Sunday, August 30, 2015

Wisps of fog

Some things I have liked on the internet.

From John Dickson’s Facebook page (so half of Christendom has probably read it already). Sometimes I feel so moved by elements of creation. Relating to them as to the gifts of a Lover is a way of seeing that works for me.
In his lecture on Friday evening titled 'Pleasure, Meaning and the Death of God', Yale University professor Miroslav Volf contended for the following vision of the Good Life:

Choosing between 'pleasure' and 'meaning' leads to one of two kinds of nihilism: either the triviality of mere sense sensation or the totalitarianism of obedience. Pleasure without meaning is akin to pornography, addictive but also diminishing. Meaning without pleasure denies ordinary experience and results in the crushing burden of duty. Only the pursuit of pleasure in the context of meaning constitutes true joy. Here, ordinary objects of the world come to possess transcendent meaning. In the Christian vision of the Good Life, human beings relate to created objects as a beloved relates to the gifts of a Lover. The object itself carries both the ordinary sense pleasure of a natural thing and the transcendent meaning of the embodiment of love. Thus, faith in God, far from diminishing one's enjoyment of the things of the world, animates all of life, uniting pleasure with meaning resulting in joy.
This from Ann Voskamp’s Facebook page (in response to the Ashley Madison slogan of “Life is short. Have an affair.” obviously).
yeah, this life is short ... so we'll go ahead & love the people we're with, love the people who make the piles of laundry & throw their shoes off at the door, love the people who hurt in their hurt & love the people who are terrifically hard to love because this is exactly what love terrifically does: Love defies logic.
Life is short -- so we'll live a long & messy faithfulness.
Forgive much because letting go is the secret of holding on. Sacrifice at every turn because this is how to run into your dream destination.
Love somebody even if it seems too late, share a cup of something warm, laugh too loud & believe this is really the life.
Life is short -- so go have a love affair with all of your one miraculous life.
This from Alistair Bain’s Facebook page. I don’t sign off on everything from Frederick Buechner, but he writes some goodness (I’ve posted most of this before, but it has come around again on the interwebs so here it is).
"I have called this book Telling Secrets because I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell. They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition--that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are--even if we tell it only to ourselves--because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about. Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell."

Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

Saturday, August 29, 2015

My prize-winning painting

I neglected to mention some exciting news here. A few months ago Philip Miles posted a painting on Facebook page and I thought ‘oh I really like that one’. Only it said it wasn’t for sale. Then came another post saying it would be in an exhibition. So I wondered whether that might be the reason it was not currently for sale. I decided to send Phil a message anyway, just to let him know that if that painting ever did actually go for sale I would be interested. He then said it was a condition of the exhibition that the paintings were available for sale, and also as an acquisitive prize, but if that didn’t happen I could purchase it. So, basically I had to wait for the first day of the exhibition, see if it was still available, and at that point Phil could buy it for me from. Thankfully that all worked out nicely and I collected the painting on my holiday down in Berry.

It has since won first prize in an Australian Artist Magazine competition in a Landscapes category, so I am now extra chuffed with it.

There is an article in the September 2015 Australian Artist Magazine of some of the inspiration and technique involved, if anyone is interested. It’s called 'The Old Orchard' and is some kind of nostalgic mashup for me. Calls to mind scenes of my childhood and Anne of Green Gables ... It’s also very serene, and features a lot of the greyish green colour that is my current decorating obsession.

Now I just have to muster up the courage to show you what is on the opposite wall, which is something a little odd that I bought in a Salvation Army store.

I have two paintings I paid real money for from artistic friends, and the rest of what I have are op shop finds. The thing about townhouses is that because the side walls are shared and the windows are mostly at each end you get large expanses of wall, and this means much art. I like the gallery wall idea, but I'd say you really need to have all the pieces from scratch rather than just adding things on as you go to make it work.

This is the painting in the frame it came in. It is probably not what I would have chosen, but it works.

Life at 40

A photo posted by Alison Payne (@thisfoggyday) on
A winter rose (hellebore) that I bought as a sorry looking specimen on a "reduced to clear" table at a nursery that has suddenly shot up and flowered in my garden. 

