Sunday, March 31, 2013

April Fool?

91 years of age, today! That’s Nancy. Imagine if it were you? What is there between now and then that we have yet to see, to do, to experience, to learn? And how might we not face into the future? Regrets? A bucket list with holes in the bucket? A sense of being at peace? Or a sense of falling to pieces?

M’Lady Nancy continues life with a vitality interested in things, in people, in circumstances, and in decorum and dignity. The preparations for her party are underway, and the tidying up of the outdoor spaces has commenced. “That’s too heavy for you,” she asserts, and she takes the big yellow recycle bin and tilts it on its wheels and trundles it out of sight. The thing is nearly as big as she is. But there is an energy of wanting things done that sustains her activities, keeps her focused. She phones to ascertain the numbers coming to her party. She ensures adequate seating. She checks the fridges and the supplies. She gets table-cloths out for the several outdoor picnic tables, and she wonders aloud what to wear. The presentation is about example, about pleasing others, about making thing comfortable for them. Yes, so too for most women I know, but surely not at 90? The expansion of oneself usually stops at a given age, and a closing down of interests ensues. For Nancy the day is for discovery! Every day.

April 01st is notoriously a fool’s day. But Nancy is no fool. She’s perhaps heard the jokes about this day for most of her life. But if foolishness is about immaturity and uncaring and self-centredness and shallowness, then M’Lady has exemplified the opposite. There is a perpetual wisdom inherent in her examination of life, in her wanting the best for others, and in her concern for those she knows, as well as those she as yet does not. Seeing the diagram of the Chakras, she instantly said, “That’s me; Love”. It flows from her. Neighbours, relations, passersby, the birds, and the flowers too are all the recipients of her love. It is an energy that simply wants the best for each. And if she be taken advantage of (as some have done in her past) then she is aware, and wishes them well, and hopes that such foolishness in those who do not take care of themselves, or of others, might desist. But she herself is no fool.

Generosity of spirit needs begin with the self. That we are our own worst enemy may indeed be true, but we also needs be our own best friend. A person who lives alone, especially for years on end, needs develop a sense of oneness with something much larger than the self, a sense of connectivity to all despite the isolation, the lack of easy and instant communication, the absence of rapport. Nancy has demonstrated the self-actualization of one ‘without’, yet one ‘with-all’. Loneliness arises from dependency, arises from dwelling on what one does not have, arises from wishes that one cannot fulfill, arises from attachment to others that will not let them be free but expects their proximity, their phone calls, their letters, their attendance, their reciprocal love. But Nancy is free. She simply loves. She sends gifts and cards and letters. She makes few phone calls. She is grateful for an other’s contact, but she is quite alright to keep herself occupied, hours and days on end, independently. It is a remarkable lesson in self-actualization, this ability to love without attachment, this ability to let others be, this ability within the self to be free. And even more so, this ability to love others so very deeply.

91 years of age today. What an achievement! Some of us may slide toward that year unwittingly, our days a series of happenstances given no special reflection, no untoward notice, unless they be beset by tragedy. And even then, for many of us, there is but a rebuilding of what we always do, habitually. But for Nancy, the days have been milestones on a journey toward ‘being at peace’, as she told me yesterday. And in that peace, being truly free. For every day then, Happy Birthday, M'Lady Nancy.   

Saturday, March 30, 2013

When Women are Free

One well may think one has heard it all before, but a subtle sentence change here or there makes all the difference. So too for our habits, our way of thinking, our way of being. Women and men, interdependent as they are, have a long way yet to go before either sex, as an individual, is set free.

Women have for too long been more subject to others than have men. Throughout his-story men have dominated such that a comparatively few women are elevated to fame. Not until the 1870’s did female suffrage become a political and social issue, thanks in large part to Susan B. Anthony, a co-founder of the American National Woman Suffrage Association. Not even during the 1580’s of Queen Elizabeth were women considered equals to men. And despite women like Katherine the Great, or Christina of Sweden, females have remained subjugated until only recently, when not only being franchised but also being allowed to enter any profession has become the norm. And even then, not everywhere. Almost 50 years after the initial suffragettes, Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, and had to incite her female audiences to destruction of property and disruption of government proceedings in order to draw sufficient attention to the ongoing cause. Jailed and vilified, Emmeline’s lot changed with her focus on aiding the 1914 World War efforts. But women continued to be deemed second class citizens in Britain, in the States and in Canada for more than 30 or 50 years. At least, legally.

M’Lady Nancy was very much a victim of such classism. Girls were meant for Finishing School. Girls were meant for servitude and wifedom. Girls were meant to have children and to serve from behind the lines of political, social, and religious boundaries. Women were not elevated to train drivers, to pilots, to chief executive officers, to ministerial positions, to the priesthood, to become prime ministers. And if by advantage of birth a woman became a Queen, it was not other women who were permitted to counsel her, but men. Growing up, little Nancy Street, was surrounded by brilliant and ambitious men, was given the role of little sister, and was the tag-along to the sweep of history that enfolded her family. There simply was no real opportunity for her to let her talents develop. Besides, as a person evidently with a great deal of multi-potentiality, there was no one field into which she could comfortably involve herself, without having to let go of her other interests. Were a field of foci to have presented itself (let’s say a movie director, for example) she might’ve been able to deploy her varied interests to greater self-satisfaction, but the his-story of the 20’s through the 50’s, the time in which Nancy went from being little girl to grown woman, provided little opportunity or incentive. And the second world war, with things prior to, and things afterwards, consumed all. It was a harrowing time for a person to be growing up, let alone a tender girl. As such, Nancy was a nurse in London, in Scotland, in Egypt for two years, and again in London, and then, the war at last over, she married and became her war-hero-market-farmer’s wife, before the economic depression of the post-war had them seeking emigration to Australia, 1959.

A multiplicity of talents appears insufficient to have M’Lady proud of her accomplishments. There is something more she wishes she could have done with her life. Five children. A legacy of rebounding from great adversity, and still she feels she could have done more. It is that very vitality of the soul filled with potential that imbues her thinking; she feels she could have done yet more! Which of us, but for the anchors of others, the anchor of our past, might not feel that way too?

But then, if we re-examine the anonymous quote (above), is one's worth really up to the self? ‘Gnothi Saeuton’ the Grecian incantation goes, Know Thyself!  When women are ‘allowed’ to be, men too will more truly be set free.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Of Women and Men

Women have long been more subject to others than have men. Throughout his-story men have dominated such that a comparatively few women are elevated to fame. Not until the 1870’s did female suffrage become a political and social issue, thanks in large part to Susan B. Anthony, a co-founder of the American National Woman Suffrage Association. Not even during the 1580’s of Queen Elizabeth were women considered equals to men. And despite women like Katherine the Great, or Christina of Sweden, females have remained subjugated until only recently, when not only being franchised but also being allowed to enter any profession has become the norm. And even then, not everywhere. Almost 50 years after the initial suffragettes, Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, and had to incite her female audiences to destruction of property and disruption of government proceedings in order to draw sufficient attention to the ongoing cause. Jailed and vilified, Emmeline’s lot changed with her focus on aiding the 1914 World War efforts. But women continued to be deemed second class citizens in Britain, in the States and in Canada for more than 30 or 50 years. At least, legally.

M’Lady Nancy was very much a victim of such classism. Girls were meant for Finishing School. Girls were meant for servitude and wifedom. Girls were meant to have children and to serve from behind the lines of political, social, and religious boundaries. Women were not elevated to train drivers, to pilots, to chief executive officers, to ministerial positions, to the priesthood, to become prime ministers. And if by advantage of birth a woman became a Queen, it was not other women who were permitted to counsel her, but men. Growing up, little Nancy Street was surrounded by brilliant and ambitious men, was given the role of little sister, and was the tag-along to the sweep of history that enfolded her family. There simply was no real opportunity for her to let her talents develop. Besides, as a person evidently with a great deal of multi-potentiality, there was no one field into which she could comfortably involve herself, without having to let go of her other interests. Were a field of foci to have presented itself (let’s say a movie director, for example) she might’ve been able to deploy her varied interests to greater self-satisfaction, but the his-story of the 20’s through the 50’s, the time in which Nancy went from being little girl to grown woman, provided little opportunity or incentive. And the second world war, with things prior to, and things afterwards, consumed all. It was a harrowing time for a person to be growing up, let alone a tender girl. As such, Nancy was a nurse in London, in Scotland, in Egypt for two years, and again in London, and then, the war at last over, she married and became her war-hero-market-farmer’s wife, before the economic depression of the post-war had them seeking emigration to Australia, 1959.

