the forever war

POSTCARD#307: Chiang Mai: The image here, was taken while we were on a visit to the holy Buddhist sites in North India. It shows a group of men involved in some sort of argument, viewed from the window of our tour bus, as it was moving through crowds of pedestrians and various kinds of vehicles. The sound of very loud angry voices and heavy blows got everyone’s attention, all I could see was the top of their heads because other passengers crowded the bus window. No room to squeeze in, so without seeing where to point the camera, I held it in a downward position and ‘click’. It was guesswork, thinking it’ll probably not come out, but it did – the group perfectly positioned in the centre of the frame. The bus made its way slowly through the crowd then accelerating along empty streets and we were gone in a moment.

Looking at the image now, the man in the green shirt is trying to do something with that pole and the other guys are preventing him or pushing back. The tremendous intensity coming from the green-shirted man is noticeable.  Murderous thoughts ready to explode on the surface. There’s another emotion too, he looks determined but tearful, as if he might start to cry. It was significant, I suppose because there we were on a tour of the Holy sites where the Buddha had spent most of his life, and now this 2500 years later, an example of Greed Hatred and Delusion. The Buddha must have come across many such disputes, and quietly observed aspects of the argument, or sometimes he would have been asked how best to resolve the issue.

Looking at what’s written about the three defilements, or three poisons, and contemplating these, I see that the natural human preference is that conflict be forgotten, and as long as no effort is there to keep it going, conflict falls away by itself. There’s all kinds of other stuff that engage the mind however, conflict is gratifying, feeding the base sensory driven state. We fuel the fires to maintain conflict in the mind; in our world media coverage and war-mongering, the opportunity arises to build up tension, involving narratives in the mind, peaking in justified outrage. If the political manipulation of circumstances were not there, we could just as easily allow the conflicted mind go, but we’re drawn in, and it gets to a point when engagement with the consequences of conflict is inevitable; this is always how it is.

I started up my laptop this morning Thai time, and discovered that the US led coalition had sent missiles into Syria. I wanted to write something about it, then found an old post titled ‘Conflict and Release’ that seemed somehow unfinished, waiting for events to be right for its conclusion. So that was all I could do, and here it is rewritten. Regarding the event itself, all sorts of things come to mind, mainly to do with cover-ups, otherwise the same as all other kinds of war and arguments forever unfinished. The Buddha offered a way to understand how the mind works and to see, through ordinary human experience, the way to bring an end to Suffering.


I seem to be rewriting old posts these days, rather than writing new posts. This is how it is at the moment, busy in the studio and not active in front of the screen. I hope to be able to offer up some examples of new Art soon.
Be well
T

 

samsara of advertising

POSTCARD#307: Bangkok: Everywhere in shopping malls, magazines, TV channels, images exerting the ‘pull’ 24/7 so that we can easily, unknowingly enter into a world of choices – the idea that ‘I’ can have a personal preference, thus am I caught in ‘self’. The Western model, reshaped by East Asian style and adapted to fit Thai cultural behaviour. Stories acted out by adults who look like children; cute faces, attractive personalities, charm. Products presented as if it were a game, makes it all seem quite real and acceptable; the high-voltage sales strategy is unseen, cloaked in naivety – preparing for a whole new generation of consumers, a new Thai society – the corporate entity engaged in long term planning.

I can get caught by it, drawn towards the TV screen, something I see in the advert triggers it, and the who-I-am thing arises, and a voice inside me says: I LIKE THIS and it all gets to be really important, relevant, vivid and intense. I feel suddenly energized, compelled and, I WANT TO HAVE IT, ready to start discussing with sales staff at the retail point and proceed with the purchase; the plastic in my wallet getting hot, I’m being swept away by the samsara of advertising. Too bad because I can apply the brakes at this point, as it is in the patticcasamupada, remembering the way to stop craving (tanhã) arising, is to cut off the conditions that lead to its beginning; interrupt the sequence before craving happens, and bring the whole thing to an end. I know it will cease of its own accord if I can allow it to become nothing, and fortunately it’s all in a language I can switch off from so it all fizzles out…

To become the owner of a purchased product, I have to believe in it – I have to consciously engage with it. To become me, I have to think ‘me’. The ‘me’ that I believe in depends on me thinking it. I am conditioned to be attached to my opinions, my emotionality, and the sense of self in all kinds of ways. I can manipulate the conditioned world so that, from this perspective of thinking, I see (my) self situated favorably – or it could be unfavorably if I’m caught in being the victim (but there is always a way out). Everything arises due to causes and conditions, then thinking about it, excessively and often enough to have it appear to be embedded in the fabric of this self construct I recognize as ‘me,’ subject to its perceived whims and waywardness, as some kind of fictional character.

