A DIVISON OF ANGELS
Hierarchies aren’t necessarily set in stone, some flow like a shoal of fish, from one disciplined and coordinated shape, to an amorphous school within seconds.
I’ve been in plays worthy of an indivisible shift, where the staging is swift, fluid, tightly choreographed, like a shoal. Watching from the front, the production might seem different on consecutive nights, because the emphasis in rehearsals was determined by the inner life of the characters. This isn’t to say external form and style are any less important… it’s just that there’s a broader focus on complex psychological roots that use the emotional pallet, to dictate the physiological and hierarchical tack. Commanded by a character’s thoughts and feelings, the body needs to be agile, able to accelerate on an emotional pin, nought to sixty in an instant, pinpoint sharp. Physically fit? Yes, but not at the expense of narrative.
Medical and legal professions are two examples in our lives, implementing a familiar façade, driven by complex hierarchical ascent. They too are fixed, factored and played, by a cast jockeying for position, with a glance of the eye, that place in the pecking order, a little subversive planning, that slap on the back, a knee jerk reaction, conscious and subconscious fears, that turn of the screw, past regrets, a casual remark, that binding hand shake, future needs, cravings, desires and so on.
Setup like this a parody can be life-saving, deeply personal, exhilarating, seductive, thought provoking… so convincing, we sit in a seat of faith accepting a tall tale as absolute truth…
Be it in the arts, sciences, religon, politics, or any which way… when methodology nurtured in hierarchy delivers, the framework, that produces such considered conventions, can seem as if it’s made-to-measure just for us.
Stories told in books, on stage and screen, have taken me to the edge of my seat… I’ve laughed, cried, churned outside in, while the pin dropped, then paced out with excitement and intrigue at the next turn of the page. There’s been secure footing, space to breathe, to rock, to roll, to think and swoon on the tide of music echoing out across the airwaves… combining art with engineering… I’ve travelled far and wide in aeroplanes, on high-speed trains, in hydrofoil ships and fast cars… I’ve shared gastronomic highs and lows, with friends and foes, in some of the finest restaurants throughout the lands… computers have provided me with a platform to write… builders and architects a place to live… I’ve been looked out for by the constitution, enlightened in subjects taught by leading practitioners at the height of their game, in classes that transform lives.
None of the above would have been possible without some kind of command and skill, bringing the model, the invention, books, films, a project, a house and so forth, to life.
It’s clear that aspirations in leadership and governance, some good, some bad and much indifferent, brought me security and domestic survival, in a freethinking society, that prides itself on the right to satirise and question our adherence to these dedicated hierarchical forms.
There’s no doubting a diligent captain, along with a crew’s skill, assures an outfit is shipshape, able to run at optimum speed when necessary.
And yet, placing hierarchy at the heart of our reality, where the sole purpose of being human is based on a priority of how important we think we are, remains troubling.
Stemming from a relatively small part of our brain, diplomatic and democratic hierarchies produce erudite communities, challenging us to rise through the ranks, oftentimes risking life and limb, for humankind and civil freedoms. Nevertheless, be it liberty, tyranny, or somewhere in-between… define the sun without sky, a star without firmament, rationale without heart, brain without body, a tree without earth… whichever way one comes to it, brushing aside the greater part of our existence, for our sociological and intellectual status, is like draining the sea for fish, it doesn’t make sense.
If I was born to evaluate my time on this earth according to theatrical assent, I’ll no doubt finish somewhere near the bottom of the pile… assuming this attainment marks out the sum total of my life, then I’m an expert in that lowly field and the default purpose, for my being here, finishes here.
As with actors, humans are two a penny… whatever the business, the profession, the industry, be it in entertainment, academia, the sciences, economics, politics, law, theology and so on, there are a disproportionate number of hierarchies to fulfil and we’re told that less than one percent, of a majority populous, take the crown.
However useful, whether our achievements are in favour or out, perhaps we need to step back from identifying a cultural superstructure, as the width and breadth of being human? Fixated, as we seem to be, with this incline of apparent surety, are we not turning that which is unknown/unsure into the devil’s lair, cutting ties with nature and losing our biological and cosmological intelligence?
Why inherit such a limited birthright?
Let’s just say, for the sake of a healthy perspective, the best of our hierarchical manifestations are minuscule gems in an ever-expanding universe. Then, holding that viewpoint in mind, refute the fact that leaders, teachers and parents, heralding a belief that life’s main event is a utopian stronghold found at the apex of academic and occupational success, don’t bring a poisoned chalice to the table.
Like most of my generation, I was conceived and brought up by parents who came through the horrors of the biggest war the world had ever experienced. My mother’s first husband was killed in service, leaving her widowed with two children. My father’s rank in the army, saw him and his squad, suffer horrendous mental and physical torture at the hands of the Japanese in Burma.
It’s hard not to wonder what all that deeply invasive horror, stamping out the twentieth century, was about. Why did we have to lay down two massive World Wars, where my parents and millions upon millions of others were either killed, broken into submission, or traumatised to the bone? Were they just wars?