A multiplicity of talents appears insufficient to have M’Lady proud of her accomplishments. There is something more she wishes she could have done with her life. Five children. A legacy of rebounding from great adversity, and still she feels she could have done more. It is that very vitality of the soul filled with potential that imbues her thinking; she feels she could have done yet more! Which of us, but for the anchors of others, the anchor of our past, might not feel that way too?

But then, if we re-examine Bob Moawad’s quote (above), is today, today, truly a new day? ‘Gnothi Saeuton’ the Grecian incantation goes, Know Thyself!  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Come What May!

M’Lady is about to jump! At 91 years of age, a grandmother of 12, great-grandmother of 4 (going on 5), Nancy Sinclair is prepared to hurl herself from the fuselage of a plane, just as her twin brother, her husband, and both her older brothers did before her. Only, they were in the Second World War; Nancy is about to jump by choice. And unlike them Nancy will be wearing the famed Caterpillar Badge when she jumps. The Caterpillar is an award given to those who needed to use their silk parachutes to save their lives. Her husband as well as her twin brother had to bale from damaged aircraft, and both ended up in the dread Stalag Luft 111 Prisoner of War camp. In her brother’s case, the Caterpillar was awarded posthumously. He was one of the 50 shot in The Great Escape. In Nancy’s case, she wears it with pride.

There was a sparkle to her bright blue eyes when she was told that her wish to jump from a plane was about to be granted. A 91st birthday present from her daughter and son-in-law, Linda and David, Nancy immediately set about getting the proper outfit to wear. A recent medical check up has pronounced her fit. “I want to experience what it might’ve been like for my three brothers and for my husband,” Nancy affirms. “I’ve always wanted to do it, but now I get to have a dream come true! Yes, I know it’ll have to be tandem, but it’ll be as close as I can get to sensing what they felt.”

Nancy’s eldest brother, Colonel Douglas Street, had to bail out over the Belgian Congo. Her older brother, Pat Street, was with the Parachute Regiment. Nancy’s twin brother Denys Street was the pilot of a Lancaster Bomber on the raid over Berlin, 1943. Caught in a crossfire, Denys had to bail out. Nancy’s husband (yet-to-meet,) Mosquito pilot Denys Sinclair, was also downed. His navigator caught a bullet in the head. And both Denys Sinclair and Denys Street were on the same Prisoner of War train to Stalag Luft 111. The two of them soon became firm friends. They helped dig the now famous escape tunnels. But Denys Sinclair did not draw the short straw; he played the gramophone to hide the noise as the escapees went into the tight squeeze of the escape route; never to see Denys Street again.

After release from prison Denys Sinclair went to London to seek out the family of his dead friend, Denys Street. Nancy’s father, Sir Arthur Street, Permanent Secretary for the Air Ministry, was already famous. And he was most impressed with this young man, Denys Sinclair. So was his daughter! During their courtship they both had official duties first to focus on, Nancy as a war-time nurse, Denys as a pilot, but by 1945, after several proposals, Nancy and Denys were married.

The couple established a market garden farm in Surrey, had five children, and made a vital life for themselves. But with the fiscal realities of the post-war depression era, they began to look abroad for a new life. In 1959 they emigrated to Western Australia. Denys eventually found a job as a Flying Instructor. Nancy created a Kindergarten in the local Nedlands community. And their five children grew up, got married, and had children of their own. But the disasters in Nancy’s life were not over.

She’d lost her twin brother to the war. Her father, Sir Arthur, died at the age of 58, and now Nancy lost both her grown up sons, her husband, and one of her three daughters, all in quick succession. Yet with her two remaining daughters, Linda and Fiona, and a host of friends and family and neighbours who love and support Nancy Sinclair, a most remarkable and multi-talented woman, life remains worth jumping for!  She hurtles not so much into the past as she takes on the present and the future, come what may!  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Driven By Opinion

Opinions, Intuition, Rationality. These three may be the gear-stick, brake, and gas pedal for the vehicle of man. Yet already I may seem to have made an assertion. And the rational mind will perhaps halt up and search for alternatives to my theme. After all, there are thousands of words out there, why pick those three?

Should Democritus have really stated that ‘Nothing exists accept empty space and atoms; everything else is opinion’ (and fact finders may well find that he said otherwise) then my intuitive mind instantly adopts the image and can see how our constructs of language and labels create for us opinions. Yet the rationality of ‘everything’ intrigues, for a bridge and a house and a doll do not appear as opinions. As well, that ‘nothing exists’ appears to discount ‘everything’. If we state, ‘Everything exists within space and atoms; everything is subject to opinion’, we have what I hope is taken for infallible inclusion. Ha!

The point is, acceptance of another’s statements is very much part of the rapport of life; re-evaluating, re-directing, and adding to initial impetus is a skill-set that may prevent argument, prevent a sense of counter-productivity, prevent negativity. And discourse, as we know, is quite different from argument. Discourse is the melding of minds within further exploration; argument is the disassociation of minds within asserted boundaries.

Einstein’s quote leads also toward further exploration. Powerful images: ‘Sacred. Gift. Faithful. Servant. Honors. Forgotten.’ Implications abound. Taken as read Einstein’s quote is a call to honor our Intuition and to put the servant, the rational mind, back in its place of servitude. Nice. Yet it is the last sentence that might give us reflection. “We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” While generalities generally suffice (ha!), there is a paradoxical limitation to the pronouncement, given that ‘society’ is so markedly differentiated depending on where one is; and the generality of our having ‘forgotten’ is self-evidently a generality. Who, me?

Point is, generalities are a way of our being able to express intuitive thoughts, and there be hardly a thing one can say that someone else cannot rephrase more-better, or less-better, as the case may be.

Blind acceptance of other’s opinions is an anathema to the spirit. It is better for one to examine, to evaluate, and to drive within the music of words, senses, ideas, opinions, feelings, contentions, and pronouncements of all. Argument is divisive. The skill of merging with the varied traffic of life is to be able to adjust comfortably with patterns beyond one’s control, but to wait where necessary, to overtake when safe, and to enjoy the journey.  We either drive our own vehicles independently within the laws of traffic, or we get driven. Taking responsibility makes all the difference.  And courtesy for all is the real mark of the good driver, not he who roars off from the traffic light! Now then, shall we go for a drive?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fear or Favor?

Facing into one’s fears is an old theme. We prefer to keep them penned out, bottled down, tucked away, unsaid. Thing is, we cannot quite trust the reaction of the person we reveal ourselves to, and so we learn to be secretive, clandestine, deceitful. I always wanted parents like Timmy’s in the Lassie TV series, or like The Wilders in Little House on the Prairie, or like John Boy’s parents. Why could my own mistakes not be dealt with like that? But no, caught with my hand in the cookie jar I was not given a loving understanding of the implications of the trust I’d betrayed; I was severely dealt with. Brutally. More, my sins were told to all and sundry. And even more, that moment was thereafter the moment that I became forever afterward an ‘untrustworthy’. After all, that’s when I was called a devil, a thief, an ingrate. Yes, many a child has hardly been able to surmount such a simple moment, chiefly because of the reception they received at the discovery. “Tell me the truth now,” someone will say, and then all hell breaks loose. So children learn to lie. Adults perpetuate little white lies. It all goes toward saving face, if not our own, then someone else’s. Truth is sometimes too valuable to share. We are human, we make mistakes, but there appears a harsh judge and unforgiving jury at many a turn. Would you put on your application form that you once stole a chocolate bar? At 10, at 16, or how about at 37? No, we instinctively know what may get us into more trouble than it is worth. Ha! Imagine if we examined our presidential candidates based on such a platform? Ever lied about ‘anything’ at all? Ever? Never ever?

