Vaclav Havel

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I am aware that many of you may not know who this man is but let me tell you. You may have heard his name just around before Christmas, as sadly he passed away. In some way, this is a late tribute to the impact he has had on myself. He was a Czech writer and politician. He was the last prime minister of Czechoslovakia and the first of Czech Republic, helping bring them out of difficult times of communism and so on.

Whilst he was brought up in a family of intellectuals, he had rather humble beginnings. He trained in the military for a few years and after, embarked on his writing career. He wrote many plays and plenty of poetry, essays and fiction as well. His popularity as a playwright in the United States is still prominent, but whilst many of his plays were being performed on stage in his own country with great impact, his plays were at one point banned from the stage and he was even unable to leave Czechoslovakia to watch any of his own plays being performed. It is unsurprising to see how he was interested in his country’s society and politics.

In his political career, he remarked that he preferred a politics that grows from the heart and not from a thesis. Also, in his words, “One simple electrician with his heart in the right place can influence the history of his nation.”

For me, it’s not just his creativity and success as a playwright that inspires me to follow him and his works. As I’ve been reading through his political memoirs lately, it has shown me his conviction that politics should never deny its heart and as a fresh prime minister, he too had to put that to the challenge in his own integrity and political personality. It wasn’t some dreamy ideal, his career as a creative writer for the theatre hadn’t blurred his metaphors on reality. He understood that politics is and should be by definition social action, realistic progress, a genuine service to its citizens. He knew it needed to be pragmatic in order to achieve anything political and sustain it well, but he argued that it’s pragmaticsm should not translate to politicians and powers surrendering ideals and hopes, nor denying their heart. Otherwise, he describes it as “mere self-propelled, technocratic processes”.

His plays, of those that I have read, have their position within The Theatre of the Absurd genre. Plays that most often deal with our struggle for meaning and identity in the midst of such changing, difficult and broken objectives such as law, government and religion. From this, he never planned to go into politics and was quite surprised as to how it happened. But he realised “you can’t spend your whole life criticising something and then, when you have the chance to do it better, refuse to go near it”. This stands as just another reason as to why I respect his life and works. He did not profess to be a politican, nor did he plan to be the prime minister and change the history of his nation, even to change some of the way European politics looks like to this day.

What Vaclav Havel taught me is that “everything is political, even a rock concert”. At first that repelled me from the idea but here I am, also professing not to be a politican with no passion to enter into a political career, yet nonetheless I’m realising more and more than everything I do, say and more powerfully, everything I write and want to write has so much to do with politics. He was someone who was convinced of being a man of truth and a man of his heart, but still knew that when the truth and heart was in the right place, he could make a difference for the better for his world. It wasn’t just the writing and the philosophy that made him such an inspiration, it was the fact he was willing to live it out.

Rest in Peace Vaclav Havel (1936 – 2011).

A Creative Perspective

Someone once said that “Artists are simply people who are passionate enough to imagine things that do not yet exist.” This has got me thinking. Artists, in the widest understanding of the term, have produced countless creations – it’s kind of hard to imagine life without them sometimes. What would it be like without Da Vinci? Shakespeare? Picasso? David Bowie? Samuel Beckett? Or even Lady GaGa?

As romantic as it sounds, these people and numerous others dared to develop a passion and skill that would one day or another produce a creation that in itself produced more than just a simple or satisfying “yhmm” in it’s spectators or participators. We could confidently say these artists and the art they are responsible for has shaped the world somehow. Profound stuff maybe, but what scope does that leave us with today? How much more room is there for art (in its broadest sense), and even if there is, can it really have any impact on the world?

As a ‘creative’, or at least I like to think of myself creative in some way, this question has often fluctuated through and through my thinking. In an economical climate such as the current one, one of the first sectors the world is ready to give up on is its ‘art and creativity’. But in truth, everything we do and have in this world is motivated and literally existent because of creativity in the first place. Creativity is communication, productivity, collaboration, conversation, development. It’s both work and play. The truth is you have to be passionate enough, convicted enough, in too deep enough to actually see or imagine things that aren’t yet there. In a sense isn’t that what we’re all doing in some way? Politicians are hopefully daring to see policies and initiatives that are not yet in place that will serve a ‘better’ nation that isn’t as it could be just yet. Fitness instructors are daring to push towards a body that is not at it’s full capacity in its current state. And just think about Steve Jobs, he dared to create what did not yet exist – now look at his creative business. I could give many other examples.

Despite the ongoing, but equally very interesting, discussions about art and it’s social power or position, I think everyone’s a creative. Everyone has the ability to create, whether in their mind or in their physical abilities. I think in everything we participate in there is an element of communication, productivity, collaboration, conversation and development – all which are part and parcel of creativity. So perhaps creative organisations or initiatives do not have to be belittled for facilitating a lesser activity or pretentious playtime – Aristotle would certainly not have described art as such. Maybe a more appropriate response to “can art or creativity really change the world?” is that art and creativity already have changed and shaped the world we live in and will continue to do so, since we are all artists and creators with the abundant blessing to think, design, build, perform and reproduce. The more positive and proactive activities in life certainly sit in these categories. Art can change things…

“It’s dangerous in the way literature is dangerous: it raises ideas, it changes minds. …You can never predict in what ways it will change minds or change culture” – Jennifer González, Assistant Professor in the History of Art and Visual Culture, University of California – Santa Cruz

Just for fun here’s a creative picture which should also challenge your perspective! Obviously it’s the great creative himself, Einstein, but let your eyes go cross-eyed, squint or whatever you want to call it and see what other artistic icon it is…

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I’m Not Dead Yet

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Every blog has a start and this is what mine is going to look like.
Disclaimer: it’s got some thoughts in it, sorry.

