Monday, April 30, 2012

Daisy

For my next trick, I decided to make a crochet daisy. This is actually a 1950s millinery pattern, but it is meant to be made in fine cotton. I had these wools at home, so just thought I’d give the pattern a go. We are having another Made Fair Market coming up at my church, and I thought perhaps I could make a few flowers for that, but the 18 petals and the time it took to make this one means it is totally unfeasible.

I keep saying it looks like a dead spider, the way it is all curled up, presumably because the white yarn is a highly twisted one. I could wet block it out easily enough, but I am actually just a little partial to the curled petals. But my question for you, dear reader, is, what would you do with it?



It's a miracle

Here is the latest of Sara Groves' live recordings, with Stephen Mason from Jars of Clay. I actually really like this song, it is perhaps my favourite on the album. It's simple (and it might seem a big vague or "wishy washy" to some), but I like it. I thought of it when I read this quote I read the other day, via a twitter link, from How to be Good, by Nick Hornby (I read the quotes listed here, especially this one and this one, and felt strangely like I wanted to read that book):
It's love this and love that but of course it's so easy to love someone you don't know, whether it's George Clooney or Monkey. Staying civil to someone with whom you've ever shared Christmas turkey - now there's a miracle.
As we all know, being in close proximity to, and/or loving, people has the power for both glory and tragedy, and what it all requires is a little vulnerability and forgiveness (and a whole lot of Christ).

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mothers Day Card

This year I am going for the family star. No, I am kidding. My sisters are both making photo books in any case, so I think they win, but I did decide to make a card and so came up with this yesterday.

I have been thinking about some crochet flowers for a while, but there are crochet flowers and crochet flowers (you know what I mean). So, these are supposed to be violets (pattern here). I have for Mum some Crabtree and Evelyn hand therapy in 'Wisteria', which is also purply blue, but I wasn't going to try to crochet wisteria. I know my limits. And we now have a little family Violet.

I don't think my stems add anything to this, and perhaps I should have drawn those in with my watercolour pencils. Next time.




Ballads by Candlelight

Last night I went along to 'Ballads by Candlelight', by The Idea of North, at the Church in the Graveyard (St Stephen's Newtown). Some time ago a friend asked if I'd like to go along with herself and some friends, and so I did.

A capella wouldn't always be my first choice for music, but I really enjoyed the evening. I think my favourite would have been when the alto took the lead and sang oh so beautifully I think it's going to rain today by Randy Newman (made famous by Bette Midler in Beaches). They also sang Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell, Angel by Sarah McLachlan and Fragile by Sting, all of which I like, among others. (You can listen to the group with James Morrison here or here.)

It was a pleasant nice way to spend the evening, and I bumped into some folks from my church who know the deputy alto, who sang while the alto was on maternity leave, and the group sang a few songs as a quintet.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Listening on Friendship

Today I decided to get back to the sermon podcasts at work while I had some less involved things to do. So I have listened twice to this sermon on friendship by Tim Keller, from the Proverbs. It’s very interesting, and talks about why friendship is not viewed as important in our culture – because it’s not considered a biological or sociological necessity – and what also makes it difficult. I haven’t had the moment for any extensive notes, but here are the main points:
  • Uniqueness of friendship 
  • Discovery of a friend 
  • Forging and building a friendship 
  • Where you get the power for friendship 
Marks and building blocks of true friendship 
  • Constancy 
  • Carefulness/Sensitivity 
  • Candour 
  • Counsel

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lucy's rug

So, here is Lucy's rug, hot off the hook. I don't feel enormously pleased with this one, as there is perhaps too much white and I am still not sold on the lightest purpley pink being in there, plus the dark purple is extremely dark, but I do like this stripe idea. I started with this pattern from The Purl Bee, then added in some ideas from The Pippy Stripe Blanket here. Despite starting with what seemed like a very long chain, it wasn't as wide as I wanted it, so I went for the wide border.





Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Old friends and reading in bed

Yesterday I was walking home feeling a wee bit despondent and lonely, to tell the truth. I checked the letterbox, as I always do, with a small amount of hope, though I’m not even sure what for, as rarely is there anything worth hoping for in there. But yesterday the letter box had within it a hand-written letter from a dear old friend.

In this letter she shared about a recent sermon on singleness called The Unimportance of Marriage (don’t worry folks, there was one on The Importance of Marriage too) at my old church in Tamworth (after some time in Sydney she now lives back there) and how God was changing her, she also copied out some of what was written on the front of a church newsletter on prayer (which I think must actually be a reprint of this), she wrote to me about novels she has been reading that I have now added to my list, about another book on Romans 8 called How the Gospel Brings Us All The Way Home by Derek W.H. Thomas (I think I need to get this book), about her upcoming holiday (she is going to the Channel Islands and Iceland and the Hay-on-Wye book festival! - and she asked me if I wanted to come last year, but I thought travelling overseas again was not something I should invest in just now, and I am having regrets), about what she thought of the latest Jane Eyre movie, then she shared some Haikus from a book she bought in the Narnia Bookshop in Tamworth.

By the end of the letter I had tears running down my face. It was nice to reminded of a long and deep friendship, that there are those out there who share my values and delights, who enjoy my company. I was positively cheered.

Here is one of the Haikus (though it’s not the standard 17 syllables) she shared, with the comment “doesn’t that poem evoke a lovely image of being snuggled in bed, oblivious to the world outside and fully absorbed in a wonderful book?”. Indeed.

reading in bed
my pulse flickering
the lightly held bookmark

 - Michael Dylan Welch

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The guitar again

Today I received in the mail The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Guitar, by David Hodge. I have been a little frustrated with trying to learn guitar, with finding songs I could play, and then choosing one of the seemingly dozens of different ways to play each chord. It is perhaps because I am well out there in the abstract thinking “type” that I felt like I was missing something important about the why of it all. I want to know the theory and ideas behind guitar, not just work out how to finger the next chord.

I have been quite surprised by how vastly different it is to learning a woodwind instrument, and the fact that I didn’t learn so much theory and wasn’t so familiar with chords certainly hasn’t helped. I can (or used to be able to) listen to a song and pick it out on the flute, but don’t seem to have any idea on knowing which are the best chords to choose to play on guitar. So, hopefully the idiot’s guide will enlighten me. I went for this book because I actually saw David Hodge’s name about in some of the things I did read on the internet. Now I just have to put the time in.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ali's grammar tip #1

I try very hard not to be one of those grammar nazis who corrects others on the internet. I don’t think there are any prizes, or is a whole lot of goodwill on offer, for being that person. But I work as an editor, trained to spot such mistakes, I have done the Cambridge CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and sometimes it distresses me to read the world wide web.

The reality is, I think I am a language purist. I am not really interested in language evolving. I prefer it in original form. However, I know that even the best people make typos and mistakes in haste and distraction. We all do it, and, as we all know, some forms of social media don't allow you to correct yourself. But, there is a very common error made, that I see and hear constantly in writing and speech, that I think it is now so prevalent nobody notices anymore - except those who are language purists, that is. But I have decided to point it out, for the better of mankind. So, what is wrong with this sentence below:
I am going to try and fix the dishwasher.
or this one:
Do you want to go and see a movie?
I am going to put the answer in a comment, so you have time to think about it.

Beaconsfield on TV


Last night I did something I wouldn’t normally do, and that is a) watch TV – rarely do I watch it these days, and not usually on a Sunday evening after church b) watch a TV show/movie about underground miners - this just wouldn’t be my first choice c) watch a disaster movie – I don’t enjoy disaster movies. 

