Saturday, July 31, 2010

REVISITING BAD POETRY

Watched the movie Bright Star this afternoon, a dramatization of the life of the poet John Keats and his relationship with Fanny Braun. He was always my favourite during my high school and college years, and it prompted me to drag out my poetry file from the deep recesses of the filing cabinet.

I couldn’t find anything from my teenage years, I’d obviously culled them on a previous occasion for the drivel that they were, but some musings from my years at college and since were still there. What is it about those formative years that drives us to write poems and songs, pouring out our hearts on to the page as we deal with lost love, lost hope and lost dreams. All that teenage angst, burgeoning hormones, and attempting to find where we fit in this world with all its complexities, makes a prolific breeding ground for poetry and song writing.

Even though I can see what I was trying to convey, almost all my attempts now I read them again are clumsy and ill formed. They didn’t succeed then, and another look hasn’t improved them, but somehow I find it hard to part with them. I love words, playing with them, rearranging them, but as Keats in the movie states (courtesy of the scriptwriter) If poetry does not come as naturally as leaves to a tree, then it had better not come at all.

I only have a few lines here and there, snippets from five poems, which bring any measure of satisfaction.

How bitter sweet

This love – hate be

Your greatest friend

Your enemy.


With seeming ease

and fearful skill

The potter moulds me to his will


Little bird

why aren’t you singing

Do you hurt somewhere

but cannot tell?


Sun that warms

my upturned face

Throws its rays

upon the child

snivelling in the dirt.

No warmth there.


Meaty hand beats the pulpit

Wrings the pages of The Book.

Reads in tones of condemnation

Lest his listless congregation

Be content to sit and look.

Looking at the dates on the poems, I obviously gave up a long time ago, and probably a good thing. And what of understanding the poetry of others, a pursuit loved by some but despised by most. Dissecting the words penned by someone several hundred years ago was never my favourite part of English Literature, and a process I never found terribly illuminating. It didn’t really add to my appreciation of the poet’s thoughts or their skill in imparting them, but rather detracted from the whole experience of immersing yourself in this mysterious world conjured by the poet magician.

I’ll leave it to Keats (via the movie scriptwriter again) to put it very succinctly.

A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore, but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out. It is an experience beyond thought.

Monday, July 26, 2010

7 YEARS ON


Today marks one of those anniversaries which bring bitter sweet memories. Seven years ago my husband Bob died following an eighteen month journey with a brain tumour. I say journey rather than battle, for from the outset it didn’t feel like we were dealing with an enemy which had to be defeated. True, we would’ve preferred a favourable outcome, but the reality and severity of his diagnosis brought with it a sense of preparedness to accept what the future held, no matter what, entrusting ourselves to God ‘s love and care.

Some may see that as defeatist, giving up and giving in to the inevitable, but for us it was a time where we didn’t dwell on the past or fear the future, but where we lived each day, enjoying the many good moments found in the midst of the challenges which increasingly came our way as his condition deteriorated. Radiation and chemotherapy bought us time, time which granted us the opportunity to see life from a different perspective. Bob got a lot of satisfaction out of his work both as a lecturer in theology, sociology and psychology, and as a graphic designer, but from the moment the tumour was diagnosed all that was taken away.

Instead of regretting what was lost, he had an amazing acceptance of the situation, his only concern being the burden it was going to put on others who would have to pick up the pieces and stretch themselves to cover his responsibilities. He had a deep love for so many, but this experience cemented that. Too many of us define ourselves in terms of what we do, and as important as the work is and no matter how much we love it, we concluded that when it comes down to it, it's our relationships which are really precious.

Many close friends found his illness difficult to come to terms with, believing he still had so much to offer, but his ministry didn't come to an end with his withdrawal from active work. It simply took on a different form. I think his illness prompted people to stop and reflect, to reassess what's really important. I've kept every letter, card and email since he first became ill, and each one is a testament to how much Bob was loved, how much he touched people's lives, how much he challenged them to discover who they were meant to be.

As I wrote in my journal after the diagnosis was confirmed, “Strange to feel so calm. Have sometimes wondered in the past how I would react if we were faced with such a challenge. To now find ourselves in this situation, it's lovely to know there is no need to despair”.

Bob was always an avid reader and writer, and very early in his illness he asked me to write down his thoughts while he could still get them straight. I included them in his eulogy on what was a remarkable day in our community for laying him to rest. I’ll let him have the final word.

Am I dying?