The reason why I’ve opened with this rather compelling image* is because for purely selfish and aesthetic justifications, I like it, but also it has a strange connection with what I’m going to say today.

If anyone has read Jostein Gaarder’s philosophical work, ‘Sophie’s World’, they’ll know it opens with her receiving a letter with only three words and no explanation for their intrusion in her life. These three words are simply, who are you?

Sophie starts to think about herself in relation to the world, which I have always found an endlessly odd thing, yet compelling nonetheless. Within the opening pages of Gaardner’s novel, he says some interesting things. “Sophie started to think about being alive, she began to realize that she would not be alive forever. I am in the world now, she thought, but one day I shall be gone… As soon as she concentrated on being alive now, the thought of dying also came into her mind… It was like two sides of a coin… The bigger and clearer one side of the coin became, the bigger and clearer the other side became too… You can’t experience being alive without realizing that you have to die, she thought. But it’s just as impossible to realize you have to die without thinking how incredibly amazing it is to be alive.”

I might agree with what you’re probably thinking – bit heavy. I agree, more so because we very rarely write a structured narrative to these kind of thoughts of life and death, but then again, if you were receiving strange letters from some unknown person, maybe you would talk a little differently (more so to the authorities than yourself or Mrs. Philosophy though – just saying.)

Nonetheless, doesn’t she make an intriguing point?

Maybe we don’t embrace death because we don’t embrace life enough. I haven’t worked out how that looks, but I’m pretty sure it’s not in reading more books or writing more plays, though they sometimes point me in the right direction. I’m realising that there’s such a bigger world out there than I give it credit for. I don’t know all the answers, if any at all, but I am alive. And I’m not going to live forever, not like this or not here anyway. I don’t really know who I am, or even what I’m not, but I am alive. The reason why I like the picture, above, is because I know it’s me for sure, I’m wholly and utterly convinced, it looks like me, I remember it and I still have the same clothes I was wearing. But it’s not quite me, it’s been part of an art project which means its been changed and manipulated in clever ways. And the thing is, I like it. It is me yet it’s not quite.

My point is, we’re all alive, but is that all that qualifies us to really live our lives. So many of us are dead in our own jobs, dead in our own ideas, dead in our own thinking, dead in our our own relationships, dead in our our own dreams. I don’t think we have to be though. We’re still alive which means we’re not dead just yet. We’re still breathing. Some days might feel like we’re only just keeping our head above water. But you’re still alive, which we shouldn’t forget is something in itself. I think I’m ready to start living, to start embracing, to start creating, to start dreaming. I’m not dead yet.

You know, we’re such complex beings and I dont think we celebrate it enough. The capabilities of our body and our brain are phenomenal. The things we can think about, talk about and even create is incredible. I don’t want to take that lightly. I don’t want to keep writing things here if I’m not living it out either. I like to write and although that means a lot of different things, the playwright Eugene Ionesco, puts it in better words for what that means to me, “I am writing, writing, writing. All my life I have been writing; I have never been able to do anything else… To whom can all this be of interest? …it cannot have significance for anyone. No one knows me. I am nobody… And yet I am like all the others. Anyone can recognise himself in me.” Since I can remember, I’ve had an urge to write, creatively or just effectively, anything and everything, that’s just the way my own brain has been designed I guess, I know you don’t all feel that way. But I don’t want to just write if I can’t live either. I don’t even mean my writing has to say anything didactic or mean anything, but it needs to have been birthed from an existence, an embrace, an experience of this absurd and but beautifully inviting world. Some guy who I don’t even know anything about wrote in his journal in 19 August 1851, “how vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” Now those same words are scribbled on my own writing journal. I’m learning what he means.

Someone told me about a survey the other day. It was conducted with a number of elderly people who are realistically closer to the end of this life than its beginning. They were asked what they regretted now in life. Interestingly, the clear top three answers were, firstly, that they did not reflect more, secondly, that they did not take enough risks and thirdly, that they did not invest into more things that would last beyond their lifetime. Nothing about fall outs, pulling sick days, missing football games, never reading the works of Shakespeare. Nope, just real honest answers, all about exploring more about their crazy relation with this world.

I know I’m guilty of being a fan of philosophical question but you don’t have to be to read this, I hope. I’m also a keen reader of all sorts of writing so these will naturally intrude on my thinking. I don’t know what you’re expecting from this blog but I know I just want to write some of these ideas down in one place. Some times it’ll be tricky and other times more light-hearted, but either way, they’re likely to be shorter than this one! There’s such a big world out there, and an even bigger universe. Whatsmore is that you and I have the honour to be a part of it. Isn’t that worth thinking about? Talking about? Doing something about? I think so. Follow me and come along for the ride…

More reflection, More risks, More world legacy investments. Whatever you’re into. Writing or not.

*The photo is courtesy of Sophie Cunningham’s photography artwork last year. As her fellow flat mate, and coincidently, myself being the only drama student or more specifically, the only some-what naively willing flat mate with time on my hands, I quickly became a subject for her art work on numerous occasions. It was fun though, thanks Soph!