A book of poetry and art, fables and philosophies aimed at the pandemic of crisis anxiety so many are facing.
In uncertain times people turn to uncertain means. This is a book of poetry and art, of fables and philosophies aimed at the pandemic of crisis anxiety so many of us are going through right now in our daily lives and in our inner spaces. We are all of us and each us in this together.
The sciences but also the arts do provide remedies. The ancient Egyptians wrote curative words on fragments of papyrus to feed their burnt ashes to the afflicted. Lacking morphine, Walt Whitman read verses to fallen soldiers on the battlefields of the first Civil War.
At their best, the right words are more than therapeutic, they can be curative. Take a Deep Breath emulates this ritual here in administering remedies for living in these times of crisis, in living with uncertainty.
A Brief History of Poetry Therapy From the upcoming collection of poetry, philosophy and art TAKE A DEEP BREATH: Living With Uncertainty (Chameleon Publishing)
Poetry Therapy, or poetry which is used for healing and personalgrowth, can be traced back to primitive Man, who used religious rites in which shamans and witchdoctors chanted poetry for the well-being of the tribe or individual. It is documented that as far back as the fourthmillennium B.C.E. in ancient Egypt, words were written on papyrus and then dissolved into a solution so that they could be physically ingested by the patient and take effect as quickly as possible.
The first poetry therapist of historic record was a Roman physician by the name of Soranus in the first century A.D., who prescribed tragedy for his manic patients and comedy for those who were depressed. It is not surprising that Apollo is the god of poetry as well as medicine, since medicine and the arts were historically entwined. For many centuries the link between poetry and medicine remained obscure. The poet John Milton wrote in 1671: “Apt words have power to swage The tumours of a troubled mind And are as balm to festered wounds.” Pennsylvania Hospital, founded in 1751 by Benjamin Franklin and the first in the United States, employed many ancillary treatments for their mental patients, including reading, writing and the publishing of their work. Dr. Benjamin Rush, called the ‘Father of American Psychiatry’, introduced music and literature. The writing of poems was was encouraged, and the results were published in The Illuminator, their own newspaper.
On the battlefields of the American Civil War, Union field medic Walt Whitman would administer recitations of verse to fallen soldiers who were well beyond hope long before the use of morphine. He was later to pen the classic Leaves of Grass, the greatest celebration of humanity in the midst of its own despair. Pennsylvania Hospital employed this approach as early as the mid- 1700s. In the early 1800s, Dr. Benjamin Rush also introduced poetry as a form of therapy to those being treated. In 1928, Eli Greifer, an inspired poet who was a lawyer and pharmacist by profession, began a campaign to show that a poem’s didactic message has healing power. He began offering poems to people as prescriptions, and eventually started “poem-therapy” groups at two hospitals with the support of psychiatrists Dr. Jack L. Leedy and Dr. Sam Spector. After Griefer’s death, Leedy and others continued to incorporate poetry into the therapeutic group process, eventually coming together to form the Association for Poetry Therapy (APT) in 1969.
Librarians also played a major role in the development of this therapeutic approach. Arleen Hynes was a hospital librarian who began reading stories and poems aloud, thus facilitating discussions on the material and its relevance to each individual in order to better reach out to those being treated and encourage healing. She eventually developed a training program for those interested in teaching poetry therapy. In 1980, all the leaders in the field were invited to a meeting to formalize guidelines for training and certification. At that meeting, the National Association for Poetry Therapy (NAPT) was founded. As interest grew, books and articles were published to guide practitioners in the practice. Hynes and Mary Hynes-Berry co-authored the 1986 publication Bibliotherapy — The Interactive Process: A Handbook. More recently, Nicholas Mazza outlined a model for effective 188 poetry therapy, also discussing its clinical application, in Poetry Therapy: 189 Theory and Practice.
The Journal of Poetry Therapy, established in 1987 by the NAPT, remains the most comprehensive source of information on current theory, practice, and research. There is also a relationship between psychological healing and incantations, either repeated as a musical chant by the patient or recited by the attending medicine man. Of course, modern medicine and science consider the notion of magical incantations possessing healing or restorative powers as so much superstition. But this, of course, begs the question that if recitations and incantations had no evidential result and no beneficial property then why would have nearly every human culture have adopted the method and repeated it for thousands of years? Surely if there was no value to vibrating the air with the sound of one’s breath, rising from the abdomen, pushed upwards by the lungs, shaped by the throat, mouth and tongue, with the added stimulation of associative meanings being understood cognitively by the patient’s mind, we would have given it and its sisters, singing and chanting, up aeons ago.
I am not advocating a supernatural or spiritual causation for the effectiveness of poetry as a healing agent, but rather the supra-natural mystical cause which is grounded first in human nature and cognition, and for which there maybe a myriad of imprecise explanations, none of which can fully explain why it works. Today, poetry therapy is practiced internationally by hundreds of professionals including poets, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, social workers, educators and librarians. The approach has been used successfully in a number of settings — schools, community centers, libraries, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and correctional institutions, to name a few.
SO HOW DOES POETRY THERAPY WORK?
• Poetry is beneficial to the process of introspection, and can be used as a vehicle for the expression of emotions that might otherwise be difficult to express
• Poetry promotes self-reflection and exploration, increasing selfawareness and helping individuals make sense of their world.
• Poetry helps individuals redefine their situation by opening up new ways of perceiving reality.
• Poetry helps therapists gain deeper insight into those they are treating.
In general, poetry therapists are free to choose from any poems they believe offer therapeutic value, but most tend to follow general guidelines. Some poems commonly used in therapy are: The Journey by Mary Oliver Talking to Grief by Denise Levertov The Armful by Robert Frost I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman Turtle Island by Gary Snyder as well as the poetry of Alan Watts, Allen Ginsberg and Antonin Artaud.
TECHNIQUES USED IN POETRY THERAPY Different models of poetry therapy exist and are being refined all the time, but one the most popular is the model introduced by Nicholas Mazza. According to this model, poetry therapy involves three major components: Receptive/Prescriptive, Expressive/Creative, Symbolic/Ceremonial.
I. In the Receptive/Prescriptive component, the poet merely introduces the subject of how to focus on their own issue. The aim is to establish concentration and cognitive focus on the details, none which is revealed to the poet. Only when the poet feels confident that the subject is cognitively attuned to and non-verbally focused on the problem or issue of concern does he or she begins to ask suggestive questions as to how the subject feels, not thinks, about their issue. This provocation of tangible emotions usually comes in three distinct phases of emotional content. First is the predicament, when the subject becomes aware of the existence of the issue. This is a gateway phase, where anticipatory feelings are illicit and registered by the poet.
II. Then there is a further stage when anticipation of the issue has given way to the full experience of all the emotions, anxieties and fears related to the issue. This is usually overwhelming (or it wouldn’t be ‘an issue’ in the first place), and it is paramount that the poet guides the subject through distinct words to describe the layers of emotions experienced by the subject. The poet must ground the subject’s emotions in language. Language and the use of words is the key here, because emotions always come in complex clusters that make it difficult for both poet and subject to distinguish them and focus on the underlying causes.
“What kind of anger do you feel?”, “How would you describe your sadness?”, “How much shame do you feel? What would you compare it to?” This is a sophisticated method of word association, but rather than creating bridges between seemingly disparate words the goal is to drill down to the core emotions of the issue by refining the language, as led by the subject. Achieving exactitude of description is the task at hand. The poet makes careful notation of everything the subject says in regard to describing their emotions. It is important to keep them focused and not to succumb to intellectual distraction. Thoughts are illusions and often lies, whereas emotions are facts. Get the subject to correctly describe the facts of the matter. All meaning is metaphorical.
III. The final stage is waiting for an exit strategy. How do the feelings begin to recede? How does the issue move back into the background? What are the parting emotions? Is there anxiety about the leaving? Anticipation of an issue yet unresolved? Or is the issue impermeable, and subject to a rhythmic return? Again, the subject’s wording, their adjectives, adverbs and phrases are the material of the poem. At this point there is usually a short break to give time for the subject to recover from the emotional transitions and for the poet to briefly skim their notes and begin to focus on the flow of adjectives. It is preferable, if possible, to compose what amounts to a first draft, a flow of words which the poet can read back to the subject to confirm its accuracy. At this first reading stage it is possible to start interjecting logical bridges between the emotional descriptors. This is the creative factor 194 unleashed. The poet, assisted by the subject, creates coherent sequences 195 between the emotional states. The poet suggests and the subject confirms or vetoes the phraseology, one line at a time. Now we arrive at a second draft which is the property of the subject. It is their poem. The preference is that the subject now reads the poem aloud and takes ownership of its content. The subject can redraft the poem a third time, or many more times, claiming it as their own. The poet has merely provided poesy prompts, the poem is the creation of the subject.
The expressive/creative component involves the use of creative writing — poetry, letters, and journal entries — for the purpose of assessment and treatment. The process of writing can be both cathartic and empowering, often freeing blocked emotions or buried memories and giving voice to one’s concerns and strengths. Some people may doubt their ability to write creatively, but therapists can offer support by explaining they do not have to use rhyme or a particular structure. Poets can also provide stem poems from which to work, or introduce sense poems for those who struggle with imagery. A poet might also share a poem with their subject and then ask them to select a line that touched them in some way, and then use that line to start their own poem. In groups, poems may be written individually or collaboratively. Group members are sometimes given a single word, topic, or sentence stem and asked to respond to it spontaneously. The contributions of group members are compiled to create a single poem which can then be used to stimulate group discussion. The symbolic/ceremonial component involves the use of metaphors, storytelling and rituals as tools for effecting change. Metaphors, which are essentially symbols, can help individuals to explain complex emotions and experiences in a concise yet profound manner. Rituals may be particularly effective to help those who have experienced a loss or ending, such as a divorce or death of a loved one, to address their feelings around that event. Writing and then burning a letter to someone who died suddenly, for example, may be a helpful step in the process of accepting and coping with grief.
HOW CAN POETRY THERAPY HELP?
Poetry therapy has been used as part of the treatment approach for a number of concerns, including borderline personality, suicidal ideation, identity issues, perfectionism, and grief. Research shows the method is frequently a beneficial part of the treatment process. Several studies also support poetry therapy as one approach to the treatment of depression — it has been repeatedly shown to relieve depressive symptoms, improve self-esteem and self-understanding, and encourage the articulation of feelings. Researchers have also demonstrated poetry therapy’s ability to reduce anxiety and stress. Those experiencing post traumatic stress have also reported improved mental and emotional well-being as a result of poetry therapy. Some individuals who have survived trauma or abuse may have difficulty processing the experience cognitively and, as a result, suppress associated memories and emotions.
Through poetry therapy, many are able to integrate these feelings, reframe traumatic events, and develop a more positive outlook for the future. People experiencing addiction may find poetry therapy can help them explore their feelings regarding substance abuse, perceive drug use in a new light, and develop or strengthen coping skills. Poetry writing may also be a way for those with substance abuse issues to express their thoughts on treatment and behavioral change. Some studies have shown poetry therapy can be of benefit to people with schizophrenia, despite the linguistic and emotional deficits associated with the condition. Poetry writing may be a helpful method to describe mental experiences, and can allow therapists to better understand the thought processes of those they are treating.
Poetry therapy has also helped some individuals with schizophrenia to improve social functioning skills and foster more organized thought processes. It is important to note in many instances, especially in cases of moderate to severe mental health concerns, that poetry therapy is used in combination with another type of therapy and not as the sole approach to treatment.