 I like this article by Rory Shiner (and generally appreciate his writing style). So true. You live in hope of many things being part of your story, and then you hit 40 and realise you didn’t come anywhere close, or even begin, and now it’s too late. The things I most wanted to do and be in this life, the obvious things like a wife and a mother, once appeared as real possibilities. Now they look more like highly improbable miracles (it would be a miracle just to be asked on a date, given how difficult that has been in my life).

I’ve had one of those discouraging Saturdays spent entirely by myself, where you're tired enough that it's a struggle not to feel sad about it, but I like this paragraph:
It is striking in our youth-obsessed and potential-obsessed age to note how much of scripture is given over to enabling us to cope with the givenness of life, to name and make peace with the finite set of possibilities each life offers, and to come to terms with our actual circumstances as creatures before God. The psalmist teaches us to “number our days,” (Psalm 90:12) Isaiah reminds us that “all flesh is grass and all its beauty is like the flower of the field/ the grass withers and the flower fades ...” (Isaiah 42:6) and the apostle reminds the Corinthians that the situation in which we were called is a perfectly serviceable situation in which to live out our calling (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).
... Catharsis is better than denial, but better still is to learn to entrust our lives in all their mysterious givenness into the hands of God, who plots our lives, and who envelops our stories into the great Story of his love in Christ.
And so I will trust that this is how God meant it to be and go to work on my Sunday School lesson.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Intuition and the right side of the brain

I thought I’d start a little collection here of material about intuition and brain hemispheres, as I try to work out the connection between the two (it’s obvious that intuition is correlated with the right hemisphere, but I am vague on why that is so).

I mentioned I received Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, by request, for my birthday. Block your ears while I blow my trumpets, but I was good at realistic drawing at school, drawing whatever was placed in front of me. What I didn’t realise is that that was such a right-brain activity, but it is, because it’s all about visual perception of space and light and shadow and of relationships etc. Then good old Myers-Briggs has me way out there on intuition, but exactly what that has to do with it I don’t know.

Anyway, I was simply thinking that I’d like to do more drawing again, and was probably horribly out of practice, because I haven't actually drawn much in years, when I got this book. I didn’t realise it would contain so much theory about the mind and it’s activities (and she is making a case for the skills used in drawing, particularly perception, being effectively transferrable to other areas of life). But I am finding that quite fascinating. Here are some quotes:
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
Albert Einstein
Over the centuries of history, The Master (the right hemisphere) has seen his empire and powers usurped and betrayed by his Emissary (the left hemisphere).
Iain McGilchrist, psychiatrist and Oxford Professor, from his book The Master and His Emissary (Yale University Press, 2009)

I've got no idea where I am going with this. I'm just collecting.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Celtic gene

After alluding to it, I should probably end the story of medical abnormalities, in case anyone was wondering. As I mentioned, when I went to emergency with a torn calf muscle, it soon became my pulse rate and my ECG that was the cause for concern. This led to a follow-up ECG, blood tests, more blood tests, a 24-hour heart monitor, all mixed in with an ultrasound on my leg and other doctor and physiotherapist appointments for that. So time consuming! I don’t know how people with ongoing medical problems keep up. Along the way the doctor mentioned structural heart problems, cancer, sexually transmitted diseases (I told her those would be unlikely!) ... So, you know, there wasn’t much left out of the range of possibilities. And then I’d get texts telling me to make an appointment to review test results and I’d have to then wait a couple of days for the appointment, which was a torturous method.

But in the end it is all OK. The first lot of blood tests showed that my iron levels were elevated (which can be the result of malignancy or infection, thus the cancer and STD ideas), which led to further blood tests. The results of all of those were perfectly fine, only my gene typing revealed that I have a heterozygous H63D gene for haemochromotasis. But so do one in five Caucasian Australians, so whoop de do really. If you have Celtic origins you might too. As I don’t have homozygous genes (and generally it is the C282Y homozygous combination rather than the H63D that actually gives people haemochromatosis) I am unlikely to have significant iron-loading problems.

If you have never heard of haemachromatosis and you are a Caucasian Australian, let me suggest you take a quick look at this website and this document. I believe they have routine screening for this condition in some countries where it is common, as the benefits of knowing early are huge, before you start loading iron in your heart and liver where it can cause significant damage before you are aware of it. Curiously too, haemochromatosis can be the cause of chronic fatigue and other fairly generic symptoms.

