Well, we made it through the seven deadly sins. Interesting exercise and plenty of food for thought but I’m glad we can skip around a bit without a theme and have fun now. A friend’s perceptive comment the other day about how we are all walking around and everything looks normal while we are all secretly contemplating how we are going to survive what’s happening globally has got me thinking. I don’t know about you but I’ve always given people the benefit of the doubt – assumed most people you meet are up front, honest, bright and curious. Maybe I’m naïve or an eternal optimist. Do you naturally assume that everyone is as interested in the world as you are? It took someone telling me categorically that most people do not examine their lives, that the majority have neither the luxury nor the inclination to question their existence for me to realise that it is not ‘normal’ to think beyond the day to day (as mentioned before, my dear mother-in-law famously said, ‘Neither of my children married normal people’).Wassily Kandinsky - Cossacks
Other people are endlessly fascinating – in real life do you listen far more than talk? I tend to because I’m curious about learning what people think, have experienced and seen. The closest we get to seeing through another person’s eyes is watching film – but then it is only a partial view (we do not come to the images with the same life experience as the director). What goes on in your mind? It wasn’t until reading Kandinsky’s ‘On the Spiritual in Art’ and ‘Point and Line to Plane’ that I realised not everyone thinks the way I do, and it has a name. One in twenty-three people experience synaesthesia, and as a lot of these people become artists, designers and writers there is a fair bet plenty of you reading will be that one in 23, whether you realise it or not yet. Basically it’s a neurological mix up – for example people with synaesthesia may ‘hear’ colours, sense numbers or letters as particular colours or textures, or see days and seasons as having personalities, and think of calendars three dimensionally. Not everyone does this. It explains so much about how people learn differently, and how we are drawn to certain things. Hockney, Nabokov, Kandinsky – these are just a few of the famous people who see the world in an interesting way (let’s face it one in twenty three is pretty common). To a lot of people it is ‘normal’ but they are in a minority and I wonder if this isn’t a key to creativity, and to helping young artists learn?
When I found this animation of a Mondrian painting it reminded me of mental arithmetic. It may not be the ‘right’ way to do it but to me maths - however complex the quadratic equation or trigonometric calculation has always felt like a colourful game of Tetris. Which is curiously like Kandinsky’s interest in Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy – one of their many esoteric theories is that creation comes from a single point and expands in a series of geometrical building blocks. Mondrian was also influenced by Theosophy – many see it as a fad, but it had far reaching influences in Modernism including the liberal Steiner schools. It’s certainly a melting pot of philosophy and religion – its emblem (‘There is no religion higher than truth’) incorporated the Om symbol, swastika, oroborus, and pentacle for good measure (or maybe it was a star of David, I don’t remember?). Kandinsky placed a lot of emphasis on the ‘artist as prophet’ – how do you feel about this? Perhaps it comes back to artist as shaman – rather than artist as servant of religion (I’m thinking particularly of Renaissance Italy as I’ve been looking at Michelangelo today). Is it our job to channel the divine, open people’s eyes? Or are we just doing what we are good at, and here for, in the same way some people are good with taxes or horses? No better, no worse, no more remarkable.
Personally, I don’t see synaesthesia as anything out of the normal. It’s just a cross-wire, and to be honest I’ve never bothered talking about it before (maybe because you would get that wide-eyed look of fear in most ‘normal’ people). Perhaps it explains why when I write I tend to involve all the senses – music (book one is Miles Davis' ‘Kind of Blue’), visual imagery (the scrapbooks that map out the story like a film’s story boards), perfume (beeswax candles lit religiously as I start work), touch (right now I have stones on my desk from Flying Point, a chunk of a mountain in Ojai, and a tile from the Alhambra which is a talisman for book three). And yes, taste – I do tend to cook around my books – it’s a fair bet I’ve shared the same memorable meals my characters are enjoying - desire filled oysters on the beach for example (book one). Well – I could have them rinse out a dirty bowl and eat cornflakes but kitchen sink isn’t my style and we could all do with a little romance around now. All writers have their rituals – what do you do?