TRA I N I N G FOR POETRY THERA P I STS
Poetry therapists receive literary as well as clinical training to enable them to be able to select literature appropriate for the healing process. While there is no university program in poetry therapy, the International Federation for Biblio-Poetry Therapy (IFBPT), the independent credentialing body for the profession, has developed specific training requirements. Several studies support poetry therapy as one approach to the treatment of depression, as it has been repeatedly shown to relieve depressive symptoms, improve self-esteem and self-understanding, and encourage the expression of feelings.
However, the only qualitative measure of effective poetry therapy is in the poesy and the results. No accreditation can guarantee or substitute for the quality of cognitive empathy that is achieved during a successful session. Ultimately, there can be no real separation between the experience of the poet and the subject. This methodology provokes a meeting of mind in confrontation with universal truths. The poet is there merely to reassure the subject that there is no hocus-pocus, no supernatural or alternative reality, and that the cognitive associations that ring true are true in the present mind of the subject. The poet is on hand to reassure, to validate the responses of the subject to radical new perspectives into their own most intimate selves, and to relieve and dispel any accompanying trauma as grounded in the normalcy of human experience.202 203
CONC E RNS AND L IMI TAT IONS OF POETRY THERAPY In spite of its widespread appeal and broad range of applications, some concerns have been raised about the use of poetry therapy.
Some critics have pointed out it is possible for people to analyze a poem on a purely intellectual level, without any emotional involvement. This type of intellectualization may be more likely when complex poems are used, as a person might spend so much time trying to decipher the meaning of the poem that they lose sight of their emotions and spontaneous reactions. Poems that are unoriginal or filled with clichés are unlikely to stimulate individuals on a deep emotional level, or challenge them to think in ways promoting growth.
Just always keep in mind that poetry therapy may have little or no value for those individuals who simply do not enjoy poetry.
Chavis, G.G. (2011). Poetry and story therapy: The healing power of creative expression. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Gooding, L. F. (2008). Finding your inner voice through song: Reaching adolescents with techniques common to poetry therapy and music therapy. Journal of Poetry Therapy, 21(4), 219-229.
Original Words, Music, Video and Antidotes for Living With Uncertainty
Internationally renown fine artist and producer Frederic Iriarte and American Poet Igor Goldkind have collaborated on 9 original tracks of musical interpretations based on Igor Goldkind’s forthcoming collection of poetry also entitled TAKE A DEEP BREATH. The album of 9 tracks is being launched as a complete work at this year’s International Beat Poetry Festival and will be released for download at midnight this coming Saturday, September 5th.
This unique multimedia work was written and produced during the pandemic in Stockholm, San Diego and Moscow. It is intended as an artistic attempt to help us live with uncertainty and survive catastrophe living.
“TAKE A DEEP BREATH is most important piece of Spoken Word Art to come along at just the right time: right when we all needed it the most!” – Henry Rollins
2020 has been a year of both social, economic and psychological upheaval. Humans have been required to adapt to drastically changing circumstances without forewarning and without certainty as to the outcomes.
We are being challenged as a species to adapt. Adaptation is our genus but it is also painful and exhausting. TAKE A DEEP BREATH is a guidebook: a pause for a moment of reflection. Take a break from panic and get a clear view of where we are as individuals, as a people and as a species.
Covid-19 has literally attacked our humanity however in doing so has done us the service of reminding us of our shared humanity, our common mutual vulnerability. These are hard lessons to learn and uncomfortable changes to be made for us to survive. TAKE A DEEP BREATH is a pause in the gloom and a chance to regain our strength and resilience to all carry on.
TAKE A DEEP BREATHis a step backwards in time when poetry and music were used and appreciated as tools for contemplation, meditation and reflection on the most crucial factor in our lives. Now that we are being confronted and overwhelmed with multiple catastrophes, is the time to return to using poetry for what it is designed for:
Go Fuck Yourself, you pathetic failure. Leave the arts to the poets, the dancers and the painters Go get yourself a real job, a real vocation. Fuck off and leave those of us who fight for our culture alone. Fuck off and stop leeching the creative spirits of the secular martyrs who have sacrificed their lives on the holy altar of Art, Truth and Freedom. Go Fuck Yourselves! And each other in your sleazy stinking orgy of self-gratifying bigotry and weeping pustule aesthetics.
Go Fuck Yourself in the Ass With Your Own Extended Nose Go let yourself get fucked in the ass by all the bogus arts nonprofits that pocket tax money to further their own finances while cheating artists and reviewers out of their livings.
Go write yourself a grant.
Write up your mission statement in day-glow gold-gilded writing. Put on your ‘supporter-of-the-arts’ makeup Keep counting the coins in your bookseller’s till While prescribing the rules that determines who is in and who is other.
Go Fuck Yourself and try reading a book for a change. Go read Whitman, Bukowski, Anais Nin and Henry Miller on art. Let William Burroughs into your dreams. Go get yourself a self education. In the meantime, shut up, sit down and just listen: You are the enemy of art, the enemy of poetry, the enemy of life. And we’re coming for you. Because all you are is in the way.
There’s an emptiness at the heart of any space: The air that escapes a room; an unanswered echo, a vacant womb. There’s an emptiness in my heart That reminds me All of my ideas are empty. Floating leaves from a fumbled folder. Coloured streams falling from the sky.
This emptiness reminds me How slight my desires really are How gently they fall from the sky A confetti of mercy and discarded emotions, They are in the end, Compared to nothing, Merely the litter from an emptied mind.
Existence is a limitless screen of emptiness Vibrant with jubilant celebrations. And gratitude for the joy in rolling a boulder blissfully up this steep hill. Tripping over our own thoughts like loosened cobblestones, We no longer see the reality directly in front of us.
The truth is a truce we struck with certainty ages ago. After losing the desperate struggle… To cling to some kind of hope buried deep beneath the root of ourselves. I am fearful of fully failing myself and yet I love myself best when I am alone with eternity.
I’ve started this post after returning from a 60-day ban from Posting, Liking, Communicating, Joining, or Connecting with anyone else in the Facebook Community.
Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. ~ The ACLU
What Was My Crime?
My posting one of my own published poems from my bookIs She Available? that had been posted in Facebook at least thrice before without repercussion. and is currently available in dozens of libraries and bookstores throughout California and soon to be released in the UK. The visual interpretation of a love poem by the Designer/photographer and internationally renown artist/typographer Rian Hughes entitled:
I Missed Your Scent in Paris
Although his image was a black and white stylized photograph of a woman where if you squinted and looked real close you could make out the shadow of half a nipple showing, (which is exactly what a Facebook employee would have had to have done in order to render judgement that Tian and my work contravened Facebook’s community standards.
The Poem and Rian’s photo interpretation of the poem were not obscene, disgusting nor gratuitously offensive in any way. Unless of course, you consider the human body in itself to be obscene, in which case I strongly suggest you seek therapeutic help as you clearly entertain unhealthy, self-hating, anti-social thoughts.
Instead, if not the poem, then certainly the photograph of the semi-nude woman is a work of art. It is obvious to anyone who reads and looks that it had no other intention. Not being able to distinguish between pornography and erotic art is one of the great threats Facebook’s dumbed down lack of discernment poses to the thriving of a culture. –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– Art is the science of culture. Both are experiment–driven. ~ Igor Goldkind ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– As community-oriented and community-sounding Facebook professes to be (in its language and self-justifications of its censorship), Facebook is the enemy of culture. As well as the enemy of the community of humanity that shares the values that a free society comes hand in hand with expression free from censorship; as long as the expression poses no harm. Otherwise, it is not a free community.
“To destroy a people, first destroy their culture. ~ Mario Torero
What is it exactly about the half shadow image of a woman’s left nipples poses a threat to anyone? The last time I checked, a woman’s nipple is the source of nourishment for all of us, male and female at one time or another.
To censor the image of a human nipple is to censor the truth of what it means to be human. How can I prove this? Look for yourself! Apart from a minority of our fellow hairless apes who have lost them in accidents or horrific burns, we ALL OF US HAVE NIPPLES! It is the truth of who we are and as an artist, as a poet, I am only interested in the truth of who we are. Not the twisted Calvinist attempt at reversioning a reality where angels never fart and genies have no belly-buttons.
I know for a fact that genies do have belly-buttons, I’ve seen them with my own eyes! And as far as angel farts go, they smell better than your own.
Article 10 of the United Nations Human Rights Act protects our right to hold our own opinions and to express them freely without government or private interference.
This includes the right to express our views aloud (for example through public protest and demonstrations) or through:
• published articles, books or leaflets • television or radio broadcasting • the internet and social media • AND WORKS OF ART • The law also protects our freedom to freely receive information from other people.
The US The Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment’s protection of artistic expression very broadly. It extends not only to books, theatrical works and paintings but also to posters, television, music videos and comic books and personal social media pages including FACEBOOK — whatever the human creative impulse produces.
The right not to be censored by an arbitrarily superimposed moral hypocrisy of a minority…. is articulated in the Human Rights Act signed by the US as treaty and thus bound by US federal law in 1964. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the United States renewed its commitment to the international human rights system by signing, though not yet ratifying, several major human rights treaties.
Including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS (ICESCR).
These are the laws of the land that FACEBOOK has violated in unceremoniously and without warning censoring my work. Judgement without respite and only the cosmetics of appeal.
Facebook is not a community in any shape or form as long as its private owners impose their narrow, petty, puerile, and juvenile morals on us without listening to everyone, not just the complainers, who make up that community. That includes us good for nothing, when-are-you-going-to-get-a-real-job? artists.
There is no one to talk to at Facebook. No one to appeal to; no one to reason with and no one that takes responsibility for its actions. Human beings wrote the algorithms, built the servers and the browsers to increase the human bandwidth, not to distance us from ourselves!
There is no reason to fear the takeover of robots, algorithmic judgements and machines, for we have already surrendered.
Please repost this in part or in full on your wall and please share with your friends across all social media. Maybe Facebook will recall what it means to be a human with nipples one day and stop emulating the machines (who have no nipples).
PS You think that I’m overreacting? Just another crazy, good for nothing artist making pointless noise? The Modigliani nude, the Picasso, the Rubens and all fell foul of Facebook and are all pictured as depicted after being defaced by Facebook in the name of their hypothetical Community Standards.
I never really knew Hannah Northedge apart from our Facebook exchanges. I think it was she that first started commenting on my postings. I read her comments with bemusement and replied. Earnest, sincere, a bit young girlish but always quintessentially English. That refined contrivance that is both over-mannered and elegant at the same time. And yet we shared a sense of humour, which is an astonishment between an Englishwoman and an American.
The real English, the softcenter at the core of the cracked, hard surface, English remind me no one more so than of the Japanese. Both island peoples deeply suspicious of foreign invaders and both sewn tightly within an intricately embroidered fabric of ritual, custom and politesse. Both peoples’ have a tea ceremony; one with boiled spring water and green leaf powder, the other with scones, clotted cream and jams.
I did not really know Hannah Northedge but I knew what she was like. A middle-class Midlands girl from Leicester with financially nurturing parents and an early gift, really, a passion for music. She must have dreamed as a young studious girl coming to the Big Smoke, to London to make it big as a chanteuse, as a professional jazz singer. Hannah’s own cover version of Dick Whittington sans cat. This would have been for her a dream logically constructed from sturdy childhood building blocks. Each carefully poised upon the other, pushing gradually upwards into a stern, determined tower of accomplishments.
Hannah would teach music on the side, to students both male and female to make ends meet in a rapidly escalating London that had long driven me from its financial borders. Living in London is not an easy thing. Not for any young man or woman and certainly not for a high strung, talented musician intent on being the best at what she could already do quite well.
