Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The balm in Gilead

I’ll stop in from the break to post this one thing, which I have just realized I should have posted on Christmas Eve. A few days before Christmas I finished Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, and found it the most incandescent book, to steal a word from the last page.

One of the things that is extraordinary about the book is what Marilynne Robinson actually gets away with. If ever a work of fiction titled towards ‘preaching’ this one does, but it does so with such immense gentleness and grace that the whole world of literature responds (it won a Pulitzer). There is a sympathy that stirs in this book which is enticingly beautiful. And the last dozen or so pages are amongst the most exquisite dozen or so pages I have read. I read them again and again, as the tears streamed off my face. Here is a portion (which I don’t think gives away any of the story, if you want to read it yourself):

‘How could he possibly leave now!’ she says. That’s a fair question, I suppose, but I think I know the answer to it. The house will fill up with those estimable people and their husbands and wives and their pretty children. How could he [the wayward son] be there in the midst of it all with that sad and splendid treasure in his heart? ...

I can tell you this, that if I’d married some rosy dame and she had given me ten children and they had each given me ten grandchildren, I’d leave them all, on Christmas Eve, on the coldest night of the world, and walk a thousand miles just for the sight of your face, your mother’s face. And if I never found you, my comfort would be in that hope, my lonely and singular hope, which could not exist in the whole of Creation except in my heart and in the heart of the Lord. That is just a way of saying I could never thank God sufficiently for the splendor He has hidden from the world – your mother excepted, of course – and revealed to me in your sweetly ordinary face. Those kind Boughton brothers and sisters would be ashamed of the wealth of their lives beside the seeming poverty of Jack’s life, and he would utterly and bitterly prefer what he had lost to everything they had. That is not a tolerable state of mind to be in, as I am well aware.

And old Boughton, if he could stand up out of his chair, out of his decrepitude and crankiness and sorrow and limitation, would abandon all those handsome children of his, mild and confident as they are, and follow after that one son whom he has never known, whom he has favored as one does a wound, and he would protect him as a father cannot, defend him with a strength he does not have, sustain him with a bounty beyond any resource he could ever dream of having. If Boughton could be himself, he would utterly pardon every transgression, past, present, and to come, whether or not it was a transgression in fact or his to pardon. He would be that extravagant. That is a thing I would love to see.

As I have told you, I myself was the good son, so to speak, the one who never left his father’s house – even when his father did, a fact which surely puts my credentials beyond all challenge. I am one of those righteous for whom the rejoicing in heaven will be comparatively restrained. And that’s all right. There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence? ...

... Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true. ‘He will wipe the tears from all faces.’ It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas and Fare thee Well

Well, this will most likely be it for 2009, since I am off to Queensland after work today. So, thank you very much for reading along this year and I hope you all have a joyful Christmas and New Year. Someone here at work actually gave me a scanner they don't need anymore yesterday, so 2010 on Something This Foggy Day might be a year with more pictures.

I might go out with a link to this post called Holidays Clarify our Pain over at Practical Theology for Women.

(I have to confess, I don't especially like going to Christmas - because it is hardly "home" I go to these days - by myself every year, feeling like the family freak (and there's always those people who ask you if you have any "news", though I think they've all given up now). And every year I come back and can't help the hope that maybe the next one will be different, and there will be someone to go with and some hope of having a family of my own. But then the next Christmas rolls around the same as the last, I get on a plane by myself again, and the hope gets dimmer with each one that passes. So that's why I like this post.)

And so goodbye, and God bless.

Monday, December 21, 2009

CS Lewis on obedience and what God foreknows

This is a little spooky. I've been reading the chapter on Human Pain in The Problem of Pain by CS Lewis rather slowly (and intermittently), because there is so much in it. And I read the quote posted today at Desiring God, the other day and very nearly posted it, with some of what comes before it under "the third operation of suffering" (though I suppose there's nothing that serendipitous in one of 8,152 subscribers - and that's only in google reader - reading the same book!). Since I am carrying the book around with me, I will add in a section that comes before, then snitch that bit from Desiring God:

It has sometimes been asked whether God commands certain things because they are right, or whether certain things are right because God commands them ... believe ... that 'they err who think that of the will of God to do this or that there is no reason besides His will' [quoted from Hooker, Laws of Eccl. Polity]. God's will is determined by His wisdom which always perceives, and His goodness which always embraces, the intrinsically good. But when we have said that God commands things only because they are good, we must add that one of the things intrinsically good is that rational creatures should freely surrender themselves to their Creator in obedience. The content of our obedience - the thing we are commanded to do - will always be something intrinsically good, something we ought to do even if (by an impossible supposition) God had not commanded it. But in addition to the content, the mere obeying is also intrinsically good, for, in obeying, a rational creature consciously enacts its creaturely role, reverses the act by which we fell, treads Adam's dance backwards, and returns. (Pp 99-100)
Then, reflecting on why God put Abraham's faith to the test by commanding him to offer his son, Lewis says,

If God then is omniscient, he must have known what Abraham would do, without any experiment. Why then this needless torture?" But as St. Augustine points out, whatever God knew, Abraham at any rate did not know that his obedience would endure such a command until the event taught him: and the obedience which he did not know that he would choose, he cannot be said to have chosen. The reality of Abraham's obedience was the act itself; and what God knew in knowing that Abraham "would obey" was Abraham's actual obedience on that mountain top a that moment. To say that God "need not have tried the experiment" is to say that because God knows, the thing known by God need not to exist. (The Problem of Pain, 101)

I am a winner!

My ship just keeps on coming in right now - I just won another Penguin competition! This time I won two tickets to see Bright Star, with a spiel about being a wannabe poet and an admirer of Grieg Fraser's cinematography (he also filmed the stunning Last Ride) or some such thing. Woo-ooh! I am looking forward to it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Christmas Recipe Meme - Holly table decorations

The lovely Ally has tagged me in a Christmas recipe meme. These are the rules (how do some people manage to indent stuff on blogs? - one of the things I am going to do one of these days is learn some more HTML):

  • Link to the person who ‘tagged’ you.
  • Post the rules on your blog.
  • Post your favourite Christmas recipe – something traditionally festive or something that has become a tradition in your house.
  • Tag four people at the end of your post.
  • Let each person know they have been tagged by commenting on their blog.
  • Let the tagger know the entry is posted on your blog.
  • Post your own Christmas recipe within a week of being tagged to keep this on the move.

  • I might break some of these rules. Because I always travel home for Christmas (oh to have a house in Sydney big enough for family visits!) I don't have so many traditional recipes. I am more prone to trying to make some exotic specialty each year, some of which work, some of which don't (the fig and hazelnut panforte seemed like a good idea at the time, but fiddling around with hot liquid glucose is not something I'm recommending!). So, way back here I showed you some table decorations I made for Christmas in July, and I thought I would give you more detailed instructions on those.


