Friday, August 31, 2012

August 31

My father died on the 31st August. The truth is, it was a very long time ago and it isn’t like I am overcome with grief. I could almost forget what day it is. But once upon a time it was a momentous day, that profoundly altered the course of my life, in ways I’m sure I don’t even realise. So I always feel like I should mark it somehow. I’m just never really sure how. It seems a bit late to begin now, but I like the idea of having some little ritual of remembrance. Just what is the thing. I don’t have any memories of things we actually did together, or that he particularly liked, which would be the obvious way to mark such an occasion. I am going to put my mind to it.

It’s also usually Father’s Day the following Sunday. Bad timing. On occasion I have given my Mum something on Father’s Day, just some little thing as a way of acknowledging that she did it on her own. But I don’t do it every year, haven’t for a while, and usually don’t post things. However, I have realised today that this year I will actually see Mum on Father’s Day, and I don’t have anything, which might have been nice to have. And I can’t think of anything, or where I can get it between now and Brisbane tomorrow either.

I will just go away and ponder these conundrums ...

Poetry Day - Nostalgia

Yesterday in the mail I received a belated birthday present from an old childhood friend: a book of poetry by Gillian Clarke, that she bought for me and had signed by the author at the Hay-on-Wye book festival in the UK. On Monday this week I also received a belated birthday present from another childhood friend (I'm still working out if it is a scarf or a headband, but it is pretty). These two friends are pictured below, on a youth group camp once upon a time. God blessed me greatly when he gave me these two friends in my youth. I don't know if we remain so similar now because we grew and matured and developed our interests and sensibilities together, or if we became such friends in our youth because the similarities, or at least their foundations, were already there. Either way, through all the years and places I have travelled, they still remain some of my closest kindred spirits.

Written inside my card from the girl on the left is a poem that's not by Gillian Clarke but by Ben Okri (from a book titled Wild), called Nostalgia. I love it already. Lately in Sydney the star jasmine has been flowering. I walk past several joyously pink-and-white blooming vines on my way to work, and when I am intercepted by it's delicate but effusive prefume I am momentarily in my childhood backyard in Tamworth, where our entire back fence was hidden in it. And I believe I feel the Sehnsucht. The poem is below.


Like a ship in the sand
The days have moved slowly
But one never leaves land.
Dreams gather in black books:
Coiled spaces, mixed up parables,
Out of which looks
The soul as it reads time.
I travel the whole world
With an uncomplicated rhyme.
I feast in dreams and fast in life;
It seems that dreams transfigure strife.
So I send messages to my future
Within a murky paradigm.
Out at seas there are many rocks
I encounter before they are due;
Sleep resolves them in paradox.
Only in the present are things true.
Not even the future will last.
Nostalgia's a flower sent to the past.

Ben Okri

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A bleep

Apologies for half-baked posts of late. The truth is, I am running into the ground here and I am going on leave for two weeks on Saturday. I haven’t had a break since Christmas, so it is time, though it’s not quite the holiday I had in mind. I was thinking to myself not so long ago that I haven’t done anything other than visit family in recent years and perhaps I needed a holiday where I go to sit by the beach or in a cabin in the hills, where I could just read books, play guitar, do crochet …

Then my younger sister rang me.

Her husband has gone away for a spell in the military and she wondered if I would like to come and stay and help for a while with their three little kids. So, that is what I am doing. What’s more, we are going on a road trip! She has this idea (which, just quietly, I think is a bit crazy, but I am going along for the ride, literally, anyway) of driving, with the kids, from Queensland down to here, then she will continue on out to Bathurst to visit a friend. Why do I feel like my idea of what a road trip with three little kids could be like is more realistic than their mother’s? We shall see how it goes.

It will be great to spend some time with them. (Though I am little disappointed that I doubt there will be book reading happening and I can’t take my guitar to practice, but I do have some time off back in Sydney (all going according to plan on the road) at the end of this adventure to recover.)

I have lots of work to finish between now and tomorrow though, and tomorrow is my manager’s last day at work before she goes on maternity leave, so all is in upheaval. She has been my manager ever since I’ve been here, and she’s a Christian who is great to work with and is a large part of the reason why I have stayed here so long myself, so it’s a shame to see her go. But it is very exciting for her. She met someone and got married later in her thirties, and now she is off to have twins (I’m a wee bit jealous really – just in a “wouldn’t that be nice” sort of way). As a result there’s been lunches and morning teas and meetings …

So, that is life right now and I might not post for the next couple of weeks.

I’ll leave you with my latest guitar song, that I am enjoying playing. The new guitar teacher has good taste (and obviously by that I mean that it lines up some with mine) and he chooses some things and I choose some (or I make suggestions and he sees if it’s doable and/or has teaching merit) and it’s interesting. He left out the coda in this one though, because it’s not nice, and I don’t think so either.