So, that was all nothing much. My iron saturation level was a little high though, which I don’t particularly like, so I might see what I can do about it (and stop scoffing Vitamin C tablets through winter, which increase iron absorption). I was feeling a little on the tired side before I tore the muscle, and actually thought they might tell me my iron was low, as not so many years ago that was the case, which makes it seem strange that it is now high, so who really knows (perhaps I'll blame the Vitamin C), but I will have my iron levels checked regularly.

Then I wore the holter monitor for my heart, and while I have fairly frequent ectopic beats there were not enough over 24 hours for that to be a concern (you apparently have to get to about 6,000 in 24 hours before they consider those a problem). There too, haemochromatosis can actually give you heart arrythmia, so that could have explained it, only I don’t actually have haemochromatosis (I wonder about the effects of iron saturation though).

So, I am thankful for those results. The whole process was a little sobering along the way. Even when I tore my muscle, when I was finished in emergency and needing to get home I checked with my Aunt and Uncle, but they were already on their way to the coast to see their daughter, then I called some friends, but they were caught up with their own stuff and kids, and so I just sat there wondering what to do and eventually called a work colleague, who then left work in their lunch hour, came and got me and dropped me home and then went back to work, which was extremely kind of them. In hindsight I should have just called a taxi, but for some reason I didn’t think of that at the time. And then I had two weekends at home without being able to drive, but worked out that I could get to the shops on one crutch, which would give me one hand to carry a bag of groceries home (and when my Aunt and Uncle came back my Aunt was fabulous at driving me to medical appointments, otherwise that would have been another level of difficulty). It all made me realise the limitations of my current living arrangement, and that of anybody who lives alone. Not that I know what else to do about that as I don’t particularly want to find temporary flatmates for the rest of my life, and there is no guarantee that a flatmate would be of any assistance in a time of need in any case. So, while I was fairly optimistic about the proceedings, I was forced to wonder, just occasionally, how I might manage it if I needed treatment for something like cancer, but thankfully that is a bridge I didn’t have to cross.

After each text message and before the actual appointment I’d tell myself that God was still good no matter what happened and I could deal with what came my way with his help, then when I finally got to the end there was nothing to contend with, so that is a relief.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Therapeutic Superstition - a Saturday read

Last night I went with friends to see a performance of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, acted by Julian Lamb and accompanied by David Pereira on cello. This was, as you might imagine if you know the poem, quite surreal. As the leaflet said: "We hope that combining the music and text will enable you to receive the text more like a piece of music: something which does not have a clear meaning, but which can nevertheless have a powerful effect on you." The acting was marvellous and the music worked beautifully, so you had to leave in some way affected, even if you hadn't the faintest idea of why.

Afterwards we were having a rambling sort of conversation that may or may not have been the product of such a performance and talking about intuition and the brain and how we know things ... I happened to mention that I got the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards for my birthday, one thing lead to another, then these friends sent me an article by David Bentley Hart called Therapeutic Superstition, about a man named Reuben. I love it. If you are a die hard rationalist it is probably not for you, but I suspect the die hard rationalists left this corner of the internet long ago.

(And lest you think it is all greyness here, above is another painting I bought in an old wares shop, to show I have a little sunshine and happiness.)

Saturday, August 08, 2015

New toys

For something just a little brighter than the other day, I have some new toys that were birthday gifts of sorts.

I don't think I have yet shared the fabulous news that my sister and brother-in-law and their three children are moving here next year. I am so excited about living in the same city as immediate family for the first time in many years and being able to spend time with the kids.

So, this is something I found on Etsy, which started from a quest for a fairy mailbox for my garden. I found this toy mailbox instead from Needle and Nail and thought it was great, with a flag to raise when there is something in it. I have this idea that when the kids come over to Aunty Ali's house they can put things in it, and I can leave things in it for them. Just little notes, or rocks or stickers or whatever.

It reminds me of Jo and Laurie's exchanges in Little Women, and I love such things. I am a written-communication kind of person - it's just who I am and how I like to do things - but I accept that not everyone is (I believe there are people out there who like to use the phone, but I am definitely not one of those, and if there is any other way to do things I won't call), and I expect one or two of the kids might be more into this than the others. Hopefully it's just fun, and if it becomes in any way problematic or unfun I can just stop it.

I also got myself some Lego. These kids are also totally into Lego, and I actually gave this to my niece for her birthday, but I have always wanted it myself too. So here is my Lego, for imaginary holidays.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The darkness in every one of us

Oh my. Last night I read this article by Helen Garner, based on her address at the Sydney Writer's Festival titled 'How Can We Write About Darkness?' on the 21 May this year.