With the shadow of jackboots shrinking away from the homeland and a continuing struggle with their private interfamilial demons, although mum and dad were loath to admit it, they had a cross to bear.
My father suffered flashbacks and nightmares, after serving his country overseas, for the rest his life… yet, his greatest fears were met in the rejection of his work, as an author and poet, by the publishing fraternity.
My mother was equally versed in the written word, which suited my dad perfectly. She had a sharp, well-informed mind and could always come up with an answer or an opinion, if called upon, particularly in matters of verse and prose. But when my mother’s keen intellect, or motherhood, didn’t equate, she would invariably hit an emotional vortex.
I wasn’t threatened with the gas chamber, or a tortuous end at the hands of an egregious leader… yet throughout my childhood and later in the workplace, I found myself strung out, confused and deeply entrenched in the formalities of a hierarchical rig, guised as a freethinking package… for your own good.
For this sovereign belief, I did my best to do what I was told, clinging to the ledge, until it was no longer possible to hold on. And I was one of the lucky ones. From the proletariat to the bosses, didn’t matter which side of the tracks, passed, failed, grandiose or not, too many of my closest friends, convinced by the formalities and subsequent placing of relevance, didn’t make the drop. Addiction, kill or be killed, depression, suicide, you name it, the hard grip of social science, had done with them… a branch of people classification that shoved them into the pathological grinder of worthlessness.
As a small person, my fourth year on the planet, I suffered a misfortune with an older boy at the village school, where my parents and teachers, those who were supposed to look out for me, turned a blind eye. But that didn’t preclude the fact, that high above the rubble, another eye sits on the wing.
Despite my age claiming a high degree of trauma, I remained alert enough… and this was to be the first of many impactive sociocultural lessons, prompting me to wake up to the fabrications masquerading as virtuous, adult truths…
I remember how the ploy started… sat at my desk, aware of what was going on around the circuitry of the body, I got proficient at zoning out. Beginning with minuscule leaps, I’d get as far as an empty playground, then pushing the envelope, with a hop and jump, hover across unfocused roof tops, down dip and dale, like a will-o’-the-wisp… joining the river to greet the sun, sparking an open pathway across a flat shiny surface of water to the open meadows… the further away the better.
Back in the classroom, the light was on and there was nobody home… thereby sat a fool… but Dumbo wasn’t without fire… there was consolation in being absentminded and humiliated accordingly, the cane saw fit to beat him less… more than that, he glimpsed a gorgeous, incandescent, forest, then cut it up, dissected, chopped and picked at it, tampered and turned the pieces into fragments, for some sterile results, on a starched sheet of paper…
In line, queue up and they’re off… always dashing, rushing for an answer… pulling up the rear, there was absolutely no time… no time, to find that distant hum of the dragon fly, reassuring doves, harmonising chords on the bough, while rowdy sparrows, rising in expectation of unexpected kingfishers, weave a melody, with the squirrels, drum-brushing busy, gathering food for the feast and returning salmon, leap over water, defying the eye, as well as the rapids, for the bell… unless… unless, I rest my heart awhile…
Come along, hurry up, no time for that now and no time soon!
Life’s so very short, just a little more, please, to find what it’s like for the earth to befriend us?
No! You’ll thank me in the end. You need to get ahead!
You might say that it’s normal for children to be forgotten, or shutdown, by the aspirational mistakes made by adults, trying to do their best in child care and I’d have to agree; I’m a parent, a father, with a gamut of rights and wrongs under my belt.
It was to be decades before I accepted that repercussions, driven by the fundamental loss of our defining nature, are passed on from one generation to the next… along with this innocuous claim…You’re nobody unless you’re somebody.
A well-known English actor once advised me to be far more ruthless, if I wanted to make a mark in show business. Come on, they said, think of the glory, the accolades, the money! As I stood there trying to work out where to take this, they hissed like a venomous snake, then spat out how they’d clawed their way up the ladder. That won’t really work for me, I countered… I‘m still trying to secure a deeper stability for the adult, entrapped in the physical, by making peace with the little boy struggling with the weight.
Waiting at the station, in the short time left before the last train, I began to expel my smug reply and the advice, because the impression made me feel edgy, like steel. In absolving the slicer, making mincemeat out of my brain, warmth trickled back to heart.
However high I climbed, wherever I ended up on the score sheet, whether it’s a sore loser, pissed with the process, or made up in the fast lane, sacrificing a life for that myopic throne at the top, seemed like taking a sword to the sense of wonder.
A frost was starting to catch the iron rim of the bench. I got up, stamped my feet, then walked down to the end of an empty platform, lost to the world.
A staccato shriek broke the silence, short static bursts, announcing the cancellation of the train.
I looked up from the stepping stone of thought, to the night sky.
A million years of interplanetary shifts, where nothing and everything had changed.
Ever the child, I began as I end, seeking harmony of play, somewhere between the letter of a snowflake and the stars… a mortal creation, set in a human world of conflict and pain.