I think it's pretty clear my life is coming to an end, barring miracles, and miracles are always God's choice. But the fascinating thing for me is I think all of life is a miracle.

Life has been just so full, so rich.

All across the world there are little kids who died today without food, with AIDS, through war, all innocent. How pathetic it would be to grumble that I'm dying young at 54.

Sure, I would rather be around to see my kids grow up, my grandkids grow up, to see the eventual outcome of Fusion's ministry. I'd love to be with my wife for what we thought would last until we grew old together, but I can be nothing but thankful for what's been given, and enjoy it.

It's strange to actually face dying. Part of me for months has felt like I might not live much longer. I don't know why, I just sort of knew. I'm not finished. I'm still learning and growing, and I know God has some lessons for me for this time. You just see things a little clearer or something.

I'm sorry I was such a workaholic. I wish I'd loved people more.

Inside, my heart still sings. My child sings because I met Jesus along the way, and through His family I got to grow enough to see what was important.

We're all aware of our selfishness, our self indulgence, but there's also, when you stop and think about it, a sense of joy and love that's at the core of who we are.

I'm looking forward to discovering what the after life is all about. You only get one opportunity, well, most of us anyway, and eventually it'll be revealed to us all. The funny thing is, we all think it's so far off, when really it's not far away at all, and we have the whole of eternity to appreciate it all.

So God is asking me, it seems, to accept His wish that I get there earlier than some of you, but it will only be a very short phase from then until we're together. That's what we need to trust. That's why we need to live our whole lives fully.

I don't think I'll miss you. I think there'll be too much going on. The pain for me is identification with your pain in losing someone you care about, but it's only for a little while.

Trust that.

Love, Bob”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

424,424 and still counting

Two and a half years ago I stopped on the side of the road to take a photo of the odometer in my trusty 1989 Mazda MX6 Turbo. I’d been keeping my eye on it and was hoping I wouldn’t be in a situation where I couldn’t pull over to record the ticking over of 400,000 km.

Heading to the auto electrician the other day for a minor running repair something compelled me to glance it again, and sure enough another milestone ticked over. For 21 years this little red engine has been humming along, which for a modern car is getting a bit long in the tooth, but after 424,424 km she’s still doing the right thing, getting me from A to B with minimal maintenance.

Purchased in 2000, and the 8th in a long line of Mazdas lovingly owned over the last forty years, she defies the odds, maintaining her looks and performance despite the passing of the years and the many revolutions of her engine and wheels. In the same way we talk about “dog years,” I wonder how old that would make her in human terms.

I don’t neglect her. She gets the bare essentials, regular oil changes and maintenance of all fluid levels, new tyres when needed, a spit and polish about three times a year, and despite the fact she doesn’t get the treatment she really deserves at this time in her life, she still serves me well.

For many of us, as the years pass and we also start to get a bit long in the tooth, we begin to see the signs of ageing, and the effects of only maintaining ourselves with the bare minimum. The physical side is the most obvious. I once rarely set foot inside a chemist, now I have my regular prescriptions which help keep my insides humming along, and I’m reminded of the importance of a healthy diet and exercise as the body starts to let me down in one way or another.

Emotional maintenance is not quite so obvious, but neglect this one by isolating yourself and denying yourself the interpersonal connections and creative outlets which bring affirmation and fulfillment, it’s not long before you start to shrivel up on the inside.

And what of spiritual maintenance, the one part of our nature most often neglected. We motor along on our own resources much of the time, but when situations right out of left field, or things beyond our control hit us full on, we can be found floundering if our spirits are starved of nourishment. For me, my relationship with God keeps me grounded, knowing that as huge as the Universe is, the creator of it cares about me personally. External circumstances can bring emotional stress, but being anchored spiritually gives you the means to control how you respond in those moments.

So, despite the fact Julia Gillard might prefer I surrendered my little Mazda in exchange for $2000 towards something more modern, I think we’ll be growing old gracefully together for quite some time yet. We’re both getting on, but with the right amount of love and care, there’s still a few miles left in both of us.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Where's the Refreshment Stand?

Starting to run out of steam, blog entries are getting farther apart, not feeling particularly creative lately. I guess I could blame the Tour de France and lack of sleep, though I missed all last night’s drama with Andy Schleck losing the yellow jersey to Contador as I just had to get some sleep after watching the whole stage the night before.

