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Wear it with…

Pride? With respect? With knowledge and perspective? With courage and conviction? Or in anger and defiance?

Commemoration in 2020, on the seventy fifth anniversary of the Armistice, is as important as ever. With each passing moment, memories – even of the second World War with its sights, sounds, terrors and triumphs – fade with the testimonies of those who were there. As they yield to the irreversible process of aging, even the youngest men and women who fought are now into their 90s and new generations are born into the ‘freedom’ for which millions lost their lives.

In an era of newly created existential anxieties, caused by the unprecedented events of 2020, this remembrance holds up a mirror to our present core values, our current beliefs. We must be sensitive in how we remember an event which most of us did not experience first hand. Naturally, many view it through an extremely narrow lens of personal perception and priority – of lost jobs, of instability, of personal fear, of death, of child hunger, of increasing homelessness, of poverty and suffering heightened by Covid.

History can be a source of guidance, it can inspire and motivate us but it can also divide us and fuel the hatred which perpetuates its recurrence, unless we become more aware of the dangers of selective reflection. If reflection is biased, partisan, it violates the principles of justice and leads us towards the most horrific of histories repeating.

I was not there in either world war. I cannot remember what I personally did not witness. I remember history lessons which indoctrinated me with the glory of war and which, back then, encouraged the boys in my class to celebrate military courage and which became an occasion for some pride in chauvinism. I remember Churchill being presented to me, unquestionably, as the hero of the nation.

I remember poetry lessons which expressed an idealism about war that contrasted strongly with the realism which I have since encountered. I did not learn then that Rupert Brooke, who wrote the rousing, ‘If I should die, think only this of me/That there’s some corner of a foreign field/ That is forever, England,’ died from sepsis as a result of a mosquito bite. His beautiful and sublime poetry ensures he is revered long after his death, but is it for his literary genius or his gung-ho attitude to a war in which he did not fight? His obituary in ‘The Times’ was written by Winston Churchill, one in which Churchill stated, “A voice had become audible, a note had been struck, more true, more thrilling, more able to do justice to the nobility of our youth in arms engaged in this present war, than any other more able to express their thoughts of self-surrender, and with a power to carry comfort to those who watch them so intently from afar…joyous, fearless, versatile, deeply instructed…all that one would wish England’s noblest sons to be in the days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable, and the most precious is that which is most freely proffered.” I was so troubled by this gung-ho and dismissive attitude to a young man’s life and death.

I was not introduced to a wider perspective. I did not appreciate the more rounded history of the poet, of his insecurities – that he was neither joyous nor fearless – that he was troubled and confused. I wondered if he would have remained so gung-ho if he had served in the same way as Sassoon or Owen. I dare not question it; it would have been deemed disrespectful. I was not introduced to the history which revealed Churchill’s views on the use of gas in the Middle East and in India. I could recite by heart his oratory calling for where ‘we shall fight them’ but I knew not of this quote:

“I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against the uncivilized tribes… it would spread a lively terror.”

I was taught not to respect and to love but to fear and to uphold an unquestioned version of history. It is more important now, than ever, to ensure that freedom does not allow remembrance to degenerate into a blood curdling, wall-splattering, mindless social media campaign to promote war, partisan politics and aggression as a means of settling international, civil or personal dispute. I wear my poppy with a knowledge that it does not symbolise my preference for militarism or the use of force but it respects all those who were sent to war by the leaders of our country, whether they wanted to fight or not, and who never returned. They were mostly like me – ordinary people, from ordinary backgrounds. In reality, they had no say in how the powers-that-be decided to dispose of their lives. But I know now that they were extraordinary and that they are worth more than a passing thought from me. Wearing a poppy is a statement of my conviction to recall the past horrors, which took their lives, in such a way as to ensure that future horrors can be avoided.

No-one can ‘remember’ what was not personally witnessed and so children, whose current reality is more than a little scary, need not to be indoctrinated with an indoctrinated view. They need an opportunity for their questions to be answered. Wearing the poppy does not imply my support for those whose failures and illusions were often the cause of conflicts in which innocents died or were maimed. It is the opportunity for me to reaffirm core human values and moral sensitivity.

One of the most confusing messages about remembrance that I’ve ever heard was conveyed to a group of students in an assembly. I am certain that the intention was coming from a place of respect, and from a heart full of love – for the students, for their colleagues, for their ancestors who had been directly involved in fighting in both world wars, for humanity. But it was misguided.

