Categories
Life Music

Being You

I was listening to Tom Waits version of ‘Somewhere‘ (on ‘Blue Valentine’) and remembering Leonard Bernstein, in the documentary of the 1984 recording of West Side Story (the first time he conducted his own music, incidentally), tearing his hair out because Jose Carreras (playing Tony) just couldn’t help but keep slipping back into perfect pronunciation, away from the street gang edge that Bernstein was looking for.

Tom Waits by Anton Corbijn
Tom Waits by Anton Corbijn

More than likely Waits would be more than a few shades too far the other way for Bernstein (and indeed my mother-in-law who thought the CD player had broken), but opera singers versions of folk or pop songs rarely work because the sound of their voice is just too pure and polished.

And you don’t have to go as far as opera singers. Just think of the Byrds’ limp, smoothed out version of Mr Tambourine Man which empties the song of all challenge and meaning (even whilst it way outsold Dylan’s version). Listen to the sand and glue of Dylan and you feel the power of the words.

It’s something Seth Godin pointed to in his post ‘Effortless’,  taking John Coltrane playing ‘Harmonique’ as an example:

Sometimes, “never let them see you sweat,” is truly bad advice. The work of an individual who cares often exposes the grit and determination and effort that it takes to be present.

Perfecting your talk, refining your essay and polishing your service until all elements of you disappear might be obvious tactics, but they remove the thing we were looking for: you.

To get in the mood for celebrating you, just watch this encore from the proms in which Gustavo Dudamel and the Bolivars (Simon Bolivar Orchestra) don tracksuit tops in Venezuelan colours and rip into ‘Mambo!’ (from West Side Story). Speaking to Intelligent Life, Jamie Bernstein (daughter of Leonard) had no doubt her father would have loved it:

“I never thought I would again have those chills in a concert that I used to get watching my dad conduct … He would have gone down there, to Venezuela, in a shot. He would have crushed every rib in Gustavo’s body with a hug … He would have been beside himself with excitement.”
 

Categories
Books Life Philosophy

Remembering the Holocaust

Stolperstein

When one works, one suffers and there is no time to think: our homes are less than a memory. But here [in Ka Be, the infirmary] the time is ours: from bunk to bunk, despite the prohibition, we exchange visits and we talk and we talk. The wooden hut, crammed with suffering humanity, is full of words, memories and of another pain. ‘Heimweh’, the Germans call this pain; it is a beautiful word, it means ‘longing for one’s home’.

Primo Levi, ‘If This Is A Man’ (from Chapter 4 ‘Ka-Be)

A ‘Stolperstein’ (‘stumbling block’; plural Stolpersteine) on Nollendorfstraße, Berlin, just down the road from No. 17, Fraulein Thurau’s boarding house, where Christopher Isherwood lived between 1929 and 1933 and wrote the stories that would be published as Goodbye to Berlin (and inspired the movie Cabaret).

The Stolpersteine are a memorialisation project by artist Gunter Demnig. These small, cobblestone-sized brass memorials to the victims of Nazism are set into the pavement in front of buildings where a victim once lived or worked, calling attention both to the individual victim and the scope of the Nazi war crimes.

So far more than 32,000 Stolpersteine have been installed in over 700 cities across Europe, including Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium, in the Czech Republic, in Poland, in Italy (Rome) and Norway (Oslo).

Posted on Holocaust Memorial Day. Photo: Westrow, Berlin, 5 Sept 2012

Categories
Book design Books Life

David Bowie and George Orwell meet in blank space

Blank space is the central theme in the design for two iconic works released this month.

The album cover for the thrilling and unexpected release of new music by David Bowie, with strong allusions to his Berlin period, is presented in a blanked out cover of Heroes:

Album cover for 'The Next Day' by David Bowie
Album cover for ‘The Next Day’ by David Bowie

In his post on the design, Jonathan Barnbrook writes

The obscuring of an image from the past is also about the wider human condition; we move on relentlessly in our lives to the next day, leaving the past because we have no choice but to. [read full text here]

In the new edition of George Orwell’s 1984 released to commemorate the inaugural ‘Orwell Day’ (today! 21 Jan 2013), the text is blacked out using matt black foil over debossed type, leaving just enough of an imprint for the reader to make out the words – and subtly communicating the idea that censorship and authoritarianism will never fully succeed in eradicating memory or possibility.