    It's really quite simple. You need:

  • red and green cellophane (I bought this in Go-Lo)
  • pipe cleaners (I bought these tinsel ones also in Go-Lo, otherwise ordinary red and green ones are good)
  • jaffas
  • mint leaves (you can't always get these in supermarkets, but K-Mart is good)

  • First you cut the cellophane into squares that are big enough to wrap around the jaffas and leaves with an inch or so left for tying them together (don't be too skimpy on the green, because it needs to make it down the length of the leaves). Then you simply fold the cellophane from the middle over the jaffas and leaves, and twist the ends. I think they look better with the fat ends of the leaves facing out, which you need to think about when wrapping them.

    For each decoration you need three jaffas, two leaves, and in this case I used half a pipe cleaner.


    First get the three jaffas together and twist one end of the pipe cleaner firmly around them, then get the two leaves behind the jaffas and wind the rest of the pipe cleaner around them, any old how that makes it all stay together (I tried to take these photos in the other hand, because my other fingernail looked better, and couldn't, so thankfully my nails didn't really come out).




    And voila! You have yourself edible decorations. As I mentioned in that last post, you can scatter them around for some Christmas cheer on the table (or supper tables at church or wherever), add them to place cards, hang them over a wine glass, add them to your tree, or whatever takes your fancy.


    I don't think I'll tag anyone, because it looks like nearly everyone I know has been tagged already, and presumably a Christmas recipe meme is only good for so long, but if you want to share your favourite, please do!

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    The liberation in the uselessness of plans

    After making vague reference to “some military general” in the post below, I couldn’t help myself and went googling. It turns out I was quoting none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II, before he was the 34th President of the United States, only what he really said was:
    In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.
    And it would seem his original source was a “statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything".

    So there you have it, those are the facts, true and accurate (as per Wikipedia anyhow).

    I find that a liberating notion really, because it means that plans were not all a waste of time, or an humiliation, even if things don’t go ‘according to plan’, in the end. You have gained something in the planning (I don’t know what exactly – but maybe a clarity of purpose, strategy, possibilities, needs, wishes or some such thing).

    And sometimes a random thought that came along generates a second blog post, and that's OK ... There isn't enough money in the world to make me want to be the Commander leading anybody into a World War, or the President of the United States, but I might go and write a book list.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    My book-laden ship comes in

    Every now and then, just every now and then, your ship comes in, in the small things.

    I have become a frequenter of op shops around my local area, and find the whole business rather hit and miss – some days you score, and some days you think it’s a pile of smelly, dirty, old junk (I guess that’s why it’s called “opportunity” shopping really). Anyway, lately my local op shop as been stocking in the books – they’ve been stocking in just about everything actually, such that it’s getting so cramped in there you can hardly move, and a person now has to be in the frame of mind to venture in.

    I’ve never been very rapt by the book selection, until this one day. I told you I have been reading about CS Lewis’s poetry, and there is a work that is often referred to, which is his preface to Milton’s Paradise Lost. Would you believe I found Lewis’s Preface to Paradise Lost for $2 in the op shop – what are the chances? (Whether I actually read it or not is the thing, since I am yet to get through Paradise Lost from beginning to end - much as I like poetry, epic or narrative poetry is not my favourite - but for $2, who cares.) I have also been wanting to read some of Kazuo Ishiguro for some time now, and I picked up Never Let Me Go for $4 (which is being released as a movie next year I believe, so I will be all primed). I have also long been wanting to revisit Alice in Wonderland (because I can’t remember it) and thinking it would be nice to get a copy with the original illustrations by John Tenniel, and I found this boxed set of the works of Lewis Carroll, in hardback with illustrations by John Tenniel, for $10. I’ve also thought I should have a go at Margaret Atwood, and I got Oryx and Crake for $3. Win, win win!

    The other day I thought I should actually formulate a reading list for next year, which might help me be a little bit more systematic - not to mention realistic - in how I go about things, and not buy books willy-nilly either, and started jotting. So far it’s almost all a pile of fiction! - but take a look at Jean's list here. I think I need to at least write one. If plans are useless but planning is essential (I believe some military general said that - and my usual modus operandi is based only on the first portion), maybe my list will also prove useless, but the writing of it will be in some way beneficial.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Trust and Contentment

    So, it’s all been on the lower end of meaningful and encouraging and Godward and uplifting around here lately. But if I was to write such posts, I might hope they would approximate to what you find in these two books – so here they are for you, in commendation. Especially if Christmas is a time of year that contains its hard things, or its pain or disappointment in reflecting on the year that’s past.

    I am never so sure what to suggest you do with “devotional” books, because they don’t seem quite like reading your bible to me (and I would apply that even to Charles Spurgeons’s great Morning and Evening) in that it is usually a discussion arising from one or two verses of Scripture, coming at you in any sort of order. So I tend to read these as extras, which might sound like more than some people can manage, but they really are worth reading through in whatever moment you can fit them in (that said I haven’t started on Contentment yet, and am still pondering my way through Trust). Lydia Brownback is a single woman, if that is a fact that is of some note for you – not that these books are by any means limited to women in that state, but to say that it is a state she identifies with.

    I couldn’t decide on any one example of a reading to post for you, because there are many that have hit me where they found me at the time, but you can find out more about the books, see the contents and read excerpts over at Crossway's website here (just keep clicking through, and there are two more titles coming next year). If you’re looking for something to soak up for the holiday period, these might be just the thing.

    US Book Depository

    Is it just me who didn’t know that the Book Depository also has a US store (www.bookdepository.com), with the same deal of free international postage? You can compare prices between the UK (www.bookdepository.co.uk) and the US sites, in Australian dollars, and sometimes one is cheaper than the other!

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    You shall love your crooked neighbour

    I read this yesterday over at Abraham Piper's Twenty Two Words, and was lured in to read the rest. I haven't read a whole lot of Auden, and poems like this one rather make me think I should give up, it's so beautiful. I might turn this verse into a magnet:

    … O stand, stand at the window
    As the tears scald and start;
    You shall love your crooked neighbour
    With your crooked heart …

    -W. H. Auden

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    Apple heads

    I do think this is rather cool!


    (And if you know all about Macs, but don't know your art - ie you have a serious geek problem :) - here is the original, The Son of Man, by Rene Magritte.)

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    Poetry - The Hole

    I did the second day of my poetry course yesterday and it was just fabulous. I learnt things which were quite a revelation to me, which I will refrain from detailing here because the audience for a poetry lesson is a limited one, but they might appear in dribs and drabs.

    Anyway, I thought I’d be brave and give you an original poem, though you can expect better things from this point on, with my increased awareness. I wrote this poem some time ago, and have hesitated to post it, mainly because I thought there are those out there who might question my theological soundness or my personal faith (which I don't think is necessary - though I guess the writer never would - mainly because I think poetry can express the range of human experience, in much the same way as the Psalms do, and still be "faithful", which is a whole other topic that has been discussed elsewhere - and I digress in my own defence). But at the other end I have made some very good friends through this poem, because they have read it and thought “ah, yes” and a conversation began. And that to me is one of the possibilities of poetry.

