Monday, August 31, 2009

Some kind of quiet, deep regret

This is a post that is perhaps a bit like saying 'I watched this movie on the weekend set in out of space that has a robot in it and it was called Star Wars'. But on the weekend I finished High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. I never really got into Nick Hornby, though have read bits and pieces, but weeks ago before I went on holidays I thought I’d take something to read that was a little more light-hearted, something else written in this century perhaps, so I picked up this popular penguin.

I have to admit, that a few chapters in I thought ‘what IS this book, and what did it ever do to earn itself an orange jacket?’ because basically, it was all about s#x, and nothing much else. And that was s#x from a male perspective, with technical details thrown in. So I nearly set it aside. But I detected a glimmer of something and read on, wondering what exactly I might learn about the “modern male” as it says on the back cover, which I checked again when I was wondering what sort of merit this book had (though now that I have finished I don’t know that I’ve learnt too much about any guy I know). And it is a very entertaining read — eventually.

I thought I’d quote a little of the book, but don’t take this as unqualified endorsement. You might actually find this book seriously unhelpful, and if you are single and in your thirties maybe especially so, and there might be parts in it, about being single and in your thirties, that you find really hard to read. I know there are bits where I could easily have become depressed, if I didn’t keep telling myself the correctives. All that said, I thought this was an insightful moment (it takes a while to get to the insightful moments of this book, but they do come), about what it is that haunts a lot of people in their thirties. It certainly resonates with me. This is the stuff that would keep me awake at night, if I didn’t know God and know his goodness and his sovereignty:

I guess you could see it as bitterness, if you wanted to. I don’t think of myself as bitter, but I have disappointed myself; I thought I was going to turn out to be worth a bit more than this, and maybe that disappointment comes out all wrong. It’s not just the work; it’s not just the thirty-five and single thing, although none of this helps. It’s … oh, I don’t know. Have you ever looked at a picture of yourself when you were a kid? Or pictures of famous people when they were kids? It seems to me that they can either make you happy or sad. There’s a lovely picture of Paul McCartney as a little boy, and the first time I saw it, it made me feel good: all that talent, all that money, all those years of blissed-out domesticity, a rock-solid marriage and lovely kids, and he doesn’t even know it yet. But then there are others — JFK and all the rock deaths and #@$&-ups, people who went mad, people who came off the rails, people who murdered, who made themselves or other people miserable in ways too numerous to mention — and you think, stop right there! This is as good as it gets!

Over the last couple of years, the photos of me when I was a kid, the ones that I never wanted old girlfriends to see … well, they’ve started to give me a little pang of something — not unhappiness, exactly, but some kind of quiet, deep regret. There’s one of me in a cowboy hat, pointing a gun at the camera, trying to look like a cowboy but failing, and I can hardly bring myself to look at it now. Laura thought it was sweet (she used that word! Sweet, the opposite of sour!) and pinned it up in the kitchen, but I’ve put it back in a drawer. I keep wanting to apologize to the little guy: ‘I’m sorry, I’ve let you down. I was the person who was supposed to look after you, but I blew it: I made some wrong decisions at bad times, and I turned you into me.’
Reminds me a little of a song I really like: Disappointed, by the Frames.

Practical theology for women

Starting on Wednesday over at the EQUIP book club we are going to be reading through Practical Theology for Women, written by Wendy Alsup, who was previously a women's deacon at Mars Hill, Seattle, with notes from Jennie Baddeley. It's not too late to get yourself a copy and join in and this little book is well worth the effort!

The twelve steps of recovery

I must be having a moment of blog insecurity. I have several blog posts all in draft form and don't feel like posting any of them. I did however skip off from work early one day last week to go to an Addiction Workshop that my friend Penny, from Overcomers Outreach was running over in Upper Chapter House. I'm silly that I didn't tell you all to be there, because it was really good and more people need to be aware of addictions and addiction recovery.

For starters, one of the things people often ask me is what are the twelve steps. They are readily available on the internet, but I thought I'd post here the form we use at Overcomers Outreach, with the bible verses that have been added. I have just pinched this from here, because I know that if you're like me you're slightly more likely to read something, at least right now, if you don't need to follow a link. It's a very useful tool that there is great benefit in working through, with or without an addiction. For example, I sat down recently and put myself through the "resentment inventory", which is something that you do at step 4 - it was a very helpful process (and there is also a "fear inventory" and others). Overcomers Outreach covers all addictions as well as self-destructive behaviours (but it is recommended that people also go their specific 12-step program eg AA or NA etc). If you're anything like me you might be surprised by the 12 steps, that they are so much the "gospel in a drunks language", as they call it. The weird thing is that they now use this in AA without God in the picture. Step 3 actually usually has "as we understand him to be" added on Step 3, so people make up their own "higher power".

