Thing of Beauty

I will dream of you,
You’ll dream of me too.
Your arms come ’round my waist,
There will be no better place.

These lines are from a current favourite song of mine, a song that swoops me up and makes me feel something in return for listening. I love those songs. Somehow, in some way, the arrangement of music, instruments and words just works and I’m hooked. The lyrics on their own are not brilliant poetry – but throw in the haunting tune that accompanies them and the bar is most-definitely raised.

And so I’ve been thinking – why does this happen? What tweaks the soul-string, what makes us feel? We humans really are complicated and wonderful beasts. We create, all the time – music, words, art, buildings, gardens…things. We create every day. And those who are really good at it create things of beauty, of art, masterpieces, things we love, things that move us. Amazing.

IMG_3681 corridor
I have a clear memory of the first time I experienced this mystery. I was young, with my parents and visiting a travelling impressionist exhibition at an art gallery. I saw my first Monet – water lilies, Monet’s garden. I remember looking at this extraordinary thing created by another human being, this thing of beauty, and having the overwhelming urge to cry. I sat down in the gallery with small tears running down my face, wondering why. A stranger stopped in front of me and said “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Then they smiled and said, quite matter-of-factly, “this is what happens”.

The scientist in me wants to know how, why and what enables people to create things, to artistically express themselves in a way that touches other people’s emotions. My partner, an artist, said that he felt inspired after we visited a local art exhibition. The featured artist was creating her work in the middle of a gallery space exhibiting other completed ones. All her works were either a series of hand-drawn lines or dots (never both). They were so simple and on a large-scale, impressive. I found them interesting but my partner was intrigued and saw something…more. I guess appreciation of any creative art form is ultimately subjective and inherently personal.

This is never more apparent to me than in my love for Philip Larkin poems. This one in particular is my favourite:

Days

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Now – I just love this poem. I love the wit, the thoughtfulness, the imagery, the ‘feeling’ of the prose. I’ve shared my love of this poem with others and, well, let’s just say the response was less than enthusiastic. That’s OK because it doesn’t change how these words make me feel, or the fact they always make me smile.

I’ve thought hard about the songs that move me. The music is layered, tuneful and appealing. And when I read the lyrics they’re usually relatable, they mean something to me. Each element on its own is still creatively interesting, but it’s the combination that makes the magic. I still don’t fully understand how I can see a painting or hear a piece of music and think it’s so beautiful that there’s an emotional shifting of gears, I just don’t. But I’m extremely grateful that it can.
IMG_3677 Martin Place1
Despite all these thoughts, I’m still wondering why (as was said to me) “this is what happens”. In the absence of a solid explanation, I’m going to go with a quote by the famous American acting teacher Stella Adler: “life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one”.

And so – I’ll end with this. Something I created myself, for me. I’m not sure where some of it came from – it just did. I’m not saying it’s well written or even special, but its something I felt compelled to write. I wonder if it will move anyone else?

Thing of Beauty

Those eyes that pierce and glitter,
The see and see and see
My thoughts. The pitch and plough of life.
I keenly feel you leave.

When up is down, joy means loss;
The irony is death.
To win the war and have the love
means nothing will be left, yet

I cannot stop, I cannot stop, I cannot stop.
The waking hours tease.
The night is full of soft reprieve,
And words are not enough.

Little ditty.

Last weekend was Easter. We had a couple of days where we bounced from one event to another. A busy, full and generally happy weekend – but I didn’t make my Sunday blog deadline.

However I did spend some time thinking about what I might write. I realised that lately I’ve been surrounded by ditties: short, simple, catchy, tuneful. The sort that persist in your head. My daughter Belle’s favourite books, all cadence and rhythm, suited to a three year-old’s sensibilities – we read them over and over. Belle’s teenage cousin’s facebook post, a youtube video with a boppy song about keeping all your fingers whilst you knock out the beat with a knife (don’t ask!). The Easter Bunny’s gift to Belle in exchange for her baby-dummys: a toy pony that walks, talks and repeatedly sings ‘Are you excited, are you, are you? Are you excited, are you, are you?’.

I thought about something I once wrote, my own little ditty for Belle. I came up with a four beat rhyming verse (tetrameter?) to accompany a photo of my daughter’s shampooed hair. It was short and punchy – a good companion for the photo – and she loved it. I decided to complete it for this week’s post, so here ’tis. Inspired by, and with thanks to the works of Dr. Seuss.

Belle’s hair.
A ditty for my daughter.

Belle likes her hair,
She likes it lots.
She likes it straight,
Not tied in knots.

She likes it clean,
She likes it shiny.
She keeps it well,
For one so tiny.
Belle's hair
She wears it high,
She wears it low.
She’ll change it twice
Before she goes.

And when she runs,
Her hair does bounce
From left to right,
Like frill or flounce.
Belle running 1
On days when rain
The clouds unfurl,
It makes it frizz,
It makes it curl.

But in the end,
Belle still does smile.
She likes her hair,
In any style.

And I must say,
I like it too!
But ‘why?’ you ask,
‘What works for you?’