    I took this one along to workshop because I had questions about it and I asked Judith if it worked OK given it’s total lack of structure, and she nodded and said it did because it had a metaphorical structure, so that was interesting. It is not about a romantic scenario by the way - I actually took some of the particulars out of this one, so readers could fill in their own. So without further ado:

    The Hole

    Today I met someone
    Met someone and
    found a hole
    inside myself

    The God-shaped hole
    is full
    Still there are other holes,
    less vital
    not less empty
    I live (and praise)
    yet suffer their void

    Till came a sudden
    flood of solace
    Hole filling
    with rising ache
    Unknown gap
    now craving

    ***

    The filler of the hole
    went away
    Left me
    Sounding the edge
    Hole gaping

    Since then
    I have a map
    I know the place
    the length and depth
    of the hole

    Now I know
    what’s not there

    ©ALP 2009

    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    His Tremendousness

    One of the girls I work with likes to read the Obituaries in the paper, so she drew my attention to this curious story. Here's an excerpt:
    His Tremendousness Giorgio Carbone was the elected prince of Seborga, a self-proclaimed principality on the Italian Riviera.

    He claimed the sovereignty of Seborga (population 364) from the Italian government in 1963 and took the title His Tremendousness. A former flower grower, he produced documents from the Vatican archives to prove that the village was never the property of the House of Savoy and therefore not part of the Kingdom of Italy after 1861. He insisted that Seborga had been a sovereign state since 954, a principality from 1079, and minted its own coins after 1666.
    And the best part (I love this motto!):
    Seborga has its own flag, a white cross on a blue background, a patron saint, St Bernard, and a Latin motto: Sub Umbra Sede (Sit in the shade).

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Freezing roasts?

    I was having some friends over for dinner tonight and thought I’d be all Christmassy, since I never do the real Christmas lunch myself because I always have to travel to family, and have roast turkey. Unfortunately it has now been postponed due to illness, so I now have this lump of turkey that has already been frozen (and defrosted). Does anyone know what happens if you roast meat, then freeze it (whole) then thaw it again? I’m guessing the result would be something rather terrible ...

    One of music's finest things

    I know I have posted this on facebook before (and had a conversation regarding the strange blurb about "privatising city hall plaza" on the end) but it would appear I haven't posted it here, and it would hardly be the blog of Ali without it!

    Gordon Cheng put it up the other day - he has good taste ;) - on one of those rare occasions when for some reason I get on facebook in the morning before leaving for work (very bad idea!) and it made me late. So, here is what I think is one of the very finest moments in music. It is Yo-Yo Ma playing the Prelude to Bach's Cello Suite No 1. For your Friday enjoyment:

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Megadoilies

    A few people have been made redundant here today, and while I think I am safe, I am keeping this in mind for my cottage industries back up!

    You say Babushka, I say Matryoshka

    So I thought I might be totally out of the loop with the latest craft trends and living in ignorance and that there might be some fine but significant difference, unknown to the uneducated and undiscerning, between Matryoshka dolls and Babushka dolls - but no, they are exactly the same thing! I snuck away to do that research on the side that you do when you're feeling a little unsure of your own position, and don't want to let on in public that you're confused or unfamiliar with "Continental" things, but Wikipedia has now settled it for me, and I can be confident once more of where I stand and that I have some idea what everyone's talking about.

    DIY bird ornaments

    I love these! Maybe not in hot pink, because I am a Christmas traditionalist, but I am a fan of all things about birds. The instructions and pattern are here. H/T Apartment Therapy.



    Wednesday, December 09, 2009

    The rise of conversation starters

    Has anyone else noticed, in their Christmas shopping rounds, that everywhere this year you can buy little boxes of cards called "Conversation Starters"? They're in stationery shops, they're in book shops, they're in clothes shops (I am sure I actually saw them on a table near the front of the store in Sussan, or was it Portmans, and maybe even in Sportsgirl) and just about everywhere (here's an example). And there are different versions of them all as well, as in dinner party conversation starters, family conversation starters etc. Out of curiousity I have flicked through a few, and the questions are neither extraordinary or profound, but mostly the usual "ice-breaker" type of questions, though occasionally I've come across one like "tell us about a time when you felt lonely", which could get all very deep and serious.

    It's probably just that they are the kind of thing on which there would be a huge mark up on production cost, and people would like them if they're looking for those "gifts with meaning", but you can't help wondering, if they are walking out of the shops, whether people are genuinely wanting/needing help with conversation (and have to get out and be more sociable at Christmas time than usual!) or are pleased to have a way to start talking and get to know people that doesn't involve having to be totally direct (I'm tempted to make up a little box of all those weird things I've ever wanted to ask someone, then say 'hey let's play a game!', and blame it on the card).

    Anyway, just curious, that's all. I'm hoping we won't need to pull out a box of "family conversation starters" over Christmas lunch this year, but you never know (and I guess there'd be plenty of worse things to do).

    Monday, December 07, 2009

    Poetry Day - 150,000 crocuses

    I've told you that Judith Beveridge is teaching the poetry course I am doing, so here is one of her poems, from here. I chose this one mostly because it is shorter, and I know blog readers, but you might like to read some of her others also.


    The Saffron Picker

    It is necessary to pick 150,000 crocuses
    in order to produce one kilogram of saffron.


    Soon, she’ll crouch again above each crocus,
    feel how the scales set by fate, by misfortune
    are an awesome tonnage: a weight opposing

    time. Soon, the sun will transpose its shadows
    onto the faces of her children. She knows
    equations: how many stigmas balance each

    day with the next; how many days divvy up
    the one meal; how many rounds of a lustrous
    table the sun must go before enough yellow

    makes a spoonful heavy. She spreads a cloth,
    calls to the competing zeroes of her children’s
    mouths. An apronful becomes her standard —

    and those purple fields of unfair equivalence.
    Always that weight in her apron: the indivisible
    hunger that never has the levity of flowers.

    Judith Beveridge

    Photo from: http://www.profumo.it/images/foto_grandi/saffron.jpg

    Australians are tragics

    Unfortunately, this is true.

    Saturday, December 05, 2009

    The why of studying poetry

    So I had day one of the poetry course today. Afterwards I went to the Finders Keepers design markets, and now I want to give up my day job and just be all metaphorical and creative. The course was very good. Judith Beveridge, who is head of the school of poetry at Sydney University, taught us well about such things as imagery and lineation. Then the workshopping was all very encouraging but very instructive as well.

    She also reiterated that poetry is a hard art form, that it’s difficult and has a high failure rate. Scary – but I think a lot of people believe that poetry should happen by magic, and doesn’t require earnest investment from those with the gift, which is simply not true. Granted there are those who will be poets and those who will never be, irrespective of training and effort, as there are those who will excel in pole vault and those who never will. But there is a skill and technique to poetry worth learning, which is precisely why I went to the course.