An evening with Christopher Ash

I roped my connect group into going along to a Christopher Ash lecture at the Centre for Christian Living at Moore College lastnight, on God, Sex and Marriage. It was packed, with extra people sitting all over the floor. Whether or not that has to do with the recent hoopla in the newspapers here I don’t know, but it was a helpful night. I had a question I thought about asking (I’ve expressed my views here before so thought it would be good to get his comment on them), but I didn’t. But I got to run it by Tim Adeney, who wrote this, afterwards instead (it was great to catch up, briefly, with Tim and Ally). The question I wanted to ask in my head would have gone something like this:
I agree with what you say about the purpose of marriage (based on how you interpret Genesis 2:15 and 2:18 - that it isn’t just for gazing into each others’ eyes in soft focus but rather to work together for the glory of God), but on a bad day, on occasion, I have said of your book that “single people aren't lonely, they’re just useless”, because isn’t it a better state for single people that without a spouse they might be lonely than that without a spouse they can’t do the task they were created for?
Tim Adeney had helpful things to say, but basically in the end, it’s about humanity as a whole. The “task” for humanity as a whole requires people to get married and reproduce, obviously, but not every individual is going to be involved in that (this is where you can feel a little side-lined as a single person, but, as Tim says, from an Old Testament perspective, there is no reason why you would choose singleness - it’s only in the New Testament that there are reasons why it is a good thing). And while the theology is right from Christopher Ash, it’s not altogether clinical either. When Adam saw Eve he didn’t say “great - an extra pair of hands for the gardening”, he burst into poetry, and clearly it works best if your spouse is well within your subset of friendship. Anyway, in brief that is it. If I get to it, I might write up some of my notes from the actual lecture.

(If this post makes no sense at all, because you are unfamiliar with Chris’s work, let me suggest you read Married for God, or the denser version Marriage: Sex in the Service of God.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Anything but human

And here is a very interesting article, from The Stone (the philosophy section of the New York Opinionator) containing a curious argument for why the author stubbornly continues to believe he's a human being - something more than other animals, and more than any computer (and here is a follow up article claiming that "adopting the reductionism that equates humans with other animals or computers has a serious downside: it wipes out the meaning of your own life"). So we've been saying!
So why have we been tempted for millenniums to explain humanity away? The culprit, I suggest, is our tendency to forget what Edmund Husserl called the “lifeworld” — the pre-scientific world of normal human experience, where science has its roots. In the lifeworld we are surrounded by valuable opportunities, good and bad choices, meaningful goals, and possibilities that we care about. Here, concepts such as virtue and vice make sense. Among our opportunities are the scientific study of ants or the construction of calculating machines. Once we’ve embraced such a possibility, it’s easy to get so absorbed in it that we try to interpret everything in terms of it — even if that approach leaves no room for value and meaning. Then we have forgotten the real-life roots of the very activity we’re pursuing. We try to explain the whole in terms of a part.

By now, naturalist philosophers will suspect that there is something mystical or “spooky” about what I’m proposing. In fact, religion has survived the assaults of reductionism because religions address distinctively human concerns, concerns that ants and computers can’t have: Who am I? What is my place? What is the point of my life? But in order to reject reductionism, we don’t necessarily have to embrace religion or the supernatural. We need to recognize that nature, including human nature, is far richer than what so-called naturalism chooses to admit as natural. Nature includes the panoply of the lifeworld.

The Anxious Idiot

I thought this was an interesting post from the New York Opinionator, written by someone with medicated anxiety. (I don't have an anxiety problem (I may have an exasperated over-reaction against it actually), but it lurks in the extended ancestry, so could be the line I walk closest to. Who knows.) Here is a closing paragraph. We've all got bad patterns of thought, no matter which way they run, and here we get accused of plain laziness for succumbing to them, but it is worth reading:
To accomplish this, however, he has to work, and work hard. He has to fight — every day of his life, if he’s got it bad — to build new patterns of thought, so that his mind doesn’t fall into the old set of grooves. He has to dig new tracks and keep digging.

... So long as he remains dogged. Anything else, as my brother might say, is idiocy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Movies and magazines

That just seemed like a good title, even though this post is only about one movie and one magazine.

I went with Cath to see The Sapphires last night. A long time ago (perhaps it was a year, I can’t remember) I got two tickets from my credit card awards. It seemed like a good deal, as you got two movie tickets for less points than a $25 shopping voucher, but since I don’t have anyone obvious to see movies with, and I go to the movies so seldom I don’t always know what’s screening, they have just sat around and been forgotten, till I picked them up recently and discovered they expired in August. So, I was then basically looking for a movie to see for the sake of it, and finding a last-minute friend to come along (and I love it that Cath does 'spontaneity').