Actually, that whole cookie-jar story I just made up. It did not happen to me. But it serves to show the extent to which one can relate. I did not get caught at so very many of the things I did as a youth; others did. And much of the reason I did not get caught was that I was super-cautious, full of fear; others may not have cared as much for the consequences, so they were less cautious. And then there’s the whole issue of how very differently we each learn.  A single glance is enough to reprogram one student altogether; other students I’ve known, especially back in my boarding school days, got caned many times over for doing the same thing. Fear reaches us differently. Any jail reveals that much. And conscience grows us in us at different rates; we learn some things quickly, other things we repeat and repeat. Other’s examples do not suffice, or we might have been perfect after Solomon, or Jesus, or...

Dichotomies are not quite my thing. The either/or transubstantiations of life tend to polarize at the expense of the whole. Some psychoanalytical types (I guess I be one) claim we either give or we take, we love or we fear, we are positive or we are negative. What may not be understood by the listener is that we well may be perceived as such, in the moment! And then we add ‘predominantly’ to our actions and we create a general picture of ourselves being half empty or half full, etc., and augment thereby the labelling of ourselves such that we readily say, “I’m a fearful person.” Well, I’ve been called a coward once or twice in my life, perhaps more. But I also have been called brave. It is knowing inside oneself what the value of leaping the fence and countenancing the dragon is worth to the self, to others, to the universe, that matters. And even then, one may most surely get it ‘wrong’. What to one person is the boogie-man personified is to another just a harmless grass snake. Some may mock at your fears.

Meeting one’s dragon head on and taming it might best be a most private thing. Bringing it back for others to see is likely to have it shot down on sight, or at least to incur everlasting distrust that it may eventually reveal the beast that it truly is. For some, our dragons are invisible, yet others know they are there. They have their own too. Many of us cannot name them. Others feed them, like caged-up pets. To walk freely amidst the ongoing turmoil of life is to be one who truly knows his dragons, tamed, and free. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Courage of Convictions?

Perfection is but fleeting. That eightfold pathway (of my last essay) has central to its tenants the word ‘path’. It is a thing upon which one moves. Queuing up once to see the Crown Jewels in The Tower, I was disappointed to learn that they were replicas, anyway. But if such jewels be deemed perfection then their very stasis is not an anathema to my contentions; the bejewelled crowns are entirely dependent on the protection and esteem and evaluation given to them by another. Some little girl would wear them to a fairy party; leave them behind in the taxi. Things may be ‘perfect’, but perfect in terms of being human, of living, of doing, of enjoying a sunset is fleeting at best. The neighbour says, “Pretty good, but you should see the sunsets out at the point, or the one we saw in...” and by comparison the perfect moment is transformed. It is the transitory nature of our beings to which i here draw attention.

It all is what it is. Venn diagrams have the effect of apportioning things, concepts, people, attributes, and collections into neatly fenced in particulars. Experiments in classrooms have shown that all children with blue eyes, segregated from these with green, with brown, and with flecked eyes, can easily become marginalized by their very apportionment. Once we segregate, allot, label, and quantify something we relegate it almost automatically to someone else’s hierarchy, if not our own. It is natural for us to lean toward, belong to, subscribe to, adhere to, and join up with things we find interesting, most like us, and we thereby entrench and espouse the same values. Our children adopt, in general, our values. Our group manifests, in general, a similar set of values. Yet boardrooms abound with contentions, fragmentations, splits, differences of opinion, and overthrows. It all is natural.

To not exercise strong preference is to be perceived as phlegmatic. To not have strong wants and needs is to be perceived as wishy-washy, a pushover. To be integrative and assimilative and accepting and easy and accommodating may be perceived as being bland. To not get riled, annoyed, angered and actively engaged is to be seen as weak. To not put one’s foot down may be perceived as cowardly. Until we see such an one stand up for a cause. Racism. Disenfranchisement. Suffrage. Intentional harm. Abuse. These are the moments where a person stands affirmed by convictions of integrity and calls a spade a spade, and does what one can to counter the forces of blatant negativity, or not. But as for the rest, negativity is not so blatant. It is a subtle apportioning of acceptable and non-acceptable, whether it is our disliking someone for talking with their mouth full, or another for their preferences being different from the self.

Dismissive-ness can be a subtle aggression. Being discounted is tantamount to having been given the cold shoulder. Yet it is most natural to each of us to do so. Jokes abound about those with whom we do not identify. And we easily give defamatory, derogatory, dung-filled terminology to those we dislike. Their own existence within the subsets of the Venn, different from our own, are at once devalued.

Integration would have us allow for everything to coexist, as is, as it was, as it shall be, with our own influence toward easing the discord at the edges of evolutionary growth toward more and more inclusiveness as we head toward more and more enlightenment. The proof of it is in history. The slave trade overthrown, women receiving the vote, homosexuals freed from closets. Tolerance and acceptance grows in our conceptualization of who we are as a body-politic on this planet. But not quite yet for everybody. The Venn Diagram above can serve to dissemble us, or to unify; depends, doesn’t it?     

At the very least, having seen it, I have done something. Now to act upon the courage of my convictions too!

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Irritability is my personal nemesis. It hounds me at unexpected moments. Whenever it raises its irksome presence it is because I feel hampered, chained, constrained, confined, cornered, obliged, ordered, expected, or mandated. I’m sure there are other words to add to those, but one gets the gist. You’ll note that the list is not so much about self-discipline and a need to be free ‘to do exactly as I choose’ as much as it is about being in attendance with an ‘other’ and having to answer to their wants. When not in a space of my own choosing (like being out with a group) but in the more personal space of my mind with one other, that’s when irritability raises its provoking prods. I dislike having to reveal private thoughts. In public we can conceal our thoughts in the voice of generalities. “What an interesting colour!” But in private, asked for the truth, we know that saying, “I think that colour is hideous” can be hurtful, insensitive, and uncaring. My complete yet malleable thoughts are suspect even to myself, anyway, since I am quite aware that they will have changed by the time I’ve finished uttering them; but in my experience, I am held accountable to what was said, not to what I now have realized, if you get my drift.    

Me, me, me is at the root of irritability. Whatever reasons for the deep dark constellations that dwell in each of us, we come by our conditioning naturally. If I told you I was chained to a bed when a kid, or imprisoned in a cot, or tethered to a leash in grocery stores, or locked up in a stifling car while mother went shopping, or never allowed to ‘talk back’, or stifled by an education system that stressed conformity, or... well, there are other scenarios a creative mind can conjure; if I told you these things were true you might forgive my irritability. Shall we go on? You might forgive my indolence, my slothfulness, my avarice, my greed, my pride, my lustfulness, my deceitfulness, my any of seven deadly sins due to my impoverishment of upbringing. What’s more, I would most likely forgive myself. It sure would be reason enough for me to be an ‘I am what I am’ person. And I’d be irritable when I felt myself being picked upon, prodded to change, pried open, revealed, or arrested. Me wants what me wants!

I am almost invariably annoyed with myself once I’ve been irritable. Even in private. If I am moving something and the dangling cord gets stuck and tugs me back to complete awareness of what I am doing there are times when I do not smile at myself, but say ‘dang’, irritably. And then I learn to smile. But it is much harder so easily to forgive myself when my irritability affects another. That person may well have heard from me many times that I don’t want more sunscreen, but when they ask me yet again, out of care and concern, an irritable answer at the end of the day is really about ME. How do I allow for the other’s being whatever they are without my getting irritable? Were they to prod at me with a stick I well might remove myself, etc., but the degree of irritability experienced is ultimately about the ‘me’ in the moment, unable to be larger than the moment. Yes?

A favoured cartoon I’ve framed is of the devil overseeing a group of groaning workers in hell. One of them is whistling while he works. “We’re just not getting through to that guy,” says the devil. Ha! It is that fellow’s ability to go with the flow that intrigues. The ego of such an one is very healthy; much larger than the specific moment. And when the wheel squeaks, or the baby cries, or the questions arise, or the cord entangles, or the flow is interrupted, how does one just keep equanimity of poise, of balance, of harmony within the discord that presents itself? Irritability is as quick as a pin-prick. Reaction is almost invariably the same, for most of us; but responsiveness, now that takes insight. Indeed. Yes?  

