Yeah? Nah. Never.
Look again. The PHI. Fee Phi Fo Fum
Now, still so sceptical?
Nearly fifty years ago I wrote the Theory of Involution. I jumped across a void and suggested that the entirety of Evolutionary memory was stored in ‘junk DNA’. Science had been simply the recovery of that record by the mavericks, aka the Geniuses, given access to the stacks. All those diligent contemplatives in dust coats sifting through the aisles. Aha got it! Move over. Try this instead.
No I never put it quite like that. I ennobled these minions of the library with their Eurekas as the bright sparks cannoning into God; God being the field of memory shared out in every cell, the Internet of information. I made that suggestion after studying the chronology of recovery, which went back in time, while evolution goes forward. And I further suggested that the Internet was simply the model of what we had had access to; always.
It tanked: My wonderful hypothesis. A few notables like Arthur Koestler, and Konrad Lorenz gave it a cautious thumbs up ( maybe they recognised my recognition since they were both of the got-the-badge brotherhood of genius) but on the whole I was derided, spat out, dragged before a Cambridge Committee and made a coconut-shy guy.
So I rewrote it as poetry. The advantage of poetry is that those disposed to understand it will; those who wouldn’t are not quite sure what you have said. Or whether it is quite wise to reject it, until they are sure. A bit like hiding a secret doctrine behind a combination code; poetry is just like DNA in that regard, a spiral of information that only the deft can unwind.
Which brings me to this week’s news. And a satisfying validation. Unesco’s Memory of the World Archive have synthesized DNA that encodes (and will store forever) two songs from the Montreux Jazz Festival a mere 140 MB of data. This storage is smaller than a grain of sand, and if they want to encode the rest (6 Petabytes) it will be smaller than a grain of rice. According to the people who measure, the entire internet would fit in a storage container of DNA the size of a shoebox.
Well! The size of anything is irrelevant (although the perfection of DNA’s coiled structure wound on protein spools makes even its size and protection of information a superlative secretary. A perfection of PHI and Fibonacci). I cast my net of conjecture upon the shining net of DNA throughout the cosmos and even unto DNA’s precursors in RNA and unattached nucleotides not then organised.
The Russians worked out DNA storage in the sixties ( roughly at the same time I was suggesting my hypothesis) because Pyotr Gariaev had divined that DNA was not a ‘structure’ as much as it was a language; a language in which context gives meaning, and there are homonyms that look the same but mean different things depending on their surroundings, and what comes before, and what comes after. Infinitely flexible, infinitely rich and multidimensional, universally readable, universally modifiable. Gariaev spoke to seeds destroyed by Chernobyl with laser light re-instructed by healthy DNA and they sprouted. Miraculous? DNA responds to sound waves, its language read throughout the biosphere. Mantras work on DNA. The biosphere speaks, hears, changes, remembers.
So in suggesting that DNA was the language, not merely the 3% encoding protein structure, but a language of memory and memory of experiences, the basis of ‘re-cognition’. Cognition aka science. The cosmic record.
Still they have managed the two songs; they have managed to synthesize what nature has perfected for millions of years. They are getting there. I was fairly ahead of the time, by half a century.
There is some comfort in that. It would be great if someone else noticed, but it’s unlikely. So forgive me.
I hate the word ‘content’. It means nothing. But this ‘content’ seemed worth storing in my own shoe box of cuttings- resprouting.
Move Over- Book Seeks Space for Indefinite Period. Period
I don’t suppose anybody has noticed my absence, but in case anyone has I must include you in some reasons. The minor medical scare was not a reason but a release. I may never have to write again! Marvellous. I’ll tidy out the cupboards, sell the beloved cello. Weed the garden and wait. Maybe I’ll need a crucifix? Shall I dig a trench next to all the dogs and make life easier for everyone all round?
Instead the ‘all clear’ verdict has re-locked my ball and chain, fastened me to the throne of myself, and re-filled the Parker pen. Metaphorically speaking. Get to work. You don’t escape that easily.
Now here’s the problem. Or some of them. What I write does not have commercial appeal. Never did, never will.