    I came home to find this somewhat surprising quote from Christian Bok on the Poetry.org facebook page. You can read it in full here on facebook (the previous paragraph is amusing):
    The more delicate components of the work pay attention to craft. I’m probably very technically oriented and it seems to me that among the poets that I know, many are very lazy and very dumb. I always joke with my students that poetry couldn’t possibly be as hard as they think it is, because if it were as hard as they thought it was, poets wouldn’t do it. Really, they’re the laziest, stupidest people I know? They became poets in part because they were demoted to that job, right? You should never tell your students to write what they know because, of course, they know nothing: they’re poets! If they knew something, they’d be in that discipline actually doing it right?: they’d be in history or physics or math or business or whatever it is where they could excel. I find this very distressing that the challenge of being a poet is in effect to showcase something wondrous or uncanny, if not sublime, about the use of language itself - that we tend to think that because we’re conditioned to use language every day as part of a social contract, we should all be incipient poets, when in fact people have actually dedicated years or decades of their lives to this kind of practice in order to become adept at it. And I think that craft and technique are part of that. If poetry weren’t informed by models of craft then nobody would need take a creative writing course. I joke with my students again that if it was simply a matter of saying, “You known you’ve written a good poem just because; you’ll know it’s a good poem when it happens.” To me, that’s tantamount to telling your students that “You should just use the force, Luke” in order to write a poem. I don’t think it’s very helpful. But to be able to say “Here’s a series of rules of thumb that always work under all circumstances and if you adopt them slavishly, blindly, you can always be assured of writing something, producing something of merit.” It’s important that students are at least reassured that there are some technical aptitudes that they can adopt.
    Anyhoo. Practice, practice, practice. But I came home and for some reason decided to make the biggest mess ever rearranging my room. I like it though. It's more open, and now when I sit at the desk I can look out the window at those plants I lugged here from my moving friends and beyond.

    Friday, December 04, 2009

    Poetic fashion

    I am going to the first installment of my poetry course tomorrow. I just found myself wondering what to wear so I look all poetic, which probably just disqualified me for the art. Experience tells me that the poets, or all the creative writing sorts, are the very least “artistically” dressed. They’re too sort of lost in a world of symbolism and metaphor to notice, or maybe too absorbed in expressing what they want to say in other (non-visual) ways to care about what their clothes are saying (who was it who said “if I don’t want to listen to you, why would I want to listen to your sweater”, or something like it? - could I market that on a t-shirt?). They’ll probably all be sitting there in the most comfortable outfit they have, because who wants to be distracted by stupid (ie non-functional, irritating or superfluous) articles of clothing, with their sneakers on.

    Dependent relationships

    Overcomers Outreach this week was another great night. I just love being there and listening to people share their stories. Because we are an umbrella 12-step program we don't delve into the details of specific addictions/self-destructive behaviours in the actual meeting, so some of them I want to find out more about later.

    One of the addictions I am curious about right now is "co-dependent relationships". I listen and I think, 'isn't just about everybody in co-dependent relationships?' - OK, so I know there are degrees of such things, but I wonder whether most people would have times in their lives when, for one reason or another, they veer into that scenario, or some kind of "attachment" problem etc. So I am curious about what exactly this addiction is, or where these things cross the line into something that takes you off to a 12-step group. I came home with yet another book to read, so I will see how that goes. (If anyone has anything they'd like to say or recommend about such things, go ahead.)

    On a similar, but perhaps completely different note, I was interested in the way Tim Keller, in the talk on singleness I mentioned below, talked about the 'interdependence gift' that most women have. I want to listen again and think more about that, because that seems to me to be of importance when you're saying anything to single women, in particular (eg encouraging them to go out and take initiative in ministry or some such thing).

    (Anyway, here is yet another half-baked blog post for you! I'm getting good at these - so much easier than having to actually finish or resolve anything or reach any kind of conclusion. You can blog things before you've actually got anything to say, and then not come back when you've done the hard work.)

    Spam

    I just turned word verification back on for comments. I turned it off and the spam started coming (3 so far today), so I am going to see if this stops it.

    Wednesday, December 02, 2009

    Singleness from Tim Keller

    It's been a while since I mentioned singleness here, so here it is. I have been meaning to visit Redeemer's sermon website since the free sermons went up, and yesterday Ben mentioned some of Tim Keller's sermons, and since work has eased up a little I decided to have a shot at listening to one (you just plain can't listen to a sermon and read something else at the same time, but when I don't have to actually read something, I can catch a lot of it). So I listened to the one on Adoration nearly three times yesterday. And I'm going to listen again - ie, it's good!

    Then I noticed that he had sermons on singleness. It's a little myopic perhaps, but I thought I'd give those a go. It's more of a forum, followed by a Q & A than a sermon, and I am still digesting all of it after one listen, but he says some really interesting things about the "relative goodness" of singleness, self-image, mast*urbation even (red face over that word - but what he says here would also apply to por*nography too perhaps I think, and his wife gets in on this one), idolatry (but it's not the run-of-the-mill idolatry stuff), the re-organisation of the "four loves", the way women are like studios and men like one-bedroom apartments in friendships (that was helpful!), whether or not it's "unspiritual" to change situations to meet people, marriage (I don't think you'd need to be single to get a whole lot of stuff out of it), and a response to the question of "what do single people do to grow emotionally then since everyone goes on about the sanctification/maturity that comes in marriage and family" etc. I've sat here with the tissues out and I am definitely going to listen to these again too.

    Here's the link that will take you to both. And you can read an article on Tim Keller in the New York Magazine too.

    Tuesday, December 01, 2009

    The fight for joy, and other books

    I’ve been a bit remiss here, because some things I take as givens, but in case you haven’t noticed through reading here, Jean has been blogging her way through When I Don’t Desire God – How to Fight For Joy by John Piper over at the EQUIP book club. She’s put in a magnificent effort and, as she says in this compilation post, many of the posts stand alone, without requiring that you have read the book. It’s challenging and encouraging stuff! I confess to having only read the separately-published chapter of this book When the Darkness Will Not Lift (by John Piper), but I am going to work through the book, and revisit Jean’s posts soon.

    One of the great things you can do over at the EQUIP book club is go through the list of books on the left of the site, click the book cover, and bring up all the posts for that particular book, so if you missed it at the time all is not lost. And if you wanted to start your own live book club on one of the books you can use the relevant notes for prompts. Coming up Rachael is going to take us through Beyond Greed, by Brian Rosner, just in time for Christmas! And there is my little advertisement of sorts, though the benefit is all yours :).

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    C.S. Lewis's through time

    So I told you I was fiddling about doing some "research" on CS Lewis, just because I want to (and there is a formidable amount of material that he wrote himself and others wrote about him to fiddle in).

    On Sunday it was the anniversary of his birthday, so articles on him surfaced here and there for that. Here is one such article that I read and liked (which also makes a case for errors of portrayal in the movie Shadowlands, which I like as a movie anyway), if you want a brief history of his life and influence.

    At the moment I am in The Problem of Pain and also reading about the influence of his service in the war (which like most he tried to suppress) on his poetry in Spirits in Bondage. Fascinating.

    :(

    A friend's brother died early this morning. He was nineteen years old. After a long and courageous battle leukemia took him home. As my friend quoted in the message I had this morning:

    “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4

    Looking forward to that.