But there is a way out; everything that arises falls away. Let it go and it’s gone. The simple truth is don’t mess with it, don’t think it into being, and it won’t arise. Maintain a proximity-to but distance-from position: the Middle Way. There is viññāṇa, conscious awareness, self-sustaining; I don’t create it. There’s the body, moving through the population, minding its own business, other than that, no personal essence given to me by (some external force); nothing added, nothing extra. The simplicity of this seems to immediately throw everything to do with ‘self’ into disarray; enough to cause it all to come tumbling down; a house of cards. Knowing this, we can rebuild the concept with an awareness of its parts. Leading to a more enhanced sense of ‘self’ if that’s what seems preferable… nothing wrong with personality, it’s the attachment to it that’s the problem…


Excerpts from my earlier post: March 28, 2013. Photo image: Coke ad Ploenchit

somewhere in the city

POSTCARD#306: Bangkok: Alarm goes off at 04.00, hand-reach and it’s silenced in a quiet darkness. My footsteps going downstairs seem to me to be too loud for the baby sleeping. Thankfully, I reach the ground floor without waking the boy. I make coffee and half a toasted bagel for Jiab who is going to a meditation centre near Pak Chong – a three hour journey. We speak quietly, the car comes, filling the gated entrance with headlights, a soft door-slam and she’s gone

Jiab’s elder sister Pi Sao comes downstairs, she is the smiling grandmother of the child, visiting here from down South, an overnight journey by train. Pi Sao gets up early to offer food to the three monks who come into our part of the city, just after daylight.

She goes into the kitchen for the three small bags of food she prepared last night. They are placed on a tray and she brings them into the room. I’m watching her from the computer table as she goes out and kneels at the entrance to the house with the tray raised to a point that’s level with her forehead. She stays in that position for a longish time, could be a minute. Suddenly I’m aware of an extraordinary easeful peace. The monks appear in a blaze of colour, pale tangerine robes, and accept the food placed into their metal bowls. They chant blessings anumodana, on receiving the food and they’re on their way.

I allow the blessings to fall over me and come inside me, and for a moment it becomes me. I’m overwhelmed with boundless bliss, then it’s gone. There’s so much I don’t know, I want to say to her, thank you and how much this small moment of samadhi means to me. Yes, but my baby-babble of the Thai language is not enough to express these uncommon things. Besides I’m pretty sure Pi Sao doesn’t want to talk about anything thought to be near to the mystical experience, for fear of stepping into the realm of ghosts, and supernatural beings.

All these years and all that I have are these tentative steps into learned processes of cultural behaviour, requiring an alert watchfulness I discovered long before hearing the word ‘mindfulness’. Remembering over and over again that the focus is on the intention to stay mindful always, and somehow this got deeply embedded. It has been more than two decades after all, and now this attention has become a built-in wake-up bell that rings every time mindfulness wanders: ting-ting-ting-aling-ting-aling

And these days, now the headache is with me, I’m watching the breath go in and go out much more than I used to. Depending on the wake-up bell, ting-aling-ting-aling. It’s the alertness of samadhi and great peace and bliss that goes with it, but more often than not, it’s the on-going narrative and I’m engaged in deconstructing familiar patterns of habit where I criticize myself for having the pain: pain is bad – I must have done something ‘bad’ to deserve this.

Strong angry emotions, and the wake-up bell rings, ting-aling-ting-aling…. return to watching the breath, in-breath, out-breath – heart beat – the utter functioning of being alive, and the alertness of choosing not to get locked into the ways and means of endurance, tolerating the suffering allows an attachment to it and an associated habitual response forms over the years.

