Thursday, February 28, 2013

DAY 32) Bleak House?

Declaring one’s cards on the table or keeping them to oneself are distinctly different activities. We seek to gain advantage, naturally, unless the hand is a simple throw away. But some things one keeps close to one’s chest, letting few know or see the images that would reveal all. And that’s what M’Lady is now trying to decide; how much does she tell? There is a most difficult passage of her life coming up in her narrative. It is a bleak house of too much tragedy, too many deaths, too much heartache. And to arrive there on these hot summer days so very many years later, the past yet again exhumed as it were, is to go through a gauntlet of self-examinations, self doubts, and old pain. She lost both sons and her husband within three years. No wonder hesitation to disclose.

The chronology of our lives sets us up for the ‘and then?’ And then we try to second guess the ‘why’ of what happened to us. We forget that we are often but bystanders to other people’s accidents, other people’s manifestations. We feel so personally involved. But it was they who contracted the disease, got the ‘dis-ease’, not us. Yet we were affected. When there appears no winning hand among the players we know we all go home bereft of that which might have been. And our houses can become bleak indeed.

Sometimes houses fall, like a deck of cards. (1) In 1924, at 2 years old Nancy lost her mother. (2) In 1944, at 22 years old she lost her twin brother. (3) In 1951, at 29 years old she lost her father. He was only 57. (4) In 1957 Nancy lost her Maman, her stepmother she’d had since a toddler. (5) In 1978 she lost her dear brother, Pat. He was 58. (6) In 1984 she lost her oldest son, Ian. He was 34 years old. (7) In 1985, within a few months of Ian, she lost her youngest son, Nick. He was 33. (8) In 1987 she lost her beloved husband of more than 40 years, Denys Sinclair. (9) In 1993 she lost her dear oldest brother, Douglas. (10) In 2005 she lost Perry, her boyfriend of many years, living with her at the time. (11) In 2008 she lost her daughter, Diana, 58 at the time. (12) In 2010 she lost Boy Cory, a man in his 90’s whom she had dated briefly on a troop ship to Cairo, back in the early 40’s; he too was living with her for a time before he passed on. And now, 2013, on April 01st, M’Lady celebrates her 91st birthday! Of all her closest family she has only two daughters remaining, Linda, 65, and Fiona, 62. But she has a host of friends, 12 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren. She now plays with a full hand indeed!

Yet to write about all these people, all these past lives, is taking its toll. M’Lady spends hours checking details, searching for documents, finding photographs. And still she manages the house, cooks the meals, does the laundry, keeps tabs on the deliveries and the orders and the mail. Again today the hair dresser came to do M’Lady’s bi-weekly hair do. “Dang,” Nancy exclaimed to me. “I forgot about it! That’s a whole two hours cutting into my writing time!”  We are on page 34 of her new batch of handwriting since last week. I type them up, organize the photographs, scan them and then do the layouts, page for page. At some stage or other they all will be ‘put to bed’ by the printer. So too for the dead? Will they get rest from this constant reshuffle through their wake? We take photos out of frames and scan them and put everything back. We find old forgotten packages of prints and once more bring them to light.

Relationships are like that. All those people one knew. We decide how much to air. There is not much point in talking of cancer, emphysema, car accidents or... who needs really to know the cause? It is enough that things came to an end. And we weep not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. No man is an island the poet wrote; no, but we are not continents or the earth either. We are but little atomies no bigger than a.... and then we are gone. In the interim, we needs make of the many hands with which we’re dealt something good! Yes? Or it may remain a bleak house indeed.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

DAY 32) Breaking Contract

“Forty days and forty nights Moses was in the desert!” the Dominie almost shouted, punctuating his incomplete phrases. “And he prayed. Brothers and sisters. Prayed! He got down on his knees for forty days and forty nights! Forty! And prayed! Now that. That! Is Faith!”

I wondered when the man slept. What he ate. When he peed. If his knees got tired. I wondered if he kept a calendar, if he drew marks in the sand, toed the line? I wondered why the ‘40’? It often repeated itself as a biblical episode. A metaphor? An allegory? Of course, I was thirteen at the time, and I was about to make my break from things of The Faith. I was determining just how to backslide; but I had to choose my time. I needed inner resolution. I knew it would take courage. A boy does not announce himself (a thing of that measure) to his family until he feels sure he can take on the consequences. And I knew a whipping would ensue, that great shame would attend my name, that all and sundry would hear how I went the way of the devil. As indeed, they did.

The lessons repeat and repeat until we are ready to release ourselves to the next level. And now as a man I am once more faced with a line in the sand. It was of my own choosing. The sense of five weeks (with travel time adding two and a half days at either end) came to the number 40, the which I did not in actuality plan. The travel agent announced the number as he made the booking for me. It sounded at once biblical. And so forty days and forty nights it became. And I was all along determined to make it my stay. But now, things have gotten in the way.

Each page of M’Lady’s memoir is an art form. Each is a file. To make too many pages a file, and then to have to alter, edit, or add a thing seriously ruins hours of meticulous layout. Text boxes, differently sized photographs, and differentiated presentations make for an interesting read. One hardly wants page upon page of nothing but text, like a novel. This memoir has its own need to keep one fascinated with new discoveries. And so, at over two hundred-plus pages, the work continues. Thing is, were I to fold it up, unfinished, in the week that I have left, it will not get off the ground. It will remain on its knees, praying for my return. For whatever reasons, there is no one in Nancy’s family able to continue this task, willing to continue, interested enough in learning how to do it. I am the man! And the publisher is set and waiting for the manuscript. And Nancy turns 91 on April 1st. I’d be a fool to pack it in now.

Our footsteps in the sands of time need cementing, or they’ll be lost forever. Ask Lucy. Ask Tyrannosaurus Rex. And it is not that we are so significant that our exact names be the ones to be discovered, but that our passage, our efforts, our intentions be recorded for posterity; be made into a product. It does not suffice for me to say I tried, not when I am this close. So I will stay away from my home, and I will serve here where I am more intensely involved for now, for that is what this mission has demanded of me, of its own accord. My five weeks shall become eight.

By two a.m., most mornings, I am at this work. I polish last night's essay (like this essay) that I drafted at about ten p.m. the night before (even as I now type). And between those hours I devote myself entirely to the work at hand. Meals are momentary respites. Conversation gets curtailed. I am called to a compartmentalized view of the world, and like Moses I think only of what I must do. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

DAY 31) Beyond Measure

Being face to face with history humbles. How very much others have achieved! How very significant their special lives. And they had offspring who married yet other’s offspring and those begat too, and so forth from the loins of soldiers and gentlemen and their chosen female mates did a whole host of others come. Haunting. And they shall persevere. Does Picasso’s offspring paint? Does the son of Rodin exhibit sculptural inclinations? Do you get your looks from your mother, or your father? And when your turn comes, and your coffin goes down-down, or your ashes waft and drift, what will you leave behind that will have become more-better for your passing?