But my childhood friend the film director had directed a movie called Beaconsfield (which got the critics choice for the week in TV) about the Beaconsfield mine collapser, and he is a good director with artistic taste (in my opinion), so I thought I would turn it on and see what it was like, and I ended up watching to the end. And I enjoyed it, if that is the right expression for such a movie. It was so well done, and I particularly liked the music score too. I also felt like it was something good for me to watch such a human portrayal of this true story in a situation that was quite different to mine. One thing I have found a little disturbing since living in the city is that city people can be real snoots about country folk (the irony being that those in the city think they are the ones without prejudices) so I like a little dose of country folk every so often. This was good viewing (but seriously, how irritating and how long are the adds? ... I don't know how regular commercial TV people can stand it).

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The weekend

I have spent a lot of time on the couch at this over the weekend (with weird-looking semi-straight hair - it was a very bad hair day today, so I got out the straightener).


And I wandered through the neighbourhood late in the afternoon to the local bookshop cafe, where I read some of What Men Don't Talk About, by Maggie Hamilton, because I suspect there are a lot of things men don't talk about, that I'd like to know.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on prayer

I have found this quote, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones on prayer, both challenging and encouraging (it's come to me second-hand, so I don't know the original source – if you do please let me know):
Prayer, in many ways, is the supreme expression of our faith in God and our faith and confidence in the promises of God. There is nothing that a man ever does which so proclaims his faith as when he gets down on his knees and looks to God and talks to God. It is a tremendous confession of faith. I mean by this that he is not just running with his requests and petitions, but if he really waits upon God, if he really looks to God, he is there saying, ‘Yes, I believe it all, I believe that you are a rewarder of them that diligently seek you, I believe you are the Creator of all things and all things are in your hands. I know there is nothing outside of your control. I come to you because you are in all this and I find peace and rest and quiet in your holy presence and I am praying to you because you are what you are.’ That is the whole approach to prayer that you find in the teaching of Scripture.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Friday, April 20, 2012

The sermon, Camus, interpersonal neurobiology and paper toilet seat covers

Not a lot to write home about here lately. But here is a curious article by a Professor of Philosophy in the New York Opinionator on the Sermon on the Mount, in response to an article from Newsweek claiming people should ditch the church and instead follow the moral code of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. I'm not sure what exactly there is to glean from it, but here is a snippet:
Sullivan is right that Christian churches, as fallible human institutions, have often been obstacles to the fruitful understanding of Christ’s moral message. But these churches have also been central in sustaining the traditions of thought and practice that transformed Jesus’ passionate but enigmatic teachings into coherent and fruitful moral visions. They have been the air — however polluted — that has fed the fire of his message.
Further to philosophy, here is an article on why Christians should read Camus (I really wish I had studied Philosophy ...).

And, in keeping with recent posts on The Brain that Changes Itself, here is an article on “interpersonal neurobiology” and what happens to your brain when you are in a relationship with someone.

Plus, I'll add in this article on Slate regarding Christians and homosexuality:
The Christian view of gay sex is bound up in the Christian view of straight sex, which is rooted in the entirety of the biblical narrative, from the creation story in Genesis down through Jesus’ words in the New Testament.
And, something Laurel posted on facebook yesterday. Maybe I have a weird sense of humour, but I thought this was hilarious. A woman goes into the toilet on long-haul flights and puts paper toilet-seat covers on her head, after the fashion of 17th Century Flemish portraiture. Follow the link and scroll down to the pictures.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dating principles for women

I'm not about to give dating advice to anybody, but there is some here from someone else, via a link at the bottom of my church newsletter.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Balm in Gilead

I'm having a "balm in Gilead" phase right now you see. So, here is a poem by Christina Rossetti of that name. The biblical references to the balm in Gilead are in Jeremiah 8:22 and 46:11. The flowers illustrated here are those mentioned in the poem (Love-lies-bleeding and Heartsease).


Balm in Gilead

Heartsease I found, where Love-lies-bleeding
Empurpled all the ground:
Whatever flowers I missed unheeding,
Heartsease I found.

Yet still my garden mound
Stood sore in need of watering, weeding,
And binding growths unbound.

