Trains of Thought
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I. 23-29/01/17; Muddled Energy

Thoughts from the train (Class 365, mostly).

Genetics; variations on a theme; phenotype and genotype; the collective and the individual unconscious.

We moderns want definiteness, clarity, precision from the world around us, but our lives are all muddled. More and more technology is available to provide clarity, but the human operator is overwhelmed. The technical capability is much more than we need to solve our simple problems.

The more technology becomes available, the more focused we must be.

Analogue technologies require an investment in time. They settle into your life as you adapt. It’s an organic growth. Paul Auster writes his novels by hand, types them out on a typewriter and then hands the copy on for digitization. Life does not open up with a swipe of the finger. Analogize you digital tools. You must not digitize your life.

When something is easy, it’s a potential distraction. Nothing is valuable without engagement, agency, intention. A good watercolourist has faith: the mess of colour and water over penciled lines will develop and become whole. He sees it in his mind’s eye. He won’t compete with his subjects, won’t become distracted by them. What does the painting want? Decide what to do and give it what it wants.

Like a work of watercolour, wine is made intentionally. What distinguishes average from good? Can you recognize intention? Good wine contains a decipherable message from its maker or the land it came from. There’s a discernible signal.

The railway track wood is frosted white. Connoisseurs talk about ballast, balises, profiles, fishplates, heads, beds, sleepers, floating slab, bullhead, foot and web.

The passengers eject onto the platform. Behold the shabby elegance of the London white-collar: his satchel frayed at the edges, the leather’s marrow exposed. The unpressed suit trousers, a thousand wrinkles inside the knee. The shoulders sloped forward and tilted toward the satchel, gait effective and well-practiced.

Some time later: slight sense of unease entering one of those deep seated trains. It’s usually a Class 700 going this way. In the older Thameslink Class 319 you have three facing three on benches and two facing two seated on the other side of the aisle, where it is too narrow to stand comfortably when the train is full. A grey divider splits the luridly pink pole into two to turn it into a frame for the luggage rack.

Children learn to distinguish cars, but not trains. In a more egalitarian society it would be the other way around. We would celebrate the variety of British Rail classes, not the sight of a luxury car.

The worn bricks of Farringdon through glass that faintly reflects the white hat with a fur tassel worn by the woman on the side.

A man with a dark overcoat and a rimmed hat passed by, reminding you of a classic film but now you’re already at the next station: bright red coat passing by and out again to City Thameslink; there are no smudged bricks here, it’s a smooth white metallic surface criss-crossed with silver veins and out into a short section of graffiti wall then an office at eye level and the Thames from London Blackfriars.

Foggy, grey, soft light. Every time on the bridge reminds me of Whistler. (Old Battersea Bridge, Blue and Silver – Chelsea?) The people walking across Millennium bridge look like ants. Then stone square buildings, older bricks and balconies with chairs and tables, a make-believe setup: as if it could be pleasant to eat your breakfast here, in sight of the passing commuter. Skylights, trees, scaffolds and green-iron bridges.

It was the wrong train! Idiot. That’s why the train had those low  seats. There is no service back to Blackfriars — an earlier train broke down, many must be trapped behind it. The estimated arrival time moves forward: stuck at 8 minutes from now. So the backup is Denmark Hill then Clapham then the destination. The soupy fog has gobbled all the trains, the infrastructure creaks. “Metroisation” is a distant dream.

Garages in the arches. Entrepreneurship, that’s what it looks like: scratching by.

Gettin’ Around by Gene Ammons keeps the spirits up, spirits detached from the annoyance of commuting. The important thing is that there is a path to follow. The mess will become whole. You’re not stranded as long as there’s an alternative route.

London is a scrappy developing city. Equipment lies fallow, construction looks unplanned, haphazard and hazardous. A city devolving and the weeds and rubbish claim the unloved wasted corners of real estate.

The morning’s long commutes bled into the day. The gash of wasted time widened, an elevated pulse kept the body throbbing, but pointlessly.

The decline of elegance: tan-suits, brown shoes, woolly hats, high-vis. Meetings are comedies of errors. The outcome of one meeting is another meeting. Time chained into hours, hours chained into meetings. Opportunity for character studies: a hardened, wiser face; deep wrinkles, John Berger like. Another meeting; minds remain unmet. A three hour commute: fatality on the tracks.

Here we are again, speeding towards the city. There’s more light, the sun has risen, it’s two hours later than usual. Yesterday’s lost time makes itself felt like a damp sock. Most stress is self induced. It’s about building up the immune system. These words here are my T-Cells.

On the way to the station, pink ribbon clouds floated lazily; the moon was a slivered sickle. When was the last time you heard someone talk about workaholism? The prekariat is back. Digital wolves threaten to swallow so much work. Either way: work-thoughts are an invasive species, raiding the neuronal undergrowth, throttling the imagination.

The train pulls through the tunnels that signal the approaching station; the mist thickens and the pinkish hues disappear; another tunnel and the fog is back. Variations in temperature catch or repel the fog, I suppose.

How many different walls there are. Granite decorated with moss, light brick, red medium aged brick, dark and crumbly dirty brick. A mosaic of walls. At least 5 mins to go but people are getting out of their seats already. Why not sit a while longer? A lonely windmill stands dead-still. A development of light brick houses. Each house has a red stripe 2/3rds up the wall. What was that flourish for?

