My morning reflection time has become a routine of getting up a little earlier, starting the day without screens and easing into the day by listening to background radio news and reading some books that have been sitting on shelves for a very long time. Not stressing about reading fast, or reading a lot at any one sitting, but whatever feels right on the day – a few pages of this book, a chapter of that… Then getting into the more ‘active’ part of the day, not rushing for a particular deadline to leave the house to catch a specific train, but leaving when I’m ready and getting the train that turns up – they’re every 10 minutes after all. Why stress about 10 minutes when I like to be early to work anyway – it’s not going to impact anything other than anxiety levels.
It’s been quite a revolution when it comes to nurturing the restful mind (rather than the less effective ‘busy mind’). This less stressful start to the day also prioritises spending a few extra minutes with the kids without getting annoyed at them for asking for another cup of milk (or the lights on, or a very specific TV program, etc…).
In this manner I’m re-reading ‘In Praise of Slow’ by Carl Honoré and for the first time round, Christopher Isherwood‘s Diaries (Volume 1, 1939-1960). It’s early days with the Isherwood book – I’m only 37 pages into the 1104 page tome but already there have been some passages of note, and a reference to the Tibetan Book of the Dead which I was able to pull of the shelf, dust off and read a section that Isherwood had been describing; a very satisfying outcome!
The Diaries begin in January 1939 when Europe is at the brink of war – with Nazi aggression towards European countries, Isherwood is a pacifist and deeply troubled by the prospect of conflict and the role he would play, protest or otherwise, should conscription be enforced.
By this time, at the age of 34, Isherwood is a published writer, lecturer and broadcaster and sailing to New York to begin a new life. His travelling companion and very good friend is W. H. Auden and among his many other friends is Aldous Huxley (Brave New World, Doors of Perception, After Many a Summer). I cross referenced his acquaintance with ‘Huxley’ to determine it was indeed Aldous, not quite believing he was good friends with one of my heroes.
This is the passage that really jumped out, from May 17th, 1939:
“The mornings were always the same, brilliant blue. The far mountains paled to silhouettes in the midday glare. Then the shadows moved sideways, shifting the sunshine inch by inch from the terrace, and the lizards disappeared, and the valley deepened and darkened back into color and the hills cooled and hardened into scarred contours of ocher and crimson, and it was evening – another day which Chamberlain and I had wasted.”
…and the lizards disappeared, and the valley deepened and darkened back into color and the hills cooled and hardened into scarred contours of ocher and crimson, and it was evening…
It feels like the ‘Diarist’ has become ‘Poet’ in this passage – the pace pushed along with alliteration and tension sustained with the repeated use of ‘and’, used so skillfully it makes the passage feel musical rather than documentary. The imagery is wonderfully evocative, recalling the relentless passage of time and the endless, unchanging beat of the universe, finally admitting his idleness, observing this phenomena from the porch day after day – Isherwood likens his inaction to Chamberlain and his pre-war procrastination.
It is worth noting at this time that Isherwood was alone day after day in a new home in the Hollywood Hills, his partner Vernon having begun art school, leaving Isherwood alone with his thoughts, only distracted by the radio reports of a diminishing peace in Europe.