Some pop-psychology for happiness that I think aggressive autocrats and those affected by them would benefit from knowing
Since the start of lockdown in March, there’s been a recurring theme in the game-playing I’ve engaged in with my two young daughters. It started with Salmon in a Rockpool. This was a fish Bolognese dish I’d often make at lunchtime, where the sauce – tinned fish with tinned tomatoes, oregano, garlic, olive oil, olives and capers cooked and then blended – is placed in the middle of the dish, with the pasta in a circle around it, representing a rock pool. Sometimes I would add extras – strands of dried edible seaweed, prawns, pickled cockles, even mussels in their shells. Sometimes we would actually play a rock-pooling game beforehand. I would operate the plastic toy crab; they’d lower a line and try to catch it.
More recently the game has morphed into Shellfish Shack. I set up a pretend stall, complete with the toy cash register, and then place on the counter of the stall little pots of prawns, squid, smoked salmon or somesuch, plus condiments and cocktail sticks, then charge them pretend money to come and buy them. Partly it’s down to the times when I become freed from homeworking to play with them during the day – meal times – but there’s more to it.
These games recreate the sense of story and poetry around food that is lost when things are delivered to your door ready-packed. Is it just a slab of white protein in a plastic pack? No, it’s a fish that got here because a fisherman went out in the early hours onto the wine-dark sea, tossed about on the waves far from the shore, returning to the cobbled harbour as the dawn sunlight glinted on the waves.
And setting up the Shellfish Shack recreates a sense of the exchange you get from a market. Markets have a long history. Thousands of years ago farmers, fisherman and other local producers and artisans brought their wares into the town for market day and set up their stalls. The market is absolutely central to the Greco-Roman culture package that has continued to the present day, sometimes in a completely unbroken line. The marketplace had its own divinity – Hermes-Mercury – the god of trade, the god of the exchange. You make an exchange with the guy or gal who grew the vegetables. Today we try to recapture some of that with photos of the pig farmer on the sausage packet, but though we might see his or her face, he doesn’t see ours, so it’s not a true exchange. It doesn’t activate the sense of giving and receiving that you get from a marketplace. That circulation is the true currency of the Universe: the joy of Giving Your Gift, the joy of Receiving Abundance and the joy of completing the circle by Expressing Your Gratitude. This is the Circle of the Three Graces. It would be a shame if – once the pandemic is properly over – we don’t return to the Old Normal of the actual, physical marketplace.
Thick, soft tresses of maidenly blossom cascade – scented surf in a heavenly flood,
Pure white dress of the Hawthorn will one day become berry necklaces scarlet as blood
At the sight off a-gathering filling my basket I’ll go for a plentiful store
Of the berry that brews to a tea with the power to soothe and relax and restore
Hawthorn tea you delight me
You calm yet excite me
When daytime to evening gives way
A swift end to anxiety
Perfect for closing the day
I feel I should probably write a second verse to that at some point, echoing the same stanza structure, but for the moment, there it is.
When I started the poem I was just writing about hawthorn blossom but then it came to be about the tea too. So it leaps from early Summer to Autumn with the line: “pure white dress of the Hawthorn will one day become berry necklaces scarlet as blood.”
The effect of the tea is a recognised one by the way – something to do with opioid receptors and vasodilation – a rush of blood to the head. Only thing I’ve ever found that is comparable to alcohol in it’s ability to take the edge off things at the end of the day, but a healthy alternative. Very effective at lowering blood pressure I understand and great for rounding off a day when you’ve been hitting the Java. Hence: “drunken sobriety” in the poem
The bit about gathering them is poetic license – I did do that a couple of autumns back but now I just buy pre-dried. I use about 50 berries, and I leave them boiling in a pan for about 12 mins, then I stand them for a further ten minutes in the water, steeping, having also added a chamomile teabag, then I sup away. I’ll then give those same berries a second boil but in less water and only for a couple minutes, for a second cup.
If you go down to the woods today
you’re in for a big surprise
as dozens of darling dinosaurs
compete for their opera prize
A phrase from one may establish its rhythm, but
then it’s lost as another phrase cuts blithely across it
with all the informality of free verse, in rich cacophony
And then that rhythm you heard before
will suddenly reappear
in a moment of ordered harmony
as if made for the human ear
Then it’s gone again, but the sounds still delight – heaven-storming chitterings
pulsing scintillating emanations through the sap-irrigated matrix of the Chloromyriad
The Old Romantics oh!’d and ah!’d
for they found it uplifting and freeing
and now the science is backing them up:
It bolters our mental well-being
So bathe in the forest and smell the earthy humus for even now
the Star-lungs are warming up their vox-boxes in readiness – may we likewise
prep our auro-tubules for sensitive apprecio-resonance with this ancient treasure of our planet!
If you’re on the road to Chitterfest
you’d better keep moving fast
for tomorrow’s the day the developers come
so this chance may be your last
Sing on, sweet birds, sing on your spasmodic gutterations of brain-brightening liquid light!
Star-lungs: stars are flowers; flowers is bird; bird is Spring…. No bird, no Spring
Should every bird that ever there was
stare mute from under glass –
just dozens of dry, dumb dodos –
we’ll despair that this came to pass
What poet now would ever dare
To sing an ode to morning air
The rosy mist that hovers there
O’er sea-girt folds?
What mind could ever fully grasp
The magnitude of such a task:
To frame in verses built to last
Vapours of gold?
