Month: August 2018

August 31, 2018

5.30 am: I looked towards the narrow column of partial light between the bedroom curtains. Was this too early for me to rouse? ‘I shan’t always be like this’, I thought. But the ‘it’ had no specificity. 5.50 am: I placed my feet on the carpet, with a determination to push the day to the limit. 7.30 am: A communion. A subtle, sweet, and welcome sense of another life in another place – of wellness, happiness, resolution, and possibility – entered my spirit unannounced. I’d never experienced the like before. One can only respond with benediction at such gracious visitations.

8.00 am: I played Purcell’s ‘See, Even the Night is Here’, from his The Fairy Queen (1692), as I caught up with postgraduate admin and attended to my appointments’ diary in-fill. Thereafter, I set my face towards the more substantial work of the morning. 9.15 am: I pressed on with the paper until 10.45 am, when I made for the School and two postgraduate tutorials:

Grace attended both. There’re times where the tutor/tutee binary dissolves, and we become but two people journeying together, holding one another’s hand, to goodness knows where. The idea that fine art teaching is about imparting subject knowledge is very wide of the mark. Certainly, it includes that dimension. However, the greater part of teaching cannot be reduced to, or expressed in, aims and objectives and curriculum content. And some of that part cannot even be articulated in words. Instead, it must be shown by example.

1.00 pm: I returned to homebase. After lunch, and throughout the afternoon, I pushed (inched) the presentation further. I knew what I was writing about, but not how it would connect with the next idea. In such situations, I stop what I’m doing and go on to write about the next idea. Then, later, if possible, I build a bridge between this new idea and the previous, recalcitrant one.

As this Diary comes to a close, I’m consciously considering other diaristic modes that might contribute to the character of the ‘New Diary’, should that materialise in the future. To date, the visual aspect of the Diary has been represented predominantly by photography and, to a lesser extent, schematics. Photographs render the objective referent in a fraction of a section. As such, the camera’s perception of reality and time is alien to our own. As John Berger once remarked, a drawing doesn’t render in time, rather, it embodies time. The set of six 1-minute drawings was conceived in order to capture small portions of my day by this means. I’d found the experience of making a time-limited composition for Pedro Bericat’s 1-Minute Autohypnosis sound compilation, in 2016, rewarding. The drawings applied the experience to the visual realm:

Visual Diary: Marking Time (1-minute drawings): 10.15 am, 1.40 pm, 3.00 pm, 3.45 pm, 4.00 pm, 4.10 pm

7.30 pm: I kept up my engagement with the writing. It was tempting to put it aside. But one ought to get back into the saddle as quickly as possible after a fall. Confront the difficulty.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements and ruminations:

  • We can fritter away our lives on distractions, non-essentials, small things, and those things that’ll have little consequence in the long term. Instead, we should do only what’s necessary, what’s required of us, what we alone can perform, and create something of substance and endurance.
  • To build something new, you must first demolish something old.
  • It’s more than metaphor; it’s equivalence.
  • Art is life lived.
  • You can’t learn to cook merely by watching TV programmes. The skill requires a messy, odiferous, wet and dry, fingers and hands engagement with ingredients and technologies of mixing, teasing, tasting, pouring, setting, proving, and heating. It’s a sensual and methodical affair. If you aren’t in love and involved with the means of manufacture, you’ll never be a painter of worth.
  • Don’t allow your inability to be a reason for giving up, especially if art hasn’t first given you up.

August 30, 2018

5.30 am: I stirred … restless. The night was passing. Gulls screeched in the near distance, and then also passed. In the silence, I heard the hum of electrical devices. My thoughts were in disarray – like flakes in a shaken snow dome. I heard a hum in my head … and my heart beating slowly, dividing the day up. I reviewed email before preparing myself for what was likely to be demanding day. But I’d much prefer to be on my side of the appointment panel’s table than on the candidate’s side. By the close of the afternoon, one person’s life will have changed significantly. And, thereafter, the School will change measurably too, once they make their contribution to its life and work.

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Off to School to prepare for the morning’s presentations:

Each candidate gave an account of a notional seminar they’d hold with students, based on an artefact in the School’s collection. In the audience were staff and postgraduates. This was a tough assignment: it tested the candidate’s research, adaptability, presentation skills, and pedagogy. And I learned a great deal about all three during the course of the morning. Quite apart from the occasion, it was good to sit at the feet of the next generation of academics. 12.00 pm: I took an early lunch and time to review their application forms in the light of the morning’s performance. This was an instructive exercise.