Step 1We admitted we were powerless over our addictions – our lives had become unmanageable.
Romans 7:18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out.
Step 2We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Mark 10:26-27 ... who then can be saved? Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is
impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Step 3
We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Step 4We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Lamentations 3:40 Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.

Step 5We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness

Step 6
We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Step 7
We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.
James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Step 8
We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Matthew 7:3-5 ”Why do you look at the spec of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? ... first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Step 9
We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Matthew 5:23-24 Therefore, if ... your brother has something against you ... go and be reconciled to your brother …

Step 10
We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
Romans 13:8-9 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments ... are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Step 11We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and power to carry that out.
Philippians 1:9-10 … and this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.
Step 12Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Galations 6:9-10 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Poetry Friday - No coward soul

And then she dies. And these are the last lines Emily Brontë wrote before she died, aged 30.

The Guardian books blog most conveniently featured this poem recently, and you can read what they have to say about it here.

No Coward Soul Is Mine
by Emily Bronte

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven's glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from Fear.

O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life — that in me hast rest,
As I — Undying Life — have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men's hearts, unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

Though Earth and moon were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every Existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou — Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

All I Have is Christ

I've listened to this song from the Next conference a lot since Justin Taylor over at Between Two Worlds put it up the other day (there's a video at the bottom of the post). Needless to say, I like it!

The fish killer strikes again!!

At least that's the way it seems. There have been other small things happening around here, like people noticing that their magnets were moved, or things had been subtley tampered with. Then this morning the manager of my team, whose magnets have been fiddled with in the past, comes in and there are rubber bands all around clumps of her lovely begonia plant, which have killed portions of it. It's sooo weird! The mind boggles at what is motivating a person to be so odd ...

I have a cyclamen on my desk, which is mostly dead anyway because it doesn't get enough light, so now might be a good time to take it home.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Card making for the uncrafty

This is one of those posts for those who like regularity and predictability in their blogs, better known as "filler".

So, despite all the crochet featured around here lately, I am not really a "crafty" person. Truly. I did art and photography up until the end of Year 11 at school, and loved them both, but then dropped them to pick up 4 Unit Maths (big mistake, very big mistake — I could do it, but have I ever used it since? — nope — and does anyone ever use that level of mathematics outside the education loop? — I am waiting to meet them, though maybe, somewhere deep down in my education store, it helps me join up 12 pentagons) and 3 Unit English (this was not a mistake and I would do it all over again — it was the best thing about Year 12). All that to say, that while I like and appreciate art and photography, and I do like making things, I am not so much into the classic "craft", especially craft that involves paper. What I like to do with paper is write or draw on it or read things off it.

But, I do try to make cards. I order blank cards from here, which is about the cheapest place in Australia to get them, but then I have trouble trying to think of something to actually put on the front of them (well, OK, trouble trying to think of something to put on the front that isn't going to take two hours or cost as much as buying a card, because that would make it rather pointless since I don't do paper craft for the love of it). So, here is one of my solutions for card making for the not-so-crafty.

You just buy or find somewhere amongst your stuff some material with small motifs on it that you can cut out individually, team it up with some other kind of material that is plain or has a smallish print/pattern on it (or add in other coloured bits of cupboard) with a bit of "craft glue", and voila!, a card that doesn't take two hours to make — because for some of us there is a fine balance between time and money when it comes down to the value of making things. It's nothing too marvellous but looks OK, yes?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The answer in the crochet

So Ben is the genius who figured out the answer to the crochet IQ. Actually, he admitted to cheating, but almost as remarkable is the fact that he saw a woman doing craft, then remembered, a few days later, what it was she was making. That is a gift!

Here is the answer in pictures. I think it's rather sweet, even if I do say so myself. That's navy by the way, not black as it appears in the photo. I would have liked a lighter navy, but since I was looking for 5 ply wool, I bought what I could find, so it's a tad dark. (It's for a baby, if you hadn't guessed and thought I just wanted to make myself a ball.)