How do we account for our time? Perhaps it is too long. Great deeds are done in relative instants, and fill the mind like an out of the ordinary episode; different! Recall seeing the hot springs dam cleave its way in a trickle down a Montserrat beach, quickly to gouge out a trench, and then to boil and gurgle its way in a torrid rush to the sea? But it too became spent. The greatest of things, the very smallest of things, they each have their time. But we preserve them as long as we can. We stick our artifacts in the museum. We mount them in photograph albums. We label and notarize and Will our treasures beyond our own lifetimes, and we write our memoirs. The bursting of that hot spring might now make it into history; or might this essay not disappear into the ether too ?

Yet we are driven to record. Our cities have statues. Our libraries have history books. Our museums get progressively expensive. Yet there are a great many youngsters who no longer care about the first Yardbirds album, nor even the Beach Boys. Why should they? We treasure that with which we identify. Memorial Day has not much significance for those not really affected.

M’Lady likes John Denver. She plays his CD almost daily. She also has tape-cassettes of her brother, Pat, announcing his favorite songs and then playing them. Her eldest brother, Douglas, made tapes too. One of his Memorial Day services he dedicated to her. And all the while she collected their things, their memories, and recorded the accomplishments of their lives. Her Memoir is not so much about her as it is about life itself. And when seen through the eyes of her brothers, Doug, Pat, Denys, or those of her war hero husband, Denys Sinclair, life takes on a grander meaning, a more significant meaning. Denys and Denys; both were pilots. Both were shot down. 

We spend much of life filling up ordinary time because we have no Great Goal. It seldom thrusts itself at us. Nor do we create it. Yet it is those who persevere, who go beyond the distractions and the temptations to be mundane that experience the extraordinary. But sometimes we get shot down.

There are no accidents, only lessons. No matter what we are engaged in the lessons repeat and repeat until we are ready to release into yet more lessons. And that is the interest of it. That is the invigoration! Since there is no escape one might just yield, keep learning, and find it interesting!

I type under duress. The physical limitations of endurance and comfort and capability hound me. It is not easily admitted. But to give in or to stop now in this marathon that has an established finishing line is untenable, an anathema. Still, even aeroplanes if they are not shot down, and if they do not refuel, run out of gas. To sleep, to dream, perchance to rest for yet more. Persevere!

Monday, February 25, 2013

DAY 30) Errs and Edits

“Good thing I checked!” Nancy laughs from the back of the moving car, “I was going to spray the pesky things with this!” She reads, “Enamel paint!” Ha! “The can looks just like a repellent!”

Two flies had been with us for too many hours. We each tried to corral them out of open windows, slap them away, bash them to... well, one gets unfeeling toward flies. But at last one of them was tricked into flying out a window, right among the stark aridity of the pinnacles. “Can you imagine the story he’s going to tell any creatures he meets!” I joked. “I was abducted in this big alien machine with knobs and lights and three weird beings, and one even tried to spray-paint me, and then suddenly this port-hole opened, and well, here I am!” Ha! Yet it took us a good hour or more before we managed to get the other one out too. We doubted if they again could connect with each other though. Sometimes, life tears us apart.

M’Lady Nancy has fifteen people in her immediate family. Only two, her eldest and her youngest daughters, remain alive. If life be but moments in the transit of time, then what we make of our lives matters indeed. But do we ever make mistakes! Imagine if Nancy had not read the label! Imagine the enamel swooshed freely in the cab, all over ourselves, across the windscreen! Imagine!

Leading a full life takes on many guises. A local man in the nearby bush was a hermit; the wild fires caught him just last week. They found only his remains. But he was by all accounts a harmless sort of chap, fully self-contained, a modern day Thoreau. What if his cabin held his manuscripts, his dairies, the thoughts of a lifetime? All gone. David, Nancy’s son in law was telling me of a friend of his, Xan-Xan, who took himself off into the Kimberly Islands for two years and saw basically no one, lived off the land, meditated, came back into the world, and continued to live as a hobo. But a wise one. So David introduced another friend, George, to Xan-Xan, and George became a pupil of Xan-Xan’s, eventually followed suite, and disappeared for some 18 months. Thing is, what they learned they have not shared, at least, not accessibly, and so whatever insights they gained stayed with them. We all will die. M'Lady's memoir will be completed, no matter...

Editing takes on a very paradoxical significance. Unlike life it allows one to go back and go over and retrace and fix and amend and change and cut and paste and do it all over again. But like life editing ultimately relies on choices. Some are ‘expected’ grammar rules, if not mandated. Some are more-better choices than others. And some, if not many, are oversights. IT%S POREVN TAHT ARE BArIRN Kan RAED TIHS, so long as the first an dlast letter are connected to expected patterns. And even in editing, I am surprised at how often I've missed something. I wonder, just how many mistakes have i not made in life too, and not even ever been aware!

Life flies by. Clichéd, yes. But aren't most of our unchecked habits a cliché? It is not that the flies existed that bothered us so much, it was that they took turns landing on us, crawling on bare flesh, irritating one’s sensibilities. Dangling participles can do that to some. Maligned spacing can upset others. We each have our idiosyncrasies. But at the end one leaves on the blank ‘tabla rasa’ of individual existence a trail of where one’s been, chronological, compactly detailed, or mayhap gone blown by time’s sand into dust. Dust to dust. We make ourselves in the interim.         

Sunday, February 24, 2013

DAY 29) The Sins Of Ozy?

[That's actually a very wind tossed Indian Ocean in the distance]

I saw it! The big grey rock flicked an ear and became a kangaroo! David pulled up the Nissan 4x4, edged it toward the bush, and opened his window. The animal sleepily ignored us, but at a toot-toot from David's horn rose from its crouch (big as Nancy, smaller than me) and it checked us out. It reached down and scratched itself, and almost yawned, and eventually did that most unique and incredible hopping motion away from us. Ka-boing-boing! Marvellous! Got the photos to prove it.

Later we saw a group of six others. One with a ‘joey’. But there is nothing like that first time. And interesting how, by the next sightings, we zip by. “Seen one, seen them all, ha!” One has a mission; we like to go from A to B. With a five + hour drive, our A was from Three Springs, west to Eneabba, along the single-tar-track Coolimba Rd  (with its eventual surprise of a glorious vista of the sea!), and then left down Indian Ocean Drive, past Green Head, down to Jurien Bay (seaside picnic lunch), to Cervantes, and then that remarkable drive into the alien’s graveyard of Pinnacles. Then on down Lancelin Road, Wanneroo Road, and finally to the Swan Valley. Travelogues are things of the ‘only if you’ve been there is it interesting’ category; unless there is truly something unique to share. Well, in that case, everyone would be astounded at seeing Pinnacles!