Ah, when shades fell to light succeeding
I scarcely dared look round:
"Love-lies-bleeding" was all my pleading,
Heartsease I found.

Christina Rossetti

There is a balm in Gilead

For my next obscure youtube video, here is a slow, very slow,  jazz version of an old African-American spiritual (I wanted to write 'negro spiritual', and I think it a trifle absurd that I shouldn't, when who doesn't appreciate a negro spiritual?, and they ought to be proud of them, but we shall be PC here). You don't actually get any of the verses in this video, but here are the lyrics.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A midweek poem

I have not much to write, and so a poem by Christina Rossetti.


Hope in grief

Tell me not that death of grief
Is the only sure relief.
Tell me not that hope when dead
Leaves a void that nought can fill,
Gnawings that may not be fed.
Tell me not there is no skill
That can bind the breaking heart,
That can soothe the bitter smart,
When we find ourselves betrayed,
When we find ourselves forsaken,
By those for whom we would have laid
Our young lives down, nor wished to waken.
Say not that life is to all
But a gaily coloured pall,
Hiding with its deceitful glow
The hearts that break beneath it,
Engulphing as they anguished flow
The scalding tears that seethe it.
Say not, vain this world's turmoil,
Vain its trouble and its toil,
All its hopes and fears are vain,
Long, unmitigated pain.
What though we should be deceived
By the friend that we love best?
All this world have been grieved,
Yet many have found rest.
Our present life is as the night,
Our future as the morning light:
Surely the night will pass away,
And surely will uprise the day.

- Christina Rossetti

Sunday, April 15, 2012

TS Eliot on words

On the frequent failure of words alone to adequately convey meaning, two poem fragments from TS Eliot:

Picture from here.

From East Coker:

V.

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years —
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate — but there is no competition —
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

From Burnt Norton:

V

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Jenny & Tyler

I first became aware of Jenny & Tyler through Duncan posting about the place on them. They are a Christian husband and wife duo who sing what has been called "soul grass" and pop folk etc have been likened to The Swell Season, The Civil Wars, She and Him, Sara Groves ... so, I thought I'd have a listen. I don't love all of it, but some of it I do. You can currently download their latest album on Noisetrade if you'd like to listen.

Here is a live version of a song of their newest album called Abide. You can feel a little obliged to theologically scrutinise things you post on a blog, and I don't know whether it's possible they are being a little Arminian in singing "open up your doors, let the king come in" in the bridge, but I don't think so in this context - it's more about handing over various areas of your life to the Lordship of Christ. I like the sound they have happening here anyway. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An evening prayer

I've just snitched this from Cath. I really must get myself a copy of the Prayer Book.
Be present, merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night; that we, who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may rest on your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On the couch

If you do happen to be interested in my ramblings about brain plasticity, you can listen to the author being interviewed on Radio National, All in the Mind, here. Part 1 and 2 are perhaps more interesting and less scientific than the spiel about stem cells, and Part 2 is Norman Doidge alone.

Here is an interesting little snippet from the transcript about the proliferation of drugs being used to treat mental disorders from Part 1 (whoever writes up these transcripts needs some grammar lessons - I have added my own punctuation so it makes sense):
Jeffrey Schwartz: ... They took this notion from the 60s, which was clever when they came up with it in the 60s, 'for every twisted thought, a twisted molecule', it was a clever little aphorism you know, 40 something years ago, but they took it so literally that it became a dogma that was genuinely nihilistic and destructive to the notion of people having a will and people having capacity to change their conscious awareness and change their brain in the process. Because if you believe that every twisted thought is really just a twisted molecule, then you're going to have exactly what did happen, which is you're going to end up wanting to use mechanical means to treat mental disorders. And the predominant use of drugs in psychiatry is, I think, as anybody who is not really making his or her living off prescribing those drugs, and even many of the people who do, now acknowledge, that it has gone way overboard.
And in further explanation of that, this is Norman Doidge from Part 2:
Norman Doidge: ... And one of the most exciting and important things about this work is people have often thought that real treatments are always biological and involve drugs etc, and that talk therapy is just that—just talk, mere talk. But we now have really important work of psychoanalytic therapies — cognitive behaviour therapy, inter-personal therapy which kind of grows out of psychoanalytic therapy — which shows that patients come in with brains in certain states of wiring and after these interventions their brains are rewired.