There were more than one thousand students gathered, aged from eleven to eighteen. They were required to enter in silent respect, to sit in silent respect, to leave in silent respect. There was no opportunity to ask questions and the assembly was delivered in a didactic manner from a sage on the stage. They were required to listen, there was no checking that they had processed the information. The lead was delivering a message that was replicated from the assemblies that they had attended in their own childhoods. One message was very loud and clear – in this sixth generation since the war, we should remember them.

The other message was also clear – we should actively seek peace and aim for it across the world. We should be so grateful that these young men and women gave their lives so that we could be free. We should respect diversity, we should increase tolerance, we must eradicate the hatred and fear that led to these horrific wars, we should spread the word of love and be so grateful for our freedom that we would never be in the position again to have to shed blood to protect world peace.

And then came the message that was so confusing. We should want peace so badly that we should be prepared to fight for it, as did our ancestors. How can we expect an eleven year old, even an eighteen year old to process the very confusing messages that we convey? When we engage in violence, when we use fighting talk, we cannot expect peace. The rage-reaction cycle can only lead to greater conflict. We cannot fight for peace to experience peace.

What we can do is, through remembrance, contribute resources towards nurturing humanity, we can work to eradicate poverty, we can aid compassionate, empathetic and sustainable development. We can write history forward so that by ‘remembering’ we take steps greater steps for humanity.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

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Daily inspiration

Feeling blue?

And so, we can create our own, new normal, where feeling blue is bathed in serenity and the colour is celebrated for its brilliance. It is, after all, the colour of clear skies, of the ocean, of forget-me-nots.

Ever thought about how the language we use and the connotations that we draw from it are not always helpful to our mental stability and feelings of well-being? I wrote a few weeks ago – in one of my river blogs – about how we can alter our thoughts to become a life raft, on which we ride and surthrive the rapids.

These times are increasingly challenging but they will change and most of us know the reasons why we may currently be feeling out of control. But we aren’t totally at the mercy of the times. Here is an extract from my book, ‘The Will To Surthrive‘ which helps to show how we can feel blue and still revel in it.

2020 will be forever etched in history; well, for as long as the planet survives. As forever etched as 911. I spent some time with a group of students on a trip to New York and we visited Ground Zero. One could not help but weep at the sight of so many names etched on the memorial. Futile loss of life. It was even more emotional when we visited the Ground Zero Museum Workshop where the incredible photograph of Gary Marlon Suson was displayed. (Suson) He was the official photographer, the only photographer, permitted into the ruins of the twin towers, and he was charged with documenting the recovery.  His image of a single scorched page from a Bible which had survived ferocious fire, which he saw perched on top of rubble, shows the verse from Genesis 11: The Tower of Babylon. The original owner had obviously highlighted sections that were pertinent to him or her; now the only words that were clearly visible were, “Let us understand each other.” Many of the same students who accompanied that trip were young Arabs who also journeyed with me to Auschwitz, in the following year. One of the more outspoken boys, a charismatic, macho and influential young man, also wept and said that every man, woman, and child, everyone from every creed, should visit this place once in a lifetime. It had changed his perspective and his life. And, in my final year of accompanying the history trips, we stood listening to Wilfred Owen’s stark poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est” in the trenches of northern France, which highlights that it is anything but sweet or seemly to die for a country in such inhumane conditions and then we wept some more as we stood in a graveyard, a sea of white crosses eternally commemorating the young men of the allies, who had lost their lives to our left, and to our right a pit, unmarked, measuring about one tenth of the size of one Ground Zero memorial pool, in which were thrown the bodies of thousands German dead. They were sons, brothers, husbands, fathers too and, equally, victims.

I have watched and observed while people who I love really tear themselves in two with the dichotomies of ideology, or religion, an immovable dogma, whilst also deepening the chasms between their beliefs, their values and their lifestyle. You have read and witnessed how I have done that to myself, too, for all those reasons we have already examined. Justifying some of the tragic choices I have made with a fogged-up story.

So the first, perhaps the only way through this is to work on leading ourselves more appropriately. I know that without the adornment, of masks and costume and delusions of the stories I tell myself to justify why I do something that I know is not in accordance with my own values, I will be at peace with myself. And when I am at peace with myself, I have a greater chance of being at peace in, and with, the world. As Shakespeare also states, in a speech littered with the very best guidance, from Polonius to his son, Laertes, as he heads out into his own independent life, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

I’m going to start by being conscious, avoiding blame and finger pointing, and trying to catch myself if I do, and then I will focus on living my values. I love the famous Madison quote, “What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” I will not focus on the speck in my brother’s eye, cheerfully ignoring the blooming great log that is in my own. I will not take the superior high road, criticising others, or by pretending that I have all the right answers. I don’t but I do have a choice in how I live and love my life.