Expecting some sort of projecting rocks (“The brochures only show three or four,” said Nancy,) we were awed as we drove on the slow-soft yellow-sand winding-track for more than a mile or two, dwarfed in size, among a desert-dunes landscape of monoliths, remarkably evenly spaced, each as different from the other as solidified beasts, or species from another planet, stretched out all around us as far as the eye can see. Astounding. Mesmemerizing. Awe inspiring. One may stop and go among; but not climb. Most were taller than any man. Some were like the gravestones of pets. Some were distinctly phallic. Some were pocked by holes. And all around them stretched the yellow sands. ‘Look on my works yee mighty, and despair!’ It was as though they were the vast old army of Ozymandias, once shipwrecked off the West Coast of Australia, and left there as sentries on permanent guard, forever staring out to sea! ‘The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons.’ Is that what the old Sand King had done to his offspring? Left them here to inherit his stolidity?

Transitions from such a landscape are awkward. There was no experience any of us had had that was anything like it. And we were deeply affected; felt it in our bones.

“So that’s why you have this disease,” Linda, Nancy’s daughter had asked, back at Three Springs just before we left, “It’s congenital?” “Yes,” I’d answered, “and also why I decided never to have children. Made a vow to the moon, night of 1969, when man made his first footstep in space; stood at the front gate and decided that the buck stops with me. Never changed my mind about it; selfish, I know. But I do what I can with my life; there are surely enough others to do what they can with theirs too.” She’d looked into me. “No, not selfish. Responsible.”

The joeys are plentiful this year; we had been told. So are the budgies. It portends a good year, good crops. Nature takes care of itself. And each of us does what we feel we must do. But as for those monoliths, so yoked together by history, what freedoms do they have but to stand and stare? ‘From dust to dust’; it is a strange phrase. In the meantime, life is to be lived! In deeds!

 Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)


I MET a Traveler from an antique land,
Who said, "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings.
Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!"
No thing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


[Three Springs is at the top, centre/center, above what is no lake, but a vast white salt pan!]


DAY 28) Blind Faith!

“There is no such thing until I see it!” My South African mother, back in 2001, was sincere. The Canadian moose to her was a hoax! Today, Saturday 23rd Feb., 12 years later, I used the memory. “Kangaroos? A tourist trap! To get people to come here, ha! No such thing!” Well, that’s because in a 5 hour drive through “Roo” country, albeit ‘when they are sleeping’, there was not one to be seen! And no, I don’t recall ever seeing one in a zoo.

We drove up north from Guilford (near Perth) through Bindoon (‘How-ya bin-doin’?’), then through New Norcia (with its 1846 Benedictine Monastery), then west to Moora, north again up to Watheroo, then to Coorow, Carnamah, and finally reached Three Springs. The Mercedes purred. The comfortable silence of our camaraderie at times we enlivened by animated conversation. Strange place names! Fascinating history. Amazing vistas. Nancy, daughter Linda, and me; driven by the luxury of modernity through a country as ancient as time. Beautiful, stark, arid, hot, verdant, desiccated, surprise-ponds, wealthy looking farms, dilapidated and deserted dwellings, striking facades, steam-engine railway road signs from another era; what a treat! And the light! Illuminating unfamiliar trees; unique as new persons.

Like Sister Anna. Or like Trish and Brenda.

David, Linda’s husband, awaited us at Three Springs. A 13 room boarding house, the place itself was not sure if it was a bed and breakfast, a motel, or a refuge. Certainly it exudes Australiana; a rustic charm of country decorations and dried flowers and great service and tremendous hospitality. Linda and David have owned it for seven years, transformed it from an ungainly rest-home into a sprawling ranch-house of multiple nooks and crannies, each bedroom individually appointed, and a new art-piece to be found at every vantage. The covered-courtyard-garden as well as the ‘sunset-deck’ was an absolute treat! And the meal was delicious, elegantly casual; the friendship and accord easy. No wonder people return!

Like Sister Anna. And like Brenda and Trish.

From the Order of The Good Samaritan, Sister Anna was a seasoned woman we met at tea time. Attired like any ordinary ‘Stralian (except for her little gold cross I suspect she always wears) her handshake was rather vigorous. (Without my wheelchair, and since I’d just removed my soaking-hot neck-brace, I guess I looked like a man who could take it.) M’Lady Nancy, Linda’s daughter, she’d met before! The sister had been coming back to Three Springs for several years! Her mission in the far-out country up north was to provide for the isolated and the unfortunate. A remarkable woman; impassioned with the sensibilities of her faith! “The Good Samaritan stopped his mule,” she explained, “helped the maltreated man onto it, and got the local innkeeper to assist. Who are you? Four components are vital to the story, the Samaritan, the mule, and the innkeeper. And then there’s the unfortunate one too! Now then,” she asks rhetorically, “Which one are you?”

Much later, just after dinner, two teachers walked in, and introduced themselves as Trish and Brenda. Helping Sister Anna. From New South Wales. ‘Been there?’ They asked. “Sidney; Blackheath; Glenorie. For three days only.” ‘Well then; you know the country!’ They came here from there for the summer to work; to work with aboriginals, to get some experience of a different part of the world. Their husbands permitted them to go! (‘Allowed’ was the actual word Brenda used.) And they chatted amicably about what great friends their husbands are with each other. And of their work. They felt they were having an influence on the people out here. But lasting? Indeed, we must have faith. Even if we do not see it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

DAY 27) Brought to Light!

There are no accidents, only lessons. Perhaps that’s why I caught M’Lady, at 90, half way up the ladder to the ceiling with a light-bulb in her hand. The kitchen-counter-light needing replacing! She’d got a step-ladder and set it all up without a word to me, working in the adjacent room. But I rounded the corner and there she was, discovered!

Changing light bulbs is one thing. Being illuminated by discovery is another. The sheer magic (and real irony) of today was yet to happen! I replaced the bulb, folded the A-frame (a very lightweight aluminum), and took it back across the steaming lawn (after the morning rains) to the garage, Nancy following suit. Barefoot; the pavement already threatened to blister. The air was muggy. Sweat broke out with the slightest effort. She undid the latch, swung open the big stable-door, and led me inside the gloom. “It goes over here,” she said, indicating a bare spot against the wall, amid hangings and brooms and implements and baskets and trunks and... “What’s this?” I asked, noticing the edge of a painting sticking out from what looked like a bundle of old masonite-boards. “Oh, I used to paint,” she said, “about 30 or so years ago. I’d forgotten about those!” And judging by her reactions as we undid the old leather straps and unwrapped the filthy black plastic from some 18 or more paintings (along with three huge portfolios bulging with drawings,) forgotten about them she really had! “Some were done in the art class I took, when about your age,” she smiled. Now, after 30 years, they were again about to see the light of day!  

Actually, some of them are magnificent. We took them all out, brushed them down, and photographed each in turn. (Appended to this essay are some for your viewing!) The sheer creativity and diversity of approach is what excited me, work for work, as well as a most effective use of chiaroscuro, of perspective, and of subject matter. These were no dabbles; they were the work of a seriously talented artist finding her way with a medium she was only beginning to explore. But then she lost her husband, both her sons, and..., well, living life got in the way. Yes, on the roster of Nancy’s hobbies and interests there are some sixteen different fields in which she has accomplished diverse things, from being captain of tennis, of hockey, and being Head Girl at High School, through to... but it is her art work we focus on here.