Here is the ball modelled by Abraham the bear. Once upon a time my sister went through a phase of making bears. She didn't like Abraham (though he was nameless then) because his head was too small and his ears were in the wrong place. But I took pity on him and saved him from whatever was to be the fate of a bear with a head too small and ears in the wrong place, and gave him a name and a home. I'm very fond of him now.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Absorbing the cost

This morning I did something I don't recall ever doing before, and tore down a piece of paper taped to the traffic light pole while was I was waiting to cross the street. I thought it was one of the silliest, most unhelpful, pointless thoughts I'd come across taped up in a public space in a long time, so I removed it. This is what it said:

Sick of blaming yourself? Ever thought of adopting an abusive parent?
And that is all. I think some of it had already been torn off.

But where is the point in pursuing that idea? As I heard John Chapman say once "there's no future in that".

The thing is, I know some people had abusive parents, or manipulative parents, or parents who just weren't paying attention. And I know some people have a lot of wreckage in their life to deal with as a result of their parenting. And that is sad. Incredibly sad. But your parents, perhaps, also got it from their parents, who got it from theirs, and pretty soon you're back at Adam and Eve. Your own parents weren't going to single-handedly turn the tide on original sin. You and I probably won't either.

I am nearly finished Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Lane and Tripp (I've taken a circuitous route). It's a very good book, very simply written (you can tell that they have deliberately kept the writing very simple, to convey their ideas clearly, and anyone who can read could read the book). The chapters on 'Obstacles' and 'Forgiveness' I found particularly good.

And I think a lot of people need to forgive their parents, in some way or another.

One thing that they wrote, which I thought was worth pondering was "When you forgive someone, you also cancel a debt. But, more specifically, you make a conscious choice to absorb the cost yourself". We probably all just nod our head like we've heard it a thousand times before over the first sentence, but think about the second sentence.

So, in the case of parents who were less than ideal, you say to yourself, well I am screwed up in this way because my parents got it wrong, deliberately or otherwise, but I choose to forgive them and absorb the cost myself - be that ten years of counselling or whatever else it is you do to recover from the damage. That's cancelling the debt. That's forgiveness.

A few weeks ago Chris Allen gave a fantastic sermon on forgiveness at the healing service, to tie in with steps 8 and 9 of the 12 step recovery program, and he said that as Christians we can live like forgiveness is an optional extra. But that's because we don't take seriously the parable of Matthew 18: 21-34 and think we, as the exception to the rest of humanity, have some right or reason to be unforgiving. We don't.

Then he said "unforgiveness is always self-centred". And I thought, yes, wow, that is so true! Digest that thought.

End of lunch time rant prompted by the traffic-light-pole poster.

Note: There is lots else in Lane and Tripps book about wisdom and forgiving and I know some situations are complicated, dangerous even, and don't mean to be simplistic or unsympathetic here. You can read the rest of their chapter for further discussion.

Poetry Friday - No later light

I thought we would go upwards with Emily Bronte this week, but ... perhaps not. I do like this poem though, especially the second half of it.

Emily Bronte

Cold in the earth—and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time's all-severing wave?

Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover
That noble heart for ever, ever more?

Cold in the earth, and fifteen wild Decembers
From those brown hills have melted into spring:
Faithful indeed is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!

Sweet Love of youth, forgive if I forget thee,
While the world's tide is bearing me along:
Sterner desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!

No later light has lightened up my heaven;
No second morn has ever shone for me:
All my life's bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life's bliss is in the grave with thee.

But when the days of golden dreams had perished,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy;

Then did I check the tears of useless passion,
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine.

And even yet I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in Memory's rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Crochet IQ

If you join all the sides of twelve pentagons together, what shape do you get?

(Answer coming soon!)

Seeing God's guidance in a graph

Michelle sent in a very helpful (and impressive!) diagram of God's guidance to the EQUIP book club for today's post. Go and have a look here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

An ESTP calls an INFJ

So I have this friend who is an ESTP (I know that from years ago), the total opposite to me, for whom I provide an endless source of amusement. She just left a message on my phone and it says:

(Laughs loudly) Alison I love hearing your voice. You are so funny. (Laughs and can't speak momentarily.) It sounds like you are in the CIA and are on some secret mission, your answering machine message ... (after telling me the reason for her call) ... You're going to have to be candid with me. Straight even. Bullseye ...
She doesn't deal in subtleties and I don't always speak plainly (or loudly) ... :)

And so a poem

And so, because I have nothing else, here is another bonus Emily Brontë poem. Harold Bloom calls this Emily's finest poem (but a fellow called C.W. Hatfield, who edited her poems, speculates that Charlotte wrote or revised this poem).

