Sound and Vision.
When Linda lay dying, Paul McCartney is said to have reminded her of her favourite moments: riding her horse in the hills of Wyoming was one, the sun on her face and her hair trailing in the wind. Tibetan Buddhism features a series of such bardos or lessons. The intention of these is to carry into the next incarnation the highest learning of this one.
In feng shui there is the idea of qing, that is affection. It’s the moment in a poem when we are touched, that point in a song where it gets under your ribs and turns upset into poignance. The character qing features in many Chinese ideographs, including that for being in love.
It was once suggested to me that I should base a tv programme on an office block that was empty. The idea was that I would demonstrate feng shui techniques by filling it.
“How long has it been empty?” I asked.
“Two years plus.”
“No,” I said, “If anybody cared it would be full.”
Al Green’s Tired of Being Alone is playing in the restaurant where I’m sharing a Pad Thai with my friend Bob. A restless Metal Rabbit, he’s a millionaire media man who’s just hit sixty. I see loneliness unusual for a man who enjoys his own company the way he does.
Bob tells me he is splitting from his glamorous paramour. She’s a cult celebrity, a very creative woman. He isn’t that cut-up, he says. He says he’s enjoying slowing down.
“My kids are of an age where they’re not in my face and I kinda like it,” he says.
Last time I spoke with him he had a thousand ideas. He’s encyclopaedic about 70’s singer-songwriters and he spoke of a book of interviews. In the world of marketing, the word “creative” has been hijacked to mean something like “manipulative” but he truly is. For decades he has been going into companies and giving them simple common-sense ideas that transform everything. The split has inspired other plans.
“I don’t need all that space any more, so I’ll probably downsize and move to the coast.”
As we talk I’m listening closely to Al Green’s rhythm section: soft springy drums, at first just a single rimshot per bar, a spare backbeat then a comforting snare. Next the whole kit kicks in and knits everything together and those wise old horns gently punctuate the keyboard and follow the guitar chords down into the verse. Then young Al enters. Already he has the voice of an unfrocked preacher; at twenty two, he is not much concerned with staying together. He’s just so tired of being alone. Or so he says.
This week I surveyed a big Georgian house in East Anglia. The eldest son was sleeping in a metal bed (a magnet for geopathic stress) under a beam at chest level, in a reclaimed attic under a sloping eave, over the tai chi (or heart) of the building; pretty much a full house of poor placement. Oh and the East (meaning Eldest Son) was missing.
“Great news,” I tell my client, a beautiful 40-something mother and by-necessity manager of her brilliant husband’s architectural practice. “It’s the worst positioned bed I’ve ever encountered.”
She knew of course but hadn’t known what to do about it. Which is why she called me in: the teenager had a suspected collapsed lung, signaled by mysterious chest pains.
“That’s good news?” she responds.
“Yup. Because we can move it.”
We talk tao. She’s a frustrated writer. They’re everywhere this week. Why would that be?
An ailing son is only part of the problem; they’re running as fast as they can to stay in the same financial position. He designs, she does everything else. She’s very capable but she’s not happy.
“If we will pay attention, the universe is always talking to us,” I say, speaking as the author of a dozen unpublished books. “First it jogs us, then it slaps us around the head and finally it sends the fire brigade.”
“I must write,” she says. She’s taken courses in creative writing but finds she has no time to actually put pen to paper.
There is upset in her eyes and a catch in her voice. I ask her to breathe deeply into her diaphragm. Her eyes mist over. I point to the caution on the jacket of my book the “Feng Shui Diaries”. WARNING: this man may make you cry. When he was a little boy, my son Joey used to describe my work as “making ladies cry.” I’m not a brute; it’s just that tears usually bring healing. Tears express qing.
We have hit something that matters. Now things start to move.
Safe and Sound.
Marisa has been having sound therapy.
“My therapist says you can do feng shui by making noises. Is he right?”
