Somehow My Life Has Become Books…

I’ve been working in a bookshop for almost two weeks now. I do not like the moments or hours when I feel like a moderately intelligent zombie moving people towards books and books towards people, but I do like the often strange, weird, funny and sometimes surprisingly touching conversation you have with strangers who are looking for a particular book.

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I also have more patience for reading since my life has considerably slowed down (still not sure what to think of this). I finished Philip Pullman’s wonderful rendition of “Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm” today. It’s a bit odd to read translations of tales that I could easily read in the original but Pullman really brings out the beautiful storytelling that makes the tales so damn good. The same mechanics are used in almost every form of storytelling, movies, TV, advertisement…I found a lot of understanding how fairy tales work as well as heaps of inspiration for writing and for Dancing Tales.

The best tales might be those that borrow from older traditions and those that carve out particular and unique new traditions. Also, it must be hell to write a convincing new version of classics like Briar Rose…

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…speaking of which, I also finished Neil Gaiman’s “The Sleeper and the Spindle”. I don’t want to spoil too much and just say that if you go into the story after having seen Chris Riddell’s image of a sort-of Snow White kissing a sort of Briar Rose and think you know what you’re in for, you’re in for a surprise. It’s a bit like “Stardust” and a bit like “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”, just a lot shorter and it is a convincing new version of Briar Rose and quite a bit more (with gorgeous and delicate artwork).

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Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner or the Illusions of Morality

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Hate the sin but love the sinner. This is one of the Christian morals that I can attempt to understand. It is certainly better to despise an act and not a person, although in its more extreme form this view will lead to an utterly inflexible worldview where every act is considered separate from the circumstance necessitating it and where there is a hierarchy of sinful acts, each considered more atrocious than the one before and each deserving of a progressively prohibitive punishment.

In my view an act is not separate from the person acting. Cannot be. We’re not automatons that certain acts happen to according to a divine scale of retribution but we decide because of various interdependent motives and we can change our motives and our actions to better adapt to a situation and improve the chances of a positive outcome. We’re born improvisers. We’re born spontaneous and every mental construct is a burden to the natural expression of mind and spirit (yet, quite paradoxically, rather often the natural expression of the mind is the construction of such burdensome mental ballast out of spontaneous moments).

We’re variables, not constants. In fact, we’re a chain of variables so complex and diverse that the concept of “we” and “I” are probably no more than temporary illusions.

The Christian belief is that a sin creates an indelible tear in a permanent moral space. That is why it is so frightening. It is an intrusion of a demonic entity into otherwise pure space. Original sin changed the world utterly from a paradise into the occasionally hellish limbo that we find ourselves in. Yet we have a chance to return to it, to this childlike world of wonder and speaking animals. I like the second part from a purely psychological view. We all yearn to a certain degree to return to childhood and safety, so why not dream of Eden?

Yet safety and the childhood dreams are all illusion and if taken as literally real become prisons of thought. The pain and the moral anguish that we suffer as we grow older is equally an illusion. It is a drama of the senses and the intellect that has very little, if anything, to do with our actual experience.

Of course it is frightening for a devout Christian to consider that sin is not real and that an act, kind or awful, really makes very little impression on the universe. It may make a lot of impression on another person, equally inhibited in their eternity of morals or entirely free of them, but the universe really couldn’t care less. Whatever you do, it will just continue being the universe and that is being naturally spontaneous in infinite variations.

In the mind of some people declaring sin unreal equals declaring salvation unreal. Declaring the most trivial aspect of god unreal equals declaring god’s most essential aspect unreal for a mind trained in literal rigidity or for a person who has quite a lot invested in the hope of personal salvation by an ultimately benevolent deity.  

Of course most of us fall right in the middle. Between childlike faith and existential reason. We fluctuate and that is a very good state to be in.

Conversations with a Nomad

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I am a nomad. It’s a perfectly normal thing for me to change places every other day. Pack my bags and go. I spend the summer touring for work and visits and, even though I suffer from a certain fatigue after a while of working unpredictable hours, I enjoy it a lot.