Cover for 1984 by George Orwell by David Pearson
Cover for 1984 by George Orwell by David Pearson

We can be heroes, for more than one day …

Categories
Books Business development Life

Proust on Procrastination

Proust, portait by Jacques Emile Blanche

In this wonderful passage Proust nails procrastination and all the evasive and equivocal excuses we give ourselves for putting off until tomorrow what we should be doing today. Incisive, but also very funny. We may deceive others, or even ourselves, temporarily, but deep down we know:

Had I been less firmly resolved upon settling down definitively to work, I should perhaps have made an effort to begin at once. But since my resolution was explicit, since within twenty-four hours, in the empty frame of the following day where everything was so well arranged because I myself was not yet in it, my good intentions would be realised without difficulty, it was better not to start on an evening when I felt ill-prepared. The following days were not, alas, to prove more propitious.

[ … ]

Confident that by the day after tomorrow I should have written several pages, I said not a word more to my parents of my decision; I preferred to remain patient for a few hours and then to bring to a convinced and comforted grandmother a sample of work that was already under way. Unfortunately the next day was not that vast, extraneous expanse of time to which I had feverishly looked forward. When it drew to a close, my laziness and my painful struggle to overcome certain internal obstacles had simply lasted twenty-four hours longer.

[ … ]

To my parents it seemed almost as though, idle as I was, I was leading, since it was spent in the same salon as a great writer, the life most favourable to the growth of talent. And yet the assumption that anyone can be dispensed from having to create that talent for himself, from within himself, and can acquire it from someone else, is as erroneous as to suppose that a man can keep himself in good health (in spite of neglecting all the rules of hygiene and of indulging in the worst excesses) merely by dining out often in the company of a physician.

[From In Search of Lost Time Vol.II]

He goes on (of course!), but it really is time I got some work done …

How to do what you need to do to achieve what you want to achieve? It’s summed up perfectly in this morning’s daily truthbomb (#193) from Danielle LaPorte:

Love the necessary hard work.

 

Categories
Life Work life

Rituals to Reach Your Potential Every Day

Though we start off with the best of intentions, especially at this time of the year, all too soon – and all too often – things can unravel.

I came across these six rituals in a fast company article early in December and am finding they actually work – and are fairly easy to keep to on a daily basis. They are simple, but powerful:

1. Drink a glass of water when you wake up

This helps to rehydrate your body after a night’s sleep and prepare you for the fresh day ahead

2. Define your top 3

Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise! Decide the three most important things you need to get done each day, and don’t finish for the day until you’ve got them done!

3. The 50/10 rule

Taking a short break every hour helps keep your mind fresh and gives you the space to re-frame and re-focus your thinking about a project

4. Move and sweat daily

Exercise relives stress and helps keep you alert and healthy.

5. Express gratitude

First thing you do every morning, write out in a journal at least five things you’re grateful for. Helps to balance the mind for the day ahead.

If you use a Mac and/or iPhone I can recommend Day One, a brilliant little app which makes journaling very quick and easy.

6. Reflect daily

Last thing – reflect on what went well during the day and what can you do better

Read more here in Amber Rae’s article on Mike Del Ponte’s top tips for keeping yourself in shape and ready for anything. And let me know how you get on.

To your success in 2013!

 

Categories
Books Life Personal development

Starting Over

The ability to start over, forgive (oneself and/or others) and move on: isn’t this at the heart of personal success, as well as the ongoing success/prosperity of nations?

An aside in Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, which I’ve just begun and is every bit as engrossing and electrifyingly well written as its predecessor, Wolf Hall, suddenly brought this to my mind. Cromwell, he, reflecting:

 A generation on, lapses must be forgiven, reputations remade, otherwise England cannot go forward, she will keep spiralling backwards into the dirty past.

