Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How many?

If the Inuit people have 97 different words for snow, I wonder how many words surfers have for waves?  I dont know the first thing about surfing but even I can see that the surf is different today than it was yesterday.  Today its frothy and fizzy.  The aqua waves are marbled with white veins.

 Yesterday the waves were clear enough to see through and the white fluff on top looked firm, like uncooked meringue.

They were like this the day before, as well. Crisp and clear.

Everyday they are beautiful to me. I love hearing them thunder and roar.  Especially at night but all day long as well.  There is no letting up. I think about breathing in all that extra oxygen, imagining the good it is doing me.  A week here at Tuross Heads (NSW) is every kind of relaxing unwinding bliss.  No wonder the locals want to keep this place a secret.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Slow reading

Photo from Flickr: click image to go to photographer's photostream
I've never forgotten the school holidays when I had to spend days lying on my bed in a darkened room.  Not being able to read anything. It was terrible. Boring. Painful. I'd strained my eyes reading, and how they hurt!  I dont imagine the torture of that experience did much to curb my book worm ways, though it probably did for a while.  All my life I've been someone who never goes anywhere without a book, reading at any opportune moment.  Well, that was until I began working in a job that required me to spend hours each day in front of a computer screen.  I did that job for five years and in that time I reckon I could count the books I actually finished reading on my fingers, perhaps I'd need a few toes.  It wasnt that I lost interest in books. I'd want to read. I'd start but I just couldnt get very far into them before losing interest. Unless I was on holidays.  It was most unlike me.  My pattern of reading a book a week with several on the go at any one time came to a halt. I'd look at pictures in magazines and in the newspapers but seldom read all of the accompanying text.  I discovered I liked reading poetry - as long as they were not too long.  Just postcard sized poems that i could mull over. It has now been a year since I began different work where I dont spend most of the day in front of a screen. I'm so relieved to discover that I can still lose myself in a book. Returning to reading has taken time though.  I still dont read anything like the volume I used to.  But I feel I am finding my way towards the pleasure I used to know and I hope that in time, I will get back to the level of reading I once enjoyed.  Heaven knows, the list of books I want to read just keeps growing.
During my non-reading phase I did sometimes wonder what had happened to me.  In one of the week end papers i found an article that offered a very acceptable rationale to me. One that would suggest I wasnt alone in finding it difficult to settle into reading lengthy texts.  Tech expert Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brain, argues that our "our hyperactive online habits are damaging to the mental faculties we need to process and understand lengthy textual information".  The technologies we use to find store and share information can reroute our neural pathways.  Carr describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by "tools of the mind" - from the alphabet, to maps, to the printing press, the clock and the computer.  Discoveries in neuroscience have shown how the human brain makes patterns for expediency, and how it changes in response to our experiences.  The internet has made us very adept at scanning and skimming but in the process, Carr argues, we are losing our capacity for concentration, contemplation and reflection.  The internet invites rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources.  Research has shown that office workers glance at their email inbox 30 or more times in an hour.  My own experience causes me not to doubt this.  Sometimes I would turn off the email notification if I was needing to get something done by a deadline but most of the time, I have to admit, I enjoyed the distraction of checking emails. Tracy Seeley, an English Professor at the University of San Fransisco has noticed that many of her students have difficulty concentrating on a text for more than a minute at a time.
Our technology has trained us away from slow concentrated reading.   Some who have recognised this advocate for slow reading. Tracy Seeley has a blog about it.   Nicholas Carr does too.  Ramona Koval mentioned it during one of the Bookshow episodes last week.  Apparently,  there is a whole movement towards slow: slow food, slow travel and now slow reading.  When applied to reading it's about the practice of the intentional reduction in the speed of reading for the purpose of greater comprehension, learning or just plain old pleasure.  It's about reading things that take a bit more time: reading things fully rather than just skimming. And for me its about taking a book with me to read while I wait for a friend, an appointment, a tram.  It's about reading in bed before I turn out the light and sometimes turning off the TV and curling up on the magic carpet of my couch, ready to be other than who i am, just for a brief while.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homage to the Irrational