The dedication of an artist is blind. Blind to all things that do not further the acts of creation. There is no greater earthly power than to suddenly plug one’s hours, days, years of practice into an unearthly circuit that seems connected to the very essence of one’s living. That sudden bursting propulsion ever further, and ever greater into what you had always wanted to attain and seemed now to be as effortless as a second nature. Suddenly you are living your higher nature!
Any artist, any writer, any dancer and any musician will tell you that this moment of being ‘experienced’ of being played upon what feels like the very aesthetic strings of life is at best indescribable. This is much more than being “in the zone” as an athlete or card player might venture. This is about the zone being in you and all around you; in every pore and molecule of your being until it would take more effort to stop the momentum than to just let yourself keep falling forwards. Pulled into the very gravity of creation.
The Red Shoes is a 1948 British drama film written, directed and produced by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and based on the story by Hans Christian Anderson about a pair of red shoes that are enchanted and when worn enchant the ballerina dancer into dancing more powerfully, more perfectly than she has ever danced before. Until tragically in the end, the dancer cannot stop the shoes from dancing her to her death. A glorious death brought to life by a magical realism. One that many would gloriously surrender to just to be swept up in that dance unto death.
Hannah had no red shoes to speak of, but her throat, her lungs, her diaphragm and her instinct for music were as enchanted as they were enchanting. They were her soul and at very least they enchanted me. I never really liked what she sang. Of course I never told her that; (why would I?) To me, perhaps unfairly, it reeked of nostalgia and a wonting for a long disappeared time. Her numbers were swing, pre-integrated jazz; the time of Louis Armstrong and grinning happy black men.
This music came to England via the American GIs that were stationed there, much to the resentment of the male British population and much to the erotic delight of the female one. Courting and bedding an English girl was the kind of overseas exotica an American GI could handle, easily overlooking the cultural gap by virtue of a common language; in fact magnetically attracted by that difference of language and nuance. We said elevator, they said lift; we asked how many blocks; they answered how many streets; what could be more enchanting? All to the sound of swinging jazz.
Hannah in many ways embodied that stalwart and determined optimism of the English. Being bombed by a vastly superior air force, on the very brink of invasion and yet somehow, against every indication to the contrary, still anticipating a break in the weather. Raining bombs on old London town. By the time American GIs were deployed to England the response of the British and I can hear Hannah saying exactly this, was “About bloody time! How nice of you to finally show up for the party!” “Better late than never, I suppose!”
This was the playful sarcasm of the English by which they kept themselves and each other bemused whilst coping with the obstacles at hand This has always been lost on my American comrades. We think it’s rather mocking, which of course it is; it’s merely a democratic mockery, a Monty Python hysteria at the awesome absurdity of Life and it all. When it comes to jokes and putdowns and the English, no one ever gets out alive, no less so than the English themselves. Self-effacement and self-mockery are not part of the American skill set and we would be fortunate in having few English Life Coach instructors to teach us a thing or two about the proper positioning and placement of the ego.
But I digress from my digression. Hannah was quintessentially English, youthfully so. Although merely some ten years younger than me, she somehow always made me feel that she was much younger than that. A child’s wide-eyed openness beaming from a woman’s face I believe that that child-like disposition, as well as her nervousness and constant stress, were hand in glove with her talent. She desperately needed to keep performing, to keep belting out those numbers because her life really did depend on it.
I was supposed to take Hannah out on a date this Spring in London. Not really a date, more like a shared joke. Both of us had frequently traded our frustrations with the opposite sex and one night I asked Hannah to describe her perfect London date to me. It involved dinner and dancing and her description was so lighthearted and life-affirming fun that I immediately promised her that as soon as I got to London I would take her out on that exact same date. I made that promise not to impress Hannah or woo her but because what she described sounded like such god damn fun that I wanted in on it! Hannah’s lust for life was infectious. Most important of all, Hannah laughed at all of my jokes, even the ones that didn’t merit laughter.
Alas, our date to laugh is not to be. The one woman in 3 years who had finally agreed to go out with me, drowned herself instead at the very prospect. Now that’s a good joke. One that Hannah would have heartily laughed at.
What can I say about suicide? And I understand as of late through a mutual friend that that is exactly what Hannah Northedge had planned in advance and self-executed (so to speak). Albert Camus said that the only question worth asking in life is whether or not to commit suicide; each and every morning when we awake we should ask ourselves that very same question. Because in all honesty, in asking ourselves that question we are never freer. Simply because if we do not choose to end it all; (and I assume that anyone reading this has chosen other than that), then what we have chosen is everything else instead. Because we could have chosen the only alternative to living there is, but we did not to.
I don’t know if Hannah asked herself that very question waking in her luxurious hotel room in Eastbourne, near Beach Head, Britain’s top suicide spot. She certainly had chosen a fine hotel in which to waylay her return to London. Perhaps I will pay that hotel a visit just to catch that final view of the sea we might have shared and toasted. I do not know what state of mind she was in when her parents sent her back home to London from her childhood home in Leicester. English parenting can be harshly stoic at times.
All I do really know for sure about suicide, and in fact, that is what Hannah committed herself to, is that it is an act of self-agency. You may not want to hear this, but please listen because it’s true. Take this bitter pill from one who knows: Suicide is a determined act to strike out against a world of pain and futile injustice. It is not weakness nor surrender that causes one to take one’s own life. It is instead the ultimate act of defiance, an act of unnatural courage and entails a great act of will against all instinct; against the very will to survive.
To look at the universe that gave birth to one’s own conscious mind and in full consciousness scream “No!” “No, this life was not worth the pain, the agony, the empty suffering of my existence!” “You can just take it, just have it all back”. “This was never going to be good enough and I’m putting an end to it here and now because it is my choice my freedom, my volition to do so!”
I do not know of Hannah’s pain apart from what she told me of it. I do know that her despair at romance and at its betrayal weighed heavy on her. If there is any lesson to be garnered from her passing, be it what I tell my own daughter time and time again: never ever believe that you will ever need a man to be happy as a woman.
It’s possible to have both, but by no means mandatory; nor is a man ever the sole path to happiness. We are at best unreliable and at worst, much worse than that.
Hannah did seem determinedly desperate in her remaining months; determined to be believed and desperate not to be dismissed as a hypochondriac lunatic. Which from my own experience with medical authorities. their tendency to treat the symptoms more urgently than the patient surely is lacking some benefit.
I know that there are those of us who in trying to find some salve for our confusion and our anger will demand answers from doctors, from landlords and mould experts; from Hannah Northedge’s own family, even. I know that righteous confusion first hand. To you, I say what my baby sister’s widow said to me at the time of her untimely passing: “nothing that we do, nothing that we try, no matter how hard is ever going to bring her back”.
Of shoeless children — and refugee ships — and the things
that all of us need…
Of arresting civilian protesters — and blood-letting priests and kings.
–– And why the sea is filled with fleeing families
And whether falling bombs have wings.’
This is the time of confusion perpetrated by those whose power is built upon the bedrock of our confusion.
We are told that all information are biased lies. To not trust what anyone says; apart from the words of those who tell us not to trust what anyone says.
In America and around the world there is a crisis in the authority of information. Never in the history of our tribe, the human tribe, has so much information, so many facts, so much data been at the command of so many of us.
The World Wide Web is truly an amazing thing, as is its name: World Wide.
And yet too much is never enough. With such abundance comes scarcity. Scarcity in the reliability of what we read, hear and see. We can no longer afford to listen to simply one voice. Uncle Walter is no longer alive to comfort us with the nakedness of facts, disrobed from opinions.
That’s just the way it is.
So we listen to the many voices inside and outside of our heads and try to tune into a signal through the rising noise levels. That signal, that wavelength, that fleeting photon of energy we’ve always known to be the Truth. What is the Truth? I don’t really know but you and me can always recognize it.
Right now the truth comes in the numbers:
In 2016, from an estimated pre-war population of 22 million, the United Nations (UN) identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, of which more than 6 million are internally displaced within Syria itself at the mercy of the Syrian authorities, and around 5 million are refugees outside of Syria.
5 million refugees! 1.5 million in Lebanon alone. This is the biggest refugee catastrophe the world has seen since the millions of Jews who fleeing the Nazis were denied entry, turned away from this ‘Great’ nation of ours. To be deported to the death camps that awaited them and at the time no one believed were real. How could they be real? How could this be real again?
Never Forget really means Never Again.
How could a booming population of 22 million be gutted of 13.5 million civilians, more than half the country, of men, women and their children?
How could we, our tribe have let this have happened? Why didn’t somebody do something before it got this bad?
Where was our compassion deported to?
But I’m not answering questions about how we got here. Instead, I’m asking you to do something about it right NOW. Set aside the luxury of your political opinions and focus on the reality, the facts. What we know to be True, right here and right now. There are children crying out in the desert. I can hear them, believe me, I can hear them and if you pay close attention, you can hear them too.
The facts are that families, just like yours, fathers and mothers just like you and yours and children, yes children exactly like yours are living and dying in unimaginable squalor. Right now, today. And there is something you and I can do:
They need medical supplies, doctors, and nurses to treat their external wounds and trauma counsellors to tend to their internal wounds.
The teenagers’ survivors of Florida school shooting were transformed from children into adults in the course of a few short hours of a single death-defying day. Being American, they were treated and counselled for the trauma caused by the actions of one young man and a single gun he should never ever have obtained.
These young adults’ transformation, Emma Gonzales, David Hogg and the others, was miraculous. They took the worst trauma they had ever experienced in their lives and changed it into action; an effective action that has yielded results. Like alchemists, they changed rusting iron into gold. They are an example for us all, especially us adults.
I’m telling you here that we don’t just have to admire our children, we can, we must follow their lead.
Now imagine, hundreds of fully automatic guns being fired around you, at you. Imagine the infernal thunder of bombs falling all around you, decimating your home and the streets of your childhood, obliterating your school, your neighborhood, your city and everything you have ever known to be safe and solid. The destruction of your entire your life while leaving your body if injured, still intact.
Please imagine this with me now, right now.
Stop reading this.
Close your eyes and use your mind to
Reach out beyond yourself and you will hear the bombs dropping and the sound of never-ending gunfire.
Now open your eyes and do something to answer the cry of that child in the desert. Follow the children, they know the way, the golden road into a better future.
Today is #YomHashoah, the date on the Hebrew calendar in which the Jewish people around the world recall the memory of six million Jews and more who were murdered because of who they were, and to rededicate ourselves to prevent another genocide. #WeRemember#AskWhy
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been working lately, the remembering nor the preventing. Assad’s continued gassing of his own civilian population with chlorine and nerve gas is nothing short of homage to the Nazi death industry.
So you see remembering the holocaust isn’t a Jew-thing, it’s a human-being thing. No other single event in history had more of an impact on the 20th century and by consequence the present 21st, than the mass brutalisation of families or men, women and children in the camps and now in the Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon.
We are all part of the same tribe who fall victims to those who hate their own humanity.
What follows is my little piece of the Holocaust and why I can never forget even if I wanted to. My mother told me a few days before she died, addled with dementia but suddenly lucid that the most painful, heartbreaking memories are better than no memory at all. Better to be reminded of the experiences of who we are rather than to disappear completely; from the world and from ourselves.
F E A T U R E S
W I R E D Issue 2.09
Master of Puzzles
By Igor Goldkind
Ivan Moscovich has created more brain-teasers than most people have solved crosswords. Igor Goldkind set out to piece together his fascinating and harrowing life.