While gradually learning your individuality is not the be all and end all can be the gateway to genuine wisdom, cherishing the unique way you see the world is the key to finding your particular voice. Assuming everyone feels and thinks the same way about colour, sound, letters, abstract concepts like time and space is limiting yourself. So what do you react intensely to? You will write strongly about these things, and people will feel that, and experience it through you. I think my taste for ‘clean’ architecture (high modern or the pure elegance of Georgian proportions) has a lot to do with the stress bad design causes. Clashing colours, cheap air freshener, harsh light, synthetic or irritating fabrics – all make me anxious. Space, fresh air, natural materials - these give you room to think. There is no time to be prissy when there are children in the equation – as adorable as they are, they ensure the world does not revolve around you, (and in fact being taken for granted day after day is a sure fire way to eliminate your ego, and sap your self confidence). Constant demands and little thanks – how do we survive? How grateful are we for the odd hug let alone adoring appreciation?
"Listen...you know those days when you get the mean reds?" –Holly Golightly said.
"The mean reds? You mean like the blues?" --Fred (Paul).
"No... the blues are because you're getting fat or because it's been raining too long. You're just sad, that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?" --Holly.
"Sure." --Fred (Paul).
"When I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump into a cab and go to Tiffany's. Calms me down right away." --Holly.
Unfortunately the nearest Tiffany’s is a long train ride from here. It always used to do the trick. I like the fact that the carpets are (or at least used to be), threadbare. I love Elsa Peretti’s organic designs. My wedding band is from there, and under duress I have a habit of twisting it. When my grandmother-in-law first saw it she said ‘Oh yes, my wedding band from my first marriage was thin as well’. But I love it. And the pilot, wherever he is somewhere in the air between Colombo and Male. It was as wide as we could afford at the time, and it has a lovely depth and weight to it. After what we’ve been through I’m on a promise for an eternity ring sometime. Maybe once book four or five sells. Or the kids have graduated. Just as Holly loved Tiffany’s, anything solid, timeless, beautiful and calm works. Unfortunately, like most parents, I spend my days surrounded by the fleeting, domestic, messy and chaotic at the moment.
Maybe galleries and museums have the same effect on you as me – I spent the evening before my first finals sitting in front of the Brancusis in the Tate. Meditation makes me fall asleep or giggle. Beautiful art, architecture, nature or design beats TM for me every time. I knew immediately what Truman Capote meant by the mean reds – I’m not particularly melancholy, more prone to free-form anxiety. I like to get things done. So much to do - so little time. Stress levels are riding high at the moment. Do you remember that children's book with the guy who had a little angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other - Don Capello or Camillo? The devil is saying: 'Now the pilot's suddenly in Sri Lanka for a few days how are you gonna work? All your plans? Phht. Forget it! Give up! Watch Desperate Housewives!' 'But hey' – (the angel on the other shoulder says): look on the bright side, the night's young - tomorrow is Thursday, a work day, Conde Nast have asked for some feature ideas for Monday and you never know, maybe you can squeeze four day's work into six hours … ' Maybe you have similar converations with yourself. You get better as you get older at stopping the ‘mean reds’ in their tracks but sometimes they are beyond your control. Perhaps we could all do with Audrey Hepburn bringing us typewriter ribbons and cheerleading our efforts:
Holly: ‘Wat’cha doing?’
TODAY’S PROMPT: Do you think you might be among the one in twenty three? What colour is the letter ‘A’ in your mind – black as on the screen or something else? What sound is blue? For that matter why are the Blues blue? Everyone accepts that one don’t they? Do you get the mean reds? Or see red? Perhaps you dream very vividly and recall them well – almost like a ‘real life’ experience? Do you dream in colour? What do you see when you close your eyes? Dark? Or light? Why not take your journal and have a think about the way you see and think about the world. Maybe you’ve always taken it for granted that everyone sees life like this – maybe you are extraordinary.