Forget the past and you cannot learn from it, live in the past and you stagnate. Or, in terms of nationhood, the murderous stupidity of Pol Pot’s year zero or the disastrous consequences of the Kanun, the Law of Lek (Book 10, ch. 3) and the blood feud that can engulf families (even blight whole districts) for generations. This is the subject of Ismail Kadare’s excellent novel Broken Spring.

He not busy being born is busy dyin’ as Bob Dylan once wrote: well, it’s alright Ma, (I’m only bleeding). By coincidence, while writing this, the latest email from Chris Guillebeau (The Art of Non-Conformity) just dropped into my inbox, on ‘Destiny, Influence, and the Impossibility of Being Self-Taught, which ends:

The point is that we all learn from one another every day. You can learn to improve yourself, or to advance in a discipline. You can also pass on your knowledge and influence to others…

Things that seem small at first will come along and affect the remainder of our lives. Is it due to fate, chance, or destiny?

Sometimes it’s hard to say for sure. And does it really matter? Either way, lives are changed, and the next step is up to you.

Categories
Design Life Uncategorized

London 2012

London 2012 stamps by @westrowc
London 2012 stamps, a photo by @westrowc on Flickr.

I think (hope!) Games time is going to be great, even if I’m still trying to love the logo. Maybe I’ll finally get there in time for the opening ceremony. In any case, the logo works well on these stamps, so to celebrate the day the Olympic flame arrives in the UK, post of the more traditional kind.

Categories
Books Design Landscape Life

Edward Lear in Albania

Happy Birthday Edward Lear. Google’s reminder that today is Edward Lear’s 200th birthday is a good prompt to get Edward Lear in Albania down off the shelves, a book I had the opportunity to produce for IB Tauris and The Centre for Albanian Studies. It’s one of the book designs I am most pleased with, and still the only one that has inspired a reader to enquire (via the publisher) what font is used: Goudy Old Style.

The book essentially covers the Albanian part of Lear’s Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans, documenting the 15 months in 1848-9 this intrepid traveler spent exploring the countries around the Mediterranean.

In the journals and drawings he vividly describes the remote landscapes in which he traveled and the people he met along the way, and the pleasures – and many inconveniences – of journeying in such rugged and often perilous countryside.

Describing Albania, he writes

Luxury and inconvenience on the one hand, liberty, hard living and filth on the other.

Yenidje and Vodhena, drawn at the scene in pencil, later in the studio ‘penned out’ in sepia ink then coloured using watercolor washes, based on notes he had made at the scene:

Here, in the entry for October 4th, he describes the landscape around Skodra:

Perhaps the grandest of all the views of Skodra was from the rock eastward of the bazaars; the castle, the mountains above – the ruined town below – the river winding beneath its bridges into far distance, form one of the finest pictures. As the sun was sinking low, its rays, clouded through the day, lit up the northern side of the landscape brilliantly, and from the steep castle hill – my last halt – nothing could have been more splendid than the rich foliage and glittering dwellings on the one side and the dark ranges of deep blue and violet hills against the bright sky.

Edward Lear in Albania: Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans

Categories
Books Life Poetry

Wislawa Szymborska

I was sad to learn that Wislawa Szymborska, one of my favourite poets, died yesterday in Krakow, aged 88.

Her total output was small – when she was awarded the Nobel prize she had published barely 200 poems, and in her lifetime published something less than 400 poems – but, like their author, the poems have a quiet authority and always brought a new way of seeing.

Take Cat in an Empty Apartment for example, a wonderful poem about the death of a friend – from the point of view of the cat:

Die — You can’t do that to a cat.

Since what can a cat do

in an empty apartment?

Climb the walls?

Rub up against the furniture?

Nothing seems different here,

but nothing is the same.

Nothing has been moved,

but there’s more space.

And at nighttime no lamps are lit.

Footsteps on the staircase,

but they’re new ones.

The hand that puts fish on the saucer

has changed, too.

Something doesn’t start

at its usual time.