Multi-talented people have a curse. It is that they cannot be ‘the best’ at any given thing, nor even improve to their potential (that they feel deeply inside) due to the lack of time they tend to invest.  They do too many other things! Worse, well meaning subject-matter teachers exhort them to do better and better in the field in which they are ‘discovered.’ You could be the star of the show! You could win the math prize! You could be on the swim team! You could be a soccer star! You should do more with your musical talent! And children of such ilk learn to sublimate their gifts, to pull back instead of going forward, to play down instead of up, and eventually even to succumb to feeling that ‘most everyone’ else is better anyway. (At least, that’s what my post graduate thesis asserted, and seemed to prove.)  It very much manifests itself in the likes of Nancy, “My three brothers were all so brilliant, so gifted, so accomplished. Not to mention my Daddy! I never amounted to much.”

The sheer enjoyment of being better than we ourselves were yesterday is not easily won; we compare ourselves to others. And always there will be lesser and greater persons than ourselves. Desiderata has it right, above all things else, be gentle with yourself, you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees or the stars. Thing is, all our products are but a reflection of the moment, and clear reflections depend on our enlightenment. That much was proven at dinner! The house went suddenly pitch black! A fuse? No, the whole block was affected. And as we sat there in the dark on this very day of other enlightenments, illuminated by candles, we intuitively knew that enlightenment is not a question of how much, but whether there be any light at all.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

DAY 26) Love or Fear

Either-ors are difficult to handle. Dichotomies do that. Bad and good. Right and wrong. Mustard and Chutney. Red and white. Wrangle or dance? Which part of everything is not?

Preference would have it that we have choice between the two. Wayne Dyer has it that we are either practicing love or fear. Others have two-fold templates too. We give or we take. Semantics will lead us as if with a key to the secret; and on opening it (turn right, or left?) we expect to move into a paradigm shift hitherto unseen, unrealized, not yet experienced. Thing is, there is nothing we have not yet in some measure already realized within ourselves. A baby goes from gurgle to grumpy in an instant! It is the ability to govern the reaction that makes us sophisticated. It is the ability to include, assimilate, absorb, contain, and direct the instinctual, the experiential, and the spontaneous. In other words, skinny dipping with another is one thing, but determining where one’s boundaries will begin and end is quite another!

Actually, M’Lady and I were talking of the war. Of the very many wonderful young men she met in the war. As well (to cut to the chase) that decisions had to be made as to exactly what ‘dates’ meant, what chastity was worth, and what the temptations were in a period of great anxiety for all. So many that she liked, really liked, went off to die; and they did! That very many men were starved for female company, that she was a distinct minority on the wards, or on ship (only six nurses on a whole troop ship,) and that men wooed, fluttered, flattered, cajoled, wrote and loved her was par for the course. But only once did she have to slap someone! The times then were different. The mid-40’s had an air of ladylike dignity about them, and the men were dashing but temperate. But the youth of today, well, they hardly can ‘save themselves’ for marriage! (If you know what I mean?)

Chastity is not necessarily about innocence. Neither is it necessarily about a lack of warmth, care, interest, reciprocation, and even love (in Platonic terms). Chastity is about responsibility. It is a sure awareness that your actions have a greater impact on the whole than your immediate interests are inclined to feel. Many a nurse fell pregnant, was disgraced, and had to marry. And then too, there was in those days very much more a care for what one’s parents would say, never mind ‘society’!

We speak of Kohlberg. He came up with this theory that we habituate ourselves from a level akin to our predominant practice of one of eight stages of consciousness. Sure, we have all eight stages to choose from, but we tend to revert to the one that feels most comfortable for ourselves over and over. Like the criminal who, despite having been jailed, will do the crime again. Like the strict self-disciplinarian who, though sorely tempted, will not cross the line for fear of the consequences. Like the over-concerned child, kin, or spouse who will not traverse expectations for fear of hurting or disappointing their loved ones. Like the boy or girl who will not spit or swear while in school uniform (or anywhere else) for fear of misrepresenting a larger group. Like the proud citizen who goes about driving, cleaning, contributing to his own City. Then there is the one who predominantly serves his country. After that most things are done in terms of serving our world. And finally, some, predominantly, mostly, actually think in terms of serving the Universe. Eight stages! And yet Kohlberg maintained that the vast majority of mankind operates predominantly from stage two. A kind of: “How does it affect me? What’s in it for me?” What's my response to the ridding of Me?

‘Saving ourselves’ has incredible significance. Seen multi-dimensionally, it is not about the product, but about the process. It ensures with a certain confidence that what one is about to do, indeed, what one is busy doing (!) is right for all and everything. Now here’s the rub! A self-righteous Devil? Or is it an Angel?     

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

DAY 25) Devils in the Details

Momentum has its own rewards. Among the most memorable of the interruptions of my own was the day Leslie, the school Prefect, shouted out at me as I was rounding the corner of a 400 yard sprint. I had been practicing, warming up for the track meet, and as I hurtled down the straight and went with open glory into the corner it was as if I became Pegasus, the winged horse, the ground just sliding away under my spiked sprint-shoes, the air buoying... “Hey, Pennellbry! Go and warm a toilet for me! Now!”

Like a ground-smacked kite I faltered, and came back to earth. I was a ‘skiv’, an underling, a gopher, a worm. My first year. And one did what a Prefect bid, or one was caned. And Leslie had no qualm about cutting me down to size. Already we had tested metal, he a good three years older, and me with my sensibilities utterly offended at being someone else’s slave. I had yet to learn the delicacy of humility, of service to others, of assimilating my errant ego, of eating the ants dotting the marmalade, of doing things for another without the other ever knowing. ‘Let not the right hand know what the left is doing,’ some or other biblical quote exhorts us. But Leslie was quite happy to let all and sundry know he needed to go to the bogs. I had to sit there, and warm the thing up. Such is the winter of one’s discontent.

The interruptions to each other in the momentum of this Memoir project are multifold. We each have points to make, questions to ask, and our flow to keep going. M’Lady has the distractions of being emotionally entwined in her own tale. I am but a conduit to her memories, a secretary keeping order and rank and file on the myriad details. And I type and label and make the layouts for the pages, now one page-file at a time. (A single photo added to the whole document can effectively ruin hours and hours of painstaking layout.) Now we go item by item. And once all are placed, I shall again integrate the whole lot into a seemingly seamless document. Yet the gathering of general information persists, as do the addendums and the edits! And while I am fixated M’Lady poises at the end of the table and waits until I look up, in the same manner as I wait for her at the kitchen counter, where she has her writing desk, until she notices me, and with a smile, invites my intrusion. We have an accord. Would that Leslie had let me run that 400 that day, uninterrupted! I think I might have broken the school record. Felt free!