A walk to Origin Coffee. Easy-going atmosphere, a small oasis of taste and polite service from the coffee bar-keeper; attendant; sommelier, mild-mannered connoisseur: a coffee man. A businessman comes in and the coffee man says he’ll be with him in a moment. He has two coffees to make, including mine. It takes a bit of time to get it all right. The grinds, the settings, the milk. The business man says OK, but walks out less than a minute later. Time is money or perhaps he just remembered something or he didn’t like the music as much. The coffee man watches him go, not bothered but there are thoughts on his face. He could have taken the order and locked him in. People want to be locked in and swept along in a predictable process. What is more comforting than waiting to be served by a coffee-man you sympathize with?

There’s something wrong with my mouth, I can’t articulate. Another effect of yesterday’s tiredness, still bleeding into today. But the coffee-man understands that I am asking about the syringe on the counter. It’s to sample espresso with a refractometer, to check the density of the coffee, he says, so I don’t have to drink hundreds of espressos a day, only tens. Even a master must check his taste.

There are always two options: open up or control; speak your mind or mind what you say. A good conversation is a bit like Jazz. You need a theme and rhythm and intention and you must be a master of you instrument. Ted Gioia writes about the lessons that Jazz masters give. Sidney Bechet’s advice is to play and practice a single note all day: “growl it, smear it, flat it, sharp it, do anything you want to it.” It might be worth re-reading Nick Morgan’s “Power Cues” as a kind of Jazz manual.

Why do we like movies so much? Jack Ma wants to focus Alibaba on the primary wants: health and happiness: 2H Strategy. Everyone is unhappy, he says in a YouTube video filmed at Davos: The poor are unhappy, the rich are unhappy. At least when we watch a movie we are happy. It’s funny how a thought can sound interesting in conversation but utterly banal in writing.

What is it about movies that makes us happy? Why not just read movie synopses or wine critic notes and scores? That would be more efficient.Critics transport analogue experiences into words. Words are the demi-monde between the analogue and digital. Then the dimension-reduction continues as the written record is collapsed into a number score. Movies provide the analogue comfort that human society depends on: a story told around a flickering light.

Andrew Ross Sorkin has studied Charlie Rose. “What is the ambition for Alibaba in the entertainment world?” The way the pitch rises and falls, rising from what to amb – then dropping on bition. Two small quavers then another drop in pitch to round out the question. You can imagine Charlie Rose asking the same question to a higher standard.

Even as male CEOs publicly discard their suits and ties in honor of Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie, at Davos, the ties are back. Similarly, when the tech-chiefs met Trump, all the men had ties on (except Thiel). Zuckerberg skipped that meeting. But he did wear a tie when he met Xi Jinping. The codes are muddled. How does it add up? Consumers want to see intention in the products they buy. Steve Jobs and Donald Trump have consistent images and a sartorial directness that projects intention. In contrast, Obama said: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits… I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” In other words: my energy is limited. People don’t like that.

Fog at Stevenage and an orange-jacketed station man runs the length of the train: has the driver forgotten something? Is a door stuck? On the move again, past a factory, a cement factory?

To what extent does how and what you write depend on the tools you use? Paper and pen is different from paper and pencil is different from thumbing out this text on the phone which again is different to working with a computer. The primary difference is speed. You have to think faster to touch-type, so a computer works best when you’re fresh and when you can see what you want on the page in your mind’s eye.

With pen and paper it’s harder to go back and edit so you get closer to the bone. Pencil is softer, there’s really no reason it should make a difference, but it does, one of those things that can be felt but not expressed. And the phone gives you the slower speed of writing by hand with the ability to edit. Writing on a small device is handy, opens new options, there’s no setup cost. You can even try to write as you walk.

The traveler opposite reminds me of the red-haired suicidal poet in that pre-Raphaelite painting, except that this one is only sleeping so the colours are different. The eyelids look exaggerated and large, they have a purple shade. The ears are pinkish, like a baby’s face is, the upper lip is purple too but with more red than eyelids have. It all depends on the light. (Out of the fog with more light the colour converged.) The lower lip is redder on the inside where it is wetter.

Emirates Stadium; a medley of modern apartment buildings, tunnel, graffitied pillars, longer tunnel, passengers beginning to rustle their papers, time to think about arrival.

One thing about being tired is that you begin to feel like you’re forgetting stuff, losing things. You keep on checking and patting your pockets. Memory and attention isn’t keeping up the pace.

Why is it more difficult to write in the evening? Is it just tiredness? The immunity to sources of distraction and their temptations is lower. Is it possible to rationalize the drive towards sources of distraction? Digital playthings and the allure of losing yourself into their nothingness. You should either focus, meditate or day-dream/sleep. A train journey without a written record shall be classified as a waste of time.

Like tiredness, it seems that Trump’s vocabulary is beginning to seep into the heads of ordinary, respectable businessmen. For the first time, I heard someone being described admiringly as “high-energy.”

How long will it be until the high/low energy paradigm enters the Human Resource department’s employee performance review vocabulary?

As the weekend winds down, it’s the perfect time to drink some Luberon Rosé. Cambridge Wine Merchants call it “Light, airy, graceful and very drinkable.” We will see about the energy.

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