Several years ago a friend gave me one of those desk calendars you flick over for a daily inspirational thought. Depending on what mood you’re in they can give you a kick start as you head into a new day, but they can also remind you of how far away you are from where you’d like to be. Sometimes they can seem so trite they feel downright patronising, wrapping life up into a neat little package which bears no resemblance to what you have to manage both internally and externally.

Mine has been sitting on February 9 for a long time, for the message I feel is quite profound.

Don’t knock the benefits of relaxation. A refreshed soul can be a truly creative soul, and a truly creative soul is a productive soul.

I’ve never been one to shirk my work responsibilities, but so many of us have a tendency to knock ourselves out working, to the detriment of the equilibrium of our body, soul and spirit. What does it really mean to relax? Simply stopping work doesn’t guarantee relaxation will automatically kick in. Many people feel at a loose end when they go on holiday, and even weekends can bring their own stresses as the structure of a normal working day is taken away.

Unwinding in front of the square box can be fine for a while, but being passive doesn’t do it for me. I need to be actively engaged in something to come to a point where I get a new lease of life. I’m not arty or crafty or particularly skilled at anything much, but reading a good book can transport me to another world. I might be curled up on the couch, but my mind is active and my emotions engaged. Walking is a great tonic for clearing the head; making the effort is usually the hardest part, for once I get out there I wonder why I don’t do it more often. Walking in the bush is even better, increases my appreciation for the wonders of creation.

Surprisingly, a day’s hard work can actually be more refreshing than lying on the couch watching movies. Flexing the muscles and chopping and stacking firewood, or going for broke weeding and cleaning up the yard, can give me a great sense of achievement, and in the process the cares of the day get relegated to the back burner where they assume their proper place amongst the other insignificant things crowding my mind. I might be exhausted physically, but I come alive in the challenge.

Walking 18 holes and chasing a little white ball does it for some. Others travel, dance, paint, build, fish, care for kids, sing, ride bikes, act, restore old cars, climb mountains, draw, write, collect coins and stamps, garden, knit, sew, design, the list is endless.

Whatever it is, it will be those things which go to the core of our being and bring joy and a sense of fulfilment that will get our creative juices going, and when we’re firing on all cylinders, look out. The only restrictions will be those we put on ourselves.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

WE LOVE TO GO A-WANDERING.....

After some overnight rain a couple of days ago I had some interesting companions crossing the road with me as I walked to work. The rain had brought the worms out of their hidey holes. I spotted a couple as I stepped off the kerb on to the road, nothing unusual about that, but then there was another, and another, until I stopped bang in the middle of the road (you can do that in Poatina at 9am, not exactly the place you find peak hour traffic), fascinated to find I was surrounded by about thirty of the wriggly blighters.

Not tiny little fellas either, most were about 20cm long. So what were they doing out here instead of turning over the soggy soil on home turf? Not being privy to worm habits and too lazy to find out, I guess there’s a perfectly logical, and biological and ecological explanation for their behaviour.

Maybe their spot of dirt was now a muddy quagmire and they’d simply come out to freshen themselves up in some nice clean rain, who knows, but right then some looked like they’d pulled an all nighter and were now a bit worse for wear. They were flagging as they crossed the bitumen in search of another patch of dirt to inhabit, some a little shrivelled while others were progressing at well below their normal speed.

What is it that compels us to look beyond our immediate world, and want to experience the worlds of others? The common phrase “the grass is greener on the other side” can be a way of displacing ourselves from the confinement of our everyday routine existence into one we believe would find us much more fulfilled and productive. Only problem is, no matter where you go, you take your baggage with you, and more often than not find your new location doesn’t deliver on your expectations.

The motives for travelling and possibly relocating are as many and varied as those who travel, from wanting to escape, to simply passing through as a tourist, to wanting to immerse yourself in another culture to the extent where it becomes part of you. For many, travelling overseas especially not only opens their eyes to worlds beyond their own, but brings them to a place where they more fully appreciate what they have left behind.

Do we need to leave the familiar to help us discover more of who we are? I guess for many the answer would be an emphatic ‘yes’. The wanderlust urge can be a cathartic motivator to call us out to new challenges, but maybe the solution is to not be so distracted by it, that we are unable to settle in the midst of that restlessness.

Changing our external circumstances doesn’t necessarily mean our internal world will automatically fall into place or heal itself or receive enlightenment and get a new lease of life. Finding the inner peace that sustains you can be found on home soil just as much as in some far flung corner of the planet which someone else calls home.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

BONJOUR MONSIEUR, FOLLOWING 'LE TOUR'

The fact that the Tour de France begins the same day as Wimbledon finishes means five weeks of bleariness if I’m to keep up with it all. Must admit I didn’t watch a lot of Wimbledon this year, but Le Tour, now that’s a different thing. Not that I’m a huge cycling fan, but every year I somehow get sucked into the drama and spectacle of it all, following the individuals and teams as they attempt to outwit each other with their strategies.