If we focus on bringing,  to ourselves and those around us, peace, thinking about what is right, not who is right, then we can live in peace. [1] Always try to be kind, to give empathy and trust without prejudice or resentment; forgive yourself when you get this wrong and find the grace to forgive others when they do; be creative and aim to keep learning and not let yourself be lazy. And give generously, your time, your attention, your charity. According to Maya Angelou, no-one has ever become poor from giving.

Then, and only then, will I be able to wear my crown a little straighter and mingle, in the valley of both beautiful women and Kings. Let’s party when this lockdown is done together wearing our crowns and our tiaras!


[1] I like CS Lewis on this: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself, less.” Nor is it putting yourself last.

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Beauty or beast?

Is this the face of ugly? I think not!

In a week where there is yet more ugliness and fear splashed across the world’s media, I will leave this with you, as my last blog for this round, inspired by artists and their take on love.

This 16th century painting is accompanied by much debate, speculation and little known fact. It’s anything from a satirical representation of ‘cougars’ to a real portrait of a woman known as Margaret, Countess of Tyrol, claimed by her ‘enemies’ to be ugly, through to a sufferer of Paget’s disease. Whoever was the artist’s muse, the general consensus is that she is ugly. The painting is titled ‘The Ugly Duchess.’

But ugliness isn’t the absence of perceived beauty; it’s not the opposite of beauty either. Believe me, this image of the duchess is not ugly!

Ugliness is unkindness. Ugliness is a disease that is spreading like a pandemic where it is increasingly difficult to lead an inclusive, loving and authentic life. A life where we are out of touch with our inner feelings, desires and aspirations. A life where our heads, hearts and souls are misaligned. A life where we often lack respect and compassion for the feelings and most basic rights of others.

Ugliness is a life unfulfilled, one which does not meet the promise of what a human life can be. It is when governments and leaders justify or ignore poverty, slavery, discrimination. It is when society or culture condemns a life lived as a man, when one is really a woman; ugliness is life spent in silent bitterness, when there is a humane voice which longs to sing out love and unity; ugliness is educating a child to believe that they are less than something – less than clever, less than creative, less than an individual, less than a community, less than love. It is not being able to comfort the dying with the healing balm of human touch; it is not being able to respect that we are all one.

Ugliness is lack of respect and compassion for the earth and all its inhabitants. It is ravaging our natural environment and ecosystems to satisfy human greed. Whilst there are those that argue that Earth has always suffered from the actions of humans, now we are leaving the deepest and most damaging of scars and it is the ugliest of excuses.

Ugliness is when we lose our sense of individual responsibility – when we are reflected in a mirror that persistently points out that we need to transform or risk oblivion. It is deep shame when the mirror reflects back an image of humanity that is degrading or humiliating, selfish and egocentric and still, we turn away or worse, we preen and pimp.

Can we choose not to be ugly? To treat each other with love and respect? To seek the beauty in everyone and everything? Do we have a choice not to denigrate or belittle anyone – even those we see as our opponents? Absolutely. We have a choice.

We are all human. If we choose to put people down as a matter of routine, that’s ugly. When political debate has deteriorated to nothing but name-calling, and negative labelling, that’s ugly. We can appreciate beauty and decency only when we expect it from others and give it ourselves.

As yesterday’s news again confirmed, we cannot completely control the decisions nor culture that surrounds them but we are the ingredients that make them up. When we remember our roles in shaping them, we can promote the values and the beauty that we admire in them.

We need to unfix our ideas of ugliness and beauty. We must search for inclusive values and beauty, even in that which we find unappealing. Instead of being appalled at the current plague of ‘ugliness’ we should elevate humanity, with a more dignified vision and wider concept of what we consider beautiful.

Whatever the motive of Matsys, I don’t think it was spurred on by kindness. But we can look at this image now and from it, we can discover profound and important insights into the world around us – reflections that might make the hideous become beautiful.

