Archive for August, 2010

Laughter in the night

August 31, 2010

I am up early this morning; it is around 5.00 a.m.  As I awoke I heard the sound of my daughter laughing. She will have been watching a programme downstairs on TV or a DVD; she often stays up most of the night doing that. Previously, she worked mainly a late evening shift at the local cinema but she quit that job last week. This is all part of her grand plan. She is going to emigrate. It is her intention to live and work permanently in a country half-way around the world from where I live. She is able to do that because she has dual nationality. Small things, like the sound of her laughing late at night, have suddenly assumed a poignance hitherto unimaginable. I don’t know how I shall cope with this. I know my world is about to be changed forever. Her laughter knells the start of my final chapter, as I look toward a bleak and sombre old age. Intellectually, I know that it is likely that I shall adjust and that cheap longhaul flights make reasonably frequent visits a possibility. Emotionally, I am a long way from such a calm appraisal. I think there are some similarities with bereavement, in terms of the subjective experience. Indeed, it is semantically accurate to say that I shall feel bereft.

I have been reading James Hamilton’s book on J.M.W.Turner. Apparently, he worked hard and fast, sketching quickly on location, using his archetectural training to take short cuts over the representation of buildings, and finishing off the watercolours back home (using the raw material he gathered in the field). If Turner were working today, he might well make swift use of a compact digital camera to supplement his sketchbook. Hamilton describes him as being a fit and lythe man with plenty of energy. In the 1790s he lived in Covent Garden, London, and walked the forty mile round trip to Bushey, Hertfordshire, in order to make drawings at half-a-crown apiece. I went to school in Bushey, some 150 years later. Who knows? Without knowing it, I may have literally trodden in the great man’s footsteps (unfortunately, there was no chance of doing so in the metaphorical sense).

Hopefully, I shall cheer up soon, my dear blogophiles. This is all I have for you, for the time being.

A question of scale

August 19, 2010

I am pottering in the garden, watering the flowers in my window box. I have my camera to hand and I take a pic, not of the whole box but a section in the middle showing the multiple flowers coming from a single Chrysanthemum plant.

Chrysanthemum plant in my window box

I move in and focus upon a single bloom. I then put a macro lens onto my camera and get down to clusters of individual petals within the flower. This provides a simple illustration of scale. If I were to move much further in the micro direction I would need to to augment the lens of my eye with that of a microscope. Moving out to a broader view, it would be possible to include the Chrysanthemum plant in a wide angle shot of the whole wall upon which the window box is attached. A wide angle or fish-eye lens is the other side of the coin to the microscope.

Focus upon a single flower

Focus upon the petals within a single flower

The question of scale assumes a point of view. The three photographs of my Chrysanthemum plant provide macro and micro views, relative to where I am standing, which is roughly speaking about a metre away from the plant. If I stand a long way away from something, it appears much smaller. Then, I can only discern things that, in absolute terms, are big (like mountains) and the small things (like flowers) blend into the background and are indistinguishable. When sketching a landscape it is a big mistake to put too much fine detail into objects located in the far distance (such as trees or houses).

If you can see something, then you can describe it (no matter how imperfectly). Where language strains at the seams to provide an adequate tool for such a description, authors have recourse to analogy, metaphor, or even poetry (considered by some to be the ultimate semantic weapon). The issue of scale in the visual world cannot be avoided when writing fiction. However, fiction would be somewhat dull if it was devoid of action. Action always takes place within a spatio-temporal context. In fiction, the question of scale applies not only to space, but also to time.  A century is to a lanscape, as a year is to a tree, or a second is to the petal of a flower.

Clock time (or calendar time) is rather like lattitude and longitude in terms of pinpointing a node in the spatio-temporal matrix. Here and now nail it down to the personal pronoun I. I am always in the present, floating inexorably through calendar time. I can look back into the past and remember my experience of moving through time and space, reliving the now continuum as if it were happening, well… now. I can call upon my creative reserves to relive my past how it might have been, in what-if fashion. My good friend Dr Freud might even suggest that my past has been surreptitiously and creatively re-worked in order that to provide a better fit with the unconscious desires I harbour; what is more, I know nothing of this.

I can look forward into the future and imagine how it will be as I move through the time-space continuum. If I don’t like what I see, there may be things that I can do in order to optimise the likelihood of a better trajectory. If there is no food in the kitchen, a trip to the supermarket will usually be enough to ensure the avoidance of hunger tomorrow, at least in the affluent west.

An author has many choices to make. Will the fiction be told from the present looking back to the past? Will the point of view provide a god-like and privileged access to the minds and activities of all characters at all times? Will the reader see the world through the eyes of just one character? Will the present tense first-person perspective suck the reader into an alternate reality second only to that of the dream world?

And what of the songwriter, the singer, and the storyteller? A casual glance towards the yellow flowers in my window box has led me to the core of what interests me as a writer and performer. I look forward to exploring, in some future blog, the implications of these ideas for my creative writing and performance. For the moment, my dear blogophile, I feel that this provides plenty enough to think about.