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Domesticity has a daily-ness to it that we escape rarely. It takes going on a holiday to break it, and even then we can worry whether or not the plants will be watered, let alone if the iron was turned off. Being responsibly domestic takes consistency, regularity, and repetitiveness. How else does one not miss garbage day, ensure that there’s fresh milk, and get the bills paid? And as the tasks mount, so our lives become defined. We subsume ourselves to the diurnal quotidian. A break in the momentum can become disconcerting. The lawn-mower man who arrives a day early. The unexpected knock at the door. The phone call just as one is making dinner. The wind that blows the washing off the line. We have our emotions wrapped up in regularity. We become our lives rather than making our lives, for we are the instruments by which our lives run. And our happiness is often measured by how smoothly things are going. Emotion becomes reactionary. Burnt toast is not easily laughed at.

Materialisms make our lives. Advertisements would surely show us that. We are excited by the new, the replaced, the fixed. And then we settle to our stuff owning us as we go about storing, dusting, arranging, showing off, and using the items. A lost watch is a nuisance. A dead battery in the cell-phone can be dastardly. Our interdependence on things becomes a yoke. We move by virtue of our connectivity to our stuff; our address; our vehicle; our ownerships. And if it is so, and if so it is; what of it? (Damn it!)

The importance of things affixed to emotions creates our sense of who we are. The attachment may be practical (my watch, phone, car, computer), or it may be sentimental (my granny’s stitchery, my wife’s love-note), but attachment can be misguided. It is not who we really “are.” When the house opposite ours went up in flames, literally, about five or so years ago, the owners (away at the time) returned to not so much as a recognizable piece of cutlery. Grandmother’s silverware, gone! In such a state of naked confrontation of facts, no documents, no records, no photos, no treasures, no identity (other than that which was in their wallets) how may the soul be left to claim itself? We think we are our name, and then we think we are our history, and then we think we are our dreams. And yes, we are indeed all these things. But when confronted with the devastation and loss of everything familiar to us we are given opportunity to see that we are not just those things; we really are our energy. And where we direct our energy becomes the product of who we are. To rebuild on the same place (as they did) or to start somewhere else. To adopt a new town, a new paradigm, a new venture, and a new set of freedoms, or to re-establish the old and perpetuate old habits? What matter either way so long as one not be a slave to dependence on externals for happiness. In the nakedness of facing all of one’s life in ashes as a result of the conflagration of all those things by which one was identified may there be a sense of release from attachment, or an imperative immediately to go gathering again the stuff by which one may be known?

At relevance in this missive is the emotional attachment to either path. To love is to allow to be, to exercise preference where one can, and to protect, nurture, care for, and assist, but ultimately not to feel dependent. The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha are just that, a release of dependency. Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. But then again, which of us can possibly be perfect?  At what price perfect understanding; perfect aspiration; perfect speech; perfect conduct; perfect means of livelihood; perfect endeavour; perfect mindfulness; and perfect contemplation?

Now, let me look again at the stars! And then go iron out the wrinkles. Ha! 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Answers to Questions

‘Now that the Memoir writing is over ... what implications come forward for you? What have you learned about living, loving, aging, writing?’ asks a friend. And I have hesitated to answer. We naturally expect answers to our questions. There is a presumption that a question deserves an answer; nay, more: deserves a truthful answer. But answers are very seldom private. They have a way of becoming translated into new vernaculars, and the slightest of shifts in tone, word usage, em-pha-sis, and interpretation set answers sailing sometimes as though but rudderless ships.

Nothing is complete, except mayhap the moment, and even that much is subject to the limits of one’s own apprehensions. Paradox is; everything is within completeness. Particulars may confuse!

The truth is a singularly private thing. It is completely individual. We have since time immemorial had the wise words and insights of the philosophers and poets and religious purveyors and secular sermonisers bruited about, but still each of us harbours our unique facets of reflected enlightenment, however shaped at the chisel of other’s implications. It is indeed in solitude that one knows the truth. To share it is almost immediately to sow the seeds of the tower of babble, for “yes, but” is the watering phrase by which that silent place in which truth is found becomes a garden of words, words, words, enchanting and distracting and misleading; for does not every garden contain a myriad secret unseen places? And do not the flowers themselves try to outdo each other? Such certainly is Alice in Wonderland’s romp through the garden of possibilities. The more persons one shares one’s stories with, the more careful we might become of truth; it can reek. Details and specifics are like manure to the garden; necessary, but, ugh!

We do not wish to have others know our private lives. If we were utterly unconcerned about real truth we would not care, and truth would be truth. For a child to hear from a Nun that she is ‘going to go to hell’ becomes a truth of its own. It can ride the child for the rest of her life. For an adult to learn that... well, examples abound. And ‘dealing with it’, especially in the face of public opinion, is to have to succumb to the arrows and onslaughts of considerably inconsiderate opinions, or to go find that private place where solitude and complete acceptance of the self may give succour to so seared a soul.

The details for each of us are distinctly unique, yet the generality for each is endemic to our being a collective species. We humans do what we do. But to reveal our individuality is at once to have to be able to face up to the scourge or approbation of others (at either extreme), or at least to have oneself snicker-snacked over. No, real truth is harboured in the aloneness of the self where ‘right’ choices may be made with respect for, protection of, consideration given, and care due to others might best be enacted. To answer my friends’ questions openly and honestly just about me is one thing, but I have/had a partner on this journey, and to reveal my truths is thereby to reveal my privilege to her truths too. That much would be a betrayal. The solution is silence.

And yet, have I not just answered the questions? In the beginning was the word, but added to another, and another, we have been confused ever since! I leave your mind now, with silence, or will we hear the questions’ echoes? Hmm?    

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Persistence With Patience

Patience is a problem. Something there is that wants immediacy. We spend a lifetime becoming sophisticated, that word that denotes the ability to overcome reaction by virtue of considered response. But ‘sophistication’ came to connote an affected veneer, a modality of dress and behaviour, a meme of collected attitudes. And patience, perceived as the lot of the plodding, the impoverished, the reptilian, the imprisoned, became not so much a virtue as an imposition. We want what we want and we want it now.

At 90 years old Nancy does a dance. It is a dance of the immediate, and the myriad checks she has in her mind move in a continuum as though on a spreadsheet against which she ticks off the steps. Curtains closed, blinds drawn, doors locked, birthday book checked, stamps and postage and phone calls, time for tea! The itemization of our lives is necessary to all of us. We have timetables for schoolchildren, for buses, for the work-place. We have scheduled maintenance for our vehicles, our health, our dentists. We are creatures of habit as surely as there are game trails in the wild that are as discernible as footpaths. It all is necessary and usual and normal. And if it is the speed with which the one may pursue an objective down the road that differentiates us, then it is the inner music to which we dance that differentiates us too. One likes to waltz, another likes to twist. But eventually, summers end. Such is the winter of our discontent.

Creatures of habit, we grumble at change. Weather affects us. Other’s intrusions on our vein of thought, of work, of doing, are like an unexpected knock at the door. Now what? And while not all interruptions are unpleasant, some interruptions have the effect of entirely discombobulating one. Creatures of regularity, we do not adjust easily to having our own pace affected. Some drivers I’ve known have a certain anger toward almost every other vehicle on the road. Other drivers have shown themselves so overly cautious that there is little sense of flow. And some people just hate it when they’ve returned from a shopping venture but forgot to get the milk. We find it difficult to celebrate the 99 sheep safe in the fold, but must berate ourselves for having lost the one we left perhaps in the car, or did not look for in the first place. Patience is a learned modality. Children come by it not as a natural thing. And adults practice it with the wisdom of lessons of the long ago, and sometimes not so well learned at that.

A perception of wasted time, wasted energy, wasted interest, wasted effort, wasted words, wasted intentions, wasted generosity, wasted potential, wasted petrol, wasted food, wasted money all drives our impatience-metres to various levels of unhappiness. How to accept, absorb, assimilate, include, allow for, and integrate everything into a pleasant state of compliance with what is? Rather, we rail against the ‘damn ring of that bloody telephone’. Thing is, should the voice at the other end be familiar and loving, we are just ‘so happy you rang’. Perception and patience do a dance together. When all the music is on the same page (for a change) the entire orchestration of events is of an accord.