Well yes. Why not? Feng shui is doing the right thing at the right time and noise is a vibration just like light and music. We can “activate” a spot to induce change by gentle tapping with a rubber hammer. Simple as that: yin is still, yang is moving; ignore the Elements and go for pure yang. Sometimes I recommend no more than this. This puts the feng-shui-as-interior-decoration school of thought into some sort of context.
Marisa is great to work with. I meet her for a ba zi session once a year in Edinburgh when I’m up for the Fringe. She lays her cards on the table – man trouble, work frustration, deeper spiritual stuff – and allows me to be wise and soothing for her. She tells me she admires (in order of importance) my red shoes and my pride in my children. Bless that Marisa.
I meet up with Bob for a rare Mike Nesmith concert at the Union Chapel in Islington. Nesmith never lived down the Monkees but he’s a fine singer and songwriter and a rather decent human being. There are three in the band: Nesmith, a bass player and someone on keyboards and Apple Mac. Bob recognises the pedal steel solo by Orville “Red” Rhodes that has been cut and pasted from the album “Nevada Fighter”. We’re standing there clapping for an encore and he whispers the name of the one hit that has not yet been performed . Sure enough it follows.
It’s cold on the way back but not that cold. The frost is late; perhaps two weeks. In the years I have been observing these things, the first overnight freeze in Godalming has never been later than the 18th of October. What’s going on? Scientists won’t agree, which makes my guess as good as anybody’s: nature’s pissed off, is what I’d say. And wouldn’t you be?
Next morning, driving Joey into College, I notice how much brighter the light is than I expect.
“I can’t see a thing.”
“Nobody can,” Joey says, indicating the traffic. The cars driving South East up the hill proceed by inches. He’s actually more interested in the music he’s got on his phone: it’s “Graceland” by Paul Simon.
“As if I didn’t know that, as if I didn’t know my own bed,” Simon sings over those melting chords: Mississippi meets South African township. He gets it; Joey can feel qing. talk and listen at the same time. And text. And check Facebook.
Even with the sun-visor down however I can see only yards ahead. This is Surrey, so there’s lots of polite waiting and some flashing of headlights but no honking. We proceed slowly. I drop Joey without incident.
Autumn light has always been low and slanting but it used to be less harsh. Nature compensated for the angle by making the rays softer, I guess. I expect to blink and shield my eyes but I used to be able to see the way ahead. We are in serious trouble if the softness is going out of the light.
The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. Real Water, real Mountain, real ch’i is in the mountains and lakes that have been etched and wrenched onto the surface of the World over this time. Ch’i being beyond both creation and destruction, is older but its arrangement on Earth is precisely that old. From this standpoint the Sun has risen and set a billion times. It’s we who have changed.
Riding the Waves.
Sheila and I go to see the reformed Beach Boys. It’s Brian’s Wilson’s touring band (who can do all the voices) plus five of the originals. Brian sits at a piano but doesn’t play it. None of the old guys attempt the top notes. It’s a great concert nonetheless and hits the wet eye button when long-dead Carl and Dennis Wilson join us by the miracle of sequencing and video.
Dennis, the drummer was the only Beach Boy who actually surfed. In their 70’s performances, Dennis mostly wasn’t even needed on drums and he would take a solo spot, walking right up to the lip of the stage and singing “You are so beautiful” in a fragile voice, half croon half croak. Billy Preston got the composing credit but Dennis introduced it as a song he wrote himself. I saw him do this at the Top Rank in Reading in 1971. I was on the floor just feet away.
Sometimes I think of Dennis in the short years before he would drown, wandering from party to party, half-coked, half-drunk, jamming with musicians among whom his clout as a Beach Boy disappeared the shameful neglect of his talent by the band he co-founded and never left. Perhaps he wrote “You are so beautiful,” at one of these sessions.
Sometimes it’s not a question of what’s true so much as what is useful to believe. A bardo is truthful in its own right. It cannot be ironic. Irony is no more truthful than romantic poetry.
Bob’s philosophical, he tells me. She was on the rebound from the father of her child. He still loves his second wife. That’s my opinion, not his but he says:
“That’s the way it is, isn’t it? Everyone’s in love with someone who doesn’t love them back.”