online: 3 july 2003

1 july 2003 the world as it is

20:46 A seat reached by chance process (making five short walks along pathways - guided by the second hand of my watch at each junction). It's a seat by the viaduct where, in 1996, I wrote the forerunner of these pieces*.

It was a livelier moment with wind, ducks chasing each other in the sky above the pond, many people passing, and I suppose more openness or readiness in myself.

But this evening it's different: dusk begins, most people have gone home (perhaps to television - the medium I avoid) and the trees seem so thick with leaves as to determine the atmosphere - calm, green, with dark shadows, each tree being very still and yet very present.

Beyond the trees on the far side of the pond is a church steeple, a spiritual phallus, or a spear pointing heavenward, embodying I suppose the aspirations of people who have inhabited the cold north and created this culture of purity and struggle.

Earlier this evening I sat on a seat from which I could see in the distance the copper dome of the Roman Catholic church on Highgate Hill - a totally different architecture - feminine, receptive, protective - more earthly and more human than spiritual.

A man passed walking quickly and yet with an easy rhythm and with his eyes looking at the ground ahead of him... Behind him came a man walking slowly, as if he might stop at any moment. He looked about as he walked and seemed not to be trying to get anywhere. I thought that they both looked well-adjusted and happy (in their different ways).

I catch sight of some purple flowers by the viaduct and walk over to look at them more closely... They are thistles. I could not tell at a distance in the fading light. This evening it is cloudy - a northern midsummer. I breathe in the cool air and hear the sound of two people approaching. An athletic-looking couple, walking fast but looking about as they go - she points at something with her whole arm - and he nods - but they keep going.

The church clock strikes half-past nine. I look around at these grasses and trees and the pond covered with water lilies as a cyclist rides by with his lights on. I can see through the trees some lighted street lamps and can barely see what I am writing. A rabbit appears in the grass across the road ... the night life of the forest begins.

*I am amazed to see how closely a note I wrote here in 1996 anticipates the form and the content of these digital diary entries. It was published as 'the world as it is', in the internet and everyone, ellipsis/Batsford Books, London 2000, pages 314-317.

I thought then that I preferred it to anything else in that book... and now (2 july) I can't resist copying out fragments:

...Hampstead Heath, viaduct seat, 4 April 1996, evening.

Very still and dry and clear despite slight breeze. Chirping of small birds. Saw a crow chasing a squirrel until it got among branches. A man passes with unusual walk - he lifts his feet a few inches at each step though the ground is level...

...Now a big jumbo jet, a 747, presents its plan view as it turns northward after leaving Heathrow. A heavy throb as it climbs. It also seems to delineate space, and to exist as a sculpture, though it's moving and is gone before I finish the paragraph, if that's what it is.

...A gentle tapping sound and I look round to see what it is. It's a woodpecker attacking an ivy-clad tree behind me. It does not fly off when people pass but persists. One of the animal actions that most resembles the human ones of persistence, and planning, of treating actions as means and not ends. The beginning of folly, or of unwisdom, say most of the religions, I believe. Were they thinking of the woodpecker or only of people?

...Why do I so enjoy describing these little events? Why indeed? To answer that is to answer all questions (life, death, everything). They are not little...

...And now, having typed it, smoothing out some roughness yet trying to keep a sense of not knowing what is coming, the impressions of the moment, I wonder if this kind of writing is indeed what I wish to do now.

The answer is yes. I prefer it to writing things apparently more serious or purposeful but I'd like somehow to integrate such impressions or memories of real moments with fiction, to cease writing what I or anyone else expects and to just let the words come of their own as I react to something. But choosing that something, that's the difficulty. No, not choosing but the putting away of concern about self or about others enough to lose oneself in the thinking, in the perceiving, and in the flow of the words. Once that happens everything is something. Of course...

...But where in the world is the woodpecker, or the 747, or the man who lifts his feet? What are we all doing here, among and being these marvels? The world as it is.

And now, given the coincidence of these writings, and the obvious rightness of the world that they reveal, I am encouraged to continue.

But what of my lifelong attempts to improve the world as it is - and the resistance they meet or provoke? Do these writings tell me to change aims, to cease trying to improve things and simply to attend to and to celebrate what is?...

To do that is to question the organised narrowness that diminishes. To change one's perceptions - and the culture we inherit. That is the challenge of the world, to see what is good and to do what makes it evident. Life as it is and it can be, I trust.

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