Stay Hungry.

When I woke up this morning, I had never heard of Anthony Bourdain.

That changed when I opened twitter and amongst the first scrolls noted this tweet from Jonathan Caroll. Being a fan of the author, I paused read the phrase, then I paused and re-read it.

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Not being unusual for Jonathan Carroll to tweet or retweet selected snippets of literature, artists or philosophers, I was curious which category Bourdain fell into.  Promptly feeding ‘Anthony Bourdain’ back into a search engine I came up with the – by now – obvious result.

Pointedly first that he was a Chef, and secondly that he was dead. Having both those facts arrive at the same time was a little unusual.

“He’s a Chef.” (…was a Chef)

“He died.” (Today…)

“He’s a Chef, who wrote about enlightenment?”

Perhaps the more forgiving of you will understand my mild confusion in the moment.

I have known as colleagues and as friends many cooks, and chefs. I know them each to be intelligent, creative people. Yet still it seemed an odd kind of combination.

After a little reading, and eventual conversation with a friend (who’s college professor happened to be interviewed by Bourdain once) I quickly came to realise that Bourdain was – like all of us more than any one thing. As he points out, we would be wise to remember it.

To continue to learn, to stay hungry.

To the many generous friends and family (chefs, cooks and otherwise) in my life; treasure the meals and time you have with loved ones, I am more grateful than you know to have been amongst them.

To Anthony Bourdain; thanks for the inspiration, sorry I was so late to the table.

We never really know how far we have to go before our next meal, or where it might come from, enjoy it while you have it.

Grubs up.

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Incase of Emergency

His fat sweaty palm collided with the hard plastic again. The small opaque casing was the only thing keeping his hand from meeting with the sinister red button beneath.

He did not know that all he had to do to unlatch the casing, was to push down the small grey metal latch beneath it. It would release with a pop, like the lid of a mason jar, loosing the ruby red butterfly inside and allowing him release a mushroom cloud over every continent. The chrysalis for a generation.

But he could not.

Instead he would suffocate, we all would.

In this vexing vacuum he had created and we had helped sustain. Like the perfect conditions in a hot house for a parasitic plant that eventually burns down the whole glass house with it’s incendiary seedlings.

He simply wanted to pollinate. Except he did not know what that meant — not really. Perhaps he wanted to fornicate. The only things he was able to fawn over anymore were money and his psychotic preoccupation with being “the most important man in the room”. Talking, always talking.

So we would suffocate, not burn. Because his bloated fingers could not find the latch, did not even know the latch was there. Had not listened when somebody had told him (as somebody was duty bound to have done).

Lost in a sea of executive rush orders and hack-job commands from on high.

Now screaming like a toddler he stood jabbing helplessly. In a bunker, somewhere toward the centre of the earth, slowly getting warmer all the time.

(Originally Posted to Medium.com)

Drowned in Moonlight.

Carrie Fisher probably knew I was gay before I did.

For the record I never met the woman, the closest I would come would be sitting in a room with a couple of hundred other over-hyped up geeks in a convention centre in east London during the summer of this year.

Fisher was giving a talk at the “Star Wars Celebration” (Yes, I’m enough of a deviant to attend something including the laudable term ‘celebration’ in its title) where she and her probably-as-famous-by-now pooch, Gary, were interviewed by former co-star and Ewok, Warwick Davis.

The energy, and barely contained lunacy was apparent, here you had a woman who was less concerned with pandering to anyone’s opinions of her, or indeed in allowing herself (or Gary) to be interviewed by Davis, but rather making sure she and everyone in the room had a good time.

Fisher recounted mocking, but loving stories about co-stars, including much speculated time spent with Harrison Ford while on set (which she would go on to write about in her now final publication) and more recent accounts of failed days out with Mark Hamill, who was also attending the convention. (If you’re curious just search @hamillhimself’s twitter feed from this summer for #GOWITHHER)

The kind of person who could rally a group of several hundred nerds behind a nonsense cause in the name of enjoyment as well as she could portray a space-princess rallying to save her home planet. Sparing no thought for false flattery of her co-stars, or indeed of herself.

As Fisher told them, rather than tabloid worthy tidbits, the insights were stories about friendship and companionship, displaying a great depth of authenticity and humility for the lunacy she well knew to be celebrity life.

Reflecting on her experience of being part of Star Wars she was quoted elsewhere stating:

“It exploded across the firmament of pop culture, taking all of us along with it. It tricked me into becoming a star all on my own.”

She did not fain to dispense commentary, judgment or advice besidthat which she felt she knew.