Often rebuked, yet always back returning
To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
For idle dreams of things which cannot be:

To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;
Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
Bring the unreal world too strangely near.

I'll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
The clouded forms of long-past history.

I'll walk where my own nature would be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the gray flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side

What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.

Emily Brontë

The madness of August

This is one of those posts in which I hope to subsconsciously lower your expectations. But August really has gone crazy. On the first weekend of the month I was away until the Saturday. Admittedly that was a holiday, but not a holiday in which I actually got done anything that needed to be done. Then I went to Canberra the next weekend. This was not the best of timing but I had been intending a visit since December last year, and so I finally made it. It was very pleasant, but neither washing, cleaning or personal admin happened when I was there, obviously. Then on the weekend just gone was our church camp. There weren't a whole lot of people there - considerably less than half the congregation I'd say - which was something of a shame but made it very low key and really quite relaxing, only same problem as before in that I just wasn't doing anything at all at home. Now next weekend I am going to the ENGAGE conference up at Katoomba. So that makes this coming weekend the only one of five in August that I am home, and it is full of things to go to and stuff to do. It's madness. The thing about going away for the weekend is that you sort of lose the Thursday night too, in getting ready to exit straight after work Friday etc, and it feels like days around it just get smothered in the catch up. And so August seems to have just disappeared.

The problem with some writing is ...

I'm allowed to quote this, because I work here:
There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content.
Professor Fred Rodell's "Goodbye to Law Reviews".

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Stand by Me

Perhaps this has already done the rounds (was apparently on the James Valentine show a while back), but if you haven't seen this yet, treat yourself. It's street performers around the world performing Stand by Me, which has then been mixed together (love the cello).

Monday, August 17, 2009

On housekeeping and loneliness

I mentioned a few posts back that I read the first few pages of Housekeeping by Marilynne Rosbinson and then fell asleep. The truth is, there is little difference between sleeping and reading Housekeeping – so removed and dreamlike and ghostly is the tale it tells and the telling of the tale.

It’s a book you read in the borders of your own sanity, in the place that is always dreaming, in that part of you close to the point where you maintain your grasp on a “proper” life.

But it is by no means a crazy book. It is rather a book of family – what it is, even when everything it should be no longer exists – and of the dysfunction born out of tragedy. It was close to my heart in many ways, being the story of what becomes of three sisters after the death of their father in an accident that would disturb anyone. As I read it part of me was Sylvie and Ruthie – that part that knows what it would become if it shed responsibility and let go of being normal. Sylvie has taken her leave of living a proper life, and she takes you with her, till you also want to leave marshmallows on twigs for children you fancy dwell in the woods. It was hard to tell whether she’d quite lost her mind in her eccentricity, or just tethered it on a longer string.

I was gone from the world in this book, further and further as I read on, which to me is a good book – but still, I’d call it a little queer, if you asked me. Or at least, it made me feel queer. It is amongst the Observer’s 100 greatest novels of all time, but seems to be something of a sleeper, little known, and by all accounts I've gathered so far is not so good as Gilead, which won the Pulitzer in 2005.

Here’s a section, written from Ruthie’s perspective (a granddaughter in the story) after her sister has left, because all her sister wanted was the normal life and to make something of herself:

Having a sister or a friend is like sitting at night in a lighted house. Those outside can watch you if they want, but you need not see them. You simply say, “Here are the perimeters of our attention. If you prowl around under the windows till the crickets go silent, we will pull the shades. If you wish us to suffer your envious curiosity, you must permit us not to notice it.” Anyone with one solid human bond is that smug, and it is the smugness as much as the comfort and safety that lonely people covet and admire.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A glimpse of Strict Joy

I saw this link, to a Tiny Desk Concert of The Swell Season’s (the Once movie people, for those who get confused) upcoming album, on Duncan’s blog last week, but couldn’t watch it at the time, because as with most things, my workplace had blocked the media player, so I have just sat down and had a listen. It's a very low key recording, but oh so good. I can’t wait for this album.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Poetry Friday - Hope

Be not deceived. Today's poem is of Emily's bleakest. It is upwards from here, I promise.

by Emily Brontë (1818-1848)

HOPE Was but a timid friend;
She sat without the grated den,
Watching how my fate would tend,
Even as selfish-hearted men.