Peacock butterfly

August 18, 2010

This morning I was planting some cyclamen in my garden when I spotted an exceedingly pretty butterfly: a peacock. Fortunately, my compact digital camera was only a few strides away and I had it out of the case in no time at all. I was zooming in the lens as I tip-toed back to my specimen. As I took the first shot I was trying to estimate how close I needed to get to be able to blow it up clearly for a computer image; butterflies are small! I started to bend my knees and ease myself down closer to the butterfly which was lying still on the earth, with its beautiful wings outstretched. It must have sensed my presence, since it brought its wings up together. In this pose, it looked like a very small twig from where I was standing. Clearly this tactic will have been evolved genetically to provide a survival advantage. I backed off and after a minute or so it spread out its wings once again. As I moved in for what I hoped was a closer shot, it rose up and fluttered away.

Peacock butterfly in my garden

In at least some of the sciences it is accepted that the act of observation can affect that which is observed (I believe this roughly-speaking relates to the Heisenberg principle in physics). The spirit of the maxim is certainly applicable to behavioural and social psychology. This morning, it has applied to photography and, indirectly, to internet blogging.

I have been very dissatisfied with the way I have been playing Billy Joel’s Piano Man in my shows. I keep mangling the first part of the chorus. This morning I talked to my piano teacher, Jeanette, about this and she figured out that the problem lay in my right hand fingering. She sorted this out for me and so I shall now go and practice for a while. Hopefully there will be an improvement in my playing in time for my gig at The Ragged Edge on Thursday. Bye for now, my dear blogophiles.

High tide

August 16, 2010

High tide at the cat and dog steps

This morning I went down to the sea shore for a walk along the length of the bay. It was high tide and the waves were pounding the sea wall. I walked for about an hour and found it to be invigorating. There was not a hint of sunshine today; it was very cloudy and the north sea was a dull grey-green.

Taking a moderate amount of excercise and keeping one eye on the diet has enabled me to keep the body mass down to an acceptable level. My health regime has been in operation since last November. I present a pic as evidence for the success (my friend Tom took the photo last Friday when we met for the full English breakfast).

A slimmer version of my First Life avatar

Show #555

August 10, 2010

I have been meaning to write a short blog here to mark the 555th gig I played in Second Life. This took place on Sunday and my friend Woodstock Burleigh built the most amazing stage set for it, along the lines of a drawing room scene inspired by my song Mrs Growbeck’s armchair. Many of my SL friends came to the show including Tishe who is the venue owner of Cascadia Harmonics (where I played the gig) and Fabs (who is also a SL live musician). It was Fabs and Tishe who helped me with all the technical stuff when I first started streaming live into SL back in January 2008. And my first show ever was at Tishe’s larger venue, Rocky Shores. I switched to my weekly Sunday performance at the Cascadia venue when she opened it up a long time ago, and the slightly more intimate deck suits the music I play.

My 555th show in Second Life at Cascadia Harmonics

Apart from building the sitting room, Woody also digitally ‘framed’ a selection of my paintings and sketches and exhibited them on the walls around the audience space. That was a lovely surprise for me, and it enabled my art and music to be combined within the same event. So, Woody, a really big thanx to you.

Dead pigeon

August 5, 2010

Dead pigeon on the lawn

I listened to Elton John’s song ‘Skyline pigeon’ the other day and very much enjoyed it. This morning, I found a dead pigeon on my lawn. I am a tad squeamish about these things. The pigeon no doubt provided a tasty midnight feast for its predator. Tennyson, in the mid 19th century, wrote:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed

I shall have to clear it up a little later today. Once bagged and binned I shall probably run the mower over the patch to remove all traces of death and agony. After all, that is not what one wants when sitting quietly in a deck chair, reading one’s novel and sipping a cup of tea in the gentle summer breeze. Of course, the topic of many a thriller or who-dunnit is, precisely, death and agony. Last night on TV there was a programme about the Normans. William, King of England and devout Christian as he was, apparently liked to chop the hands and feet off people who plotted against him, and then goug out their eyes. I think, on balance, I would rather deal with a decapitated pigeon than think about William the Conqueror.

John Constable

August 2, 2010

Today I finished reading a biography of the English artist John Constable. As a boy, I remember cycling with my friend Charles to Flatford Mill and looking at Willy Lott’s cottage. On at least one occasion we took a small camping stove with us and made hot baked beans and saussages for our lunch when we got there.

Biographies are often interesting, but I do find them a tad sad in conclusion; they inevitably end in the person’s death. Whereas Turner was an immensely popular artist, Constable had a long and hard job getting any kind of proper appreciation of his work, apparently. A note found amongst his papers after his death says:

My art flatters nobody by imitation, it courts nobody by smoothness, it tickles nobody by petiteness, it is without either fal de lal or fiddle de dee, how then can I hope to be popular?

I don’t think Constable was happy about this; I think it made him sad.

I have often wondered about the lack of popularity for my music and songs. For example, since January 2008 I have played approximately 550 one hour shows live, streamed up to the Second Life community on the internet. Although there are some exceptions, I typically attract very small audiences. I do, however, have a small number of very loyal fans. I jokingly say to my audience that my original compositions are an acquired taste. Be that as it may, I do not wish to go down the path of ‘poor me’ or bewail the lack of a large successful fan base. Rather, the passage from Constable has made me think twice about the strategy I have pursued over the past couple of years or so. Whereas in the past I focussed almost entirely upon my original compositions, I have recently directed a lot more effort into working up covers (and I do these songs on piano). I am now wondering whether I need to re-adjust the balance somewhat.