Sometimes you just have to start writing. I’m sorry if there’s a sense of déjà vu about those seven words, but this is another of those increasingly frequent days when as the (self-inflicted) deadline approaches I realise I have not the first idea what I want to write about.
I’m trawling my notebook, which for once offers a few scraps. 1. Meditation. I’ve been doing quite a lot of it recently and although I find it difficult I think it’s doing me good. 2. If Not Now, When. The title of the workshop Sarah and I ran last weekend, and the idea that by reframing stories we can free ourselves of the entanglements of the past and move forward to seize the day. 3. Graduation Addresses. An exercise we ran on the weekend, asking people to write an address for an imaginary audience of graduands in order then to see what it revealed to them about themselves – which in turn puts me in mind of the magnificent 2013 address to students at Syracuse University by the American writer George Saunders on the subject of kindness (read it here). 4. When Am I Most Me? An illuminating question put to me yesterday by my friend Paul Pinson, with whom I’m swapping a couple of coaching sessions for help with a presentation he has to make.
Hmm, all very well … but what I really want to do right now is bask, if that’s the right word, in the deliciously bleak humour of this poem, Scotland, by Alastair Reid, which I have long cherished and was reminded of again at the weekend:
It was a day peculiar to this piece of the planet,
when larks rose on long thin strings of singing
and the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels.
Greenness entered the body. The grasses
shivered with presences, and sunlight
stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.
Walking into town, I saw, in a radiant raincoat,
the woman from the fish-shop. ‘What a day it is!’
cried I, like a sunstruck madman.
And what did she have to say for it?
Her brow grew bleak, her ancestors raged in their graves
as she spoke with their ancient misery:
‘We’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it!’
On the day following the Chancellor’s autumn statement I could be sidetracked into politics at this point, but heeding the wise words in my friend John Simmons’s blog last week (here) I won’t. Instead I just want to rejoice in the truth of those 13 lines and Alastair Reid’s skill in rendering one of the essential contradictions in being Scottish so wittily and succinctly and with such memorable imagery.
At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s no telling what the unconscious is going to dish up next, but that’s all part of the fun. I have to trust that there’s a reason why Scotland popped into my head at this moment – particularly since I can no longer remember the context in which it was referred to at the weekend. But one thing I know about the unconscious is that more than anything it loves to make connections; and now I see there’s one to be made with the other thing that’s been knocking at my door this afternoon: The Band’s song The Weight.
With their rootsy sound and storyladen songs, The Band have always been one of my favourite groups, and The Weight is probably my favourite of all their songs. It’s on my mind because it’s one of the numbers that feature in my new piano-and-vocals partnership with singer Dave Amos, and we were rehearsing it a couple of days ago. If you don’t know it, this version from Martin Scorsese’s 1976 movie of The Band’s final concert, The Last Waltz, complete with virtuoso vocal support from the Staples Singers, is the one to watch (here). And if you do know it, treat yourself and watch it again.
‘I pulled into Nazareth, I was feeling about half-past dead … ‘ Whether you believe Robbie Robertson, the songwriter, who maintains that it’s just about a small town in Pennsylvania and a bunch of people The Band knew, or you prefer to read into it a litany of Biblical references, it remains a tantalisingly enigmatic song, with this the most insistent riddle of all: what is the weight that the song’s narrator has to bear? Perhaps it’s none other than the ancient misery that grips the woman from the fish-shop.
It’s all about connections, you see.