Tag Archives: New Year

7am, January 1

Ainsworth Street, Portland

Ainsworth Street, Portland

Walking on New Year’s morning

and what’s changed? The sun still rises,

The pavement is the same damp concrete,

And the 8 bus creeps across Ainsworth, as it always does.

A new year? Well, the dogs go on with their doggy ways,

A car engine starts, the leaves lie in same piles, and Portland wakes

Like Portland always wakes.

Renewal, rebirth, starting anew – I don’t feel much of all that

In this morning half hour.

The clocks have not been reset. Things tick on, good, bad, indifferent.

And what’s wrong with this?

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Failing better in 2017, or worse

Samuel Beckett. Pic: Roger Pic

Samuel Beckett. Pic: Roger Pic

No choice but stand. Somehow up and stand. Somehow stand. That or groan. The groan so long on itsway. No. No groan. Simply pain. Simply up. A time when try how. Try see. Try say. How first it lay. Then somehow knelt. Bit by bit. Then on from there. Bit by bit. Till up at last. Not now. Fail better worse now.

You’ve probably come across the Samuel Beckett line, beloved of tech entrepreneurs and sports stars, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

You may not have come across the longer quotation above – unless you’re a fan of Beckett’s difficult late works. It’s from the same piece of writing, “Worstward Ho”, and comes a few lines after Richard Branson-esque earlier line.

Having despaired of a mantra with which to start 2016, last week I landed on the “fail better” line. Glib as it is, it struck me as having the right blend of hope and trepidation for a new year, given the year we’re departing and what we face in the coming weeks.

Then I delved a little deeper and came across the longer, “somehow up and stand” quote. It reflects the positivity of the shorter quote, with the addition of some cold reality.

Hopefully “fail better worse now” won’t be the final word on 2017 in 12 months time but, if it is, I can’t say that one of the 2oth century’s great absurdists didn’t warn me.

Until then, simply up. Happy New Year!
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Keeping the desert down

John Fante. Pic: Afag Azizova

Studiously avoiding making resolutions for a new year, or asking about anyone else’s, I’ve instead spent the past 24 hours with Arturo Bandini – alter ego of writer John Fante – in the streets and boarding houses of 1930s Los Angeles.

Fante’s 1939 novel Ask The Dust is a tribute to human connection, its difficulty and its fleeting nature. The dry poverty of a life lived in a city built on a desert is ever present, the background to Bandini’s writings, wanderings, and attempts at wooing Camilla, his “Mayan princess” (and, at times, his waitress).

Bandini’s desperate LA love affair plays out on the novel’s surface, beneath which lies the sand, ancient and patient and unconquerable, indifferent to the almighty-yet-petty struggles of man.

“The desert was always there, a patient white animal, waiting for men to die, for civilisations to flicker and pass into the darkness…all the evil of the world seemed not evil at all, but inevitable and good and part of that endless struggle to keep the desert down.”

And so Bandini, obsessed by his own struggles with writing and women, makes a resolution. Having scripted a savage criticism of the short stories of a love rival who approached him for writing advice he reconsiders.

“Under the big stars in a shack lay a man like myself, who would probably be swallowed by the desert sooner than I, and in my hand I held an effort of his, an expression of his struggle against the implacable silence…

His fate was the common fate of all, his finish my finish; and here tonight in this city of darkened windows were other millions like him and like me…

I walked back to my room and spent three hours writing the best criticism of his work that I could possibly write.”

This outstretched hand offers a moment of hope in a story that will prove to sorely need it, and a message that self improvement is of little worth compared to an attempt at human connection – which is as good a resolution as any today.

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New year? It’s time to turn to Plan Be

One thing at a time... 'René Descartes with Queen Christina of Sweden' Pierre-Louis Dumesnil

One thing at a time…
‘René Descartes with Queen Christina of Sweden’
Pierre-Louis Dumesnil

Be.

Did you wake up this morning with a list of resolutions? Are you about to eat less/drink less/spend less, work more/exercise more/sleep more?

Good idea. There’s a strong chance that, in a week’s time, you’ll be fitter, happier and more productive.

Over here…I’m going to be.

Planning forward, dwelling back, trying to think through more than one task in the here and now – this is my usual daily MO.

And so for the first few hours, and hopefully days, of this new year I’ll be sitting here, or there, trying to be.

The word sits atop a multitude of philosophical and psychological concepts and practices, from Rene Descartes ‘corgito ergo sum‘ (can we trust any sense beyond thought?) to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s ‘moment-to-moment awareness‘.

In my case it means focusing wholly on a single task in a single moment. One concept, one piece of work, one memory, one sensation, one thought.

Focusing on this ‘one’ also avoids the pull of distraction, a mentally-toxic wrench which corrodes clear thinking. (And makes us unhappier as a result).

This resolution is more than the usual casual advice to ‘live in the moment’ – the moment being something ephemeral and impossible to grasp (existentialist me asks if it even exists).

It’s to focus, to notice, to accept, to process, here and now.

This is Plan Be for 2015.

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Surely the next will be better than the last

Johnstown Castle, Wexford.

Johnstown Castle, Wexford. June 2013.

What other way to greet the end of a relentless year than with relief? And also with happiness that it’s over; and with a hope that I won’t encounter another like it again.

I spent long hours in unhappy places over the past 12 months and, despite this, happy hours in others.

Today I’m thinking of the better times: my niece’s birthday party, a nightcap with my wife on the terrace underneath Sacré-Cœur Basilica, and, most of all, the warm afternoons in June spent with my mother at Johnstown Castle.

I am writing this thousands of miles from those places, remembering and looking forward. To everything there is a season and surely the next season will be better than the last.

Until I find out, happy new year.

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