She was cruel in her fear;
Through the bars one dreary day,
I looked out to see her there,
And she turned her face away!

Like a false guard, false watch keeping,
Still, in strife, she whispered peace;
She would sing while I was weeping;
If I listened, she would cease.

False she was, and unrelenting;
When my last joys strewed the ground,
Even Sorrow saw, repenting,
Those sad relics scattered round;

Hope, whose whisper would have given
Balm to all my frenzied pain,
Stretched her wings, and soared to heaven,
Went, and ne'er returned again!

Picture from

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The personality type of Jesus

Simone is having some fun over here with her Myers-Briggs personality type. I enjoy that sort of thing, but thought that was partly a function of my personality type (psychoanalysing everything) - obviously not! :). Years ago I bought a book called Please Understand Me based on the Keirsey Temperament Sorter (same categories as Myers-Briggs - difference has something to do with the overlap with Hippocrates' temperaments) and then sat on the train reading about myself shaking with laughter (I'm an introvert, so I wasn't going to draw attention to myself laughing out loud on public transport!) till the tears were rolling down my face. It was all too true.

I'm an INFJ - though close to the line on J/P and stray into INFP occasionally. Apparently, according to here, Jesus was also an INFJ. Surely that's gotta give me a head start ;).

Walking on with the overcomers

I haven’t talked about Overcomers Outreach a whole lot on this blog since I mentioned it back here. But it has been bubbling away in the background, and I have been attending the meetings each month and meeting up with and emailing Penny. All I can say is that I am getting such an education and being challenged in ways I never would have expected, both by the sermons in the healing service (last week's on forgiveness was excellent), the content of the meetings and the stories of the people.

One of the jobs I was going to do when I finished on the EQUIP book club, because I just didn’t feel like I had the time before that, was to give the workbooks a makeover. Then before I got to it a graphic designer offered to do all the formatting and design free of charge. This was a blessing for me and a great blessing for the workbooks! – we have a mock up of the new format and they look fantastic. (Said graphic designer, who also made the logo, came along to one of the meetings and was deeply affected and came back with something in no time at all.)

Then on Monday night I had dinner with Penny and her husband and another fellow who has been sober for about two and a half years to go through some of the content of the workbooks. It was such a fascinating evening (and I got a grasp on some of the factors involved in alcoholism in a way that I hadn’t before). I just love working with these people and this material. Sometimes I wonder how in the world I got myself into it, but I am very grateful that I did!

I am actually writing something else, to be published later, on Overcomers Outreach, so I am going to finish that first before I say too much here, and sort out my thoughts and all the many things there are to write about (I got armloads of extra material the other night) in the process. I’m looking forward to working through it all now that I have a little more understanding of what goes on. But watch this space!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A weekend in Canberra

On the weekend I went to Canberra and stayed with my friend Michelle, who is posting over at the EQUIP book club this month. We had a lovely time beginning with going to the Farmer's markets early on Saturday morning. Getting up early on a Saturday to go and buy food is not something I'd usually rush off to with great enthusiasm, but these Farmers markets were a hive of activity, because farmers markets are stuff white people like, and I resisted them all but amongst all the fruit and vegetables there were also enticing baked goods (things like pumpkin and lime cake), and we got some chorizo sausage off a funny old chap from somewhere in Eastern Europe who had a smallgoods trailer too. We met up with an old friend briefly there, invited her and her friend for dinner, then went our separate ways.

We then went out to the Cork Street cafe in Gundaroo, in a converted old stables, for lunch with a collection of Canberra dwellers. It was very pleasant driving out through the rolling hills to sit outdoors and soak up the sunshine. Michelle then went to an engagement party in the afternoon, and there were numerous people I could/should have looked up but instead I stayed home, read a few pages of Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, then fell asleep.

That evening the friend mentioned earlier came over for dinner with a friend. She is now the speechwriter for the Governer-General. When I knew her back in Brisbane she was doing a Ph.D in 17th century poetry - John Donne and George Herbert. I am jealous! (of the Ph.D that is, not the speech-writing). I got rather inspired talking to her and wondered whether I could do a Ph.D in Arts, even though my Honours is in Science.