Ivan Moscovich has his life’s work wrapped up in a bundle of about 10,000 pages of A4 paper. On those pages there are some 5,000 separate puzzles, puzzles that range from the hang-on-let’s-look-OK-I-see to beyond the fiendish. Some are variations on themes, some utter one-offs. Some are to be made on paper or card, some are designs for tricky little – or big – devices. Moscovich calls them the S.A.M. archive – science, art and mathematics. The puzzles use the techniques of bafflement to teach, and they use beauty to bemuse.
Moscovich has been making puzzles since the 1960s. Now, at the age of 70, he’s looking to transform that life’s work into new formats. He and his colleagues have started up a new company to take the ideas on those 10,000 pages and put them to work in the digital arena. Moscovich is sure that there is room for them. Having looked with interest at hits like Seventh Guest, which friends told him were bringing new life to the world of puzzles, he was profoundly unimpressed. The puzzles were hard, sure (if you weren’t Moscovich, that is), but they were variations on a small number of underlying tricks, and they didn’t add up to more than just a set of puzzles. Moscovich thought that he – or people mining his archives in digital form – could do better.
“In digital media you can build overlapping linear trees, using the media to interrelate the concepts for the user. It’s important with any problem to see – at the same time – the different paths that can take you to a solution. Certainly this is the best way to explain scientific and mathematical concepts.” The collection of puzzles becomes a sort of puzzle itself: a maze, something to find one’s way through, something more than the sum of its parts.
Ivan is looking forward to trying to put all this into practice – not least because he enjoys the attitude of the people he’ll be working with. The way that games designers and programmers think fits into his world perfectly. He loves to be with people who are bored when they’re not trying something new, even impossible, when they’re not seeking a new solution. And he can make sense of himself by being part of a group; in fact, it has saved his life before now.
Ivan likes people who try to make sense of the pieces. That, in part, is how he got into puzzles – his delight in their ability to teach eager minds. As well as making puzzles for books and toys, he has used them as serious teaching tools for engineers – and pioneered the art of transforming the counterintuitive insights of puzzling into science museums with interactive displays. Putting together the pieces of an idea is much more important than putting together the pieces of a puzzle. The wonder is that by getting someone to do the latter, you can let them do the former.
A life in fragments
Moscovich’s own life is a bewildering array of puzzle fragments. Having met him on a CD-ROM project and learned some of his history, I started to wonder how to reassemble the fragments – and what they could be made into. One of the answers is a charming, brilliant septuagenarian. Another is 10,000 pages of A4. And a third might be a technological passage through the 20th century, from the industrialisation of death to the pursuit of pleasure. A journey that charts the territory of the 20th century’s technological revolutions and its human upheavals, from the Balkans to California, from museums to the Israeli defence industry, from the ruins of Austro-Hungary to the digital age, from railways to death camps.Moscovich’s parents were Hungarian, but he was born in Novi Sad, a small Serbian town. He still retains a central European accent that, to my ears (and probably to yours) sounds like the definitive voice of modern science and mathematics. “My father was a Hungarian who escaped from Hungary into Yugoslavia after the First World War. He was a painter by profession, but in order to make a living at that time he opened a photographic studio which became very successful. He named his studio Photo Ivan, after me.”
His description of an everyday childhood in Novi Sad paints a familiar portrait of a middle-class craftsman’s family, complete with Yiddish grandmother and old-world family meals – and none of the hothouse intellectual atmosphere that produced Leo Szilard, John von Neumann, Kurt Gödel and other thinkers who left Budapest to dominate 19th-century thought. There was little to suggest Ivan’s strengths in science or mathematics – except, perhaps, a boyish infatuation with model aeroplane kits. He had, however, inherited from his father an inclination for drawing, and his father’s habit of tinkering with various gadgets – including an early air brush – to enhance his pictures was a constant delight to Ivan.
But when he reached technical high school, Ivan fell under the influence of a mathematics teacher given to explaining the precepts of science by means of science fiction. Ivan’s teacher opened up the world of mathematics by making problem solving fun. Ivan was entranced by the maths – and, later, showed that he had learned the method, too: rigorous scientific thinking through the lens of art and storytelling.
By then, though, the Hungarian fascists had invaded. They met with little resistance. And, soon afterwards, they took Ivan’s father from him. “Before they took him, he asked a Hungarian officer if he could say goodbye to my mother and in their final embrace he slipped this ring onto her finger.” Ivan holds up his hand and shows me an ornate gold band studded with eight small diamonds. It is the only surviving memento of Ivan’s youth; everything else was lost in the Holocaust. Ivan’s father joined 6,000 Jews and 4,000 Serbs executed en masse and thrown beneath the ice of the frozen Danube. All in one day.
Ivan continued his studies until the end of 1943, when the Hungarians “got cold feet” and the Germans invaded. “We really didn’t have any knowledge of what was happening in Poland in the ghettos or with the Nazis. We all hated the Hungarian fascists, but I still knew and liked Germans and, you know, communications were very different then; telephones didn’t work internationally. We were really disconnected from the rest of the world.”
When a Hungarian Jew escaped from Auschwitz and fled to Budapest to warn the Jewish community of the death camps, few believed him. So Ivan Moscovich was deported to Auschwitz at the age of 17.
“It meant stepping out of one world into another one. I was sent with my grandfather, my grandmother and my mother. When we arrived, my grandparents were immediately taken to the crematoria. My mother stayed in Auschwitz the whole time. After three or four weeks I was taken out of Auschwitz into one of the surrounding work camps. Young people were sent to work. I worked at laying rail lines.” The Nazi system was to provide rations for six months survival, after which the workers were supposed to starve to death in order to make room for new inmates. The meticulousness by which the operation was organised was not lost on Ivan. Nor would the memory escape him when two years later he found himself again working on train rails.
By that time he and, miraculously, his mother were back in Novi Sad. An acquaintance in the Ministry of Transport offered him a research position in the effort to repair Yugoslavia’s war-torn railway system. The post involved testing an enormous German machine that used high electrical wattage to weld rail lines together, a then untested invention. Mounted on a train carriage, Ivan travelled with the machine throughout Yugoslavia, in charge of the welding team. The machine was so successful that Ivan soon found himself elevated to a lofty position within Tito’s Ministry of Transport, accountable only to the deputy minister himself.
“There I was, a simple technician, at the age of 20, and I had all this power and no boss, really. People thought I was a top-shot communist because everybody had to do exactly what I wanted. The project became more and more successful, our production was way up and I was given orders to enlist more and more technicians for my team. One day I was called in by the deputy minister and was told that in order to create a 24-hour work shift, I was to take on 50 German prisoners of war.”
So, two years after surviving the German work camps, he was given control over a work team comprising high ranking German officers and regular soldiers, some Wehrmacht, some SS. He could have done anything he wanted. He could have shot them all and easily justified his actions to the authorities. He could have tortured them to death with gruelling work. He could have snapped his fingers and made them all disappear. But Ivan Moscovich had responsibilities, a quota to fill and a marvellous welding contraption to keep running.
“I had ten kilometres of rails to get out that week and it was a real dilemma whether to screw the Germans or to try to get the best output from them. I decided to increase their rations to get more work out of them, and sure enough they were grateful and worked even harder, which increased the output. I was very, very tough with them and I think they were scared of me. But I never revealed to them that I was a camp survivor. They worked for six months and then Tito released the prisoners.”
As it happens, Moscovich only worked on the German railways for six months. “I was lucky for the first six months. It was very important for survival in the camps to be with your people, your clan of friends and family; it made life easier. You couldn’t get ill, because that meant execution, but curiously, if you could show a work-related injury, a visible wound, you could be seen by the SS and granted a day or two of hospital. One day I announced myself with a bad wound. While everyone else went on work detail I was left in the enormous courtyard with a broom to clean up, completely by myself. Suddenly the gate opened and a commandant’s car stormed into the courtyard and headed straight for me. The German officer jumped down from his car, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, threw me onto the platform of the vehicle and drove off. I was kidnapped.” Later Ivan learned that there had been an escape from a neighbouring camp and the camp commandant had stolen Ivan to make up his tally of inmates. The mathematics of death had to add up.
“Up to this point all of my feelings had been one single feeling: an enormous outrage. Rage that somebody, anybody, another power, could take me away from my decisions, my everyday life, and put me in an environment where whatever happened was not under my control. I was young and maybe too strong an individualist, but it was rage that kept me alive.” In the new camp this life-sustaining anger was broken, until he discovered a distant Hungarian cousin running the camp’s kitchens and being the “godfather” of the camp. Then he found some school friends of his father’s. For several weeks Ivan rebuilt his spirits and his body. Then the Russians pushed back the German line, and the SS made their lethal preparations for evacuating Auschwitz.
The problem to solve was – how to survive.
The Museum Man
In 1952 Ivan found a new clan – and became a leader. He set out for Israel to join his now remarried mother. On the boat to Haifa, Ivan was approached by Israeli officials interested in his skills and qualifications. The new state was hungry for skilled technicians. By the time Ivan reached Haifa he already had a position in the Ministry of Defence waiting for him. “In my group there were mainly these Yugoslav and Hungarian technicians without any training in science and mathematics. The language problem was enormous, and here was this group of technicians involved in scientific research without any basis in the field. I don’t know how it happened, but I was selected as someone who could teach the other members of the group some basic science.
My boss wanted me to instruct them outside of a formal classroom using demonstrations, models and visual means. That was really the start that put me in the direction of puzzle making.”Ivan found himself playing around with visualisations and experiments. He worked hard to come up with ways in which complex ideas could be explained visually, not so much to convey a deep academic knowledge of science and mathematics but to engender an intuitive grasp of the subjects and, most important of all, to instill the knack of problem solving needed to tackle more important scientific and technological puzzles.
By the end of the 1950s, Moscovich was creating puzzles almost all the time, and practice had revealed a rare gift for making puzzles that could be revisited, puzzles that retained a depth, an impact, even after they had been solved. “I tried to design models that were compact and effective, and in which the experiments could be repeated a number of times. This required completely original design conceptualisations. My boss, Ernst David Bergman, was the leading scientist in Israel at the time, and founder of the Weizmann Institute. He loved my work, and it was he who had the idea that some of those objects I had designed could be exhibited. That was the basis of the founding of a science museum.”
In 1959 Tel Aviv established its Museum of Science and Technology, the first of its kind in Israel. Ivan worked non-stop for two-and- a-half years converting five disused British barracks into a museum, begging and borrowing every available resource. The museum finally opened in 1964 with Ivan as its curator and director. It was the first science museum to emphasise hands-on, interactive exhibitions, and it quickly attracted international attention. His position as curator became a springboard from which to explore and express his interest in art, science and mathematics, and to do it all with the benefit of a growing international reputation.
In 1965 Frank Oppenheimer, brother of the more famous Robert, having heard of Ivan’s fantastic museum to science, visited Tel Aviv with Admiral Lewis Strauss, chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission. The two became fast friends, sharing a childlike fascination for technology and science as well as knowledge of the darker side of machines and technology. This was four years before the opening of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, for which Oppenheimer imported many of Ivan’s installations. Some remain on exhibit to this day.
The puzzle of death
In 1944, while Oppenheimer was working with his brother on the problems of designing the first atomic bombs, Moscovich was on the death march to Bergen-Belsen. Here, too, the problem was how to survive. “Everybody said those who stayed, declaring themselves ill, would be shot. As it happens, they were liberated by the Russians two weeks later. And we walked barefoot and nearly naked through the worst winter of the century, westward to Bergen-Belsen.”At Bergen-Belsen, the last stop for the Final Solution, Ivan gave up all hope. He had been assigned to a work detail in the then still beautiful city of Hildesheim, near Hanover. “Near where I worked was a statue of the mathematician Leibniz with beautiful writing on it.
