Monthly Archives: September 2014

A Middle Way Fable

I’ve been intending for some time to write a book of parables or fables about the Middle Way, and today I made a start by writing the first fable, which I thought I’d share with you. Comments, whether critical or supportive, might help me on my way to writing some more!

The Ship

Ship in straitThe lovely ship ‘Progress’, laden with passengers and cargo, was just entering the dangerous strait between Scyllia and Charybdisland when the weather began to look more threatening. Captain Jack Everyman scowled at the gathering cloud and the rising wind.

“It’s not looking good”, he said to his first mate, Mr Scyllius, “We could be driven straight onto those rocks if we call in at Scyllatown.”

“But we have to call in there!” protested Mr Scyllius, “My mother will be waiting for me, and she has a legacy to give me from my lately deceased uncle! Then the Prince of Scyllia wishes to join us on the voyage. We will displease him!”

“That won’t do any of us any good if the ship is turned to matchwood on the way” growled Everyman, “You and the Prince and your money will all alike go to feed the sharks.”

“Yes,” chimed in Mr Charyb, the Second Mate, who came from the rival state on the other side of the strait, “Scyllia is too dangerous at the best of times. The docks are thronged with cut-throats! I don’t know why the ship has to include it on the itinerary at all. Come to Charybdisland instead: it’s a great deal safer and friendlier. The people there are actually rational and behave like proper human beings!”

“Not likely,” Replied Everyman gruffly, “The passage into Charybport is just as dangerous. Not rocks but sandbanks! It may look smoother, but the threat lies just beneath the surface. Not in this weather!”

“But the Oracle of Charybport is due to give a final revelation!” cried Charyb, “I need to hear it! And the Chief Priest wants to join us on the voyage. He will be most displeased!”

“That seals it,” replied Everyman ironically, “If we’re lucky enough not be eaten by sharks, The Prince of Scyllia and the Chief Priest of Charybdis will probably kill each other in any case, and trash the ship in the process!”

“What do you expect if you let hypocritical scum from Charybdisland on board?” cried Scyllius.

“It’s the immoral rabble from Scyllia that cause the trouble!” protested Charyb. “Just look at the statistics on crime in sea-going vessels. They bear me out!”

“That’s enough!” said Everyman sharply. Both men knew that he had no sympathy with their partisan bickering, and the tone of command was enough to silence them. “Either I please you both or I please neither. There’s no way I’m going to visit one port but not the other.”

At that moment, a sudden shaft of sunlight burst through the gathering black clouds, and the wind seemed to drop.

“That’s an interesting meteorological indication, sir” said Scyllius carefully, “Do you think it might mean we could risk it?”

“It’s a sign!” cried Charyb in half-ironic triumph, “God wants you to go to Charybport! He could never allow you to leave his Chief Priest standing on the quay.”

“Maybe it’s a sign, and maybe it isn’t,” said Everyman, “But if we take the risk, we go to both ports. Agreed?”

Reluctantly, both men agreed. Everyman turned the ship towards Scyllatown.

As they neared Scyllatown, however, the weather deteroriated again. The clouds massed, the rain lashed down, and the winds blew up to storm force. Having made up his mind, though, the Captain set his jaw, held course and ordered the sails down.

“Look at those rocks!” cried Charyb, “We’ll be wrecked! Let’s get out of here, Jack!”

“Just hold your course!” urged Scyllius, “We’ll be OK. Many ships have still managed to dock safely in weather like this.”

They were driven closer and closer to the rocks, to the terror of all on board, but Jack Everyman held his nerve. At last the wind began to abate a little, and the quay of Scyllatown loomed before them through the film of rain.

As soon as they docked they sent messengers into the town to find Scyllius’s mother and the Prince. Both were surprised but happy to find that the ship had dared the weather to dock there. Captain Jack Everyman urged the Prince to board without delay, and made sure that all cargoes were loaded and unloaded immediately.

“Are you not going to wait for better weather, Captain?” asked the Prince’s Aide-de-Camp, “Why do we go so soon?”

The Captain shook his head, “We’re leaving immediately,” he said, “and sailing to Charybport”. The Aide-de-Camp looked at him incredulously, as if he had said they were sailing for the City of Dis. The Captain did not tell him why he feared lingering in Scyllatown even more than the storm. Charyb had been right about the throngs of cut-throats.

