Sunday, December 23, 2012

Transforming the Ordinary

Picasso - The Old Guitarist, 1903

As is my habit I was reading the saturday paper at a cafe, with coffee and a bun. Sometimes I was drawn to an article and absorbed, other times I watched the crowds and listened to fragments of disconnected conversation. It was a day when everybody had a business face as they sorted out presents and got ready for christmas. Brows were furrowed, lips were pursed, discussion carried an edge. I sat and thought, as I often do, about how little people look around. This room, in this town centre, was full of people not interacting, all were within their own world, physically sharing a common space but looking inward. 

How do we all sense the world? All of use with our own concerns and experiences, doing the same sort of thing but are we seeing them in the same way? How many of each person’s thoughts are commonplace, hardly worth remarking upon, and how many exceptional? In this room what were the unusual insights I was missing?

These are questions I often ask myself, especially as I continue this blog about a common activity where there is little new to say. So many people run in a similar hobbyist way and so many experiences are similar, I sometimes wonder whether they are worth talking about. But (and this is my excuse) they are felt differently, not only from person to person but in the same person from time to time. One day the ordinary is just that - ordinary, but on others it is transformed. Super good days may be rare but when they happen they offer up moments of clarity and contentment that are almost magical.

I thought of this when I read the article by Giles Fraser, which quoted a poem by Wallace Stevens. As is his wont he took a theological message, whereas I take it as an affirmation of the way the ordinary can also be something else. Never mind music and the arts, we can also run to find those moments.

P.S. The poem is said to be a reaction to the Picasso painting, which may be true but for me a key word is “shearsman” which is used to describe a tailor, a craftsman. To me is is not a poem just about art, it is about any craft - the practice of any skill. In this respect running, if done seriously enough, is also a craft.

The Man With the Blue Guitar 

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.
They said, “You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.”
The man replied, “Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

And they said to him, “But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,
A tune upon the blue guitar,
Of things exactly as they are.” 

I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.
I sing a hero’s head, large eye
And bearded bronze, but not a man,
Although I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.
If a serenade almost to man
Is to miss, by that, things as they are,
Say that it is the serenade
Of a man that plays a blue guitar. 
A tune beyond us as we are,
Yet nothing changed by the blue guitar;
Ourselves in tune as if in space,
Yet nothing changed, except the place
Of things as they are and only the place
As you play them on the blue guitar,
Placed, so, beyond the compass of change,
Perceived in a final atmosphere;
For a moment final, in the way
The thinking of art seems final when
The thinking of god is smoky dew.
The tune is space. The blue guitar
Becomes the place of things as they are,
A composing of senses of the guitar. 

Tom-tom c'est moi. The blue guitar
And I are one. The orchestra
Fills the high hall with shuffling men
High as the hall. The whirling noise
Of a multitude dwindles, all said,
To his breath that lies awake at night.
I know that timid breathing. Where
Do I begin and end? And where,
As I strum the thing, do I pick up
That which momentarily declares
Itself not to be I and yet
Must be. It could be nothing else.

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