Questioning what makes a good life

Drabble, M. (2016) “The Dark Flood Rises“, Edinburgh:  Canongate Books

It’s not often I’m compelled to buy a book directly from what the blurb has to to say for itself on the sleeve, but with this book by Margaret Drabble, I was sold when I originally bought the book back in 2017.  It spoke to me, and despite it being fiction, it seemed to speak to the stage of life I find myself in, and the mood I found myself in while I was looking to spend money in the bookshop at the time last year.

The offending paragraphs inside the cover of The Dark Flood Rises read as follows:

“Fran may be old but she’s not going without a fight. So she dyes her hair, enjoys every glass of red wine, drives around the country for her job with a housing charity and lives in an insalubrious tower block that her loved ones disapprove of. And as each of them – her pampered ex Claude, old friend Jo, flamboyant son Christopher and earnest daughter Poppet – seeks happiness in their own way, what will the last reckoning be? Will they be waving or drowning when the end comes?

“By turns joyous and profound, darkly sardonic and moving, The Dark Flood Rises questions what makes a good life, and a good death. This triumphant, bravura novel takes in love, death, sun-drenched islands, poetry, Maria Callas, tidal waves, surprise endings – and new beginnings.”

Morbid I know, but it seemed to have many resonating themes for me with my, what can often feel stalling, middle age life.  As I approach the age of 48 years old, I recently had to retire early due to a neurological condition which can play many wonderful tricks on my body and mind.  Not only that, two years ago, I downsized from my fast-paced life in London, to return to the house I grew up in in a much slower part of Hampshire, and seem to hang out with many more people aged over 70 than I do with people of my own age, so many of the issues the book says it was going to address are live for me, and the people I see regularly.

That’s what I thought it was – the highs, lows and frustrations of growing old, and the challenges of modern life.  There was some of that, but in fact, it was much darker than that.  Bigger themes lying beneath the surface of what adds up to a ‘good life’ and how to see it out at the end – something facing us all as we apparently live longer, but better lives?  And not just us, but our families and friends too.  A lot of dying.

Because of my own situation, it did give much pause for reflection at times, and made me think a lot about people I know, places I pass on the bus, or charities I have considered partnering with on projects in the past.  In the work I have been doing on community podcasting at Sound Vault, for example, we have been thinking about doing projects on the role music can play in making memories, and have seen the difference simple conversations about music can have in people’s lives.

At times, I found the book a little too incredible – too many coincidental character links for example – only for a coincidental link to ‘pop-out’ at the very same moment I was reading about it, to match with a detail in my own life, so perhaps I was too quick to judge.  Too many of the characters in the book seemed to know each other by some twist of fate, but maybe that happens in particular professional sectors, even if they are separated by hundreds of miles at a particular stage in their life.

The book is powerful in that it creates a dark ‘oil’ which feels like it envelopes the reader.  It doesn’t judge, or prescribe.  It is not depressive (I finally got round to reading it during January 2018, when I am at my most optimistic, most proactive, most organised), but can help us all reflect a little more clearly, yet thoughtfully about the door marked ‘Exit’.  I don’t like to alarm anyone, but it’s approaching.  For many of my nearest and dearest, and others in my networks, it has already come.  And the public policy issues associated with it are growing.

 

 

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Previous Reading (6):

I’m in the process of tidying up up my blog. so I’m just posting a few book reviews I had posted elsewhere, but I wanted to make sure they were codified in the main body of the blog.  Sixth up:-

“The Faraway Nearby”, Solnit, R. (2014) London: Granta Books

farawaynearby

A beautifully written book which manages to succeed in helping to make faraway locations seem nearby, and to take the nearby/everyday or commonplace to different or faraway contexts, helping to bring fresh perspective on them in the process.

Solnit’s book is an elegant piece of memoir, almost of therapy.  It takes what at times can appear to be a random stream of deep reflections, and weaves them amongst strands which take us deep into the territory of the craft of storytelling.  Rather than just trying to unpick what makes a ‘good’ story, it uses these insights to heighten the experiences it introduces us to, making those feelings personal, and intense, and provoking us to reflect on our own story.  It is difficult to not start looking for and making connections in your own life, just as she has in hers.

The book is as good an example of psychogeography as you will find on the shelves, without ever trying to formalise such a definition for itself, or explore the concept – but place is important.

