Buzzword Books - unusual, intriguing, intelligent, perceptive

Here, you'll find musings from our authors and staff. We don't promise daily updates. Just posts worth your time.

Thursday, 19 September 2013


Gina Stoner, author of Talks With Al, has studied esoteric systems much of her life. We asked her to share more of her insights with our blog community. Here is the result:

The human is a creature always distracted. Even when we are studying, we are never present to the act. Concentration is not awareness, merely a slightly more intentional form of identification.

Try this experiment. As you read these words, try to be aware of your left foot. Whatever you do, be sure to never forget that you have a left foot.

Simply to say in your head 'left foot' or to clench the toes will not do. And if your foot is shoeless and sockless, touching the foot won't do either. The sense of touch is a sense like hearing. It is not awareness.

So this is not a mental exercise. You are asked to become aware of your foot existentially. Either be aware of the skin of the foot - the actual skin sensation - or become mindful of the foot by sensing it from inside. What is needed here is not a wilful gritting of the teeth. It is much more like relaxation. Something we are not used to at all.

And, if you try, you will soon see that what is suggested is far less simple than the description.

Because no one has ever taught us to be aware of ourselves intrinsically. Our parents and teachers know nothing about it. There are no courses at technical college dealing with self-sensing. We have been taught to live in our heads - to think our lives. And what little attention we have for self-awareness is sucked away by our ever-dominant, random, reactive thoughts. We either think - or experience. In other words, to experience is not mental. It is an awareness involving the whole of ourselves.

So are you aware of your foot now? No. Because you were almost immediately distracted by these words on a screen.

Begin again.

Your Left Foot

Yes, your left foot. Take a moment to explore it.

The foot has a sensitive sole, five toes, a heel, an instep. And it's attached to an ankle. Can you be aware of each in turn?

Start with the sole. Visualise yourself stepping onto gravel. The gravel is rough, sharp. And the sole needs to know this and protect itself by walking as gingerly as possible.

Visualisation is not thinking or representing things to yourself with words. It is a more intelligent process because it does not require sub-vocalisation - the definition of everything we do. So there is a chance that you now have a vague impression of the sole of your left foot. Can you sense the fabric of sock against the skin? The pressure of the shoe?

Now, the toes. Begin with the big one. Can you be aware of it as a separate unit? The nail area, the first joint. The top of the toe. The tip. The sides. The underside. Then the whole toe?

The big toe should be more accessible in this process than the smaller ones. Don't rush it. If you wish to know your toe, as if from inside, it is not a matter of a moment's effort. It is a slow, intentional study. It could be a minute or ten before you are really in touch with your big toe.

Then try the next toe the same way. Now it will be harder.

You see that relating to your foot in a significant way is a more rigorous study than you thought.

You have, of course, stopped reading this to practise what is suggested? No? Too impatient? Or is your precious self far too important to spend time on something so useless?

But in this study, the seemingly least important things are the most vital, significant of all.

Your foot, remember?

But you didn't. You read the last paragraph oblivious to the task. Because we have never learnt to split our attention - to do one thing while attending to another.

P.D. Ouspensky represented this act as a two headed arrow.

<-----------I am aware of my toe while -------> at the same time being aware of what is necessary in outer life.

Are you ready for the next step? Of course not because you have barely attempted the first.

But life doesn't wait for us to catch up. Having failed the first test, you are now presented with something harder. That's how things are.

Stand in front of another person. There will be a conversation - probably social. Don't try this when the interaction is important.

You stand there and they stand there facing you - and you talk.

When they ask you a question such as, 'How are you today?' you respond.
    'Not too bad,' you say. Or whatever you say. But, at the same time, can you be aware of the skin of your face in the same way that you tried with the foot?
    <---------the skin of your face.
    ----------> your response, to the other person.
    Why try this?
    Because, perhaps for the first time in your life, you will then have a new impression of yourself and your world.
    Instead of just reactively talking to another person it will be...
<---------------YOU in front of -----------> ANOTHER.
    Once again simple and fiendishly difficult, because how long will you be able to sustain it?
    If these exercises interest you, there are many more.
    Of course, if they don't, then forget you read this immediately. Because this line of enquiry is not for you.
    Do you still have a foot?