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Daily inspiration

Botticelli Babes and Carnal Cooks

If I compare myself to the notion of beauty and love that was depicted by Botticelli in his 15th century painting “The Birth of Venus” I am forever doomed. The only faint similarity is that she and I are both white, and even that is debatable, as her unblemished complexion and milky skin do not mimic my sun-pocked, uneven tones. And right there, the similarity ends. Venus is classically ethereal, gentle and docile, her expression serene and faraway wistful. She is angelic, illuminated by a soft, delicate light, innocent, physically able, and aligned with a gentle vision of nature. In my media indoctrinated head, she is the pinnacle of femininity. She is desirable. Today, I look at her and think, she’s just about everything that I am not, nor ever have been. Yet, I think I’d still like to be desired…

I wanted to know more about the muse who had inspired Botticelli’s vision – and was fascinated to know that Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci was a married noblewoman from Genoa; a tender age of twenty two when Botticelli was believed to have fallen in love – or lust – with her. She died before she reached the age of twenty three, and so enraptured by her charms was he, that he continued to paint her from memory, even ten years after her death. So enraptured by her charms was he that he also, upon his death, arranged to be buried at her feet! Botticelli – his nickname translates to ‘little barrel’ – had never married.

Botticelli’s enigmatic Primavera also depicts her, possibly in every one of the three muses on the left, and the three goddesses on the right, and certainly, in the figure of Venus, front and centre. They were all made in Simonetta’s image, and Botticelli’s obsessive attention to detail with the figures and more than two hundred different, identifiable flowers – means this painting was a labour of love in every sense.

But I am troubled that her traditional ‘norm’ of beauty is not only restrictive, but frequently hurtful and often predatory. I wonder if it was to her too? Recently, I watched, on Gogglebox, the reactions of men – and women – to a contemporary embodiment of Venus, the media-labelled ‘Goddess’ that is Nigella. She, too, is everything that I am not.

She is often lambasted for her lascivious-inducing commentary and she always responds with denial and innocence, absolutely insistent that it is not her intention to use sexual innuendo or to seduce and intoxicate in the manner that comes across. Yet it has become a pop-culture reference, parodied by shows such as Modern Family and even Mary, on the said GB episode, mimicked her. The reaction of Giles, Mary’s husband, speaks volumes!

In an interview, when accused of the purposeful use of her sexuality and euphemistic suggestion, Nigella countered that it is the careful and clever editing by the production company. ‘You have this way of saying things,’ the male interviewer suggested. ‘I have this way of people projecting things on me!’ Nigella hit back, ‘I’m so not the kind of person who would do that intentionally.’

The production company reminded me of the Medici brothers, who commissioned Botticelli’s daring celebration of human desire. They ruled Florence and in such patriarchal settings, and in some prevailing cultures, women were/are considered to be carnal — the deliberate temptress to men who were thought to be rational and moderate but for these women. It is a more ‘modern’ notion that men are considered more sexual than women, and that they are unable to control their sexual desires in ways that women can. Is this a function of patriarchal norms, requiring a woman’s sexuality to be only in the service of her husband, or art patron, or lover or pimp, rather than as an integral part of her humanity? This notion has demanded that women restrain their sexuality for so long, that as a society we’ve started to believe it is an easy and natural thing for us to do. Expecting Nigella to put a lid on her inherent sexuality is expecting her to deny her actual self.

Think of the damage to her soul!

Then, I remember the damage to mine. I want to be desired; I think that many women do but with this can come either the feeling of entitlement and of possession or the feeling that somehow we demean ourselves! The reaction of those watching her on Gogglebox screamed, “Women such as you are in the world for men’s pleasure and enjoyment; you are exploiting your sensuality” and that is something that few women enjoy because it’s objectifying. Let me tell you, it’s even more objectifying and humiliating when you are not considered within the realms of the classically beautiful. Our physical selves are as intrinsic to who we are as our emotional selves. They cannot easily be separated from us and our deepest soul.

It’s the whole package that makes us beautiful – not a face, not a voluptuous body. I want to be seen and valued for myself; I don’t want to be a hawked around like a commodity. And then, I remembered Warhol’s quite obsessive fascination with the pop art print of the face of Venus, reproduced time and again and contemplated how it is not only famous artwork, but also women and beauty that can be as commoditised as a can of soup!

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Daily inspiration

Create a love that lasts forever

It is strange reading advice about love from someone who professes never to have been in it! Andy Warhol apparently told peers that he was not susceptible to it. For someone who recommended falling in love deeply and without fear, this seems rather odd.

Unless it was one of those conscious, ego-based thought processes adopted to effectively deal with his own fear of it. Considering his verve for experimental and ground-breaking art, this notion might seem strange but perhaps his confidence with innovation concealed his vulnerability with love. You cannot be susceptible if you are not prepared to be vulnerable and if you’re not prepared to be vulnerable, you can never really be in love. He explored his vulnerability through his artistic pursuits; maybe he felt he had more talent for this and therefore more control. “Art is what you can get away with…” he said. You cannot get away with anything in love!