Sunday morning we went to Crossroads Church and heard a great sermon by Dave McDonald on Titus 1:1-4 and I caught up with some military folk I know through the Fighting Words network. Then we took a walk around the lake, and before too long I needed to leave for home.

It was nice to just spend time with someone on a Saturday and have an extended conversation while doing various things together.

For your information ...

Red grouse shooting season opens today in Scotland.

Without commenting on what I think of this practice, or associated activities, take a look here at what these genteel folk wear when they go out grouse shooting, and how beautiful is that high-waving heather on a Scottish moor.

And for that I shall give you a bonus poem from this month's poet:

High Waving Heather
Emily Brontë

High waving heather, 'neath stormy blasts bending,
Midnight and moonlight and bright shining stars;
Darkness and glory rejoicingly blending,
Earth rising to heaven and heaven descending,
Man's spirit away from its drear dongeon sending,
Bursting the fetters and breaking the bars.

All down the mountain sides, wild forest lending
One mighty voice to the life-giving wind;
Rivers their banks in the jubilee rending,
Fast through the valleys a reckless course wending,
Wider and deeper their waters extending,
Leaving a desolate desert behind.

Shining and lowering and swelling and dying,
Changing for ever from midnight to noon;
Roaring like thunder, like soft music sighing,
Shadows on shadows advancing and flying,
Lightning-bright flashes the deep gloom defying,
Coming as swiftly and fading as soon.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A midwinter night's Christmas

Ally over here has mentioned a Christmas in July that our community group recently had and how it all works. I hosted one of those dinners at my house. The only problem is that my friends and I never made it to the second leg, so it didn't work out quite so well in that regard at my end, but I had a very pleasant evening with people from work.

I don't usually have Christmas at my house and so simply don't own much in the way of Christmas decorations. What this meant is that on the day I went racing around looking for some. Thankfully I just so happened to have crocheted some placemats earlier in the year in a cherry red, which I decided would do (pictured).

Those small coloured blobs you see in the photo are my one Christmas decorating specialty (not quite so classy as the chandelier decorations at the other house - I wonder if I can still scavenge one of those?). They're made with red and green cellophane, jaffas, spearmint leaves and pipe cleaners (if you'd like more instructions than that just ask me). You can scatter them about, hang them over a wine glass, add them to the tree, give them to people etc.

Then I bought some "twinkle twig" from Freedom to use for a Christmas tree. And I am going to add to that when Christmas comes around.

I also thought I'd buy turkey. I should have done my research earlier because what I wasn't prepared for (or temporarily forgot) was the fact that this would be frozen and would require 24-36 hours to defrost. So, in the end I cooked frozen turkey, because that's all I could find, but it turned out quite fine.

I ended up with four friends from work coming over: L1 who is late 40s, divorced, two teenage kids (one of whom is mildy intellectually impaired and will never be a completely independent adult) and who writes poetry in her spare time; L2 who is in her early 30s and immigrated here from Scotland for "cultural and political" reasons and who has a law degree but is writing a movie script in her spare time and taking screen-writing courses; M1 who is one of only two guys in my team, somewhere in his thirties, and really wants to be a landscape/urban planner (as you can tell, none of us are entirely sold out to the cause around here!) and M2 who is in her early 20s and was adopted from Korea as a baby - she's the quiet one but the rest of us manage to suck her into stuff. We all sit together at work and get on really well and they are actually all really good at being socially inclusive and so on. And it was their idea to do a Kris Kringle thing, which was a bit of fun.

The reason we didn't make it to the dessert leg is because M1 had been out till 6:30 am that morning (yes, some people still do that!) and was going to go home, L1 had to be somewhere at 7:00 am the following Sunday morning because she was on the committee and had to set up (and I thought it was only churches who required that of people! :) ...), L2 actually came to my house from a party down the hall in my apartment block and was going to go back down there but never did, and M2 was going on in to the city for some friend's birthday and set off for there at about 11:15 pm. So, then I felt like I could hardly kick them out of the house - and I must be getting old because by the time they'd all left sometime after 11, I wasn't really in for going on to the next bit. So maybe I need to work out how you ensure people come on for the dessert leg next time.