    Wisps of fog - #2

    So Ben over here tells me not to let not having anything worthwhile to say stop me filling up my small patch of cyberspace, so here goes (and I will even make this some kind of list):

    1) I think my last crochet IQ was a little too easy, so here is another one for you. What do you think I am making? (You could be forgiven for thinking I have some kind of fetish for crocheted pentagons, which is not really the case, but this also happened to be made with pentagons - the options are endless really. Note: one of these is a hexagon. In this photo I am "blocking" them. These were particularly wonky, I think because I used two different kinds of wool.)


    2) I have enrolled myself in a short poetry course! I have been thinking more about doing further study lately, and this is a taste - it's run by the head of the poetry school at Sydney University - and something stimulating to do. (And I found a course that is not entirely composed of workshopping!)

    3) Shopping for pre-teen girls is hard. The "stuff" out there at the moment for teenagers is just plain weird. For example, Emily the Strange. And she comes with a very bad attitude. My nieces love cats, but I don't love cats with skeletons visible and stitches on their face. They also love stationary, but they won't be getting Emily's "stamps of disapproval" featuring "shut up" and "get lost". What happened to nice things?

    4) Shucks! This post, and it's winning entry, makes me want to run a competition. :) I just have to work out what it is I would be offering ... (Nice tactic really. Have a prize and make men prove why they should get it. Once upon a time, or maybe only in the fairy tales, that is perhaps how these things worked.)

    Friday, November 27, 2009

    Forgetting, or not remembering

    On Tuesday I came to work without my phone, on Wednesday I left my iPod at home, and this morning I went into the IGA on the way to work to get something for lunch, got to the check-out and realised I didn't have my wallet. I feel like I am on the cusp of becoming a list person!

    Poetry Day - The Lanyard

    Today I have another poem by Billy Collins, called The Lanyard. And if you enjoyed last week's youtube of him reading Litany (I fail to see how anybody wouldn't! - though pardon the element of Schadenfreude involved) you might like to listen to him read this one also.

    The Lanyard - Billy Collins

    The other day I was ricocheting slowly
    off the blue walls of this room,
    moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
    from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
    when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
    where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

    No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
    could send one into the past more suddenly—
    a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
    by a deep Adirondack lake
    learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
    into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

    I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
    or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
    but that did not keep me from crossing
    strand over strand again and again
    until I had made a boxy
    red and white lanyard for my mother.

    She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
    and I gave her a lanyard.
    She nursed me in many a sick room,
    lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
    laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
    and then led me out into the airy light

    and taught me to walk and swim,
    and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
    Here are thousands of meals, she said,
    and here is clothing and a good education.
    And here is your lanyard, I replied,
    which I made with a little help from a counselor.

    Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
    strong legs, bones and teeth,
    and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
    and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
    And here, I wish to say to her now,
    is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

    that you can never repay your mother,
    but the rueful admission that when she took
    the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
    I was as sure as a boy could be
    that this useless, worthless thing I wove
    out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

    Thursday, November 26, 2009

    Wisps of fog

    For want of anything better, some spacfiller:

    1) It's now officially babysitting season - that time of year when parents have to go off to a plethora of Christmas parties and events. What this means is that I catch up on some of the kids movies I have been missing. Lately I have seen Hollywood Chihauhau (in the beginning this was excruciating, but it started to improve when the Alsatian who used to police dog came on the scene), Snow White (I think we all have a handle on that story) and Robots. There are definite recurring themes in kids movies. There's the don't-judge-people-by-their-social-status theme featured in just about every high school movie and there in Hollywood Chihauhau as the little princess learns to see the good in the back-yard dog types (running a nice parallel as the prissy human niece falls for the landscaper), then there's the believe-in-yourself-and-you-can-be-anything theme in Robots, oh and there's always the reasonably obvious goodies and baddies ...

    2) I am on standby this week incase things come unstuck for my sweet cousin who is on schoolies week in Sydney. Schoolies week seems like some kind of necessary misdemeanor to me, but perhaps I am getting old. I often look back on my teenage and youth group days and am a little awe-struck, with hindsight, at the amount of effort our youth group leaders must have put in to pull off such fun. And you know what I did for schoolies? One of our youth-group leaders and his wife took me and my friend away for a few days. Is that not amazing?

    3) There are strange people in this world, and amongst the strangest are barristers. Yesterday I got the oddest email from a senior member of the Bar. And it wasn't odd because it was full of high-faluting legal terminology that I just didn't understand. Oh no. What was odd about it was that it was in large pink font, on a pale yellow wallpaper, complete with music and a continually blossoming and sparkling pink rose. It began with the words "your wish is our command", with the "our" referring to this (male) barrister and his cat. There was even an animated cat waving it's tail. Between the blossoming rose and the tail-waving cat was further oddness. I think I have met a crazy cat gentleman.

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    The art and study of poetry

    I have been trying to find a course to do in writing poetry at the moment. Most of what I can find is workshops. You go along with poems you've already written, and people listen and offer some critique. (And I wonder how limited that critique is, if everyone feels compelled to be politely encouraging. It also means the input comes in a largely accidental, unstructured fashion.)

    Is this some kind of reflection on the state of modern education? If so, it is a crying shame. I mean, of course a good many people sit down and write good poems, in total ignorance. But couldn't they write better poems if they knew at least some of the "rules for the dance" (as Mary Oliver calls them)? And where is a place where people actually teach and practice these?

    Head down

    It's gone quiet around here lately, sorry.

    There is something a little frustrating that happens at the end of every year where I work, which is this: they realise that some products aren't going to meet target, so they look around to see how they can make up the downfall, and because my product is a reasonably reliable cash-cow they start putting the pressure on me to get more out. I won't bother listing all the points of frustration involved in this.

    This year I had to get out another four parts of a report series for December (that is a lot). And if you've been reading along you'd know that I had a week off in October, two days away at a first-aid course, and there is another confounding factor in that my external editor went away for two weeks. But, I have tried to restrain voicing my frustrations, have done what I was told, and today is the final press date for the year and I am nearly there.

    I think it calls for fireworks, or maybe just a little chocolate ...

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    Poetry Day - Litany

    This is a treat – a cross between a Poetry Friday and a Friday Funny (it might be my only Friday Funny). Billy Collins, former US Poet Laureate, reads a poem. He wrote it by stealing the first two lines of a magazine love poem and continuing. Just keep listening (skip to about 1:40 for the actual poem).



    (You can read the poem here.)

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Bright Stars

    Sophie is dying to see the film Bright Star, the story of poet John Keats and Fanny Brown, as am I. And that posts reminds me to tell you all that Last Ride (a film I have already told you about), also stunningly filmed by Greig Fraser, is now out on DVD. You can read Glendyn's post about the DVD package here.

    (And since I am linking and talking movies, go and check out the, um, curious movie I found about the life of Ben.)

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Sculptures by the Sea

    I went along to Sculptures by the Sea last Friday night, with George and a few others. These really are snaps I took as I raced along to meet people, trying not to get strangers in the photo (but it's always a pleasant atmosphere there, even if it can end up like Harpers Bazaar). Afterwards we ate fish and chips on Bondi Beach and then all sampled a little deep-fried Mars Bar - I consider myself lucky to be alive today!