Marina Warner, writing a review for The Guardian (June 2013) said;

“Dominating Solnit’s rich repertoire are two main thoughts: that imagination activated through reading and art, can help overcome the feeling of being a stranger in the world, lost among strangers, and second, that characters and places can build another home, and provide alternative stories to the dismal and constrictive plots of our own lives!”

“We are all the heroes of our own stories,” she writes, “and one of the arts of perspective is to see yourself small on the stage of another’s story, to see the vast expanse of the world that is not about you and to see your power, to make your life, to make others or break them, to tell stories, rather than be told by them.”

I’ll end, by sharing the beginning of Solnit’s book, so you can decide for yourself if it’s a journey you want to pick up, and begin for yourself.  I can thoroughly recommend it.  It’s an engrossing book – at times, I was so effected by it, I forgot I was reading a book.  And their is a delightful device running throughout the book of a pile of slowly rotting apricots from a tree in her mother’s garden, how she has to deal with them, what they mean to her, and what their legacy becomes.  Beautiful, for a reader who has become obsessed with the sourdough revolution, and other baking for neighbours.

“What’s your story?  It’s all in the telling.  Stories are compasses and architecture, we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice.  To love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.”

“Which means that a place is a story, and stories are geography, and empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of travelling from here to there.  What is it like to be the old man silenced by a stroke, the young man facing the executioner, the woman walking across the border, the child on the roller coaster, the persons you’ve only read about, or the one next to you in bed.”

This book helps you find it, and feel it.

Previous Reading (5)

I’m in the process of tidying up up my blog. so I’m just posting a few book reviews I had posted elsewhere, but I wanted to make sure they were codified in the main body of the blog.  Fifth up:-

“Hope in the Dark”, Solnit, R. (2016) Canongate Books

hope-in-the-dark

Solnit’s book was originally published in 2005, but has been updated to reflect what seems like ever increasing reasons for social and political gloom – particularly for those on the left – which is what drew me to the book.  I consider myself a thwarted optimist, rather than an out-and-out pessimist, and was attracted to a book that promised to help define, and find grounds for ‘hope’ for those looking for progressive change on a range of social, political and environmental causes, when the forces lined up against such change seem overwhelming.

As she wrote in her piece promoting the book’s publication in the Guardian, “We may be living through times of unprecedented change, but in uncertainty lies the power to influence the future.  Now is not the time to despair, but to act.”

For President Bush, and the Iraq War when the book was published in 2005, read Brexit, the prospect of Donald Trump, and the disarray in the state of the UK opposition parties in 2016.

Rebecca Solnit writes compellingly.  She asserts, “Hope doesn’t mean denying these realities.  It means facing them and addressing them by remembering what else the twenty first century has brought, including the movements, heroes and shifts in consciousness that address these things now.”  She is big on identifying, remembering, and celebrating past campaigns, and successes – which are many and varied.

She synthesises a range of other writers to help build her case for real hope.  “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope without critical thinking is naivete,” the Bulgarian writer Maria Popova recently remarked.”

The key case for hope is laid out in the foreword to the 2015 edition:

“The tremendous human rights achievements – not only in gaining rights, but in redefining race, gender, sexuality, embodiment, spirituality, and the idea of the good life – of the past half century have flowered during a time of unprecedented ecological destruction and the rise of innovative new means of exploitation.  And the rise of new forms of resistance, including resistance enabled by an elegant understanding of that ecology and new ways for people to communicate and organise, and new and exhilarating alliances across distance and difference.”

“Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.  When you recognise uncertainty, you recognise that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.  Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both the optimists and the pessimists.  Optimists think it will be fine without our involvement;  pessimists take the opposite position;  both excuse themselves from acting.  It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, and and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand.  We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.”

So, that told me!  And it certainly answered a lot of the painful doubts I’d been having – and I know many of my friends have been having of late, on the topic of having hope.

By exploring past successes, particularly of the last fifty or so years, Rebecca Solnit gives us good reason to have hope – and plenty of source material from which to learn lessons as to how to build it.

“Mushroomed: after a rain mushrooms appear on the surface of the earth as if from nowhere.  Many do so from a sometimes vast underground fungus that remains invisible and largely unknown.  What we call mushrooms mycologists call the fruiting body of the larger, less visible fungus.  uprisings and revolutions are considered to be spontaneous, but less visible long-term organising and groundwork – or underground work – often laid the foundation.  Changes in ideas and values often result from work done by writers, scholars, public intellectuals, social activists and participants in social media.  It seems insignificant or peripheral until very different outcomes emerge from transformed assumptions about who and what matters, who should be heard and believed, who has rights.”