The Sapphires was good. I wouldn’t say it was fantastic, but it was good. It’s based on the true story of four girls from a remote aboriginal mission, who respond to a newspaper advertisment to go to sing and entertain American troops in Vietnam. It would be a crazy premise if it weren’t true, and the characters live out experiences a million miles from my own comfort zone (it’s rated PG, which seems like a classification error to me, as the girls sing in nightclubs in Saigon in the height of the war etc). I thought there could have been a little more pathos injected into the story, and there were moments where it seemed a little discordant to aim for “comedy” from the given material. I also found the relationship that developed between two of the main characters somewhat unfathomable, though I did like the Chris O’Dowd’s role (who doesn’t like a guy with an Irish accent?) and perhaps my own understanding of soul music is faulty because the music wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but it was enjoyable. I cried and laughed and learnt something, which is about the most one hopes for in a movie.

Over the weekend I treated myself and bought the latest issue of Frankie magazine. I very rarely buy a magazine, as they seem like an indulgence to me (which is not to say that they are for everyone, as I know we all spend our money differently), and in truth, the content of most 'women’s magazines' bores me witless. I’m not interested in celebrity gossip, though I am intrigued by what they name their babies, and is anyone genuinely interested in so many before and after shots of people who have gained or lost weight, or in booing or cheering women depending on how well they are doing in their string bikini? I tend to find myself looking at the health and exercise sections in those moments when I am faced with magazines, but I think if you tried to follow that often conflicting and always changing advice you’d quite literally render yourself mentally unwell. Also, if I started buying magazines I’d probably do that thing I do and keep them for years, and then I’d be buried alive under magazines (there are still old issues of ANH (Australian Natural History) under my bed!).

But, I have enjoyed flicking through Frankie. It’s full of alternative hipsterish creativeness, and interviews with such folks about how they live the life they live, and so far I have read little articles on a funeral in a Mauri community, dealing with grief, why the internet is full of baby animals, female explorers, a woman who made a documentary about the sexual slave trade in Moldova, lace-making in Antwerp (and I found out that some of what looks like very fine crochet in certain doilies is actually done on bobbins – it relieves me to know that there aren’t women out there somewhere with tiny hooks making those) and so on. It might become my bi-monthly effort to keep up with a small element of “culture”. Does anyone out there regularly read magazines, and if so which ones?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The freedom of self-forgetfulness

Perhaps not altogether unrelated to previous posts, I just spent some time sitting in a cafĂ© reading a little book I bought up the mountain at the ENGAGE conference last weekend called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness – The Path to True Christian Joy, by Tim Keller. It’s a good little read, based on 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7, as an antidote to a focus on “self-esteem” (whether that be high or low). Half an hour well spent.

Single women and careers

This is a good article from Carolyn McCulley about single women and careers (some of you may have read through her book Radical Womanhood when I blogged it at the EQUIP book club). I like her conclusion that we all stop making assumptions and start asking questions of each other.

I very much doubt that my current employment situation is going to intimidate anyone. But I believe in the past it has. When I was doing zoological research in Far North Queensland, and going off on trapping expeditions into the wilds to work all night on wild animals, I may have looked like a freak. And when one fellow asked me during that time if I had any “unfulfilled goals” I just chatted on and mentioned the possibility of doing a Ph.D (because I didn’t think I was supposed to say I would love to get married and have children as a “goal”) but I said the wrong thing, as it turned out he had a passion for “Focus on the Family”, and what I didn’t say is perhaps what he wanted to hear.

Then later, when I left the wildlife adventures, mainly so I could lead a more “normal” life, and was pondering my options, friends tried to introduce me to someone, who fizzed the whole thing before we’d even met, and he told a friend of mine I “lacked direction”. I found out later what his priorities were when he married someone who wasn’t a Christian because she had an impressive career, but it serves to illustrate that what phase you are in when you cross paths with people makes a difference, even when it is not necessarily representative of who you are and what you hope for.

I have had men make assumptions about me, and call me intimidating, seemingly for no reason other than my physical height. They assume that I wouldn’t want to receive initiative and be treated like a woman (and might do the asking myself), simply because I am tall. I sigh and wonder why we haven’t all moved past judging books by their covers and treating people differently based on appearances (when the reality is that I would love to be treated, and cared for, like the short, cute women) but that is the way it is.