    Monday, November 16, 2009

    A votary of the Blue Flower

    I have been taken by this allusion ever since reading it in Surprised by Joy (and I do like that C.S. Lewis will write such lovely things, and either assume people will understand or that they can find it out for themselves if they don’t, which never did anybody any harm). You can read the original reference in an extract from Novalis of the dream of the blue flower here, or a further explanation of the concept and Lewis’s use of it in this post from the Jolly Blogger, which I very conveniently came across. (And perhaps German Romanticism shall be my next venture, as I like that too.)

    I have also always been quite taken with blue flowers, because I love blue, and I love flowers, and flowers in blue are not so common.

    So I hereby declare myself, for good or ill, a votary of the Blue Flower and blue flowers.

    Two of my particularly favourite blue flowers are blue star and forget-me-nots – both sweet, wild and rambling, unassuming little blue flowers.









    Pictures from:
    http://images.bidorbuy.co.za/user_images/651/390651_090818203150_Tweedia_caerulea.JPG

    http://www.nordinho.net/vbull/attachments/how-who-what-quizzes/23437d1167273266-blossom-within-flower-your-soul-1141928450_get-me-not.jpg
    http://img4.coastalliving.com/i/2003/05/shirleys-garden-flowers-l.jpg

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    C.S. Lewis on the exaltation of self in writing

    I am undertaking a little C.S. Lewis "research" at the moment, purely for fun. I feel like my brain is rotting lately, from lack of many avenues for any great stimulation (outside of what I choose to read, save one or two), so the aim is to do more to keep it alive. I do like learning, and if I am learning something I enjoy, in and on my own time (with no deadlines or testing looming) then it's in the category of leisure.

    So, I have been following trails of ideas about the web and reading various articles, and one book I am reading at the moment, and finding quite fascinating is C.S. Lewis, Poet - The Legacy of his Poetic Impulse by Don W. King. Something that is not so widely known about C.S. Lewis is that his greatest aspiration, at least in his early years, was to be known as a poet, or how many years he laboured over some of his poems, particularly the narrative works. At one point he notes in his diary "I am very dispirited about my work at present ... I have leaned much too much on the idea of being able to write poetry and if this is all a frost I shall be rather stranded" (laughable now really, given the vast number of other works he went on produce).

    The book reveals his passion for, and knowledge of, prosody, which is really only for the die-hards of poetry (it's a crash course in such things as dactylic hexameter and catalectic trochaic meter), but he says some interesting things about the process of writing and the desire for acknowledgment along the way. After stating that "I desire that my value as a poet should be acknowledged by others" he writes (and all of this is happening before his conversion):
    "As far as I can see both these are manifestations of the single desire for what may be called mental or spiritual rank. I have flattered myself with the idea of being among my own people when I was reading the poets and it is unpleasing to have to stand down and take my place in the crowd ... The completion of the poem, Coghill's praise of it, and the sending off to a publishers [sic] (after so many years) threw me back into a tumult of self-love that I thought I had escaped ... Worst of all I have used the belief in such secret pre-eminence as a compensation for things that wearied or humiliated me in real life ... The cure of this disease is not easy to find ... I was free from it at times when writing Dymer. Then I was interested in the object, not in my own privileged position as seer of the object. But whenever I stopped writing or thought of publication or showed the MS. to friends I contemplated not that of which I had been writing, but my writing about it: I passed from looking at the macrocosm to looking at a little historical event inside the "Me." The only healthy or happy or eternal life is to look so steadily on the World that the representation "Me" fades away. Its appearance at all in the field of consciousness is a mark of inferiority in the state where it appears. Its claiming a central position is disease."*1

    Lewis went on to say the only way to cure this disease was to look away from self to the greater world so that thoughts of self would fade. What is so striking here is his brutal self-assessment. He confessed that his desire for fame as a poet was nothing less than spiritual pride, a key theme he explored later in prose fiction and apologetics. Equally, he noted that poetry per se, even his poetry, had not been nearly as interesting to him in this process as he had been. Additionally, we see that his hopes for literary fame had been a kind of sop for other disappointments. Indeed, he was clearly embarrassed by the recognition that his desire to be a poet veiled an intense self-absorption. Although this realisation was certainly a watershed in the life of Lewis the poet, it did not mark the end of his desire for fame as a poet. Instead, it provided Lewis with a point in time for occasions later in life when his thirst for fame as a poet or more broadly as a writer was tempered by the realisation that such a desire was an unhealthy exaltation of self.
    And later in the chapter:
    Yet he did not totally dismiss the significance of the poet's personality. Instead he articulated effectively how a poet's personality may affect the reading of a poem: "[However, when reading a poem], let it be granted that I do approach the poet; at least I do it by sharing his consciousness, not by studying it. I look with his eyes, not at him ... The poet is not a man who asks me to look at him; he is a man who says 'look at that' and points; the more I follow the pointing of his finger the less I can possibly see of him" (11, Lewis's emphasis). Later, he adds that while looking to where the poet points, "I must make of him not a spectacle but a pair of spectacles ... I must enjoy him and not contemplate him" (12, Lewis's emphasis). Throughout, Lewis argued that poetry was not a private matter, but instead a public one: "[In a poem] it is absolutely essential that each word should suggest not what is private and personal to the poet but what is public, common, impersonal, objective".*2
    1. This is quoted from They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963). Ed by Walter Hooper. New York: Macmillan, 1979.

    2. It would seem he didn't always agree with this, but that is too complicated for here (read the book).

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Flight of fancy #2

    From the blog that brought you gypsy wagons from the South of France, I now bring you the Steampunk House on wheels.

    Poetry Day - But never, to forget

    Following on from yesterday's post, I thought I'd give you a snippet of poetry from Nabokov, taken from here. I can't load in pictures at work, so posts done here look boring, but perhaps I can fix that up later.

    In the poem, Nabokov’s invented poet John Shade ponders what might happen after death:

    I’m ready to become a floweret
    Or a fat fly, but never, to forget.
    And I’ll turn down eternity unless
    The melancholy and the tenderness
    Of mortal life; the passion and the pain;
    The claret taillight of that dwindling plane
    Off Hesperus; your gesture of dismay
    On running out of cigarettes; the way
    You smile at dogs; the trail of silver slime
    Snails leave on flagstone; this good ink, this rhyme,
    This index card, this slender rubber band
    Which always forms, when dropped, an ampersand,
    Are found in Heaven by the newlydead
    Stored in its strongholds throughout the years.

    Nabokov

    (Mind you though, there are things I actually would like to forget, and erase completely from the history of the world.)

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Forgetting that we had lived

    I've already said that my google reader is a little out of control, with bits and pieces here and there. And despite all the rules of blogging floating about, amongst the blogs I enjoy most are those that post sporadically, on unexpected things, so I am pleased to leave them sitting there and wait. And today I found a little treasure over at Will God Keep Gumtrees? in this quote from Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, and in the context of the post (and in the poetry too!).

    I rewatched Shadowlands the other night, how I loved it, and everyone probably remembers the line "the pain then is part of the happiness now", in reference to Joy's approaching death. Well, it would make sense to me if, similarly, the sorrow now will actually become part of, and enhance, the joy of heaven.

