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Same as it Ever Was

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"For a multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor. The most effective of these causes are the great national events which are daily taking place, and the increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies. To this tendency of life and manners the literature and theatrical exhibitions of the country have conformed themselves."

William Wordsworth, 

Preface to Lyrical Ballads

1800

 

Image by " target="_blank" rel="noopener">Gerd Altmann from " target="_blank" rel="noopener">Pixabay

 

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Fear is the Mindkiller

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Dune by Frank Herbert is one of the great science fiction books of the sixties, and I usually read it (and sometimes the entire series) once a year. It has never been adequately rendered on TV or film, perhaps because so much of the book deals with the interior states of the characters, something that narrative text can do so well, and visual mediums struggle with. 

One of those interior states dealt with in the book is fear. For the Bene Gesserit, the mystico-political sisterhood that haunts much of the book, the ability to control fear is the mark that distinguishes the human from the animal. 

For years (decades?) I have had what is called an anxiety disorder. The word anxiety brings to mind the feeling of anxiousness, but that doesn’t describe what I feel. What I feel is fear, sometimes panic.

Even ordinary everyday actions—turning on a toaster, leaving the apartment— can occasion fearfulness. I have been driving somewhere and had to turn back, because the fear is too great. These events are usually time-limited; often I am fine, with no trace of fear. Until the next one comes.

To some extent, the pandemic has both helped and hurt. I have a reason for my behavior. And an excuse.

For me this is a disorder of the imagination. My mind envisions all the bad possibilities. Rationally I know these are not the most likely outcomes for a particular action. But I can’t seem to convince my imagination. And this dialogue between rational mind and imagination becomes paralyzing.

I don’t take medication for this condition because I am afraid (that word again) that it will affect my imagination, which will affect my creativity. So I just try to get through the events as they occur. I try to sleep, or work (work is good), or have a cup of tea or listen to soothing music, or sing, or recite Shakespeare (the soliloquy from Richard III helps for some reason), or imagine the peaceful places I have been.

I’m not saying it’s a good plan, nor the best for everyone, nor even the best for me. But it’s the plan I have followed. I’m still here, and still writing. Though perhaps I would have written more, or better, with more or better help. Possibly. But a different plan would have required a choice, and choice often seems impossible.

In Dune, the Bene Gesserit teach a litany for dealing with fear. 

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

That is what I do: ride the fear until it passes and only I remain. And it does. That is what I try to remember each time.

The fear will pass.

And I will remain.

 

 Image by Aino Tuominen at Pixabay

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A House Not Made With Hands: (4) Damnable Barngoers

How the story began

 ...continued

 

 

 

That spring, on his weekly expeditions to market, William fell in with a lively crowd from Frisby-on-the-Wreake and they began discussing the Methodist travelling preachers who had recently visited the village.

"They're naught but rabble, those tub-thumpers," sneered one fellow. "They've no place in church and no place out of it."

"Nay, lad," replied the shepherd among them, "there are them as go to the meetings to make trouble and them as go to listen."

"Damnable barngoers, the vicar calls 'em," piped up the goatherd. "He's no time for 'em, that's for sure."

"Old Wragge's no time for anyone who can't invite him to table," grumbled the burly stockman, "unless you've an itch to be matched in a hurry without licence or banns. He does a fine trade in that!"

 



"Tis my belief," owned the shepherd boldly, "there's summat in what them gospellers say. Sam Letts is a changed man since he heard the Call. He don't rustle sheep and turkeys nowadays and he gives a tithe to the poor."

"That's more on account of his stint in jail," said the first speaker of the errant rat-catcher. "Swore blind to the judge he thought they was rats!"

"Look at Josh Bell, he's the same. Stopped beating his missus and never touches strong liquor."

"And we all know how filled with the spirit he was afore he heard the Good News!" quipped the stockman.

At this, the whole company roared with laughter and the sceptic condemned himself if he knew what the world was coming to when a man couldn't reach for the broomstale to keep his own house in order.

 



Just then, a pretty lass who had earlier caught William's attention fell into step beside him. She had twinkling eyes the colour of flax flowers and a blaze of copper-gold hair rippling from a filigree-trimmed cap which was one of three dozen she had made to hawk at market.

"I do know one thing," she offered shyly, "Mother's been able to make ends meet since she trusted the Lord. She don't need to lean on the Parish any more."

"And has she turned a Methodist?" William was intrigued.

"We all have," the girl told him. "Mother took us along to the Green, my three sisters and me - we didn't want to go, what with the stone-picking and thistle-cropping to do and the potatoes to plant for Mr Bowley - but we went and the preacher had us spellbound. Most particularly, I mind him sayin' that the Kingdom of Heaven was within every mortal person and that if we looked to that first, we'd not want for anything else again."

The young man's heart was strangely warmed by this artless testimony which his mother would eagerly have endorsed. Whilst he had the greatest respect for the Good Book and had tried to live by its precepts, was honest, hardworking and considerate of his fellows, he knew that he lacked the true spark of witness. His companion glowed with an inner assurance he did not possess.

 

  A House Not Made With Hands

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The Chipped Bowl

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Years ago I bought four small white ceramic bowls from Pottery Barn. I use them primarily for fruit, or occasionally chili or rice or vegetables of some sort. They are very handy and are dishwasher and microwave safe. Highly recommended if you need some.

At some point over the years, one of the bowls got a small chip along the top of the bowl. I don’t know how it happened. It’s not unusual for me to break something. I definitely got that dropping stuff gene from my Dad. Or maybe the bowl is not as dishwasher safe as they say.