Here is a helpful paragraph from Carolyn:
It is good to remember that no one single woman is going to be attractive to (nor attracted to) all the single men she meets. My single friends, I know it's tempting to survey the men you know and ask why no one pursues you. Sometimes you might glean a helpful insight, but most of the time you are going to hear a lot of personal preferences that only underscore why these men have or will marry other women. And this is a good thing. You really only want to attract the man you are supposed to marry, not a bunch of other women's husbands. Yes, you are likely to attract several runners-up in the quest to find your husband. But please don't diminish the skills, passions, and capacities the Lord has given you in order to make yourself fit some arbitrary standard that "all men" find appealing. You are not going to marry "all men."

The female fear of robots returns

Sorry folks, word verification has gone back on. After this hilarious post from Ben, I turned it off, but the spam has been relentless ever since, and it's not remotely interesting. This morning I have eight comments that look like this.

cCw 0kD y7k  pNc 3wZ w1v  zAt 6tR r3x  iAw 1bS e7a kJf 7nD u9l  bBh 4mG h0f  hYk 5sU h4s  jKi 3kJ b3m  [url=]here[/url]  [url=]visit my website[/url]

aFs 1zF x0w  iNh 7uS b7k mNj 8dU l4u  qBe 5qT e4f ePn 4yJ g2e  dLq 2lB u3z  gUd 6gZ p0v  dFc 3qS b1i
[url=]find more[/url]
[url=]The title of my website[/url]
[url=]come here[/url]
[url=]click here[/url]
[url=]visit my website[/url]

I get them in emails, they download on my phone and I have to delete them there too, and presumably anyone who has previously commented gets an email also. It's just a pest. Once this spammer has gone away, I might try again.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Melancholy, in Latin

I am going very slowly at this biography of Bonhoeffer, by Erix Metaxas,  having set it aside for a week or so to do other things, but still very much enjoying it. I was interested last night to read a little section called Acedia and Tristitia.

Bonhoeffer decided to institute the practice of confessing to each other in his illegal seminary at Finkelwalde. With the fellow he chose for his confessor, Eberhard Bethge (who was later responsible for preserving Bonhoeffer’s writings), he shared what he called his ‘acedia or tristitia – a “sadness of the heart”’ (pg 273). Bonhoeffer apparently suffered from this, but rarely shared it, except among close friends. He later wrote to Bethge from Tegel prison “I wonder why it is that we find some days so much more oppressive than others, for no apparent reason. Is it growing pains – or spiritual trial? Once they’re over, the world looks quite a different place again”.

Acedia supposedly has spiritial overtones that make it related to but distinct from depression (according to that wiki). I looked up tristitia in my latin dictionary (because doesn’t everybody look up sad words in their Latin dictionary on a Friday night) and it says:
sadness, sorrow, melancholy (or an alternative is moroseness, severity)
Anyone who has read Bonhoeffer’s poetry will not be surprised that he felt this, but it does make him more accessible and I like to know that years before he was prison he talked of it, in latin. Next time someone asks me if I could have six people from anywhere in history to dinner, who would I choose, I am having Bonhoeffer for sure.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Levelling out

I’ve been somewhere beyond tired this week. I didn’t get so much sleep up the mountain, particularly on the Friday night, and felt like a weepy sort of mess for much of the conference. Then, these things take a while to fully catch up with you, and by Tuesday morning I was a tragedy. I stopped in at the IGA on the way to work and I’ll Stand by You by the Pretenders came over the speakers and suddenly I got all teary and was on the edge of a meltdown, in the supermarket. I walked a few aisles getting it together before I was ready to face the checkout people. Seriously!

But I think I am “levelling out”, as a friend and I used to say (we’d tell each other to “level out”). My room at home is a total disaster and I have a guitar lesson tonight and haven’t done much practice, around the book index and being away for the weekend, but I feel less like crying in the supermarket. I haven’t been taking fish oil for a few weeks, which I started taking after my sister had heart trouble (but later found out it had nothing to do with it), then kept taking because it’s good for your joints, but it is also known to even out your ‘mental health’ a little. Perhaps I need to get back on the fish oil. Or maybe I should stay off it and return to writing poetry. Or maybe not. I have been following Sylvia Plath on twitter lately: compelling but oh so depressing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Our weird family fainting spells

Because we bloggers, at least some of the time, claim to be about “keeping it real”, I thought I’d tell you all about my rare and unusual medical condition. I’m actually quite sure this is on the list of things you shouldn’t blog about, but why let that stop me. For those with an interest in medical science, this post is for you.

I was reminded of this condition again recently because I have to do a refresher course on my first aid certificate, and I thought to myself ‘I hope I don’t faint in a can of coke this time’, because that is what happened three years ago.