The cycling is probably more an excuse though for my annual visit to the French countryside. If you can’t experience the delights of a European sojourn and immerse yourself in the culture firsthand, then why not use SBS to take you there for three weeks instead. Weaving their way through the narrow streets of rural towns with architecture like nothing we have here in Oz, speeding past ancient castles and great gothic churches and cathedrals, the competitors see none of the sights brought to us from every vantage point courtesy of the cameramen perched on motorbikes, in cars and aboard helicopters.

Watched the entire first stage, including all the carnage which brought the peloton to a grinding halt close to the finish, as well as other spills which brought a few undone on the first day. For the last three nights though I’ve headed to bed to watch the guys eat up the kilometers on my dinky little TV in the bedroom. Keep falling asleep so I miss most of it, but did manage to wake up once with only 10km to go so saw that sprint. Have slept through both of Mark Cavendish’s sprint victories, but I’m saving my energy for the mountain stages, when the real fun begins.

For the cyclists, the scenery is the backdrop. Fields of sunflowers and the spectators on the side of the road pass in a blur. Their purpose is to pass through it as quickly as possible in pursuit of their goal. For those who live there, the Tour is just one small aspect of the backdrop to their daily lives, the circus that rolls into town and departs as quickly as it comes.

I wonder how much of life we live vicariously, watching others do things we aspire to, going to places we would love to visit, making commitments to achieve their dreams while we just dream, taking risks and sacrificing the known while we hesitate and play it safe. None of us want to end our lives full of regret. We all want our lives to mean something, to have the courage to act at the right moment, and be able to say with conviction that we’ve done what we were meant to do. I know for myself the pain of what it’s going to cost to achieve certain goals can often seem too much, so I put it off yet again. Procrastination trips me up time after time.

We don’t have to be a Cadel Evans or Lance Armstrong to be someone special. Being present in each moment, attuned to the people around us and the situations in which we find ourselves, making a contribution instead of taking, speaks volumes about our moral character. The pursuit of a dream is fine, and competing to the best of your ability can show remarkable strength, but it would be a shame if we were so focused on ourselves we sped on at breakneck speed while everything alongside us was left behind.

Monday, July 5, 2010

WE THINK IT 'MAZING

My friend Matt was relating the story of his family’s trip to Tasmazia yesterday, a popular tourist spot comprising several mazes. The last time they visited the kids were just little tackers, so Mum and Dad had the unenviable task of making sure the kidlets didn’t wander out of sight for fear of being swallowed by the greenery and never spat out again.

This time they encouraged the kids to go a-wandering, not that they wanted them to disappear, but letting them negotiate the twists and turns without help would give them a chance to find their own way. At one point their younger son obviously became hedged in (hah!) so climbed a pole to get his bearings, whereupon he found he was stuck and couldn’t get down again.

Matt, being the good dad he is, went to the rescue, only to come up against a dead end. Back up, turn left, head in the right direction, another dead end. Try again, different way this time, yet another dead end. Finally, on the fourth attempt father and son were reunited and son dutifully rescued. Funny how going in what you think is the right direction doesn’t always guarantee you’ll reach your destination.

Wally Lamb’s character Caelum Quirk in The Hour I First Believed (see yesterday’s entry) eventually applies his teaching skills with the inmates at the women’s prison founded by his great grandmother. There, he discovers the therapeutic effect his creative writing classes have on these damaged women. For them, simply surviving is like facing an endless maze, and finding the way out can sometimes take so long, it is no wonder that prolonged frustration, anger, isolation, poverty and oppression can result in violence and criminal activity.

So how do you negotiate the maze so the surroundings which are not of your design, and which are out of your control, don’t overwhelm you? Caelum Quirk’s thoughts no doubt reflect those of his creator, for Lamb has a similar position at Connecticut’s York Correctional Institute.

Mostly, the women want to write about themselves….it gives them wings, so that they can rise above the confounding maze of their lives and, from that perspective, begin to see the patterns and dead ends of their pasts, and a way out. That’s the funny thing about mazes: what’s baffling on the ground begins to make sense when you can begin to rise above it, the better to understand your history and fix yourself.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

FORK IN THE ROAD

Having just finished reading Wally Lamb’s hefty third novel The Hour I First Believed, I was reminded how we are constantly faced with situations both of our own making and those beyond our control, which require us to take on board what is happening around us, make decisions based on these events and move forward in the hope that some sense and meaning will eventually be revealed.