After years of editing Federal Court judgments (the reports written up, usually by judge's associates, after a court case) and now digging through historic church files, it all resonates with me, particularly that it is for the most part very ordinary humans who commit crimes and do foolish things, not a separate race of "monsters" (though of course there exist people with very significant problems who do very evil things).

I'm just parking this here for future reference mostly, but here are a few portions (and there are interesting things in it on when ordinary men might become dangerous - 'men whose hearts are broken by rejection and by the loss of their children, and who can’t even begin to articulate their pain and rage' - on why politicians might say seemingly clumsy things warning women against doing things alone):
I’m interested in apparently ordinary people who, under life’s unbearable pressure, burst through the very fine membrane that separates our daylight selves from the secret darkness that lives in every one of us.
Why are we ever surprised by the scorched earth around a broken family? Our laws and strictures and conventions have no purchase on the dark regions of the soul into which we venture when we love.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

A birthday

It was my birthday on Thursday. I had a nice day. I didn’t actually “do anything for my birthday”, but I have decided that the way to manage birthdays is to banish all expectations of extraordinary celebrations or being spoilt by anyone in particular (it is none of my business in the slightest, but it bugs me when people write on Facebook walls of those with family ‘hope your husband/wife/kids spoil you today’ as though to publicly guilt the husband/wife/kids into such a thing, and then follows the obligatory post of the ways the birthday haver was spoilt by said husband/wife/kids - and those spoiling posts are then conspicuously absent from single folk’s birthday walls, as it is a truth universally acknowledged that there is no-one under any particular obligation to spoil single people, but that is actually OK as I doubt feeling entitled to be spoilt ever did anyone any great good).

When I arrived at work my computer screen was surrounded by post-it notes saying happy birthday, executed by our young receptionist, who had come to work especially early to do so (this is a big sacrifice for this personage). I also had a packet of chocolate-coated scotch fingers. I don’t know about offices the world over, but in our office it is a great prize if you get to the newly-filled biscuit barrel in time to get one of the few scotch fingers in Arnott’s Family Assorted. I try not to eat the biscuits for starters, and I rarely happen upon the biscuit barrel when it contains a scotch finger, but one day last week I did, and I came back to my desk gloating about this triumph and spouting something so profound and world-changing as ‘the only thing better than a scotch finger is a chocolate-coated scotch finger’, so I was given a whole packet! I was moved.

Then there was a cake, of which I wish I had a photo, as I have also, at some time past, espoused the virtues of chocolate caramel slice. So this cake was a tower of small squares of brownie transitioning into chocolate caramel slice near the summit, with candles protruding randomly from the slopes. It was quite the work of art. There was an office celebration, and the Bishops were late to the singing of happy birthday (because they came out of a meeting especially) so I got an extra Episcopal rendition. Then one of the three people I work for took me to lunch, despite being exceptionally busy. I was also given a weeny pottery plate and some flowers from two colleagues, which I put in my new vase (Country Road sent me an email containing a $20 voucher because I had a store card and it was my birthday, so I gleefully trotted over there one lunch break and got myself a nice ceramic vase).

And my lovely family sent me things in the post and I have bought myself a number of treats lately (I haven’t yet revealed to the blog my other current obsession with buying old paintings in op shops/old wares shops, and painting the frames with chalk paint, so last weekend I took myself to a paint shop, and I have been having fun with a couple I bought on holidays as well as painting old wood frames I’ve had for years).

So, I think this counts as a good day.

I’m endeavouring to be increasingly thankful for the small blessings, which are everywhere, and in that spirit, here is a poem by Christina Rossetti. Well, it’s actually not about a small thing, but not to worry. It's more about seeing beyond the small things to the big thing. Most scholars believe this is written not about romantic love at all, but is linked to her faith. It is written like a hymn, and Christina (we are on first-name basis) uses “birthday” in other poems to refer to the second coming of Christ, which is hinted at here in the description of the throne in the second verses, containing biblical imagery (this is one of the better short online analyses I found).

- Christina Rossetti

My heart is like a singing bird
    Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
    Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
    That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
    Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a daïs of silk and down;
    Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
    And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
    In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
    Is come, my love is come to me.