Out walking this morning I listed to The Book Show interview of Bioethics Professor Peter Singer talking about the collection of essays by philosophers on the work of the writer JM Coetzee that he has recently co-edited.  There was a fair bit of lamenting between Ramona and Peter over  Coetzee's consistent and continuous refusal to give interviews or talk much at all about his writing.  Apparently, once Coetzee agreed to give a lecture about animal rights and, rather than deliver what one would expect for a lecture,  spent the time reading a section from his novel Elizabeth Costello, leaving his listeners to wonder how much Costello is Coetzee. Something that happens in the reading of the five Coetzee novels I have read.  What is fact and what is fiction?  What is memoir and what is imagined? Whose voice is this?
Listening to this morning's program I found myself reflecting on how difficult it must be for Coetzee to maintain his stance. Sure, he might be a very shy person but in this day and age where there is so much pressure for authors to talk, or at least write publicly about their work, it must be incredibly difficult to 'stick to his guns'.  The tendency to want to explain things or to make sure we are not misunderstood seems almost innate.  I am so glad that Coetzee doesnt cave in.  It would seem to me that the kind of writing he does, classified as fiction, comes from a particular part of the psyche - and this is not the part that analyses and is rational.  Having been an academic for most of his life the distinction between these ways of being with our mind must be very clear to Coetzee.  To move from the place of the irrational, of memory and imagination, of feeling and symbol to then be explaining and reasoning would lose so much of the power of that writing.  Somethings need to remain mysterious, to be pondered over, to be felt and lived rather than justified, clarified and explained.  I cant imagine Haruki Murakami being able to explain some of his works if he tried! I have just finished reading Kafka of the Shore.  I loved it - so totally my kind of story with its dreamlike, mysterious, musical and totally irrational but symbolic and metaphorically meaningful goings on.  This is the third book of his I have read now. Cant wait to read another one!  It is like communing with the deep wisdom of the unconscious mind.  Doesnt always make sense but the puzzle feels worth pondering over for the gems one just might uncover.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Forest Flowers

Spent the June long weekend walking through forest in the Otways, feeling like I was where the Wild Things  are :) The most amazing and surprising thing was the wide variety of fungi sighted.  Here are just a few examples

Monday, May 31, 2010

Caught in the act

I've enjoyed many of the lane ways in Melbourne that have been cheered up with graffiti art.  Saturday morning I was delighted to catch some of these artists at work. Here they are:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Where the streets are paved with gold

We alone can devalue gold
by not caring
if it falls or rises
in the marketplace.
Wherever there is gold
there is a chain, you know,
and if your chain
is gold
so much the worse
for you.
Feathers, shells
and sea-shaped stones
are all as rare.

This could be our revolution:
To love what is plentiful
as much as
what's scarce.

(Alice Walker, in Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, pub. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovitch, 1984)

Monday, May 17, 2010

last days of autumn

I've got the lovely Jess staying for a few days.  Seeing that the sun was shining we went for a walk at lunch time.  The autumn leaves, whether on the ground or on the tree, are glorious

It is clear that winter is near, though.

No wonder the buzzy bee was very slow moving.

Good ol' gum blossom doesnt wait for it to be spring to do its blooming

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Nature of Dreams

Disappointment is the nature of dreams...
"If you compare Israel to the magnitude of its dreams, it is a disappointment. But this is not about the nature of Israel; it's about the nature of dreams. Israel is a dream come true, and is such it is destined to taste sour - because it is fulfilled."
So says Amos Oz in the documentary The Nature of Dreams, based on his memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness, directed by Masha Zur Glozman and Yonathon Zur.  Oz is one of Israel's most esteemed writers; he is also known for his controversial political views.  The man portrayed in the documentary matches the one who shines through his poetry and prose; humane, compassionate, insightful.  A beautiful, beautiful man.  The documentary follows Oz on an International lecture tour, reveals aspects of his family life, growing up in Jerusalem in the 1940's and later, living in a Kibbutz.  It explores his hopes for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, particularly through a very moving conversation with a Palestinian man.  As in his writing, Oz seeks the common ground, the self in the other, the other in the self, the naming of polarity as destructive.
The part of the film that I enjoyed the most was when there was a voice over of a piece of Oz's writing.  Disappointing, then, was that the film did not really delve into Oz's creative, imaginative life.  It had a much more political focus.  I remember a wonderful interview that Oz gave with Radio National's Ramona Koval a number of years ago, where he spoke about the Hebrew language. I was captivated by the poetry, the mystery and the history of it.  Guess you cant do everything in 100 minutes (or so). Several times the camera scanned the view of Jerusalem from the surrounding hills, an image that affected me for reasons I dont really understand.  The shining gold  Temple of the Rock dome against the sameness of the rest of the city; rows on rows of cream buildings. The harshness of the hills; dry, rocky, treeless.  I'm glad I saw the film; it made me want to read the memoir. I also appreciated understanding just a tincy bit more about Jewish history and about Israel and Palestine.  I also feel like I gained a little more insight into Albert and Rico, loved characters from The Same Sea
Promised lands are a lie. There is no wondrous snowman in the mountain ravines. Only in the sea there awaits her what never was and has gone. - from The Same Sea
Evening. Rain falls on the empty desert hills. Chalk and flint and the smell of dust being wetted after an arid summer. A wish stirs: to be what I would have been had I not known what is known. To be before knowledge. Like the hills. Like a stone on the surface of the moon. Simply there, motionless and trusting in the length of its shelflife. - The Same Sea 
 Isn't that beautiful!