So psychotherapy is every bit as biological as the use of medicines and I would say, in a certain respect, more precise at times. Now look I use medications from time to time, I never give medication without giving psychotherapy. The Canadian health care system allows me to do that but I think that's really, really important because medications basically bathe every cell in your brain at once. And in that sense, on that level, they're a blunt instrument. Now there are times when they have very, very important results, I'm not saying that anyone should go off their medication and all that kind of thing, the reductionist approach ... but one of the things we've learnt is that if you look at the letter A and then you close your eyes and think of the letter A, many of the same circuits are activated. And if you're hurting and talking with your therapist about that, those circuits are activated at that point and that provides a point of entry. And when therapy is working it's like a microsurgical intervention on precisely the circuits that have to be changed.

Turning our ghosts into ancestors

So, I got to the chapter in The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, on Turning Our Ghosts into Ancestors – Psychoanalysis as a neuroplastic therapy, and the illustration used for this chapter was a man who had lost his mother when he was two and who had difficulties, about which he was particularly upset, in his relationships with women.

I found this chapter somewhat disturbing, to say the least, and may or may not have cried a river (someone asked me the next day why my eyes were all bloodshot, but how could I explain). Some excerpts:
The child who loses his mother at this young age is almost always struck two devastating blows: he loses his mother to death and the surviving parent to depression. If others cannot help him soothe himself and regulate his emotions as his mother did, he learns to “autoregulate” by turning off his emotions.
...
It has recently been discovered that early childhood trauma causes massive plastic change in the hippocampus, shrinking it so that new, long-term explicit memories cannot form. Glucocorticoids [released in stressed infants] kills cells in the hippocampus so that it cannot make the synaptic connections in neural networks that make learning and explicit long-term memory possible.
This might explain why I have next to no memories of my Dad before he died and fairly sparse memories of early childhood. (I thought this was actually quite normal, till I discovered that others could remember being four.)

Admittedly, the man in his illustration lost his mother at 26 months, when the brain is in a crucial phase of development, whereas I lost my Dad at 49 months, when most areas of it are more fully developed, and I doubt that losing a father is the same thing for an infant as losing a mother. And I have never had learning difficulties. For all the fact that my father died, three months later my Mum had a baby, I was then sent to school a third of the way through the school year, in the year in which I was only four and a half, then skipped most of it with a psychosomatic illness, when it did come to the end of kindergarten the teacher apparently said to my Mum, “you realise that she’s top of the class”. So, God knows how, but in the midst of the trauma somehow I managed to master the fundamentals of learning. And the reality is, I stayed at or near the top of the class, in most areas of competency (except drama!), throughout my education. So, I am not too concerned about my learning capabilities, and perhaps that is an indicator that all is well inside my head.

But the other psychological issues concern me more. I’ve always felt like there was something there, when it comes to men and relationships, that I just can’t find or get a hold of, no matter how I have tried. (This is the difficulty of experiencing trauma before the age of conscious memory.)

The man in the book felt like he was always searching for something, and had recurrent dreams to that effect, and had apparently had difficulties committing to women because he always felt like something else was out there (perhaps he appeared as the classic ‘commitment-phobe’), when all along what he was really searching for was his lost mother. And he also had the strange feeling, though he didn't know it as such, that being involved with other women was being unfaithful to someone else, namely his mother (so he was unfaithful to them instead – sad). What he needed to do in psychotherapy was unearth old memories and re-transcribe them, thus turning his ghosts into ancestors. I have no such feeling of searching, and I don’t have any recurring dreams, but sometimes I wonder if subconsciously I am not waiting for something. One day when I was growing up, and must have been in my double digits age-wise, we got a new lounge-suite (when plonking down on the old one might mean you landed on a piece of wood in the underlying structure), and I had the thought, ‘but if Dad comes back now and sees this new couch he might think we don’t live here anymore’. I knew it was silly even then, but I thought it all the same.

