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:

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.


(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