Perhaps some master’s careful brush
Could set in oil the heart’s full rush
Paint here and there a windswept bush
With well-mixed hue
But how could we with words sing praise
And capture this ambrosial haze
To place on page for later days
This heavenly view?
Now most assume in ancient time
Some poet placed a fatted chine
Upon Aurora’s hillside shrine
None now could equal
And so the theme of their refrain
Will tend to be one more mundane
For who among them still would deign
To pen a sequel?
But poets! To her shrine turn back
Tread rhyming steps along that track
And do not worry if you lack
A perfect gift
For when we see the rosy glow
We will be comforted to know
We’re not the first to see the show
As sea mists lift.
To Wine – An Incantation
O Effortless Discoverer! O Wine!
Two-Things-at-Once! Dark Sunshine! Old-but-Young!
Bestir to tripping dance the Muse of Rhyme
Great Uninhibitor, loosen her tongue
Send forth your shelt’ring leaves over my mind
Embrace with dappled shade the grapes of thought
Protect them from the light of Trying-to-Find
Lest nude in Reason’s burning glare they’re caught
For season after season we entrust
This treasure to the cave of rustic stone
As silently the ruby liquid dreams
Long slumb’ring in the cellar’s dark and dust
What secret mysteries to you were shown
By under-dwelling nymphs of chthonic streams?
O gen’rous partner in the poet’s art
Now set the pen in flight, and help me start!
To Chamomile – An Incantation
O soft enchantress of the candle glow,
With gentle, caring fingertips caress
Our eyelids, with a stroke soothing and slow
Dissolve our thoughts in sweet forgetfulness
Thou angel of the cup, kind Chamomile,
Thy golden tisane, warming, wets the lip
We feel the face relax into a smile
Then raise the cup and take another sip
But how’s the mixture made? First fill the pot
And heat the water till the bubbles roar
Then add your spoon of flowers and let steep
Until the liquid’s neither cool nor hot
Now take your chosen cup and carefully pour
The potion, and partake before you sleep.
While drinking, say aloud or read this spell,
Which calms you and by calming keeps you well.
Text from previous blog post on Gratiludes:
A recurring theme in the Glory of Glad has been the way Odes can reframe things in a dignified manner. The idea I’ve been reiterating is that while you could just keep a basic gratitude journal to raise mood, if you really feel glad about something, why not show that it really matters to you by writing something far more dignified – a full blown Ode.?
But there will be draw back if this is all you do. Why? Because it’s likely to be consistently serious. The whole point of what we’re doing here is to raise mood by practicing gratitude. The self-image of the serious poet has become rather infused with the picture of the suffering artist, condemned by their nature to sink from time to time into the miserable, maudlin depths of gloom. To have an ongoing good mood, on the other hand, it is obviously vital to be able to lighten up, to see the funny side.
Yes, we want to harness the power of the heavenly ode; no, we don’t want to become po faced.
So I’ve come up with a solution, one that is a lot of fun and which will only expand your options for expressing gratitude. You see, one of the things that’s been found about keeping a gratitude journal is that it doesn’t matter hugely what you express gratitude for, as long as you express gratitude for something. It is the act of expressing gratitude that raises mood. Enter the Gratilude ( “gratitude” + “interlude”.) After a few serious odes, stick in a Gratilude to lighten things up. Gratiludes are short, and easy to compose, and give you the chance, therefore, to quickly bump up the number of things you’re expressing thanks for in your journal, while simultaneously lightening the mood after your more lofty odes. This really is the final ingredient that makes the whole recipe zing. Here’s one:-
To a Doily (A Gratilude)
What a marvellous thing is a doily!
What a wonderful thing to possess!
How divine to be able
To fling on the table
The essence of delicateness!
Gratiludes, therefore, are little, light-hearted poems, almost like limericks. They still express gratitude for something, but in a more frivolous way. They’ll tend to take a mere material object as their theme. They might be partly tongue in cheek – a bit of a parody of a proper ode. They don’t have to be side-splittingly hilarious, though, because comedy is not their sole purpose – they are still, at the end of the day, gratitude poems, they’re just not so weighty.
Here’s another example. Some more follow lower down.
To a Tea Cosy
O Tea Cosy! Tea Cosy! Tea Cosy!
What endeavour could ever be finer
Than, as if it did live,
To most gallantly give
A warm coat to your favourite china?
A lead here comes from the theatrical Dionysia festival of ancient Athens. Even before the Athenians began including full blown comedies as well as the tragedies in the Dionysia, already they had the satyr plays. Each playwright would put on one satyr play and three serious performances. These satyr plays provided comic relief, and were full of bawdy fun, satire and general merriment. The Gratilude is very much like the satyr play – a short interlude for light relief. If we go with the same 3 : 1 ratio as for the satyr plays, then with as few as, say, five short gratiludes, you have enough to cover a full fifteen lofty odes, and believe me a Gratilude doesn’t take long to write. Here’s another:
To a Bed
Oh how grand are clean duvets and sheets
On a well-made and comfortable mattress!
Yes it has to be said
What a boon is a bed
And big pillows all plumped up with fatness
Does this mean your journal will be pulling in two directions at once? Not at all. We’re not talking about undermining that sense of dignity we’ve been establishing with our odes; we’re just talking about introducing a lightness and fluidity and adding another string to the bow. The very act of dignifying ourselves reminds us that we deserve good things, and laughter itself truly is one of life’s good things. Here’s another Gratilude:
What ecstatical things are galoshes!
(The name that we call’em, I mean)
It’s half “gallop” / half “slosh”,
Oh my word! Oh my gosh!
The whole concept is just such a dream!