For the past years I needed to balance this with friends and family. I have very close bonds to my friends and my family, so the time I spend with them is (as perceived by me) rather intense and important. Because I know I will be going away again.

I have very rarely entertained serious thoughts of settling down. In my mind and heart I am very settled down. I have a clear idea of where I want my life to head and I am working on it. I don’t think there is a better idea of home than this. That’s why I am a nomad.

Now while I am settling down in the most impermanent of fashions – looking for a job to tide me over the winter months – I still feel this to be an unnatural strain. Or rather, I cannot quite understand the priorities and principles of settled people. My backpack is still packed after six weeks at home.

When I am travelling I realize how large and how interesting the world is. You don’t even need to travel to understand this. Walk for ten minutes and it has changed. Turn around and talk to someone else and it has changed.

The most important topic of conversation for a nomad is this: Who are you and where are you going?

Now the answer to this is not necessarily, I’m Dave and I’m going to get some beer.

What I am asking is, In your head and heart, who are you at this moment and what is your goal, be that spiritual, physical, emotional or financial?

You see, I assume that these things change, after all you are human not static. That’s why I want to know them. They are, truthfully, the only questions that interest me. If you are someone interesting and if you’re going to a nice place, I might come along. Or I might invite you to come along because I am heading to a similar place.

I don’t want to talk to show off how clever or funny I am. I’m not interested in a contract or an agreement or a plan for my future. I have all these things, as much as anyone can have them.

I’m not interested in hearing how hard life is for you or what you dislike. This does not turn you into a deeper person for me. If you are sad, show me the depth of your sadness and if you are happy I want to see the depth of your joy. I want to see you be a human being.

I think there’s a secret world behind even the most ordinary things – one of strong emotions, the imagination, of occasional madness and passion – but this world or these worlds, for there are many, only work when contrasted, merged or shared with each other. If the worlds are as different as possible to your own, it becomes much more intriguing and rewarding to share and so I like to move around and talk to people from walks of life and from backgrounds that are utterly removed from my own. This is much easier if I am a nomad.

Diversity and contradiction keeps my mind alive and my interest in everything intact.

So…who are you and where are you going?

Terranigma

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Welcome to our mysterious home – I would like to introduce all of you to a project of mine. This is an introduction, but also an attempt to raise funds, so if you are allergic to such requests, stop reading right now 😉

Terranigma (terra = earth, enigma = riddle, terranigma – the earth as an eternal riddle) is a project that I conceived of in 2013, inspired by a preceding visit to the Himalaya region of Spiti in Northwestern India and by conversations and work with fellow travellers, photographers and filmmakers. My goal is to create a platform to preserve and document some of the most remote, strange and culturally valuable places and traditions on our planet through photography and writing.

After seeing ancient monasteries and thousand year old traditions in the valleys of the High Himalaya I came to realize that much of this wealth might be – and probably will be gone from the face of the earth forever in five to ten years time.

The world changes at a breakneck pace. Change, as a matter of fact, is the only thing that is constant in our existence. I want to record and show the world in the way I percieve it while I am travelling: as a deeply fascinating, fragile place full of mysteries and riddles, full of life, of traditions and also of change.

Do you consider such a project worthwhile? If you do, I am asking you to seriously consider supporting it. I aim to create a platform for various photographers and independent documentary filmmakers to collect knowledge of disappearing things. This must – out of necessity – start with my own photography.

This is what I am asking you: If you think it worthwhile, go to my website (http://www.sebastianbuchner.weebly.com/terranigma.html) and have a look at the PDF file. I am offering all of these images for sale in various formats, from very large to very small, from expensive to really cheap.

All money raised this way goes directly into funding further travels and to help create an online platform for photography, documentary film and independent cultural or anthropological reporting. I don’t expect this will be easy or that anything at all will happen without a serious amount of work – I am thankful for anyone who takes enough time to look at it and perhaps is willing to share it as well.

Thank you,
Sebastian Buchner.