When asked by an audience member on stage in London, if she had given any advice to the cast of the latest movies, laughing she replied the only advice she had for Daisy Ridley (Rey) was to try and avoid going through the crew “like wild fire” as she had done.

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What I saw on stage then, seemed to me as much an address to a group of friends in her living room as it did any form of interview.

Amongst the sword and blaster brandishing bravado of the space cowboys, the image of a princess holding her own – something other than the typical action hero archetype that we are so often drawn to as kids – was something that whether I knew it or not, seemed to bury itself deep in my memory systems.

Years earlier as I had watched that far, far away galaxy on near-infinite VHS repeat, what I was tricked into was understanding of everything that revolved around the princess figure Fisher portrayed.

Before I had any idea about terms, or even abstract concepts like “queer icons” I knew about Alderaan and the fact that in certain galaxies a princess could swing a blaster just as well as a smuggler or a would-be Jedi – in fact often they were better at it.

For the first time it occurred to me in a sense that seemed to stick that heroes are not always the bravest or the most loudly spoken. Villains are not always what their mask makes them appear to be, and that a princess is not easily defined by a cinnamon-bun hair cut.

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As years passed by, it was always reassuring to learn that the woman who had so iconically embodied many of those notions of a gender equal universe, happened to embody so much of the ethic and individuality in her own life.

Some time after, I remember being struck to find out while watching a Stephen Fry documentary that Fisher also suffered painfully from manic depressive disorders.

Again it hit home, that this iconic figure from my childhood could  be at once the source of such unapologetic joy, sass and strength while also suffering from debilitating personal issues.

Reading later, I came across a version of this interview Fisher gave with ABC, speaking about many of the personal issues that surrounded her and her family, while talking about the publication of her book “Wishful drinking”. In it interviewer Kerry O’Brien asked Fisher:

“How does your daughter Billie deal with all this? Because at one point in the book when she tells you she no longer wants to be a neurologist with a specialty in schizophrenia, but a comic and you say, “Well, baby, if you wanna be a comic, you have to be a writer, but don’t worry, you have tonnes of material. Your mother is a manic depressive drug addict, your father is gay, your grandmother tap dances and your grandfather shot speed.”

CARRIE FISHER: And my daughter laughed. And that’s all you can ask for: that she knows that stuff that isn’t funny, just, it better be funny.

KERRY O’BRIEN: In fact you said, “Baby, the fact that you know that’s funny is gonna save your whole life.” Is that what saved yours?

CARRIE FISHER: And it has.”

It seemed to me that much like the characters she portrayed on screen, the real strength in Fisher’s own character seemed to stem from her laser sharp, objective sense of wit and humour.

As powerful as any death star or lightsaber that may need to be faced up to, Fisher was able to look the often cruel twists of life in the eye, just the same as the malevolent leaders of evil empires, and tell them with a smirk “only you could be so bold”.

There is undoubtedly for me, something of a life lesson to be taken from that.

An honest self aware attitude, unafraid to laugh at the whims of the fates, or indeed at yourself.

Amongst a certain set of people, there’s is a well known printed poster that has been replicated countless times since some point in the late seventies or early eighties. A version of which used to adorn several of my school books over the years.

It features a selection of quotes from the various Star Wars movies, the space-fonted title at the top typically reads;

“Everything I Know about Life, I Learned from Star Wars”

Thinking about it I gleam an odd pride from the thought that that quote could be accurately applied to me, ironically or otherwise, and in it there is an undeniably rumble of truth.

Amongst the lessons I’d like to think I, and a generation like me might take away from the mythos of a galaxy far far away, are the lessons of a life well lived such as by Fisher.

They may not be lessons that will provide you an easy ride through life, but they will at least mean that should you find yourself playing the damsel in distress, you’ll be more than capable of coming up with your own rescue plan when you need to.

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“I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.” – Carrie Fisher. 

The Point of All Those Push Ups.

“What is the point of all those push ups if you can’t even lift a bloody log?”

Towards the end of Chris Nolan’s movie “Batman Begins”, our hero’s butler and long time comrade Alfred, is attempting to rescue Bruce Wayne as his manor home burns down around him. Alfred utters the above quote, questioning Bruce on how useful he really thinks he is if he can’t release himself from beneath a wooden.

In a characteristic response Wayne glares at his friend, momentarily angered by the accusation, and then using the anger to focus his strength “ka-pow!” he releases himself in true bat-fashion.

While Batman has been a motivating factor for a (probably worrying) number of reasons in my life, since I began training Parkour that scene has taken on a different meaning for me.