“Ideas at first considered outrageous or ridiculous or extreme gradually become what people think they’ve always believed.  How the transformation happened is rarely remembered, in part because it’s compromising: it recalls the mainstream when the mainstream was, say, rabidly homophobic or racist in a way it no longer is; and it recalls that power comes from the shadows and the margins, that our hope is in the dark around the edges, not the limelight of the centre stage.  Our hope, and often our power.”

The book is a reference guide for a number of liberation struggles throughout the world which have made for success.  As Solnit says, “Memory of joy and liberation can become a navigational tool, an identity, a gift”.

One final lesson worth noting from what is a fabulously uplifting book – and one that is incredibly pertinent for those on the left of politics who, like me, have concerns about whether the vehicles we are operating in quite get the magnitude of the problems we face.

“It’s an argument for tiny and temporary victories, and for the possibility of partial victories in the absence or even the impossibility of total victories.  Total victory has always seemed like a secular equivalent of paradise: a place where all the problems are solved and there’s nothing to do, a fairly boring place.  The absolutists of the old left imagined that victory would, when it came, be total and permanent, which is practically the same as saying that victory was and is impossible and will never come.  It is, in fact, more than possible.  It is something that has arrived in innumerable ways, small and large and often incremental, but not in that way that was described and expected.  So victories slip by unheralded.  Failures are more readily detected.”

Rebecca Solnit provides us with grounds for hope!

Previous Reading (4):

I’m in the process of tidying up up my blog. so I’m just posting a few book reviews I had posted elsewhere, but I wanted to make sure they were codified in the main body of the blog.  Fourth up:-

“Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the World”, Grant, A. (2016) WH Allen

Originals_AdamGrant

This was the book I have been seeking for a long time.  Not only does it seek to distill the essence of creativity, it tries to discern what marks out those people who take creative ideas that one step further, and make them happen – ‘the originals’.  Using a series of true stories to which he returns throughout the book, Grant aims to chart what we can all do to make it more likely that we can move mountains – and he discovers that there are a number of often counter intuitive fixes that can increase the likelihood of fostering an environment where originals will blossom – and these are helpfully summarised in the final chapter.  For example, always questioning the ‘default’ setting in an organisation (it might be there for a reason – at least you will discover ‘why’ if it is); or, making your ideas more familiar (so those around you are more comfortable with your ideas, and so are more likely to adopt them); through to some tips for bringing through originality in children.  ‘Originals’ are not born special, but train themselves through experience, learning and common-sense is, I believe, his central argument.  We can all do it (well, maybe some more than others!)

Easy to read, and practical in approach, its strategies for encouraging adoption of new ideas have uses far beyond innovation in its narrowest sense.  I thoroughly recommend this book.  The video above gives a snapshot of Grant’s book from the man himself.

Previous Reading (3):

I’m in the process of tidying up up my blog. so I’m just posting a few book reviews I had posted elsewhere, but I wanted to make sure they were codified in the main body of the blog.  Third up:-

“Wasted: How Misunderstanding Young Britain Threatens Our Future”, Gould, G. (2015) Little, Brown Book Group

Wasted

Although rooted in politics, this was a fascinating read with much to inform public services, private corporations and all our our human relationships with young people – or as the former might call them, a primary core audience!  It was upfront in articulating how much intelligence young people can bring to campaigns and decision-makers, and how much this is often overlooked and paid lip-service to.  One of the fascinating discussions came over the role (or potential lack of it) for corporate social responsibility, in a world where entrepreneurs put mutuality and cause at the heart of their business models, rather than as a ‘bolt-on’.  There are so many lessons from the book, it is difficult to know where to start.  One is the importance of not just involving young people, or inviting them in, but actually putting them ‘in the driving seat’ of organisations – not making their involvement a special event.  In order for young people to make the most of their involvement, whether that be in the workplace, or in constructing campaigns, we need to increase the capacity for them to contribute – and that has implications for how the PR profession (not just politicians) engages with schools, and the National Citizens Service, so it can play a part in helping young people find their voice.  This is even more vital after the EU referendum vote, when many young people (and many others!) may feel that the political system does not speak for them.  There is also a lot of stress on ensuring conversations across generational groups, and across social groups – and PR can have part to play in this.  The bottom line for all of this is that it is not just in the interests of young people – but it ensures that the communication and messages the profession is seeking to engage with actually work with with the future generations of this country, and the profession can then be seen to have a positive reputation amongst potential recruits across a more diverse range of faces and voices.