The effort is in separating the pain into two parts; there’s the pain itself, and the pain of resisting the pain; I-don’t-want-it-to-be-there… desiring it to not-exist, vibhava-tanha – wanting it to go away. The alertness is directed towards the pain of resisting the pain and allowing that to withdraw.

It’s about finding the Middle Way, the truth of suffering and the path leading to the extinction of that suffering is the most pressing need, the only true and worthy purpose in life – for the sake of well-being, peace-of-mind and all things considered are considered….

“Peace is not a destination, but a starting point. Find that peace that rests behind anything and anybody and bring it into your world”. [Shakti Caterina Maggi]



Excerpts from an older post, also some notes I made and can’t remember the original source.

contained spaces

POSTCARD#305: Bangkok: There’s a dream I had once and, as soon as I woke up, I wrote it down on a scrap of paper I found in my wallet. That paper was with me for years, and when I found it again, it was indistinct and the writing, a hard-to-read scribble. So I keyed it in before it was reduced to a fragment of paper and disappeared. Then a few years after that, I found the document and created a post with it, titled: before after’, published on April 12, 2016. There were a few comments including one from Michael who suggested an alternate ending. So, nearly 2 years later, I decided to rewrite the dream and have Michael’s idea stitched in near the end. It goes like this:

I’m standing at a bus stop, waiting for a bus. The bus arrives, stops at the stop, and I get on. Instead of ordinary bus seats, there’s furniture, sofas, armchairs, a small coffee table, TV, curtains on the windows, and it’s laid out like a room interior. I find a place and sit down. Other passengers on the bus are sitting in unmatched furniture, everybody looking around for the person who comes to get orders for snacks and drinks. Nobody comes, there’s a long interval of nothing happening at all and after a while I start to think maybe it’s because the bus hasn’t left the stop yet.

At the same moment I remember I left my shoes outside the door at the bus stop. This is because in all houses in Asia you have to leave your shoes outside when you enter. In the dream, there’s something I’m not sure about here, how to resolve the issue of leaving the shoes and never seeing them again? Okay, so I can just leave the shoes there and when I get off at the next bus stop, I’ll take someone else’s shoes (it happens in Buddhist monasteries).

Yes, but this still doesn’t feel like a satisfactory resolution, and I’m walking towards the door of the bus to bring my shoes in, even though I know they can’t be there because the bus has left the stop. There’s the feeling of motion, chairs and sofas all-sliding around slightly in the movement, and the sound of the bus as it is going along.

But when I look out the back door, there are my shoes lying on the pavement where I left them, and the bus hasn’t moved an inch! How could it be that the inside and the outside of the bus seem to have their own rules of logic? It’s like, I get on the bus, the door closes, and the inside of the bus is moving along – I can tell because there’s the feeling we are moving, the furniture is sliding around. But when I look outside, we are still in the same place.

Is it because stepping into a world contained inside the dream, means you are an observer in another dream – a whole other situation, with its own characteristics and its own context… a dream inside a dream? Shortly after that I wake up, and there’s the enigma of it, there’s the world as I perceive it, but outside of that, there’s another completely different world, just going along as things do? The example of the chicken hatching out of the egg, pecking it’s way out of the world of the egg and into another contained space, another world…

Everything changes once we identify with being the witness to the story instead of the actor in it. [Ram Dass]


 

the karma of getting there

POSTCARD#304: Chiang Mai : 7am: The sound of a text message wakes me; Jiab arrived in Bangkok. Overnight flight from Delhi – and… what’s this? “Have you ordered a taxi yet?” Hmm? Taxi? What day is it? Oh no! I’m leaving today, not tomorrow… a flash of movement, brush teeth, shower, fling clothes in bag… quick tidy-up of rooms, swallow a headache pill, into taxi and it’s a struggle to stop the rushing and bumping into things in my head, breathe slow and deep and just let the driver take me to the airport.