Perhaps he did not fall in love with another because he did not fall in love with himself! I find myself emotional about his self-deprecating oxymoron: “I am a deeply superficial person…I never fall apart because I never fall together.” Despite eschewing love, he had a deep preoccupation with it and the accompanying rites. The series of silkscreens that he produced four years before his death were simply titled ‘Love’ – they are vibrating with neon auras and pose in tender embraces, quite unlike the more crude images previously explored.

In 1975 he wrote an autobiography-come-self-help book – I can most definitely identify with this, especially when he said, “The idea is not to live forever, it is to create something that will.” It is a therapeutic activity, to explore through writing, art, music, the mysteries of love and life, devotion and passion, deliberating on what makes relationships meaningful, sustainable, erotic and fervent.

I think that Andy Warhol knew more about love than Rodin or Botticelli. I am going to borrow three of his ideas which suggest how you can create something which lasts forever.

Teach children that love is not perfect.

As someone who has spent a career across a lifetime in educational leadership I agree with Mr. Warhol that children should learn that love isn’t perfect. He insisted that early education could alleviate later disappointments related to love and life. “There should be a course in the first grade on love, providing a reality check, teaching children that relationships aren’t all sunshine and roses.”

I learned so falsely about love, through fairytales and film and I was devastated and felt thoroughly worthless when I discovered the reality – that these sugary stories bore no resemblance to real love and life. Warhol was especially exasperated when, in the 1961 film Back Street, they kept saying, “how wonderful every precious moment they had together was, and so every precious moment was a testimonial to every precious moment.” He felt someone needed to tell children what love was really about: constant ups and downs, challenges, hardships, loss, transience. Warhol believed that movies held the potential to show “how it really is between people and therefore help all the people who don’t understand to know what to do, what some of their options are.”

Fall in love with your eyes closed and make time and space for yourself.

I have learned, by being burned, that you cannot simply engineer who and how you love; instead, you need an organic approach to the process, feeling your way instinctively and with a healthy dose of abandon. “The best love is not-to-think-about-it love.” Generally, people fall in love with their eyes first, more so perhaps with current trends for meeting your lover by swiping right!

Warhol, as we might appreciate from his earlier artistic fascination with the phallus, knew about lust and physical attraction but he also knew that unless you take time for yourself, your love may not progress beyond the lust phase. “The biggest price you pay for love is that you have to have somebody around,” he wrote. “You can’t be on your own, which is always so much better.”

Warhol famously never married. While he didn’t open up about his most profound romantic relationships, he did describe one successful liaison – a woman with whom he had a six year relationship by telephone. The key to its success? Healthy distance. “I live uptown and she lives downtown,” he wrote. “It’s a wonderful arrangement: We don’t have to get each other’s bad morning breath, yet we have wonderful breakfasts together every morning like every other happy couple.” I don’t think I’m advocating for this half- love but the sentiment behind it, where there is still privacy, time for yourself, new things to talk about and share is essential to a sustained relationship.

You and your partner should put in equal time and energy.

“I wonder if it’s possible to have a love affair that lasts forever?”

Warhol’s autobiography makes clear that he’d considered the question at length, likely from a young age. His conclusion was that a relationship filled with lasting love should be equitable and balanced. “Love affairs get too involved, and they’re not really worth it,” he said. “But if, for some reason, you feel that they are, you should put in exactly as much time and energy as the other person.” In other words, be present in the relationship and make sure that both partners give equally to each other. Or, in Warhol’s ever-deadpan terminology: “I’ll pay you if you pay me.”

How insightful, do you feel, is his guidance in sustaining a successful, loving relationship?

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Daily inspiration

Begging for love

https://unsplash.com/@jreal81 A few weeks ago, I was inspired by rivers and their natural beauty; it seems that for the moment, my inspiration comes from the world of art. Follow me over the coming days to be inspired.

Begging! Begging you!

Put your loving hand out!

Frida Kahlo reputedly told her husband, “I’m not asking you to kiss me, nor apologise to me when I think you’re wrong. I won’t even ask you to hug me when I need it most. I don’t ask you to tell me how beautiful I am, even if it’s a lie, nor write me anything beautiful. I won’t even ask you to call me to tell me how your day went, nor tell me you miss me. I won’t ask you to thank me for everything I do for you, nor to care about me when my soul is down, and of course, I won’t ask you to support me in my decisions. I won’t even ask you to listen to me when I have a thousand stories to tell you. I won’t ask you to do anything, not even be by my side forever. Because if I have to ask you, I don’t want it anymore.”