It’s a tiny chip and it doesn’t really bother me. But I started putting that bowl down at the bottom of the stack anyway. Yet somehow, when I pick a bowl from the top, it often seems to be the chipped one.

How can this be? I have imagined various scenarios:

  • The other bowls feel sorry for him and let him go first.
  • Scotty beams him up.
  • The only time I notice is when the chipped bowl is on top.

Okay, I suppose the last is most likely, but I am hoping for one of the other two. But even the last one is interesting in what its says- about me I suppose, but I will generalize anyway.

The chipped bowl is the one we notice. Because it is different. Unusual. Unique. Not like all the other bowls.

In my life, I have aspired to be a chipped bowl. And certainly, given the number of chips in my heart and soul I have succeeded, in that at least.

So I admit, now I root for the chipped bowl to get to the top. Solidarity I suppose.

Then again, if you look closely at the bowls, you can see that they are all unique - each is imbued with a different pattern. Very clever of those Pottery Barns folks to include a life lesson in their dinnerware.

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A House Not Made With Hands: (3) A Mystical Ingredient

How the story began


...continued




François André Vincent 1798



"Plough a straight furrow, lad," William's father would counsel. "Fix your eye on the far side and never look back."

The cultivation of crops and the tending of beasts ran in George Cooper's blood. Both his own and his wife's families had been farmers for generations so that William could not fail to possess an easy affinity with the land.

William loved the rolling Wreake Valley with its winding watercourses, lush meadows and plains where sheep might safely graze. On his return from Melton Mowbray market, footsore and weary from goading the stock, he would marvel at the curious transparency of the air around Rotherby whose cottages snuggled under the square-towered church like chicks about a mother hen. His mother had been Hannah Fletcher, a Syston maid born and bred, whom her husband had carried off to Rotherby after their wedding on All Fools' Day, 1746. It had long been a joke that George had put his head in the noose on so inauspicious a day! That very month, news had reached them of the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in the Scottish Highlands. Bonnie Prince Charlie's hopes of the Crown had been dashed. The Hanoverian redcoats had butchered the Stuart forces and gone far beyond the call of duty in laying waste the Gaelic way of life. Having next to no idea what they were fighting for, half of them, they had sorely punished the brazen-faced clansmen, but the Prince had cunningly slipped through their fingers and gone scuttling back to France. It seemed that Protestant and Catholic had been forever at each other's throats and William, who was given to pondering these matters, was at a loss to fathom why those who proclaimed one Lord could not live in reasonable harmony.

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By now, the third George in succession was on the throne. He was German, of course, but unlike his predecessors, spoke English as well as any Charterhouse schoolmaster. He distrusted the nobility for their ambiguous values and preferred to consort with simple mortals. Farming fascinated him. He had a model farm at Kew for the instruction of the young Princes in his overflowing nursery. When he went to take the air at Weymouth, he loved to linger over a breakfast of boiled ham and oatcakes in the kitchen of some local farmhouse while he and the overawed tenant mulled over the problems of good husbandry.

The trouble was that the old ways were changing fast. New techniques were being pioneered to make the growing of the nation's food more efficient. Over in Norfolk, Viscount Coke insisted on the importance of crop rotation. Did he imagine that cottagers could afford to let their strips lie fallow for one year in three? To cap it all, landowners were looking for new means of fattening their pockets. They preferred to see their affairs managed by a dozen large tenants than chase scraps of rent from scores of small ones. This meant that country people were having to turn to labouring and were losing a pride in tending their own patch. Everywhere, land was being enclosed by hawthorn hedges which cost good money to maintain and left little common where you could scratch out a living with a pig or a cow. Fodder had to be begged, bought or stolen.

William was used to hearing his parents discuss these things long into the night over a guttering tallow candle. They had had their share of hardships but had well survived. "Make no mistake, Will, the Lord always provides," his mother would declare, "though not without a vast deal of toiling and spinning from me!"



"How can you be sure?" he had probed as a youngster, though he entertained less doubt of her than of the Almighty.

She was pummelling dough at the time, her freckled brown arms powdered with flour. "Do I take bricks out of the oven when I bake a loaf? See this! Left in the warm for a couple of hours, twill be twice the size and more full of hot air than the vicar!” Hers was a mischievous heresy. While she had the deepest respect for the tenets of the Christian religion, a lively nature occasionally drove her to poke fun at the Church as an ecclesiastical institution.

"Is it magic, then?" asked her son, turning his bright face up to her.

"Little nippers ask too many questions and that's a fact."

"But is it?"

"Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn't. You might call yeast magic in a manner o' speaking. Tis like faith, like saying your prayers and believing you'll receive what you need."




Now that he had reached the age of twenty, William's contribution to the rent was substantial. He was a broad-shouldered youth of medium height with a mop of yellow hair tied back with twine, a skilful farmer with a propensity for book-learning. Before he was three, he had mastered the alphabet from a hornbook at his mother's knee and a year later was composing whole sentences upon his slate.

"Give over stuffing the boy's head with these clever notions," George Cooper cautioned. “It'll do naught to put bread on the table."

But Hannah thought she knew better. If God had given her son talents, he would not readily see them squandered.

 

continued...

 

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A HOUSE NOT MADE WITH HANDS
 

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Latest Comments

Rosy Cole Same as it Ever Was
16 January 2023
...only, now, with added devalue. 'The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spendin...
Stephen Evans A House Not Made With Hands: (4) Damnable Barngoers
06 January 2023
Frisby-on-the-Wreake is a great name for a town.
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We can only conclude that the aspirant user had a subliminal hand in it :-)
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