Monday, March 30, 2015

A crafting outing

It's been a while since there was a glimmer of crochet in the fog, so here is one. Yesterday I went along to the Canberra Bro*wn O*wls group (I'm only doing that because I don't want this to be where people land if they are searching the group). If you want to know, there are Bro*wn O*wls groups in most cities in Australia, which are essentially a craft meet-up. I thought it could be a good way to meet some people, go somewhere, make some time to do some crochet ... So I joined. A very pleasant afternoon was had sitting outside of a cafe chattering on to five other ladies and hearing about their lives.

(Sophisticated folks often seem to stereotype crafting ladies as collective simpletons with nothing else to do or talk about, which makes them the narrow-minded and prejudiced half if you were asking me, and I discovered these women work in intelligence and HR and all manner of things that any group of people would, if that were in any way important, and if there were anything wrong with talking about craft in any case. So that's just a raspberry to the side for the sophisticated folks. And tomorrow I am off to Sydney to the Opera. A dear friend got two tickets for their birthday and invited me along, which is such a treat. I am looking forward it!)

But, where was I? - talking about crochet. Yes, at the moment I am working on what to all appearances is a very uninteresting rug. It is just plain dark grey single granny square, with a coloured border to come. Thus there is not much of it in the picture.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

No perfect way to cultivate a person

I loved reading this article, in which Sufjan Stevens talks to Dave Eggers about his new album, Carrie & Lowell, dedicated to the mother who left and the stepdad who stayed. One of the things I really liked in Tim Keller's book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, is that he points out that what people will need to deal with will be different, depending on the cause of their grief. Having a parent who chose to leave is different to having one who died involuntarily, and there won't be the same anger and resentment, necessarily. Still, there are similarities. So here's a little bit from the last two paragraphs. Sometimes I feel like I must be screwed up in certain ways from my childhood (especially in the way I seem to be such a dunce at interacting with men in any romantic sense, and that failing to ever be a constructive experience), so I appreciated the line that "there's no perfect way to cultivate a person".
The audience, though, listening live or while lying on the floor of a bedroom in a broken home, shouldn’t forget that ultimately this is an album about forgiveness. After all, whatever familial madness Stevens experienced as a child, it produced him, a person in a Muppet hat who is capable of extraordinary music. I try to sell Stevens on this theory – that whatever we go through as children of chaos, ultimately we can be thankful for it all. For life, the rich madness of it.

Stevens takes a deep breath. We both look out the window, at the frozen white sky, blank with possibility. “You can’t change your history. But you can choose to relinquish the anger, and you can choose to recognise that there’s no perfect way to cultivate a person ... ”

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The bright shadow on common things

Packing, packing, packing. It’s all I’ve done today. So now I am sitting down with a cup of Fireside Rooibos — have I mentioned before how much I like rooibos tea? — for a little rest. It’s been a splendid autumn day here, not that I have been out in it so much except for a jog this morning. Days like this make me very much look forward to the new north-facing courtyard. The unit I am currently renting is in a great location, but it faces east-west, and has the wall of the place next door jutting out to the north, is on the ground floor, and can be dark and cold inside. And Canberra is the sort of climate where if you just sit inside all day in autumn and winter you can get really cold, but if you can just go out in the sun, which is nearly always shining, somewhere you warm up. So it is a good thing to have access to a piece of sunshine without always having to go “out” to find it, which will soon be the case. I am trying very hard right now not to spend hours on design and furniture websites, and soon after I move I need to register the car so I have to take these things easy, but some kind of outdoor lounge set-up is going to be the thing!

But for now, something a little less mundane, or perhaps more gloriously mundane, than putting stuff in boxes and the weather. I have written about and quoted from Phantastes by George MacDonald many times, and also about and from CS Lewis, and I came at the whole association in reverse to the norm in that I was reading MacDonald before I was reading Lewis, and as a teenager was very taken with Phantastes. And so I have always loved the account in Surprised by Joy, where Lewis describes how Phantastes was instrumental in his conversion. Phantastes is now a book that is like a secret little litmus test I have for people (except it’s not a secret anymore). If I meet someone and somehow it comes up that they have heard of George MacDonald, and they then start enthusing about Phantastes, I know we are going to kindred spirits. This happened recently with a girl at church, and has proved true. I have since loaned her The Fisherman’s Lady and The Marquis’ Secret, and we know what wavelength we are on.

Anyway, here is the part in Surprised by Joy where Lewis recounts his discovery of Phantastes. He has written of it in other works also (one of which I posted here).

Image from here.
Turning to the bookstall, I picked out an Everyman in a dirty jacket, Phantastes, a faerie Romance, George MacDonald. Then the train came in. I can still remember the voice of the porter calling out the village names, Saxon and sweet as a nut—”Bookhamm, Effingham, Horsley train”. That evening I began to read my new book.