Without the intention of learning from each and every smallest thing we are indeed very slow to change. We do not have the patience to subsume ourselves to the lessons. We want what we want. And though ants and worms and weevils and cockroaches and crows and sparrows and clouds and noisy neighbours be our guides, we persist with our complaints against our taskmasters, rather than allowing them to be the teachers toward a smile, that authentic smile of the truly patient. Acceptance is all. Patience calls.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bottled Up Familiars

Hierarchies are an anathema to some. Yet we perpetuate the Kingdom of animals, The Great Chain of Being, the sense of potential to become yet more, the facts of metamorphosis, the image of the inch-worm’s progress in bell-shaped manifestations, the multiple levels of Kohlberg, Dabrowski, Clare Graves, and Matthew 17. And millions are still subject to a caste system. Hierarchies abound, man-made, perceived and propagated. There are even some people who declare that others have no other prospects than to be the best person they can be; but do not seek to be more than you are! Inherent limitations to a species, a phylum, a genus, a being is that its properties are limited by its genetic make-up, and even more, are ranked and apportioned and allotted according to formulae that relegate it to a hierarchy. So sayeth mankind. Paradox perpetuates. Ontology preceded phylogeny. A leopard cannot change its spots. So just who do you think you are?

At the dinner table were a thin little bottle of garlic-cream sauce; a squat little bottle of tartar sauce; a taller bottle of tomato-chutney; a small china bowl of olives and pickles; and an imposing red-wine bottle. And they became the five people of our conversation. Never mind that in the cupboard and in the fridge dozens of other differently shaped containers, if allowed, might have been included. We had these five, and aligned with each other, they sufficed for all. It was natural to arrange them by size. It was natural to arrange them by price. It was natural to arrange them by preference. It was natural to arrange them by pleasing patterns. But it was quite discomforting to topple them and have then haphazardly strewn in disarray upon the table-top, let alone to allow one to topple and smash on the floor! We have a natural tendency to order things, we humans. And as such we perpetuate caste-systems. Our evaluation of those five bottles mattered. If one does not drink wine it might be the least important. If one never eats fish the tartar bottle would be unused. Rank and file is according to the dictates of our collective consciousness; but our individual ones too. According to the preferences of taste. According to the value-judgements of our affordability. Chutney can be comparatively expensive!

The Chakra system has a hierarchy of predominant comprehensions of life. We approach our conceptualization of things around us from the groin, the belly, the solar plexus, the heart, the throat, the forehead, or the crown. Evidently, we approach life from all seven, the sense of I am; I feel; I do; I love; I speak; I see; and I understand. At issue is where we spend our predominant focus. Our over Indulgence in one is at the expense of others, and equality of distribution of energy, or focus, is not the goal either; it is in understanding that we have compassion, not just seeing, speaking about, doing something, or in our feelings. Integration allows for everything to be, and nurtures each and everything at the growing edges of not only fulfilling its inherent potential, but of becoming yet more; if it ‘wants’ to be more; understands. And that’s where the analogy of the five bottled-up containers breaks down.

Persons are not bottled up entities. They are not containers made less valuable by the amount of their previous use or the age they've been in one’s cognizance. Persons are at once everything with the potential of nurturing the apportionment of their endemic hierarchical ingredients by virtue of insight, enlightenment, and meta-cognition. No, knowledge is not necessarily necessary. Intuition is. We do not need knowledge necessarily to understand. As Einstein has it, “I just want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details.” And even leopards can be tamed. At issue is; do they ‘want’ to be? Real change comes from within. ‘Nurture or nature’ is a long-standing debate. Yet changing our nature requires being free of our label. And no, re-labelling a Mayonnaise jar ‘Tartar Sauce’ simply won’t do, ha! Understood? 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Do We But Talk?

Last night’s dinner conversation revealed polar opposites. Four people at an Italian restaurant, and a fascinating exposition of India. Fiona (Nancy’s daughter), and her husband Ian had lived there with their three young children for six years. Fiona loved it. Ian did not. Not that he ‘hated’ it; it was just that he could not find respect for the ways of the people, particularly the officials and bureaucrats with whom he was dealing. The caste system was rife. Still is. The apportionment of distinctive castes in all sectors of employment was mandated, creating mass scale disincentive to excel; one could not rise above one’s station. Each of dozens of states had their own vernacular. Romeo and Juliet were certainly not allowed to marry. And the man that the Australian family employed as caretaker of their Indian property refused to dig near the latrine; that task was for ‘untouchables’, or as is the common phrase without good effect: a job for ‘God’s people’. Apparently it’s a way to say that God will take care of them, why should we?

Fiona bubbled with enthusiasm over the sights, the differences, the variety. She loved the unexpected. She loved the colour, the juxtapositions, the challenges. And she still maintains contact with people there and would go back for a visit. Ian, however, has ‘been there, done that’. Not that Ian was negative or dismissive or caustic; just that he had evaluated and come to preferences.
Like we did with the menu. Some two if not three dozen choices faced us. And two of us chose the same thing. But we had choice! We can almost always make our choices. But those in a caste system cannot.

Egalitarianism does not equate with materialism. At its most basic level it equates with dignity. My brother once gave me a lesson in treating the homeless: “Don’t enable their impoverishment by giving them coins with which to feed their addictions;” he advised, “give then dignity by looking into their eyes and saying something like ‘hang in there’.” (Or words to that effect.) Thing is, it is not really ‘stuff’ that so readily separates us from each other, it is our attitude. And that tradition would have us teach the children ‘who’ is untouchable, and who is ugly, and who is untrustworthy, and who is your family, and who is your God, and who is your teacher, and who is your friend, and what you should wear is all but part and parcel necessary to mankind. But what a pity that so many should be victim to mankind’s immoveable pace of progress. Nothing changes when nothing changes.

Habituation is our nemesis. Tradition is our danger point; each time we deploy tradition it might better be examined. Not that every tradition is deleterious to our progress. Not that every tradition ought to be scrapped. Not that one should change for the sake of change. But certainly that we should examine our sense of obligations, expectations, impositions, demands, and attitudes towards those who do not comply. If Penelope chooses not to come home for this Christmas dinner; if Perciville marries ‘that’ girl; if Barney buys ‘that’ car; if you wear ‘that’ shirt; if you think that; if you eat that; if you do that; if you dare to... We do tend to take things personally. And we do like most those who are most like ourselves.

How to just let others be? How do we accept a caste system and ‘allow’ it to go on and on and on ad infinitum? How do we accept that penitentiaries and penal system and classrooms and institutions and curricula and cultural traditions are all very slow to evolve? In fact, we easily would rather regress to what was once perceived as better than the apparent chaos of the change. Why institute a Copernican Program if the old one was working? Why not just hang the blighters, like we used to? Why would you not wear the clothes of your culture? Why would you...? And so we have our dinners. Do we but talk?

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Series of Epiphanies

One little light-bulb is enough to reveal that there are things in the dark. Two a-bright make for more light. Three going on may begin to make a pattern. Four alive may distract. Five can make a star! Six can become a Big Dipper. Seven? Well, does enlightenment end when life is over? And in full sunlight we take for granted, generally, that we can see at all. Until viewed from the senses of one who is blind.

Telephone conversations can be like that. Blind. We do not know the other on the other end of the line but there is so very much we go by based on the voice, response, sensitivity, rapport. Intuitively one feels that the other could be a friend. This Nicolai fellow who is M’Lady’s printer and book-binder has that effect on me; I’d like to meet the fellow, sit on a park bench, have a chin-wag. Yesterday morning (it is now just past 3:30 a.m.) as I typed I was awaiting the courier to take the ‘brain-stick’ to Fre(e)mantle, and begin the publishing process. Later in the morning a neighbour, Christine, popped in to take a few photographs of Nancy and me in situ. She took about nine, had us always look up at her, ‘smile’; and they all looked ‘posed’. But the one I preferred, as shown above, was her first one, taken while we were preparing for the shots. Reality is better than posing. I think that’s what I like about Nicolai’s voice on the telephone, the authenticity.

