RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Category: Modern Life

Mud and a Meeting of Minds 1917

 

Mud.

Thick, cloying, seeping.

Consuming, filthy, blanket

binding you as brothers

in mud laden arms.

Bath.

Soap, water, scrub.

Submerged, aching, wallowing

purging you as brothers

in trenches of white.

Search.

Memories, mind, self.

Trapped, engulfed, besieged

chains you as brothers

in images of hell.

Write.

Poetry, prose, horror.

Dredge, expose, release

links you as brothers

in words of truth.

 

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first meeting between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon at  Craiglockhart War Hospital August 1917

The meeting lead to Owen’s haunting ‘war poems’.  He was born in Oswestry and lived in my home town of Shrewsbury, England.

‘Poppies for Peace’ Rebecca Pells

Advertisements

Hourglass

 

We navigate and tack to catch the crest of self-promised waves

like a piston of dreams forth and back they roll

sacrificed upon the altar of age

til one day we understand

there is no harbour

no anchor

no time.

 Brief encounters

as ships in the night

horizons glimpsed as sun rises

then fades to dusk before we have basked

lay down precious memory, til synapse eclipse

the hourglass turns and grain sifts with the tide once more.

 

‘Time Goes Away’

Details from https://www.artfinder.com/manage/rebeccapells/product/time-goes-away/

Just a Moment

In our busy lives the opportunity to seek sanctuary, even for a few moments is ever important to our wellbeing.  My latest painting ‘Just a Moment’ tries to capture just such a place – the meeting of time with the timeless; the passing moment framed by what has happened and what is about to occur.  Favouring a muted palette the subject and colours suggest an essence of time spilling over the threshold into the 21st century.

'Just a Moment' Acrylic on Canvas 40x40cms

‘Just a Moment’
Acrylic on Canvas
40x40cms

You can find more of my fledgling work on www.rebeccapells.co.uk

 

 

One Marshmallow or Two? The Lost Art of Delayed Gratification

005

A desire indulged spontaneously offers little more than momentary, fleeting pleasure – a treat, whose value is briefly inflated before it melts with a small sigh across our memory.

That which has been anticipated, struggled over and procrastinated against carries within it our best efforts in the shape of an earned understanding.  The resulting fulfillment is part of us, radiating a deep and lasting satisfaction that the sugary goosebumps of a treat can never hope to imitate.

It is more than 5o years since Walter Mischel’s social experiment with four year olds, in which they could enjoy the instant pleasure of eating a single marshmallow or wait twenty minutes and have two. Each child was left alone to make the choice. It was a battle between desire and self-control; gratification and delay.  A seemingly simple tussle and yet the ability to resist impulse is a fundamental emotional skill, the foundation stone of self-control.  The children who managed to wait did so by distracting themselves, demonstrating perseverance towards fulfillment of a future goal.  Follow up studies showed that those who managed to resist temptation went on to lead happier and more successful lives than those who gave into it.

Our capacity to resist is under threat.  Modern life teases, tempts and torments, seducing us into believing that not only must we have the latest phone, the most exotic holiday or the best job, we need to be the first.  We expect to achieve with limited effort on our part – because we deserve it, don’t we?  We have conformed to – and now embrace – an era of instant gratification and our ability to satiate our constant demands has become the currency by which we value ourselves and judge others, the scale by which we perceive our success.  It is the market by which our economy thrives or dives, the treadmill updated from industrial 20th to digital 21st century. Gone are the days when saving up for, or working towards the object of our desire was not only necessary but character building, strengthening resolve, patience and the ability to endure discomfort and disappointment.

 Patience is a word out of sync with our modern society.  We are so used to our desires being  instantly met, that a certain complacency sets in and we struggle to endure the discordant sensations of wanting and lack.  Waiting feels an unreasonable request, we expect it not of ourselves but of others;  so we complain and demand like a two year old whose needs are not attended to.  The planning and  anticipation of fulfillment has become the new addiction, the skin deep ‘high’ satisfying little more than a momentary whim before we’re seeking the next fix.  Lasting satisfaction comes from striving, embedding our heart and soul within our endeavours, elevating the pleasure and value way beyond the instantaneous.

The art of balancing treat and toil is fast disappearing. Let’s refuse to settle for indulgent underachievement and strive for the infinitely more satisfying depths of delayed gratification.

And then enjoy a treat!  One marshmallow or two . . . .

N.E.W.S – Parallel Time

North. East. West. South.

Instant. Happening. Plus one and real time,

Parallel worlds and lives which don’t chime.

Twenty four seven, channels to choose

Inward we turn, money to loose.

Pools of champagne, pools of blood,

Encroaching. Unwanted. Drought and flood.