And it was so strange that after so long in hell, I am seeing that statue. I felt I was being visited by a ghost, an image of the real world I had left behind. It was then, only then, that I remembered my previous life, my teachers, my studies of mathematics and all that. Up till then my memories had been blocked out. It’s impossible to imagine that every minute, every second of life in the camps, you were only thinking of survival; there was no room for any other thinking. But here was this beautiful statue of Leibniz that reminded me of the real world.”
After two weeks working in Leibniz’s shadow, “I heard this strange noise … mmmmmmmmmmmm … that filled the air, and we suddenly realised that the sky was filled with planes. The next second everything was on fire. It was the Allied carpet bombing of Hildesheim. I saw German soldiers burning, running, and everything became chaos. I ran. After a while I stopped and looked back at the city, which was one big torch. I found myself alone in a giant field, a free man. But a free man in pyjamas, a free man with nowhere to go. I weighed 45 kilos.” Ivan turned around and started walking back to the depot. With his camp clothes, his inverted mohawk, there was nowhere to run. A German woman ran out of her house and thrust a chicken leg into his hand; she never said a word.
Recaptured, he was beaten and sent back to the camp. The dead lay in their thousands. “One barracks the Germans were using to fill with dead bodies, hundreds of dead bodies. After work one evening, I decided that instead of going back to our sleeping area that I would crawl to the top of this mountain of bodies and find myself a horizontal place. There was a slot at the top where I could see what was happening outside. I slept there for five, six days; I don’t have any notion about how much time passed. It was bliss to sleep; quiet and beautiful. It was no problem sleeping on a bed of a hundred dead bodies. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have lasted.
“One day I awoke from my sleep to complete silence. I looked through the slot to see the camp was completely deserted. Suddenly through the main entrance, which I had in my view, drove a single jeep with four English officers that stopped in the middle of the square. I rolled down the hill of bodies like a log and then I felt like I was running but I must have been moving very, very slowly. I was, I think, one of the very first to reach the jeep, and you know those guys were looking at us like they were seeing aliens for the very first time. Like first contact.” He collapsed into the arms of an English officer.
Moscovich was deathly ill. By the time that English officer caught up with him again, in a local hospital, he looked unlikely to survive. So the officer found a German doctor and frog-marched him to Ivan’s bedside. The Englishman pointed his revolver at the terrified doctor’s head and said, “If this patient dies here, you die here.”
Ivan Moscovich did not die – nor, at that point, did the German doctor. Ivan was transferred to a Red Cross hospital in a small town in Sweden – a town so boring, he now swears, that the local newspaper actually ran daily updates on Ivan’s weight gain for lack of more interesting scoops. Ivan describes his slow recovery as matter-of-factly as everything else.
“At a certain moment you know, the organism decided,
‘OK, we’re going to stay in this world. ”
In the mid-1960s, as his fame grew in Israel and beyond, another new world opened for Ivan Moscovich. “I was working on a puzzle at my desk one day when one of the ushers came in and said a couple of tourists wanted to see me. I was busy and didn’t have the time. The usher came back and said they only want five minutes of your time and they wouldn’t give up. So I agreed to see them, Mr and Mrs Eliot Handler. I wasn’t very enthusiastic but we talked and then Mrs Handler said ‘I would like our chaps in California to see your puzzles; are you ready to come over to California?’
I didn’t take them very seriously. Two weeks later I received a call from a travel agent who had a ticket waiting for me to go to California to visit Mattel.”Eliot and Ruth Handler founded and owned Mattel Toys. Its twelve-storey building in Hawthorne was the centre of America’s toy industry. Sales of their Barbie dolls were colossal, but the Handlers were keen to expand the Mattel range beyond just dolls. When Ivan came out to visit them they immediately offered him a three-year open contract to create games and puzzles for US$25,000 (£16,000) a year. His “Brain Drain” puzzle game promptly sold a million copies worldwide. This success was repeated with a series of puzzles including “Play It Again Fun”, “Visual Brainstorms”, “The Brain Power Decathlon” and “The Hinge”. Soon toy and games manufacturers from Japan to Europe were clamouring for more and more puzzles from the master. Ivan Moscovich’s gift had found the most widespread of all its expressions.
Fitting together the pieces
Somehow, all these pieces add together to produce a remarkably creative man, and one with a unique vantage point. Ivan has seen countries destroyed, reconstructed and created afresh. He has faced the most utterly depersonalising totalitarianism ever attempted, and rejoiced in the individual quirkiness of children’s imaginations. At an age where most seek nothing new at all, he is embracing the digital world with the enthusiasm of a seven-year-old offered a Game Boy.
How does he see the end of the century?
“At present we are in a greater need for a fresh creative spirit than in any other period of human history. Less and less experience is being gained directly through activities. Sensations tend to reach us increasingly only after passing through layers of media filters. Children manipulate electronic gadgets and play with computers, which is all very well, but ultimately lacks perspicuity and full sensual enrichment.
I hope to create open-ended concepts that trigger chain reactions. Ideally, the player plays my game, solves the problems and is motivated to invent his or her own variations of rules, ultimately creating his or her own games, puzzles and aesthetic structures.”
He has an avowed predilection for the physical. You can see it in his hands as he solves his puzzles. But Ivan sees unique possibilities in the digital world, possibilities that flow from the nature of his puzzles. “I’ve already published several books of my puzzles, but in a book you are restricted to the lin- ear progression of page after page, without much freedom. To interrelate the conceptual links between problems and solutions you need to be able to cross reference non-linearly, which is what a CD-ROM does.” After all, this is the point of his S.A.M. archive – that it combines science, art and mathematics as different paths to the same goal. The trajectories can be changed forever; the solutions will still provide the improvements of the self that Moscovich cares about.
“You know, humanity has been defined in various ways. For instance, as Homo habilis, skilful man; as Homo sapiens, wise man. I prefer Homo ludens, playful man, as the best definition of modern 20th-century human beings.” It was a hopeful definition that Johan Huizinga came up with in the late ’30s, at the time that young Ivan was learning science through science fiction – but the hope was serious and fearful. Huizinga was quite aware that playfulness had its dangerous side, and that the coming war would be a great, dark game; it was peace, he always said, that was the serious business.
These days, Ivan Moscovich is at peace. He lives a quiet life with his wife Anitta in west London. Within him, though, you can sense the machines within machines working, a vast inner factory of the abstract. It is hard to imagine him without them – even in the worst places the century’s history has to offer. I asked him whether his puzzling mind had helped him in Auschwitz, in Belsen; whether he had made his retreat into a private world of abstraction and pure thought.
“No. You know, it’s very difficult to explain, to understand. All of your time, all of your energy, all of your thinking is just focused on one thing: surviving.”
He did. And from the simple fact of survival he has pulled together the fragments of his life into a living inspiration for the rest of us – a puzzle worth thinking about.
Igor Goldkind writes science fiction, comics and essays, and lectures on technology and culture.
If you are concerned with the Syrian refugee crisis, the largest forced mass emigration of refugees since the Jews escaped Germany and Poland, there is something you can do. Inform your self through the Syrian American Medical Society who are running projects and providing medical supplies to the victims of the dictator Assad’s brutal and genocidal war against his own people.
Participate, if you live in southern California by attending a special exhibition of protest art at The Misfit Gallery in La Jolla California on April 21st.,
@ 565 Pearl Street. 92037 6-10 pm
I will be reading my published and unpublished work in the Spoken Word progamme as well as performing with The Third Act of Creation. But there’s much, much more. It’s a celebration of human rights and protest art to raise money for SAMS and also to join others in Mindful Resistance to the tyranny, bigotry and corruption in our present government and around the world. WE are THE PEOPLE, so instead of just complaining or getting depressed,
Yes, indeed that’s a provocative title; but this ain’t click-bait my friends.This is the real deal.If Thomas Paine were alive today, he’d be in the nation’s capital with a pistol waiting for the selected president.Of course, he’d be waiting a long time considering as far as he knew, the capital of these United States was in Philadelphia.I have a vision of old globalist Thomas standing outside Ben Franklin’s door, knocking as hard as he could, shouting
“Benjamin!Benjamin!Come out, our nation’s in trouble and its much worse than the British.Forget the kite!’’.Kind of like the scene in Street Car Named Desire where Marlon Brando is standing outside Stella’s window in the pouring rain in his soaked white T-Shirt.
Marlon Brando would have made a good Thomas Paine in the film, the graphic novel and the computer game but this doesn’t answer the question embedded in the title of this diatribe. Why would Thomas Paine if he were alive today,track down Donald Trump and put a bullet in the back of his head? In principle this would require Donald to be on his knees, facing away from Thomas with his tiny hands wrapped around the back of his head.I suppose you, dear reader, are ‘en-titled’ to an answer as the to why and the wherefore; but stay with me as we savour the moment.The ultimate retribution of history: to be shot in the back of a head by one of the Founders of this revolutionary nation, ironically with a pistol no less.One that Thomas didn’t have to register or submit to a background check to acquire from the antique pistols and muskets booth at the gun show a couple blocks away.
So before Thomas pulls the trigger and the tiny lead ball propels from the pistol’s mouth through his dense skull and lodges somewhere in the soft tissue that Donald referred to at his “brain”, let’s pause and assess the situation. Let’s skip over the time travel details as to how Thomas Paine got from the late 18th century to the early 21st.We’ll leave it to the graphic novel to explain that bit; him jumping a little over two centuries in time.Although we really don’t have to figure out anything at all.Thomas Paine’s words, his ideas and his rebel spirit not only jumped but survived intact more than 2 centuries and the soul of our national sovereignty. So if Thomas Paine were brought back from the dead by some mysterious force, it could only be due to his words, his ideas, the nation he fought for being under threatened.
And that, my reader, is precisely the point being made by my title and the words you are reading now.Today, not 2 decades into the 21st century, the essential values that built this nation, this American experiment by a motley crew of post-enlightenment landowners, orators, tradesmen and inventors is at risk of being destroyed.Not by Trump himself, you realise.But by Us, by We the People in our impotent complacency to stop him.
We are not revolutionaries, we are the revolution Thomas and his friends dreamt up, drew the blueprints for, and built on the hot blood that soaked the green countryside of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Carolinawho’s names are only possible because of the stubborn bravery of these idealists, these socialists, these men of vision that had the hubris to build a nation founded not by the right of kings or church or even the wealthy, but by the enlightenment values of Liberty, Justice and Freedom.
These values, of course, aren’t just American, although they are the foundation stones of our democracy.Thomas Paine author of Common Sense, The Age of Reason and the Rights of Man who’s title alone reveal the nature of his philosophy:to build a nation on Reason, not religious superstition.It’s not that Thomas Paine didn’t believe in the Divine, he just believed in Reason more:
“It is by the exercise of reason that man can discover God. Take away that reason, and he would be incapable of understanding anything.”
Later, a member of the French Senate, he would lend his hand to writing the Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s version of the Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789, along with Thomas Jefferson.Rousseau’s Rights of Man became the basis of the UN Human Rights Charter as well as the EU Human Rights initiative.So next time you hear some jackass complaining about Liberals going on and on about Human Rights you might want to mention that they’re disrespecting theFounding Fathers, two of whom (Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine) contributed to the declaration.
In fact, Universal Human Rights is the soul not only of our Constitution but the Declaration of Independence, the UN Charter and the adopted law of all members of the European Union.Human Rights is the one thing that Donald Trump can’t abide because he has dedicated his life to the accruement of power, power for its own sake.Trump really isn’t that bothered by actual money in spite of his public persona.What he is dedicated to is what money buys:people, power and governance; and this is exactly where we have gone astray from the origins of our nation.We have handed our own governance over to banks, corporate interests and the uber-affluent who can afford to buy a Congressman or a President.