Knowing a little about the troubled background of Frida and of the heartbreak she suffered in the name of love, and through the traumas of life, I’m not certain that she meant this quite as literally as it may seem. I appreciate that her love for herself would appear strong in this sentiment – that one interpretation may be that she would not demean herself to beg her husband for the show of love that I believe most of us seek. In truth, I believe that at all times, we are doing one of two things: either showing love or crying out for it. And I think that here she demonstrates the latter.

The two stances – showing or crying out for love – may be the simplest distillation of our human condition. I am sure it is at the core of the most complex assembly of all that it means to be human; we all need to feel or experience the outward show of love. Anyone who says otherwise has simply devised the mechanism for shoring up after the wounds or traumas we have experienced. I think Frida’s was defense against her sickly childhood, her savage accident and the many betrayals she felt. Whilst she knew that she could endure much more than she first believed, surviving polio and physical injury – her spine and collarbone were fractured; three bones in her pelvis fractured and she sustained two broken ribs; her right foot was dislocated, her left shoulder came off, her right leg broke in eleven parts – she must have experienced immense physical pain from the metal rod that pierced her body in the crash. But, it is the emotional pain from which I think she suffered the most and which prompted this thought on love:

Fall in love with yourself, with life and then with whoever you want.”

This plea from Kahlo invites you to distill romantic love and put self-love and courage above everything. Even above sentimental love for someone else. But most importantly, it is her invitation for to you to live life in its fullest colours that begs for love.

Whether you are coupled up or single, young enough to be seeking or stumbling across your first romantic love, or old enough to have surthrived several, I am begging you to fall in love with life, fresh every day! At the end of each one, the world will be brighter or dimmer, more or less kind and compassionate, and more loving or hateful because of the love you share or don’t.

I’m begging you; your move…

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Daily inspiration

I have a dilemma…

I have a dilemma which is becoming harder to resolve. I’d like your perspective because you may have the same issue. If you’re reading this, then it’s likely. I have a potentially unhealthy addiction which can make me physically ill but, it seems, there are lots of barriers to breaking the habit. You see, I need it in order to survive – well, actually to surthrive – but ironically, the addiction to social media and technology is making me really sick.

Like so many others, I lost some stable income this year. I turned every pitfall into an opportunity and decided now is the time to follow my dreams and to truly espouse my values. I wrote a book – a self help memoir; I took a digital marketing course and a business course; I learned how to web design and produced this site from scratch; as a help to family members during the lockdown, and as a way of spreading the love, I tutored their children and loved it so much that I also set myself up in the role of personal tutor. I am happy and thriving.

I have applied to volunteer jobs and some paid positions with no interview or affirmative nod to the validity of my credentials; sometimes without even a reply. This is a sign of the times but the lack of contact and connection is neither kind nor humane. This is the first time in my life that this has happened but I’m still keeping the faith, telling myself it’s their loss, my gain and that I am being guided towards a more spiritually rewarding path!

All mental health positive and good tactics methinks.

But the bottom line is, even with the optimism, and philosophical stoicism, we all need an income. I sold the car and it makes me feel good to live in a more ecologically friendly way and I love cycling, and bringing back the essential shopping in two panniers is hilariously funny at times, when the back pack – loaded with potatoes and an acceptable quantity of loo rolls – makes me feel like ET. But, although I have cut fumes along with costs, I still need to pay my way and cover the monthly bills.

And so, I need to market myself. The skills that I am offering are inherently human but one of the few ways that I have of promoting myself to those who could really benefit from them are not directly from human to human but through the channels of social media.

And there’s the crux of the dilemma. I am fully aware of the dangers of social media – the lure of the sticky, the dirty use of data, the fake news, the manipulative posturing…and the spread of hate because ‘someone‘ needs to take responsibility for all this mess and confusion. But it’s one of the few ways where I can attract custom to take up my sparkling skills as a writer, or teacher, or host, or celebrant. And then I can’t help but face the horrors head on when I’m trying to use the same platforms to market my talent!

How do I reconcile this? In fact how does anyone sift through to find the advantages of human connection on social media and avoid the negatives, the manipulation?