Lamb’s central character Caelum Quirk is a teacher and his wife Maureen a nurse at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. In the setting of the tragic shooting in 1999, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kill 12 fellow students and a teacher, and injure a further 18 students before turning their guns on themselves, repercussions are felt far beyond that fateful day.

As the years pass and other events like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan take their toll on his characters, Lamb explores the maze of psychological and emotional trauma following explosive events which can instigate post traumatic stress disorder and have the potential to completely derail the human psyche.

Intertwining fact within the structure of his story, including actual excerpts from Harris’ and Klebold’s diaries and videos, Lamb’s characters need to dig deep into their internal resources to come to terms with events which at times spiral out of their control. Despair and hope go hand in hand. Anger, relief, fear, hatred, guilt, thankfulness, grief, acceptance, love and compassion all have their moments.

Battling through the minefield though can result in wanting to give in, take the path of least resistance, protect one’s own boundaries and erect walls to keep out that which disturbs our equilibrium. It is in those moments we are faced with the moral choices which call us out, which ask of us whether we are prepared to be open to others and therefore be vulnerable, if we are prepared to put the interests of others before ourselves.

Redemption comes at a cost, and Lamb doesn’t sugarcoat the journey his characters have to negotiate just so the reader can arrive at a neat happy ending. Time and again they face moments where a decision either way can have long lasting repercussions, and like all of us the way ahead with its possibilities and pitfalls is not always clear.

The beauty of hindsight is that we can see what would have been the right choice to make. Whether we make it or not is not a reflection of our intelligence, for situations can change at a moment’s notice. What we do have control over though, is how we shoulder the consequences of our choices. No matter what the external circumstances, if the core of who we are is centred and has a solid value base, our integrity remains intact.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

FROZEN PEG POND

Thought I was smart when I headed out the back door to hang out the washing this morning. Having returned from previous episodes of hanging the washing out on frosty mornings with frostbitten fingers which hurt like blazes as they thaw out, I was suitably rugged up against the crisp morning complete with woolly gloves. Not the easiest thing hanging washing with gloves on, but prevention is better than cure.

I have an old plastic garden chair which sits by the clothes line, the sort with a hollow where your backside fits nice and neatly. I don’t use it as such, this is where my pegs sit, nice and handy every time I need them. However, having had some rain during the week the hollow had become a puddle, and with the overnight temperature at minus something the puddle had frozen, resulting in a solid peggy pond.

Ah well, brought it back in and hung it in front of the fire, quicker anyway.

Friday, July 2, 2010

ICING UP IN THE FOGGY FOGGY DEW

I was all set for my hour long trip to look after my grandson this morning, dragged myself out of bed before 7, which isn’t particularly early but at the moment still feels like the middle of the night. Headed off before 7.30 with the sun’s first glow on the horizon, neighbour’s car in his driveway well and truly covered with ice while mine having been in the carport was fine, a decent frost this morning.

Situated at 300m partway up the Great Western Tiers, we are often in sunshine while everyone in the valley below languishes in the fog at this time of year, and this morning was no different, though at the time I left the sun hadn’t really made an entrance. Headed down the hill and passed my friend Rikk on his morning walk about to be swallowed up by this impenetrable wall I was approaching, and the moment I arrived at the bottom of the hill I was into it, not meagre patchy stuff, and fortunately not a real pea souper, but with visibility at about fifty metres it was enough to make the trip pretty slow.

After super diligent concentration in which I discovered it’s actually easier driving in fog if you’re following someone, I finally came out of it 50 km later, and it wasn’t until then that I noticed a strange anomaly. Usually when your car is iced up on a frosty morning it disperses fairly quickly once you get going, but glancing at my driver’s side mirror I noticed it was covered in beads of ice and had tiny icicles hanging from it. I guess it was the one thing protruding from the car that was copping the frigid air. Looked quite bizarre. Hope there were no pooches with their heads stuck out the car windows this morning, their wet noses and flapping ears would’ve ended up frost bitten.

Freezing in Launceston today, finally home again, more fog on the way back, this time in the dark, house is freezing, retreating to the bedroom with heater and electric blanket to watch Miss Marple. Will thaw out tomorrow.