The Nature of Dreams is showing at the Nova

Monday, May 10, 2010

Who lives here

 Each time I walk along Collins Street in the city, I marvel at this nest, way up high in one of the trees.  I'd love to know what sort of bird calls this tree home, and how they cope living on a busy city street (see photo below)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

river walk

Beautiful day to be out in the fresh air.  Went for a walk along the Yarra just near where I live.  Hard to believe such a peaceful valley exists only a few km's from the CBD

Then before coming home went to visit the bats (Grey Headed Flying Foxes) who fly over my home each night and morning, in their home.  They were fast asleep and not receiving visitors

Sunday, May 2, 2010

What to do if you are lost in the forest

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

poem written by David Wagoner and found in his book "Travelling Light"

What shall I do if I am lost in the amount of work I have to get done before next Saturday, or my sad little bank balance, or the growing mound of washing, not to mention the ironing,  or house cleaning.  What then?  Loose myself in the forest, I reckon.  What a tree or bush does will not be lost on me!  And if David Wagoner is right, then I wont be lost at all because the trees and bushes will know where I am.  There's comfort in that.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day

How about that!  We are now one third of the way through the year and two thirds of the way through autumn.  I love this time of year, the softness of light and abundance of cloud. I love walking at dusk, invigorated by the chill in the air and the promise of a long night in a warm and cosy house.  This month I am looking forward to:
  • going to the cinema to see the documentary about Amos Oz 
  • digging and preparing a bed in which to plant tomatoes in the spring
  • having Jess come to stay again

  • checking out the sculptures at Toorak Village
  • Breath at Bookclub
  • 2010 VCE Art Exhibition, Top Arts, at the Ian Potter Gallery
  • dinner with friends
  • a visit to Ballarat
  • begin a compost heap using all our leaf litter
  • plant some veggies in the garden
Yah!  It's May!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Liberal or Progressive?

When it comes to religion I thought these terms were interchangeable. That is, until a few days ago. I have been at the Common Dreams Conference these past four days and this distinction has been the stand out learning for me.  While "Liberal" churches  would probably describe themselves as open minded and open hearted, Hal Taussig would suggest that they have not changed their practices much in the last twenty years or so.  They may well have
"maintained a strong intellectual openness, an emphasis on social justice, a traditional worship with a lot of preaching and very little participation or expressiveness by the people, and not much attention to feminism, gay and lesbian issues, spiritual renewal and experimentation or other religions"  - Taussig in Grassroots Progressive Christianity: A Quiet Revolution
And it is these things that the Liberal religious have not paid much attention to that the Progressives are passionate about. The Progressive Religious are marked by what they do rather than what they believe. The key note speaker at the Conference, Gretta Vosper's book is titled With or Without God: Why the way we live is much more important than what we believe.  Another of the presenters, Margaret Mayman talked about the connection between the poetic and the prophetic and stated that the defining difference between liberal and progressive was that the latter are as much interested in practicing justice (for humans and for the earth) as they are in practices of spirituality, and that there must be connection between everyday life and liturgy/ritual: "If this is not a place where tears are understood, where shall I go to  cry?"

So why does this learning matter to me?  I have long been attracted to the irrational and dont want to live with the austerity of the rational alone but I have become disillusioned with Church - the spiritual practices offered in the Churches I have been in mostly bore me (at best) - apart from the Eco-faith community that I was part of in Adelaide.  I certainly do not believe in a god who intervenes.  When it comes to the supernatural, i dont know what I believe and I dont really care.  I like the mystery.  I like the mystics, one of whom said "God is silence". I do believe in the power of people to change things, and the power of community to change, transform me, and it these things I long for.  This hope to be part of a community that makes a real difference in the world but who has also developed some practices for sustaining and nourishing each other in this work is not something I want to go on ignoring.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One Perfect Day...

I've just had a couple of days in the country. What a tonic for the soul that was!  Both days were amazingly wonderful but here is the catalogue for the first blissful day:

7.30 - 8.30 reading magazines in bed

8.30 - 9.30 scrumptious breakfast of muesli apricots and fresh passionfruit, looking out on to wet garden

9.30 - 10.00 luxuriate in bubble bath

10.00 - 11.00 listen to Yo Yo Ma play some Bach cello suites while dreamily perusing the weekend papers and making plans for the future

11.00 - 1.30  walk around town 

1.30 - 2.30 home for lunch - home grown tomato, mushroom, cheese and avocado on toasted rye bread then bush honey biodynamic yoghurt with fresh passionfruit - yum!

3.00 - 6.00  drove to near by town for afternoon tea.  Fed and watered the horse

then wandered the streets, looking in shops.  My favourite was the one selling linens

then drove the long way home, through magnificent wooded, green countryside - and a rainbow

6.30 - 9.30  cooked bacon and eggs (from the chooks in the back yard), mushrooms and more of those home grown tomatoes for tea. Then, with my best friend, watched a superb thriller starring Anthony Hopkins, Fracture, borrowed from my favourite video store before I left Melbourne

9.30 went to bed, one contented little bunny!