How to Start a Journey

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I love the view from a plane. Details disappear, faces, bodies, houses, villages – making way for the features of the land: rivers, forests, fields, mountains, clouds. The world becomes both smaller and larger and I become very quiet.

  This is when I realize that I am starting something new. The world, my world, with its clear details and inimitable instances becomes one of many similar worlds. I learn what – in my life – is similar to hundred other lives, when I watch the landscape and its repetitions. And I learn what – in my life – is unique.

  The distance takes away all the needless clutter of my life, leaving the few essentials – of love, of friendship, of trust – burning in me.

  This is when I realize that I can leave for a long time. The world seems open, an endless patterned thing of repetitions and uniqueness. I feel some fear, but it is refreshing. This merely wakes me up.

  When I get back down, all those many dreams of leaving and of travelling, they will become solid instances of life. The world is large indeed and just the right kind of the same everywhere.

OpenArt – Workshops for Painting/Drawing/Photography And Dance All Over the Globe

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OpenArt ist der Versuch von mir, Sebastian Buchner, und meiner Mutter, Christine Buchner, Kunst, Kreativität und Reisen miteinander zu verbinden. Wir bieten seit 2010 Workshops in Fotografie und Malerei an den unterschiedlichsten Plätzen der Welt an. Bisher haben wir Workshops in Europa, Afrika und Asien geplant und durchgeführt.

Dazu mieten wir gemeinsam mit einer bewusst klein gehaltenen Gruppe eine Basis, ein Haus oder ein Riad oder ein großes Apartment oder eine Villa, in der wir genug Platz haben diese Workshops durchzuführen und das in einer Umgebung steht, die uns reichhaltige Motive für die künstlerische Tätigkeit liefert.

Wir arbeiten beide als Künstler und Kursleiter – ich habe zusätzlich mehrjährige Erfahrung als Reiseleiter, die mir hier bei Organisation und Durchführung der Workshops sehr zugute kommt – und möchten unsere Philosophie des Reisens mit offenen Augen mit diesen Workshops vermitteln. Nach Möglichkeit versuchen wir in Kontakt mit regionalen und lokalen Künstlern zu treten und sie bitten, ihre Arbeit mit den Besuchern zu teilen.

Es ist zwar eine Gruppenreise, aber sie ist mit dem Geist einer Individualreise organisiert. Wir arbeiten nicht nach Fließband und liefern vorgefertigte Erfahrungen, sondern jede Reise ist einzigartig und wächst mit der Teilnahme der Mitreisenden. Unerwartetes, die eigentliche Essenz des Reisens, versuchen wir nicht zu vermeiden nur um zweifelhaften Komfort und steril-reibungslosen Ablauf zu bieten.

Programm sind unsere Workshops, die meistens halbtägig ablaufen. In manchen Fällen haben wir Ausflüge organisiert, aber wir achten immer darauf, dass es genug Freiraum für Improvisation gibt.

Mit 2014 freue ich mich sehr, dass wir zusätzlich zu Malerei und Fotografie auch Tanzworkshops anbieten können. Die werden geleitet von der wunderbaren Tänzerin Michaela Hamajova, die solo und als Teil des Tanzduos Nakari nationale und internationale Auftritte und mehrere Jahre Workshoperfahrung vorweisen kann. Sie tanzt in der faszinierenden Welt von Tribal Dance – eine Art des Tanzes in der uralte und moderne Einflüsse aus der ganzen Welt zusammenkommen und wo der Fokus auf individuellem Ausdruck, Improvisation und Kreativität liegt. Eine Bereicherung unseres Angebotes, das besser kaum in die Philosophie von OpenArt passen kann.

Das hier ist unsere Vorstellung der Philosophie, Idee und der Veranstalter. Wir arbeiten derzeit am Programm für 2014, das wir bald präsentieren können. Für interessierte, das verbleibende Programm von 2013 ist auf unserer Seite http://www.openart.or.at zu finden.