It was a strange moment in my life – one minute I am tipping my head back to drink coke, next thing I know I am on the floor, in a pool of cake. Stranger still though is the fact that a girl who was also on the course came up to me and said ‘I know what that is – did that really hurt when you drank it?’ to which I replied ‘yes’ and then she said ‘It has happened to me before drinking soft drink’. And I am thinking ‘does the rest of the world know about this? Why has no one ever told me soft-drink can send you unconscious?’.

It turns out that this bizarre phenomenon is called swallow syncope (syncope basically meaning fainting), and is known to be associated with drinking cold carbonated beverages (see here, here and here). Those articles make it sound quite serious, in that drinking such cold beverages, particularly when tipping your head back as you do to drink out of can, can cause an atrioventricular block, which sounds like something you don’t want happening to your heart. (See after I had this episode I said to my Mum “you know how sometimes when you drink something cold it really hurts” and she said “no”. Hmmm. Turns out not everybody gets that.)

The most disturbing thing was realising that the fairly extreme but passing pain somewhere in the chest, which I have had occasionally without fainting and just kind of slumped over the kitchen bench wincing while everything went black for a few seconds, is actually such a thing. But it's caused by a complex oesophageal reflex (see the articles above if you care) and all you have to do is not drink really cold, especially carbonated, drinks (and it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with your heart otherwise).

Weirder still is that a few years ago one of my young cousins was causing the family some concern because occasionally when they were trying to get her ready for school she would just pass out. Turns out she has hair-grooming syncope, which is a condition where you can faint while someone is brushing your hair, caused by a neurocardiogenic reflex. Truly. This is a thing. Isn’t that weird?

The human body is a mysterious creation. That is all.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Girl stuff

There have been lots of interesting posts around the blogosphere of late, that I haven’t had the time to comment at length on, but here are some links.

It Matters Whom You Marry. Jean linked this article on facebook. It’s good. Perhaps it is my personality, but I particularly liked the section about how a relationship will impact you emotionally.

Are Chick Flicks ‘Emotional porn’? H/T Jean again. Let me preface this by saying that I think calling Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables and Little Women “chick flicks” is pushing the definition – not every story that happens to be about women growing up and possibly getting married, which is a reasonably common occurrence, is a “chick flick”.

The article concludes by saying that Chick Flicks, like all art, reveal something about human nature, from which we can "learn more about my own situation and hopefully, with the help of some biblical guidance, emerge as a stronger woman, person, and Christian" if watched in the right manner. This is true. Although I find it a somewhat tenuous argument in this comparison. I am sure porn films, and the existence of the whole industry, reveal something about the human condition also.

Truth is, I don’t actually watch loads of chick flicks, not because I have a problem with people doing so, but because many of them are just not what I find interesting, mostly because I find they don’t actually deal with the complexities of human nature (Pride and Prejudice aside here!). I did stop reading so many “romance novels” though (which I mostly only read in my teens/early twenties), because I don’t find them altogether helpful (and Christian ones were the worst). The reason for that is that guys have never been any of those things to/for me. You read about men who go to great lengths to win the woman they love, then you go to church and guys can’t be bothered asking you to coffee. They just don’t bear much resemblance to my reality.

A couple of articles on Fifty Shades of Grey:

I haven't read this book, and am unlikely to waste good reading time doing so, but one likes to have some inkling of what is going on in the world.

Why are women are devouring Fifty Shades of Grey?, by Melinda Tankard-Reist.

Fifty shades of the Curse. Wendy’s article is interesting. She claims that when we interpret Gen 3:16, “her desire shall be for her husband”, as meaning that women want to rule over men, we are getting it wrong. I know some people here disagree with this (I think?), and I haven’t yet taken the time to look into it. I do have to ask myself, though, why I have behaved, on occasion, as though “treat ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen” actually works on me (which it doesn’t, err, in theory).

Checking in

Just checking in here. I went up the mountain to the ENGAGE conference for the weekend, which was just great! Paul Dale, the minister from my church, spoke on the book of James. I might be biased and accustomed to his preaching style, but was so so good, particularly Chapter 1. Richard Coekin spoke from Revelation and the letters to the churches, which was also really good (I was particularly challenged by his talk to those churches who had lost their first love and become lukewarm). Boy was it cold though. I have been to a lot of conferences in Katoomba and never experienced anything like the walk back down to the carpark on the Friday night. Brrrr!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday funny

Um, I saw this cartoon, from The New Yorker, on facebook, and it looked a little too much like my room. Yarn, guitar, books, and not to mention wasting time on the computer ...

This could be what is wrong with my life.

That book index

I did a final check of the book index I have been working on and sent it off last night.