Mueller’s investigation will very shortly reveal the origins of the money that bought Trump his presidency.We know already that the NRA contributed 30 million dollars early in his campaign.Do you remember that lie about how Trump said he was incorruptible because he could afford to fund his own campaign?I know, I know, it’s hard to remember all the lies Trump has spouted.
Do you know why the Truth is better than a lie?
Why? Because it’s easier to remember.
But going back to the pistol Thomas Paine is holding against Donald Trump’s head; no, I didn’t forget my premise.Imagine it with me.There’s Thomas Paine, his hand steadily holding the cocked pistol, fully powdered and loaded with a small lead ball.Tiny, but big enough to leave a good sized hole at such close range.And there’s Donald Trump on his knees, shaking.He’s already wet the pants of his the suit he’s wearing.He tries very hard to hold back his urgent need to defecate and fails.
Now Donald Trump is soiled.Soiled himself the same faeces he’s been feeding to the American voters for years.Soiled by his indifference, his empathy deficit, his reckless, unfeeling impulses, his sociopathic disconnect from the human race.Remember, Donald, to say ‘I hear you’.It fools them every time and leaves plenty of time for self-gratification at the expense of others.Trump is soiled by his own inhumanity, his unbridled carnal greed to accumulate, wealth, power, women.He assaults women not because he can get it up anymore but because they have power which he needs to dominate.
Look at his wife.I haven’t seen such a blank dead look of a hostage to circumstance since Patty Hearst.It was the money that bought her and (like some particularly gruesome episode of Back Mirror), she got exactly what she paid for, with her integrity her and self-respect. Imagine the morning she awoke to the dawning denouement. Sure she could leave any time, with her child.But where would she go?What would she do?In the afterlife of existence everyone writes a book and sells it.When things go badly; when the world seems to be against me; when I lose; I always remind myself – it could always get worse and at least I don’t have to fuck Donald Trump.
The thought makes me feel better but my heart tears up when I think of her suffering.It is the suffering of the affluent.The ones who have accommodated everything they were told they needed to be happy.Everything they worked hard to acquire in lieu of happiness only to find that very objecteluding them. That’s the horror of the denouement, you reach the summit of your life’s ambition and now the only thing left to do is jump off.Because Happiness is not an object or an objective.It flits effortlessly in and out of our lives like a butterfly, briefly lingering on a flower and moving on.Ever try to chase a butterfly? Exactly.
Back to Donald Trump having shit and pissed himself while one of the Fathers of our country held a pistol to his head.Perhaps at this point Donald would beg for his life.Like the scene in Miller’sCrossing.“Please, Thomas, Please.Look in your heart, look in your heart.You don’t want to do this.You’re not that kind of man.Look in your heart, for godssake !”.
God is a natural place to go to.After all, the divisions we are now facing in our country are by no means recent.They’ve been brewing for decades.The divisions are not entirely geographic although the 3 states that assured Donald of his electoral victory does have a concentration of post-calvinistevangelicals.No are they solely cultural; after all, Donald Trump is the epitome of the urban gangster.A smooth talking, wheeling dealing property developer soaking in the comfort of Manhattan luxury.He should be anathema to his base of supporters.But he’s not, instead he speaks their language; the language of PT Barnum and Charlie Chan both as fake as a wooden nickel but master showmen to a ’T’ (Only white actors played Charlie Chan which ironically was invented by Earl Derr Biggers asan alternative to Yellow Peril stereotypes and villains like Fu Manchu).
And Trump talks about God.He doesn’t so much talk about his beliefs (if he has any), but about the threat that nonbelievers and other religions pose for Christian Evangelists, particularly targeting Islam.Trump runs his own Circus of Fear and the punters are more than happy to pay to be scared or at least have their irrational fears affirmed. Donald Trump should be played by the late Robert Mitchum (if he were still alive. Hey, we brought Thomas Paine from 2 centuries ago; a zombie Robert Mitchum should not pose too many difficulties).To be exact, Robert Mitchum in his role as the greed-laden preacher in the class American Gothic The Night of the Hunter in which he plays a psychopathic man of the cloth bent on money and murder (in that order).He pursues two children who hold the secret to a hidden fortune down a river in the south, riding a donkey and singing hymns.A fake, a demon, a creature of merciless malice.
So is Thomas going to shoot Trump in the head for using religion to accumulate power?Of course not.Thomas was a believer but not in God, in Reason.“It is by the exercise of reason that man can discover God. Take away that reason, and he would be incapable of understanding anything.”The reason Thomas Paine is holding a cocked pistol against the back of Donald Trump’s head is not God; Trump hasn’t blasphemed against Faith; he’s blasphemed against Reason.Trump has spent his entire career disseminating the appearance of things, not the truth.Truth is the enemy of Donald Trump, because in Truth, he is an insignificant man in the scheme of things just as we are all beholden to the significance we manufacture and some of us have made peace with that.Donald Trump has not. Like a Hungry Ghost Donald is compelled by desire, call it lust, a lust for significance.This is why he builds towers, not to house offices or hotel rooms, but to prop up as high as he can his name: Trump.
At the start of this year, we had a crisis
in authority due to the steady lies being pumped from the Whitehouse by Tump.The first rule of autocracy is to shake people’s belief in authority so that they only can believe in you.Donald Trump is attempting to destroy the pillars of the 4th estate.Now we’ve entered a period ofcrisis in competence.When the very ability to address real-world problems by Trump and his stooges is dubious at best.
Remember that the balance of powersin the Constitution is all beholden to having a Free Press in which people can report the truth and express their opinions of their government.That’s what Thomas Paine counted on in drafting our rights.Each right has a corresponding duty. Paine said our first duty is to be kind to others. Paine also said that a person’s corresponding duty is to allow the same rights to others as we allow ourselves. From this basis we can use our abilities to promote mutual understanding. These expanding circles of reciprocal duties and rights weave a tapestry, built on democratic norms, of liberty in the context of societal interdependence.It’s called a society based on equality.
Did you know that Thomas Paine was the very first American abolitionist? In 1775 he wrote “To Americans: That some desperate wretches should be willing to steal and enslave men by violence and murder for gain, is rather lamentable than strange. But that many civilized, nay, Christianized people should approve, and be concerned in the savage practice, is surprising; and still persist, though it has been so often proved contrary to the light of nature, to every principle of justice and humanity, and even good policy, by a succession of eminent men, and several late publications.”
“Our traders in MEN (an unnatural commodity!)must know the wickedness of that SLAVE-TRADE, if they attend to reasoning, or the dictates of their own hearts; and such as shun and stifle all these willfully sacrifice conscience, and the character of integrity to that golden idol.”
Thomas Paine was the first white citizen Member of Black Lives Matter.He and his pal Thomas Jefferson originally included an amendment to the Constitution ending slavery.They wanted to create a revolutionary society in which ALL men are created equal.As usual, women would have to wait. Ofcourse this amendment was vetoed by the southern slave owning states.The same states suspiciously from which Trump derives the concentration of his base support.
But the point being that the Founding Fathers, if not all, enough wanted to establish an egalitarian society in all respects.Paine referred to this, as did the other Framers as ‘the common good’ something the alt-right abhors the notion of as they translate it into control by some body that isn’t them.Nonetheless, contrary to Constitution literalists the “common good” involves a mental posture taken by citizens in their deliberations where they account for, yet transcend partial interests to look at the good for each and all in their decisions.
Even in business, Trump’s claimed turf,the right of commerce was seen as transforming the mind-set of feudal, dependent relations between men and their government. It helped transform subjects into confident citizens. Trade was viewed not as laissez-faire, but in a web of social interdependence. It was seen as a major modality for individuals to use their Reason (not Faith), to develop better mutual understanding of others interests in society. While aware that too much indulgence in commerce could lead to the decline of spirit and patriotism, making reason subservient to commercial interests, Paine felt that man would use his religion of reason to place commerce within a broader quest for lifelong education in the arts, sciences, engineering, and philosophy in order to progress to a universal society and universal happiness.
Paine believed that man’s highest spirit of reason in its motives and applications such that it does not have to be concentrated solely in pursuit of commercial interests. Art, science, and commercial enterprise can be placed in service to humanity and universal happiness.Moreover, each individual deserves minimal dignity and a minimal economic base to pursue their natural rights. Like Paine and Edward Bellamy advocated two hundred years ago, some form of guaranteed minimal annual income ought to be adopted for each citizen, regardless of wealth or other distinctions. Imagine what Thomas Paine would make of the modern day commercialized medical establishment!
Sounds like a socialist that Thomas Paine, don’t he?Not at all really, just your average post-Enlightenment philosopher and thinker.Or only as far as Socialism is dedicated to the fairer distribution of resources so that everyone might enjoy Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness more equally.“Some men and women, through greed or disproportionate natural or social advantages, will contribute to others being systematically impoverished in the imperfections of manmade civilization”
”The earth is the common property of the human race”; thus each human being is equally entitled to have dignity and minimal share of the earth’s bounty, including clean water, air, and access or rents from landThus, men and women must discover those laws operating in society which will create a greater harmony of overall interests. Democratic communities will have to choose to redistribute some minimal baseline of societal resources to those at least most vulnerable not as charity, but as a right in the name of social harmony.”
Paine conceived of autonomous democratic nation-states forming alliances of mutual aid. Mikhail Gorbachev has said that we ought to have a balancing of interests, not a balancing of power on the global stage internationalization, with the primacy of nation-state alliances, is a major alternative to the trends of corporate economic globalization. In the myth of a “flat” world of economic globalization, where the world is made safe and frictionless for capital expansion,
Citizens and nations do not vote for corporate influenced governmental-military-industrial-media alliances and trade agreements which establish “the rules of the game” subtly conditioning the thinking of the masses.
These are not ancient words.These are the principles America was founded on and without which we would have early on taken the road to the same form of despotism and autocracythat Donald Trump is trying to lead us into. Trump only wants power.Power to control what is true and what is not.Power to determine the fates and existence of as many people as he can.This is why he loves the idea of a wall, the decoration of undocumented long term residents and the border checks at airports that targets people of the Muslim faith, as well as people that white people think look like Muslims!
In his own way, from his visionary perspective, Thomas Paine was what the right wing calls a Globalist or even more bizarrely a statist.Of course the founding father were statists, they constructed the blueprint for the United STATES.
Bernie Sanders was right. Trump isn’t Conservative or moderate, much less liberal; he’s an autocrat who has no respect for the Constitution and has failed as commander and chief to protect this country from a foreign antagonist.
Back to the curb where Paine is holding Trump hostage to the imperatives of history and the gentle squeezing of Thomas’s trigger finger. Because Donald Trump is a traitor to his state. He has been under the influence of a foreign antagonist Vladimir Putin since at least 2014, shortly after he first announced his attempts at the Presidency. He needed money to run a campaign for President and he didn’t have any.No bank would loan him money because Trump always welched on his debts. So he had to turn to Deutsche Bank, the same bank that Putin and his oligarchy use tomake money disappear and reappear wherever is most expedient.In this case it was the Presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.
This will all become very shortly apparent as soon as the next wave of indictments are issued by the DOJ. Trump is in a jam that he can’t get out of. Mueller’s investigation on behalf of the federal department of justice is very far from being a witch hunt. Read the indictments, all the evidence is published there, enough to hold up in federal court. Mueller, if you recall, is a conservative Republican of impeccable integrity.