Okay for time, as long as nothing untoward takes place, like what happened on the way to the airport once, in a taxi stuck in a long line of cars. A very strong smell of something like an omelet… what’s going on? We get to the obstruction, a collision of some sort involving a pickup truck filled to the maximum with trays of eggs… broken eggs everywhere, egg shells floating in puddles of egg all over the road surface. The egg-man in the middle of the sea of raw eggs sitting on the edge of his truck, head in hands.

Reminds me I have my headache to think about, and how best to manage that having swallowed a pill before breakfast – slightly dizzy, just to make things worse. We are at the airport, and embark on the karma of this route; the directional momentum through escalators, corridors, doorways – catch a glimpse of other people in their karmic paths. I enter and exit enclosed airport spaces that contain me in their capacity for a moment then I’m gone. Passing through other portals, and down the narrow tube that brings me to my small seat area, looking out through the window, under the blue dome of sky, pink-white heavenly clouds: at 35,000 feet and this is your captain speaking, we are now descending to Bangkok where the weather is sunny and bright with a temperature of 34° Centigrade and 94° Fahrenheit.

I feel stretched, part of me is 367 miles away, back at the condo in Chiang Mai having breakfast and listening to the birds interrupt the silence. Another part of me is gone with M, to New Zealand. M is my Thai niece now aged 14. She looks like a miniature adult. It was the day before yesterday, I went with her to the airport, we all had lunch, me and M and her mum and after that, I’m in the back seat with M, bags everywhere, a leisurely drive to the airport, laughing and chatting.

Suddenly mummy says something in Thai about a passport, M replies, saying she doesn’t have it! Car swerves across the highway, U-turn at the next opening and we are headed back the way we came. Mummy driving like a mad person, steering with one hand on the wheel, and with the other, calling the teacher who is going with the kids to New Zealand to say sorry M might be a little late.

So we got there, Mummy runs into the house to get the passport and while she’s away, M says to me quietly that they had to leave their house that morning exactly at the auspicious time given them by a ‘holy’ person, and mummy forgot the passport then, because she was too busy with getting the exact time precisely  right.

Enough said about that, another wild race back to the airport. Meeting the others and it all ended well, M waved to me at departures, went to New Zealand and took a part of me with her.

It’s the karma of getting there, I’m just mindfully aware of the direction and being propelled through the portals and gateways: this and then that, and the next thing. Some people, burdened with their superstitions for better, for worse need to be blessed by the holy person – and I suppose some would regard the egg-man as an example of someone who should have gone to receive the blessing but he didn’t and there you are.

There are the waves and there is the wind, seen and unseen forces. Everyone has these same elements in their lives, the seen and unseen, karma and free will. [Kuan Yin]


 

what is ordinary

POSTCARD#303: Chiang Mai: I picked up a carton of milk in the supermarket with the label, “Plain Flavor”… looked at it disbelievingly; hmmm, if it is plain, how can it have a flavor? I was wrong of course, according to my Thai niece M (see the M posts) who is now 14. She explained to me that a Thai company makes the milk, and it is ‘plain flavor’, in Thai; รสจืด rod jeud, because there are so many flavors in Thai food, something that is ‘plain’ has its own flavor, doesn’t it? How could it not be like that?

Yes but the milk in that carton is manufactured, created in a laboratory with cow’s milk as a starting point for all kinds of elaborate subtleties in taste. So let’s agree that cow’s milk is the ‘real’ taste, okay? Extensive experimentation and proliferation spin-offs arrive at the so-called ‘plain’ flavor, a laboratory product that mirrors the real taste of milk. I see it this way because in the West (and that includes the whole of the Indian subcontinent), we are part of the Great Cow Culture; consumers of cows’ milk, we are the children of the bovine deity.

From South East Asia to the Far East, it’s a rice culture, so there’s a proliferation of rice products parallel to the milk culture – no real familiarity with milk. I heard from Japanese friends that in a confined space like an elevator, the Western body sometimes gives off a noticeable smell of sour milk. Ah well, I lived in Japan for three years and nobody said anything to me about such odors. Maybe they were being polite. I drink milk, therefore I am (an upright, standing-on-it’s-hind-legs, cow person).