The advice in my book, The Will to Surthrive reminds me to practise what I preach because I know it works. So, firstly, I am going to be super conscious.

I will not respond to or post incendiary material – even if it is designed to challenge the craziest of assertions. I’m going try even harder, with more conscious effort not to take the bait to challenge the facts of an issue when someone else has posted something which is inflammatory. It can only have the effect of entrenching more misery and despair. It’s not easy – my son arranged a baby shower to celebrate the impending birth of his first child, and the ensuing fiasco with such complex and confusing regulation nearly drove me to distraction, with some groups being allowed to meet in crowds of thirty but we were restricted to six. But the occasion went ahead, following new protocol and we focused on the love and human connection and excitement – along with the hope that my Granddaughter will change the world very much for the better.

Unscrupulous figures might data-mine our social media accounts and they are the reason why so many have lost trust in anyone promoting something or someone. In current scenarios it’s all too easy to jump to good-versus-evil simple idylls and then we are scarily close to being manipulated into blaming segments of society and of spreading hate. Now, more than ever, we should be spreading the love. In all of my endeavours, that is my purest intention.

I live independently and am aware that I reach out to social media when I need human contact. It is, at first, reaffirming if we post about a current issue and twenty people ‘like’ it but one of the most powerful lures of joining in unhealthy conspiracy theories or collective blaming is feeling that we belong; we become addicted to the socialisation we feel when we are in distress. This isn’t real – it is a virtual connection at best, a disconnection and isolating knock-out at worst. It can pit neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend, old people against young people…it’s so cleverly devious, it can pit purple against pink! We are all in distress from the wider effects of this virus right now and the only way through this is to empathise, to collaborate, to seek the positive benefits of community, to understand and to remain kind. To seek real connection.

Maintaining meaningful spoken communication through phone calls and safe visits are of vital importance. We can steer conversation towards shared experiences and memories and good times. We can also ensure that, by maintaining real, healthy connection – and keeping virtual connections clean and purposeful – we can look forward to good times again.

And I can look forward to you benefitting from the love, experience and kindness that I can offer to you through my writing and my work.

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Daily inspiration

A Wedding Like No Other!

In a beautifully refurbished theatre.

One of the joys of being a celebrant is the ability to break with tired and cliched tradition which can bear little or no relevance in our changing cultures. Of course, traditions have positive benefits in that they can create unity and links with the past, but they can also trick us into thinking that we must tread a forged path in order for any rite to be valid, and that the collective consensus dictates how something must be done.

Not so, as I found out this week by visiting the delightful Sarah Hemingway, of the Palace Avenue Theatre in Paignton. I love exploring new ways of celebrating life’s joys, in ways that are unique to those celebrating, and I love so many of the positive attributes of breaking with tradition. Marriage does not have to follow the repeated groove of being the grandest, no-expense-spared ceremony for the sake of following tradition. Instead, it can be about love and passion – not simply for each other but for shared interests.

That is why The Palace Avenue Theatre is a spectacular venue to be considered for your ceremony. There’s no denying the beauty of a rustic barn, or the magnificence of a country estate – and the quirkiness of forts, treehouses, museums, wildlife parks, vineyards, forests and majestic castles has been explored by many couples wanting to celebrate with a grand gesture. But I am not aware of too many theatres where your nuptials can literally be staged.

If you love all things theatrical, combine this with your wedding theme for the formal marriage as well as the reception. You can tread the boards and wed your ward by marrying under the spotlights, with an audience of up to three hundred (well, when restrictions are lifted), or say your ‘I do’ in the more intimate setting of the bar with some fizz and your family and friends. Hosting your wedding breakfast in Stage Left is a fantastic option to have all of your celebrations in the one dramatic location.

Sarah has been incredibly supportive and, over the coming weeks, together we will be presenting you with a styled, professional shoot so that you can step away from somewhat overused clichés and explore the magic and the unique possibilities of a theatrical, ambient and artistic ceremony at https://www.palacetheatrepaignton.co.uk/venue-hire/weddings/.

Look out for the images in my November blogs!

Categories
Daily inspiration

AI

AI is often incorrect and we need simple human overwriting to ensure that we keep the humane in humanity.

I was researching something for an article that I was writing and it was dated Saturday 2nd April. It seemed so relevant to what I was thinking at the time and I wanted to use it but really needed to ascertain the year that it was written; it might have been discredited if it was out-of-date or superseded by the next innovative thought. So I thought my quickest, most effective and accurate means of determining the document date was to check it with Siri. You have evidence of the outcome in the image!