Let’s be clear, Parkour isn’t going to make you Batman, and in all likelihood your “ka-pow!” moments (don’t worry there will be some) aren’t going to be as dramatic as the dark knight’s.

But what the discipline can provide is an understanding and confidence in your body’s abilities, and an opportunity to train toward becoming better equipped both psychically and psychologically to deal with challenges and problems in life, superhero-sized or otherwise.

From this point of view, the intention should be to focus on ensuring that the training we do, whether surrounding Parkour or otherwise, is useful.

This of course, provides us our first challenge of defining what a word like ‘useful’ really means. Something that isn’t easily done in any practical sense, but if we’re to use the Batman analogy above it can be a helpful, if a little overly theatrical, example.(Advice about theatricality should never be taken too literally.)

If you want to be able to move the burning rafter out of the way when you really need to, you need to be prepared. You need to develop the appropriate body strength and not just be able to apply it to doing squats or deadlifts.

With that in mind, unlike many disciplines, Parkour focuses not on developing strength in any specific isolated area of the body, or a specific chain of movements but instead on developing rounded attributes like strength, flexibility, agility and coordination though movement of the body as a whole. The focus is less about single motions, and more about teaching your body a wide range of movements, picking up abilities that might be useful to us in any set or circumstances.

Of course there’s no amount of training you can do that will ever mean you’re prepared for every obstacle you might come up against, but what you can learn is to trust your body and use the attributes you have developed to solve whatever problems you find along your path.

As you do this, the more you begin to apply these attributes, the more you may also find that you begin to surprise yourself.

While hopefully this is unlikely to include moving burning bits of building, the same principles apply to much more likely every day scenarios. Be it our ability to assist somebody with heavy luggage on a flight of stairs, or any number of day to day tasks that – if we don’t feel in some sense ‘prepared for’ – we often choose to shy away from.

It’s one thing to be prepared physically but any truly rounded training or discipline has to ask questions of you mentally too.

After all we know that if anyone has the ability to release himself from beneath burning rafters, it’s Batman, but as we see in our example the physical strength alone is sometimes not enough, it takes Alfred’s prompting in order for our hero to focus that strength into something he can use.

In a similar way we need to look not just at the question “how useful is our training?” but also “how useful do we want to be?”

By asking this question we can begin to analyse the psychological motivations and reasons we choose to take up physical training, and the value that we can find in it.

In Parkour, training at height, breaking jumps and training under potentially stressful situations is something trainee Traceurs sometimes spend years breaking down.

Fear, much like being useful, is an abstract concept and while being pinned in the crumbling remains of a charing building is easy to recognise as a fairly universally fearful situation, it isn’t necessary to recreate this kind of dangerous (and potentially life threatening) situation in order to be able to begin to train psychologically for it.

For many people, training at height might mean nothing more than practicing jumping between objects a few feet off the floor. The value of training done within these controlled situations can be psychologically as valuable to us, as something of much more super-hero like proportions.

What is important is only that we begin to address the idea of being able to perform with the attributes we have developed, even when on the edge of our comfort zone.

The fear we experience in these moments, much like our idea of being useful, is subjective. We may not all be able to save Gotham each night, but by training not only with the intent of becoming stronger (physically and psychologically) but also with the goal of being useful, we create the kind of focus and dedicated mindset which has become embodied for many who train Parkour in the saying: “Be Strong to be Useful”

And with that of course we also find an answer for those who might ask: “What’s the point of all those push-ups?”. Simple: we just want try to be a bit more useful (and maybe just a little bit more like Batman).

A Little Wilder.

 

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If you asked me for my ideal fantasy dinner party guest list, Gene Wilder would have been at the table every time. So it was with an exhaustive sigh that I read the recent news that 2016 (forever more to be known as serial killer ’16) had added another name to the list of those attending the great dinner party in the sky.

I always held out some dim hope of a final book tour, a chance hand-shake or hug, and the opportunity to look into those mad eyes and say thank you; for the irreparable damage you caused to my parents and countless dozens of others who have had to put up with me and my over-zealous imagination.

Like many Irish kids, I grew up watching the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. For us on a small island on the wind swept western fringe of Europe it seems to have become a strange staple of family viewing, particularly around Christmas (often paired with a bar of intrinsically-linked-in-your-mind-for-the rest-of your-adult-life purple foil wrapped Cadbury’s chocolate). So like a great many I suspect, this was my first meeting with Gene Wilder.