Now that I am older I was better when I was young. I once could run. I once could swim. I once could be uncaring and uncompromising and inflexible and recalcitrant and obnoxious and not give a damn! But now that I am older I am inclined toward letting go the things of myself, and find taking on the task of deploying such skill and talent and intention as is my nature in the service of others. Or do I presume too much? Thing is, the very air we breathe is borrowed time. We rent it. We pay for it with our efforts. And somewhere deep inside me I recognize my payment as a need to contribute to the health of the whole, or what’s this heaven indeed for? (Like this pitter-patter of 5:00 a.m. rainfall as I type; there in the dark!)

M’Lady and I speak of re-incarnation, of the fragmentation of the coagulated soul into the ether of all, there to be dispersed but as atoms to contribute with itty-bitty energy to the protons and neutrons of other atoms, to be born, or not. Ego speaks of My next lifetime. Ego identifies with My past lifetime. Ego takes on the guise of My mansion in heaven. (My-ness ‘deserves’ it!) Tough concepts. Tough iterations. Tough beliefs. Tough assumptions. Tough going! Unfounded. Improvable. Abstract. But tender and attentive moments. Such is rapport. Such is accord. The Devil is in the details. (And also in some or other Prefect! Ha!) Yes, one includes, or how else to integrate each circumstance into the health of the whole? 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

DAY 24) To Make More Better!

"Driven!", or, "You can’t rest until you know what you should have done!" says Nancy. Yet these are the sorts of phrases that may govern us unreasonably. The one is creatively induced. The other is guilt. That ‘should have’ phrase is the catcher. It sets up defense; suggests one is insufficient. Yet you or I can only bring to every and any situation the sum total of who are in the very moment of our doing any one thing. Of course we ‘might’ have done differently were we more lucid, more sober, more mature, more insightful. It is an easy excuse. But we were really not more sufficient unto ourselves at the time, despite even knowing more-better. Thing is: Do not accept what you yourself have done and how can you possibly accept what another does? Forgiveness does not condone, it does not forget; it takes away the self deprecating attitude of recrimination or hate or "I'm being stupid" that might attend the wrongdoer. As such, we learn from each other. And we go easy on ourselves, on each other, though we be in the thick of decisions to make.

As I type it is after 9:00 pm. M’Lady at 90 is doing the ironing. She stands at the board in the kitchen, adjoining my room, and plonks down the iron and sets sharp the creases, takes out the wrinkles. She wants her clothes neat and tidy, the house kept presentable and clean, not for others, but for herself! And it takes a great deal of effort and care. But at 90 she keeps going. To the left of my desk my bed is turned down, the table lamp turned on, the blind pulled down. I've been here two weeks and three days, and never caught her at it. “Well, it’s always done like that in the best hotels,” she laughs, when I thank her. Meals are always (!) served along with five vegetables. It’s a rule. She established it with her children and does everything she can never to waver. Order, decorum, dignity. Sundays she does the laundry. No dryer! It all goes on the line. And then she folds and hangs and sorts and gets everything ready for the week. This evening she made her extensive list for the grocery shopping excursion she gets taken on by Home Care on Wednesdays. And she posts off mail. She writes cheques, pays the bills, and today wrangles with the air-conditioning man about the excess water dripping from the outside outlet. This is a woman who has things under control. But you’d hardly know it; it is done with a feminine delicacy and grace of tone, a lightness of step and a pleasantness of demeanour, and the days dwindle down not so much to a precious few, but acquire the longevity of an altogether comforting continuance.

The intensity of the Memoir project persists unabated. Photos are taken off the wall, freed from their frames, scanned, put back together, glass cleaned, and re-hung. She brings each to me with a certain triumph! The pace at which she lives is indelible. It dances in the mind. It stirs at the languid inclinations of the unproductive, and it bolsters and affirms. But even she will get weary, and break for a cup of tea.

Two of my favorite analogies persist. The man who throws a single starfish back into the ocean from the hundreds left stranded by the tide; “makes a difference to that one!” The monk who with full care picks just the right pebble, colored pebble after coloured pebble, and places it in the sand picture, only to wipe the slate clean no sooner than it is complete: “One lives in this precise moment; and now....”

“Sink into it,” a friend wrote. He speaks of the time I have here. And with each thing I do I feel more and more that I come to protect, preserve, and honour not only that which is past, but that which is present. And as we clean each artifact, scan, photograph, codify, label and sort it out before putting it possibly to its final rest, there is a sense of leaving things not just as one found them, but leaving each more-better.

Driven? Well, such then be my epitaph: ‘To make more better!’ Aye! Or indeed, what’s this heaven for?


Monday, February 18, 2013

DAY 23) "It's My Shout."

“No, it’s my shout,” M’Lady insists. Dave, on the other side of the table, pipes up, “No use arguing, mate.” His wife Linda, Nancy’s eldest, says, “Mummy has a contingency fund for this. No worries.” And Nancy tugs at the bill. Four people; $313+. Wow! The value of being served?

Kangaroo meat (culled with ethical practice, whatever that is); Broom bug meat; Sweet potato Gnocchi; a ploughman’s platter; Salmon; Duck; and Assorted Medley; along with deserts, wine, beer and... Well, I’m not one for this kind of record keeping. The Guilford Rose and Crown was established in 1918. We sat outside by a bamboo stand, under a gazebo-like structure. The planes took off and landed, almost directly overhead. Birds screeched. A distant live musician played at being James Taylor. After his set The Beatles jangled, too loudly for Nancy, so the waitress turned it down. And we toasted each other, toasted the cool night after two weeks of blistering 30+ temperatures, and I adjusted to being out of the house in a car, and took to leaning on an arm to get to my seat. Too bumpy for my wheelchair. But `twas a good night. Yet worth $300+??

Value is mercurial. What once was a few bob is now worth a small fortune. Yet soon enough few shall care about Elvis. Or Chubby Checker. Or Sir Arthur Street. The medals and the ribbons and the certificates will have some value for collectors, until they too die, and eventually what was valuable will become cheap. Theatre props. Broken down. Disused. And tossed out. It is the value we deem a thing to be that makes us surrender time, money, effort, and ourselves toward having it. Just recently I would have paid $35.00 for a no-longer published paperback; I found the rare thing in a second-hand bookstore for $4.75. Value is relative! One pays $25.00 for an original sketch, but frames it for $40 or more. “See,” we proudly show, “I had it framed!” Value is often misguided, misspent. It is a fleeting thing as insubstantial as memory. I for one no longer taste the meal. I somewhat recall what the book was about. And as for a film I once watched for $30 plus at the movie house, well, what of the large head directly ahead of me?