AI is coming, whether we like it or not. Well, actually it’s here already, like it or not, accurate or not, morally right or not, and it will not be leaving us anytime soon. In terms of river analogies, which seem to have grabbed a significant part of my attention of late, 2020 combined with AI is a bubbling rapid combined with a treacherously fast current rushing over a deep underwater channel and undercut, rocky banks that make it seemingly impossible to climb out of when you’ve fallen in. The pandemic has certainly created tricky meanders which, along with technological ‘advances’ have propelled us towards a very different river view. It has
certainly fast-forwarded many future predictions. For example, the consultancy group, McKinsey predicted by 2030 there would be 800 million jobs lost to automation worldwide; for sure the pandemic has speeded up this process but it seems it was coming anyway!

So, in order for me to be relevant in my dotage, is it really necessary for me to learn to code? Should I derail myself and head back to train as a robotic, research or data scientist? Or hone my technical and analytical skills, and pursue becoming a business analyst?

No, absolutely not because I believe that the future requires much greater emphasis on the skills you can’t code, like empathy, negotiation and creativity.

Think of the skills that it takes to carry out the following tasks: Parenting or caring for loved ones – old or young; Teaching or nurturing children; Creating art, music, dance, theatre, entertainment; Working in struggling regions in and around our homes where not everyone has access to even the most basic of needs; Preserving the rapidly diminishing environment; Reading or writing for pleasure or personal growth; Preventative health care; Character-building for your kids, your team, yourself; Building community connections; Developing a passion and nurturing a hobby; Becoming involved in local government.

These are activities of a normal life, rich with community, kindness, balance. Sure there are parts of jobs that can be automated such as using an automated text message system to confirm appointments, but core skills of those who work in and around a community remain current. You can’t automate creativity, empathy and love.

Categories
Daily inspiration

Funny Ol’ Rivers

River Headwaters
Meandering well on the journey of life.

I have been watching a TV show this week, always delightful, often hilarious, for certain packed with pathos. Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing. I have a new bucket list item as a result – I want to sit by a river, preferably alongside those two, concocting weird menus, reflecting on life and as Mortimer says “really knowing what it is to live it!”

With new regulations imposing restrictions again, I think I am forgetting what it’s like to really live and it’s very easy to feel like we are drowning in a river of problems. It’s looking like we have to cancel planned family gatherings again because of new rules as of Monday. It’s a funny old world – I’ve always thought it so but now it certainly seems more funny peculiar, than funny haha!

I’m so grateful that I have had so many times in the past when I didn’t consciously have to look for the positives in each moment. I have had so so many of them, and although I didn’t think I took a single one for granted, I know – now that I can’t currently have them in the same way or even know when to look forward to some of them again – that I will be super heightened to the magic of those moments when they return.

Go with the flow…

So what to do until then? Well, we cannot stop the flow. The rivers and streams of time simply cannot cease. My youngest brother (already well into his fifties, at what may be our last gathering of siblings for another while) noted that we are all now white haired or steely grey; it seems that it had finally dawned on him that, although he will always be the youngest, no matter how hard he tries to remain young at heart, he is no longer young! It seemed such a revelation to him and it obviously made him wistful. But for me, the epiphany was energising.

Rapids

We are all in this river together, sometimes it’s fast paced and, at others it slows down to allow us time to take in the views on the water and on the riverbanks. We have little choice as to where it meanders; maybe we can swim towards a certain tributary, or we can use a raft of energy trying to get back upstream to the Headwaters or hang furiously onto the trunk of a tree while the river swells but we are all heading out in one irreversible direction to the ocean. So how, you might ask, is that analogy energising?

Because the epiphany led me to appreciating that instead of drowning in the problems, getting caught up in pollution of the river, we can be creative with the way we travel down or on it. (Of course, we can be careful not to add to it’s pollution but that is a tributary for another blog!)

Instead of using all our energy in fighting against the stream, we can create a raft from where we can enjoy the ride, the views, the fellow travellers, the other inhabitants. The raft is made up of our conscious thoughts. We can train them and learn how to exercise some control over how and what we think while we are on this river. By being conscious and aware in that exact place in the river, in that exact moment, choosing to what we pay our attention and choosing how we construct meaning from that experience we can, honestly, make the most of every moment. Sure, we will head over rapids, and maybe we will wallow in some of the muddier flood plains but, if we are aware, at every given meander, of the magic of the river we will stay awake to the journey, and that is energising and worthy of our fullest attention.

River delta