With the Prince and further precious cargo on board, the ship set off again in weather that was not much better than the conditions they had arrived in. This time the journey lay straight across the strait, for Scyllatown and Charybport, each the capital of a diametrically opposed kingdom, lay right opposite each other. Each could even see the other in clear weather. Many had been the ships sunk and men’s lives wasted in endless warring over that strait. In public all was enmity, with all visitors from the opposite realm requiring special clearance from the authorities. Any stray sailor from the opposing realm who wandered incautiously in Scyllatown would first be spat upon, then quietly dispatched in a dark alley. Yet behind the scenes, the authorities in fact maintained quite a cordial relationship with each other.

It was a battered-looking Progress, with a snapped foremast but otherwise intact, that limped into the harbour of Charybport a few hours later. The Prince of Scyllia had barricaded himself into a stateroom below decks and refused to stir, the misery of seasickness only slightly alleviated by the news that they had landed in Charybdisland. The quay in Charybport was much better maintained than that in Scyllatown, but the sailor who jumped onto the quay was immediately upbraided by the harbourmaster for wearing what he took to be leather shoes. “This is an insult to Charybdis!” he roared, “Take away your unclean footwear this instant!” The terrified sailor soon leapt back on board to comply.

After an inspection by the harbourmaster for both leather footwear and signs of disease, a few sailors were judged pure enough to be able to land temporarily. However, they were only able to proceed into the town to glimpse the wonders of the Great Temple after paying hefty additional bribes to the harbourmaster. Only Mr Charyb, as a native, was able to avoid these strictures. Captain Everyman was again desirous to be off as soon as possible, and instructed the sailors to be back in an hour at the most. He was relieved to see that the Chief Priest’s sumptuous carriage soon rolled up. The extremely obese Chief Priest was then brought on board in a litter borne by four slaves.

He was greeted, somewhat to his surprise, by the Prince of Scyllia, who had unbarricaded his state room as soon as he glimpsed the Chief Priest’s arrival through a porthole. “Hello, old fellow!” He proferred a hand, “Terrible weather, what!”.

“Fancy meeting you here!” the Priest responded, “Don’t think I’ve seen you since the Ball after Finals! Time goes by, what!”

But then the Prince glimpsed the Captain coming towards them along the passage. “Quick, the Captain’s coming,” he said in an undertone, “It might be prudent to be more statesmanlike.”

“That’s an insult to Charybdis!” shouted the Priest suddenly, putting on a convincing, but rather wobbly, shake of anger. “I will hear no more of this blasphemy!” He then turned and heaved himself along the passage towards the Captain.

“Your holiness is quartered in the front state-room, as his highness from Scyllia occupies the rear one.” said the Captain politely, “I hope it will be to your liking.”

The priest waddled on to inspect the front state room, “It will do,” He said eventually. “Just don’t let that sacrilegious scumbag anywhere near me!”

Once more, then, the ship set sail in some haste, as soon as passengers and cargo had been loaded and unloaded, and the foremast rapidly replaced. One sailor who had lingered too long, captivated by wonder in the Great Temple, had to be left behind. As they set out the storm had already abated to a gale, and before long it sank to a pleasant breeze. Within hours the clouds had drifted away, and the sun shone, as the ship beat down the strait to further its journey.

The captain and mates gathered again on the bridge. “That was a hard passage, captain,” remarked Scyllius, and Charyb for once nodded his agreement.

“Ay, ‘twas hard,” remarked the Captain. “It would have been hard enough just to sail down the strait in such weather, let alone pick up passengers. Yet I’m glad I allowed you both to persuade me. What would be the point of a voyage without passengers?”

“As long as the Prince and Chief Priest don’t kill each other.” added Charyb.

“They haven’t yet.” said the Captain, “Who knows, a pleasant voyage in the sunlight may help ease their enmity!”

Abstract Painters. Jackson Pollock 1912 – 1956.