    I really have to read Gilead. I have been holding off on a Book Depository order, but I think it is about to happen.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    A couple of un-ordinary days

    Well, I gave the plumber until 5 minutes after 8 yesterday morning, and then had to bolt to get to my great First Aid Course by 8:30. I raced into the building all hot and sweaty and who should I meet waiting for the lift but Warwick de Jersey (the rector of St Matthias Church), and it turned out that we were doing the same course.

    So I wasn’t so late, which was good. It was nice to see a familiar face and we sat up the back like rebels. But you’ll all be pleased to know that St Johns has a policy of girls working with girls and guys with guys, so I didn’t practice CPR or rolling people into the recovery position on him!

    The morning went along fine and we all did a “great job” on our CPR assessments and everybody asked “a very good question”. We got a break to head for the nearest coffee mid-morning and then I found myself eating lunch with two girls who work for the Sydney Festival, and an interesting chap who did a spot of shopping on Oxford Street and bought himself some shoes, in a pink bag, then explained to us how he was going to alter them.

    After lunch I just wasn’t feeling so fabulous, so during the afternoon tea break I thought I’d race down a level to find the vending machine and get a coke. All I could get out of it was Coke Zero, which wasn’t quite what I had in mind (I wanted sugar with my caffeine!). I opened it outside the course room, because you weren’t supposed to be in there with drinks, threw my head back for a sip (I have never enjoyed trying to drink out of cans!) and the first one started going down with that horrendous pain that sometimes happens when something goes wrong during swallowing (does anybody else ever get this?). I remember leaning on the wall to wait for the moment to pass, and then I woke up slumped at the bottom of the wall with coke all over me, and coke all over the floor and a squashed can nearby. Unbelievable. I mean, what sort of person faints in the middle of a first aid course?! My facebook status yesterday said "Alison Payne fainted in a pool of coke today. In the afternoon tea break of a first aid course. You wouldn't read about it". But you, dear readers, just did.

    Warwick kindly hung about till I was back in my chair, while others mopped up the coke and made situational first-aid jokes, and I sat against the wall trying to comprehend it and feeling like a very big idiot. One girl came by and matter-of-factly gave me the name of what she thinks was my problem. She might be right, because of course I did the obligatory google search, and it adds up a few things, but what sort of person would faint in a first aid course then do a google medical self-diagnosis and blog it?

    So that was a curious little episode in my day. I came home and ate a few handfuls of sultanas, and then went for a jog, so I think I shall live.

    Today we had more complicated and grisly scenarios and did a lot more acting out and then the big theoretical assessment: 20 multiple choice questions. You'd have to be very inattentive not to get the required 80% in that test, but I guess I should wait for my results before I spout such things (and there were a few trick questions, really). All up it was a very instructive two days, and I met some really interesting people - today it was a woman who lives in community and teaches interactive drumming, a long haul flight attendant, a mother married to a fellow who runs a gourmet cheese business ...

    You also realise that some seemingly obvious first aid ideas are a long way from helpful. I feel semi-ready to be of some use in the event of disaster now, so long as it's not a mangled person caught in a piece of machinery - somebody else can deal with that. I've just got to find out where the first aid kit actually is in my office.

    Sunday, November 08, 2009

    A first aid course and a plumber

    Some time ago, after a visit to the physiotherapist renewed a passing interest in biology, I volunteered to be the person on level four of my workplace that they were looking for to be the new first aid officer. Consequently I now need to spend the next two days on a St John’s Ambulance first aid course. So you never know when I might be of some life-saving use to you.

    It is, however, a total bother because I temporarily forgot about this course when I told a plumber last week that I could be home on Monday to let him in. I even brought work home to work on (well, actually, I forgot to bring the work home on Friday, so went in on Saturday to get it, then remembered on Sunday that I had a first aid course - my working life is usually so predictable that I don’t need to think about it). So now I am facing an as-yet-unresolved Monday morning logistics problem, and need to take two large towels with me for I know not what in the next two days.

    Friday, November 06, 2009

    Literary Calvinism in Marilynne Robinson

    I have previously mentioned reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson on this blog, and how much I enjoyed it. I haven't yet read her latest award-winning books Gilead and Home, but they are on my highly anticipated list! So, the other day when I stumbled across this article on the Literary Calvinism of Marilynne Robinson (H/T Justin Taylor), I read it out of interest. It's a good read for those interested in any sort of concept of "faithful writing" in fiction (and has a nice little analysis of a fine piece of writing).

    Thursday, November 05, 2009

    The Great Divorce movie

    Apparently CS Lewis's The Great Divorce is being made into a movie. That is going to be interesting. From here:

    Beloved Pictures has secured the film rights to C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce." This is from the bestselling author who gave us "The Chronicles of Narnia" series.
    ...
    "The Great Divorce" is an adventure tale about one man's journey from the post-apocalyptic world of Grey Town to the outskirts of heaven.

    Beloved has hired director David L. Cunningham ("To End All Wars," "Seeker: The Dark is Rising") to helm.

    Wednesday, November 04, 2009

    The cardinal and the darkling thrush

    There is a poem I somehow learnt by heart as a teenager, just by realising one day that I could recite it (and still can, to my own amazement - where is that place that things stick?), called The Darkling Thrush, by Thomas Hardy. It is also the poem with which I launched Poetry Friday on this blog, way back here.

    I have always loved the poem, for what it symbolised to me, and I am fairly sure the poet intended it to be so. Then, I have already mentioned downloading the new Sara Groves CD, and on it is a song that immediately called to mind Hardy’s poem, and is now one of my favourites on the album (maybe Sara read the poem - I won't know till I get the actual CD!). I shall give you the poem, followed by the song, and I don’t think you’ll have to join many dots.

    The Darkling Thrush

    I leant upon a coppice gate
    When Frost was spectre-gray,
    And Winter's dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
    The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
    And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires.

    The land's sharp features seemed to be
    The Century's corpse outleant,
    His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
    The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
    And every spirit upon earth
    Seemed fervourless as I.

    At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
    In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
    An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
    In blast-beruffled plume,
    Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.

    So little cause for carolings
    Of such ecstatic sound
    Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
    That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
    Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.

    Thomas Hardy


    And the song:

    From this one place

    I was about to give up and that’s no lie
    Cardinal landed outside my window
    Threw his head back sang a song
    So beautiful it made me cry
    Took me back to a childhood tree
    Full of birds and dreams

    From this one place I can’t see very far
    And this one moment I’m square in the dark
    These are the things I will trust in my heart
    You can see something else
    Something else

    I don’t know what’s making me so afraid
    Tiny cloud over my head
    Heavy and grey with a hint of dread
    And I don’t like to feel this way
    Take me back to a window seat
    With clouds beneath my feet

    From this one place I can’t see very far
    And this one moment I’m square in the dark
    These are the things I will trust in my heart
    You can see something else
    Something else

    He just threw back his head and sang a song
    It was beautiful

    Sara Groves

    * The top bird is not a thrush, just a bird in the snow, but the bottom one is a cardinal.

