I’ve blogged previously about my ongoing battle with fountain pens. As a Scotsman I knew once said, “It’s a sair ficht.” While he was referring to the daily struggle between the ways of the flesh and the ways of the spirit, I feel, in microcosm, so is the Way of the Fountain Pen for me. I love the romantic icon of the fountain pen, but for as long as I can remember it has only loved to scratch holes in my paper and (somehow) put ink in and around my mouth.
Our most recent skirmish was held this morning in a local coffee shop as I tried to do some journaling. Thankfully, I was prepared with several squares of scrap paper on which to get the pen working before damaging my journal. Nevertheless, Stanley (yes, my pens do have names) was channelling Hermann Rorschach — so not much journaling was done. I obligingly embraced the opportunity to do a spot of coffee-shop psychoanalysis, folded the papers in half over Stanley’s leaked blobs to see what could be found. What do you see in these, I wonder?
(Add your answers in the comments – but don’t look there until you’ve decided what you see; and don’t overthink it!)
A couple of these are absolutely startling. to my mind (it’s that first one that blows me away). Of course the reason our minds are so quick to see things in these ink blots has something to do with the fact that they are fractal (so they inevitably resemble the forms that occur in nature) and the fact that we are fundamentally wired to try to interpret sensory input. That what we see varies from person to person, supposedly indicates differences in our state of mind, our habits of thought or perception.
I started playing around with mandalas last August, using them to bring focus and form to my life after a fairly chaotic summer of dropped habits and too many new things to process.
They also gave me the opportunity to try different techniques like drawing, painting, photography and photoshop.
I have ten now, and I’m thinking of continuing the project in moments of leisure. Each of them is fairly personal, a visual prayer or meditation, or an attempt to create a sense of order from disparate ideas.
I’m cautious of sharing these with too much explanation. The whole point of them is to transcend words alone and I prefer to leave the looker to find their own thing to take away. I’ve just limited the words to a title and an epithet.
Over the last couple of years, my way of processing life and pondering the world around me has increasingly been mediated through symbols. Writing systems, pictograms, allegories and icons are the currency of my imagination. With symbols I can do more than words allow. I have a developed a personal pictography, a kind of shorthand, drawing from many sources and referenced to particular meanings.
I’m well past making new year’s resolutions but I’ve always taken time to focus on taking stock of the passing year and feeling out the themes of the coming year round this time. In prayer and contemplation for 2015, it seemed three things and a fourth were being emphasised.
Having worked out glyphs for these emphases, I noticed that each of them had a common element – a cross – enabling me to combine them into a single form.
So here is the glyph I mark upon the doorposts of 2015.
It’s component parts are thus:
This is the symbol for Saturn. In esoteric systems, Saturn has a very complex variety of correspondences. But, to keep it simple Saturn was the Greek god of agriculture and the symbol contains two elements: a cross (or sword) and a sickle. It can be taken to represent the harvest: things must die and come to an end but in that moment seeds are gathered for sowing in the next cycle.
Of course, to be saturnine is to be gloomy, but, to borrow from the Christian imagery of the cross, the words of the Son of God are appropriate.
“I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.” (John 12:24 HCSB)
I’ve noted that the last few years have been characterised by a lack of finishing. I enter 2015 with so many projects begun and not completed. An unfulfilled intention, a work half done, can become rotten. I need to put the sickle in and finish many things so that new life can come. 2015 is to be a year of finishing.
Encapsulated here in one of the many alchemical symbols for gold is something I need to bring back to the centre. Truth, like gold can be tested by fire, bears no combination with other elements and stays unchanged.
I’m a people pleaser. This means I all too easily try to give others the answer I think they want to hear. That’s not always realistic. I’ve a creeping habit of white lies: “Of course, it’s no problem.” “I’ll be there at six.” “It will be fine.” “I’ll be thinking of you.”
These are not loving, respectful interjections unless they are true. Even if it arises from the best will in the world, I need to curb my optimism at times and let my ‘yes’ actually mean ‘yes’.
“Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.” (Leo Tolstoy)
This is a symbol I’ve invented to use for the concept of praxis – an antidote to inwardness. It depicts a sword, internally rooted but driving outwards to act externally. For me, Praxis doesn’t oppose contemplation but means something like a ‘contemplation by doing’ and it’s closely allied to the philosopher’s ‘techne’ – practical craft.
I owe this new emphasis to the lessons I’ve been studying in alchemy over recent months. The alchemist performs processes – burning, boiling, distilling – all the while observing diligently the transformation of substances without missing the correspondences with his own soul-work.
It’s surprising I never really took to science at school. I don’t think I ever made the connection between what we did in the classroom and the fact that my den in the garage hosted a fossil collection and pendulums that hung from the ceiling to study gravity and waves. I had exercise books full of notes and measurements of such things as the landing positions of sticks thrown at random. I tried to replicate the experiments of Mendel in my flower bed. I was just a little Issac Newton, but schooling cast me as an ‘arts person’.
I don’t think our education system encourages the formation of a renaissance mind, and more is the pity.
In 2015 the world and my self will be my laboratory. I want to do real stuff in the real world and watch it closely and learn all I can from it instead of from books.
And the fourth thing
Although not depicted, this underpins all of them. It’s ‘momentum‘.
I’m poor at keeping momentum. If things are going well, I cruise or put my attention elsewhere, so they grind to a halt. This goes for creative projects, relationships, work and home life. Things are not finished. Wishful thinking swallows up reality. Praxis collapses back into theoria.
It’s easier in the long run to keep the wheels turning with tactical doses of effort than to be repeatedly frustrated by inertia.
Summers tend to be inherently disordered. Because it’s Summer, because everyone else is on holiday, because there is a wedding to go to virtually every weekend, because it’s too hot to cook and a salad or sandwich will do, because being outdoors is possible and therefore compulsory, because the nights are too bright and warm to sleep normal hours, many habits and routines fall by the wayside and need to be resumed in the Autumn.
As I’ve begun to pick up threads of habit and find ‘normal’ life again in the last week, I’ve taken up mandalas. Jung used them with his patients not only diagnostically but therapeutically. Having noticed their appearance in many cultures and creeds, he went on to find mandalas a useful tool for centering and ordering the personality internally and situating it cosmically:
The severe pattern imposed by a circular image of this kind compensates the disorder and confusion of the psychic state—namely, through the construction of a central point to which everything is related, or by a concentric arrangement of the disordered multiplicity and of contradictory and irreconcilable elements.
This is evidently an attempt at self healing on the part of nature, which does not spring from a conscious reflection but from an instinctive impulse.
To begin with, I’ve just been ‘journaling’ by drawing one each day, usually using forms related to how I’m feeling or what I’m preoccupied about. Well, making pretty patterns and colouring them in is a great way to lose yourself for an hour and is obviously therapeutic. Each of these has become a meditation and a prayer that seems to have gathered and offered, directed and consolidated the day. I think this may be a new creative practice for the next season.
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.
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:
Page one was an ordinary page in the scratch book. A few lines of pencil were engaged in a key debate.
Page two played host to pencil lines – decadent and fanciful in bourgeois ingnorance of their own demise
On page three, the fountain pen ink army came with raw scratches, marching upon the page in angry angles and scrawls.
In forms foreign and fantastical it fell upon page four, forsooth!
By page five, total and permanent domination was secured.
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.