12.45 pm: The interview panel convened. An exhausting afternoon ensured. But the candidates worked the hardest:

They fielded a body of very searching questions. (I should address them to myself at some point.) The rigour and transparency (a much overused word, these days) of the proceedings was impressive and tiresome in equal measure. By 4.30 pm, I was addled by the interrogation. But we’d all kept our heads and focus throughout. Back at my office, I proceeded to second-mark a pair of resit essays:

7.30 pm: I continued double marking, and posted emails (with Henry Cow’s Legend (1973) in the background). 8.30 pm: Back to my paper, and a review of the writing and presentation to date. Now the ‘voice’ has been established, I proceeded to redraft the earlier sections and bring them in line with the tone of the later excursions. Night fell, and Thursday August 30, 2018 passed into history:


August 29, 2018

Not a model man
Not a saviour or a saint
Imperfect in a word
Make no mistake.
(King Crimson, Model Man, Three of a Perfect Pair (1984))

12.45 am: Enough! I could no longer think in straight lines. My cold and the tiredness had won out. Already pyjama clad, I slipped beneath the duvet, turned to the window, and let the phantoms and remembered voices of the day that’d been – now thin, fused, and garbled – recede into the darkness. There was a part of my mind that continued to ruminate. It thought in neither images nor words but, rather, through the language of the heart and spirit, in expressions of affection, joy recalled, regret, longing, and that hope which can sometimes feel like an ache. I slept.

7.00 am: ‘Up, Johnny, up!’ (The ‘muse’ is a taskmaster.) 8.00 am: I dealt with last night/this morning’s important incoming email before readying myself for a walk to the Old College for a PhD Fine Art tutorial at 9.00 am. We took it at the watering-hole:

There’s a long tradition of café-tutorials going back many generations at Aberystwyth. In eighteenth-century London, much of the city’s intellectual and business life was conducted over coffee. The practice is one of the hallmarks of high civilisation, in my opinion. 9.45 am: Back to the mothership via Plas Grug Avenue, where the first fall of Autumn had begun to gather:

10.00 am: Cup of tea to hand, I prepared for my 11.00 am MA Art History tutorial. At noon, I had a work appraisal with my Head of School. It was an occasion to make known my plans over the next three years (or sooner). An end is in sight. Negotiating the transition will require a great deal of thought for all concerned. There’re many uncertainties ahead. But they don’t daunt me. Certainty and endless repetition can make for dull living, in any case. 1.00 pm: Homebase, and a delicious bowel of spicy noodles (+egg, +mushrooms, +cabbage, +meatballs, +chilli sauce):

2.00 pm: On with the paper and the PowerPoint presentation. The two are now like a motorbike and sidecar. In the background, I familiarised myself with the materials required for the appointments panel, which will convene at the School first thing tomorrow morning. We’ll be choosing a new Lecturer in Art History:

4.30 pm: I’d made good progress. The ‘voice’ was finding its confidence … it’s poetic form. For me, this occurs when I begin to conceive of the presentation as speech written down, as opposed to writing to be read. Speech is an emanation of the body. Thus, writing becomes a far more physical process when this occurs. My words weren’t merely my brain’s secretions any longer. New ideas emerged in the act of writing. One couldn’t have hoped for more at this stage. The endeavour had become organic.

7.30 pm: The Harvey Boys collaborated to set up the amplification system for the presentation, using a pair of Bose Revolve+ active speakers:

My younger son has an innate gift for this type of technology, and he enjoys the challenge. For me, it’s just more gear to learn how to deploy. He’s been a great help. 8.30 pm: Back to writing for the remainder of the evening.

August 28, 2018

6.30 am: I’d slept from 11.30 to now, which was good for me these days. On waking, decisions to be made, transitions to be either planned or completed, and projects awaiting, pressed in upon my, as yet, unfocussed consciousness. My field of vision has, now, contracted to a three-year span. I’m not planning major enterprises beyond that period. The caveat to this is, as always, that I ‘do not know what a day may bring forth’. This day, tomorrow, or the next day may unseat everything thereafter. One’s life, and the lives of loved ones and friends, can be swept away in an instant; consistent rude health is guaranteed to no one; and the securities of home, employment, and finance are illusions. Anything beyond the now is conjectural.