The woodland journeyings in that story, the ghostly enemies, the ladies both good and evil, were close enough to my habitual imagery to lure me on without the perception of a change. It is as if I were carried sleeping across the frontier, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I came to be alive in the new. For in one sense the new country was exactly like the old. I met there all that had already charmed me in Malory, Spenser, Morris, and Yeats. But in another sense all was changed. I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos. I do now. It was Holiness. For the first time the song of the sirens sounded like the voice of my mother or my nurse. Here were old wives’ tales; there was nothing to be proud of in enjoying them. It was as though the voice which had called to me from the world’s end were now speaking at my side. It was with me in the room, or in my own body, or behind me. If it had once eluded me by its distance, it now eluded me by proximity—something too near to see, to plain to be understood, on this side of knowledge. It seemed to have been always with me; if I could ever have turned my head quick enough I should have seized it. Now for the first time I felt that it was out of reach not because of something I could not do but because of something I could not stop doing. If I could only leave off, let go, unmake myself, it would be there. Meanwhile, in this new region all the confusions that had hitherto perplexed my search for Joy were disarmed. There was no temptation to confuse the scenes of the tale with the light that rested upon them, or to suppose that they were put forward as realities, or even to dream that if they had been realities and I could reach the woods where Anodos journeyed I should thereby come a step nearer to my desire. Yet, at the same time, never had the wind of Joy blowing through any story been less separable from the story itself. Where the god and the idolon were most nearly one there was least danger of confounding them. Thus, when the great moments came I did not break away from the woods and cottages that I read of to seek some bodiless light shining beyond them, but gradually, with a swelling continuity (like the sun at mid-morning burning through a fog) I found the light shining on those woods and cottages, and then on my own past life, and on the quiet room where I sat and on my old teacher where he nodded above his little Tacitus. For I now perceived that while the air of the new region made all my erotic and magical perversions of Joy look like sordid trumpery, it had no such disenchanting power over the bread upon the table or the coals in the grate. That was the marvel. Up till now each visitation of Joy had left the common world momentarily a desert—”The first touch of the earth went night to kill”. Even when real clouds or trees had been the material of the vision, they had been so only by reminding me of another world; and I did not like the return to ours. But now I saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged. Or, more accurately, I saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow. Unde hoc mihi? [Translation: “And why is this granted to me?” — or something like it.] In the depth of my disgraces, in the then invincible ignorance of my intellect, all this was given me without asking, even without consent. That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptised; the rest of me, not unnaturally, too longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes.
It is perhaps attributable to Phantastes that I seemed to have learnt early an appreciation of simple and rather domestic delights. Or perhaps that I have something of the personality of Lewis's friend Arthur who revelled in "homeliness".

Another who has been there before you

I got a few hours off work yesterday to go to a breakfast conference called Getting to Grips with Mental Illness at Church (I actually thought it was 'getting a grip on' or 'coming to grips with', but that is beside the point) at which Andrew Cameron spoke more theologically and biblically and a friend from church who is doing her PhD on youth mental health spoke more technically and personally. It was a good morning. In the course of the morning Andrew Cameron shared a quote from Charles Spurgeon, directed at people who might be in the midst of some kind of despondency, which I thought was very encouraging, so here it is:
... hardly a spot of light in it ... it may be there is some poor heart here that is very heavy. You cannot proclaim of this great crowd how many sorrowing and burdened spirits there may be among us, but there may be a dozen or two of persons who are driven almost to despair. My dear Friend, if this is your case, I want you to know that somebody else has been just where you are. Remember how the shipwrecked man upon the lonely island all of a sudden came upon the footprints of another human being? So here, on the lone island of despondency, you shall be able to trace the footprints of another who has been there before you.
Spurgeon, Sermon #2433

Isn't that lovely? For the times when I have felt misunderstood or betrayed or ostracised, it is a comfort to know that Christ has gone there before and knows all about it (and also extends grace and forgiveness for anything I might have done to lead me there).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Advice for youngish folks

I read this article on advice for young men quickly a few days ago, didn't take any notice of the author, and thought it was saying good things. I've since realised it's actually written by a friend whom I've known and been in church with here in Australia (once upon a time I even indexed one of his books - on Greek, which was something else), so I read it again more slowly, because people you know are people you know and all that. It has really good things to say to young, and even not so young, men (discovered you can't do strike through in post headings - bummer) women. I've probably ranted enough about men of late, but the first four points apply equally as well to women, and even some of point five, in that women need to have courage in their convictions and some backbone under all that sensitivity and empathising also.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

How longing is having

Picture from scatteringthelight.