I know ‘page turning’ ( I do it myself) means plot, means tension, means the hero’s quest, means structure. But the only quest I can call on is to understand my extraordinary life. I have been trying to puzzle it out since I had teeth to chew upon. Too much extra-ordinariness IS the PLOT. A wholly improbable life that implies something; orchestration, purpose, intention. Towards what? I still don’t know how it ends, though it is fairly imminent. Maybe time for one more book?
But, and here comes hell, there is simply too much of it, and a life is a whole. A book, any book must make a judicious selection and pull out threads from the tapestry, and weave a hair or wrist band and leave it at that.
Here have been some under consideration.
1.The view from the bridge over the chasm between Africa and England? End up offending both sides? Boer the reader with the Boer War, teach them to ride bareback over the koppies, and my grandmother’s views on Cecil Rhodes, Jock of the Bushveldt, Baden Powell et al. Then transport them to Mary Quant and sixties hip London for the blast-off, that fizzled out? You get the drift. Mandela followed by Zuma- no absolute heroes, a fair few villains. Margaret Thatcher? Over-cooked. Yet there are distinctive flavours.
2. The Search for love. Now that is a kinda quest. Literature as a kind of painting by numbers ( choose your own heroes) and all the seductions of wrong directions. Just William and Ginger would never have welcomed you in their gang. There is no John of Gaunt for you girl, and Rhett Butler? Nah, never.
Oxbridge and Virginia Woolf? Getting warmer but all that racism and preciousness? You don’t know about the overt racism? Just you wait! I took Harold Nicolson’s letters home personally since they were written while he was a guest of my Zulu speaking grandfather, who was forced to endure the company of a man who despised the people he loved. And said so. Explicitly.
But wait! There is a story and one with a literary bite. George Eliot picking up the odd stitchuntil I faced her full frontal at a graveside in Natal. That could make a novella for a discerning small publisher? But how I came to find her, and find the grave, weaves back into the fam-damily and the WHOLE narrative. Otherwise it looks flimsy, or contrived. It is neither.
So okay a memoir. Threads of all the above discerningly selected. I probably won’t have time to manage more than one.
Can you see why I have been silent? Six beginnings, all expiring at the third chapter.
Last night I had a rescuing dream. I had summoned my Daimon and appealed. ‘Give me a sign’.
In the dream I was contemplating the need to accommodate a guest I had never met. I was apprehensive because I knew it would be a long sojourn. I drifted through my beach shack house ( clapboard, glass, and sparsely furnished swept rooms with a lot of light but few creature comforts).
This small room at the back? Too dark. I want her to be able to read and entertain herself.
This large room I like? Where will I spend time? She’ll command the only bathroom.
Ah, this pillar that holds up the roof? With a well supported ledge? She could curl round it to sleep and would, in consequence make herself scarce during the day? A sort of Simeon Stylites guest?
Imagine being looked down upon all day? I woke up.
On contemplating this signal dream, I understood my wrestling dilemma. I was trying to accommodate this book by avoiding her, as much as possible. Confining her to an isolation ward, that would not infect me, keep her distant; feed her scraps.
I have created the shack of myself over the years. I go there when I am overwhelmed. It sits above a cove of beach, and tidal plashing sea; its enfolding arms stretch to the horizon. The shack has a porch with a grass chair and a hammock. Below, through an arch of rock, where the tide leaves small pools, and crushed shell is the opening to the beach. Across the sands lies a moored boat with a single sail. The mariner never faces me but I know he waits to unfurl that sail when I have the courage to enter through the rock and walk towards him.
I realised that if she were to be welcomed she would have to occupy, (and be invited to occupy), the whole house, from foundations up. Wander from room to room, and interrupt. I will probably end up hating her.
Because it is the whole house of myself I seek to understand. Perhaps when I have finished, the mariner and I will depart
My neglected followers need an apology: The silence over past months has been deafening. We writers are used to fallow periods of doubt, fatigue, burn-out, depression, which tend to express themselves in a whinge. This will not be another whinge but some kind of awl; puncturing the inflation of self-importance, which keeps us afloat, like a blue bottle bladder on the salt seas. To ensure another stinging, mettlesome incisive contribution. Another that will sink without trace.