Talks With Al is available on Buzzword. You can also contact Gina to discuss such matters here.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Gilbert & Sullivan Operas—art at the level of immortality

Author Clint Smith is a Gilbert and Sullivan tragic. He tells us he has seen all the Operas several times over the years and even acted in a few. And that they never lose their freshness. Here is his appreciation:

The G&S phenomenon is well documented indeed. Every remaining artifact and anecdote has been mined by books, reviews, miniseries, films and documentaries. Every quip, musical reference, faded photograph, cartoon, playbill, costume sketch, has been lovingly reproduced, repeated, recounted, annotated. 

So there is little more to say. Except to point out that it is now almost 139 years since Trial By Jury was first staged in 1875 and 143 since Thespis (1871).

Any comic opera that survives more than a century is not only notable but also exceptional. And the works of Gilbert and Sullivan are certainly that—derivative at times, weak in patches, but generally so perfectly constructed that the grand edifice appears unmarked by time. And the enthusiasm of everyone who appears in such productions or attends them is equally timeless.

After the triumph of one masterpiece, The Gondoliers, an unusually benign Gilbert wrote to Sullivan: "I must thank you for the magnificent work you have put into this piece. It gives one the chance of shining right through the twentieth century with a reflected light." Sullivan replied: "Don't talk of reflected light. In such a perfect book as The Gondoliers you shine with an individual brilliance which no other writer can hope to attain." Both were right. But neither man could have envisaged that the gracious old operas, like majestic galleons depicted by Turner, would sail not only through the twentieth century with their lilt and brilliance undimmed but into the next—the age of Higgs bosons, Mars rovers, quantum entanglement and stem cells.

This is more remarkable when you consider that, when Thespis was produced, the orchestra wore top hats and the cast rehearsed with handwritten manuscripts because the typewriter had not been invented. And that the whole production was lighted by a central T shaped arrangement of gas jets that illuminated the piece so poorly that anyone not centre-stage vanished into gloom.

Before Gilbert met Sullivan, he was a very successful playwright. His plays are now long forgotten except by G&S researchers. As for Sullivan, that darling of Royalty, he hoped to restore the reputation of British music with serious works such as his oratorios The Prodigal Son and The Light of the World—ponderous attempts now as neglected as Gilbert's plays.

Compared to the sublime composers of Austria and Germany, Sullivan's serious music is mundane. And in his comic operas, his sense of fun and parody of the 'greats' is easily dismissed by those with cultural pretensions. If tunefulness and adroitness is not 'serious' mediocre intellects would not dare not call it 'great'. Consequently, as a composer, he has long listed with the lightweights.

But time is the ultimate art critic and the ageless popularity of the music increasingly affirms its worth. So, as the operas dance through the centuries, the opinion of Sullivan had to be revised. British music has few significant composers. And in that company, Sullivan is a giant. Strangely, this man, who detested being shackled to light opera, yet could toss off the evergreen score of Trial By Jury in a couple of days, consistently failed to see where his supremacy lay. Yet his audience knew it at once. And posterity has proved it right.

As for Gilbert, his translation of his lugubrious Bab Ballads into masterful topsyturveydom, together with his brilliance as a producer/stage manager—unique in his era—and, not least, his admirable good taste, provide virtues enough to secure his position among the exalted. But this was just part of his accomplishment. He did something even more remarkable—wrote satire that is universal. So his operas do not date! And this has thrust him among the immortals with equal thunder, fanfare and acclaim.

The Savoy Operas now grace Grand Opera Theatres—whenever they are seriously short of funds—remain the staple of school musical productions and continue to be enthusiastically produced by amateur and semi-professional groups worldwide.
Gilbert and Sullivan did far more than revive British comic opera (which had languished since The Beggars Opera—150 years before them). They created a body of work, so sparkling, witty and endearing that it will breeze through the twenty-first century and probably the twenty-second.
If that is not evidence of epic artistic achievement, what is?

You can find Clinton Smith's thrillers on Buzzword.