Which world is mine in parallel time?

Reality TV talent to spot,

TV for real – someone is shot.

 Christmas delivered, targets to meet,

Harvest failed, kids in bare feet.

Toy penguins emote season’s first frost,

Polar melt – the arctic is lost.

Which life is mine in parallel time?

 Big Brother House. Ok! Hello!

Charnel house, Sierra, Aleppo.

White House secrets outed old lies,

Foggy Jungle King, Malala Peace Prize.

No arms, no legs, no head to crown,

Bloody Sunday; Cyber Monday death in town.

 Which conflict is mine in parallel time?

North. East. South. West.

Lives of celebrities to whom we aspire,

 Suicide bombers few can admire.

Knives quick to draw, turkeys to carve,

Minors in designers . . . others will starve.

Action man sold out. Tragedy! Child cries.

Boy soldier shot. Tragedy. Stumbles and dies.

The choice is mine in parallel time.

 

Orgasm of the Mind

In my time alone my life happens.

I’m at my most peaceful sitting in dappled shade, the dancing of the shadows reflecting my thoughts as they skip between the light and darker corners of my mind.  This dipping in and out is the intercourse of creative life – the place where ideas are conceived, nurtured and born; where conversations take place without saying a word.

Reflection, thought, solitude and contemplation.

Words which seem to jar and sit ill at ease with 21st century vocabulary, which in order to be heard above the mayhem of tweeting, trending and texting would need to shout and present themselves loudly, the very antithesis of their meaning.  They are unfashionable words, the execution of which is seen as odd or eccentric.  And yet we should cherish and practice them at every opportunity. Until 50 or so years ago it was only the elite who had time to stand and stare but now with so many labour saving devices in the average western home we too have that luxury if only we choose to embrace it.  Instead many of us fill those disposable hours with online activity, encouraged to put ourselves forward, to shout the loudest and follow the latest viral trend or else we have somehow failed . . . the irony of which as I type this post is not lost on me!  We have ceased to become self-reliant, choosing instead to escape into this world of hyper-activity in preference to our own company.

And yet it is a precious thing, to be still and reflect, to explore our thoughts away from the influences of the external world.  To be self-reliant is to breed tenacity, the will and self-determination to follow our own path when those around us are walking the other way.  It develops imaginative curiosity to seek out answers for ourselves rather than an easy following of the crowd.

And it takes courage to be different.

To be alone and not defined by someone or something else, to avoid being influenced by outside things – this is what creates strength and individuality.  We live in the age of individualism and yet, in reality our world is strictly regulated and the individual is merely on a treadmill that keeps the social template moving. It is only by removing ourselves from the system – however briefly – that we are truly ourselves; to be brave enough to navigate our own path is to develop the ability to re-engage more intensely and purposefully without risking loss of identity.

If we dare to withhold from immersive over-sharing and delve into speculative thought, we may be rewarded with creative inspiration, the courting of a fresh passion, the desire to perfect a new skill and the exquisite experience as it all comes together into something tangible.  It can afford you one of the greatest pleasures of all – what Michael Foley in his excellent book ‘The Age of Absurdity’ refers to as the orgasm of the mind.

To be actively individual is not passive or reclusive, rather it is like standing back from a painting in order to see it more clearly.

And it is from here that we may find our purpose and thus our meaning.

 Quiet Contemplation

‘Quiet Contemplation’

Rebecca Pells    2014

A Sense of Un-Belonging

006

Singapore 1966

Am I to be forever on the outside looking in? It has become a place – a feeling – so familiar, that I now fear the very thing I seek.  I carry it with me and yet it doesn’t have form, this nebulous  thing;  I cannot grasp it, and yet I can feel it’s elusiveness.  I have looked for it in my home, work, relationships and among my things.  I have few items from my family home –  they should evoke a warmth of feeling, a welcome symbol of my belonging somewhere but I find none, only a physical ache for something lost – no for something I’m yet to experience: an ongoing penance for daring to be here at all.  It’s not my destiny, it is and always has been my reality, the outsider as one country became another and I learned to count the number of schools in different languages.  Letters sent to best friends who’d formed new allegiances before the postmark had dried.

For a moment, I felt I belonged to something or someone, I wasn’t sure.  It was a feeling unfamiliar despite my one score year and ten. It was only later with divorce papers in hand that I realised I hadn’t belonged at all, I’d wanted it so much that I believed for a while only to discover I’d found something different, an identity that didn’t even begin to fill the void.  I’m trapped in this waiting game, on the outside while everyone else is within, strangely similar to my childhood punishment of being left out in the hallway while the rest of the family were in the sitting room with the door firmly closed.