For the most part of Ali I am abstract-thinking, bigger-picture person, who is not so good at administration, thinks people who write lists and schedules and paste them around their house are from another planet, and who is quite fine with the fact that there are 10, 558 emails in my inbox (OK so maybe that is a few too many and I should deal with that).

But there is a pedantic, perfectionist place I can go to when I need to do tasks such as this. (I go to the same place when I have to cut things out for Sunday School craft – I watch others slopping around the edge of three sheets at once and I have to look away.) I just wouldn’t want to take up permanent residence there.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book spine poetry re-revisited

This is great. Now Nathan, who I also tagged in the book-spine poetry meme, has gone to town and posted seven of them! You should go take a look.

I feel like I need to have a conversation with him about some of the titles in this one:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book worm

Norman MacCaig is a new-found poet for me. Apparently his work is primarily known for its lucid, spare style. Curiously, he went so far later in his poetic career as to dismiss his earlier works (based on “the surrealist-inflected New Apocalypse movement” - what?) as obscure and meaningless. I admire this. It’s no secret that I like poetry, but it’s also no secret that there is much in modern poetry that is obscurantist flummery. MacCaig also apparently moved away from a metrical strictness characterizing his early work to a “throwaway-seeming free verse” style.  (Information from Poetry Foundation.)

So, here is a poem that is presumably from his later life (otherwise I'm missing the New Apocalypse and am oblivious to the metre). The last stanza could perhaps have been a little more subtle I say, but I like this thought. The ocean might begin to annoy me from here on because it has no paragraphs.

Picture from Fanpop.

Book worm

I open the second volume
of a rose
and find it says, word for word,
the same as the first one.

The waves of the sea
annoy me, they bore me;
why aren’t they divided
in paragraphs?

I look at the night
and make nothing of it -
those black pages
with no print.

But I love the gothic script
of pinetrees and
on the pond the light’s
fancy italics.

And the cherry tree’s petals -
they make
a sweet lyric, I appreciate
their dying fall.

But it’s strange, girl, how I come back
from the library of everything
to stare and stare at
the closed book of you.

When will you open to me
and show me the meaning of all
the hard words
in the lexicon of love?

Norman MacCaig

Monday, August 13, 2012


I gained an unexpected book-indexing job late last week, which I did in most of my spare time over the weekend but which still needs finishing off, I also have to prepare bible study for this week, and then I am going to the ENGAGE conference after work on Friday for this coming weekend. So I am feeling a wee bit stretched this week, and all might be quiet here in the fog. I hope you all have good weeks!

Book spine poetry revisited

Wonders will never cease. A very long blog time ago I tagged some folks in a book-spine poetry meme. Well, one of the guys tagged has now done one. This deserves a post of it’s own. And I have just elevated Andrew’s emotional intelligence quotient. I'll copy it here:

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The mother of all mischief

We are hard up for entertainment here it would seem, but the fellow who sits across from me at work came upon an old court judgment this morning, by one Lord Justice Knight-Bruce, from the British Court of Chancery in 1852 (Ex parte Danks; Re Farley (1852) 42 ER 1138), and decided to read it out to me, with melodramatic and mounting emphasis, till by the time he reached the end we were in fits of laughter. They don’t write court judgments like they used to.

But it is actually no laughing matter, and there is a lesson here for all of us. It is about a simple neighbourly dispute that escalated through the courts, till the judge had this to say:
... and upon no greater matter—upon a matter that, if they had not good sense enough to settle it for themselves, some respectable neighbour would probably, upon application, have adjusted for them in an hour—began (as I collect), the career of cost and heat and hatred, of reproach, scandal and misery, in which they are now engaged, of which neither this day nor this year, nor perhaps another, will, I fear, see the end, and which seems well to exemplify an old English saying, that the mother of mischief is no bigger than a midge's wing.

New Mumford and Sons

I pinched this off Nathan’s blog. A new song from Mumford & Sons. As is their want it’s full of somewhat biblical language. A few phrases I have caught from it are: “I kneel down, wait for now”, “so tame my flesh, and fix my eyes, a tethered mind, freed from the lies” (we did Colossians 3 in my bible study last night, about fixing our eyes on what's above, and not succumbing to the lies in Ch 2 etc, so this is eerily relevant language), “raise my hands”, “ bow my head” …

 (You should also go and read Nathan’s post about singing and non-verbal communication in church.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Emergency SMS in the middle of the night

I thought I was dreaming last night when I received text messages in the early hours of the morning. But when I checked this morning, I had indeed received “test” messages from our company “Emergency Notification System”: one at 4:03 am and the next one at 4:18 am (presumably because I didn’t respond as required to the first one). All I remember is that I did actually look at my phone, which I use as my alarm clock, then drifted back off to sleep.