Jiab says what difference does it make, the whole thing is perception anyway, and why do I have to go on and on about something as ordinary as cow’s milk. It gives me pause, as some things in Thailand do, but what does ‘ordinary’ mean? I’m deeply familiar with the taste of cows’ milk, from childhood in the North of Scotland, the place I was born. I remember warm cow’s milk from the body-heat of mama cow at breakfast time on my grandfather’s farm, there in the half light before dawn.

I remember the constant wind, the sharp clear air, and summer sun shining all day and all night (latitude: 57.4778°). I couldn’t now say it was ‘ordinary’ there, a Viking consciousness of the North, proximity to the Arctic circle where morning emerges from the glimmer of light all night, because it never gets dark in the summer time (see ‘Insomnia’ movie 2002 starring Robin Williams and Al Pacino). The school holidays, full of light, all through the summer months… an endless time.

Winter is the other way round, there’s hardly any light at all. Sharp rebound on the opposite wall of the court. Extreme is not the word, when I bade farewell to the windy, blustery North and headed South, it was hard to believe weather conditions could be so … ordinary? What is ordinary? The absence of that vital quality of what a thing essentially ‘is’. At that time, the adventure had been intense, ordinary things were extraordinary – I didn’t know of any other way to see the world. I didn’t see that the polarization was caused by this confusion of thought underneath everything, just circulating around a great chasm of uncertainty.

Never-the-less one perseveres with the needs of the journey and on to locations where the surroundings are extraordinary, and familiar in that sense. I just kept on going, driven by the need to fill the empty space inside me with something – that underlying Buddhist sense of lack (although I didn’t know that ordinary things are, somehow exceptional), and learning how to not want to fill the emptiness with everything and anything.

Then seeing the Truth of strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and coconut flavor, as well as the Plain Flavor, along with all the others to form an endless proliferation of choices that distract the mind for no purpose other than alerting the innate creaturely hunger.

Thus hovering on the edge of awareness, I fall into the realm of samsara without end, but Awareness picks me up and I’m back in wakefulness again. Mindfulness (of awareness) exists because my attention to remembering it is activated as soon as it’s not there …

A sense of the universe, a sense of the all, the nostalgia which seizes us when confronted by nature, beauty, music – these seem to be an expectation and awareness of a Great Presence. [Pierre Teilhard de Chardin]


Thank you M for writing the Thai for rod jeud (plain flavor)

nine lives

POSTCARD#302: Chiang Mai: Long ago in the Swiss mountains, there was a cat who lived in the Buddhist monastery,  Dhammapala. It had no name, just arrived there one day, and stayed. It answered to the name: ‘Cat’, would walk definitively across the carpet; tail pointing in the direction it came from, pad, pad, pad, pad, and sit in the lap of his favourite monk, seated on the cushion there with crossed legs. Not however, during meditation times because the community agreed it was too distracting, other restrictions too but ‘Cat’ accepted all, dozing during the day and prowling in the woods at night.

On this day, I came across him on a small table in the sunshine. ‘Cat’ was often there, looking exactly like he appears in my old illustration of him. The same cat, the identity of Mr. Cat animated in the image – he ‘exists’ even though long gone in the decades since then. It’s as if one of the nine lives is used up being the likeness I see here and others who knew him see too.

It’s not impossible, by the way, that other people who have or used to have a black cat might see the identity of their cat in this image. What they see is ‘Tiddles’ or ‘Cutiepie’ – or as my blogging friend Sunny and her husband tell me, it’s their ‘Daisy’. Sadly, Daisy is elderly now and needs to be looked after, a lesson for all of us that there is an end to it all, and the clear comprehension of those final days are filled with immense peace. This is how it is, everyone, everywhere seems to know of a black cat like Mr. Cat, or the one image of Mr. Cat embodies all the others held in memory.

On this particular day, sitting on the garden table, the eyes look at me… ready to engage but ready to vanish back into the realm from whence he came. Hesitates to see what the next moment will bring, pause, click, screenshot… and I decide to back away, to step out of his space. I hadn’t intended to do that, it just started to happen and I followed through – maybe the deference arose with the thought that Mr. Cat was an extension of the monks’ awareness – those who might have extraordinary powers… all kinds of things.