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OpenArt is the attempt of myself, Sebastian Buchner, and my mother, Christine Buchner to bridge creativity, art and travel, the fundaments of our lives. OpenArt offers painting and photography workshops all around the world, allowing people to experience foreign cultures through art and develop their own creativity. We started this program in 2010 and have so far offered courses in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Our basic setup goes like this: We rent a place that serves as our headquarters. This can be a loft, a villa, a riad or an alternative style homestead. From these headquarters, where there is ample space to conduct the workshops, cook our own meals if desired and to have some space of one’s own as well as the comfort of the group, we explore the surroundings, looking for ideal motifs to sketch or places and people to photograph.

Both of us have experience working as artists and conducting workshops – in addition I have been working as a tour guide for several years and can benefit from this experience while I organize the workshops and scout for new locations. Our philosophy is all about traveling with open eyes, an open mind and an open heart. Whenever we have the possibility we try to work with local artists and encourage them to show us their work and methods.

We are traveling with a group, yes, but we do our best to organize the workshops in the spirit of individual traveling. This is not a factory-made, all-expenses-paid, resort-and-animator style workshop, but a communal and cultural and above all creative experience. It requires participation, but it also rewards it. Additionally we do not try to eliminate the Unexpected – a staple of every journey – but we try to embrace it.

The program consists of our workshops. These usually take up half the day. Some days we organize excursions or meetings, but there is always enough room for improvisation.

From 2014 (and hopefully onward) I am very happy to introduce a new aspect of OpenArt. Dance workshops. Those are led by the wonderful dancer and teacher Michaela Hamajova. She has been dancing nationally and internationally as a solo dancer and as member of the duo Nakari and has been teaching workshops for several years. Her style of dance is Tribal, an eclectic mix of ancient and modern traditions that emphasizes personal creativity, individual expression and improvisation. I couldn’t imagine a better fit for OpenArt’s philosophy.

This is simply our introduction – we hope we have presented the philosophy and idea behind OpenArt in a convincing manner. Currently we are working on our program for 2014. For anyone who is interested in the current program, may I refer you to our website: http://www.openart.or.at

Book Review: Patrick French, India

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  I picked up Patrick French’s book on India with quite some joy, having read his excellent and disillusioned book on Tibet and the slightly dusty, but remarkably detailed biography of Francis Younghusband and come away with information that I had not held before and a new, if slightly darker view of his topics. At the time I held this thought to be more mature – after all I did not want to be one of the people who know next to nothing about the places they visit, travelling only out of a sense of hedonistic adventure.

  But India, French’s book, proved to be a massive disappointment to me. This time I knew the subject matter quite intimately and French struck me as unbearably posh and conceited. An ivory tower wannabe mover and shaker who, the one or two times he stoops down to touch something a little more low brow, comes across as prejudiced and completely uniformed about the nature of the people he writes about. There is no humor and only the most rigid self awareness in his writing. His gift to render history clear and lucid is still there, but his endless focus on politics and economy is very wearying to me, because he possesses no real human understanding of his characters…the book is called The Biography of a Billion people, but the only people French is interested in are the high politicos. Yet the allure of India is that these politicians cannot lead as separate an existence as their ounterparts might be able to in other parts of the world. One cannot write about the rulers of a country without understanding the motivations of the people that are being ruled. The myriad of common fates that make India what it is are simply being ignored by French because he finds the few people who move mountains of money and wield power much more interesting.

  He seems to treat them with the same disdain of invisibility that he employed to write about the Western visitors to MacLeod Ganj who seemed so much beneath his notice and beneath him when he had returned from Tibet, where he had worked himself into disillusionment. The tragedy that he described in Tibet, Tibet seems now much more his own illusion of grandeur, less the despairing realization that Tibet was, in a manner, doomed. French’s self-importance starts at little things – speaking about Christopher Lee acting in a film about Jinnah without having seen it as if the casting choice could only have been a political decision – to his unerring belief that his interpretations are the only true and valid that makes his writing a guideline, perhaps, but a very unreliable one.

  Overall French’s book is very disappointing to me. Highbrow and unpleasantly British – perhaps it would have been fun bedside reading for Governor General Curzon, but for me it was uninvolving and presented a very slanted and unrealistic view of multifaceted India.