And so my friends,
I must then tell –
I like it lots,
Because it’s Belles.
Belle posing

Feeling alive.

I was driving home from work the other day – I have a 40-odd minute each-way commute – and I had one of those moments where I just felt ….alive. It was a beautiful Autumnal afternoon, almost dusk, cooling breeze gently buffeting in the car window. One of those amazing atmospheric songs came on the radio (God I love triple j – but that’s another story). I felt happy, relaxed, peaceful and alive. Everything was working in my favour. I loved it.

It got me thinking – what makes me feel really ‘alive’? What in the past has made me feel the way I do now, in this very moment? Happily, gloriously alive. It took me a while to construct a list, and it’s by no means definitive – so I’m calling it my Top 4.

1. Living in the moment.
Harder than it sounds. And by ‘living in the moment’ I mean actually enjoying the moment without thinking about 10 seconds, 10 minutes or 10 hours ahead. Not contemplating where you’re off to next, what should be on your shopping list, the next deadline for work. Not thinking about something other than what is happening “right now”. Unless you’ve mastered the art of meditation or successfully subscribe to Buddhist ‘mindfulness’, you’ll likely find this incredibly hard. Since I don’t meet either of those criteria – I feel lucky to have achieved it at all. But I have. When I spend time with my 3 year-old daughter on our day off together, I can honestly say that I have been completely ‘in the moment’ with her – no thought of anything other than what we are doing, nowhere to be except where we are, nothing to do other than what we are doing. And the wondrous thing about children is that they usually inhabit this space, this ‘moment’, more than anywhere else. I wonder how we/they lose that sense of present-play. I suspect it’s all on us – we teach kids to think, plan and move ahead. But that feeling of freedom and blinding happiness, so consciously alive in the moment…I’ll be eternally grateful to my daughter for sharing her experience of it.

2. The throes of passion.
There is nothing like being so overwhelmingly impassioned that you can barely control yourself. Yes, I’m talking lust. That deep longing for human physical contact, when desire seems to ooze from the pores of your skin and you feel so overripe you’re about to fall off the vine. Mmmmmm…OK….you get my drift. Anyway – I don’t think anyone would argue that you don’t feel alive when you’re embroiled in a passionate tryst with the object of your romantic desire. Your mind has turned off, your body is on disconnect from your brain and sensation is…well, sensational. Anthropologists might argue that despite years of evolution, passion (whether love or lust) simply arises from a deeply-rooted need to procreate. Whatever. What matters is that irrespective of whether it’s primal, biological, spiritual or soulful – it certainly makes you feel alive.

3. Music
Whatever your taste, if you listen to music at all you will understand the heights that it can elevate you to when it’s good – really good. The estimation of ‘good’ is (in the main) subjective – sidenote: my apologies to those who study music theory who have just baulked at this statement – but I think we’ve all heard a piece of music that prompted an emotional response, triggered memory, or swept us away on a magical, tuneful carpet ride. For me, it usually happens when I’m listening to music on my own: at home, in the car or even wired-for-sound at the gym. And it’s not always the same song, it’s often a song in the context of where I am or what I’m doing. Surely one of the following rings a bell for you: the long highway drive with a pumping, kick-arse beat matching the tarmac treads; the melancholic songs, where every sad note abides in the air like misty rain mixing with your tears; the sweet-moment music, where happiness sparkles like sunlight through glass, your heart swells and makes you feel glad to be alive. Yep, music makes all that happen. I love, love, love music for making all that possible.

4. Beauty
This last point is clearly connected to points 1 through 3. How could it not be? Anything that makes you feel truly ‘alive’ is by its very nature stunningly, maddeningly, sweetly beautiful. But this also refers to those moments outside of you; when you see or hear something so wondrously perfect and simple that you can’t help but step back and admire it. Like the ocean on one of those days when the seawater is blue-green-clear and the sand is grainy whitewash. Like the embrace between reunited loved ones at an airport. Like the joy on the face of a child on Christmas morning.

Ans there’s another type of beauty. I’m not sure how to elaborate on this point except to say something that, even to my mind, sounds so “wanky” that I’m not sure it’s worth typing. But this IS a blog, so here goes. Sometimes the beauty of everything in a moment crystallises into one absolute sense of…completeness. It’s like a flash of insight, a feeling of being part of everything, a perfectly architected instant. Some think it’s connecting with nature or the universe, for others it’s just like ‘waking up’ to what’s going on around you. Like passion, it really doesn’t matter how you define it, as long as you get to experience it. Because it’s a beautiful thing. And it makes you feel alive.

I’m going to wrap up this post with a poetic reference that may just cement the “wanky”-ness of today’s mental meanderings. My favourite poems hold something true about being alive; they speak of beauty, truth, days, living and even acknowledge our human-need to explain all these aspects of being alive which, to my mind, often don’t really require explanation at all – I’m just happy I get to experience them. Having said that, I had to study “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats in high school; it’s certainly not poetry I would have discovered on my own. The last 2 lines are the kicker and it’s those I’ve quoted because, well, they are simple and true.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.