I see his presence regarding me walking backwards and becoming a smaller and smaller object in his vision until the distance between us swallows up the encounter. His remoteness disturbed by an intrusion of everything seeming to happen at the same time. And for me, the nine-lives metaphor thus transits to include this other meaning; cats appear and disappear becoming cats in the lifetimes of all the other black cats I’ve known in say, more than a half century?

North of Scotland, Grandfather’s farm, a different place and time…. I was a boy and it must have been my first meeting with the cat species. Not the cute and cuddly kind, these were the cats whose presence kept the rats out of the old barn. Don’t go near them I was urged, not friendly creatures. There were eleven of them, my aunt said she knew there were, as we were walking along in the cleared snow path on a moonlit night – she would count them every night. Into the barn and my aunt would ask me to point the beam of the torch I was holding so she could see where to carefully place the large heavy dish of steaming food on a level place in the straw where it couldn’t be knocked over; oat meal cooked with sour milk filled to the brim, mixed with potato peelings, bits of all kinds of leftovers and horrific things, to my mind, being only seven.

The wild cats never came to eat the food while we were there (while I was there, I realize now), and my aunt would ask me if I could see them in the fearsome jagged shadows in the torchlight, long hanging cobwebs from roof beams. We’d stay still and look in all the corners – where are they?

There look!
Where?
Can ye no see them child… there!

And there they were, just out of reach, behind a volume of straw. I couldn’t actually see them, in fact I don’t remember ever seeing them anywhere on the farm in daylight. No, these were invisible cats; we could only see their eyes, white, reflected almond shapes in the torchlight. No body forms seen, crouched there in the blackness, waiting for that noisy child to leave. Fascination for me, held by my aunt, asking if I’d noticed that one of the cats had only one eye.

I saw it once, the one-eyed black cat, and I’m not sure if it was black – everything in the realm of the scary barnyard cats was darkness and black. But I saw it one night… my tireless aunt guiding my attention from one pair of luminous, broken-mica eyes, to the pair above that and above that, to the left a bit… now there, can ye see it? (Said in a whisper), and I saw it, one eye separated from its partner, alone in the blackness of no form.

How did it come to have only one eye? A volley of questions and speculations from me, for my aunt to consider… and she just said that if I stopped asking over and over, she’d tell me. A long time ago, that cat used to have two eyes like the others, and it went missing for days and weeks and months maybe, so long that she thought it must be dead. Then it came back one winter’s night for the plate of cooked leftovers, completely thin like a skeleton but otherwise looking as if it had always been there. My aunt noticed, as she watched it from a distance, that one eye had been torn out, so it must have been fighting with another cat. These animals have the determination to survive, no matter what.

All of that swallowed up in passage of the years and decades since then. Now after thirty years in Asia, where cats are never allowed inside the house, I sometimes see a cat-shape out there in the yard in the darkness, glimmer of streetlights. It turns its head and two eyes reflect the lights of the house – not the marginalized, one-eyed warrior cat. Must be one of these invisible cats of innumerable lives reborn in this instant, awareness includes that living being, then it’s gone almost as soon as it arrived.

grown-up children

POSTCARD#301: Chiang Mai: I got back to the apartment in the afternoon, slightly deaf and the feeling of being shipwrecked. It was the immediate sense of the journey that brought me here, the tuk-tuk, lady driver’s alertness and skill in what was for me a sudden urgency of speed. And those of us who don’t know the Thai tuk-tuk, it is a three-wheeled vehicle with a low canvas roof and no walls. The sound of its 2-stroke engine enhances the sensation of the whole vehicle entering into the passenger’s body/mind consciousness in a strange embrace, and it’s this, only this, that prevents you from falling out. That’s how it was for me; like gale-force winds, the whole outside, rushing through the inside, and everything on either side shielded from view because of low headroom and overhang of canvas roof. So the only place to look is over the driver’s shoulder, through her small windscreen and thus captivated by the directionality of the journey hurtling through a wormhole in space/time, and plunging towards a vanishing point that looks like it never arrives.