7.30 am: Breakfast, followed by a communion at 8.15 am. (There’re times when tears are our food and drink.):

8.45 am: May this day count for something. The pullover season had begun again. Hospital appointment confirmed and some incoming emails put to rout, I began constructing a complex PowerPoint slide to encapsulate the conceptual map of the theology of sound that I’d sketched yesterday. It was only at this point that I fully comprehended the existing whole into which I’d need to shoehorn a discussion about sound, art, and theology. My mind perceives of, and organises, complexities in terms that aren’t so unlike its approach to pedalboard design:

PowerPoint slides should be illuminating without being distracting, to the point, well-designed, and (where appropriate) inventive. One’s creativity ought to permeate all aspects of a presentation: writing, delivery, and illustration. Having applied the animations, I returned to writing.

Over lunch, I worked on postgraduate admin and preparation for teaching tomorrow:

2.00 am: On with writing. I’ve a background cold fogging my thoughts. (‘Keep hydrated and bring on the comfort snacks, John!’ That’s what I appreciate, a ‘muse’ who’s sensitive to my bodily needs too.) Dark chocolate square in one hand and iced elderflower cordial in the other, I rallied and pressed forward. By mid afternoon, I’d developed some traction and a ‘voice’ – I could now imagine (hear in my mind’s ear) myself saying this stuff at the conference. Afterwards, I took a little respite listening to the experimental guitarist Joileah Concepcion. (Shades of King Crimson, post-1981.) She’s one of those guitarists who makes me want to play.

7.30 pm: After dinner, I’d watched a fascinating self-disclosure by the sport’s presenter Adrian Chiles about his drink dependency. He has a heroic battle ahead of him. One feature of his lifestyle that struck me was how much time he and his drinking associates had for socialising. Academics, these days, have little if any social life. Almost every evening is set aside for work. It’s not that they’re workaholics; the job demands it. (School teachers and doctors share this experience.) For such, drinking (and alcoholism for some) is domesticated. And it’s often the pressures of the job that drive them to it.

Back to it. (A whip is heard cracking remorselessly in the background.) Keep writing! I was so tired that I could hardly focus. And there was a late night ahead of me, still:

August 27, 2018

Bank Holiday

There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked (Isa. 57.21).

3.15 am: Sleepless in Aberystwyth (reprise). I tossed and turned and stared into the darkness until 4.00 am. After which, I put in an hour’s work before returning to bed at 5.00 am and waking again at 8.00 am. 9.00 am: Saturday’s agenda hadn’t been fulfilled. To begin the day, therefore, I finished updating the account of new research outputs on my website. This gave my higher-reasoning functions a lie-in, and an opportunity to rev-up on several cups of tea before it moved into writing gear. (‘Get go, Johnny’o!’, the ‘muse’ exhorted.)

11.20 am: (‘Off your backside, buddy!’, whispered the ‘muse’.) I took a pause, picked up my headless guitar, and wondered whether the forthcoming operation on my hand would be sufficiently successful for me to continue as a four-fingered guitarist. But a guitarist I’m determined to remain, even if I have to relearn everything I know about playing scales, chords, and arpeggios using only three fingers. That would still give me 50% more fingers than the great Django Reinhardt had at his disposal. Very rarely have I ever thrown in the towel. And then only because I recognised that the enterprise was not either in my best interests or worth pursuing:

Don’t give up on a cause simply because its: very difficult, frustrating, getting nowhere, complicated, beyond your abilities (it’ll stretch them), directionless (it’ll find its ways, eventually), apparently hopeless (if you remain optimistic, it may yet come to pass), cold shouldered by others (your own enthusiasm should always be enough), or criticised by others (your own integrity will see you through).

Fortified by the demon tannin, I reviewed last week’s work on the conference paper:

It was good as it stood. Now, it needed to build upon itself, deepen, thicken, and keep moving at a fair lick for the first twenty minutes of the delivery.

Lunch: I’ve always found the straightforwardness of cream of tomato soup to be utterly satisfying. It has been one of my comfort foods during times of illness, since I was very young. (Fish fingers and mashed potatoes, baked beans on toast (with lots of butter), and chip butties, come a close second.):

1.40 pm: A map was required, one that would delineate the network of scholarship, themes, groupings, and contours of the field that represents the theology of sound. I need to know what I don’t know and, as importantly, don’t yet understand. As I proceeded, the complexity of the potential interactions became increasingly evident. One must survey the landscape before deciding where to build the house. Presently, I’m attempting to lay my foundations in the middle of what a theological Spaghetti Junction (in my head, at least):

5.20 pm: Enough of this madness! I determined to honour the Bank Holiday with an evening off and vanilla ice cream.

Taken from their world

August 25, 2018

Bank Holiday

12.30 am:

8.00 am: A late wake after working into the early morning. (My Bank Holidays are very notional.) On, then, from where I’d left off earlier this morning (Purcell’s The Fairy Queen jaunting along brassily and majestically in the background), filling in databases and websites with updates of research output. (I hate this! Always a low point in the year. But it’s good to take stock in respect to this, as to every department of life, now and again.) I maintained my morale by drinking serial cuppas. (How many units of tea can one safely down in a week?) And so it went on. One day I’ll redeem all my misspent Bank Holidays, and take a whole year off.

12.30 pm: The lion’s share of the challenge was behind me. I don’t want this to bleed into Monday. That’s dedicated to the conference paper alone.

After lunch, I had an hour in which to update my website in line with my CV, as well as all other databases promoting my research. Once the website’s content is complete, and when this present Diary is ended (Estimated Time of Cessation: September 4), I’ll review and reformat the whole site, now that it has been transferred to the new template. During mid-September, when I’ll be living solo while the family are away, my social hours will be dedicated to that project. I watched (out of the corner of my eye) a new video on the work of the abstract turntableist, Maria Chavez. Admirable! (Has she built two cartridges into the tone arm?)

2.30 pm: An afternoon’s respite at an organ recital held in Llanbadarn Church. (This is my stopping-off point on Sunday runs.) The organ isn’t as good as the one at Holy Trinity Church, but it interacts with the interior architecture far better. Where does a church organ end? Is the church a part of the organ, as much as the organ is a part of the church?”

3.20 pm: As the sunlight entered the building, and against the backdrop of the music, I received a sensation of contained excitement fused with a joy that was deep and firm, rather than exuberant. I’d had this feeling before, but couldn’t locate it in my past. The impression was that of an extraordinary fulfilment that had been long-time coming. It was momentary, but no less consoling for that.

5.20 pm: Down tools!

August 24, 2018

Remember me. Remember me (Henry Purcell, Dido and Aeneas (c.1688)).

1.00 am: Having ‘pulled a late one’, sleep came more readily. 8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: A telephone call; a hospital appointment confirmed. The operation will take place as this Diary ends. That’s a neat and tidy resolution to both projects. 9.00 am: Back to the conference paper and on with reading. Fascinating!:

Today, parents and others fear that pocket calculators provide an external resource for what ought to be the internal resource of memorized multiplication tables. Calculators weaken the mind, relieve it of the work that keeps it strong (Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy (1982), 84).

Goodness knows what Ong would have made of smartphones and tablets. But he has a point. Today, too, the mind (or more specifically its ability to concentrate) is weakened by the multiplicity of other, tangential, activities that accompany almost every other activity we engage. Presently, I’m reading and making notes while listening to Purcell’s The Fairy Queen (1692), monitoring incoming emails, listening out for the doorbell, making tea, thinking about tomorrow’s work, calculating the impact of losing the use of an arm for two weeks will have on my work during the first half of September, uploading CDs to iTunes, and writing and photographing this Diary. My attention is dispersed, or promiscuous. One can’t be focussed and distracted simultaneously.

On occasion, however, the focal and the peripheral elide:

Even in a personal diary addressed to myself I must fictionalize the addressee. Indeed, the diary demands, in a way, the maximum fictionalizing of the utterer and the addressee. Writing is always a kind of imitation talking, and in a diary I therefore am pretending that I am talking to myself. But I never really talk this way to myself. Nor could I without writing or indeed without print. The personal diary is a very late literary form, in effect unknown until the seventeenth century (Boerner 1969). The kind of verbalized solipsistic reveries it implies are a product of consciousness as shaped by print culture. And for which self am I writing? Myself today? As I think I will be ten years from now? As I hope I will be? For myself as I imagine myself or hope others may imagine me? Questions such as this can and do fill diary writers with anxieties and often enough lead to discontinuation of diaries. The diarist can no longer live with his or her fiction (Ong, 100).

To whom am I talking in this Diary? To myself, both now and in the future (‘Did you learn your lesson back then, John!’); my children (in a future that doesn’t include me); friends and acquaintances (who’ve remained loyal supporters of these posts over the years), and (the vast majority) anonymous readers from all over the globe. Ong’s observations are also relevant to the contemporary culture of the ‘selfie’ and the constructed persona. I don’t accept the dogma that all auto-representations are facets of our true selves, any more than I believe that fictions are versions of fact. We generate these alt-images, I suspect, because we’ve not come to terms with who we are. And who we are is often more interesting and nuanced than the scrubbed-up versions of ourselves that we project to ourselves and others. Moreover, the camera does lie, because it’s manipulated by those who’ve the capacity to deceive. ‘Not looking our best, today, John! Too many late and sleepless nights, have taken their toll, boyo!’:

After lunch: The rain:

A change of environment and engagement. I returned to the studio to review and advance several of the sound compositions in progress. The practice and its textual articulation must grow together. To write about the work is to comprehend it from the perspective of an insider-spectator. ‘The Lesser Light’ needed a rethink. What’s done is good … but insufficiently ambitious. I reintroduced samples that I’d originally excised – processed version of the source file – to hear whether some, or parts of a few, would sit. My experience working on ‘Write the Vision …’ had tutored my revision of the composition:

7.30 pm: In through another ‘portal’ into the realms of research output assessment. (Sigh!) This would be the remainder of my evening. I battled, first, with the medium and, secondly, with the content. Another buggy site.

August 23, 2018

Before I could see the light, I had to acknowledge the darkness.

I got out of bed at 1.30 am and 3.30 am. I’m not sure whether I slept before these times. Having worked for an hour, I returned to bed at 4.30 am, and slept until 7.00 am. I’d not had tea after 1.30 pm or eaten anything after 6.00 pm on the preceding day. So, what was the matter with me? My computer has no problems going to sleep. I wish someone could find and push my button too. 8.00 am: A dozy communion.

8.30 am: Mentally fog-bound, I set about undertaking a self-assessment and preparing for the day ahead. As I entered the self-assessment ‘portal’ (Grief! How we use words these days.), I sensed strongly that I was coming to the end of a cycle in my professional life. What this implies, only time will tell. However, I’m not content to wait for change; sometimes you have to force its hand. I need to assess the likelihood of the possibilities, opportunities, and challenges to come, and my ability to respond to them. (These dimensions aren’t addressed by the assessment form. But they’re far more important considerations than any of the things that are.) We are each bound by our time and energy. Presently, for me, these are diminishing resources. Like many employees in Higher Education, I’m on the cusp of a dilemma: when a difficult job tips towards becoming an impossible job. (In the background, I attended to medical ‘objectives’.) 10.30 pm: Off to School:

I met with a history graduate from South Wales who wanted to talk about ideas emerging from my first book: The Art of Piety: The Visual Culture of Welsh Nonconformity (1995). I’ve not read it since I wrote it. The visitor had the advantage in that respect. ‘Did I say that?’, was my response, on too many occasions. It’s heartening to know that the publication still has some relevance, and that there’s a new generation of scholars emerging who’ll take some of the ideas further. I’ve come along way, and broadened my interests considerably, during the last twenty three years. Nevertheless, what I do presently is still rooted in a preoccupation with how what is invisible is made manifest, in words, texts, and sounds. 12.00 pm: I had a no-show for my next appointment. 12.30 pm: Domestic duties in town, lunch, and a spot of watering hole admin, were engaged earlier than planned, therefore:

I pressed on with resourcing sound equipment, monitoring incoming emails (as though they were nuclear missiles), and reflecting further upon my self assessment:

What do I find most satisfying and dissatisfying about my job?, the questionnaire asked. Well, filling-in self-assessment forms through a portal would be high on my list for the latter. My no-show appointee found me at the watering hole; so we were able to talk through the noontime business after all. 3.15 pm: I walked around the corner to the Old College, just as it started to rain, to hold tutorials with my three finalising MA Fine Art students. The vexed question of titles was a common theme. Each student is moving to the finishing line with conviction, confidence, and clarity of objective. Then …

5.10 pm: Homeward.

7.30 pm: For the remainder of the day and into the early hours of the morning, I worked away at my self-assessment document. My sense, at the end, is that I’m setting myself up to fail. I’ve reconciled myself to this. A sense of failure is likely to be the dominant impression I’ll take way with me on retirement. No one can do this job satisfactorily any longer.