Actually this didn’t happen last night. It could have happened very easily, but then I wouldn’t have been up early and drawing it — so that I could post it on Pinterest. Oh, the circularity!
I’m 15 years old, a schoolboy, and I’m walking onto a patch of light cast in a school courtyard by a street lamp.
The tarmac is black, the light is yellow and I’m seeing both colours simultaneously from the same surface. I register the matter of one and the energy of the other with no sense of duality. Perhaps that is what cuts me free for this moment in time. Because suddenly I have a taste of something for which there is no name: ‘contentment’, ‘awareness’, ‘union’ or ‘bliss’ could be used clumsily.
Maybe it’s just that I actually feel ‘happy’, and this is the new definition for that word.
I imagine that a bit of dust is caught in the groove of my life, causing the needle to skip back and replay those ten steps I take through the light, again and again, forever – it would be enough for me.
I am aware of other things that make the moment perfect. It is not anticipated or sought after, and it has not been added to by memory.
My shoes have rhythm – I wear black lace ups like Fred Astaire – and my limbs are supple and relaxed. This patch of light is triangulated upon three loci that are especially significant to my coagulating sense of identity: bordered on one side by the churchyard wall, a stone’s throw from the parish church, 50 paces from the school theatre and 30 paces from the English department. I belong here; this is my territory.
Place and time have come together. I am the lord of the night air and the emperor of this pool of light. I spin around on my heels, walk backwards for a few paces, rejoicing.
The dark receives me again and I walk on, down the hill towards the boarding house.
Moments that are impossible to recreate, unasked-for, not divorced from the past or the future but somehow complete in the present, as if some prankster balanced a bucket of grace on the lintel of a doorway and I was the fool that got drenched – I think this is how happiness is for us.
About twenty years later, I’m lying in bed.
I’m constructing the argument I should have made earlier in the day during a conversation. It feels water tight. I’ve started with a couple of ethical givens and I’m going through the logical steps to my conclusion.
But the steps are also taking me to the edge of sleep, and suddenly I’m there, toeing the border line. My internal dialogue stops but it’s as if I step onto the platonic form of all arguments in all times and places and continue. Vividly in my mind I see a ruler stretching over an abyss and a dividing compass pacing along it.
When the compass gets to the end of the ruler, I see something else that lasts for a couple of seconds. It’s like the dot of light that would shrink and disappear in the moments after turning off an old television set. But I see it with my whole being, as if my mind has become a single organ of sight.
In that moment, I KNOW all the answers to everything: all paradoxes and problems that have befuddled humans for millenia. I have the answer to the problem of evil, the resolution of determinism vs. free will, the goal of every koan, the last word on why we are here at all. I feel what it’s like to be omniscient for the tiniest sliver of a moment, and then it flits away into the abyss.
I pull myself back into wakefulness to see if I’ve been able to retain any of the knowledge, but the moment was too short for my memory to turn it into brain-code and store it. Nevertheless I feel a soaring sense of contentment. It’s enough for me to know that the answers DO exist and that they are real.
The afterglow of that revelation lasts to this day.
May this International Day of Happiness for you be booby trapped with unsolicited delight.
Although this is supposed to be a ‘writers blog’ it tends to be a repository for the things I don’t write: the stuff I do when I should be writing. When I do find the time to actually do some writing (for myself), I often find all my brain wants to do is mess about and compose nonsense. I find this incredibly easy and profoundly satisfying.
Really, ‘nonsense’, of the sort that Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear gave us, leaves a much wider space for readers or listeners’ imaginations to play in. It harps upon this beautiful feature of human languages: with syntax, sound and context we are more than half way to understanding meaning. Who the hell needs vocabulary?
I give you, therefore, ‘The Toast of Far Gelar‘.
Sometimes when my journaling habit collapses, squeezed out by the busyness that I perceive in my life (whether it’s really there or not), I still find time to doodle. I have very basic app on my phone that makes it easier.
I like to ask people the question: if you could swap your primary creative talent for another, would you? And what would it be? Most people say, ‘no, I wouldn’t.’ But I’ll admit I have artist’s envy for people who can draw as wonderfully as a couple of people I know. When you’ve looked at these phone scribbles, go and check out the work of a couple of pros:
Daniel Weatheritt – A very inspiring illustrator I’ve had the pleasure of working with recently.
Philippa Cappelman – A gifted draughtswoman friend who has recently launched out.
As we approach middle age, is it normal for birds to become more fascinating to us? We start feeding them, watching them, doodling them. Do they represent our longing to shed the earthbound web we’ve woven for ourselves and to be as light as air? Maybe it’s just me.
Once again my scratchpad (the notebook I keep strictly for rough work/business notes, lists of action items and phone calls) has been invaded by the doodling dreamer.
A good writing implement can bring out the best in us.
I’m mainly a pencil person for taking notes, doodling and writing. For journaling, inking in or neater work, I adore the triplus® fineliner by STAEDTLER. But lately, a couple of fountain pens have been added to the arsenal. A good one, well primed, is a wonderful writer. A bad one can fill a page very quickly with bizarre textures and symbols.
The pages of my scratch book have recorded a strange battle over the last week or so:
I like to believe that even the way we scribble when trying to get a blasted pen to work can be pressed into the service of narrative.
Last night, I had occasion to share my postcard collection with a room of some twenty people.
“Find me a picture that speaks to you of God,” I asked them.
At the top of the first cluster of cards I picked through was this:
Although this wasn’t the card I chose for myself in the end, it struck me how the sacred stone circles of Britain have played a part in my own journey towards Divine Mysteries. I flipped it over …
The back side of the card brought a flood of memories from my 18-year-old self, who sits like a lodestone in my consciousness and frequently pulls at my internal compass needle.
I include a scan of the original to show how my messengers clearly passed the card around, each adding their own lines in the true spirit of the bards of old. They would have been excellent company: one of my English teachers (the biggest single influence on my education), his two sons (companions on many woodland adventures) and another pal from school (an occasional co-conspirator in mischief).
Ahhh … the summer of ’95.