BTW, I don’t detest Conservatives; some of my best friends…etc. But Trump isn’t really a conservative, he’s a con man playing the GOP for whatever he can get away with. I don’t hate conservatives, I hate liars who shamelessly lie every day they open their mouths. I hate incompetents who can’t even keep one national security advisor on board during his first year and whose family and campaign advisors were meeting with Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign.
At this point in the event, Donald Trump moves his head slightly.Thomas steadies his hand.Testing Thomas, Trump slowly turns his head enough to glimpse Thomas’s steely stare.As unflinching as Mueller’s investigation.Once again Trump pleads, begs for his life.“What do you want Mr. Paine?I’ve got money tons of money.What about women?I can get you the most beautiful models in the world.What about an audience with the Queen of England, she’s easy.” Thomas pauses and for the first time speaks to Donald J. Trump:
“I want my country back.I want the nation myself and my brothers built out of Reason, Compassion and Equality back.I want what this nation is meant to be, not what you have defiled it as.”
Trump knows his goose is cooked.He can’t repair the damage he’s caused.It will take others, long after he’s gone to rebuild our country.Others who are younger than a 70-year-old patriarch.Others who have grown accustomed to being one nation in a physically interconnectedworld.Others who aspire to rise above the fumes of spiritual superstition to the level of what Paine himself called “our living awareness of the Infinite Presence.” by means of Reason.Science, the Arts, the cooperative nature of our fellow hairless apes.The high school students who have stood up and proclaimed “enough is enough”The women who no longer cover their mouths and stifle their words when being subject to interpersonal tyranny.These are the children of Thomas Paine.These are the people he fought for and wrote for.
As a species we survived and dominated this planet by virtue of our complex means of cooperation, not competition.That complex is what we refer to as a Society and those who reject the notion are, welljust anti-Social.
Donald Trump speaks to Thomas Paine one last time.
“Please Thomas, I promise to be better, I promise to live up to your virtues, I swear I’m a changed man.Look in your heart Thomas, look in your heart, Please!….”
He speaks hislast four words to the man on his knees in front of him:
Last night was kind of my XXXmas eve, being a Saturday night, with no ghosts to placate until Monday morning. So I took my Victory out for a long ride, 46 miles down to Chula Vista to drop in on my drunken-angel-poet-brothers Alex Bosworth and Chris Vannoy. As I told them, I’ve never stopped in Chula Vista before, only passed through it; well on my way to crossing the border between Mexico and Madness.
Back in the Beatnik Days, when America was still a Great Shining Beacon of Golden Intentions and jail-breaking freedoms, going south of the border was a euphemism for leaving the straight rational world and exploring the psychedelic corridors and hallways of the unconscious mind, where the muses played poker to the sound of Gabriel’s saxophone under a streetlamp, playing for spare change, playing for the end of time. Kesey, Cassidy, Timothy Leary had all spent time south of the border, hiding from the authority.
But I wasn’t going all the way south or crossing any borders. Instead, like a Boddhisatva practising the discipline of worldly compassion, I was riding south on the great American highway stopping just short of going over the edge. Stopping long enough for the rest of my sentient species to hop on board and cross over with me. How long I gotta wait? The blur of the wind in my eyes transforms Inter-state 5 into a two-lane river of white headlight diamonds on one end heading towards but past me and on the other end, a torrent of glistening rubies speeding with me, flowing around me, carrying me forwards in one high speed direction.
I was carried on a slipstream of glistening rubies last night. Chilled legs wrapped around my angel in flight, carrying me aloft above all thought, beyond all hesitation, in that dangerous living moment when every half second of thought is solid and real with consequence; and any distraction is a trap door thumping open under the hangman’s rope.
That is the fury of mediation. That is my arrival in this moment that we all share. The calm at the center of chaos. Join me, dear reader, at the centre of chaos.
So I’m heading south armed with an unopened bottle of rye, the spirit of the season travels with me. Good whisky is about as spiritual as I get these days. It is my usual Xmas tradition to grab a bottle of good booze and head down to the Greyhound station, or the street corner, outside a homeless shelter or an alleyway or anywhere I can find and join a cluster of the disaffected, the homeless, the pointless, the ones left out of family portraits. Just to share a drink, a joke and the dregs of our mutual humanity.
But this year, not particularly in contrast, I’ve chosen the company of Deadbeat poets, failed self-construction workers, mental hospital misfits, suicide skippers and gravel-voiced prophets capable of predicting the present with uncanny accuracy. Cassandra’s children muttering under their condensed breaths, scratching their prophecies from the oracle down for the benefit of anyone who still remembers how to read; or how to listen. Tonight these are my brothers (and sisters), in arms. Raging against a sea of struggles, believing that by opposing them, we will end them and wrap our soiled blankets of peace around this cold, shivering world’s shoulders.
Dead Beat Poets
I make it to Main Street much too early and agree to meet my comrades in a bar called Sanctum. I have no currency apart from my still untried bottle of rye so I stand outside on the pavement near but not too near two young women smoking butts and laughing. ‘Merry Xmas’, I venture.
‘Merry fucking Xmas to you too’, is their reply. So I listen. A skill I am still mastering. The raven-haired beauty of the pair is recounting her love life to her friend. Telling her how she had met her intended’s eyes at work, a burning penetration in time and how happy she was that at least she knew, that she knew that she knew that there was an unstated passion, thrilling at the unstated, as yet unenacted attraction between them.
The bittersweet anticipation of passions yearned for but still yet to come.
I wanted to tell the dark-haired young woman how lucky she was to be free to express such yearning to another woman. Jealously, I wanted her to pity my poor lame masculinity and the political mindfield I had to traverse to even come close to sharing such a pure moment of true emotion and affection. But I didn’t. Who wants to hear another pitiful man’s story anyways? This was the year of raised female voices. Voices raised in anger, in righteous retribution for all the wrongs accrued., in demand of recognition. Voices of freedom insisting on justice, insisting on equal treatment without unwanted trespass.
Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink. . . .
So instead I pulled out my weapon of virtue, my great equalizer of man and woman, my bottle of rye from my bag and asked if ‘You ladies would like a drink”. “Hell yes”. And for a brief instant, I felt just like St. Peter patrolling the earth and giving comfort to lost souls.
This murdered the time until my wordly brothers finally arrived. We poured from the bottle into bright red dixie cups, swigging them down in the parking lot before entering the warmth of Sanctum Ale House to talk poetry, performance, and what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. This was beginning to feel a lot like a rendezvous of fallen angels pausing for a drink and brief reflection before hitting Hell.
There was no reason to take a picture or a selfie or even take note of the time. We drank, we talked, we tried to make each other laugh and we indulged in our common humanity; a focus on what we shared more than what we didn’t.
My mind spun back in time to the many drinking conversations I had with my late great friend, the writer David Halliwell. The only man I had ever met who had got drunk with Sam Beckett. So David told this story of buying a bottle of good Irish whisky and taking the train to London, from Yorkshire. Easily a 4-hour journey. On the trip, David got nervous opened the bottle and drank half the contents on the way down arriving completely cut up the King’s Road party where San Beckett would be. He did find Beckett apparently and immediately sat down to finish the rest of the bottle he’d brought. David got so drunk he couldn’t remember a word that Sam Beckett had said to him.
Last night, I told Chris and Alex about the year that David called me up to join him for a Xmas drink and The Bull Tavern in the little North East Oxfordshire village of Charlbury, whose village council insisted on calling it a town because it had 4 pubs, a pharmacy and a post office.
I walked down the unpaved bumpy road to the tavern, past the Egyptian cottage with the papyrus reeds of Isis, the Goddess, not the terrorists. I reached The Bull pub and Inn, Opened the heavy oak door and walked into a movie. The pub was nearly empty save for the bar that featured David on his bar stool holding court with his mates. Only his mates were images burnt on my retinas since childhood: John Hurt, Ben Kingsley, David Warner, Freddie Jones and his son, then unknown now better known than him, Toby Jones. I remember blinking in disbelief. I might as well have walked in on Lewis Carrol, Tolkien and CS Lewis downing pints all who had also frequented this pub some hundred years previously.
I remember David smiling, laughing his phlegmatic cough and motioning me over to introduce me to these faces from the screen. “This is Igor, he’s another writer; he’s a Yank but he’s alright”. I was just another writer in the company of actors, everyday workers taking a break from toiling in the star-maker factories behind the popular film. I was handed a bulbous goblet of glowing ruby wine and the rest is hard to remember. But I do recall making them laugh and David Warner towering over me and reminiscing about his one appearance in a two-part Star Trek opposite Patrick Stewart that had earned him enough to comfortably return to the stage for 7 continuous years. Apart from young Toby, these were board strutting actors; indifferent and virtually contemptuous of their movie work save for the vast sums Hollywood paid them for peddling their trade of packaged emotions.
The next year most of them would be dead, David Halliwell included. I would empty his cottage with a Scottish actor of his while his Yorkshire sister wept inconsolably on his stairwell. In England, people let you weep and leave you to the dignity of your grief out of respect for the exceptional display of emotion. If you openly weep in England its because the pain is so hard that you really can’t hold it in.
Back in the Sanctuum, I explained to my companions how David had taught me the true meaning and value of the literary arts, which for David included actors who tell stories with their faces. Storytelling’s place in the human universe, keeping the stars locked in their firmament and the cosmic spheres in perfectly balanced and meaningful rotation. David Halliwell wasn’t famous. He died a virtual pauper, alone, estranged from his sister, a Yorkshire man with an RSC accent from wanting to be an actor, who wrote every day of his life before heading down to the pub to argue with me.
But he was a great success, albeit not by any kind of American Calvinist standard. Rather he succeeded in staying true to his art. He never sold out to better-paid mediocrity. He stayed true to his art, to himself and he survived with the respect and admiration of his fellow artists. When he died, I wrote and read this eulogy at his memorial, after Harold Pinter came up from Hampstead to say a few words about his departed friend. As did Stephen Frears and Scott Hampton (author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses).
I read this poem to David to my friends Alex Bosworth and Chris Vannoylast night. And in my mind, I went hunting and visiting my own xmas ghosts to remind me of the true joys of this season.
Daedalus Afraid to Fly
David, you bastard, you’ve left me
Understanding here alone,
With only these words falling out of my hands
When it is yours I want to hear again.
Words of your mastery, not mine.
So what was all the swearing about then, David?
What were all those Northern fumes really burning from?
I told you the songs of Yorkshire would never play in LA
Or London for that matter):
Two cities equidistant from your Yorkshire mother.
Tell me, David, why didn’t you just sell out?
You could have bought yourself a much better pint of beer
With all that money for old knotted ropes and
Still, have coughed up the phlegm to laugh at us all.
Is death your idea of some kind of joke?
Did you finally track down the film rights to Malcolm, David
And cash them in?
Are you really, secretly living in Barbados,
Making beautiful women miserable?
To think of all this wasted sorrow and
Empty glasses of beer.
You did say that you always wanted to visit other places.
But Daedalus, you were afraid to fly.
If you had been born upside down in America
You would have been a southern writer living in some Northern town.
Spilling your southern drawl over a rum and coke in a New York City bar.
Sitting elbow to arm with Williams, O’Neill, Baldwin and them all.
Your America was always an America of the mind.
So why fear the flight?
Your America David was where Charlie Parker
was forever sharp shooting pool with Humphrey Bogart
in some room behind a neon-splattered bar
Where Chet Baker never jumped or fell but flew, man!
He just flew away.
Just like you.
So you’re off then, David?
Back up the bumpy road,
Turning the corner around the Little Egyptian cottage
Navigating the reeds of Isis, Long past the close of time.