It seems that these messages were only intended for US employees, but were inadvertently sent to the rest of the Asia Pacific Region also. So right about now it’s company-wide snooze time, and I am having extra coffee. (I have to lead bible study tonight, so that is my excuse.)

Given that emergencies are likely to be localised I don't know why there is a global notification system, and sending text messages seems like an odd means to use to me, but it is obviously considered effective. My phone is often left in my bag, in my drawer, and if I am listening to something else on my iPod, chances are I won't hear it - except at 4.00 am in the morning, when it's right next to my head.

Marriage in the age of apocalyptic romance

I enjoyed listening to this, via a tweet from the Gospel Coalition (here’s the blog post). Tim and Kathy Keller respond to questions about marriage, and discuss this secret thread, or mythos, idea further, and there are good things said about healing from disappointment in relationships and so on.

Plus I love the way Keller always includes, and is willing to learn from, other interesting sources. I have been reading some W.H. Auden poetry lately (just last night in fact), and Keller quotes Auden here:
Even though it’s not specifically Christian, W.H. Auden says “Any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate, because marriage is not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion, but the creation of time and will”. When that time and will is powered by the gospel, that’s a Christian marriage.

Marriage in the Age of Apocalyptic Romance from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

These are the things I will trust ...

Songs seem to have their moments in my life, and now is one of the moments for this song (which I have mentioned before). Maybe it’s the NF in my personality, but certain things get tied up with meaning and symbolism in my mind, and stay that way. When I was a teenager I learnt The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy (the first poem I ever posted on this blog), just by reading it over and over, and I can still recite it. It is about a thrush, which illuminates the 'growing gloom' with the 'ecstatic sound' of its song of 'joy illimited'. Then I read the poem Red Bird, by Mary Oliver, about a red bird that comes 'firing up the landscape' in the dead of winter. And then I listed to this song by Sara Groves, about a cardinal bird, which happens to be red and sing beautifully, that arrives to sing outside the window.

So now, even though I have never seen a living cardinal (they live in the Northern Hemisphere) they have come to symbolise a kind of  “hope” to me, and a trust in the loving sovereignty of God.

Then I get subjectively sentimental, to the point that my Mum was going through the Christmas things when I was up there last Christmas, and she asked me if I wanted one particular decoration, and when I looked at it featured cardinals, so I snatched it up for no other reason.

It’s a shame this is the only video on youtube, because the end is cut off, but it’s nice. There are things in my life that don’t make any sense to me right now, but this song is just about trusting that, when we can’t see very far, God knows exactly what is happening, and his “wisdom is my perfect peace”, as that other song says.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Poetry and emotional intelligence

I was pondering, as I posted those poems earlier, that the poems I like best, that move and interest me most, are those about the inner lives of we people. I like poems about nature, and poems about almost anything, as well, but they simply don’t arrest me like poems about what goes on inside the hearts and minds of humans do. So, it was then interesting to read this blurb by Norman MacCaig about why he writes poetry and what he sees to be the usefulness of poetry.
If your parents and your grandparents, way back, all had red hair, it’s likely yours will blaze away in the ancestral manner. But heredity doesn’t seem to work with artists. Usually only one perches singing in his genealogical tree (though think of the incredible Bach family, an orchestra in themselves). As far as I know, I’m the only MacCaig ever to have committed poetry.

Everybody likes to make something, something that never existed before, whether it’s a chair, a sand-pie, or a poem. I don’t know what makes one man produce a poem and another man a chair; but I‘m sure the creative instinct behind their activities is the same. If I made a chair, pity whoever would sit in it; and if the chairmaker produced a poem it would let you down too. But we’re up to the same thing. If the creative processes that result in a poem are mysterious, they’re no more mysterious that those that produce a chair. Their aim is to make something at once beautiful and useful.

Useful? It’s easy to see that chairs come in handy. But what use is poetry?

It trains, educates, extends the range of our sensibility, as science and technology train the intellect. That’s to say, the arts induce us to respond to and examine the emotional significance as well as the rational significance of whatever comes under our notice, and to have unexamined emotional responses is as much a sign of immaturity as to have unexamined beliefs. Now, an adult physique with the intelligence of a child is looked after. It might, some day, put an axe in somebody’s skull. An adult intelligence with the emotional equipment of a child is just as dangerous: maybe more.