Definitely, it would have been easier without the large cork notice board I was clutching, fingers adhering desperately to this ‘thing’ measuring 47½ inches by 31½ inches, that wanted to be a sail in a sailing ship. Perhaps buying it in that discount place slightly out of town (and taking it back in a tuk-tuk because no car available) was a foolhardy idea, now it was tugging in the wind, and I’m seeing the very real possibility of it escaping my fingers and flying away like a kite without a string. But it didn’t, we reached the place, and tumbled out on to terra firma. The board and its sudden flatness, placed on its narrow end, up in the elevator and into the room.

Why this sail-like notice board, uncomfortably dwarfing nearby objects which shuffle out of the way to make room for it? Well, I could fix it on the wall with a hook, but right now it’s good just standing and leaning against the wall. I can move it around and pin things on it with a small box of pins I got at the discount shop. What things get pinned? Drawings that would be otherwise hidden, animated scribbles, and things developing more and more into what we can say is Art.

Let them see the light of day! Exhumed skeletons from long ago and far away, when and where I was an artist, intending to be an easel painter, studied 4 years in art school, exhibitions and all of that. Then one day my investigations led to a dead end, a place where everything was called into question, Creative Block… one’s own worst enemy. So I gave up, became an anarchist, conceptual tight-rope-walker, then stepping into the light, a teacher and the world of respectability. Anyway, the path led me to where I am now – that was decades ago and I’ve carried this sense of incompleteness all that time. So now, thanks to voices of encouragement from blogging friends, and my Thai niece M aged 14, I’m beginning to see that there is a way out of this conundrum.

Bring them out of hiding, pin them on a board: I had planned it only this morning. I have a printer so, cut, crop, say it’s finished, print and pin it on the board. Rediscovering these old plans for pictorial adventures and voyages long forgotten, pin them on the board as they are. With that, no tugs and pulls, push and shove, everything becomes neutral, non-intrusive random thought mechanisms that function at the edge of a dream pull me into the gentle whirr and flicker of thinking-about-things.

Each page of the world turns over and there’s another, and another. We’re all grown-up children, every song that’s sung, spoken in rhyme, is done in a spontaneous leap of words that, falling to the floor, arrange themselves, themselves.


See the Art page in this blog. Note: photo taken in a quiet moment at the red light

 

monuments to playfulness

POSTCARD#300: Bangkok: Writing this in the house we’ve had for fifteen years. It’s in the suburbs, a gated community, mature trees, landscaped, and the birds and critturs moved in, settled, as if they had always been here. “Return To Go”, we come on the weekends nowadays, this is the nearest thing to home, our point of origin. Feels like home, looks like home, although most of its history the house has been empty, except for a cleaner coming once a week and D, our nephew, acting caretaker. He got married in 2014 and I wrote a post about that. Now there’s a boy-child in the house too, born 20th December 2017, almost the Christmas story but not quite.

On a Sunday morning there’s only birdsong and beneath that silence, I’m fathoms deep in sleep. Then I hear the child crying downstairs… a reminder I’m not seeking a forever state of contentment, just content with the state of things as they are. Not easy, even though, but I am deeply glad, grateful too that I don’t have to go and tend to the child – sympathies for his parents, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep.

No reason for Jiab and I to go beyond the joy of having a baby at home, into the harder reality of it all, because we are only there at the weekends and on Monday morning, we’re back in our very small rented downtown apartment. Only 10 minutes on the Skytrain from there, to the glitzy shopping malls and huge exotic foodhalls, I go there nearly every day, buy one fresh bagel for our breakfast and a few things I can pack in my small back pack, then home again.

So I’m learning how much everything has changed in Bangkok these days, after being away for 7 years and before that, temporary residency since 2003. Astonishingly elaborate Mall architecture, monuments to playfulness, shrines to maya (Sanskrit: illusion). More and more of these in Bangkok, new spending to suit a lightweight upbeat city culture, low labour cost and lavish “investments” … construction projects are ongoing.

