New Year Thoughts on Grief and Friendship

On New Year’s Eve, we stood outside — four of us gathered in the back garden — and we watched the fireworks blossoming in the sky over the rooftops. It was a cold, clear night. We had been drinking wine and eating Chinese food. I wasn’t feeling particularly celebratory, after what has been a punishing year; but it felt important, nevertheless, to mark the occasion, to say farewell properly to a year in which everything in life changed for me. …

The Obligatory Christmas Blog Post

A year ago today, on Christmas day, I was with my partner Elee, having breakfast in the cold and faintly damp restaurant of the Red Age Themed Hotel, in the town of Anren in Sichuan. We were there to visit the Jianchuan Museum Cluster, an extraordinary private museum complex dedicated to the various sufferings of recent Chinese history. The ideal Christmas date, in other words. We were joined at our breakfast table by the Old Revolutionary and his daughter. The …

The Cheerfulness that Keeps Breaking Through

  O gather up the brokenness And bring it to me now The fragrance of those promises You never dared to vow   The splinters that you carry The cross you left behind Come healing of the body Come healing of the mind   We were in kitchen, you and I. It was February, not long after we had received the worst of news. Outside it was still winter. I was cooking, and you were at the sink washing up. We were …

The Inferno of the Living, or Business as Usual

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize …

Under the radar, close to the ground…

At the end of this year, I will be leaving my long-standing permanent academic post, and I will be setting out for more uncertain territory. This has been a decision that has been a long time coming, but in the light of all the changes that have taken place this year, — all of the difficulty, uncertainty, upheaval and sheer, raw grief and sadness — it seems timely to move on to something new. In January, I will be taking …

A Poem for Elee

It is two weeks since the death from cancer of Elee Kirk — who for so long has been my closest companion, wisest advisor and greatest friend. And so I find myself sitting here, watching the wheeling seagulls over the rooftops, looking up into the blue of the late summer sky, and thinking how much Elee loved evenings such as this one. And I find myself thinking how — had circumstances been different, were it not for some copyist’s error at …

This is not the apocalypse

So, I woke up this morning to find that yesterday we voted leave in the EU referendum, that over the next few years here in the UK we will be going through the painful — and unspeakably boring — process of disentangling ourselves from European Union legislation. And it will be boring. Nobody in the Leave campaign bothered to mention how boring it will be. But now that it is happening, it’s probably time to admit that it won’t be the joyous …

The Liu Xie and Wenxin Diaolong Memorial Hall, Nanjing

I’m back at Schipol airport, heading home after a hectic week and a half in China. I still have a few bits and pieces to write up, but I thought I’d post some images from Nanjing, where I visited the Liu Xie and Wenxin Diaolong Memorial Hall (刘勰与文心雕龙纪念馆). I’ve long been an admirer of The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons, Liu’s sixth century text on the nature and practice of writing, and as I’m writing about Liu at …

Rituals and Changes

Just under a week ago, I arrived back in China for a short visit, to attend the Second Wuxi Yijing World Summit Forum (第二届世界易经高峰论坛) in Wuxi city, a large annual gathering for enthusiasts of the Book of Changes or Yijing (I Ching). After a few months away from China, it is good to be back. And it has been an extremely stimulating few days spent in the company of an eclectic mix of scholars, devotees, diviners, financial speculators, geomancers, Buddhists, …

Life, despite everything

It is a beautiful, clear Easter morning, and I’m back here in the UK sitting on the sofa with the cat, drinking coffee, and taking it easy. If I’ve not been very active here on the blog for a while, it is in part because the last few weeks have been somewhat demanding. Back in January, just before I headed to Australia for the conference on cultivation and wisdom in Greek and Chinese philosophy, my partner Elee went into hospital …