It is not that I am curmudgeonly. It is that I am conscious of effort. I suppose chronic pain does that; it metes out time in terms of worth-while-ness. What is the return for the effort involved? And if ‘time is money’ (a rather sad phrase) then all things requiring such expenditure of my money have their bearing on me; directly. Yet I am no scrooge. But if a simple plate of food is before me I am just as satisfied as if it were a gourmet’s delight. And while others are most appreciative of the epicurean delights; I am not. Good food, good wine, good cars, good clothes, good jewelry, much makeup, and even good views are no longer what they used to be; I have become a man of simple means. It would serve me well to get an inexpensive take-out and to sit by the Swan River. I hear it’s here somewhere; over there? It would serve me well just to drink water. Something there is in me that just does not want much of ‘things’ any more. I feel free.

Perhaps it is the having of hundreds of artifacts throughout my own lifetime (and now the handling of those belonging to others) that so fulfills the old wont of stuff in me. But I am happy to pay when it is indeed ‘my shout’. Or am I too infirm to raise my voice when it’s my turn? The thing is not to care about the money, but to be aware of the value. One sits among friends. “Barkeep! Another round!”

Sunday, February 17, 2013

DAY 22) Recipe for Rapport?

                                                                      [Popeye by Lee Romano]

Thing is, it works or it doesn't.  Seldom do we overcome that first instinct. Worse, once we’ve made our mind up, we tend to stick to it. So we learn to weather the storms and thunderbolts of outrageous fortune, for by opposing them, grow weaker. Some things are stronger than us. ‘Tis better to ride with a storm, or to ride out a storm, any experienced sailor will tell you, than to go full sheets against the wind. You are asking to be tossed aside, turned over, and sunk. Many an allegory sinks under its own weight.

Relationships are like that. They are dependent on mutuality of intimacy between the hull and the meniscus, between the planks and the waves, between the properties of buoyancy and the principles of mass, and they work, or they don’t. Sure, some vessels are sluggish. Sure, some vessels are too zippy. To be sure, some are over-provisioned, too long tied in harbour, too laden with baggage, too demanding in upkeep, too expensive to maintain, and many do not have sufficient ballast. But a captain must be called for each, and the mate must align with the purpose, the charts, the course, the stars, the sextant readings, the galley needs, the berthings, the goods in the hold, and the quarters for the crew. Captain and first mate have an understanding, a rapport, and the vessel sets sail! “I am what I no longer yam!”

Friendships are like that. A missive like a flying fish flops into one’s cognizance and lies gasping for recognition of its needs, however momentarily. And so you pick it up and send it back into its element, asking not so much for thanks as a sense of rapport. The bird that does not struggle, the rat that does not scurry, the dog that does not skulk, the flying fish that relaxes with trust as you gather it up, these are the creatures that, eye to eye, give rapport. It is in their resonance with you, in their mutuality of some accord, in some unspoken bond that there is a magic in the moment.  “Ah, a silvered thread.”

The magpie calls at me every day in the early afternoon. He perches on the back of the deckchair that I can just see outside through the panes of the French window. Same spot, daily. When at last I turn from the computer screen to look at him he stares at me, cocks his head, and then utters this distinctive flute-like warble of an ‘hello’.  Perhaps it is because M’Lady feeds them and a human (any human) in the house will do? But he comes to remind me that he needs taking notice of, or do I imagine it? Thing is, the rapport between us is instant. Through the offices of someone else (rather than those of mine) he has learned not to be afraid at my presence. I swear that with time he would hop onto my finger and feed from the palm of my hand. Already, we have a rapport! M’Lady Nancy smiles. Chase the stray cat!

Reciprocation lies at the base of most things. Symbiosis itself is dependent on it. It is our reaction to things that creates a sense of competition, of one-upmanship, gives sense of dealing with, overcoming, discarding, dismissing, over-looking, and distaste. But response is based on a finer thing; rapport. We are in needs of having our efforts, ourselves, our abstractions and our concrete materialization met, or we feel the other’s disinterest. And we cannot float if there be no water. We cannot conspire if there be no air. We cannot dance in accord if there be little mutuality of rhythm. We cannot communicate if we do not accept that the semiotics of the body, the intentions of the spirit, the abstractions of the soul, and the imperfections of semantics are part of the rapport that is the lifeblood to sustaining a relationship. 

Friends keep persevering, if nothing else, than by a glance through to the window of the soul. The ones I remember, with whom I resonate the easiest, are the ones who maintain a rapport. The rest are but as vessels left in the harbour. And ships were meant to go out to sea. Come, let’s weigh anchor. Aloft, ho!


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Day 20) Trees for The Forest (accidentally logged!)


DAY 20/40) Trees For The Forest!

How far can you go into the forest? That question was in my Science final exam, Pretoria Boys High School, 1970. (Or was it Biology?) Worth 5 marks! I paused. Then with my pen dotted for myself a forest, and before I was half way through the answer came to me. Ha! Does it now to you too?

On this 20th day (out of 40) the half-way point seems very much a fulcrum. I entered this forest on Friday the 1st of February, two weeks ago, and momentum has not stopped. Well, not quite. Between 3:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. each day there are some necessary moments of comparative inertia. One must ‘take a break’ to refuel. So there is of course breakfast, mid-morning coffee, lunch, late-afternoon tea, and then around 6:30 or later even yet another pit-stop for dinner. Then energy is re-invigorated, and some three to four hours of focus on the task at hand precedes bedtime. To sleep, to dream. Only to repeat the pace all over again the-next-and-the-next-and the next day.

Like debarked blazes on the trees in the forest trail these precious days need demarcating or else they shall slip by into the oblivion of time unrecorded. I prefer not to find myself in the middle of things, disoriented. We do tend towards becoming lost, lest we be aware, conscious of our beginning, let alone our end point. The quotidian diurnal is our nemeses; we cannot escape its tick-tock of similarity however we may choose to differentiate our perceptions and try to drag time out, or to make it go faster. Yes?

Ringed around me, this forest of the present comprises well naméd trees. Distinct individuals, though of the same geneses. There are eighteen laden down stations, each clearly labelled: Sir Arthur; Wife Denise; Maman Angêle; Uncle Walter Tittle; Douglas; Pat; Denys-the-twin; M’Lady Nancy; Denys-the-husband; Linda; Diana; Ian; Fiona; Nick; Perry; Boy; Flinds; Friends and Faces; and... Well, I am only half way through the record and examination of individual phylum and genus. Each alone represents a sentinel to a complex past. Cross-fertilized, yes, but each is strong and unique. And ensconced within the centre of them, their detritus now all ringed around me, I am but at the half way point of the time allotted to the discovery of each, and all.  My task (as bruited from the first day) is comprehensively not only to record their individual significance, but to render their collective presence into M’Lady’s Memoir of this Forest of Illustrious Treasures. Thing is, it is not just the solid and self-evident trunk of each tree gathered here that is examined, it is each species branches and the many offshoots of twigs and leaves. Then there are the birds that roosted; the seeds that have dropped; the laurels worn; the weathers of misfortune endured; and the friends and faces significant to each of their having once been. This is no petrified forest (though all but three of the family are deceased). It is a living organism being revitalized as fodder for the future.

