this too
Monday, April 25, 2005
  A joyful watching

John Berger by Jean Mohr

I had a lousy weekend, ending in a joyful evening. Not quite worth the lousy for the contrast with the joy, but it certainly cast the joy into particularly poignant relief.

The lousy weekend came after a lousy week – relentlessly increasing workload, piles of work which grew and grew and towered and toppled and slid off my desk (a lot of it comes in shiny plastic folders). I think I was less firmly grounded than usual because of Monday’s news, so I teetered and came close myself to toppling.

The dread determination not to panic, not to be overwhelmed. The hard-learned lessons of years and years in grinding jobs. Don’t dwell on the big picture. Don’t catastrophise. Do NOT embark on a fruitless quest to take control. Prioritise ruthlessly and regularly. In between look only at the next task. Do it. And the next, the next. Oh it took a long, long time for me to learn this. Even now, knowing it and doing it are different things. The struggle not to struggle. It wears me out.

So by Friday night, a tight-strung, bone-aching weariness. Too tired to move. Too tired to sleep. Not much of anything getting done. Waves of tiredness that start in the sacrum, surge up the back and through the head to punch the rear of the eyeballs.

Little sleep for two nights, until at about 6 on Sunday morning I fell into a deep and miserable dream. I’m at a conference, with a man who seems to be both sweetheart and father figure. He leaves me and goes off with a beautiful delegate. Then I realise I’ve lost my bag, with passport, money and – worst of all – my digital camera! I woke at 9 and spent the day in the emotions of the dream: jealousy, vulnerability, self-blame, abandonment…

So I almost didn’t go the National Film Theatre, where I’d booked a ticket for Another Way of Telling – four half-hour episodes of a 15-year-old TV series with John Berger and Jean Mohr. Oh I’m so glad I went. What a wonderful chance to see this multi-layered, widely branching meditation on photography, to see it now when I have just begun to play with a camera.

As the film-maker, John Christie, said in his introductory talk, it’s the kind of television you can’t make now. Slow. No background music. Lots of still photos. Lots of talking to camera. Looking. Audience looking. Narrator looking and describing the look. Photographer describing the choice of shot, the feel of shooting. Two immensely talented old friends who spark each other off, whose words and pictures weave together into something wonderful. I cannot summarise the programmes, can only send you for a glimpse to the book of the same name, on Amazon, where you can 'search inside'.

Always wanted to be a intellectual, I suppose. All my adult life I’ve hung out with intellectuals, fallen in love with them, worked with them. And fuelled my inferiority complex. I crave thought, crave complexity. And complex thought utterly defeats me. Here, for a delicious couple of hours, was complex thought so lucid, so communicative, I could follow, fully hold, fully respond to it.

I slept afterwards too.
What a roller-coaster of a weekend. Hope your week is shaping up to be a better one. The dream you shared is the kind that we all must experience from time to time. Who knows where these strange scenarios come from - arriving by stealth as we sleep and conjuring up such real and passionate emotions? Are they meant to be a sign or a warning? I have given up wondering now, and try to regard them as I would an unwanted television commercial.

From those of us that won't be able to see the film, thank you for the link to John Berger's book. Sounds well worth finding.
I am so glad your weekend turned round. And I admire you for getting up and going out towards the end of the day on Sunday - I find Monday morning often looms so large in my mind then that I lose the will to live a life of my own and just stay in. How wonderful it paid such dividends for you!

"Don't catastrophise"! Ha! When I am really old lady I am going to embroider this in cross stitch on a sampler and hang it over my bed. I struggle with it in most areas of my life but especially and particularly in work. Your litany of lessons learned in times of crisis is very useful and I am going to print it off - it helps to actually see it in writing.

While I am writing just to say how much I enjoyed your "Rosemary" post a few weeks back. Re the tea, when I lived in France an elderly French lady I got to know used to make a similar tea with a sprig of thyme - apparently very good for the heart.
Jean, the dream you describe (not the part of losing passport and camera etc.)about man - sweetheart and father figure etc. ... I have a similar dream which recurs every few months. Have been having it, on and off, for the past 20 years. I recognized those feelings you described during the day of "jealousy, vulnerability, self-blame, abandonment" - amazing.

How interesting that you have always wanted to be an intellectual. I *so* consider you as one. And I certainly wouldn't think, for a moment, that complex thought defeats you! You could never write the way you do if it did - really did.

I wish I could have seen the show. Sounds wonderful.

Thanks so much for sharing all of this. This is a great post for me. Lots to identify with, and more to learn about you.
"... And complex thought utterly defeats me."

I know what you mean. There was a great paragraph in "If I Live to be 100" by Neenah Ellis (She's talking about one of the centenarians she interviews):

"I've spent a lot of time furthering my career, myself and following some vague notions about truth. I've spent a lot of time trying to be smart instead of trying to do good, admiring "smart" people instead of good people. When I see how Ruth touches people, when it is such a huge physical effort for her, I realize I have a long way to go."

That blew me away.
Karen, I very much take your point. There are more important things than being smart. I yearn for complex thought for the sheer pleasure of it, like the pleasure of running fast or jumping high (even further beyond me!), not for status or competitive success in being clever. But I do realise that when I screwed up academically and stopped defining myself as 'clever' this was also a gift, made me start to value myself and other people for the things that matter more.
oh the struggle not to struggle not to struggle....know it well. i am just trying to soften these days; breath out. it seems to work better-sometimes!. just reading mark epstein's new book open to desire in which he says that the other side of anxiety is not calm but rather desire. mmm interesting.
lovely piece about your friend.
Jude, I love your idea of regarding unwanted dreams as an unwanted television commercial (personally tailored of course).

Tamar, yes, it's a not uncommon kind of dream scenario, I'm sure, but not the less excruciating for all that. It's being set at something like a conference is, I expect, particular to those of us whose lives have featured many such events - usually stressful, even when successful. I guess I'd normally get on with the day and quickly forget what I dreamt, but didn't have the energy to do so on this occasion.

Ruth, Mark Epstein has a new book out? oh, I'll have to get it!

Mary, Tamar, have you read any Mark Epstein? Ruth (Meanwhile Here in France) knows I am a fellow fan because I enthused about him the other day in response to her mention.
I didn't know about Mark Epstein - but immediately ordered the book via Amazon. Afterwards I was fed up that I didn't order it through Richard's Amazon link! Oh well - next time. Am looking forward to reading it. Thanks Ruth and Jean for the information.
No I have never come across Mark Epstein either. I will investigate .... thanks for the tip.
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Freelance copy-editor and translator. Keen on language, literature, photography, art, music, buddhist meditation and the countryside.

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