I am here to prick out the air of hope that inflates this persistent bubble.
Hope is the real narcissistic betrayer. The less of it there is, the more irrational its high maintenance, the stronger it grows. Like the death throes, the final gasping is more laboured and more desperate than those earlier rhythmical currents of disappointment followed by resolve. Breathe out; breathe in. Take up your pen and scribble.
There I was thinking I had come to terms without hope, hope of readers, hope of publication, I had accepted the accelerating speed of ageing and sifted out a few ‘manageable’ tasks that might be squeezed in before dementia started clacking its teeth.
Out of the blue came a letter of fulsome praise for a work I had almost forgotten writing. A seeming blast of enthusiasm (in its original sense- or so I thought) re-inflated that wrinkled bladder and set it a-sail. ‘Surely you must have been inundated with requests of this kind but might we meet? So much I want to ask.’
Instead of the rational response ‘Nice idea, but why?’ I took wing. Well, car. Travelled some distance, well, three hours one way. Was I discouraged by horizontal pelting rain? Not a bit. Was I afraid of winds strong enough to hurl cars across the lanes of the Severn Bridge, well, yes. But hell. A man liked my book. Was interested to know more. Death had no dominion.
So the funds that might have formatted the one that might come next, was spent on a dull hotel room in windswept Wales. We did encounter one another, a man reluctant to remove his hat and an old woman carried by hope like Mary Poppins, legs flailing.
I think maybe he really did initially like the book, but I think he liked the idea of being paid to ‘re-launch’ it a little more. That was the slow rising yeast within the monologues that assured me…err… of his estimable connections, his… err… family history of building err worthy stately houses. No mention of books. ‘Books are not really my field, though I do read a lot’. He would like ( you said you could spare it) a few hundred to read it for an audio, because he was a bit short, and ‘and by the way I need you to jump start my car to get home. It’s a tad unreliable’.
That was all the fault of hope. Bastard. What ignominy! How low will hope take one?
It puts a blindfold around judgement, and twirls you around, and pushes you towards every insane sweet smell of approbation. I have circled through five such hopeful proposals. Each thought I would pay handsomely for deeper disappointment, I would grant copyright for five years; I would print for reviews; I would pay to pulp; a disappointed author is a tree dripping plums. Hold up an apron and it will fill.
But this was the final gasping expiry of hope. I hope.
Advice? Avoid hope. Call it to heel, and grind it to ashes. You can recognise it whenever you start to breathe deeply. Instead like any woman in labour, just pant, and something might be born, or not. If it is, its appetite for attention will be modest, and it will not be a blue-bottle. It may be a sprat and swim. If it sinks you might plant a garden instead.
GEORGE GUNN‘s The Great Edge is to be published by Grace Notes in November 2017. A Selected Poems is coming out from Kennedy and Boyd much the same time. Gunn also writes for Bella Caledonia.
IRENE CUNNINGHAM has had many poems published in magazines and journals across the years; now she’s preparing for old age, hoping for more time before the scythe lands. Writing is now heading up her priorities ladder; it usually wins the fight between lounging around or walking round Loch Lomond. Her new website is: http://ireneintheworld.wixsite.com/writer
MARK RYAN SMITH lives and works in Shetland. He has published poems, stories and essays in various magazines, and a book about Shetland’s literary tradition.
The light draws cello music across Bourifa Hill the peatbanks terrace into the distance in shelfs of time-packed turf paddies the lapis lazuli lochs are silent & still
For ten days I lived the learning curve
of diabetes, partnering with my beloved son
to help his through maternal leave,
given the grace of time to relish
each extraordinary moment.
The first hour’s sing-song babbling
lifts from crib to giggled hugs and undercover
hide-and-seek en route to the day’s first blood glucose test
followed by calculations of insulin and carbs,
breakfast planned to even out
the hours to come.
This child, so gentle and joyful of spirit
accepts each poked finger and prodded thigh
with grace, a lesson I cannot fail to notice sets
the warp of our day through which we weave
our patterned way, each hour
a new adventure.
From Grandma’s blocks we build
to hold what he loved at the aquarium –
octopus by the elevator climbing glass walls, his giant…