A brown duffle coat ship, bobbing on an unpaved surface,
Weaving a few well-spoken thoughts into your
Can you tell me, David:
Were you X-Centric, or
Merely Eggs Essential?
How about this time I tell you, David:
The spark was always there.
But not like Daedalus, like Prometheus.
The living punishment of Truth,
Chained to your bar stool,
That eternal pint of Carlsberg lager gnawing at your liver.
Like Prometheus David,
The spark is always here.
For the late, great David Halliwell; poet, playwright,
The only way to explain Zen is by describing the sleepy mind. The sleepy mind describes a tree in terms of attributes and data: the number of leaves, the leaf shape, the number of branches, thickness of the trunk, the colour of bark. Which birds make use of the tree etc.
All these observable and measurable attributes are assembled as data by the sleepy mind and voila! the sleepy mind thinks it knows what a tree is. The sleepy mind can give arguments with citations about the validity of its data. The sleepy mind works well with other sleepy minds.
And the sleepy mind isn’t totally wrong, the data it compiles in reference to ‘tree’ are all real and quantifiable features of the tree. But no matter how exact or comprehensive, the data is not the tree nor even the experience of the tree.
The awoken mind merely says “Look, a tree”, and points. Because there is no data that conveys the experience of that tree in the moment of your apprehension. The awoken mind, sees the leaves, the branches, the colour of the bark, the thickness of the trunk, which birds fly in and out of the tree as much and as well as the sleepy mind does.
But the awoken mind also sees that the spaces between the leaves are part of the tree. The negative space surrounding the tree. The unseen roots spread beneath the ground are part of the tree. The sunlight reflecting off the green of the leaves are part of the tree. The seat waiting to rest your back against the trunk is part of the tree. The awoken mind ‘see’s the tree; the form of the tree; the tree itself in all its ‘tree-ness’, the tree as a child sees a tree; and then quite simply sees the tree for a tree, not what the sleepy mind contrives to substitute as its surrogate.
First, there is a tree.
Then there is no tree.
Then there is a tree. (With apologies to Donavon)
I think this is the closest I can come to describing the Zen disposition. I say disposition because too much is made of practice and the philosophy of Zen when all are merely aids to assist in the unravelling of illusion and self-deception. Zen is not an acquisition of skills, rituals, garments or ideology; instead, Zen is relinquishment. It’s a reminder to keep paying attention. Not acquiring but letting go: unravelling, stripping away layers of calloused skin, leaving your baggage behind and not looking back over your shoulder. In the words of the bard:
“My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step”.
Buddhists will talk about the Buddha-nature as universal, the same as our original nature. Don’t listen to them. The face that first looked up at your mother’s face is still there, submerged and (sometimes suppressed), within you. All that Zen suggests is that we are encumbered by needless worry, anxiety, expectations, daydreams and nostalgias that have buried your true self under the rubble of your crumbling castle and keeps you from seeing the world and your place in it, with any clarity.
We are all distracted by anxieties and worries about money, about jobs, about partners and children. We fear that we don’t have enough or that someone might take away what we do have. This persisting distraction is manufactured by the powerful in the society we live in to keep us consuming, acquiescent and very sleepy! It doesn’t matter if you meditate or not; if you read poetry or not; if you drink tea or practice martial arts or not. It doesn’t matter how you get there or what you wear; just that you wake up and experience the miracle of persistent and unwavering creation.
The truth of your life lies outside the boundaries of your identity, your concerns, your preferences, your joys and your sorrows. To step outside is merely to leave those things that amount to nothing behind. Enlightenment is a perpetual relinquishment of obstructing of layers not an acquiring of a state of mind.
Awareness is larger than the body.
The universe is created, then destroyed then resurrected millions of times a second, faster than you can blink; an ongoing vibration of creation.
So try to keep your eyes wide open.
I’ll leave you with the words of the Nobel Prize laureate:
“Then take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.”
– With ultimate Compassion, Igor Goldkind, 2017
Please feel free to share and copy this.
I’m just trying to reach anyone who might need to understand this.
Death and his brothers are in my garden again.
Moving my plants around.
They tend to the growth quite delicately
Careful to not reap the harvest until the plants mature
And begin to lose their hair.
Death and his brother are in my garden again,
Whispering to each other as they pull away the weeds.
Poting and repotting each plant as it grows
Making sure the roots are clear of regrets and debris
So that in the end, it’s life can be cut short more easily.
Does death have a sweetheart? I wonder.
A woman whom he woes with words of love?
As much as death can love any living thing, at all.
He gathers my plants into a beautiful bouquet
Of lost souls and freshly cut lives.
To gift to she who holds him near; squeezing his dead heart in one hand,
NOTHING has prepared you for This. Nothing ever will.
Because whatever is happening Now has never happened before.
This is a web-nurtured collaboration with 27 artists, sculptors and musicians from the world of Comics, Fantasy, Fine Art and Jazz, including Bill Sienkiewicz, David Lloyd, Liam Sharp, Glenn Fabry, Shaky Kane, Lars Henkel and the cutting edge sculptural typography of the highly acclaimed book designer Rian Hughes.
This illuminated book is a contemporary Dante’s Divine Comedy; a journey through the confessional landscape of a masculine identity. It uses poetry to construct a narrative that explores themes of death and loss, sex and love, and the modern American and Jewish identity design: by the UK’s eminent graphic designer, typographer, illustrator Rian Hughes.
The music is composed and produced by iconoclast, ex-Israeli, Middle-Eastern jazz virtuoso Gilad Atzmon, along with five other jazz artists.
Written by San Diego native Igor Goldkind, this illuminated book will revolutionize the way you view poetry by meshing comics, art, music and animation in a truly unique way. It uses poetry to construct a narrative that explores themes of death and loss, sex and love, and the modern American and Jewish identity. The book is available for download on the iTunes Store andGoogle Play, as well as in a 166 page, fully illustrated in colour hardbound edition available ORDER HERE.
The eBook edition pushes the edge of what is possible with present EPUB3 technology. It is not an App, it is a true book that marries pop art, comics, avant-garde, jazz, spoken word poetry, video and animations, and type design in a manner that we have not seen before IS SHE AVAILABLE? has the feel of an artefact from the near future – a seminal work of a new genre-fusing poetry, graphic art, music, and animation.
Sample interior pages:
IS SHE AVAILABLE? RRP is $34.95, SHIPPING INCLUDED Educational Discount for Students and Teachers:$29.95
Both deluxe hardcover edition PLUS animated and musically scored eBook App edition of Is She Available? bundle: $39.95
Shipping included in orders within the US and its territories.
If you are in Britain and/or Europe, please contact my European wholesaler Fanfare Productions who will take your order and dispatch to your address the same day: email@example.com
Reviews ? Sure We Got Reviews. Why You Wanna See Them? Be my guest.
“Igor’s “Illuminated Book” is like a new genre.It is a wonderful ekphrastic expression; a fusion of the arts.” — Poet Mel Takahara
“His collection Is She Available? has the feel of an artefact from the near future – a seminal work of a new genre-fusing poetry, graphic art, music, and animation.” —(San Diego’s) City Beat
“Is SHE Available?” is an experiment, and reading it feels more like an act of discovery… nonetheless there’s a thrill to scrolling through its pages. It’s an ambitious step toward what digital media can (and will) be.”—The Chicago Tribune
The166 full colour, fully illustrated hard cover deluxeedition is available in discerning and eclectic independent bookstores everywhere.Including Fahrenheit 451 in Carlsbad, Soulscape Bookstore in Encinitas, the Upstart Crow in San Diego, Verbatim Booksand Mysterious Galaxy also in San Diego, City Lights and the Cooperfields chain in Marin County and Sonoma County, amongst a growing number of independent book stores.
Order direct from PayPal and shipping is included!
When I sit at my desk in the barely blinking dawn,
I sit at the helm of a Starship.
Each dimension of time or space is available to me
To go anywhere I want to.
With the flick of a switch and a weird background sound
The course can be faithfully plotted,
At just the right warp speed to be there, be heroic and be back before dinner.
As safe as the hum of my engines.
When I sit at my desk in the mid-morning blue light that pierces
My east facing windows.
I pray that I can write something today,
I pray that I still have something to say.
My eyes are drawn to the street just beneath me,
That winds around the standing tree,
Just outside my window.
There is a spoonful of sunshine in my coffee.
When I sit at my desk in the midday sun
At the zenith of all of Creation,
I know that the bright light that now floods my room,
Will wash the shadows of doubt from these walls.
I still hear that first sound,
The Bang! that expands the spaces around.
I can feel how the act of creation was never just one moment long gone ago.
But a circus of new sensations, an ongoing show.
Will too soon leave us behind sleeping eternity away.
When I sit at my desk in the mid-afternoon sun
And the light of creation slowly dwindles,
I can reflect on all the things that I’ve done
While counting the tasks that remain to lie in the sun.
When I sit at my desk at dusk’s twilight time
When light and darkness are twined,
Each wrestles the other to the ground.
I know that darkness will eventually swallow,
The fading strength of the light.
The time for my bed is just insight
And the twin brothers have given up their fight.
When I sit at my desk in the heart of the darkness
I know that death is hiding in my closet.
I know that the covers I wrap so tightly around me
Offer no protection from what time has brought (me):
The drowning of the light by the darkness.
I bury my head in the night and dream of the return of tomorrow.
Here’s your chance to come and hear me read from my collection of Graphic Poetry IS SHE AVAILABLE? and some new poems and a short story at ComicKhazi Comics Shop at Liberty Station, San Diego on September 1st starting at 6.00 pm.
I’ll be reading, signing and dedicated hard cover copies and generally corrupting youth.
You don’t need Seymour Chwast, Chip Kidd and other designers to tell you that cartoons and comics are vital sources of creative inspiration (although they do that here). So maybe you’re thinking about exploring the graphic novel realm, but you’d like something more exceptional than usual, more out of the ordinary. Well, here’s the first of a series of suggestions that either defy or disregard categorization as comics. And the first, Is She Available?, is an eBook that also challenges conventional book classification in the process.
As you scroll through, you hear 1950s cool jazz in the background. Then gunfire blasts out of nowhere. A choir sings. Dogs bark. Bombs drop from the sky. And all the while, letterforms unexpectedly appear, tilt, transform, and vanish while spoken words interweave with the music and sound effects. Is She Available? is a trans-media poetry collection, one that pushes at the limits of eBook technology. It’s also comics, kind of.
Its author, Igor Goldkind, is a 2000AD comics sci-fi writer. He describes his 50 or so poems as “a contemporary Dante’s Inferno… that explores themes of death and loss, sex and love.” He’s included a couple of standard, panel-sequenced comic book narratives, including one rendered by V for Vendetta’s David Lloyd. But the bulk of the book is enlivened with music and other effects that enhance the moody illustrations and minimalist animations from a diversity of other skilled artists. The lineup notably includes Judge Dredd’s Liam Sharp and Shaky Kane as well as Bill Sienkiewicz of Daredevil/Elektra fame. Most impressive is the overall design, by accomplished comics illustrator and self-described “commercial artist” Rian Hughes. With graphic flair and acuity, Hughes proves himself to be a worthy digital age successor to Stéphane Mallarmé and Robert Massin.
If you’re interested in comic books, chances are you’ve heard the names Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. After all, their partnership paved the way for the Golden Age of comics beginning in the 1940s. With The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio by Mark Evanier, learn more about the duo who invented noteworthy characters like Captain America and Sandman, conceived the idea of romance comics, and created a new standard for the genres of crime, western, and horror comic books. Take a look inside the various aspects of their career, and see some of the works that defined them.