Still, we can overlook things. Like my friend and his wife stepping out onto their Cape Town hotel room balcony for a smoke and closing the sliding door behind themselves, and hearing it go ‘click’. That light-bulb moment.  Apparently my friends were locked out and shouted down to no avail for quite some time. We forget, overlook, do not think, and otherwise go about our day quite innocent of intent, but can seriously inconvenience as a result. Which of the very many cousins and relatives and friends is going to feel locked out, overlooked, dismissed, snubbed? It rides Nancy. What spelling-mistake, date, formatting, photo, or document did I not get ‘right’? I must confess; it rides me. It is not so much that one wants other’s to say “perfect”. It is that one does not want to be on a balcony, waving at the crowds below, while someone unknown locks you down for the difference between alot and it’s varients. We make errors intentionally, or not. And such errors are as but part of the natural movements of man, like killing a skunk with the car on a Sunday afternoon drive (or was it a Saturday, back in `83? Or maybe`84?) depends very much on what we give focus. We humans are mistake-making machines. Even light-bulbs burn out. Knowing something once does not necessarily last forever; we needs replace the learning, sometimes. Often.

Epiphanies are like that. Most of what I need to know I learned in kindergarten was the clever title of someone’s book a few years ago (or was it decades?) We learn, forget, re-learn, forget, learn again, and so on. Our ego is like this giant watchdog, barking at us when we leave the house of our constant comfort and go venture on new learning curves. ‘Don’t forget me’ the ego yaps. ‘Mus’n’t venture too far from our interdependence.’ (Yes, my ego likes big words.) Punctiliousness was my father’s bent. He was most scrupulous about dotting ‘i’’s and crossing ‘t’’s. Got quite out of joint when he found mistakes. “The thing that boils my blood,” another old friend of mine used often to begin with (with which he often began) “is those who end sentences with prepositions!” Thing is, our ego-dog barks when it feels displeased, or wants attention; we take things personally. Yet many of us are dog-lovers.

This morning (much later than now) a courier will bring two copies of the published manuscript for us to peruse. Mayhap we will catch some glaring error. Mayhap we shall find a misplaced punctuation. Or not.        

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What A Difference A Day Makes

When finished The Gorge River Span and seeing his design made manifest, the engineer jumped off the bridge (the mythology of South Africa would have it). So too for the Sydney Opera House. Selected for manifestation, though a project of immense cost, the architect never actually got to see it. He did not kill himself; he just never bothered to show up! Ever. Ozymandias himself would frown. We love to erect statues of ourselves, have streets named after us; the legacy of print, of concrete, of photographs, of bronze and gold and pewter and marble, of paintings, and even of remaining in the oeuvre of myth are the measures by which we shall leave the marks of man. Or indeed we shall but become little atomies.

Great journeys end in some instances with parades. Red carpets. Awards. Fame. But possibly the vast amount of great journeys have never been recorded, never been known. A seminal moment for me was standing solo atop Hadrian’s Wall, 2003, and looking out over the vast reaches of the North. In that instant I was Illicitus Reincarnus, a Roman centurion, ripped untimely from my mother’s womb, raised by an unrelenting taskmaster of a father, and so I’d run away to... find the girl I intended to marry! But her father, a Baron Wrathchild, ill-favored towards me in the extreme for my lack of heritage, lack of wealth, lack even of prospects, since he could not quite get rid of me, banished her to a far distant shore where she languished ne’er to be seen no more. So I joined the Legion of Legends, and along with hopes of making my fame (and of course my fortune) I took an outpost up at Hadrian’s Wall there to defend my integrity, my honour, and to prove my worth. And now, as I stood there on that bleak and vast landscape, the never-ending shivers of fruitlessness coursing through me, with the last three years of my being but a soldier of fortune to other men’s designs, I looked back on my life and wandered just what it all was for? All those prayers? All those letters? All those hopes and dreams? All the conversations? And then, just as I turned away to retire for the night from the unending disparity of my ignobleness, some heathen snuck up and lopped off my head! Now, who shall record such a life? Of what significance?

Time waits for no one. The clock did show 10:31 p.m., Sunday, March 17th, and it was done. The intensity of the past seven weeks came to an imperceptible end. M’Lady had retired. The single PDF file, requested by the publisher, was ready. This morning, even as I type, I await the 7:15 a.m. of a pick-up of the USB stick to be conveyed to the local Fremantle Print and Binders. And they shall do the rest. No, wait... that knocking at the door? I went to deliver. ... And back now, my work is done! What is next?

It is to those who disappeared into the vast wastelands of time that I wish to pay deference. Where be the product for their efforts? The explorers who were never heard from again. Little Penelope who jumped a ship to get away from an abusive household and who made her way to some distant shore there to get married and to raise five children, one of whom died fighting off the rebels, the others of whom carried on to have children of their own; what of her? She is forgotten in the great swath of time that did not record her precise passage in the history of mankind. She, like so many others, was but cannon fodder to life’s surge toward some future, day by day. And inasmuch as she once did live (as did my invisible friend, Illicitus Reincarnus) as but a persona non gratia of dim pasts and ancient times, one can only hope that they found but some joy in the rising of the sun, and the unfolding of a new day.

When the odometer of my old Suburban reached 100,000,000 miles (before I realized it was only kilometers) I expected not only to see it do so, but for balloons to spring from the bonnet and for there to be horns blowing! But though I was the driver, I missed the marker. And life went, and goes... on. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

By Way of Apology

"The Flying Scotsman even went by way of us here, in Guildford, West Australia!"

People see things from their own point of view. I am most guilty of not fully considering that enough in my head-long hurtle toward a date-line. My partner in this venture is not only 30 years my senior, but has gone through emotional touchstones as profoundly as fully waylaying full-stops at train-sidings for refuelling. A single photograph can create a new chapter of story. A single name can bring a glaze to the eyes as the heart opens to remembrance. Old letters are not quickly scanned; they are treasured, word for word. And in this metaphorical journey of our train toward a final destination I am not now just the stoker of the steam-engine (as I actually was when young); I am the Driver. And this driver has a personally decided schedule! After all, even the grandest of engines eventually succumbs to disuse.

The sidings and the place names en route were initially strange to me; this was a track I’d not taken before. And though M’Lady had indeed lived the full 90 years of the journey, she’d not quite had to go over it from start to finish in such clarity, nor as many times over and over. There were people we’d left behind at stations. Some we actually threw off the train! But in the backtrackings or in the chugging up the endless switchbacks my own impatience was for the speed of the entire freight-load of strangers to be brought toward their final destination, whereas M’Lady had the reality of knowing each person, of needing to revisit each for awhile, and of wanting excursions into the villages and towns and cities of her memory. Few of us have been around the world. Not me. But she’s been Five Times! Few of us have had 14 close family members die, especially when many were younger than her, and though I was impatient to get going, we needed to pay respect at their gravesides. We needed to clear away the brambles and the weeds and then scour the grave-stones for clarity of dates. And then we needed to relocate the rector and enquire as to the relevance of the placement and care of burial plots in a landscape full of ghostly recalls. Even last night I was handed the phone, long distance from England, to be waylaid in my headlong hurtle to closure by one of M’Lady’s old relatives, a recently retired Concorde pilot whose father, Eric, was the brother of Nancy’s war-hero husband. Eric Sinclair had in 1943 flown as navigator in a Lancaster bomber alongside his brother, Denys Sinclair, on one sortie; and now here was his son, Peter the prestigious Concorde man, just a few years older than I, graciously entertaining me; I felt humbled.

In this analogy of switch-points, train tracks, steam-engines, and carriage loads of people, we each had many roles. Driver, linesman at railheads, switch-point operator, stoker, carriage-coupler were my parts. Nancy was the goods-car manager, the chef, the server, the ticket-taker, the passenger liaison and...

Thing is, I could have been, should have been, more patient. That we had but seven weeks to go back and forth on a journey that ordinarily would take years (given a page a day at 450 pages) impelled me with steam-rolling action from day one! Today, after yet one more final meticulous edit, there is the conversion of 176 files into a PDF format. Why? Well, last night, as I showed M’Lady, the alteration of a single small c in ‘coast Hill’ to a capital ‘C ‘completely fragmented and made unrecognizable seven pages worth of work. Watch! (I had my finger on the button.) Change the ‘c’, and everything goes hay-wire. The train just jumped its tracks! No! But click on the ‘undo’ button, and everything magically slid back into perfect order. “Hm. Wish life could be like that; imagine having an undo button at one’s command!”