Poetry Day - Norman MacCaig

I was zipping through some books entering them in Delicious yesterday, when I came upon one I picked up second-hand somewhere, that seemed a likely candidate to be purged, called Worlds – Seven Modern Poets (I have too many poetry anthologies/collections, picked up second-hand once upon a time, and am slowly getting rid of them). But then I looked inside it, which was always going to be a threat to the purging, and it is a worthy book. It has a few pages of artsy black and white photographs of each of the authors (which include Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes) doing what they do and a spiel about their life. I came upon a poet by the name of Norman MacCaig, and read a few of his. I like them. Here are two poems about what lies beneath. And all the many things that people never can say.

Picture from here.


I look across the table and think
(fiery with love)
Ask me, go on, ask me
to do something impossible,
something freakishly useless,
something unimaginable and inimitable

like making a finger break into blossom
or walking for half an hour in twenty minutes
or remembering tomorrow.

I will you to ask it.
But all you say is
Will you give me a cigarette?
And I smile and,
returning to the marvellous world
of possibility,
I give you one
with a hand that trembles
with a human trembling.

Among the Talk and Laughter

Why does he fall silent?
Why does that terrible, sad look
tell he has gone away?

He has died too often.
And something has been said
that makes him aware of the bodies
floating face downwards
in his mind.

Norman MacCaig

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Whiter than snow

Yesterday I started reading Whiter than Snow - Meditations on Sin and Mercy, by Paul Tripp (another birthday present), which is another of his books based on a Psalm, this one on Psalm 51. He makes it clear that these books aren’t supposed to be works of exegesis, or even devotional material, per se, but are rather meditations, which he suggests you read once a week. I like them.

He gives some background on the story of David and Bathsheba, then writes this in the introduction:
You’ll never get David’s story or the expansive helpfulness of Psalm 51 if you stand apart from the story and say to yourself, “I am so glad that I am not like David!”. To say that completely misses the point. This story is in the Bible precisely because David’s story is your story. No, I don’t mean that you are an adulterer and a murderer. What I mean is that, like David, you are a sinner. There are times when you let yourself be ruled by your self-focused desires rather than by God’s clear commands. There are times when you love something in the creation more than you love the Creator. There are times when you willingly step over God’s boundaries in pursuit of what you want. There are times when your little kingdom of one means more to you than his transcendent kingdom of glory. There are times when you work hard to deny what you have done or to cover your tracks in fear of being caught.

David’s story is our story, so Psalm 51 is our psalm as well. This Psalm of moral failure, personal awareness, grief, confession, repentance, commitment, and hope wraps its arms around the experience of each one of us. These themes are in each of our lives. But the dominant theme of Psalm 51 is not sin. The dominant theme of Psalm 51 is grace. There would be no Psalm 51 if a God of boundless love hadn’t sent Nathan to David as an instrument of rescuing mercy and restoring grace.
I am looking forward to the rest of the book.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Friday flight of fancy

I have a "thing" for air-stream trailers and caravans (retro caravans). The other day I discovered that I'd like a vintage camper birdhouse (after seeing this picture via Mollie Makes, made by this fellow on Etsy).

And now, for some unfathomable reason, I'd like a caravan teapot (from Meet Me At Mikes).

And I am sure a bit of care free roaming about in the real thing would be fun, for a little while perhaps.

Have I ever told this blog that I lived in a caravan for my first year of university? I got $112 a week from Austudy, and it cost me $35 a week to rent the caravan. It was on North Hill in Armidale. In winter I put things in the fridge so they wouldn't freeze if I left them overnight on the bench.

Morning prayer for grace

One of the other things I put on my birthday “list” was a copy of The Book of Common Prayer. I have wanted a copy of this for a long time, and never really known how to go about getting the right one (silly I know, when the world is at my fingertips online). I received a copy that contains the texts of 1549, 1559 and 1662 in the mail this week and sat down to look at it last night. However, I have now realised that this is not altogether what I was actually after, as that would be An Australian Prayer Book.

But, here is an prayer from the 1549 version, from Morning Prayer, the Third Collect for Grace. The prayer book is said to have had a major influence on the development of the English language, and as you can see, from the original spelling here, things have changed.
The thyrde Collecte: for grace

O LORDE oure heavenly father, almightye and everlivyng God, whiche haste safelye brought us to the beginning of this day: Defend us in the same with thy mighty power, and graunt that this daye wee fall into no synne, neyther runne into any kinde of daunger, but that al our doinges may be ordred by thy governaunce, to do alwaies that is righteous in thy sight: through Jesus Christe our lorde. Amen.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Olympic yarn bombing

To get into the spirit of the Olympics, and because we like yarn bombing around here, you simply must see this! An anonymous yarn bomber strung up 50 metres of Olympic yarn bombing on a pier in Saltburn, Yorkshire. Apparently it covers all Olympic disciplines, in knitted characters! It is truly an unbelievable feat.

I am giving them the yarn bombing gold medal! (H/T Molly Piper)