And so I find myself on the outer edge of others’ comfort zones, kept in some kind of friendly exile as they perceive my differences.  Or perhaps it is I who perceive them, me that does not know how to fit in.  The roots of belonging are established in childhood and strengthen as we mature.  If for some reason this fails to happen, I have come to accept, at least for me, that it will never do so.  A sapling starved of essential nourishment, continuously uprooted and replanted in new territory every few years will struggle to thrive,  it’s energy channelled into mere survival, unable to blossom or reach it’s full potential as a mature tree.  It will never have the stability of it’s contemporaries, it’s roots exhausted by constant disturbance have little strength to weather the next storm.

Unlike the tree, I can choose my environment and find shelter from stormy weather and in the calm of my simple life I can thrive and flourish, untethered by my un-belonging, abiding by society’s rules but unbound by it’s conventions. There is a freedom to this existence from which I can emerge at my choosing.  In this existence I can create my own place unrestrained by outside expectation and dictates.  I’ve ceased to seek this thing called belonging – the need, the void is still there but I have learned to carry it not as a burden but like a warm coat.  There is now a comfort in not belonging, a familiarity I would miss.  I can finally embrace being on the outside looking in, not in judgement but with a welcome sense of reflective clarity that is borne by detachment as a gift.  These are the desired nutrients for the flourishing of creativity and unfettered freedom to blossom.

003

Acrylic on Canvas 2014 Rebecca Pells

Quantum Leap – the Connection between Darwinism and Climate Change

Image

The above image is of a sculpture called Quantum Leap which sits on the banks of the River Severn in my home town of Shrewsbury, UK.  It was installed in 2009 to mark the bi-centenuary of Charles Darwin who was born here and educated at Shrewsbury School. It represents the great move – or leap –  forward that Darwin’s work made in our understanding of ourselves and the natural world.

Below is my own photograph taken yesterday in which the sculpture appears to be diving into the swirling flood waters of the swollen river following weeks of rain-fuelled storms.  I took the picture from the terrace cafe which hugs the side of the Theatre Severn on the opposite bank – what you cannot see are the flood barriers erected some weeks ago to assist the exhausted river to keep within it’s banks and heave it’s watery burden downstream.

008

It was with a wry smile that on the first bright sunny day for weeks I attended the annual Darwin Lecture at the theatre given by Joe Cain, Professor of History and Philosophy of Biology at University College London.  His subject was ‘The Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 – Reality or Fiction’.  John Scopes was put on trial for teaching evolution in an American secondary school in Tennessee and it marked a pivotal moment in the conflict between religion and science.  However, the main point of the trial was to test the law and in so doing, raise the profile of the creation-evolution controversy.  “It was” Cain said  “essentially a story of denial which became a story about people”  –  the charismatic heads of both legal teams, politicians and even celebrities jumped on the band-wagon.  The event was exploited by these people who used it to build interest in and also to create agitation about the issue, to suit and further their own individual aims.  In so doing positions became deeply entrenched as each person added a layer to the argument creating an ever greater divide and making agreement appear impossible.  The scientists were asking the fundamentalists to have faith not in God’s creation but in scientific fact.  It was indeed a quantum leap and it didn’t happen overnight.

The debate around climate change seems to be playing out in a similar way, although there has yet to be the circus of a high profile trial!  The ‘layers’ are piling up – the politicians are certainly in the main arena (if only they’d been in it some ten or twenty years ago) vying to highlight differences between their own stance and that of their counterparts.  Celebrities falling over themselves to identify with one camp or another, scientists divided by those who believe we are causing global warming and those who think it’s a natural occurrence.  In the 1920’s skepticism was understandable as science and technology was generally associated with bad things such as the new weaponry used in the Great War.  Today, despite our familiarity with and dependence on science and despite the growing volume of evidence pointing directly to climatic change, still we demand some final piece of irrefutable evidence.

What will convince us to take action, what are we waiting for?  To arrive at some nebulous horizon of climatic horrors, at which point we will blame scientists for not providing a solution?  It is unlikely there will be one great catastrophic event that announces the arrival of climate change – it is already here, revealing itself incrementally, in fits and starts but with increasing persistence.  Professor Cain concluded his lecture with a reminder that even today there are countries which deny Darwin’s theories and in which evolution is not widely taught.  Pakistan is one such country – it’s also a land which in recent years has suffered serious flooding far greater than anything we have yet to experience.

There seems no reason for us to deny climate change other than a perception that to acknowledge it will involve the end of life as we know it.  Just as with the creation-evolution wrangle, believing in one does not mean you have to totally reject the other.  You can practice a religious faith and ascribe to evolutionary theory.  The two are not incompatible.  Evolution has shown that nature never stands still, it adapts to it’s surroundings to ensure survival.   Now it’s our turn, we don’t have to renounce modern life in it’s entirety but we do need to adapt to our changing environment just as our ancestors did.  We have the intelligence and the science and the advantage of global communication.  Is it such a quantum leap to find the wisdom to apply these in unison?