Something doesn’t happen

as it should.

Someone was always, always here,

then suddenly disappeared

and stubbornly stays disappeared.

Every closet has been examined.

Every shelf has been explored.

Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.

A commandment was even broken,

papers scattered everywhere.

What remains to be done.

Just sleep and wait.

Just wait till he turns up,

just let hims show his face.

Will he ever get a lesson

on what not to do to a cat.

Sidle towards him

as if unwilling

and ever so slow

on visibly offended paws,

and no leaps or squeals at least to start.

[Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh]

Posted also in memoriam of Barney, faithful family dog who you can see at the coast at Kimmeridge in the masthead above, and who in his own way was quite fond of cats, who also died yesterday.

Categories
Design Landscape Life Philosophy

Walking in the new year

Muddy this year, unlike the snow of last. Walking, thinking, and enjoying the smell of the wet wood and the suck and ooze of the mud; and then the shafts of sunlight glowing through the bare trees.

When I get back, interrogating the experience, playing with the memory with camera+:

 

 

Categories
Books Life

Can you live without French fries?

I had never heard of Nora Roberts, massively bestselling writer of romance fiction, before last week, but from the article and interview with her in The Observer 20.11.11 there are two things I liked about her right away:

– That she wrote one of her books, ‘Remember When,’ with J D Robb – who is also her.

– And this response to a reader who had asked her for her views on French fries:

Barb, how can one live without French fries? Not well, I say. In fact, I’ve been known to say a day without French fries is like a day without an orgasm.

As she says later on (and memo to self) –  there’s nothing wrong with being happy.

Categories
Language Life Philosophy

Just Do It

Loved this from Matthew Kimberley’s Get A Grip:

action is the difference between ‘screw it, let’s do it’ and ‘fuck it, let’s have a kebab.’

Also loved this from Jeanette Winterson’s latest, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal:

Manchester spun riches beyond anybody’s wildest dreams, and wove despair and degradation into the human fabric

A great sentence on the mix and contrariness of Manchester, the world’s first industrial city and the city where she was born.

Categories
Life Philosophy

A game of two halves

Bright sunshine outside, menthol lemsip inside. No fun. But time to reflect, to plan, and see if this wordpress app works.

Categories
Language Life Poetry

The intricate web of love

I’ve been reading the Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner, a Virago paperback I picked up in the Oxfam bookshop a while back. On the strength of her writing here, she is much underrated and deserves a wider readership.

For example, this wonderful entry for 16 Feb 1950  on the cremation of her mother:

… Nora’s small purple coffin coming out of the hearse; the one bunch of brilliant spring flowers on it. Out of such bare material, out of mere birth and death, we spin the intricate web of love, we distil it from these poor bones and ashes, and with it conceive the tale that is told and ended when we die.

Followed the next day with:

It is a curious sensation to get one’s mother by post; and rather hastily I took her upstairs and unpacked a small violet cloth-covered casket, with a shiny name-plate (good lettering). After breakfast Evans & I buried it with some moss and snowdrops under the cherry tree …

Writing with a rare lightness of touch that captures the spiritual and often disconcertingly practical dimensions of the death of a loved one.

Running through the diaries is her account of the intricate, and tangled, web  of her love affair with Valentine Ackland, with whom she lived in Dorset.

It’s odd reading a published diary that unfolds in a landscape and towns and villages that you know well. It adds an extra poignancy when you know the hotel at Yeovil Pen Mill station to which Sylvia retreated, heartbroken, when another lover of Valentine’s came to stay at their house. I will have to call in and see if they are aware this fine writer was a guest at the hotel in the late ‘40s.

My room looks out on the main road, with buses – behind is the station. I have a view of the laundry, some public trees, and a poor, almost real wood. I have a choice of a bentwood chair, an easy one that is not easy, and the window sill, which is best.

