make it an integral part of my mental furniture.

I started with Tennyson’s The Eagle – because it’s dramatic, intense and very short (six lines), and I didn’t know how well my middle-aged brain could handle memorizing things. The short answer: it was a struggle! But I got there, and now I’ve moved on to the Windhover, by Gerald Manley Hopkins. Learning it off by heart has brought new depths to what I already thought was a poem more densely textured than sculpted diamond. And, though written over a century ago, it still reads as more modern than anything written in the 20th century. Was Hopkins, in fact, the last poet?

Anyway, any suggestions for future poems to learn? I’d be interested in any ideas.

Writer’s Resource

Following on from the recent rejections, it meant I had some stories to send out on the road again. Any writers out there, can I recommend Duotrope, the single most useful resource for working writers I’ve found. It features a fully searchable database of fiction and poetry markets, plus the ability to track and record all your submissions, and statistical feedback from other writers on the length of time each market takes to respond, and how picky it is. What’s more, it’s all free (although donations are welcome, and seeing how useful it is, we really should contribute towards the costs).

Rejection Notes – No.3 in a series

Unfortunately, while we liked your submission, so far we have not found a place for it … and it is against our policy to hold onto a story indefinitely. Much as we’d like to, we just don’t have the room to print all the stories we get — not even all the good ones. So sadly, I’m going to have to very reluctantly let this one go.

If it got this far, you can rest assured that your story is of high quality and you should be able to find a home for it. I look forward to hearing from you again.

Better luck next time!

The Definition of Madness

No, it’s not Baggy Trousers!

The definition of madness: repeating the same behaviour, over and over again, but expecting it to have a different result.

So, let me see, we gave vast amounts of money to the banks in 2008, expecting that to end the financial crisis. We gave them more in 2009, expecting that to end the financial crisis. We gave them even more in 2010. Surely that would bring an end to the financial crisis. But no. On it ground. So now, in 2011, we’re going to dole out trillions to the banks. This really is madness.

On the other hand, what a wonderful wheeze. Tax the poor and the middle classes and give their money to the super rich. It’s amazing what you can get politicians to agree to over the petits fours.

Losing Height And Depth

Ennui, the sense of the pointlessness and meaninglessness of life, is perhaps the characteristic emotion of the modern age. Medieval man might have starved, or been prey to wandering warbands, or (if all the film treatments of the Middle Ages are to be believed!) lived in a state of perpetually grey, semi-winter, yet he never questioned the point of existence. The sheer struggle to survive would have added a dignity to his everyday bearing, but then of course he lived in a world where the creator and sustainer of the Universe, and its despoiler, were in a life-long struggle for his soul. He mattered, and what’s more, even if the king or the bishop ignored him, God and the devil didn’t.

That belief has leached away in much of the West, and I do wonder how much this flattening out has been caused by the dulling our night-time skies. When you stand beneath a black dome, splattered with stars beyond number and suggesting even in its darkest reaches depths beyond depths beyond depths, there is both a fearful fall into insignificance and a breathtaking plunge into awe. Even if the world has become flat, still the stars shine.

But now we live in a flat world, and the stars have gone out. No wonder we’re bored.

The Stars Above

On our last night in Taynish, the sky was clear. I went out hoping to see the stars, and then stood there with my jaw open (admittedly in part because my head was so far back but wonder played its part too) looking at the numberless stars of heaven’s field. I’ve not seen anything like this for years. We were somewhere where the only artificial lights were our own, with only the faintest of horizon glows from the the direction of Glasgow, and the stars, the stars came out! Even where I could see no distinct points of light, there was an impression, a graininess to the darkness, that suggested impossible expanses of stars and galaxies receding into forever.

What we have lost with the light caps we’ve placed over our our cities, sealing ourselves away from any direct sense of the cold splendour and depths of the universe. Bring back the night, turn out the lights, and look at the stars!

Scotland Is A Different Country

My boys have never shown the slightest interest in doing museum quizzes, so we were somewhat nonplussed when, on being told by the kindly man looking after Oban’s small museum that there would be ‘a wee prize’ if they completed the questionnaire, they proceeded to hunt down every clue with all the diligence of dutiful bloodhounds. The quiz finished, and all questions answered, they presented their forms to the kindly man who gave them their stickers and certificates. They looked a bit nonplussed, but we put that down to their pleasure at completing the quiz. It was only outside that we discovered that they thought ‘a wee prize’ meant ‘a Wii prize’: a Nintendo Wii!