Global Government, a Nice Ideology – or a Brave Way Forward ?

I’m fascinated by how humans have evolved and progressed and their relationship to the environment. Without this knowledge how can we begin to understand our current situation let alone how to move forward with equity and compassion for each other and the planet? It’s like a huge Maypole – planet Earth the pole, standing strong; the ribbons are nations, each fringed by sub-cultures, belief systems and political and economic structures which have developed over centuries. Unlike the May dance which is planned and choreographed, these ribbons of civilization had no blueprint and stepped out according to will, clashing and entwining with one another until they have become inextricably linked in one almighty tangle.

Now we have this great global knot placing intolerable strain on the environment which threatens to topple the delicate balance of the pole itself. How can nations, with their various historical and contemporary complexities, come together to ensure quality of life for all citizens, wildlife and the environment? How are finite resources, faced with increasing demand, to be shared? Our scientists overwhelmingly concluded last week in the IPCC report that climate change is real and whether or not we agree on it’s cause, we have to adapt to a warmer future.  As nations rush to protect and secure their own economic destinies through the promotion of consumerism and engagement in 21st century empire building, how can we make sense of and ease this worldwide tangle enabling us to move forward with equity?

Is there now a case for serious consideration of some kind of global ‘government’, whose members forgo their nationality to become citizens representing the planet ?  The challenges we face are demanding and the urgency to forge something healthy and sustainable serves only to intensify my passion to engage in a new and enlightened way forward.  We only have to look to the Easter Island story as detailed by Jared Diamond in his fascinating book Collapse, to see how easily a civilization can determine it’s own demise through failure to acknowledge facts and adjust it’s way of life accordingly.  Humans have a resistance to change, it has either happened slowly over generations or dramatically through war, disease or environmental ‘disasters’ , but we are surprisingly adaptable. For the first time in history, we’re aware of what is happening across the planet and we have the knowledge to predict what the likely outcome will be if we continue to tread the path we’re on.  But this also gives us a great opportunity to make wise choices.

Global government, a nice ideology – or a brave way forward ?

Knowledge, Intelligence and Wisdom

Two weeks ago the New Birmingham Library was officially opened by Malala Yousafzai.  It struck me that this 16 year old girl, thrust into the limelight following her fight for education in her homeland of Pakistan, already displays the hallmarks of wisdom.  Having visited the library last week, I cannot deny that it is a wonderful facility, crammed with information gathered, written and published through previous generations and which can now be accessed in any number of traditional and technical ways.

As time goes by and our understanding of the world expands, new discoveries are made and life becomes increasingly complex, so does the amount of knowledge recorded, shared and passed onto our children.  Each generation has to start at the beginning to learn the basics and despite increasing years spent in formal education, most of us can only hope to ever reach the lower echelons of the pyramid of knowledge. Our way of handling this overwhelming amount of information is to specialize and become experts in one tiny sphere and as such our outlook on life is forever skewed by our lens of choice.  When faced with challenges beyond that field of vision we believe it is not our problem, that someone else will have the knowledge to fix it and we relinquish any sense of personal responsibility.

How we record and share copious amounts of knowledge is one thing,  but for me the moot point is whether our propensity to spend greater amounts of time in formal education is producing the collective wisdom required to tackle the global challenges of 21st century life. Just 80 years ago in the so called western countries it was the norm to leave school at 14; today many are studying well into their twenties and yet the evidence that this has produced an equivalent increase in wisdom is not obvious. If we look at those individuals whose actions have had positive benefits for large numbers of people – Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela – they are few and far between, perhaps one or two per generation.  None of them benefited from extended formal education and yet arguably they displayed a wisdom most of us are in awe of.  Can such wisdom be taught in a classroom or is it something which is innate in a few individuals and which given the opportunity, will propel that person to act for the greater good?  Do they perhaps view the world through a wide angle lens rather than one which has narrowed it’s focus?  In trying to increase our knowledge with unprecedented amounts of information are we actually overloading our minds and cluttering our ability for clear and wise thinking?

In an era which has for the first time in history enabled us to be acutely aware of global issues, does the forum and delivery of knowledge and the nurturing of intelligence require a different approach?  The encouragement of modern individualism seems at odds with the challenges which need addressing in the 21st century.  In Malala maybe we are witnessing one such wise individual but it seems we are far from knowing how to harness, share and encourage a collective wisdom.

%d bloggers like this: