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A BOOK WITHOUT A FACE


AMBIENT PLAYGROUND DISCUSSION

group facebook post and comments
begun 8 October 2013

LUKE
Thanks for everyone involved in my 'ambient playground' session on Saturday night at Pine! For me it was quite magical how everyone contributed. To help in creating more of these experiences down the track, I'm seeking your feedback and insights. Love to know: * what you experienced, heard, felt? * how you particularly interacted/interpreted the instructions? * who you could suggest for next time (to be better, or new directions it could take)? Also, anyone who has pics (already got some), let me know. If you prefer not to post here (which I'd encourage) you can always personal message me. Ta, Luke.

BRENDAN
Mate I loved it. Thought it was clear and simple instructions. I found it like moving meditation. I think people should have been encouraged to spend time lying down in the middle as it gave a completely different perspective. The director in me was thinking of all the ways I could incorporate this experience into outdoor and or promenade theatre. Over all brilliant.

LUKE
Ta Brendan. Did you lie down in the middle - and what was the difference that made? (I didn't think to do this, but noticed a few who did).

JULIE
Yep, I loved it too. I've always loved those kinds of sounds, and I loved the way they fitted together - were the bells some kind of harmonic group? (if that's the right way to phrase the question?). I LOVED my first bell, it was very resonant, but the second one I picked up kinda just clanged and I was sad! Someone (no names mentioned!) said he'd carefully and quietly checked a few before he chose one, and I was wishing I'd done the same Sorry, this isn't the kind of feedback you were asking for! ... so back to that .... I was frustrated at one stage having to walk too slowly behind someone, and the control freak in me desperately wanted to even up the spaces ... when you said I could move around people, not stay in line, i felt much better! I then also (feeling guilty) skipped across one of the spurs of the cross to even things up, which I know wasn't the point of the exercise but made ME feel better!

BRENDAN
Mate the middle was peaceful and rather than walking through did sounds - dif sounds floated over me

LUKE
Hey Julie. Thanks. All feedback is useful and desired. So very much just say whatever comes to mind. And what you say is quite useful.

Yes, the bells were chosen as a particular harmonic set. Basically, the 'white notes' of a piano (a major scale) across two octaves. And the keyboard drones matched them (they were different two-note chords of white notes, across one octave). A few people have said they liked the first bell more than the second. That was my experience too. I think what's happening here is that in general the smaller bells are more resonant and sweet/sustaining, whilst the bigger bells are a little more 'clunky' if that makes sense -- and note sure if anyone noticed by I had laid out the bells so the smaller ones (higher sounding) were picked up first and bigger ones (lower sounding) came later. Also, I think that some particular bells were a bit faulty (really clunky) and next time I'm going to have to test each bell to check for this. But it does make me wonder about using the larger bells...

Yes, I could have explained that people don't wait in line but go at their own speed and thus 'overtake' or 'fall behind' others at that own leisure.

I wondered if people will sometimes skip bits of the light pathway. Not sure if I'm really worried about this. I've also thought that this could be an instruction in the future: that you can go down different pathways or skip to other ones at various juncture points.

It's really interesting to me how agency and abandonment work together in this situation. That some will want to even things up, others concentrate one one area, and maybe others not thinking about this at all. In general, I'm wanting to find situations where there is no frustration of individual choice and agency, but in ways that give everyone some sense of connection - make sense?

It also looked like people naturally wanted to choose which bell to pick up, rather than pick up the bell at the beginning of the line (an instruction I think I didn't make clear enough) which suggests to me a solution of making it super obvious which bell to pick up, or just having only certain bells available (ie, the other ones not set up yet) which might need a special bell handler. But also I want a way for it to be in a loop that could go all night: you pick up a bell (at the front of the line), after a loop put it down (at the end of the line), pick up another bell (whatever is now at the front) etc etc so that over time what bells one hears from the harmonic set evolves and recapitulates, ebbs and flows.

ISABELLA
Luke it was meditative and spiritual. I absolutely loved it. Though I am trying to create spaces and experiences for me as an individual I was also thrilled to watch Ned's involvement . He loved it so I'd imagine it is something that could be done with the kids . I lay in the middle. Watched the stars, listened to the sounds.....it moved me. Your instructions were clear though I missed some of them from the kids noise in the background. Maybe at the start mentioning to all that before you start to explain the what's and how's to ask all parents to quiet the kids. It was really special and beautiful and I felt extremely privileged to be a part of it. Looking forward to more of your experiences.

LUKE
Thanks Isabella. Yes, I will need to be sensitive to noise and so on whilst explaining instructions. Hadn't been in that context before (of kids all about). Thanks for that. 
Regards Ned's involvement, what could you comment about that - how was he, and your daughter, seeming to be engaged, by themselves and with/via you? Also, be great if you could ask your kids for their thoughts and type them here... and was being a parent-with-children in the situation a distraction or something you enjoyed, or rather, how did that responsibility affect your experience, do you think...

ISABELLA
Will ask them and get back to u. It was a little bit of a distraction though my own personal need for their participation was fulfilled by their own intrinsic desire to do so, so I felt a sense of joy from that. I connected with Ned quite a few times (including lying in the middle) and that fulfilled that need for connection between us. So there was a mix of feeling that sense of connectedness to myself when I was alone then connected to Ned when we met and also that awareness and connection to some point when I met others. I look forward to asking Ned and Milly for their perspectives. They r busy at the moment.

JULIE
Oh, and I really liked it when I'd stop with other people - partly cos I got to hit the bell more frequently but mostly because there was this lovely sense of camaraderie, and a curiousity about how other people were going to do it, and playing with that - like, hitting my bell out of sync with theirs, or in sync, or just after ... good fun 

LUKE
Julie, towards the end, I went around the whole pathway with Nerida, each with our own bell, and so for every light we passed we'd both ding twice, and it was like you say really interesting to think/feel/experiment with how the two of us dinging would synch or not synch. So many options, just with two bells, which is not something I'd ever thought about directly before. I think it would be interesting to walk the whole circuit with a quartet as well. Some people really seemed to be considering the placement of their bell hit, and this encouraged me a lot to be more sensitive than I was at first, just hitting it loudly whenever.

BTW, did anyone notice groups bigger than 6 at any light? I saw a few groups of six but not bigger...

KIRRA
My experience very briefly: when you were talking i didn't really know what you were on about (not that the instructions were unclear but I couldn't imagine what it would feel and sound like... i was curious to try it out... i saw that lucas was too and he listened to every word you said!! wow!! when you turned the first keyboard on i thought it sounded like a car horn... didn't like it.... but still was enjoying myself... after some more were turned on i started to 'get it'... felt great but i dont know why... experienced a weird kind of silent intimacy when you found yourself at a light with someone else which was fun... it took a while to stop trying to move along and not hog a light or even out the line or not bunch up and stuff and just feel your way around more openly and creatively, so it was kind of about freedom but kept on wanting to make it have more rules than it needed, every time i overcame this more i felt more present and connected... my son loved it, so did my daughter! really was a new experience i would love to try again... i loved seeing how much my kids loved it without questioning what we were doing or why, just loved the experience. so did i. it felt very free and timeless and connected...

ha when i said briefly i meant more rushed and thoughtlessly than briefly!! im a bit busy...

think there were 7 or so briefly once that i noticed

TINA
I felt very conscious of my feet touching/planting into the ground...I felt the sounds of the keyboard drones were coming from the ground responding to my nearness... I got bored of the same bell the whole way around, and in the frame of mind I was in that night, I was a little disinterested in making decisions about the bell...I really loved just walking the path, bell-less, moving in response to the sounds (mainly with my arms as my legs were busy walking) ....lying in the middle was delicious because the night sky was the perfect backdrop for the sounds and energy of community contributing beauty, and I loved feeling safe to lie down, enveloped by sounds that are gifted and not judged right or wrong. This was a very special gift to us Luke...thanks.

LUKE
Ta Kirra. Thanks for your kind and thoughtful words. I'm glad your curiousity carried you through the initial unknown-ness. do you think there is anything I could do to help people 'get it' sooner, or is it always going to be a slow reveal? Also, I had planned to turn all the keyboard on prior to everyone walking out, but forgot/didn't have time, so maybe I'd go on the side of drones on first, next time. Be great to getting from you some direct comments/thoughts from your kids too, if they are up for discussing it at all.

Thanks too Tina. I remember walking near you at one point when you were drifting/dancing and that was very cool to see a body gesturing (out of) the soundscape. Also, my idea of doing a circuit with Nerida came from seeing you and Cameron together, but I remember you and he had just one bell, but the bell always struck twice. I'd be really keen to have Cameron's thoughts on this too, compared to yours, since you knew something of my process/soundworld prior to the night but he was thrown in the deep (and dark) end! 

It's very pleasing to hear that it was a special gift. For me, the gift was the many gifts of people's own unique contribution and personal choice, navigation and attention. 

Were you bear foot at all? (Just wondering if that makes a difference at all - I would have liked to go shoe-less but for teh bindies).

TINA
I had shoes on...but thin slipper style that feel weightless and responsive somehow...my feet are not very brave
Part of lying down in the middle was a full body connection to the ground...not just my feet...feeling the grass,sticks etc...support

KIRRA
I saw you, Tina, gliding past me gracefully with your arms outstretched and you looked beautiful!! ok, Luke, I will ask my kids when i see them again, if i dont get back to you remind me... i might not see them til Friday....

I liked that I didn't get it, btw Luke, that was what made me curious. i thought you set it up and described it well and gave good instructions. i didn't know when i heard them but i 'got it' while i was doing it...

CAMERON
Hi Luke (Cameron here). I relate to Kirra's "i didn't really know what you were on about", but I'd say I didn't "fully know" (I had a fair idea). This was not your doing as I'm not an aural person when it comes to instructions... gotta read 'em completely and recurrently (so yes, maybe dumb it down in different forms and repeat it). I liked the Dracula keyboards (was trying to workout if it was C minor sus 4 add 2). The keyboards sounded almost, but not quite spooky to me (so nice). I wished it had been darker and more isolated - a real forest. For me, I enjoyed being loosely coupled to people I largely, didn't know at all well, but to whom I felt a strong positivity (everybody there I must say). The best part, I would say though, was contemplatively (for me at least) walking with Tina on the last 2 circuits. In general, I would say I found the experience a nice opportunity to simply "contemplate" a few things - to feel some peace and gratefulness for this life as I presently understand it; for the past, for those departed, and for what does or doesn't lie ahead. Thanks for your outside-of-the-box approach to life.

LUKE
Hey Cameron. Thanks for your response and thoughts here. Raised some interesting thoughts here. Regards the form the instructions came in (verbal, rather than written down) I don't think I could have had time to do that, since I only came up with the instructions in the morning of Saturday! (amalgamating what I had learnt from recent workshops/events/trials). But also, I, and my collaborators from super critical mass, generally like to work with verbal instructions so to keep things at the level of dialogue and also I suppose to remove as many physical elements as possible - but I'm thinking right now maybe instead of paper I could have draw up the instructions as a diagram on a white board - would something like that help? Your thoughts make me wonder how I cater to visual and kineasthetic learnings if I do a lot of the instructions verbally...

As for the chord, well it was all white notes, each of the eight keyboards a different triad from A-C and every step up the scale until another A-C. Thus, walking closer to different keyboards would shift the harmony. Where people entered the closeest notes would have been A-C with A-C and D-F which is I guess Amin sus 4 add 2, is it not - so you were pretty much on song with your guess! Did you notice at all the notes shifting between each keyboard zone?

Interesting about going darker and going into a real forest. I like that idea a lot. A few people have now suggested doing something like this at Woodford, so maybe there is a forested patch there, but would you know of any forested areas around Brisbane to suggest? Maybe even someone in the Pine Community has a forested rural property...

CELIA
I found it very calming and peaceful. It was nice to be in the darkness moving while keeping my mind still. Sam even enjoyed it. It can be challenging for him sticking to no talking (mostly) . But he wandered around for ages. It was a special experience for me.

NERIDA
Like Julie I enjoyed my first bell more, as much for being lighter as for the sound. I felt very comfortable 'performing' your instructions. I found them clear, but I'm also very familiar with the way you and SCM work. Pleased I could demonstrate the 'incorrect' way of striking the bell. While I was walking with the bell I found I could really focus on the sound world around me. I did a circuit without a bell after two circuits with, and found my mind wandered - off thinking about mundane things. This was upsetting actually, because now I was stuck a quarter of the way around with no bell and three-quarters still to walk. It felt like those participating with me had taken up the spirit of the event - observing the instructions of quietness, ringing at a light, strikes matching number of people etc But we also had so much space to influence how things unfolded. Stay to play with someone at a light, strike in time, out-of-time, strike louder or softer, carry a compositional connection with another participant across a number of lights...

Overall I found it refreshing and meditative. I enjoyed knowing others felt free to change their experience of the sound by lying in the middle. I enjoyed having the freedom to leave when the time was right for me. When you and I walked around together doing an entire circuit of double-strikes, I felt like we were gathering up the event and bringing it to a close (even though I was aware others were continuing) - it felt like I was 'performing' a conclusion. That does make sense? In the context of the conference, I felt it was a wonderful experience to end the day on. Something new that sits in the space between solo and group making - a deliciously private collaboration. This was helped by being at night-time and enjoying the cover of darkness. This helped to reduce an feelings of self-consciousness.

Luke just asked me if performing a conclusion was okay or was a problem? I felt within me that walking around together was like the final wave ushering all those remaining to the end. We didn't actually do that because there were people still there when we finished. I'm really just talking at the level of internal picture. It was also a sound world (of two bells each striking twice on the entire circuit) that I hadn't heard at any other time of the night. It wasn't a problem at all - it appealed to the director in me.

LUKE
Thanks for your comments Celia and Nerida. 

"...to be in the darkness moving while keeping my mind still..." is pretty cool.

It was funny when I asked Nerida to hit the bell and she did it in a way I wasn't expecting -- it's always good for me to learn what I have assumed in my instructions so that I can be overt about it (I had assumed what 'hit the bell' meant - which is actually a more detailed instruction than that: 'hit the bell at about two-thirds up the side of the bell, with the side of the beater'). Glad you could be of assistance!

I had only thought about darkness as a mode of heightening our listening and sense of immersion (ie, cut down visual stimulus, become a bit disorientated) but from what you say Nerida, and it seems echoed in other comments here, the darkness helps in the social-bonding as well - alone but together, intimate but expansive, strangers yet friends, random yet connected. So the low light has social effects, not just sonic/spatial.

The regular double-ringing of two bells at each light did feel to me something like an ending - or at least like a ritual marker, something much more regular than much of the dappled and more-random belling than had come before. So it had marked out a time within the time. I wonder if it could not just be at the ending, but something to mark major chunks of time, like every hour, or even to begin... But as I typed this, you have suggested that to begin like this, with such regularity, might be limiting in that it could encourage/suggest/limit people to think they have to be regular, even, ordered etc, whereas that is only one possibility of many. That kind of makes sense to me. I was also keen on how it did begin, just walking around listening without bells, so that listening-moving began the dominant opening gesture to continue, rather than playing-sounding which comes in within the greater-listening-moving that is happening. Also, by people starting to play the bells one-by-one, the belling was introduced as a trickle to begin with, which I liked as a mode of slow build up, a further tuning-in, after the listening-in.

LUKE
Hey all, I'm right now reflecting on how much has been siad, can be said about this experience, which had such a simple premise/instructions/layout. Thank you all SO MUCH for your idas/insights and feedback here. And for anyone else please feels VERY WELCOME to add your thoughts too. Your thinking triggers my thinking and that's such a pleasure.




IN THE FACE OF DEATH,
WHAT IS WORTH WRITING, MAKING, SINGING, DANCING?

public facebook post and comments
begun 7 January 2013


LUKE
In the face of death, what is worth writing, making, singing, dancing?
Seriously.

MATTHEW O
Hip hop. Just hip hop.


BRIAN
everything. because it is all and always done in the face of death.


LUKE
@Matthew, an answer that requires a particular form/tradition doesn't seem like the answer.
@Brian, I know what you are saying, but it sounds like you're saying: whatever.

Surely the answer is not: this one form/tradition in particular, nor is it going to be anything-whatever.
I might be particularly having a face-to-face with this face soon, so I am actually asking. As I said: seriously.

BRIAN
No. All forms. All expressions. No"whatever".
It is an obligation and a privilege to throw art into the face of encroaching death.


ROBYN
See an Australian movie called Look Both Ways. It is a wonderful treatment of the subject of life and death.

EVERYTHING is worth doing. Death isn't worth thinking about while you're alive.

Moreover, negativity increases your chances of developing a terminal illness. You are what you think.


LUKE
@Brian - so I could do anything in anyway? Like I can think of heaps of examples of doing stuff that's shitty. Do explain.


@Robyn, honestly, I can't see how thinking about death (esp if it is fast encroaching) is negative. It seems like self-deceit to pretend.

@Robyn, please don't chuck a link to a film at me. If it touched you, explain here how it was wonderful etc.


There are many things I can imagine are terrible to do. So come on guys, everything must not be worth doing.

BRIAN
Luke. We do what we do, and we strive to do our best. We never achieve our best, and so we keep on trying. All of what we make (as some indication of what we do to make it) is thrown into the face of encroaching time and death....ultimately unable to stop it, but vital as a sign of our resistance.


LUKE
Brian, I agree with: "All of what we make (as some indication of what we do to make it) is thrown into the face of encroaching time and death". But now you are talking in eulogies: "we" all strive to do our best but not achieve it. Like everyone? "Striving" and "best" somehow don't seem right to me. I can't say why yet, it's just a feeling emerging in me right now. Maybe I'm not getting your sense of it.


ROBYN
Difficult to explain. It's a story of many lives which come together as a result of a man suiciding by throwing himself under a train. There's the artist who sees it - a woman who constantly worries about death and is, at the time, returning from her father's funeral. She forms a relationship with the journalist who covers the story, who finds out he's got cancer and they temporarily call off the relationship - before realising that every moment is precious. There's the train driver, whose life is ruined by his trauma at what has happened; and his son, who reforms - having been a troublesome rebel - when he sees his father needs him. There's the guy (connection forgotten) who can't cope with his girlfriend being pregnant and decides he is emotionally dead, so he walks down the railway track, trying to scare himself to life by diving out of the way of the train at the last moment ... it's a complex plot, and difficult to explain the revelation within. Most important movie I think I've ever seen in terms of my own feelings about life, though. It starts slowly - painfully slowly, and its point sneaks up on you. But I urge you to see it.


Re "It seems like self-deceit to pretend" - no, we always know that life is finite. But it's self-deceit to focus on death as a justification for doing anything - or worse, nothing - while you're alive.


MICHAEL
I can only imagine what I'll talk, sing, dance ....and cry about. I guess the topics will centre around 2 things: 1. people - family, friends, those I have helped and those that helped me along the way; 2. the things nearest to my heart - food, adventure, environment, philosophy, systems, processes. I also reckon I would also want to capture it somehow - maybe of benefit to someone, somewhere, someday?


ROBYN
Luke - the reason I'm arguing with you is that this is a subject I've had too much time to think about myself. At the beginning of 2010, I got a call to say my mother in NZ was ill. I flew home and she came out of hospital and died a few days later. I was with her at the time, but couldn't resuscitate her. I returned to Australia and shortly after got the news that my husband had cancer. He died in September of that year - I was the only one there when it happened. Which really just left me with only one genuine relative left (apart from my adopted sister, who stayed in NZ) - my son, who took a heart attack on Christmas Day of the same year. He survived, but believe me, this is a subject which I've given a lot of thought to. Life is precious.


MAY
Luke, not sure if this'll make sense...I'm feeling smashed and about to go to bed. My thoughts though, for what they are, is that in the face of death, one would achieve greatest peace through expressing what is their authentic soul. What is most congruent with their uniqueness, sense of spirituality and connectedness to place and others. I think only the individual can judge the appropriateness, need, ethics and extent of their expression. Just my thoughts tho.
January 7 at 8:38pm via mobile · Unlike · 4





JULIE
I read a quote recently (that I'm really pissed off I can't find again!!) that said something like this: Everything is temporary. Everything you have, you will eventually lose. Every thing, every person, and finally your own body. But what makes life worth living is that *you haven't lost it yet* - you still have all these things. Celebrate that.
So in answer to your question, everything is, simply because we still can.


KATE
People could go either way I think - make frivolous and nonsensical works that have a certain 'throwaway' quality to them, to produce a macabre kind of satisfaction? Or they could find themselves wanting to do something memorable for all the other reasons - to produce something of technical brilliance or with a profound and timeless message, a sort of memoirs or the idea of a legacy. Probably also depends on whether said art was purely for one's own gratification or for an audience eg prosterity

MAY
meant to add that it sounds like you might be being invited onto a journey of grief and mourning and my heart wishes yours courage.


SIMON
Writing: a simple eulogy or other tribute (video)? Making: a burial site with plain robes for the next life; perhaps a coffin if culturally appropriate. Singing: "When I Am Laid In Earth" (Purcell); Abide With Me. Dancing: Save that for the Wake, and play all the departed's favorite songs.
TIM
Try do what you dreamed of doing or work out ways to do it. If that's creative great.. If not that's ok too cause its what you want and you're not likely to regret it.


Sorry I maybe misunderstood question.


LAWRENCE
In the face of life, what is worth writing, making, singing, dancing?
GUY
Writing letters to lovers, making time for loved ones, singing love songs to said lovers and dancing together. Creating work certainly served to distract me but choosing the details I never want to forget reminded me of the joys I shared.


LUKE
Thanks to all who wrote here. May others join in too. I would like to respond to it all... have been in an hour-long unexpected but full-of-enthusiasm/grace phone call, hence me not responding sooner, and now I have other people/matters/sleep to attend to.

To tomorrow.


LORNA
Assuming this isn't sudden death, what you are able to create depends so much on how the body reacts to the dying process and medical treatment. Remembering the joys, as Guy said, and preparing matters so that those who will be left behind can cope as well as possible, would be priorities. This is sounds very very serious for you Luke - warmest empathic thoughts for what lies ahead.


JONO
I'd trust you to know at the time


BILLY
everyone has their own values of what their life is worth and the relevance of importance of things, people or activities. Ive seen a man the night before his death eat lobster and champagne while having his family around him. Another man had every family member there in his room singing till he died. Its cultural and personal. Another young man made a website and wrote about his life to pass onto others.

In my experience it seems to be a lot to do with family/friends and reflection of the joys of life whatever that may be ie. food music or love.

BARBARA
when my husband was dying I made a tape of music that I hoped would take him on a peaceful journey as he slipped into unconsciousness - not a sentimental journey of postcards from the past .... old songs we had known kind of thing ... I wanted it to be beautiful as people told me that his hearing would be the last sense to go and his last experience maybe would be beautiful sound xx

MICHELLE
write the truth of the moment you sit within
January 8 at 8:28am · Unlike · 1





MATTHEW H
Luke, if you yourself feel something isn't worth doing, it isn't. If you feel it is, it is. Do anything and everything that you think would be worth it, no matter what it is.
January 8 at 8:32am · Like





LUKE
@Robyn, thanks for taking the time and energy to elaborate. very worth it for me. the recent events of your life seem so full-on. still not sure what the trap is to "focus on death as a justification for doing anything". 

@Barbara, you too have had someone very close die. thanks for sharing. I think I have such an oddball taste in music I would need to actually have a playlist already - and hey I can do this, on youtube. stay tuned.
January 8 at 8:37am · Like





@Lawrence, that is a great return of serve. I'm a sucker for logical inversions etc, but when I stay with that question, it seems like the same and even more salient question as the question of facing death. the answer to your question seems to be somehow in the face of life to be more of it. I'm alive now so how can I be more life? maybe it is, more available to the living aspect of life, the percolating, emergent, energetic growth stuff. lately 'living' for me has meant embracing the 'homely' and low-spun, humble, here-and-simple aspects; instead of lofty grandeur, heights of social status etc which I have been a sucker for too much of my life. maybe it means if living is not here-now-humble it is not of the living-aspect?...

@Jono, Matthew H and others... you speak of the intuitive way (I'll know, I can feel it) and I guess we will all be answers such questions of life/death via our own modes of living, 'personality types', backgrounds etc. maybe I'm just not that intuitive-feeling orientated. well, I do trust a lot in the felt-sense of things, but also if it can't be connected to any speaking- and -thinking-from it, then I wonder if that's just a recipe for head in the sand or clouds. But how will I know that I know Jono - oh I hope that is not too facetious. Matthew, the "no matter what it is" I think is the big deal of what you said: for me this is now: no matter how humble/homely it is.


@Billy, you and Anouk work with dying people a lot and that's a kind of wisdom in your memories and body that is so wonderful/special. thanks for sharing. do you guys have a way of sharing more of it - I'm just thinking between both of you is a very interesting set of stories that could be interviewed/recording/etc.

@Lorna, I hadn't been considering a body-decay thing, but that is always I guess a possibility, rapid or slow. If matters are mostly all in order as we go along, and joy mostly happening as we go along, then that would mean not having to be taken-by-surprise about sudden death/decay. What @Julie said relates to this I guess.


@Guy and @Simon, and @Billy, Michael etc - living life as the activity one would want around time of death (love ones, sharing etc) I had never considered before. Living as a continual wake/funeral. But not in a morbid way and avoiding what Robyn is saying is negative. 
@Guy, I have felt like having a sense that our making is a distraction from what's important ("Creating work certainly served to distract me but choosing the details I never want to forget reminded me of the joys I shared") means, at least for me, that this making must somehow be out of kilter, not important, yes, actually a distraction. I want making/thinking/acting etc to be the life/death situation, not just a means to earn income or be happy. Otherwise that's a lot of my time I'm wasting... Sorry if this seems a downer way to look at it. I'd be interested what you make of it.
@Michelle, this is cool "write the truth of the moment you sit within" - so it is part of the here-and-now trope. How does that work out for you?

@Tim, you speak of past tense, which frightens me. what I "dreamed of doing"... this is part of the problem for me I think because my ego has done a lot of fantasising. if my self-without-ego is dreaming, then it seems to be dreaming in the present, not having or recalling dreams to build on. Dreaming as a here-now process I suppose. How do you see this? and how do you personally distinguish between a destructive or life-giving dreaming, or is that not a useful way to frame it?


@Michael - the "capturing for someone/someday" stuff has a resonance for me. And I think of this as a leaving a context/wake for my kids especially, and then anyone else that might benefit. But this all seems too like ego-plans of empire building - trying to be in 'control' of one's destiny. I really don't know yet how to capture (archive thoughts/stories/documents) without conquering (ego control). I suppose this is a problematic of publishing in general. Your thoughts? One thing lately that is starting to make some sense in me, and related to the homely low-spun thing, is to think of this capturing/sharing/publishing as always just sketches, notes, provisional ideas, prototypes. nothing finished. all the bits and pieces and starts and beginnings just there. and not hiding anything because it isn't polished. I don't think this would be upload everything - but at least not censuring due to roughness/incompletion.

@Kate, you seem very level headed and I enjoy are dialogues via facebook. right now I'm just reacting to a sense of my upbringing, where various ideas of mine to go out of a limb were met with a moderating influence of saying everyone does things differently. yes, but what is my, and your, difference to make? You say "People could go either way I think" and I guess I am feeling like wanting to know more about you in particular, not humans in general (although I do like scoping out options so I do value that in you!).

@May, love to know some of the sorts of things you are sensing/thinking with the term "authentic soul"?...

@Barbara, your comments have now worked another way in me: I can care much more about playing/creating/offering the music of a peaceful-not-sentimental journey for the others that are close around me.


BARBARA
Making the playlist was a beautiful experience for me in the face of devastation .. it was a gift of love and the last thing I could do ... and in doing it a kind of spiritual journey for me as well going into amazing sound with a new depth of experience and meaning xxx


MAY
Luke, my thoughts are largely influenced by my study and work as a counsellor. Typically, although not always, in childhood we are wounded, we experience the world as unsafe and scary at times, and being children, learn to deny and cut off the parts of ourselves that we experience as being unacceptable to others or that produce fear. Our adult journey is about rediscovering those parts of ourselves and re-evaluating who we authentically are, what our values are and how we express our soul. My understand of soul is somewhat Hebraic - that is, that in profound mystery we are an integrated whole of body, mind, heart, spirit not compartmentalised, as Western culture so often considers us to be. So, in the context of impending death, which often allows people to free themselves from the shackles of needing to please others and of living a life of fear, it's possible to find great peace by listening to and living from our most authentic selves. Reconciliation, reminiscing, meaning-making, story-telling, legacy leaving and farewelling are beautiful opportunities in this season of life. A
January 8 at 7:26pm · Unlike · 2





LUKE
Hey May. Didn't know you were a counsellor. "cut off the parts of ourselves that we experience as being unacceptable to others or that produce fear"... this makes sense to me. my childhood on that score lasted til I was at least 22. the re-discover started a bit earlier from around 20, but then a lot happened during my PhD, with a supervisor who is very caring and mentoring and he said to me: Luke, until you put it all on the table, you will never really begin. He was talking about my range of creative/artistic interests but because these are for anyone tied up with all of one's living he was really talking about everything too. And this is the way of "the radical acceptance of everything" rather than the selection (and persecution) of some things. Not that things shifted much overnight but some slow movements back and fro from then. Another paradigm shift came later when another friend/mentor said: it becomes trauma when you can't talk about it, or stop talking about it (does that have any resonance with your counselling stuff??). "in profound mystery we are an integrated whole..." this makes sense to me -- there is something liberating about diving into the integrating (albeit ever-changing) whole which is somehow a radical acceptance of everything rather than just sit at one level or one part. okay, now if being with the face of death "allows people to free themselves from the shackles of needing to please others and of living a life of fear" then maybe I'm really asking: what is worth thinking, making etc when it's not at all about pleasing others (my big criteria til 20years old and it all creatively imploded, and my struggle since) not living in fear of rejection (the flipside of pleasing others) and fear of other stuff too?? maybe it is to ask it this way: if I could achieve nothing for my little self/ego, what would I create?... ???
January 8 at 8:35pm · Like





TONY
I fear what will be offered soon (in popular culture, anyway) is 'reality death': a popularisation of the entertaining aspects of actual loss of life. 

As to what is worth doing creatively, my own opinion is that whatever it is, it should engage with grief. The funeral industry (of which I was part for 7 years) becomes increasingly sanitised, and tries to find ways of "celebrating life" or making death easier and gentler. This is deadening, smothering stuff, and artistic work should cut through that. Grief, real loss, is messy, painful, snot-drippingly uncomfortable (sorry - I know you're not keen on adjectives) and exactly the sort of territory where art thrives.
I was impressed with an episode of Six Feet Under where two daughters were bickering about the 'right' funeral arrangements for their dad. Eventually the funeral director told them to SHUT UP. They were shocked into silence by this outburst, but he continued to berate them for not 'getting' it - they'd lost a parent, and they might as well have been arguing over which TV station to watch.
Whether it's our own death or someone else's we face, I believe it's the truth about loss that should be expressed. That's the best time for it; time enough for celebrating in happy times.


LUKE
Thanks Tony. Hey can you say more about what 'reality death' might look like - do we already have it? Engaging with grief... the truth about loss... I feel I really need to take this in. Funny how you say a sanatised notion of death is actually deadening. Like there's a lively way to engage with death/grief. Now that you've said this, I remember that Dan Mafe (visual artist who I worked with during my PhD) says that a sensitive creative practice is much like grief - actually it has, psychoanalytically speaking, the same structure as grief. I can't recall any more of this. Must find the essay. SHUT UP is good. But also I'm thinking there are lots of ways we could get it 'wrong' with funerals. My own thoughts is: I want my loved one in my house for as long as possible (what is the legal length of time Tony?) and then everyone comes to be with us with this body/person in our home, and we carry them to wherever we burn the body to ash (what is legal about this - can you burn anywhere outside of a crematorium in Australia?). Of course, my close ones might want/ask for something else. I'm just trying to say right now what seems meaningful to me, engaging rather than sanatising. What's you thoughts on this given your background etc?


what is the truth about loss?...


TONY
Some cultures (NZ and other Pacific islands, for example) have a custom of holding a wake in the family home for 2-3 days before a funeral. The funeral director's mortician does a 'temporary preservation' to keep the body from decomposing too badly in this time (it's not the full embalming, reserved for crypt burials, interstate/overseas transport or delays in services beyond 2 weeks).


LUKE
And what are the rules/laws in Australia about keeping a body at home, and burning it somewhere.


TONY
'Reality death' shows? Think Big Brother but for the terminally ill. Disguised as a means of supporting their families financially, but really a morbid peep show. Hope no one's getting any ideas of selling this to any producers ...


Do-it-yourself cremation, or a funeral pyre, can't be done in any part of Australia that I'm aware of. I know Canada allows it for native Inuits, and it's probably permitted in many parts of Asia. Local council by-laws determine this in Australia, and the ones I'm familiar with (Brisbane and Gold Coast) require a coffin and licensed cremation facilities. Of course, this may have changed since I quit in 2007 ...

Now the truth about loss: your counsellor friend will have much to contribute to that question. Dealing with loss, in my experience, is counter-intuitive: you don't heal by being comforted. What heals is going through the pain, feeling it, getting messed up by it if that's the way your body and mind grieve. That's what processes the loss, while comfort just delays or represses it. I learned while funeral directing that the worst time for a family is the weeks AFTER a funeral. That's when the comfort of friends etc mostly disappears, and you're expected to go back to normal life. But that's when the 'truth about loss' is mostly keenly felt, and it can be awful. But it is, at least, true. Grief can be like a birth, in a way: comfort can be given between contractions, but it's the pain and pushing that gets the job done.
January 8 at 10:32pm via mobile · Unlike · 4





LUKE
Ta for cremation info. I kind of figured that. But what about having dead body in one's home (barring suspicious death etc) - can it happen, and for how long?


"you don't heal by being comforted..." healing is important? I mean what is the place to arrive at, post-intense-pain is there somewhere to arrive? is there a good type of comfort? Robyn and Barbara and Billy and others please do say what you reckon... I am in a space of not-knowing.

TONY
Sorry, should have made it clearer - when I commented earlier about NZ and Pac Islanders having the home wake, that's what happens here. I've taken many a deceased person to a home for this purpose. I don't believe there's a specific law regarding time, more a recommendation from the funeral home mortician based on time of year, temperature etc. 2 days is normal for this, and a temp preservation doesn't buy you much more than that unless you're in a snowy clime.


LUKE
what happens after 2 days? rotting? smelling?

TONY
And yes, healing is important. Suffering is all well and good, builds character, teaches strategies for problem solving, and so on and so on. But I believe it's worthwhile to achieve a state of wholeness, even if that's only in the mind. For some that's the only option.

After 2 days of temporary preservation, yes, the body will start to discolour, darken through the skin, and give off an odour of spoiled meat. Flies are likely to be attracted, and if allowed will lay eggs in available orifices for maggots to start their work. The rest you might be able to imagine.

Sorry bed time for me now, but will continue later if you like!


BARBARA
So much depends on the way someone dies - we couldn't bring Dave home to die because he was so ill and even though I so wanted to bring him home I knew that the hospice was the best place to manage his pain and have the best care ... after he died I let him go - he looked so changed after the chemotherapy and illness I wanted to try and remember him as he was before all the awful things happened. We found a humanist celebrant to lead the funeral and wrote the funeral service with him .. then after the cremation we waited until it felt like the right time (our wedding anniversary in July) and scattered his ashes in the sea at a lovely beach with flowers from the lanes and garden and we swam out with him on the tide to say goodbye ... Tony is right - its afterwards that the pain rips you apart and the only way is to ride it - it is awful and the loneliness is unimaginable and lasts a long time and all that stuff about stages of grief makes me want to scream ... maybe that's a good thing too .... xx


LUKE
It's amazing to me that a body can live to 100 years but can start to really decompose after just 100 hours. Makes sense Barbara that it would depend on how and where someone has died.
Tell us more about this stages of grief thing.
Tony, regards wholeness, I know that one of my relatives who experienced a major change in her life (as full on as a physical death it seemed) spoke much of becoming whole again. I just think that "wholeness" as a goal in my life tends to make me want to be complete, perfect or the-way-things-should-be and I've had more liveliness come when I relaxe into a fluid state of incompletion, openness, un-closed. So maybe I want to know more about what a good 'whole' is compared to an ego 'whole'.


TONY
There's a practical exercise I think demonstrates the journey to wholeness well. Close one eye, and hold a coin up to the open eye, where it touches your lashes. Evaluate what you can see from the open eye: mostly fuzzy blackness, with a few details coming from around the edges. Then move the coin to about 5cm in front of the open eye and re-evaluate: now you can probably tell that it's a coin, but still can't focus on it fully. The background has become more visible. Finally hold the coin at arm's length and assess again. This time you see the coin for what it is, and it's simply a part of the larger field of vision. Grief is said to be like this. At first it consumes everything, you can't think of anything else, but you can't make sense of it either. It affects your physical and mental ability to function. Then as healing progresses, you understand it is grief but are not yet equipped to understand it fully, and it is still a dominant factor in your consciousness. Finally you achieve a state where you have worked through it, you understand it and it does not dominate your life. It will always be part of it, but you can communicate and work and think without it impeding your ability to do so. That's what I mean by wholeness.
LUKE
Thanks for this Tony. I think I (kind of?) get what you are saying. But maybe it doesn't feel like the word 'wholeness' is the word that would sum up this analogy. What emerges for me right now, dwelling on this, is... the that whole integrated living of one's living process that is one's self can continue on as an experience of itself as a living integration, and that the processes and sub-processes that continue during and despite of grief can be felt as much as the grief which is both a stop of one living process (the living down with whatever is lost) plus also a kind of living process in itself part of the whole process of my living...


TONY
Pretty sure I get what you're saying too. Where I think grief differs from other processes is in its power to distort and overwhelm other processes. It's like the planet Melancholia (powerful film about the equally overwhelming nature of depression), in that the gravity of grief pulls everything else towards it, at least for awhile. Attempts to put grief into the context of other life processes, when it is new, can be like trying to look around that coin when it's right up against your eye: your thoughts are distorted by that process. I suppose you could argue that every thing that forms us, every hermeneutical piece of baggage we carry distorts our thoughts and actions. Grief is unique though, in that it occupies too much of our processing power to function effectively (and indeed it must, to get us to the point of acceptance).
January 9 at 11:35am · Unlike · 3





LUKE
Okay.
I'd be interested to hear what Robyn , Barbara , May and others think of this.

BARBARA
I only have two personal experiences of the death of a close loved one - both very different. When my mother-in-law died the overwhelming feeling was sadness - but she was over 90 yrs old and there was a sense of a long life lived well that ment healing was quicker and the experience of drief not so savage. But when my husband died my experience was very much as Tony describes it - the coin in the eye a good analogy ...his death was what I would describe as an inappropriate death - he wasnt very old and a cancer diagnosis came out of the blue. By the time he died I was totally traumatised watching helplessly as someone I loved went through cancer treatment the roller coaster of hope and despair, Its just a year now and I think I am in the second stage of the coin analogy - after he died I was in total shock and could barely function for months - unable to understand why such a beautiful person had to die in such a horrible way ... and it shattered everything - like a tsunami hit my lovely family and smashed it ... . the experience was overwhelming - I wanted to die to to be with him again and every potentially happy moment (like the birth of a new grandson) becomes an additional tragedy because he isnt there .... it is only with time that I have reconnected with the part of me that wants to go on living ... and face all my fears of the future without him .... I wish I could have had Tony as a counsellor!!

about wholeness - I have discovered through meditation that there is an experience that is separate from the world - I think said this before - I can experience a great sense of joy and liveliness ,,, just struggle to stay there - I can be doing OK but the smallest little thing can ambush me ... I feel as though I have swum across a deep dark cold ocean and just landed washed up on the beach of an unknown country ... beginning to look around ...

at the very beginning though there is a weird kind of serenity phase like a dream state - and a relief that suffering is ended ... its only later that the gut wrenching pain comes in like Tony said once everyone else has gone back to their daily lives and you are left with yours - dramatically changed ... x
MAY
Hey Luke, thank you for sharing some of your journey. I'm so glad you had an insightful mentor during your PhD to invite you to greater freedom, creatively, professionally and personally. From my experience, understanding our ego's desires is something to be held with great self-patience and grace. Our ego helped us survive and navigate our way in the world and remains with us to protect and benefit us. With the maturity of self-awareness we can notice what it wants, understand where that comes from, thank it for trying to help us and ask it to keep quiet while we attend to what we decide is more authentic and experiment with new ways of being. So I guess, striving for some state of non-ego perfection, in my mind is both futile and harsh on ourselves. What a great wealth of knowledge and experience you have tapped into regarding grief. I agree wholeheartedly with Tony's description of grief and the delaying/complicating effect of our culture's propensity to deny, compartmentalise, minimise and avoid acknowledging both our mortality and deep pain. Barbara's personal story is profound and so very honest. To my experience, grief never goes away because our love for the ones we have lost never goes away, we just adapt to having a different kind of relationship with them and eventually find a way to allow joy and purpose to be in our lives again. I found myself crying a couple of days ago, out of the blue, for a grandfather I lost 30 years ago. I don't know what prompted it, but there it was, prompting me to remember, treasure and acknowledge. Oh - and the stages of grief thing. Originated by the great Elizabeth Kubler-Ross .. Her theory on stages of grief, whilst capturing common experiences has given way to a greater understanding about the large variation in individual experiences of grief and grief reactions. Counselors don't tend to talk about it because we don't want people to think that they aren't normal or doing it "right". From research, we do know what healthy and unheathy (psychologically speaking) grief reactions look like, we know what mediates grief and what complicates it, what the tasks of grief are and what counselors can best do. End of brain dump. So what are you making of all your searching and discussions?

MAY
May, a few queries first, before getting to you question...
* "striving for some state of non-ego perfection..." is that something you are sensing in my what I'm saying. I'd be quite interested to find out. since "striving" and "perfection" are ego things, thus a non-ego perfection seems like an impossibility, but since ego strives for the impossible, not a surprise desire really!
* "but there it is..." that is like a way of simply being the radical experience of acceptance. there it is, anyway.
* and of course you've opened a door ajar onto ideas I know want to know more about... ie. what is the thinking on "what healthy and unhealthy (psychologically speaking) grief reactions look like... what mediates grief and what complicates it... what the tasks of grief are and what counselors can best do"

ROBYN
Luke - I think that what Tony says about grieving is spot on. It happens, without any need for you to direct it. In the first few days, you tend to be able to escape it - though it makes you feel guilt - the mind seems to be able to protect itself, by allowing you the odd moment when you can actually forget what has happened.
On starting afresh - I remember people telling me that I would have a 'fresh start' when my husband died. And I thought it was a really foolish thing to say. Of course it's true, but in the short term, you try to carry on moving in the same direction because that's all you can do. You suffer anger and resentment at having been left - as though the person who's died has left you on purpose, and to hell with the consequences!

Then eventually, you realise that you really do have to move on. It's taken more than 2 years for me to start to be able to do that. A few weeks ago, I even felt happy for no reason - just a sunny day. So joy is returning. But it doesn't stick to a schedule. Everyone's different.


LUKE
To answer your question May. Let me dwell on this right now. Breathing in. Breathing out. Closing my eyes. Remembering the kids book I read yesterday "Old Pig" which is the story of pigs (but people!): a grandmother and granddaughter (no one else), in which the grandmother gets tired one day, and soon later says goodbye to everyone, and then with the young girl they both wonder the streets and parks and lap up the sounds, colours, smells, and then the girl asks grandmother if she could lie with her that night, the final night they were together. And that's that. Which brought tears then as now. 
Conversation seems to be the thing I can do in the face of death, and life. Can do, wish to do. What makes sense. What makes sense if I am to die sooner, or later. If I found out anyone close to me was about to die, or lose the ability to communicate.
So the very process of this discussion is the living that is living with it's dying. This sentence is written with tears (WWT), hot tears, so I know it's something very important. It's the process of conversation. I don't just been talking in the same vicinity, I don't just mean many having a say. I mean that sharing and opening and changing and arcing/aching can happen between us (also WWT).

I don't just want to find something to do in the immediate face of death-fast-approaching. We are all death-coming-to-ourselves, all approaching, some faster than others. I want to find something that is the living-worth-living whether death fast-approaching or slowly, and actually who knows. Tomorrow I may have a fatal accident, or find out I have an fast-action lethal illness, or whatever. 
So I think this was at the nub of my question: what is worth it -- however present the face of death, and life (thanks Lawrence) actually is to us? Having one answer for death-fast-approaching, and another for death-slowly-approaching, doesn't make any sense to me. Of course, the intensities and complexities can be vastly different. But conversation -- that is, an actual emergent living between us -- can happen at any time and seems like the thing that is worthwhile, at least for me right now.
I mean 'Conversation' in the word-sense, but really I'm thinking of any material or medium as context for an emergent sharing and opening together. Not just words. So this could play out across all manner of forms. It's not form-dependent. But it would have a big impact on the forms we are living in and through. I mean, what is a living conversational version of this or that form, versus a closed static un-lively un-sharing version?
On that, I've learnt that what works for me in pouring more out of my mind and heart, is the simple question/directive spoken to me with curiosity by someone else: "tell me more..." It's what you have done by asking "so what are you making of all the searching and discussions?" thanks.

JAMES
This is still continuing?


LUKE
I realise what I've just written is more my general felt sense of everything said, rather than a direct response to anything specific of the generous and beautiful/honest (same thing!) things that people have shared here. Thank you all.


yes, @James. do read and share/join in, if you wish.


BARBARA
Thank you Luke for opening this conversation - we started off with your question about what is worth making in the face of death writing, making, music ... and have traveled far ... and thank you for the opportunity to share my feelings xx one of the most amazing moments for me was singing in Critical Mass in Manchester Cathedral - because of what had happened the experience was transcending - lifted me out of my anguish and sorrow .. very beautiful ... which is why it has meant so much to me - and would say from that deep experience that creativity in the face of death has the power to re-unite our inner core / soul / spirit that gets shattered and splintered by grief and shock - it is healing and full of grace - big thank you Luke ... hey and you thought you were just doing a cool singing thing!!


TAM
^ BEAUTIFUL!!!^ Barbara
I don't have anything significant to add right now, my sand-paper eyes and over-tired brain weren't able to take in a large proportion of what has been written here but in very basic terms, it would be different for each individual and I think would largely be based on what they love or find the most fulfilling. 
When my MIL (mother-in-law) was dying, she wrote a bucket list of all the things she wanted to do before she passed over and then the family set about making it happen. Writing her own letter to the loved ones she was leaving behind was important and having someone to tell all of her last wishes to, helped her to feel complete. This can be surprisingly difficult to find as for most loved ones, it can be too hard to hear - too confronting. (Here I go......I'm on a roll now). For me, it was incredibly fulfilling to be this person for my MIL when no-one else in the family could face it but the emotional upheaval that followed each time was very challenging. Having said that, I wouldn't have had it any other way.


TAM
Hey Tam, thanks for joining. when you say "each time was challenging" what were all those times? do many of those wishes come to fruition? did it matter?

LUKE
Barbara, I remember you mentioning at the time that the vocal event with Super Critical Mass in the cathedral was special to you. It was special to me too. Yeah it was cool singing. But I've known somehow it is more than that, from the time we did the brass event around the lake in the central park of New York. At the final rehearsal, when the work/instructions finally came together, when the brass instruments were playing their long notes, each person their own breath rate, their own body clock, morphing and gong in and out of synch with each other, like some organic full bodied emerging larva lamp of sounds all around... I started to cry very deep sobs. Actually left the room to got out of sight of performers, not that I'm embarrassed to cry in public (that's happened at various times/places) but just not to put them off the run-through. Anyways, it felt then like something very soulful/deep happening in that space. The kind of 'aha' moment where now I know much more of what I want to do (the problem since then is how to do more of this and less of the day job stuff etc etc, another topic). 
Anyways, yes, then the Manchester event was also like this for me. A few times tears welled up. Some of the people that came said they were crying, in public, together. One said it sounded like all of humanity. And I guess when 40 plus singers all spread out through a large cavernous stone building emptied of all its furniture, each singing their own tone, at their own volume and breath rate, choosing notes/pitches individually and intuitively that together combine into an evolving and unpredictable-yet-cogent group harmony, and where you can walk around as the audience and come very close to the singers and hear each person's unique grain of voice, none of which are particularly professionally polished and thus all having a humble exposed beauty to them... then this might be like the sound of humanity. breathing out, emerging together.

Now all this does link to "conversation", or emergent-living-between-us, because as you experienced, the entire creation of the vocal mass was one long, multi-stranded conversation. we didn't come with a pre-planned score/script. we didn't know who would volunteer to join us as the vocalists. what we did was share our story/vision, give some starting ideas, but then have a continual conversation with the singers, with the architect and acoustics of the cathedral, with the cathedral site managers, and then the instruction/algorithm for performing in the event emerged from that. Is that how you remember it. Maybe I romanticise it a bit? Anyways, the whole thing to me feels emergent in process/creation with all the participants and the site and I think this becomes felt/heard in the actual sound-events themselves.

At least, I'm feeling less interested in just adding my ideas so far anymore. Rather I'm interested in making some contexts for ideas to emerge between us, and also a context for others to share their riches. Like this post and comment stream I guess. I know I've written large chunks of the comments, and yet none of this comes without you and others having already shared, and much of what's touched people contributing to the comments have come from each of you, not me. Which feels like something really worthwhile.

I hope this is making sense. It's 1am here.


TAM
In the end, some didn't matter. She wanted a Suckling Pig (Piglet cooked and served whole) but was talked out of it and she didn't really seem to care in the end. "Each of those times" refers to the several conversations that I shared with her. I would go to visit her often and there were a few occasions when I didn't have the children with me. On these occasions, we discussed things like the songs she wanted played at her funeral and wake, did she want a wake, what did her funeral look like for her, what did she want to wear? Very basic things but if you have the opportunity to choose this in advance and you'd like to, why wouldn't you? The difficulty is that not everyone in the family has the capacity to do this for their dying family member, nor even be in the room during such a discussion.

Perhaps being that little bit removed from the family by being an "In-Law" made it a little easier for me, but I also felt like I had my nurse "hat" on. I would be completely fine at the time (we would shed tears together but I was still pretty composed) but when I got into my car to drive away, I would fall apart - over-whelmed by grief. I would cry on the shoulder of anyone I encountered soon after and then I would fall in a heap.....not even care about preparing the evening meal for the family......just non-functional. There were times when I wondered if it was worth it but I knew I had to do it and it did feel so good to be able to do it at the time.

I realised in the weeks after her funeral, my grieving was done. I grieved from the moment she ceased all chemo treatment until the day she was first admitted to hospital. It was like a cloud that sapped me of motivation and squandered my ability to smile freely. My greeting smiles were fake for almost a year. There were times when I could smile and have fun but for the most part of this time, I was probably "clinically depressed" without the clinical diagnosis. Once she was admitted to hospital, the pressure was off and the cloud lifted. When she actually died a few weeks later, although I was sad, I was able to function and write the eulogy and create the photo slideshow for the funeral and even deliver the Eulogy when no-one else in the family was up to it.

The difference is that in this situation, we had time. Death was slow. In terms of grief, it is a vast difference between a quick death and a slow death and also determined greatly by your relationship with that person.

You might have some very interesting conversations with Nat. She is a palliative care nurse and had been thinking about caring for people in the role of a Doula for the dying. She is also considering collating the personal accounts of peoples experiences with death/grief. In her nursing role she has noticed that there is so little information out there to give families of the dying the support and wisdom that they need.

The vibe of your question and responses lead me to think that you're unwell.......what's happening for you?

LUKE
Thanks for more of your story Tam.
I'll ask Nat to join in here too. Ta.

Look, as far as any one would know, I'm fine. Ie, death is slowly approaching, not fast, as in I don't at this point have terminal illness, nor any of my close family members etc. But yeah I haven't said this yet on the comment stream. Partly because from what I can remember no one has directly asked (I can take people literally like that! for better or worse). But also I kind of wanted it hanging out there because (a) really no one knows when the death-coming-faster will dawn for them -- think of the girl who got hit by the wind-swept umbrella at the school pool party last month -- and (b) I want people to really give me what they really think about the life-death stuff and some sense of urgency/gravity can help with that. Many people have given much of their thoughts/time/soul in the comments which has been great. And as I said in the comments above, I want answers that make sense for whether one is dying slower or quicker (not just the final moments alone). Is that too opague of me?

But lots of things do feel like a dying. it happens post metabolism shift in late 20s/early 30s. it happens because with kids some ideas/dreams can't happen, at least in the full-blown state. it happens because various pathways have or are being closed down to me and partner in terms of domestic aspects (long boring story). it happens because what worked yesterday is not working today, relationship-wise. all these things meaning some new way is needing to be grown, whilst old ways are dying.

And Some days I also feel like death is around the corner, and so feeling like I might be face-to-face with the face of death (for me or my close family) does seem like a reality to take heed of.

I was feeling that when I wrote this post.


BARBARA
Yep Luke that was how I experienced Super Critical Mass singing - there was something deeply elemental about the process and the sound that came to fill the space ... very much like all humanity breathing and merging ... also for me a chance to feel merged and flowing with my breath and my inner / outer voice .... I had a really bad cold and almost didnt make it to the performance but had to come .. to finish the conversation that had started x


LUKE
Glad you persevered through the cold Barbara!


SIALL
This is a question that is always with us. I remind myself - I've had to do so often in the last years of caring for someone with a terminal disease - that every poem, story, sculpture, song and dance we've ever seen has been made in the presence of death, and I can only ever answer by looking to the things -- the art and everything else -- I've loved as a guide to what I might make, against and toward death.

LUKE
Hey Siall. Can you say more about what you are guided to do? 

Also, I'm wondering if you are providing an answer to 'how' one might answer the question of what's worth doing. How? But going to what one loves, and be guided by that.

I'm also thinking that if everything even made has been made in the presence of death, that is not really the same as saying that everything made in such presence was worthwhile. Or do you not subscribe to notions like 'worthwhile'. So I still feel the question is there: what is worthwhile? (not just, what is possible?)...

SIALL
I don't mean guided in any spiritual or transcendent sense (except in the sense that we transcends I), I mean guided in terms of thinking about why something moves me, makes the world liveable in the presence of death, and how I can make things that do the same for me and others. I don't think all things are equally worthwhile (in response to Robyn's suggestion and your response there are many things I think are NOT worth doing, like designing landmines) but I accept that what helps me not only endure but live creatively and with hope isn't the same as what does the same for someone else. The things that I respond to are the ones I am guided by. But part of the process of being guided is to think about which things make the world better in full recognition of the inevitability and tragedy of death rather than simply making me forget about death for a while, and I attach more worth to the former than the latter. I interpreted your question as being about this. No poem or dance is going to keep death away for one second; this truth drives people to choose to become geneticists or nurses or doctors rather than writers or choreographers. But no endeavour will keep death away forever; at some point, perhaps (and this goes against all my impulses, for I do not want ever to die) we must learn to welcome death, or to accept it, without allowing its presence to rob life of its gifts and pleasures. The books and paintings and songs etc I like best do more than enhance life or reflect it, they are life's substance. I recommend reading Elaine Scarry's book "The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of of the World", which is a book in two parts. The first provides a very well reasoned response to one of the most vexing questions in human existence, the question of why we commit acts of torture. The second part, which uses the reasoning in the first as the basis for understanding ourselves as individual and collective makers, is about the ethical nature of making things. Scarry is amazing (she's a lit theorist by training, but after the amazing "Body in Pain" she went on to conduct a major investigation of airplane crashes that led to the development of a technology used in most planes today) and her contribution to understanding imagination, consciousness and ethics is very undervalued.

LUKE
Thanks heaps for that Siall. That uncovers a lot. "which things make the world better in full recognition of the inevitability and tragedy of death rather than simply making me forget about death for a while" nice. Will follow up on Scarry (funny name for her topic!); that sounds really intriguing.

Can you say at all for you the things that do tend to "make the world better in full recognition of the inevitability and tragedy of death" - I mean, not to itemise them, but to say how they tend to be in the world? and moving beyond enhancing and reflecting life to being it's substance. this feels important/resonant to me. can you flesh out that a bit. what is life that such things are it's substance? do you mean they are the most important, or are life itself (has the very qualities of living, not just represents or heightens them), or is it something else? and what sorts of things do this for you?


MATTHEW R
haven't read through all the comments here yet, but here are some immediate thoughts that come to mind. it seems post-modernism was a valiant attempt to confront this very question. and in so doing, a dialogue with mortality was initiated that, while useful as a means of moving away from modernism, was limited by the despair surrounding the notion. this, for me, is where post-modernism failed. i adhere to absurdist principals that suggest searching for meaning is an inevitable, but ultimately useless aspect of the human condition. so in considering what one writes when faced with the reality of death, i advocate something which celebrates the temporality of our existence. joy in the ultimate meaninglessness. post modernism started a dialogue it became to depressed to finish. the next step is to truly celebrate, i believe. searching for some element of truth, as hopeless as the notion sounds, in even the smallest thing is a great step toward contributing.

LUKE

Hey Matthew. absurdist and a bit Nietzschean existentialist? "celebrates the temporality of our existence" sounds like it might mean something which I might say as experience-the-livingness-of-living. Reminds me of a Joseph Campbell quote too: "When people say that are looking for the meaning of life, what they're really looking for is a deep experience of it". how might that work for you, and does this link to what you're saying here?

IAN
Wow. An amazing discussion! There's a little something I kind to connect with in almost everything that has been said here. It's something that Dostoyevsky wrote about a lot, especially (as I remember it) in "The Idiot" - although he was pondering the question more than offering answers. And Camus did, too, I think. And I think both of them had answers a bit similar to Matthew's - and I'm inclined to agree. Those writers talked about how, when we're faced with death, we notice the mundane things, the little details that we normally ignore as trivial and unimportant in our constant quest to find importance somewhere else. There's something about that that I take as a lesson for how we maybe should live now, whether we're close to death or not. I do like the idea of everything in the universe fitting together - but in reality it probably doesn't and it would be a shame to end life without ever having learned to love the randomness of it all - or the beauty in its mundaneness. It's perhaps why I have such a love of music that is built out of "the junk" of everyday life. It's something to celebrate rather than discard and maybe, in the face of death, it is more important than ever to do that.


MATTHEW
must pick up some music from the post office before it closes. more soon.


LUKE
Ian, ta. "our constant quest to find importance somewhere else..." this seems key to me. like we are looking in the wrong places? or fixated where living/life aint? for me this is like having goals or end games or ego-fantasies or imagined blueprints which I then try to fit the her-now into. But the here-now is all the interaction we have got and living is in this here-now-interaction. plans, yes, might exist, but I think there's a big difference between a plan that somehow brings us back to here-now, and a plan that sends us off on some wild goose chase. like I said well back in the early comments, for me embracing something of the homely/domestic has been my path back into the here-now.

I'd never really thought of junk/found-object/arte-povera etc as being about this taking not of the so-called trivial/unimportant. it seems obvious now that you've said it. well yes I'm aware of the discourse of art-taking-notice-of-what-we-normally-miss (I talk about this a lot with my own subtle ambient installation work) but I don't think I've ever connected it to living/importance before like right now. Or am I joining dots you didn't intend or would disagree on?

IAN
No they're exactly the dots I, too, am trying to join. It's something that, strangely perhaps, I first began to think about when I listened to the music of Mahler, who often brought a kind of late 19th/early 20th century version of found sounds into his music - the noise of street music, for example, and instruments that had never been used in music beforehand, like cowbells and the constructed wooden hammer in his 6th symphony. It was all because he learned to associate banality and profundity with one another (as a result of a consultation he had with Freud, where he related to Freud an incident from his childhood where the two had been linked by chance). That's where, for me, this thinking began.


LUKE
Right, Mahler of all people. I would not have ever imagined that. Can you link to the Freud/childhood story?

Also, I can never recall who said it or where I read it (anyone to help me here??). but there is this great quote that goes something like: people mistakenly think profound art comes from having profound subject matter. Or maybe it was more like: profound topics to not guarantee profound art. I really like this. the banality-profundity mix somehow is part of this. But also that it's not choosing something that is already sanctioned as important than makes something important. Importance is not inherited, it is created, it is lived into being.


(We could say, almost tautologically, that whatever is important to living, and dying, is that worth doing in the face of death, or life - so I'm changing the angle of the question, which is not: what is important (in general, for living, for dying)? Maybe this seems left field to anyone reading these comments, but at the very least it is a note to myself. To link to the stuff I've been working on regards importance, and the structure of importance.)


IAN
It's a story I read about a few times in various biographies of Mahler, and probably on a few liner notes too - I can't remember exactly where. But its essence was that an incident from Mahler's childhood emerged during his consultation with Freud (I think he went to see Freud because his marriage was in trouble, one of his children had died, and his life was generally quite shitty). The incident was from a particular occasion when his father was in a drunken rage (as happened often) and was violently assaulting his mother and other children. Mahler ran out of the house in terror and, when he got out onto the street, an organ grinder was playing some ridiculous comical nursery rhyme. Through the discussion with Freud, Mahler came to have the view that it was that incident that for him linked forever banality and profundity/tragedy.


GREG
I think this is partly relevant and very beautiful. "Mallarme: Anatole's Tomb- In verse translation"
http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/French/MallarmeAnatole.htm

DAVE
Luke, this is a profound area of discussion. I deal with 'loss' in a variety of its forms in my practice, so I would probably like to add just a little something to the collective wisdom in the discussion. Essentially, we always exist and create and make in the face of death. We are all going to die - it is just the moment is generally unknown. For some, there is a paralysis upon knowing the scope of time left, for others it is a clarion to activity.


But essentially, I suspect the question is one of TIME and PRIORITY, not ACTIVITY per se. What needs to be done, to be created or trade or spiritually invested in, will be done irrespective of the (imposed) timeframe. If it is worth doing at all (as differentiated from what MUST be done), then it is worth doing whether one has been tapped on the shoulder or not. Begin as you plan to proceed...


LUKE
@ Greg, can you say a little about the sense of what is relevant about Mallarme's poem, and what is beautiful to you. Like I said to Robyn up above, don't just chuck a link/title at me!  You know I want to know what you think...

@ Dave. What you say here makes a lot of sense to me, and a more incisive statement of something I was trying to get at, regards wanting an answer to cover whether the death that is always approaching is coming faster or slower. ie, you said "What needs to be done, to be created or trade or spiritually invested in, will be done irrespective of the (imposed) timeframe. If it is worth doing at all (as differentiated from what MUST be done), then it is worth doing whether one has been tapped on the shoulder or not. Begin as you plan to proceed..." Thanks.


LUKE
Dave can you give a gloss of the sorts of loss you deal with and how - some of us have been talking about dealing with grief directly in someway through creative practices. love to know more about how you see this for yourself.


LORNA
Thanks for instigating these amazing conversations Luke. Fascinating stuff indeed. I read Erica's post with particular self-interest, though I was sorry she was hesitant about posting it and seems to have removed it. One of my daughters died briefly last year but she cannot recall any of the day it happened nor the following week in ICU. So it was good to hear from Erica that she had such a different experience, even though those who haven't had the experience can give perfectly rational explanations.


LUKE
Hey Lorna. My pleasure.

MATTHEW R
to hopefully come some way to answering questions raised by my previous post, i shall continue. when i talk of 'search for truth' i speak of something incalculably personal. no two people ever experiencing the same truth. i see greater truth more as an accumulation of all personal truths, and the journey toward growing your own truth is the joy. when you mention 'looking in the wrong places', i have a fundamental issue with this. i don't believe one can truly look in the wrong place. in art, one should aim to illuminate their own truth and have it communicate with the truth of another.


LUKE
I think I get what you mean Matthew. If it's the case what you say, there could be one type of 'wrong' place, and that would simply be to be looking elsewhere other than the personal/unique. For instance, if we though there was a single map/grid/measure/truth that all of us could articulate against and into, that searching for that generic-common-place would be off the mark. One can't search for truth without the possibility of not-truth or lies. And from what you say I'm thinking the not-truth is the myth of the generic-shared-common-experience.

You might be interested in my online sketchbook of ideas around what I call "positive difference" and "negative difference" which is really the difference between the unique and the universal.

http://pluslife.minuslife.net/positive-difference--negative-difference
http://pluslife.minuslife.net/unique-paths--universal-stepspositive difference | negative difference
PLUSLIFE.MINUSLIFE.NET A thousand dyads that are just one: positive difference vs negative difference.







LORNA
Couldn't agree more Luke - this moment is the only one we can be sure of having so for goodness sake make the most of it and all that stuff. It's just that what brings happiness/joy necessarily changes somewhat with age and circumstances (and dealing with grandchildren has greatly coloured my outlook I fear). But I am SO grateful for the access that Facebook gives me to the deep thoughts of the so much younger.


ERICA
I've written something here four times so far, and deleted before posting three times and once after posting, throwing the thread into a little chaos, so sorry for that! I was worried in case it seemed silly or inappropriate in some way, mixed in as it was with the posting of people living through very real and present grief. I’ve been asked to post it again, and do so with love and respect for you all, and for your individual experiences and thoughts on the subject. Ok, so here's a slightly different viewpoint to those offered in this thread so far. That of the person who has died. I died when I was a teenager, long before the cranks got hold of the idea of the near death experience, so I had no model for the experience I had. On a hospital trolley bed thing, being rushed in as an emergency case, I didn't make it, my heart stopped, no pulse, no breathing, was pronounced dead at the scene. Skinny little teenage girl, dead on a trolley surrounded by doctors shoving needles in me, attaching me to machines to give me shocks, all that stuff, but to no avail, and they eventually gave up. I was a little suprised to hear them pronounce me dead, and I was actually floating above the bed, near the ceiling, watching it all happen. When all the fuss was over, and the doctors had gone, I was aware of then being in a dark space, with the scene in the hospital as a small vignette that was visible if i wanted to look, but not really all that important, so I sort of forgot about it. The dark place, or blazingly light place, both and neither, was for all the world like being in Manchester Cathedral that night, when we were standing, eyes closed, at the beginning of the piece, and aware of other none defined presences, but also separate in our own space as we sang our song, unique to each singer, and yet part of a greater whole. When I was dead, it was a little like that, as much as any description of something we have little frame of reference for can be made to match an experience that fits into the bounds of our everyday world. Of course, I didn't remain dead, was given a choice to carry on with my mission or reset and start a new one, and chose to finish the one I'd already started, which didn't feel like a huge choice, more like choosing between two pairs of shoes than anything desperately serious. As soon as I chose, I was drawn back into the cooling corpse, with a sensation similar to being water sucked down a plughole, and sat up, much to the surprise of the nurse who was clearing the room of stuff that had been used in the attempt to save my life a few minutes earlier. I remember well how it felt to be beyond the limits of normal life, and the most vivid part of that is the sense that everything was alright, for everyone, and that all our troubles are phantoms, and part of whatever we'd gone to Earth to learn about, rather than stuff that actually damages us, as beings made of light, or something like light that we have no vocabulary for. So in answer to your original posting, what's worth creating is whatever brings most happiness/satisfaction, and that must be different for each person. It's nice to think about legacy, and the effects on those left behind, but none of it's really all that important to the die-er, as once we've died/moved onto the next phase, everything changes anyway. I'm aware that there are lots of other explanations for my experience that are to do with effects on neurons of oxygen starvation etc, and I never argue with them, but they don't quite satisfy me to the point of entirely invalidating the sense of having been dead and coming back to tell the tale...

BARBARA
Erica that is an amazing story and must have been a life transforming experience .. so glad you chose to come back x I have'nt had the experience of dying but sat with someone when their breath stopped - so being a spectator is the nearest I have been ... the feeling was as you said - in that moment everything "was alright, for everyone, and that all our troubles are phantoms, and part of whatever we'd gone to Earth to learn about, rather than stuff that actually damages us, as beings made of light, or something like light that we have no vocabulary for" the pain of separation and missing love comes later as we struggle to understand why we are here bx

LUKE
Thanks Erica for the re-post. Stunning story. And then we get the insight that to me once you've said it is so clear and simple, and yet something I need to learn or dwell in or something: "what's worth creating is whatever brings most happiness/satisfaction, and that must be different for each person. It's nice to think about legacy, and the effects on those left behind, but none of it's really all that important to the die-er, as once we've died/moved onto the next phase, everything changes anyway." I'm taking "most happiness/satisfaction" in an ecological way -- yeah, what you say could seem like a hedonist me-only trip (most happiness for me) but if we include the others around us in our living - which they already are anyway - then the question of most happiness/satisfaction must include them too.


There was something so simple and clear that cut through to me: that legacy and all manner of things beyond one's death isn't going to effect the die-r, so better to do what brings greater happiness/joy right now... or something like that. Another form of the here-now trope.

ERICA
Thank you Luke, much appreciated, and thank you for encouraging me to re-post. I'm a devil for spooking myself and removing my own posts! Yes, that's how I see the maximum happiness/satisfaction thing. We're only truly happy/satisfied when everyone/everything else is.

MATTHEW
thanks for the link, Luke. i'll have myself a good read of that.

on a personal level, i find the possibility of an absolute truth terribly disquieting. and i like what you say about not-truth and lies. like my interpretation of truth, i believe that non-truth resides at a personal level. that said, i see great importance in the overall movement toward something in which to place one's beliefs. i like the way we all feed of one another's truth. i like my truth to be informed by the truth of others and the like. does that make any sense?


LUKE
Matthew, we are getting into personal vs overall truth, and knowledge sharing and knowledge verification/validation, and epistemology yadda yadda. maybe a different post/comment stream. for now, here's whatI think is a useful beyond-post-modernism take on it that honours both personal-unique-truth and shared-meaning and universe-as-inexhaustible-beyond-mere-words/concepts: "
In having more than one shape, the truth is more, but it isn't a shape" http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2178.html

Lorna, the intergenerational thing on facebook/online is pretty cool. I wouldn't even know the approx age of some people who commented here. That's refreshing. And yeah the next gen always has this refresh thing they do. Makes being around young children so exhilarating. They are creating a different, new world around me. Re-deploying words and ideas I'm familiar-with, but tweaking, playing with and bastardising them etc.

Nat, now you are back, would you like to add to this?


MAC
The generational thing matters. Because how you want to use the time you've got depends on how you see your responsibilities and relationships. How you frame your purposes, hopes and desires tends to vary from one generation to the next. I'm 65, and grew up inside a mix of duty to others and duty to oneself. And to posterity. The duty to oneself grew historically out of the Romantic movement's emphasis on self-expression and genius. Apart from rare instances of Stoicism, the duty to develop yourself was pretty much unheard of before that. You just accepted your place in the grand scheme of things as a given and did your duty. Ambition was common enough but it was seen in Hobbesean terms as a seeking for power rather than self-discovery or self-expression. But Gen X and Gen Y have different stories about how duty works and what's worth desiring and why. Cultural differences also matter. Confucianised cultures, Pacific Islands cultures, traditional cultures construe selfhood and obligation differently, therefore hopes and desires vary between cultures. Many times forty years ago I've asked mates, "Why would you stick at a shit job like this working for a mongrel? They'd laugh and say, "It doesn't matter" and hand around photos of their kids. Almost every big workplace in those days had at least one old bloke who'd survived Changi. THE NAKED ISLAND by Russell Braddon describes Changi and its survivors.