I don’t remember exactly the details or the timing of when I first saw the movie, only that it seems to be indelibly marked on my conscious as far back as the point where things become blurry, and then eventually become nothing at all..

I remember that and the the fact that even years later, my mother would hum the tune to “Cheer Up Charlie” at me whenever I was taken with the kind of traumatic teenage upset that is only ever childishly reinforced by the humming of any tune at you by a parent.

Years after viewing the movie, I’d also discover that a mischievous welsh man with a head full of Norwegian folktales and world war two battle stories had penned a whole number of such spectacular tales for children. Some of which would go on being turned into feature length movies decades later, if unfortunately not all with a similar level of success.

These tales in turn of course, fed my imagination late into my teenage years, and there are still few things I can recommend as highly as going out to grab your nearest teenager and feeding them Roald Dahl’s biographic stories.

As is the way of things, once a boy of a certain age and disposition realises the allowances that are made for social duties and etiquette, if he is seen to be engaging in an ‘intellectual pursuit”,  I was left with a bookish bent for most of my precarious pre-adulthood and beyond.

Arguably it is this exact bookish nature that years later would bubble up the desire in me to bother keeping a blog (for the record this is my second of sorts…). And so, tender reader, we find ourselves here, so engaged, extrapolating a point because of a mad man in a purple tail coat and a top hat.

But is not the neat narrative of Wilder’s Wonka aiding my itchy habitual reading that I want to talk about. Beyond that, it is how his performance as Wonka provided an inspirational first glance of something unique and wild that, in someways I’ve perhaps been chasing ever since.

When we first see Wonka at the gates, old and stiff, and frail – he struggles to make his first steps.  He falls,  he tumbles and suddenly he springs back with as much magic as any special effects budget has managed to conjure since. An entrance that at once creates mistrust, anticipation and a wonderful sense of the unexpected, of surprise, of magic.

From that frame on I, like many others,  was enraptured by his performance and watched with a keen eye as he beautifully crafts eloquent sense from non-sense (“strike that, reverse it…”) and seems to somehow outsmart every adult in the room, simply by appearing to know nothing.

As the tour of the factory begins Wonka, dances down the steps to music which we’re uncertain if anybody but he can even hear. Passing gingerly through a patch of candy canes, and stopping to sip tea from a daffodil, we arrive with him at the point which will, for me always best define Gene Wilder, as he wistfully glances off camera and swoons to us:

“If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it”

A philosophy on par with any in modern children’s folklore. Akin perhaps to something like Mary Poppin’s dictum that “In any job that must be done there is an element of fun” but to me a great deal more important, brave and enlightening.

It speaks of the act of conscious thought, and our ability to make careful considered efforts about how we chose to view the world. An echo of  philosophy and thought that has gone before “Et in arcadia ego” and a rather impressive free thinking  message to deliver for a kids movie –  but then it was the seventies.

Perched on his oversized toadstool, Wonka seems to exist on some other plane, in a state of chocolate induced zen from which he cannot be shaken.

True it was Leslie Bricusse’s lyrics that provide us this pseudo-philisophical treat, but it is Wilder’s performance and voice, for me at least, that helped to so clearly display the truth in it.

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Wilder’s gift it seems was to be able to convey something inherently human. As the too recently deceased Robin Williams is quoted as stating “You’re only born with a little spark of madness, you have to hang on to it.”

It’s that small spark which I feel is familiar to not only Wilder’s performance as Wonka but many of the roles he played and characters he created subsequently. For me Wilder seemed to come closer to exemplifying that spark of madness and magic better than nearly anybody else.gene-wilder

His performances, right up until the end, helped us see humanity in the odd and unusual. He highlighted the benefit of seeing things from a different perspective. As with many characters since Shakespeare’s King Lear, it has often been the fool’s privilege to be the only one with the freedom to be speak truly and honestly. Wilders’ art and nature seemed to recognise and personify this.

Those eyes always held back a knowing, there was mischief, melancholy, madness, and amongst it all a tranquil calm certainty.
Still each time I descend a flight of stairs on a particularly good day, I hear those first few staccato notes of ‘Pure Imagination’ in my mind, and sometimes I’ll skips back a step in time with it as Wilder’s Wonka did.

I’m grateful for the laughter and the smiles that he provided me, as he did for so many innumerable others (and for the lingering taste of a nostalgically enhanced bar of Cadbury’s Whole Nut)  but I’m perhaps most grateful for the idea that even a kid with two left feet can still dance to his own rhythm, it is simply a matter of choosing to hear the music.

As an old Japanese proverb has it:

“We are fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance”

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