But we had a good night. I have socialised with work friends quite a bit - mainly only the two Ls - but never had them in my home before, so in some ways it was crossing a frontier, but they were all really appreciative of this (and gave me a bottle of port from Portugal as a present!) and seemed to really enjoy themselves.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Yesterday we went to a seminar given by an ergonomist - a woman who has a degree in ergonomics (from two Greek words meaning "work" (ergo) and "natural laws" (nomos) - it's nice to be able to throw in some Greek every now and then). It was probably the most interesting, useful and applicable work seminar we have ever had - and a colleague said the same to me too. Basically she was teaching us how to avoid MSDs or musculoskeletal disorders associated with office work, and it was quite biological, in comparison to some of the usual OH&S spiels you get from someone out of HR. That and it gave us all a better understanding of how serious some of the medical conditions can become as a result of an MSD (though I don't think anybody takes it seriously until they do have problem). Prevention is definitely better than the cure!

Then she came around and assessed our work stations. My problem is that my desk is too low (or I am too tall for my desk) - which made me smile really because I think I have fat chance of getting a higher desk, since they are all custom built and connected to everything else around them. But I might get a platform to put my keyboard on so I can have my forearms on the desk and elbows at the correct angle without slumping (because if I lower my chair then my legs are at the wrong angle). I also have the wrong chair, with a lumbar support that won't go high enough, and several other things wrong. So, it's nice to be able to blame the fact that my back/shoulder (which is quite fine now) eventually had enough on my circumstances.

Poetry Friday - An Old Stoic

Since I have started on the poetry of those better known for their other works, I thought I would move on to Emily Brontë. Her poetry goes through the ranges of human states and emotions, as you may see in the next few weeks. Emily was a peculiar, tortured soul. D.H. Lawrence wrote of her: "... life does not mean length of days. Poor old Queen Victoria had length of days. But Emily Brontë had life. She died of it." (And I don't think he meant by that that she was off on great adventures or that she wrote one of the world's greatest novels, but the way she appropriated her experiences in what was really a very quiet life.) And this is the family portrait, of Anne, Emily and Charlotte, that their brother Branwell, stranger and more tortured still, painted himself out of.

Emily Brontë (1818-1848)

RICHES I hold in light esteem,
And Love I laugh to scorn;
And lust of fame was but a dream
That vanish'd with the morn:

And, if I pray, the only prayer
That moves my lips for me
Is, 'Leave the heart that now I bear,
And give me liberty!'

Yea, as my swift days near their goal,
'Tis all that I implore:
In life and death a chainless soul,
With courage to endure.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Crafty crochet happenings

As I have mentioned, one of the things I tried to do in my holidays was a bit of crochet. I searched far and wide throughout the world wide web for a pattern for a pinafore for a little girl, after seeing these cute ones in Urban Oasis, then decided to have a go at this one (very sweet pictures over there), and use up left over wool by actually making it in different coloured stripes. However, because American patterns never mention the ply of the wool, silly me just assumed, for some unthinking reason, that this was 8 ply. It soon became apparent that I had that wrong and so I googled the brand of wool mentioned and discovered it was 4 ply. I pressed on for a while thinking it might still work, but then realised it was going to be very wide, very heavy (for a little person) and just not suitable, so I unpulled it all. But I will start again some other time. At least now I have mastered that puff stitch, which is not for the faint-hearted because you end up with 9 loops on your hook to manoeuvre (though, now that I think about that, it might be a lot easier with 4 ply than 8 ply).

When I was up in the blue mountains with Mum we went into a second-hand book shop in Wentworth Falls and to my delight I discovered that they sold old crochet (and knitting) patterns (just to add to my magnetism to old book shops!). So, I pulled out a few. The guy at the counter cracked up laughing when I went to buy them, which was an appropriate response because the crochet tennis shorts are really something, but you just have to see past the whole 1970s style and the colours they use - and forget about making matching shorts. That and switch genders. I found this hilarious old book of crochet for men. If I was a guy I wouldn't be seen dead wearing most things in that book, but I thought a couple of them might be rather cool for me eg a long vest made of granny-squares with a zip up the front (only mine won't be brown and orange) and a tunic with a belt around the middle (which looks seriously funny on the guy with sideburns standing in a row boat).

I also found an old book of crochet toys and have picked out a rag doll and a toy soldier for my niece and nephew for Christmas, and something doable to make for some of the 18 women having babies at my church this year, but that shall be a secret for now!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Tolkien on the long defeat

For interest's sake, here is what Wikipedia has to say on the origins of the 'long defeat' (you can go over there for all the links):

Long defeat
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Long Defeat is a phrase denoting an apparently impossible but noble battle.

