Sunday 21 October 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

It’s that time of the year again when the lines of Stevie Wonder’s dream-like and timeless melody, Visions, make me fall into a seasonal reverie: “I'm not one who makes believe/I know that leaves are green/they only change to brown when autumn comes around”.

Autumn is here. The colourful annual showcase to which nature treats us all and only it (she, maybe? I’ve always seen nature as female) can deliver. Nature, the wise artist who uses her hands deftly to leave behind minute, thin and barely perceptible brush strokes in the landscape. Mamá natura, whose clever fingers manipulate light (including the winding of the clocks back one hour) and give us glorious sunrises and unforgettable sunsets.

This time around the arrival of autumn was unintentionally enhanced by my reading a beautifully crafted essay in the latest issue of Intelligent Life, the bi-monthly lifestyle and culture magazine published by The Economist. Entitled “The Uses of Difficulty”, the article purported to explain the reason(s) why some people placed hurdles in their way to achieve their goals. To quote two examples from the article, Ian Leslie the author, states that “In 1966, soon after the Beatles had finished work on Rubber Soul, Paul McCartney looked into the possibility of going to America to record their next album. The equipment in American studios was more advanced than anything in Britain, which had led the Beatles’ great rivals, the Rolling Stones, to make their latest album, Aftermath, in Los Angeles. McCartney found that EMI’s contractual clauses made it prohibitively expensive to follow suit, and the Beatles had to make do with the primitive technology of Abbey Road.

Leslie’s conclusion in the essay was that this technological obstacle, far from hindering the band’s development, encouraged them to create their most groundbreaking work. He certainly has a point. The Beatles’ Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are probably the Fab Four’s finest hour, with the latter topping the list as the all-time best Beatles record.

The second example involves the poet Ted Hughes. Hughes sat on the judging panel of an annual poetry competition for British schoolchildren for more than two decades, beginning in the 60s. During the 80s he noticed how some poems became longer. They were still fluent and inventive, and yet, they were in, Ted’s opinion, “strangely boring”. He later found out that many of these pieces had been written on computers, some of which had just surfaced in people’s houses for the first time.

On analysing Hughes’ response to this phenomenon – for him putting pen to paper was meeting “the terrible resistance of what happened your first year at it, when you couldn’t write at all” – Ian Leslie resorts to scientific research. Apparently there’s evidence that handwriting activates more of the brain than keyboard writing.

Leslie’s essay will come as a surprise to those who think that the quicker and easier an obstacle is overcome or removed, the better we’ll feel about ourselves. Actually, as human beings, we’re perfectly equipped to deal with difficult situations, especially those that require more time, concentration and effort. And even though sometimes we feel frustrated when we’re incapable of solving these situations, the thought processes we apply to the solution of these problems help us develop skills of which we might not have been aware before.

The article also made me ponder if this notion of “desirable difficulties” was only applicable to human beings. That’s when I thought of autumn and nature. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been asked by well-meaning folk if I don’t find the grim and grey weather in the UK a too stark and unbearable contrast to the sunny and warm temperatures in my native Cuba. “I hope you didn’t relocate to London for the weather”, they usually say. Well, surprise, surprise! The number one reason why I live here is that I fell in love with a British woman and we decided to settle in Great Britain. But if I hadn’t met my wife and still had had the opportunity to move here, I would have done it. For the weather. There’s nothing like waking up in the morning to the first rays of warm spring sunshine after a harsh winter.

The change of seasons in the UK is probably one of the most beautiful spectacles I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Living here for close to fifteen years now has convinced me that nature is the living proof of those “desirable difficulties” Leslie mentions in his essay. In order to have an explosion of life and colour in spring we need the barrenness of winter which usually starts with autumn’s impressionistic wild brush strokes. These are nature’s own barriers.