No._5,_1948 Pollock

Abstract painting is not a single movement, it has a longer history than many think and includes many styles, it can be traced back to 15th. century Russian icons in the Byzantine style that have abstract elements, up until the present day where many abstract artists are working. The Russian born Madame Blavatsky painted abstracts, working in the latter part of the 19th. century, she was a theosophist who painted her interpretations of dreams, inspired by themes she studied from ancient Eastern religions, she wished to return to ancient truths, believed in the transmigration of the soul and held a belief in an ante-natal state of existence, theosophists rejected dogma, their aim was to promote love, understanding and compassion. Then there was Helma af Klimt in Sweden, Emilie Alberg brought her work to our attention in a thread published on the site last year, Helma thought that she was in touch with spirits and that she received messages from the ‘High Master’ from an astral plain, she wrote copious notes to guide her paintings which she hoped would help to change society for the better.  In England in the 1930s the artist Ben Nicholson painted abstracts, his wife was the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. Vassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and the Russian artist Malevich also painted abstracts, all very different in style from each other, they were searchig for a fourth dimension which had ‘overtones of Theosophy and monism which saw the untity of all things’ both spiritul and material. Kandinsky painting in Germany felt that colours had spiritual qualities, for example yellow as a typical earthly quality, disturbing;   blue is deep, supernatural, a typical heavenly colour;   green, a mixture of blue and yellow denotes stillness, peace;   red symbolised being alive and confident. He wrote Concerning the Spiritual in Art, he attempted to depict a gravity free and direction-less space in his work, Paul Klee painted abstracts, he also had strong spiritual beliefs. In the 1950s and 1960s Bridget Riley in England painted what was called Op Art, composed of coloured  lines, she continues to work in this style she feels that there is an energy and flow depicted in her work.

I have chosen an abstract work by the artist Jackson Pollock born in 1912 in Wyoming, called No.5 painted in 1948. Pollock was adopted after the death within a short time of both his parents, he grew up in Arizona and California, he then moved to New York, a central  hub for artists, no longer Paris as had been the case in the early 1900s, he exhibited in the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery. Pollock was one of the most influential artists in  1950s American, he is called an Abstract Expressionist painter, he married another abstract artist, Lee Krasner who gave him moral support. His canvases were very large, sometimes twenty feet wide, painted while spread on his studio floor or on the ground on which he dripped, splashed and trailed liquid paint, a paint invented and sold commercially since 1936, he would apply the paint with hardened brushes, sticks , trowels or whatever he thought suitable, building up areas, creating depth gradually. He thought on a huge scale, many thought he painted without reason, that it was chaotic – it may in fact be possible that ‘he had an intuition of the nature of chaotic motion’ he ends up with a controlled structure, balanced and harmonious containing a range of textures, often described as a visual symphony. Pollock used the force of his whole body to apply the paint. He walked slowly around the canvas sometimes on the canvas, totally absorbed until he felt the work complete, he often worked with black paint or up to seven colours creating vibrating space, his work has been described as capturing the American dream, the canvas likened to a vast screen, an American wilderness.

Pollock fought to find his own voice against all the criticism that came his way, he was also fighting to overcome alcoholism. Between the years 1938 and 1941 he underwent Jungian psychotherapy in a bid to recover, his work is said to have ben influenced by Jungian concepts and archetypes –  ‘universal, archaic patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious’. This style of painting has been called  ‘drip painting’, Pollock acknowledged that he was influenced by the work of the Ukrainian artist Janet Sobel working in the 1940s.  Fractals have been seen in his work where small areas are repeated reducing in size, each area similar to the whole work.

Painting No. 5 sold in 2006 for 140 million dollars, it has become an investment, helped no doubt by the fact that it was a new kind of painting. Sadly his golden period ended in 1951, he may have had bi-polar disorder, he had rages and was bitter at times, he began drinking again, his best work was behind him, he died in a car accident in 1956 aged forty four, driving while intoxicated.

In a recent television programme Dr. James Fox noted that the time around the time Pollock was working America was buzzing with creativity, Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road, a stream of consciousness novel and jazz musicians such as Thelonious Monk were composing and playing.

Information and image from wikipedia and other web sites.

The MWS Podcast 35: Susan Wright on understanding creativity in early childhood

This week’s guest is Professor Susan Wright who is chair of arts education at the University of Melbourne and author of ‘Understanding creativity in early Childhood’. She is going to talk to us today about her research regarding young children’s meaning-making and communication using symbol systems and multi-modal forms of expression and why she feels the arts deserve a pre-eminent place in education and culture.

In the second half of the interview we look at and discuss some children’s drawings that formed part of her research. The children were asked to draw ‘What the future might be like’.

MWS Podcast 35: Susan Wright as audio only:
Download audio: MWS_Podcast_35_Susan_Wright

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