The modern sense of the expression seems to derive from J. R. R. Tolkien, who used it in The Lord of the Rings to refer to the long struggle against the evil forces of Morgoth and, later, of Sauron. Lady Galadriel, recollecting the role she and Celeborn have played in this fight, says to the hobbit Frodo Baggins: "For the Lord of the Galadrim is accounted the wisest of the Elves of Middle-earth, and a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings. He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat." The phrase reflects one of the major underlying themes of The Lord of the Rings, that "no victory is complete, that evil rises again, and that even victory brings loss."

In accordance with his strong Christian beliefs, Tolkien saw this phrase as applicable to all of human existence, which had been tainted by Original Sin since the Fall of Man, and would remain so until the Second Coming. He stated in a letter: "Actually, I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect 'history' to be anything but a 'long defeat' - though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory."

Other Usage
This term has been used in some circles to denote the struggle against the ill effects of poverty and injustice.

This usage was popularized in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. This book describes the efforts of Dr. Paul Farmer, who selflessly serves the poorest of the poor in medical facilities in Haiti and other poor countries.

In the book, Dr. Farmer (who was fond of The Lord of the Rings from an early age) explains to the author:

I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I’m not going to stop because we keep losing. Now I actually think sometimes we may win. I don’t dislike victory ... We want to be on the winning team, but at the risk of turning our backs on the losers, no, it’s not worth it. So you fight the long defeat.
While this may sound defeatist, when used in this way, the term implies to those who use it that since the battle appears hopeless, any progress, or even a single life saved, can be viewed as a victory.

I have heard of other glories

Sometimes your own life, or the lives of people around you, goes a little like this:

The Long Defeat (click for a snippet)
by Sara Groves

i have joined the long defeat
that falling set in motion
and all my strength and energy
are raindrops in the ocean

so conditioned for the win
to share in victor's stories
but in the place of ambition's din
i have heard of other glories

and i pray for an idea
and a way i cannot see
it's too heavy to carry
and impossible to leave

i can't just fight when i think i'll win
that's the end of all belief
and nothing has provoked it more
than a possible defeat


we walk a while we sit and rest
we lay it on the altar
i won't pretend to know what's next
but what i have i've offered
it's too heavy to carry
and I will never leave

there's a way I cannot see
I don't know exactly what Sara Groves intended those 'other glories' to be, but to me it's faithfulness in the midst of suffering and difficulties. It's the people who are knocked down, but they're not out. The people who keep fighting, who keep demonstrating grace or who just keep hanging on, to the glory of God, when there doesn't seem to be much left that's worth fighting for. The people who press on when everything is disappointing. A little like this:

Treasure in Jars of Clay
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4)

Monday, August 03, 2009

A sunroom and daffodils

Well, I am back after my little spell. I had last week off and my Mum was actually here for most of it. I was originally going to take the week to just relax around home and enjoy the novelty of actually staying home without having to go anywhere, and being able to do a few things I wanted to do (read books, write things, crochet, go outside), but my Mum really needed a holiday too, so I said she should come down, and so she did.

It was a nice time. There are aspects of being one-on-one with just my Mum for that length of time which I find hard work (maybe everybody would? - and maybe I just feel a weight of responsibility for some things that I don't need to feel), but I have realized I have some long buried junk over that. Reading snippets of Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Lane and Tripp as we went along was quite pertinent (might write more on that later). Mixed into that was the fact that I also had to adjust my expectations of the logistics of the holiday. I gave Mum my bed, which meant I slept on a camping mat in the loungeroom, but my flatmate still needed to leave for work by 7:15 am and get her breakfast etc, so there wasn’t a whole lot of sleeping in happening for me here, and my Mum doesn’t go places all that often so we spent at least part of each day doing a version of the “sight-seeing” thing, when some days what I would have loved was to just lie about in my own bed and stay home with my nose in a book. But life is not all about me and I think Mum really enjoyed herself.

One of the things we were very blessed to be able to do was to go and stay in a friend’s lovely house in Leura. I could have lolled about with my books and crochet in this sunroom forever (after I had been for a jog and a bushwalk or two):

This would have been a better shot, excepting that my old point and shoot digital couldn't deal with so much splendid light (that's my crochet on the table)

The daffodils outside

The front garden