Listening to George

Last week, I went on one of those creative roller-coasters that only happen occasionally.  It involved walking around the local park on a bright wintry day letting my thoughts follow their own course, beginning with how tired and low I was feeling, onto the Australian bush fires, then to reminding myself to look for the beauty around me, to the difficulty of cultural appropriation, to observing how nature had placed tufts of moss on a park bench, to how happy the woman looked who was sitting on the bench reading a book.   

I realise that might sound exhausting, but when I returned to the warm of home I managed to link all these things together into one logical strand, so I went straight to my laptop and just let it unfurl into the rough draft of an essay.  Then, an hour or so later, I mentioned the moss on the benches to someone else and he told me about antifragility, a word coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to describe nature’s way of coming back stronger and more vigorous after being decimated by man-made or natural disasters.  I went back to my laptop to research antifragility, and it went into the essay too.

By the end of this process I had over a thousand words and I felt exhilarated, more than a little pleased with myself, but also bewildered with how this could have happened.  Like most writers I’m superstitious when it comes to my writing routine, convinced that I need a very special set of circumstances for the creativity to flourish (a fresh morning mind, a light breakfast with strong black coffee, and most importantly, silence and solitude).  Yes it was morning, but this was the only criteria I’d met.  I was also walking with another person, which is a sure-fire way to derail any kind of personal thought-flow, although he is mostly a silent walker, an under-valued trait in any human, I believe.

Strangely, I knew even as it was happening what had caused this rare flare of connectedness.

Before my walk I’d been listening to George the Poet’s podcast, inventively titled Have You Heard George’s Podcast?.  I discovered him after a few references on Radio 4, although it was only in the past few days that I’d actually got around to listening.  George Mpanga is a poet (obviously), but he’s also a commentator, an investigator, a researcher, each episode so packed with ideas (social, cultural, creative) that I’m often torn between hitting the pause button to allow the shift in my thinking, or staying immersed in the mesmerizing brilliance of what he’s created.  He doesn’t just deliver his material (definitely nothing like a Radio 4 program, no rule following involved), instead crafting his material with carefully chosen language (often in rhyming couplets), vivid dramatisation and clips of music, speech, poetry, whatever is relevant to the subject he’s exploring.  These subjects include the realities of growing up as a young black man, the Grenfell Tower fire, his relationship with his work,  the competing forces of contentment and ambition, to name but a few…. a wide-ranging list that’s both personal and universal.

It seems he has a wonderfully elastic mind, able to bounce between forms to gather up the resonant snippets to weave into something new, delivering a message with an astonishing amount of elegance and artistry.  What’s more, he makes this appear effortless.  Of course, making something appear effortless actually takes a lot of effort, but I suspect he’s helped by that elastic mind of his.

I’m pretty sure this was why my mind was so active that morning.  That elasticity had both pulled me in and pushed me out, my mind activated by what he was saying and how he was saying it, my thoughts primed to see the world fresh and complete and connected.  It reminded me that sitting inside my head is a real danger, my thoughts like frustrated children locked in the house when there’s a playground right outside.  George’s podcast was like a glistening key to open the door, open my mind so it could hear and feel, see and play and explore.

So whether you want to write an essay, discover some new ideas, or listen to some poetry, go and listen to George’s podcast.  He will change your morning.

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