It’s almost as if every year nature challenges herself to end life in order to start it all over again. The obstacles nature places in her own way – fallen leaves, naked trees, monochromatic landscapes, cold temperatures – are a way of boosting her creativity, in my view. Without what John Keats called the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness/close bosom-friend of the maturing sun” we wouldn’t be able to appreciate summer’s warm weather and clear, blue skies.

That might be the number one reason why I fell for autumn’s charm many years ago. Because just like The Beatles had to make do with rudimentary equipment or Jack White – formerly of The White Stripes – uses inexpensive guitars that won’t stay in tune, autumn is nature’s first step in remodelling and rebuilding our landscape. It is a barrier, not the kind that blocks progress, but the kind that encourages creativity. If you don’t believe me, look outside your window now and tell me. What’s your take on that beautiful and colourful kaleidoscope? Does it put a spell on you? Because it already has on me.

© 2012

Photos taken by the blog author.

Next Post: “Let’s Talk About…” to be published on Wednesday 24th October at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. nice...i love jack white man....we is so creative...anyway...ha...i love autumn too but i dont know that i ever really looked at it in this was either...

    i feel what hughes is saying...i usually write most of my stuff in my notebook first then transfer it...i think as well that technology has opened the door for many to do it, which on one level one may think dilutes the art but then again it is beautiful to watch someone take those first steps...and i would rather more feel it than few....

    sorry for rambling...ha....happy sunday...

  2. It ALWAYS puts a spell on me! October seems like such a magical, transitional month. The beauty of the season is also an important lesson in letting go so that other good things can come.

  3. Fall in Seattle means wonderfully rich colors, lots of rain, and shorter days. I've got lights on, and it's not even four o'clock. Love it! Great pictures!

  4. I've read several essays on fall, and this one has to be my favorite. The article you read sounds terribly interesting, although I chafed at Ted Hughes' disdain of the computer and/or typewriter. I find that using a computer enables my writing to fly out of me, as if I were channeling it. While I can understand that stopping, musing, stretching one's cramped fingers, hearing the scratch on the pad, might improve thought and make it more complex, I think the muse, the creating comes no matter. But I'm generally grumpy when it comes to Hughes, anyway!

    And thanks, too, for the song -- I love it.

  5. It was only when I moved to a place where there were only two extreme seasons that I learned to appreciate the four mild seasons of the Britain climate. I miss the spring and summer and autumn and I even miss the winter. The UK has a special temperate climate that is much nicer than Britons give it credit for being.


  6. moved to GB because of the weather...made me smile...even more after that rainy summer...but i understand what you mean...the them as well

  7. Thank you, Cuban, for the fascinating information about the value of putting pen to paper.

    Best regards from Boston . . .

  8. This is a wonderful post Cuban, you took me through. In Malaysia, we love and welcome rain as a change in weather, but only if we are in bed :) Not when we are in traffic!

    I enjoyed the song too. And Cuban, this is oceangirl.

  9. Some have taken this to extraordinary lengths. Members of Oulipo, for example. (Stands for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle; roughly translated: "workshop of potential literature)One of their number (Perec) wrote a 300 page novel without using the letter "e"!

    Fascinating post. Thanks for.

  10. Some great music...on a Wednesday morning ~ though meant for Sunday, it works very well today with my cup of tea :) Fall is just a magical season...sad to see the leaves falling, but we wouldn't appreciate it (much like year round summer ~ eh?) if it didn't change I think!
    Enjoy the rest of your week!!

  11. Ah yes I love autumn. It has been one of the best ever here in Tennessee. Glad to hear it's nice there too. Wonderful selection of music as always.

  12. Many thanks for your kind comments. I'm having the time of my life with the lovely, autumnal weather we've been having.

    Greetings from London.

  13. Love is a good reason to settle in England. I enjoyed these autumnal musings and photos. I have a friend who teaches Renaissance Lit who is convinced everyone should write by pen (or quill?) but having done both, I much prefer a keyboard, even more so for revision. It would be easier to write an 80 word pen long hand than an 80,000 word novel!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...