It would be a stupid thing for me to do to make up psychotherapy on myself on the internet (I’m pretty sure that’s in the rules of things not to blog about) but I think relational issues can be compounded by the ‘power of absence’ (I can’t remember where I read this idea initially) which is along the lines of the fact that, if you lose a parent of one gender, there is a certain kind of attraction or awe of that gender, that comes from them being absent (and explains why some children who lose the parent of the same gender find themselves with same-sex attractions, but when it’s the parent of the opposite gender, it only somehow magnifies the strange attraction to that gender – I use this as my excuse for why I am almost completely paralysed into inaction in the presence of someone I am interested in). Then, growing up without any affirmation or encouragement from a male presence has also meant I really don’t have a lot of confidence around men (and my Mum was often implying that I was unattractive, and men would not be interested in me, primarily because I was too tall – and the terrible irony of that is that I have discovered that men actually seem to expect tall women to have more confidence, not less, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because all the men I have been interested in have chosen someone shorter than me, because most women are shorter than me).

Sometimes I do wonder if I am blurring the line (I have tried to untangle this in the past), as I have a kind of yearning for the man to be the man, and take initiative and be protective, that is perhaps normal for women, but I wonder if it’s a trifle overdone, or more fatherly, in myself, and I feel quite extremely distressed (with a kind of ‘please don’t make me have to be in control’ sort of feeling), in situations where I feel like I am, or sense the need to be, taking initiative (and I can’t do this well at all in person), but then I get more distressed that I am unencouraging, so I will often go away and over-compensate or explain through other less-threatening means, and it is perhaps no wonder if men I am interested in think I am strange. But, that is enough psychotherapy guesswork.

I went so far as to google psychotherapists in Sydney, but the reality is I don’t have any known brain processing problems, in the grace of God I have been spared most everything on that long list of things you read of the deleterious effects on girls of not having a father, and my only known problem in relating to men is encountering one who likes me enough to ask me out (if I could get there I might work out if there is anything further, but not getting a tick in the box for “good family” doesn’t help in that regard either – men seem to be suspicious, and maybe they have reasons, of women who grew up without fathers – and sometimes I wish those who teach about relationships would leave off that criteria and give some people, who grew up in circumstances beyond their control, a chance), so perhaps it is unnecessary. And I do just sigh about how difficult it all is. The plasticity of the brain is indeed in many ways a marvelous thing, as well as it’s capacity for healing, but essentially we are still left in a world full of physical and psychological injuries and brokenness, that might mend but it will take hard work, and it makes me want to just take my leave at the first available opportunity. Instead I might explore psychotherapy.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Jesus blood never failed me yet

So here is a tune for you on Good Friday. The story behind this song goes that it is a recording of a  homeless person from around Elephant Castle and Waterloo in London. On listening to it later Gavin Briars discovered "When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song - 13 bars in length - formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way". See if you don't sing this song for the rest of your life.

(It sounds to me like this is the version with Tom Waits singing along, which was obviously not in the original.)

Good Friday

A couple of things about Good Friday; what it is and why it's called Good Friday.




And from an historian:


Easter: Reasons to believe part 1 from CPX on Vimeo.


Easter: Reasons to believe part 1 from CPX on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The new guitar

It took me a while, but here is my new guitar. Looks pretty ordinary really, but I do like this colour (in preference to the orangey colour). You can see in the bottom picture where my uncle screwed in a pin so I can attach the strap there. So far I haven't even played it standing up, but that can be my next trick.