Here is a little excerpt from Surprised by Joy, describing how CS Lewis realised that longing for Joy and having Joy are one and the same (and I appreciate the comment on Wordsworth).
At that very moment there arose the memory of a place and time at which I had tasted the lost Joy with unusual fullness. It had been a particular hill-walk on a morning of white mist. The other volumes of the Ring (The Rheingold and The Valkyrie) had just arrived as a Christmas present from my father, and the thought of all the reading before me, mixed with the coldness and loneliness of the hillside, the drops of moisture on every branch, and the distant murmur of the concealed town, had produced a longing (yet it was also fruition) which had flowed over from the mind and seemed to involve the whole body. That walk I now remembered. It seemed to me that I had tasted heaven then. If only such a moment could return! But what I never realised was that it had returned—that the remembering of that walk was itself a new experience of just the same kind. True, it was desire, not possession. But then what I had felt on the walk had also been desire, and only possession in so far as that kind of desire is itself desirable, is the fullest possession can know on earth; or rather, because the very nature of Joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting. There, to have is to want and to want is to have. Thus, the very moment when I longed to be so stabbed again, was itself again such a stabbing. The Desirable which had once alighted on Valhalla was now alighting on a particular moment of my own past; and I would not recognise him there because, being an idolater and a formalist, I insisted that he ought to appear in the temple I had built him; not knowing that he cares only for temples building and not at all for temples built. Wordsworth, I believe, made this mistake all his life. I am sure that all that sense of the loss of vanished vision which fills The Prelude was itself vision of the same kind, if only he could have believed it.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Making connections

Since moving back to the general vicinity of my ancestors I have made a few connections to people I have come across here and there.

One of the most interesting of those experiences so far occurred the other evening, when I was doing my best at schmoozing at an event for a bishop. Not long after arriving I found myself in conversation with one of the school chaplains, and somehow it came up in the polite chit chat that I am not from Canberra but that my family hails from around these parts, and I think I said something about where they’re from and so he said his former wife (now deceased) was from there too, and then he said her name and the surname was the same as my mother’s maiden name, and we discovered they were cousins. So, we had a nice time discussing all the implications and social outworkings of this, talking about the man who was my great uncle who flew spitfires in WWII and so forth.

Then he looked over at the CEO of Anglicare and said “that’s my son-in-law”, meaning that he’s married to one of their daughters (obviously!), so I realised that the wife of the CEO of Anglicare is my second cousin. That was all quite extraordinary and interesting and I believe that the conversation temporarily ended there. In mentioning this to someone else I was schmoozing with later they said “one of his daughters is a very good singer” and I had heard the CEO of Anglicare say his wife was a jazz singer once, so I figured I was across that. But I fell back in with the chaplain later in the evening and he did happen to mention this time that his other daughter is actually Sarah Blasko. So, that makes Sarah Blasko my second cousin. I had no idea. This was so fascinating.

But what the whole evening highlighted for me also is that I really don’t have a clue even about my parents’ cousins, let alone the children of those cousins, so there could be folks all about the place here that I am related to, who I don’t know as relations. It’s quite bizarre really. I’m going to dig up the family tree again.

Anyway, I have long liked Sarah Blasko, before I had a clue she was any kind of relative, so there has been a lot of music here lately, but here is another song (and I am going to pray for Sarah, as I read wikipedia ...).

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The latest Mumford and Sons

So, this is old news now, but I have just got around to listening to the new Mumford and Sons song. I don't know what I think of it yet. No-one can say that it sounds just like all their other music in this case (which I don't find a particularly stinging criticism in any case - if fans like a band for their sound, who benefits from them changing it?). It sounds like something else, but I haven't yet put my finger on what (the chorus is reminiscent of something from Bon Iver maybe?). I like some of the lyrics -"So tired of misconceiving/What else this could've been" ... "This is never going to go our way/If I'm gonna have to guess what's on your mind". Yes. Use words folks. Don't leave important things to mind reading. Even if you think the other person should/can read your mind, you still need to use words. To be sure, to be sure. Everybody feels more secure if there's words.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A ramble about buying a (town)house

Picture from here.

It’s been a strange couple of weeks here. I exchanged contracts on the townhouse I am buying yesterday. This is a relief. I felt a little uneasy about the whole business last week, as the bank seemed to be taking a long time on the final loan approval, which it turned out was owing to a technical glitch that held up the title search, and it was all fine. Then contracts were supposed to be exchanged on Wednesday, as per the sales advice, but I didn’t hear anything, so I asked next morning and my solicitor had sent in the contract but the seller’s solicitor hadn’t. Why, I asked myself. And waited. Thankfully that it all happened yesterday. Apparently these hiccups are all quite normal in this business, but when you don’t know quite what is going on it’s a tad nerve-wracking.