It becomes more and more like a world-class city as the years go by, typically Asian, company staff dressed in bright floral uniforms hand out gifts to passers-by at the Skytrain exits. Usually I decline the offer but the other day it looked like they were giving away packets of shampoo, so I accepted. Then, laughter… a second woman took them out of my hand, saying ‘No, not for you,’ and gave me what she was handing out – hmmm, I don’t know what that was about, but this must be men’s shampoo, I thought.

When I got back to the apartment, I was putting away the bagel and things from the mall, then there were the brightly coloured packets – no product name displayed… oh-oh, not shampoo! Packets of contraceptives! I didn’t need to open the packet, could easily feel the contents with my fingers. So they all got flung in the bin.

I don’t understand how the first lady could have mistakenly offered me the product used by the female gender. I’m so obviously male, head and shoulders above the women, and a bristly, untrimmed beard. It’s the kind of mistake Thais make when they are ‘sapsong’ (confused)… maybe she was new to the job?

My mistake really, the sort of thing that happens when I don’t understand the language well enough, and anyway I’ve never had to use the Thai word for contraceptive ‘toong’ – in fact it’s the same word as plastic bag (it does what it says it does). I sometimes hear giggles when I buy something and they ask me, do I need a bag for that?


 

notwithstanding

POSTCARD#299: Bangkok: I’m standing on the escalator, ascending the Skytrain levels, up to what looks to me like 3 floors in height. There’s a small place here above the traffic, selling drinks and snacks. Open door, air-con, find a table. So I tell the waitress what I’d like, she writes it down, and just as she’s reading back my order, someone opens the door and a huge noise of traffic deafens everyone. So I have to lip-read in Thai, thinking is this just a wild guess? The ubiquitous misunderstanding, we’ll see what happens. Quick glance around these calm and easy surroundings, I reach for my phone, but it’s not there!

Wow, devastated, no phone, nothing to fiddle with, to tap, swipe, to scroll down, up – nothing to feed my short little span-of-attention. Someone else opens the door and enter again the huge roar, screaming horns of traffic. Shocks me out of my ‘there-and-then’ location in that space and time instance, there’s no ‘me’, let that go and events just generate their own time. Senses alert, listening, feeling, searching… how can this be? Don’t ask me, I am the escapee… the one who disappeared (story of my life), and now I’m left with it, disasters I think I have to run away from, but on closer inspection, there’s only the learned mechanisms of escape, and I lose track of what it was I came in here to get away from.

So who are these nice people here in this place? Elegant males and females sit in twos and threes at small tables, rarely speak, each one looking at a screen, held fondly in the palm and fingers, the glow of colors reflected on their inclined faces, and the rest of the world is one vast blind spot. They’re not office-lunch-hour people, it’s too late, who are they, then? Conclusion, wow, they’re people like me, a mirror reflection of how I’d like it to be; stretching out the hours with a lunch plate, one cup of coffee, and the only difference between them and me now is they have their phones and I don’t.

Door opens again and high amplitude of decibel vastness slices through part of my head like a chain saw. Involuntary existential moment, looking out at the world and wondering if I can mount another escape attempt at such short notice? Even though it can be said that it is the searching for the way out that maintains the fear of being trapped. I need to make a note of that, in these circumstances, but no device to key it in on and tap save. I’ll have to write the old fashioned way, there’s a pen in my bag but no spiral notebook to write on – forgot that too. So I rummage around in my wallet for receipts that I can write on the back of, all kinds of blank bus tickets and paper I’ve had in my wallet for years.

There’s an immediate familiarity with holding the pen, pressed point seems to etch the characters in new ink into the surface of old wallet pressed paper. Encouraged to write only the gist of it because of limited space on these small scraps of paper, and I have to number them in order. Try that and see… everything seems possible now I have a system. Encouraging to see that, even though we suffer the ugly Trump regime, we can still have the Buddhist sense of what’s right, and wholesome action, Right View, Right Intention.

Shortly after that, the waitress comes with my lunch and it’s not what I ordered, kwiteao moo sen yai naam. Eat with chopsticks in right hand and spoon in left hand. No complaints, it’ll do, notwithstanding splatters of it on my shirtfront and not recommended if you’re fiddling with a phone screen at the time. But I’m not and soon I start to get down to it.