Alterations can be made to even the smallest of undotted ‘i’ s. Entire new vistas can be taken in. But it all absorbs time. And impatience, I deeply regret, in all its ego-driven anxiety, can be as ugly as black smoke. In my 20’s, at Mason’s Mill, Natal, one was fined R10 for black smoke. What’s the price now?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Black Sheep Strategy

We come to praise Caesar, not to bury him! Willy would have wanted it that way. Sure he was a reprobate, a raconteur, a carpet-bagger, a scallywag, had a propensity to prevaricate, and lived from the inside of a whisky bottle for the later years of his life, but oh what a man! The heroic escapades, the great grand schemes, the charm, the talent, the looks! Women fell for him! Medals of valour. Certificates of honour. What a man! And then it all went wrong. Resting on one’s laurels, one might say. How many other war heroes does this not happen to? All that guts and glory and challenge and attention and then one comes home to... domesticity. Few men like being relegated to mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, taking the Sunday drive, tending to the surprise-packaged children, or ‘going shopping’. They perhaps forget what they were fighting for in the first place. They perhaps forget that just such mundane everyday things of the fanciful quotidian are precisely why they went to battle. It is seldom one hears the same of women, by comparison. No, women are far too conscious of the need to contribute toward others, generally. But in this case, for one poor man, there was simply too much ‘ME’.

Black sheep are notorious. Yes, some become famous. The family outcast (or is it the self-exiled from the family?) goes about to the clacking of his own drum-sticks.  And he makes a world of himself. He shapes and directs his future independent of direct influence, independent of appeals for finances (in some cases, but not necessarily in this case), and keeps his accomplishments as close to him as his attaché case. One never knows when one may need to whip out that birth-certificate, that falsified passport, that letter of commendation (though the signature may be suspect,) that bowdlerized prose purporting to extol his own virtues. Indeed, yes, black sheep are infamous too.

But I came to praise Caesar, not to bury him. Should I inter him with warts and all in his casket of these few pages, as though looking out from a glass darkly, he will become as such immortalized. Those that knew him for what he ‘really’ was shall soon enough be gone, shall ‘drop off the perch’ (if one may take liberties with the vernacular.) It is for the great-great-grandchildren and for ongoing offspring that we here expunge the record, that we take hours of days of stories and simply highlight, momentarily, and erase! Are you sure you want to delete that file? Yes. Delete. And with the mere push of a button all that negativity is wiped off the screen. Nobody, after the next decade (or mayhap before then) will recount the man that ‘really’ was. And our Memoir of him, a tidy example of ensuring that the baker, the banker, and the candlestick maker are rendered as stellar pillars indeed, will reflect not how we might remember, but how we should remember. Word power is mightier than the sword slashes of Zero.

“Swear to tell the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but The Truth,” the court of appeal may justly contest. “After all, the public should handle it! The offspring ought to handle it!”

But I write here for the future. We make a Memoir that praises; it does not bury. It is intended to give hope and sustenance and example and pride to the future generations of the families involved, in whose linkage to ancient pasts there be sufficient truths to make a man, a woman, proud. It is good enough to say one is linked to George the Fifth, another to say one is linked to The Mad King. No, we came here to praise, not to bury. We seek not to render some future progeny shamed and hurt and insecure and unsure of themselves, to get them checking into their genes before they unzip their wares; we seek instead to laud, and to cheer! And to those who would say otherwise, we render but one word, “Bah!”        

Thursday, March 14, 2013


                                         (My youngest brother's wife somewhere near Oman)

Impeccability of word choice is delicate. Editorial marks reveal mistakes. How does an art form ever be ‘perfect’? Form and function attend even bridges. And some bridges are more beautiful than are others; so too is the water that flows under them. One bridge I know was dubbed ‘Purgatory’ by my friend just in for a quick visit; passing over it too often rattled me so much that I relocated. At the end of proverbial days it is the smoothness of life that we use as a gauge of our general condition. Much of yesterday there were thunderstorms. Three magpies huddled on the chair-back I see from the dining room window. Even the fire-place directly behind me dripped from the steady downpour. Sometimes the house shook. The twelve-seater solid oak table before me vibrated from the almost constant grinding of the printer. The house occasionally grumbled and groaned under duress of thunderous rumbles from belligerent skies. But focused, and unaware of what was going on around me, you’d think I could get things perfect?

M’Lady’s hairdresser arrived early. For some reason she did not use the bell. She banged on the living room window, twice or thrice. I called out for Nancy, but the heaviness of the storm on the roof, or her fixation at her kitchen-counter work-space with the first stack of fifty pages precluded her attention. So I made my way to the front door. It is getting more difficult for me to move. It will be good to get my fixation on one location ambulatory again. But we step gingerly on rocks, though once I leapt across the tops of boulders. Yet now Sandy was peering in at me from a window pane. And even at first glance I could see she was soaking wet. The distance from her car to the front door must have been about 30 feet, perhaps only 29, or was it 31? But she could not never-mind the rain, not without an umbrella.

“The rain of your insults has no effect on the indifference of my umbrella,” was a phrase I picked up as a school boy; it delighted my metaphorical mind. Sandy bustled in, dripping. Too early.  As much as an hour or more early. And it entirely upset our cheery cart. M’Lady carefully concealed her down-right disappointment (or was it stage-left?) Her own organization of paraphernalia atop the counters and the kitchen nook table needed quick re-assorting. Sandy came in like a storm-tossed boat. She carried her accouterments with practiced panache, and began plonking them down as though she was familiar with this beach head, knew the routines. She’d brought some freshly baked something or other, “nice and warm!” Her voice was booming. “I’ll put the kettle on for coffee,” she announced. “Then we’ll do your hair!” Outside it thundered. Inside M’Lady politely received the goodies, and responded with intent to microwave the things at another time (she did not say ‘nuke’), but right now she was not disposed (she did not say ‘indisposed’), she was not disposed to having baked goods; not right now. Or have I repeated myself? Then, the coffee at last made, M’Lady brought my cup in to me, raised but an eye-brow of communication’s accord, and went back to settle down her invader... her intruder...  to settle down her unexpected guest. She offered not the buns that had been brought, but opened instead her usual tin of biscuits. Whether the usual mini free-loaders of miniature black ants were to be seen in the biscuit-tin or not I do not know, but the two women sat at the kitchen table, where I could just see some of Sandy’s shoulder and torso, but not her face. She decidedly quietened down. Beside me, the printer froze.

Distractions attending the print out of 270 files at 1.7 GB (I’ve backed them up enough to know the exact itemization) can lead to mess ups. It’s like upsetting the pale-full of carefully picked out pebbles; hours of work are dispensed with at the indelicacy of a slipping of the handle. Real flow is about the acceptance of the moment. But it is a thing of practice, this taking on of thunderstorms in one’s days.     

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Completey Incomplete

After exactly 40 days, the 426 draft pages of the Memoir are complete. Three sections, M’Lady’s memoirs, and then a Visual Overview chapter and commentary for each family member, as well the substantive Appendices.  Last night, at 10:03p.m., the whole thing was done! Today (Thursday) it gets printed out for editing by Nancy and her two daughters (all senior to me), and by Monday I shall have made all corrections. Tuesday it goes to the publisher! And even then it will be completely incomplete; even yesterday Nancy’s eldest daughter said she had no photo with her granddaughter, and little Giselle was whisked over by her mother, Gabrielle, and I took the snapshot of her with Grannie-Linda. Viola!

Visual overviews are like that, completely incomplete. Mistakes are natural to us. And I’ve made some very stupid mistakes in my time. ‘Stupid’ is not I word I bandy about. It is pejorative, demeaning, silly to use, and unfeeling. But it was very stupid of me to run (!) along the tops of boulders of all sizes and shapes that lay like so many spilled chunks of dark chocolate in an Orkney Island bay, just beyond St. Margaret’s reach. From my overview along the cliff tops, from as high as two houses atop each other, the rock-bound giant’s outspread hand plunged down into the sea, making multiple arches between its crag-creased fingers and the frothy surface of the heaving and tossing Pentland Firth. I wanted to explore! Find a smuggler’s cave! So, all alone, I ventured down a goats’ path to peer among the arches. Then I looked across the rock cluttered beach, espied yet another cave across the bay, and in the agility and carefree suppleness of my youth (I was only 23), rather than gingerly make my way from boulder to boulder, I ran along their tops. Ever done that? The fluidity of motion allowing for precise adjustment is magical! How the body so instantaneously can co-ordinate the myriad details of weight distribution, speed, differentiation of distances and one’s own stupidity is absolutely marvellous! But one slip and I might still be there, a ghostly skeleton wailing in the wind for someone to come and get me.