I think now I can safely say it’s mine. I feel so excited and pleased and grateful about the place I have. When I was looking at the sort of properties in my price range I at times felt quite despondent about the whole caper – mainly out of berating myself for having not done such a thing sooner and for making decisions in the past that meant that I was now looking at places that were in some cases pretty crummy (do not be deceived by the pictures online!). And I actually thought a two-bedroom unit with a carport was going to be the extent of it (though that would actually have been fine). So to have found this townhouse with so much more makes me very thankful (and if I think about the ten years in Sydney, where buying something just fell of the radar because it was so impossible, it’s totally amazing).

[I do hesitate to use terminology like “blessed” about such circumstances, particularly when they are connected to finances, because I just think it says unhelpful things about what “blessings” from God really are and are not and how he blesses. But that means I don’t know quite what to say when circumstances work in my favour (which they will sometimes, and other times not), but I will just be grateful. And, you know, God has been extravagant (though isn’t he always?) in that I thought I’d like a place with a bath, and I have the biggest bath/shower/spa combo I have ever seen in a unit in my life.]

It is a fairly conservative looking place, like something your retired grandparents might live in (except they’d never be able to climb over the wall into that shower/spa combo), being a fairly non-descript brick-and-tile building with vertical blinds visible (which I hate, but they ARE very good for angling the light), that won’t put me in the Frankie magazine or on the Apartment Therapy website, and at times I thought I should be creative and buy a block of land in the country and live in old shipping containers or a salvaged wood hut ... But the reality is that that would be such an unworkable lifestyle. From Canberra you’d have to live somewhere like Captain’s Flat before it was actually cheap, and commuting every day would be a wearisome pain in the butt, and would I really want to be sitting out there on weekends by myself? I did actually look online at a tin shack by a creek way out near somewhere called Rugby that appealed, and maybe one day I can have a hut in the middle of nowhere for a weekender. This place is just a very sensible and secure investment (here’s hoping!), that should be fairly easy to live in. The suburb was gazetted in the 1970s so is older (not that I really care about that – and it means it has big trees, rather than some of the newer moonscapes) but there’s a whole new suburb going in next to it, which is going to see the shopping centre upgraded in the future etc, so hopefully I don’t go backwards. And it all means I won’t need to live in a caravan in Tasmania when I retire (because what else do you do if you’re a single person on a pension who doesn’t own property and has no family for any kind of support or care?), though I reckon I could have made a caravan in Tasmania work.

This whole week has been all over the place. Tuesday I raced off from work early, after getting final loan approval and raiding the bank, to ride home and get my car so I could drive to the solicitor’s office with a cheque for my life savings. Then the next day a lady from church celebrating her 70th birthday picked me up from work and took me to the Royal Canberra Golf Club for lunch, and I was gone from work for two hours. (She’s an hilarious English woman. I told her at lunch that how her and her husband interact reminds me of Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer in As Time Goes By and she said even their own children say that.) Then yesterday I had to sit at home for ages waiting for a house inspection on this rental property. I tried to cancel it, but as I hadn’t actually given notice, which I didn’t want to do till I had a settlement date for moving, and I hadn’t yet heard about contract exchange, they said I still had to have it. That was a frustrating waste of time (yay for no more six-monthly house inspections). So now I have to settle down and get back to work.

And now to the packing! Everything about buying a house is quite alright, except this part where you have to pack up all your stuff and move it from one place to the next.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Violent negative demands

So much to love about CS Lewis, and when I read such things as this, I smile and I "get" it (from the chapter titled Light and Shade in Surprised by Joy, which is really a very interesting chapter:
At the same time I now see that my view was closely connected with a certain lop-sidedness of temperament. I had always been more violent in my negative than in my positive demands. Thus, in personal relations, I could forgive much neglect more easily than the least degree of what I regarded as interference. At table I could forgive much insipidity in my food more easily than the least suspicion of what seemed to me excessive or inappropriate seasoning. In the course of life I could put up with any amount of monotony far more patiently than even the smallest disturbance, bother, bustle, or what the Scotch call kurfuffle. Never at any age did I clamour to be amused; always and at all ages (where I dared) I hotly demanded not to be interrupted.
I did this test to see whether I was a Highly Sensitive Person recently. Apparently if you score over 14 you are highly sensitive, and even being fairly reluctant I scored 20. Oh well. And some of it rang very true (like my extreme aversion to watching violence – believe it or not I haven’t even finished watching the latest version of Les Miserables, which I kept stopping because I thought it was violent). I guess it is good to be aware of your points of difference.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

On generosity - a poetic prayer

An abundance of geraniums given to me by an 89-year-old lady at church.

On Generosity
by Walter Brueggemann

On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around

we are going to run short
of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around

and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.

and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing

we watch
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.

It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance.........mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness.....
all things Easter new.....
all around us, toward us and
by us

all things Easter new.

Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.