 

Categories
Books Language Life

Jeff in Venice

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is not Geoff Dyer on best form, but just when you think you can’t take any more of Junket Jeff downing Bellinis in Venice or drifting in Varanasi, he comes out with a passage like this, and suddenly there isn’t a book you’d rather be reading:

Her voice promised absolute devotion; but then the note was stretched further still, beyond this, until you wondered what you would have to do to be worthy of such devotion, such love. You would have to be that note, not the object of devotion but the devotee. Her voice slid and swooped. It was like those perfect moments in life, moments when what you hope for most is fulfilled and, by being fulfilled, changed – changed, in this instance, into sound: when, in a public place, you glimpse the person you most want to see and there is nothing surprising about it; the pattern in the random, when accident slides into destiny. A note was stretched out as long as possible and then a little longer; it continued, somewhere, long after it was capable of being heard. It is still there, even now.

For Geoff Dyer at his best (IMHO) read Out of Sheer Rage. This is one of my favourite books and it’s every bit as wild and wonderful as its progenitor, Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature .

Categories
Books Life Philosophy

The fire from a little spark

‘Everyone knows that the fire from a little spark will increase and blaze ever higher as long as it finds wood to burn; yet without being quenched by water, but merely by finding no more fuel to feed on, it consumes itself, dies down, and is no longer a flame. Similarly, the more tyrants pillage, the more they crave, the more they ruin and destroy; the more one yields to them, and obeys them, by that much do they become mightier and more formidable, the readier to annihilate and destroy…’

Am reading the section on Etienne de La Boetie in Sarah Bakewell’s excellent book on Montaigne, ‘How To Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer’ (which I’ve just heard has won the 2010 Duff Cooper award – congratulations to her) and was struck by the extraordinary prescience of his essay ‘ Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, or the Anti-Dictator (Discours de la servitude volontaire ou le Contr’un).

His essay, written over 450 years ago in 1552 or ‘53, seems to describe just what is happening in the Arab world today – the people awaking for an almost hypnotically induced slumber, of consent to be ruled by ‘the one person whose qualities they cannot admire because of his inhumanity and brutality toward them.’

In the essay La Boetie questions why people agree to be oppressed by government overlords and concludes that it is not just fear, for our consent is required. And that consent can be non-violently withdrawn:

… But if not one thing is yielded to them, if, without any violence they are simply not obeyed, they become naked and undone and as nothing, just as, when the root receives no nourishment, the branch withers and dies. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces. 

In this, he became one of the earliest advocates of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance, and (can we hope?) explains why Gaddafi and similar rulers cannot, in the end, prevail.

Consider the justly famous battles of Miltiades,4 Leonidas,5 Themistocles,6 still fresh today in recorded history and in the minds of men as if they had occurred but yesterday, battles fought in Greece for the welfare of the Greeks and as an example to the world. What power do you think gave to such a mere handful of men not the strength but the courage to withstand the attack of a fleet so vast that even the seas were burdened, and to defeat the armies of so many nations, armies so immense that their officers alone outnumbered the entire Greek force? What was it but the fact that in those glorious days this struggle represented not so much a fight of Greeks against Persians as a victory of liberty over domination, of freedom over greed?

see full essay at http://www.constitution.org/la_boetie/serv_vol.htm

Categories
Books Life Philosophy Poetry

New Directions

The new year is an invitation to assess what’s working, and what’s not. But for every new direction you commit to, there’s the road not taken – and the thorny problem of being happy with the choice you make.

Robert Frost’s famous poem on this theme (‘The Road Not Taken‘) dramatises this moment of choice and, according to comments made by the author at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference in 1953, was inspired by

“a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.”

The Road Not Taken‘ was first published in Frost’s collection Mountain Interval in 1916, almost perfectly midway between publication of ‘Swann’s Way’ (Du côté de chez Swann, 1913) and the first part of ‘The Guermantes Way ‘ (La côté de Guermantes’, 1920), of Proust’s ‘A La Recherche du Temps Perdu’:

For there were, in the environs of Combray, two “ways” which we used to take for our walks, and they were so diametrically opposed that we would actually leave the house by a different door according to the way we had chosen…

(Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin translation)

The great reading journey, in search of lost time, that I plan to take again in 2011.