Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Tuesday Poem: "Snatched Away"

My son’s friend said bluntly,
“My Daddy died. He’s up there,”
pointing to the sky.
Her casual soprano buried me
like a rockslide.
Seems he went to sleep Easter Sunday,
but, unlike Jesus, did not rise again,
twenty-six and not breathing Easter Monday.
Fragments in the schoolyard
piece together a patchy picture:
respiratory illness but no obvious
cold or flu or asthma.
And so he was snatched away.

We can all be snatched away,
a salutary lesson for the survivors.
I've lived more than double his years, but
how many have I wrung dry of their juice?
Note to self:
savour each moment.

Friday, 22 February 2013

We Don't Celebrate Failure Enough

I saw a cartoon recently in The Press drawn by Tony Lopes under his "Insanity Streak" brand. I would have loved to reproduce the cartoon here for your amusement, but the technology of copying/scanning it into the blog defeated me. I failed which may be ironic because the subject of the cartoon was failure.

In the cartoon a group of mourners are sobbing in a church gathered around a coffin which is in two distinct pieces. One of the halves of the coffin has two feet poking out of it. The priest is saying: "Here we lay to rest Gaetano, the not so great illusionist."

Although we can speculate that the mourners would rather have their friend, Gaetano, alive, they are effectively gathered in the church to celebrate his failure.

Decades of The Great American Dream have been sold to us through the predominance of American culture exported globally. Speakers like Tony Robinson have amassed fortunes selling their secrets for success to the keening masses. Success and the quest for success have been inculcated in the philosophy of Western civilisation. Other cultures may have their own takes on success or they have grafted the Western vision on to their own.

When the London Olympics were being held, I  saw an American-produced current affairs piece on how China grooms potentially gifted children into elite Olympic athletes in special schools set up for the purpose. They start very young and they do their normal schooling and after school they train for hours every day. When so-called "regular" Chinese children are enjoying school holidays, these children are spending every single day of these holidays training. Competitive fear is bred into them. Little Yang must train harder than Little Zhang so he/she will be selected for glory. I was filled with a sense of sadness for these children.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers: the Story of Success, he outlines his now-famous theory that in order to succeed in a specific field, a person needs to do at least 10,000 hours practice. Now, I am not denigrating success or the quest for success, but when I saw those Chinese children in the current affairs story, I was struck by how the authorities were stealing something from them they could never replace: their childhoods. No goofing off, no playing with friends, no fishing for eels, building forts or playing games like hide-and-seek. Joe Jackson drove his son, Michael, like this from an early age and although he became a superstar and was a phenomenal creative force, it is well-documented what price Michael paid. He became a Peter Pan, reclusive, and, perhaps, behaved inappropriately around children. It's only conjecture, but if Michael Jackson had grown up with an ordinary childhood, I think he'd still be alive today.

The famous inventor, Thomas Edison, was once asked if he had been frustrated by his roughly one thousand attempts to perfect the light bulb. "No," he replied, "I just regarded them as one thousand ways not to make a light bulb." Edison wasn't concerned that he had FAILED one thousand times in his journey to eventual success.

But we don't celebrate failure. We cast it into the darkness, shining the spotlight only on success. We celebrate an endpoint while ignoring the journey.

I'm not the first person to say this nor will I likely be the last, but don't concentrate solely on your successes. If you do, your past will be like a moth-eaten rug with small fragments of material strung together with holes. Many successful people have spoken of how they learned so much more from failure than success.

If you try and fail, the failure isn't extricably wedded to your character or personality. You are not a failure, you just experienced failure and , if you are to have a rich and fulfilling life, you will experience (and maybe even celebrate) failure many more times.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Tuesday Poem: "Rewirement"

My friend Claire says
we’re headed for our best years
when our work will be
cogently argued and
with maturity.
There’s too much still to do.
We can’t retire
with all its connotations of growing
mouldy in an easy chair.
Let us not retire, she says,
so much better to “rewire”.

POET'S NOTE: This poem was inspired by a Facebook conversation that I had with fellow Tuesday Poet, Claire Beynon.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Tuesday Poem: "Frozen Waists"

In an identity crisis bar
they perform their sad, complicated dance.
She is mutton masquerading,
hanging out in all the wrong places,
laughing over-heartily with a cigarette rattle
while drinking her spirit away.
He is a paunchy, mid-life Lothario
with one too many mortgages
and an off night on the telly,
a car yard jackal lazy for lust.
They stare meaningfully at the real logs
in the artificial fire,
past the over-effected sounds of the solo entertainer
placed on a corner stage as thin as his presence.
No animation evident,
small thoughts veneered by boredom become small talk.
As closing time approaches,
the couple negotiates a venue
for their sweaty, tired imitation of sex.
After they have no use for each other they part company,
scared to admit that they have no use for themselves.

POET'S NOTE: I suppose it is somewhat perverse of me to post a poem like this on the eve of Valentine's Day. But sadly, in the dance of love, sometimes the hearts and flowers wither and die.