Not being afraid of mistakes has a similar quality of spontaneous admissions. Only when older do we take much more precaution before uttering things, initiating action, pursuing what we know is fool-hardy. We become more aware, one hopes, not so much of the possible consequences to ourselves, but to others. That’s what the Orkney Island farmer yelled at the group of us when he rescued us from a storm-tossed dinghy in Widewall Bay. “Did’na ya think o’ the danger yee put otherrrs in?” About five of us had taken a single-oared boat around the cliff heads, intending to go to the pub at St.Margaret’s Hope. (Hitchhikers from all over the world would arrive to spend a night or two at Herston Hiker’s Hostel, which I was tending for Sandy Annal, back in 1975.) And we should have asked to borrow the boat. And we should have been able to read the weather more-better. And we should have had more experience. Because when we tried to come into shore the tide was pulling out and struggle as much we did, with huge waves drenching us, and the boat refusing to put its nose down on the beach, we were in danger of capsizing, being swept out, or worse, having a whole community involved in a search and rescue effort in a wintery sea of deep discontentment.

There was no energy in me to write this essay last night. The tidying up of loose ends, the preparation of files for print-out, the backup of all files onto brain-sticks, took time. Besides, the advent of having finality to the entire rough draft, all 426 densely packed pages, had the result of my body dragging me to go sleep! So I write here, right now, as the birds begin their cooing to greet the sunrise. I knew not what I was going to write, I just plunged in to let my fingers tap over the jutting out tops of the keyboard. And though this little vignette of my own seeming memoirs be incomplete; it is at is. The more fool me?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Fall Out

Not until I related the story did a shiver course through me. It was one thing to have the fall out, but then actually to explain it gave it significance beyond the immediate. Perhaps in my flow of 3 a.m. something application to task I took the gentle flip, flap, drop of the hard-copy photograph for which I was searching as de rigueur.  I do know I thanked it for being revealed! Thanked Perry’s ghost.

All around me Australia slept. The birds had not yet stirred. Usually, the nesting pair of kookaburras over at the billabong are the first to laugh themselves awake. I was in the dining room, the weighted down chairs arraigned around me, M’Lady getting her sleep. Circumstances yesterday created a train-wreck in the smooth order of things; we needed photographs that belonged to another person, were with that person, and needed both sorting by and commentary made by that person. And though there be reason enough for non immediate delivery, the vital time needed to keep this train on track was waylaid at a side-station. In the meantime I tended to the reserves, replenished the order of things, backed up the two brain-sticks, and... But it did take until nearly midnight to get that section done. And now, at 7:30 a.m. with a hold-up as I wait for the very last hard-copy before all the rough draft is done, I write here with a sense of awe for this early morning’s fall-out.

Not all fall-outs are bad things. I was searching for the snake. Well, not the snake but the picture of Perry killing a live snake in Nancy’s back yard. I’d not seen it. In her notes from yesterday, Nan wrote “see Perry’s page”, and though in my pre-dawn daze I checked and re-rechecked, no such slippery thing snuck up to greet me. So I went to source. And sifting through the piles of stuff on Perry’s chair (too close to Nancy’s bedroom for me to make any noise about it) I went through some albums, lifted the papers and documents off the chair, and... The lone photo just fell, flip, flap, to the floor!

So many kismet moments have happened on this journey into another family’s soul. The right moment to edit something; the right moment to catch a mistake; the right document to be revealed at the flip of a page; the right album to delve into to get the right image for the right words. Such is rapport. And there is hardly any tension in the admixture of a 90 and a 60 year old working over six weeks now on a 24/7 project that has become all-consuming. We honour the ghosts. We take down the pictures off walls and dust them of the very many years worth of being left alone. We take the frame-backing out with pliers, knives, scissors, and we scan the photo, clean the frame’s glass both sides, and put it all back together again to be even more-better than it was before. And it all flows as the work goes, with just some hiccups for the check-in, the persuasions to include or exclude; the reasons not to have a fall-out.

Ego concerns were momentary. There were a few days in which My fear was about My not being able to deliver, or if I did, that some error would reflect badly on Me. But such feelings were of the moment; i have spilled over into the grander service unto others that life really becomes. And whether in the moment, or with the product in hand, one has but evidence of where one was at in any given time, which has already passed. Such is flow. If we are rivers of energy then we are not a boat to be tossed about on the surface, with all hands on deck. Control of the boat has its merits. But boats are but the projects that we do on the surface of ourselves. Our essential current runs deeper than that. Besides, when in a boat, one can have a fall out. Only then may one realize the grander ocean that buoys you. 



Monday, March 11, 2013

To Chase a Ghost!

‘The Dresser’ is an interesting phrase. I was once in a play by that name. Perry Burton was the delicately effete dresser to Bill Baksa’s irascible and self-centred M’Lord. My role was as the undeserving, the one insufficient of self to stand on his own two feet but must needs wait attendance on the company until chance and circumstance collided to grant him opportunity  to rise to the occasion, to perform a greater role than himself. Interesting how that cameo was not quite so much in my consciousness until this very moment. Like a ghost it slipped out of some cabinet in my mind only now to clamour for attention.

Like the squeaky hinges on M’Lady’s ‘dresser’. That’s what she calls it. That’s apparently what it has been called since the 9th century! Yes, since Aelfred The Great himself. Mentioned in Aelfred’s will, and now in the Duke of Norfolk’s line of heritage, Arundel Castle is believed to be the second oldest in Britain (according to the newspaper clipping about the eminent historiographer, John Rutherford). The dresser, big as it is, eventually found its way to a London antique shop, and that’s where newlyweds Nancy and Denys Sinclair decided to spend just about their entire war-service gratuity on acquiring it. Yes, it was authenticated. And yes, that immensely heavy and expensive nine foot long oak dresser has travelled with them from England to Australia (in `59) and thence from house to house. Almost 70 years in M’Lady’s possession; but almost a thousand years in the presence of man! Perhaps Aelfred himself set eyes on it? And since the hinge on the upper left door squeaks, “and has squeaked like that ever since we’ve had it; it keeps the ghost’s away!” M’Lady jested; did Aelfred once hear that same sound too?

Thing is, for whatever reason I’ve long been fascinated by Aelfred. As a boy it was a pivotal point in my being interested in history when I realized that Moses could not have spoken English, that Yul Brunner’s Pharaoh could not have spouted, “So it is said, so let it be,” in English, that Cleopatra could not have burbled as senslessly as did Elizabeth Taylor. Nor could King Midas so command the sea. English did not come find its birth until Aelfred! He amalgamated the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, and fixations of word usage thereby evolved with The Northumbrian Chronicle. At university I studied Anglo Saxon, memorized snippets for imaginative pronunciation, as I did with the opening passage of Chaucer (almost two centuries after 1066 ‘and all that’, according to a mirthful Monty). Not until Shakespeare does English become recognizable to our ear, and even then there are many who do not take to his words. Or to his ghosts.

So the squeak enchants! Now the liquor, chocolate, and candle-cabinet, along with collectibles of every kind, that ancient iron hinge lets one know that a door is being opened on the past. And as I sit in the same room surrounded by the ghosts of Sir Arthur, Mummy Denise, Maman Angele, Colonel Douglas, War Hero Pat, Great Escape victim Denys Street, Stalag Luft 111’s P.O.W. Denys Sinclair of Caithness, Diana the Artist, Ian the Land Developer, Nicholas the Marine Biologist, P. Crosly the Ranchman, and B. Cory the War Veteran, can they hear the squeak of the cabinet too? Mayhap. Particularly at sherry time!

We make meaning out of small things, or small things make meaning out of us. Facility with like-minded knowledge and interests and abilities allows for longevity of relationships, or not. That dresser was consigned to be burned on the Fremantle docks! Denys Sinclair had to attend an unpacking and inspection ceremony when the crates of their family furniture arrived. The official was adamant. Pock-marked with weevil holes and wood lice the piece was not entering Australian soils. But after some delicate persuasion and assurances that all had already been decontaminated, it was permitted to be kept. Imagine! All 900 years of The Dresser, to be consumed by fire. Enough to make a ghost shudder!