Most importantly, the book is about making society function more effectively again, by involving young people properly.  Much of what it has to say about decision-makers embracing more creativity, and unleashing more autonomy is probably something we would all say ‘amen’ to – not just young people.  Thoroughly recommend this book for its showcasing of a range on quality example case studies from around the country, and rich voices captured through in-depth qualitative interviews.

Other reviews and links here from the Guardian and The RSA.

Previous Reading (2):

I’m in the process of tidying up up my blog. so I’m just posting a few book reviews I had posted elsewhere, but I wanted to make sure they were codified in the main body of the blog.  Second up:-

“Reaching Down The Rabbit Hole”, Ropper, A. and Burrell, B.D. (2015) Atlantic Books

Reaching Down The Rabbit Hole

Reaching Down The Rabbit Hole

Having been under the care of a neurologist since 1997, I was fascinated by a book written by a US neurologist of the old-school, outlining his approaching to patient care and crucially, diagnosis. At the same time, it is as much an account of a qualitative to professionalism, rejecting a numbers-based approach, to one that is based on human interactions, and looking out for the ‘particular’.

The account makes neuroscience sound more like an art, than it does a science, and goes some way to show why a young medical student might choose it as a specialism.  For someone who has a rare neurological condition, it is reassuring to know that the health services of the world still have figures like those revealed in the shape of the author, as he discusses how things went dealing with individual patients who crossed his path, ensuring he documents their lives with as much colour as is possible, without breaching any patient confidentiality.

A beautiful read about a beautiful organ, and a beautiful man.

Previous reading (1):

I’m in the process of tidying up up my blog. so I’m just posting a few book reviews I had posted elsewhere, but I wanted to make sure they were codified in the main body of the blog.  First up:-

“The Utopia of Rules”, Graeber, D. (2015) Melville House

The Utopia of Rules

The Utopia of Rules

Not an easy read, partly because of the density of the material, but partly because of the structure, but in my humble opinion, this book’s moment is now!  It’s central focus – society’s apparent fetishisation of bureaucracy, and our collusion in that onward march, has never been more apt.

While there is no clear manifesto to lance us of the boil that is all to apparent from personal testimony with which we can all concur, the book uses this as a starting point for reflection which incorporates a range of threads – bureaucracy as a diversion, from right wing oppression, but also from our own fright at embracing un-trammelled play, while this ‘utopia of rules’ at least provides a structured game, where there is at least some transparency on what basis we can expect decisions to be taken.

If you want to be left with a clear conclusion, this is not the book you are looking for.  However, if you are looking for signposts that will help unearth where the piece of the jigsaw might be that might help reveal a clearer sense of the whole picture of the crazy state of the world today, I think this book is on to something!

For a review elsewhere, see here.

Maltings radio project takes to the air

The Farnham Maltings is using the occasion of World Radio Day on Monday 13 February to announce that it is to launch its own radio project – and it wants the community to get involved. ‘Sound Vault’ will take to the air in the next year, and will seek to create a ‘radio space for all’, where volunteers can flex their creative muscles, the community can tell their stories, and everyone can get a platform for their artistic talents.

nickycampbell

Me with former ‘charge’, BBC Radio 5 Live breakfast presenter Nicky Campbell.

Sound Vault’ will utilise the possibilities offered by podcasting technology to give a wider range of people the chance to make programmes, and share them with a bigger audience. I’m thrilled to be able to say that I will be leading the project as a volunteer, after going to them with the germ of an idea, and capitalising on my experience working for BBC Radio 1, then later with Kiss FM and Bam-Bam (see below), and subsequently with Mark Goodier and Nicky Campbell.

wrd2017_logo_en_blackblue

Explaining the idea, Gavin Stride, who is the Farnham Maltings’ Director (and head honcho) said;

“World Radio Day – this year on Monday 13 February – was established by the United Nations to celebrate radio as a medium, and to encourage us all to use it to promote freedom of expression. Radio is the mass media reaching the widest audience in the world, and is a powerful storytelling tool. It is only right that the Farnham Maltings use World Radio Day to reveal our exciting plans.”