Flowers for you

I am working from home today, so I just took a lunch-time stroll and stopped to "smell" the neighbours' flowers. So this is random cheer. And I decided to give you some blurry bits. I like the "impressionist" painterly look of them. Does anyone know what the pink flowers are?




Monday, April 02, 2012

That thing I was never meant to be

Last night I asked my niece whether I needed to know who the boy was in her latest facebook photo, only to be told she'd photoshopped herself in with one of the stars from "One Direction" as a lark (kids these days!). Looks like I've become the clueless Aunty ...

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Reading about brain plasticity

I am in a book club in which we try to read at least one non-fiction book in a year. I have wanted to read The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge for a long time, so I suggested it, my suggestion got the vote, and it is our next book. My copy came in the mail on Friday. (I keep telling myself to make better use of the library for books, but since our local one is rather small and pathetic, and every time I’ve gone looking they haven't had the book, I don’t.)

You’ve probably all read this book, as it was something of a sensation a few years ago, but, I must say, I started reading and I am finding it very hard to put down. Maybe you have to have a biological sort of background to get quite this excited, but I am so fascinated! You can read something about the book here and read reviews here (ignore the "the power of positive thinking" reference, as that sounds like simplistic hocus pocus that is not truly representative of the book). The basic gist is that the brain is not nearly so hardwired and mechanistic or compartmentalised as once thought, and that other areas of the brain can learn and be taught to do the work of areas that are injured or non-functioning (and neural pathways can circumvent blocks and find other ways of operating), that weak areas of the brain can be strengthened with exercises just like a muscle, and that brain maps are governed by competition for brain-processing power, such that use it or lose it really does apply (it's not simply that you forget how to do on activity, it's that other activities actually take-over the brain space previously used for that activity, and the reason why it's harder to learn a new language when you are older is because your mother tongue has claimed more territory, so to speak). At least this is what I have learnt so far.

The book is written via the stories of those whose lives have been dramatically changed by implementing the concept of neuroplasticity, so it is a scientific read but in easily digestible format. Chapter two tells the story of the remarkable improvements of a woman, Barbara Arrowsmith Young, with multiple significant learning disabilities who basically designed and implemented her own rehabilitation, and now runs an extraordinary school where they target the areas of brain weakness in those with disabilities. She is actually speaking this year at the Sydney Writer’s Festival and I want to listen.

The book is quite apt right now because even my physiotherapist keeps telling me about training my brain, and how it takes 6-8 weeks for the brain to learn what I am trying to teach it (altering the mechanics of how I stand, walk and run). I intend to read this book and cure myself of all my faults and weaknesses and bad habits (I am kidding – but I can have a shot at it can’t I?). The author does sound a word of caution in the preface with this:
While the human brain has apparently underestimated itself, neuroplasticity isn’t all good news; it renders our brains not only more resourceful but also more vulnerable to outside influences. Neuroplasticity has the power to produce more flexible but also more rigid behaviours – a phenomenon I call “the plastic paradox”. Ironically, some of our most stubborn habits and disorders are products of our plasticity. Once a particular plastic change occurs in the brain and becomes well established, it can prevent other changes from occurring. It is by understanding both the positive and negative effects of plasticity that we can truly understand the extent of human possibilities.
Anyway, got to go. I’ve got eight more chapters to read (I'm only half way through Chapter 3, and there is something on autism coming up, which I expect to be interesting). I am also inspired to keep at things like learning guitar, after reinforcing how good that is for my brain (learning new fine motor skills and auditory skills and how to read a different sort of music ...).

George Eliot on the first celebrity megapastor

Carl Trueman quotes Weinstein quoting Romola by George Eliot. This might give you some explanation for why it took me so long to read Romola. Fifteenth century Florence was a complex place. Eliot, for all she illuminates his flaws and his demise, is actually quite sympathetic towards Savonarola, and it is his character I quoted from in this post on Half the vocation of the spiritual guide of men.