Which part of our lives is the half way point? For Nancy, soon to be 91 on April 01, 2013, that median moves each year. To make our daily journey fresh and vital becomes the quest. If days be trees in a forest, or so too for the people we meet, then the very distinctiveness of each makes our trek not only interesting, but noticeable, vital, invigorating, and... traceable.

We each leave significant records of our growth. With ever-enlarging rings within our psychic centers we spiral upwards in circles of aspiration, repeating and repeating the process until it is time for our own selves to yield up to yet other growth in this forest of life. And we can but reach for the light, or do we stunt ourselves too much in another’s shade?

'How far can one go into the forest?' Why, only half way, before one is headed out again! Ha!

DAY 21) 'Sorry' ain't No Cure

Confusion arises when one is not sure where to go. Which way out of the forest? What is the end point; how do I get there? And what if all one’s efforts to this point, that Elliot-like “still point in time”, have been in vain?

Thank goodness for record keeping! Some instinct had me late last night copy every single Memoir file and its 1,768 scans to the USB stick I’d brought along. This morning before breakfast, when I relocated from my own computer in my room to M’Lady’s machine in the dining room (arraigned with its familiar ghosts) the file I intended to alter opened as usual, but then hung there, out on a limb. The cursor, a batted off bird, would not rest. It would not highlight. It would not budge. And on closing the document up, and trying successive other files as well, the chatterbox-panel each time ‘bing!-ed’ to tell me there was a problem with Windows! A ten to fifteen minute online ‘search for a solution’ closed it down, eventually, but gave me the same frozen outlook each time I tried yet again. Ha! In the middle of the forest, half way there; and there was no apparent way out!

Way back when I was a boy there was a cognitive dissonance exercise I used to like. By process of elimination, by tracing both the impulsive and the planned steps to ‘this point in time’ (a phrase my father ‘hated’) one could come to a decision. Simplistically: which outweighs the other, positive or negative? But life ain’t always that simple. Ringed in the center by-boys-holding-hands the Phys Ed game was to try to break through by slipping under or diving over the arms. Frustrating! It took many attempts at finding the weak spot. But when it comes to computers, you are the weak spot. You are the problem. It does not plot agin’ ya. Just don’t take it personal. Ha!

With no effective Word Program on which to begin to record M’Lady’s Memoir, way back on the Feb 01 eve of arrival, and with no way convenient to get to a computer store, I discovered on day two that I can download Office Premium for $12 a month. So I did! But the files are all stored in iCloud, and the whole thing performed insecurely without additional add-ons to be bought. Then M’Lady’s neighbors on day three gave us Word 2003, with its codes, so I loaded up that. And it clunked away. But on the sixth day M’Lady’s granddaughter arrived with Word 2007, and its codes, and it appeared to upgrade. Inclusion, integration, would have it that all three programs would seamlessly transfer files. Well, it did, for a week, and then got its signals crossed. No, to be fair, I must have crossed its signals. So? A process of elimination! Uninstall the first download. Uninstall the second download. Reboot the computer. Re-register the third download, and... Bingo! Check! Check! And ... Ta-dah!

But not only did it cost me three precious hours this morning, it also brought about a gift. David, M’Lady’s son in law (a year older than me) came after Nancy’s phone-call to take me to purchase Word 2013 (but literally five minutes before his arrival I’d succeeded with a newly aligned rapport between The Old Program and me,) so David stayed for coffee. And he told me his life story. It too ‘would fill a book.” A New Zealander, David is a man who has seen it all, done it all, and is quietly humble and unassuming about it all. A man to learn from, indeed. (But who is not?) We traded pet phrases. He shall use “more better” quite liberally; I shall use “‘sorry’ ain’t no cure!” sparingly, but profoundly. Ha! Men who can afford to be vulnerable bond easily, mate.

Between that last sentence and this very one as I type I’ve taken my first solo excursion into the Australian 10 p.m. dark, alongside this house, albeit with a flashlight. A reticulation pipe has burst; the front yard is flooding! The house has no water pressure. It was a matter of locating the automatic timer and shutting off the valve. It was Nancy, pajama-clad as a fluttering white ghost in the pitch dark, who found it on the front porch! But a woman of 90 has a right to feel panicked. And a man usually in a wheelchair has a right to feel inadequate to the task. We are helpless without knowledge, tools, experience, and ability. How not so then for other souls being lost in the proverbial forest? Having come half way in, most of us needs find help on our way out.

You too?

Or does one simply say “sorry, ain’t no cure”?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

DAY 19) Valentine's Veracities

Valentine’s Day has all of the expectant and obligatory momentum of a guilt trip. Participate not and one may be accused of heartlessness. Send a smarmy message and one might be construed as giving in to commercialism. And yet we teach even the children to send candy-grams and to give such cards to their friends, teachers, and... Well, one’s sincerity on the occasion is readily quite suspect. Thing is, Valentines might best be aimed at only one specific person by each of us; to let go many arrows with but one bow is rather Kostner-ish. Cupid lets loose shafts like Robin Hood!

M’Lady Nancy concurred. There seems to be a plethora of newspaper and TV advertisements for Valentines. And although we might celebrate any of the several mythologies as to its origins, it hardly is worth the fuss over something that one Priest Valentine did circa 400’s A.D. in defiance of Emperor Claudius 11 who enforced celibacy among his Legionnaires. Valentine married off young lovers, despite conscription. It was noble, compassionate, and filled with sensibility rather than sentiment. But our current commercial practice certainly plays on the sentimentality of it all.

So too for any obligation, tradition, custom. It is worth examining! Otherwise one may subscribe too unwittingly, too insincerely, too readily to societal demands. Yet all occasions warranting celebration are made so by years of enculturation. As such they have their significance. They have their undeniable truths. Penelope would rightfully be feeling overlooked were I to ignore her birthday, or not to wish her a merry Christmas. So it is. But the point is, if you’re going to do it, make it sincere. Keep it real. Else we but kowtow to society, go along with, and submit to the status quo. As it is, there are three if not more stories as to whom the real St. Valentine was!

Among the many artifacts re-discovered on this February 14th of my 40 day and 40 night mission is the flimsy square of an air mail card to M’Lady, dated 23 January, 1944, addressed to Miss Nancy Street, No. 5 R.A.F. Hospital, M. Egypt. It is post-marked from Mill Hill, London. The stamp is a 6d George V1 (a sixpenny). On opening it there is the proverbial pen-and-ink arrow through the red crayon heart. The feathered tail at the bottom left corner at once penetrates a smaller heart, and the big letters between the small and the much bigger red heart at the top right reads: ‘Guess Who! And How Many’. Top left hand corner is a poem: ‘The rose is red, the violet is blue, the grass is green, and so are you!’ At the bottom right is a more substantial endearment: ‘Ah sweet and gentle stranger, Amongst men of tearful woe, Do not err from by their manger, And those that love you so. Do not lose that smile from Ward One, Check that kind heart from a fancy; Don’t forget your boys can win One, But their names can’t all be Nancy!’