 

Initial programming plans centre around four themes:-

Voice: personal story-telling; oral history; and voices from the street;

Audio Collage: sound creations, where music meets speech;

Specialist Music: exploring music genres missing a platform elsewhere;

Maltings + : an audio dimension to the Farnham Maltings’ own programme.

The online radio platform will be accompanied by a website, and social media dedicated to celebrating listening more generally around the world.

Former Kiss FM breakfast show DJ Bam Bam has dropped by to advise me on the plans.

Former Kiss FM breakfast show DJ Bam Bam has dropped by to give me some advice on the plans. Bam presented the show for 7 years, and won countless Sony Radio Academy Awards, before going on to become a pioneer in podcasting. Back in 2006, he was one of the first DJs to launch a daily podcast, and his ‘Faceless‘ podcast was one of the most downloaded of that year.  Today, as well as presenting the breakfast show on Southampton’s Sam FM, his audioshows.com consultancy is behind the successful Brain Training Podcast which has reached number 11 in the Top 100 podcasts on iTunes.

Sound Vault’ is now putting out a call for volunteers who are interested in getting involved in the project – whether in the shape of production, technology, digital, legal, music or oral history/digital heritage expertise. People interested in becoming involved with the project can find out more details at Farnham Maltings’ refreshers, festival of retirement on Monday 27 February where I will be running a stand between 11.00am and 4.00pm – or by emailing me at paul@dutchHQ.com.

Once a volunteer team has been recruited, the plan is to reach out to source programme content from the community, using a studio at the Farnham Maltings, portable digital recording equipment, and ‘pop-up’ recording booths.

While I live just eleven or so miles up the road in Yateley, I was born in Farnham, and my family have lived around this area of the Surrey/Hampshire border, whether in Bentley, Church Crookham, Crondall, DeepcutDogmersfield, Elvetham, Frimley,Odiham, Rotherwick, South Warnborough or Yateley for hundreds of years – so a project dedicated to tapping into local story-telling is extremely important to me.

Farnham Maltings

Farnham Maltings

The project, while centred on the Farnham Maltings, and surrounding communities on the Surrey/Hampshire border, will ensure that its horizons are global as well as local. Updates about its development will follow in the coming months. It is expected to launch in time for World Radio Day 2018.  Updates will be posted at www.farnhammaltings.com/soundvault . Stay tuned!

 

a radio space for all.

a radio space for all.

Get involved – email paul@dutchHQ.com

** For anyone who doesn’t know, Farnham Maltings is a creative organisation that works with the artists and communities of South East England to encourage the greatest number of people to make, see and enjoy the best art possible. From a range of buildings, set in the heart of Farnham, they present events and workshops from large scale craft festivals to intimate cabaret shows, as well as proving space for voluntary and community groups to deliver their own ambitions. They enable artists making craft, theatre and dance work to thrive by providing affordable studio and rehearsal space, offering producing and tour booking, developing networks, sharing resources and equipping artists with the skills and opportunities to promote their work locally, nationally and internationally. farnhammaltings.com . They are a perfect fit for a project like Sound Vault – and I’m really excited to be working with them.

 

Back on campus

Last week, I was back on campus, giving a guest lecture to the PR Fraternity at the University of Greenwich.  I remain an honorary patron for the society, and it was particularly inspiring to see a number of the students I have taught over the years return to Greenwich for a networking event after the lecture, to help inspire those students who are set to follow them.

LCC PR alumni, Matthew Zorpas.

LCC PR alumni, Matthew Zorpas.

Next week (Wednesday 8th February), another of those former PR students (this time from LCC) who have gone on to success in PR, marketing, events and digital, return to give a guest lecture in their own right for the PR Fraternity.  The talk is  from 5.00-6.00pm in QA280 , Queen Anne Court, Old Royal Naval College, University of Greenwich SE10 9lS.

Matthew Zorpas is a London-based creative consultant who graduated with a BA in Public Relations from London College of Communication and with an MSc in Global Media and Communication from London School of Economics.  I was lucky enough to teach him for the first two years of his undergraduate career, before I switched to start teaching at Greenwich.

Opening my guest lecture last week, using 'psycho-geography' as a tool for reflection.

Opening my guest lecture last week, using ‘psycho-geography’ as a tool for reflection.