    Tuesday, November 03, 2009

    Happy Birthday Eli

    My nephew Eli turns 1 today. He is such a smiley little sweetie. Here are fews pictures. He is opening his first birthday present ever in the bottom one, not so long after his first haircut.





    Monday, November 02, 2009

    Shiny new thing

    By the way folks, I did the deed and bought a new computer over the weekend. And I did the bigger deed and bought a Mac - a cutting edge one that's only been out a week (for no other reason than because all the new Macbooks have only been out a week). So I am very cool.

    Once you decide you're getting a Mac it's a whole lot easier than deciding between about three million PCs - the choice was paralysing. I may become a Mac person for no other reason.

    It seems I have to relearn lots of little things, but I am getting there.

    Overcomers Outreach in the Briefing

    I have an article in this month's Briefing on the story of my friend Penny and her journey through alcoholism to the work she now does with Overcomer's Outreach. My opening line is:

    "Oh Alison, if I thought I could just go and play golf I would."

    If you read it you'll find out why Penny doesn't just go and play golf ...

    Sunday, November 01, 2009

    Poetry Day - Emily Bronte

    Well, the new version of Wuthering Heights is screening, and so even though I didn't watch it last week, I thought I give you a poem on Emily Bronte, by Ted Hughes (hope you've all noticed a few more modern poets about here lately, even though often they don't exhibit the skill of poets long dead, in my humble opinion). The truth is, little me doesn't actually think this is a great poem. If I wrote a poem containing the line "but his kiss was fatal" I think I'd screw it up. But there is actually something comforting in reading a poem by a famous poet, and finding it not that great. It gives me hope. So here you have it.


    Emily Bronte

    The wind on Crow Hill was her darling.
    His fierce, high tide in her ear was her secret.
    But his kiss was fatal.

    Through her dark Paradise ran
    The stream she loved too well
    That bit her breast.

    The shaggy sodden king of that kingdom
    Followed through the wall
    And lay on her love-sick bed.

    The curlew trod her womb.

    The stone swelled under her heart.

    Her death is a baby-cry on the moor.

    Ted Hughes

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    It's me - and Sara Groves

    For our road trip to Daylesford we were given a music assignment, which was to bring two CDs that would take each of us on a musical journey, and we were to be guest DJ. Fun! I had already been tempted by an email letting me know I could download the new Sara Groves CD, five weeks prior to the release date, if I bought it with a bundle of other paraphernalia. I wasn't particularly interested in the other stuff and told myself to wait. That is, until I got this music assignment. We are all big fans of Sara Groves, and one of those on the trip was my Sara introduction, so I decided to get the download and make it the soundtrack for the holiday to Daylesford.

    What you have to appreciate about Sara is her honesty, her refusal to do 'smiley-button-for-Jesus' music, her efforts to share her own reality in ways that encourage others. And so here is the video for one of her songs on the upcoming album that does just that:

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    More of the white house

    Here's a few more pictures of quaint things. Everywhere you looked there were quaint things, but it was elegantly done and not at all "tizzy".

    My accompanying friends jokingly told me that their pictures weren't released to blogs or facebook, but fair enough (it's weird the way people's movements can be so public between the two, and nice to know that they don't have to be). And I'll wait to tell you more about the project we were working on, as it shall hopefully be published, and there is wisdom in not discussing things on the world wide web before they are. (It's also not my personal project, so not mine to divulge - and I am not a believer in breaking news that's not your own on blogs.) But stay tuned because I will make a big noise when it is!







    A white house in Daylesford

    Here are some of the snaps I took on my happy snap camera (I can't control the aperture - or anything for that matter - so I was pleasantly surprised by the second one down). One of these days I am going to splash out on a digital SLR, hopefully a Nikon. My film SLR packed it in after a fall in WA, and is not worth fixing, but I do enjoy photography. Something that this blog probably doesn't know is that my Dad was a cinephotographer (for his job I mean). He didn't live long enough for me to learn anything but camera bits and pieces hung around and I like to fancy it's in my blood.



















    Googling on

    I've come back from holidays and google reader is out of control (over 1,000). I have decided that I don't need to be OCD and feel the compulsion to scroll through everything, just incase I miss that one amazing thing (especially through about 453 Apartment Therapy posts - though I almost feel the need when I think about those gypsy wagons). Sometimes you just have to hit "mark all as read" and move on. It's most "unhoarder" of me, but I think I can do it!

    Sharing the wisdom

    If you venture into the world of crafty blogs, there is a month of give aways happening about the place. My friend Ally has joined in, and if you go over here and leave a comment, two sweet owls could be yours. (And if you order from her shop before October 31st there are more owls involved!)

    Saturday, October 24, 2009

    A country writing holiday

    This past week I went away for a few wonderful days in Daylesford Victoria (Tuesday's post was just a scheduled decoy). Back in August I joined the Penguin Books Australia facebook page, just because it came up somewhere and I thought, well I like them so why not? They happened to be running a competition to see who could guess how many popular penguin books there were in the library featured in this photo. So I did some sophisticated counting and multiplication, and I won!

    What I won was two nights accomodation in the White House (worth a look), which contains this library. Initially I wondered what I was going to do with two nights accomodation in one queensize room down in country Victoria, because it didn't include transport and I didn't really fancy going by myself. But it looked like a lovely place to go and write (if you clicked through to the website you will see why) so I decided to do something crazy and ask a little group of people I have been getting together with semi-regularly this year to work on a writing project of sorts, and see if I could pay extra for the use of the other rooms (there is this queer set-up where you have the house to yourself, but pay for the use of each bedroom). So I asked them and to my great delight they were all keen to come and even suggested driving down.

    The house was booked out for weekends for the rest of the year and I thought we wouldn't actually do this for ages, but when I asked for available dates this week came up, and to my surprise again it worked with the others to go midweek, so off we went on a random little road trip.

    Of course, all of this happened before I was aware of any sort of marketing campaign for Daylesford, or the advertisement that prompted this article by Phillip Jensen. It seems there are often two responses to such controversies: you either boycott something about it and never holiday in Daylesford in your life on principle, or you engage in "culturally relevant" research and go right in to be informed. We opted for the latter in this case (albeit unwittingly). If there is going to be a hoo-hah about a lovely little town in Victoria and somebody needs to go and see what all the fuss is about, then it might as well be us! :)

    Over the next few days I might tell you more and post some photos of the trip, but for now I thought I would give you the opportunity to test your Bookshelf IQ and see if you can guess how many books there are in this library. (No digging back through facebook and cheating!)

    Poetry Day - A coke with you

    Having a Coke with You by Frank O'Hara is a wonderful poem. The formatting came out very badly here, but do yourself a favour and click through.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Catch some blackbird's wing

    I came across this video of Dave Matthews and Emmylou Harris singing Gulf Coast Highway (they don't actually start singing till about 1:30). I do love this song. And here is the original from Nanci Griffith, which is every bit as good and gloriously 1980s Texas. (And of course one thing lead to another on Youtube, and I found this, which is beautiful, and then you can listen to this duo sing Long Black Veil, or an older version with Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell.)