M’Lady, now at 90, then at 21 (to be precise,) looks up from re-reading it, and says, “From Mill Hill Hospital patients, where I worked before Cairo. Well, see, they had nothing better to do!”

We act often on impulse. It takes the measure of much time and truths to perhaps end up acting the exact same way, but at least thereby to act for real. And so: Happy Valentines!     

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

DAY 18) Just Click and Flow!

“Sometimes things just click,” Nancy says. She was speaking of her fall about three months ago, which broke her glasses, which required an eye exam, new glasses, and the optometrist eventually driving them here to her (on my sixth or seventh day in Oz) whereby he was available to fix the broken arm of my own glasses in exchange for nothing more than... a pot of gold! Yes, one of Nancy’s famed homemade marmalade jars! “See, it all was meant to have happened just so you could get yours fixed,” she beams at me. “Thank goodness I fell!”


Yet in his book, ‘Flow,’ Csikszentmihalyi had it right. Check it out! (ha!) When we are in accord with our surroundings there is a synchronicity that is ethereal, as though friendly ghosts and angels are attending (should one needs differentiate between the two.) The right photo, the right document, the right amount of time before the interruption, the right words, the right flow! These are the attendees of the moment by moment interaction with the process. And then some well-intended soul will come knocking on the window to one’s insights, and jar into the harmonious graft of it.

“Just brought your magazine in for you,” he says. (He needn’t say “mate”; his accent is as thick as the far-off-bush.) Nancy speaks over my shoulder as I reach for it (since she was not there at the first one or two knocks and I’d hobbled from my chair and awkwardly come out of my zone-of-focus to go answer the I’m-wanting-something of the knock-knock-knocking on the back door window). Nancy says, “Oh, I’d left it on the porch for my granddaughter, you see. She’s coming to pick it up. Thanks very much, though. Kind of you. But I’d like it left there.” Taken aback for just a second or two, the man rallies. “Oh well, I’ll go put it back then. Didn’t want it disappearing on you, did I?” And since the whole thing is not my affair, I turn and go back to my work.

Work. It pleases. It consumes. An inner locus of focus will not surcease until a project is done. And in such state of interaction it is as if the kismet of chance, fate, and opportunity marry in a dance of magical concord. Among literally thousands of photos I am enabled to pluck out just the one we were looking for, find the right document, come to the same conclusions. And the machines and the intricacies of scanning and cutting and pasting and photo-fixing and organization and... Well, it all just ‘clicks’. Yes? Or why else does one bother to cajole at inanimate objects?

Even so for the censored letter! It seemed to materialize right when we needed it. Yet at its mercurial revelation we each paused. Nancy had a story to tell. That letter was written to her beloved twin brother, Denys. Yet since correspondence was permitted to and from the Prisoner of War Camp, Stalag Luft 111, the Gestapo opened every letter and with a thick black line censored ‘sensitive material’. Then they sent it straight back to the address of origin, unread by the intended recipient. With no explanations! Nancy’s letter was thus returned. But she would write again. Loved ones were expected to be long-term prisoners, most possibly until the horrid war ended! But now, checking up on the dates, the letter in her hand was written just four days before The Great Escape! Yet nobody on the outside knew that any escape was planned! Especially not that the 50... But by the time Nancy got this old letter back Denys had been shot, dead. To this day the single thick black mark across a line of hers on the page, like a mourning band, conceals some sentence. No explanations! But the Gestapo must have known! Yet it would take many weeks, even after receiving that letter (with its many officious stamps) for her to know that her precious brother would never be able to receive one of her letters again, let alone write one to her. Ever. Or write to anyone else. Ever.

There. You see. Even flow, at times, stops.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

DAY 17) Perpetuating Paradigms

Interesting. The West Australia News, usually with no more than a paragraph or two on anything that happens outside, had the Pope’s resignation as a banner headline. History is made! Thus in Pope Benedict XVI’s directly influencing the choice of a successor “to guarantee his conservative legacy and ensure an orthodox future” ( there lives hardly a real paradigm shift at all.

We churn in the spiral of our evolution. We 'perne in a gyre' (to quote Yeats, where ‘perne’ means ‘revolve’). And we perpetuate history with our inability to adjust to the integration of that which ‘Everything’ indeed already is. We evidently want to bend life toward the way we think it ought to be. Such is our orthodoxy. Change, after all, is not necessarily upwardly mobile. Change can be devolution back toward chauvinism, racism, bigotry, fascism, childishness; ‘sans ears, sans eyes, sans teeth, sans everything’. Myopia will lead men into self-righteous groups. It is our way. Yet even in articulating this much one realizes that we must accept that someone else will disagree; such is ‘Everything’ in its conception from the first instance. Which part of ‘Everything’ is not? “An aged man is but a paltry thing,” even in Byzantium!

‘Religion’ is not a subject M’Lady Nancy enters into readily. Offence is too easily taken. Yet intolerance and hard-line expectations, ‘or else be damned,’ are not quite de rigueur. One must account for all variables, allow for all contingencies, nurture and nudge toward greater growth, and give a good kick to the robbers. It is what it is. Yet that someone would break into her house and steal something, even while she was inside, is what is totally unacceptable. We rout out the rubbish. We teach them more-better (she’s readily adopted that useful phrase) if we can, but we also protect ourselves. Naturally!

Ants, cockroaches, silver-fish, crawly worms, flies, and other bugs live in our homes. Especially in Australia. Or Africa! The breakfast marmalade jar has tiny little black ants in it, more around the orifice. One eats them. Protein! They too are part of the whole. But we swat at the flies, and she smudges at the bitty ants. In her pantry. Everywhere. Cockroaches too. It is the way of hot countries. Everything is. Birds warble and whistle at tea time to be fed. Especially magpies. But stepping outside the coolness of this air-conditioned cottage is instantly to be desiccated with a heat so intense it sears the lungs, burns the soles, and blisters the head. The humidity is stupefying. How a person works in it I do not know. It hurts! How the birds manage to live in it is part of their instinct, I surmise, or do they each think it through?

Paradigms are perpetuated when we do not think it through. Essentially, we re-adopt the ‘hithertofore’ behaviours and revert back to what once-was our old habituation. We step back inside. We do not give time for the body to adjust, the psyche to re-align, to the acceptance of the new condition to become a new habit. And even if we do, even if we accept the new paradigm, such a new habit is not necessarily a more-better habit, just yet another habit. We are innately given to accepting that which our forefathers believed, what our nearest family members believe, our closest friends believe, our esteemed others believe. We seldom step beyond the threshold of the status quo and think for ourselves. Where do birds and bees learn it? They learn from each other! And who first began to stick the honey-dip down the ant-hole? Don’t ask; it’s worked this way for my ancestors and for my friends and family too; just follow. Ha!

In the long history of the very many wars before the First World War and the Second World War and the... In the long history, what have we as mankind really learned? We breed for cannon fodder. We breed to keep the status quo. We perpetuate our paradigms. Or do we not?  Tomorrow and tomorrow.