Matthew was founder of The Gentleman Blogger in July 2012 and has collaborated with respected brands such as Cartier, Chopard, Gucci, IWC, Westfield London, Dolce and Gabbana, Cadillac, MINI Clubman and Coach, to mention but a few and notably fronting the Gianfranco Ferré Fragrance worldwide campaign in 2016.

He has been recognised as one of the Best Dressed Man in Britain by Esquire magazine UK in 2010 and GQ Taiwan named him one of top ten best dressed men in the world for 2013. More recently British GQ crowned him one of the top ten best dressed men on Instagram and a judge for British GQ Grooming Awards 2017.

He has also taught luxury management and digital marketing at respected universities in the UK such as Istituto Marangoni, and has contributed to the London College of Fashion, Regents College, Winchester School of Arts and PUC-rio in Brazil.

Students, alumni and friends networking at the PR Fraternity event.

Students, alumni and friends networking at the PR Fraternity event.

You can RSVP to the Facebook event page for the guest lecture here.

The PR Fraternity executive strike a pose with me.

The PR Fraternity executive strike a pose with me.

Other links for the PR Fraternity are Instagram; Twitter and Pinterest.  Their blog is at https://theprfraternity.wordpress.com/

Hopefully I might see you at the next event on Wednesday!

Found in Translation

Back in June 2016, I was captivated by a programme on BBC Radio 4 about the Russian absurdist writer Daniil Kharms.  It chimed not only with me, but I felt with the times we find ourselves in, and ever since, I have been devouring his work.

Daniil Kharms - with thanks to an excellent piece by Chris Cumming

Daniil Kharms – with thanks to an excellent piece by Chris Cumming

Kharms was born in 1905 and died in 1942 – a suppressed Soviet-era surrealist and absurdist avant-garde writer.  Much of his work was not published during his lifetime, but was saved to be rediscovered in the 1960s and 1970s.  During the twentieth century, he was better known for his writing for children, which was tolerated by the authorities.  That toleration by the authorities didn’t last forever though, and he died of starvation on the psychiatric ward of a Soviet prison.  It was said he simulated insanity to avoid execution – but who can be sure?

You will find plenty of reviews and discussions of Kharms’ legacy on the internet (see below), but in the same way that I was transfixed by the playfulness of his work by the BBC Radio 4 programme, I wanted to share some of that excitement by reading a small number of his very short pieces.

Neat Widget Mic (left) and H5 digital recorder (right)

Neat Widget Mic (left) and H5 digital recorder (right)

The first four are recorded on a new desk mic I’ve bought which gives pretty good quality, but the remaining are on my digital H5 recorder which I’m trying properly for the first time here – a humdinger of a crystal clear sound (I can’t guarantee the quality of my voice!)

Tumbling Old Women is probably the best known of his works, and the one that really caught my ear first.

Fedya Davidovich embraces butter and toe clippings – which pretty much sounds like the story of my life!

Four Legged Crow spits at you – and pretty much hits the nail on the head about the state of relations on Twitter right now.

The Connection puts life in some philosophical context with the aid of a bed-bug.

An Incident on the Street is typical of his writings where an incident is seemingly leading us one way, only to lead us nowhere at all.

The Death of a Little Man vividly captures an important moment in a man’s life – his end.  No niceties or unnecessary gore – just as it comes.

How One Man Fell to Pieces seems to be a lesson about getting carried away, all the while showing that things still carry on as normal when we do, whether that be the use of the dustpan usually reserved for clearing horse manure, or the sweet smell of ‘puffy’ ladies.

Blue Notebook #10 is another signature piece of his writing, beginning by writing about one thing, but by the end of it, because the piece contains none of the things it was intending to cover, the writer either gives up and walks away (as in this case) – or dumps something completely different into the text.

kharms

Most of his works are hard to come by now, and a little on the expensive side, as I have found to my cost.  I can recommend “Today I Wrote Nothing” if any of the above plants a seed with you – available from Amazon and AbeBooks.  It is ‘hit and miss’ – a lot of the work can be more hard going or completely obscure, but that is also part of the charm of it.  There are are great reviews in the New York Times and in the London Review of Books.

As someone recently said on one of the UK’s soaps, “You only had to give her a cassette player and a block of cheese and she thought she was in heaven.”  That’s pretty much how Kharms has made me feel of late.  Thank you for indulging me.

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