Beautiful Bag End

Bag End.jpg

In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a Hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. ~ JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit

It’s been a year this week since I went to New Zealand and I’ve been going back through some of the photos I took during the trip recently. I found this one today from Hobbiton which I’d always liked but had never really done much with. 

It’s of Bag End, the set of the Hobbit-hole home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films. 

Hobbiton is an incredible location and Bag End is definitely one of the highlights. It really is as beautiful as it looks in the films; even more so actually as you can see all of the details that just pass too quickly on screen to take in.

If you ever get the chance to go I’d highly recommend it. It was a wonderful afternoon.

Photo © CJ Levinson 2015

Q&A #2 – Writing, Zombies, Creationism and Batman

I had planned an interesting post for today but it’s been stinking hot in Newcastle – it passed 39’C where I am – and my brain has kind of shut down. I tried waking it up but it just went “nope stupid human, not gonna happen, come back tomorrow” and went back to being lazy. So I don’t think that post is going to get written today.

Instead I thought I’d do another Q&A as I enjoyed doing the last one and I had a few questions left over. I hope you enjoy them and if you want to suggest any for the future, feel free to in the comments.

  • What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to write?

I think the best advice I ever received is to never stop enjoying writing and that’s the main thing I’d pass on. There will be days where everything flows and writing feels amazing and there will be days where nothing works and you want to smash your keyboard or throw your pen at the wall. And sometimes there’ll be days where it all just feels kind of, well, meh. The best thing you can do is to try to always enjoy writing no matter what because as soon as it starts to feel like a chore, or you feel like you’re writing just because you have to fulfil some deadline, then it becomes much harder and you’re less likely to finish it or to produce something of quality. If you write because you love to write then it doesn’t matter if no one reads it, or if everyone you know hates it, or if it’s never published; as long as you’ve enjoyed writing it, that’s what matters. And to me that’s what being a writer is all about.

The other thing I’d say is that if you want to write, you have to read. A lot of people seem to think that the two are separate but I’ve never believed that. Reading, and reading regularly, keeps your mind sharp but more importantly it teaches you the tools of the trade. Reading improves your vocabulary, expands your knowledge, and teaches you different styles and approaches to writing that you might not otherwise be aware of. And most importantly, reading reminds us of why we wanted to write in the first place, to tell our own stories that will hopefully touch people in the same way. In my opinion the best thing a writer can do is read. And read a lot.

I’d also suggest that it’s a good idea to keep your expectations in check. Anyone can be a writer; all you need is a pen and paper. Being a published author is different and there are a lot of factors which go into it that you cannot control – you may be an excellent writer but never be published and that’s just the way it is. Having unrealistic expectations will not help you and may actually stop you from listening to people and taking advice. Don’t misunderstand me: by expectations I don’t mean desire. There is nothing at all wrong with wanting to be published and wanting to be successful, and aiming and working towards that goal. Just don’t expect it to come to you on a silver platter because you think your novel is the Greatest Thing Ever I guess is what I mean. Like anything it takes hard work and I’m still trying to get there myself after 15 years and a number of small publications. But again, I write because I love it, and to me that’s the most important thing.

My last piece of advice: be careful with adverbs. I hate them and think they are a sign of lazy writing. If you ever find yourself writing “he said angrily”, stop and think if there’s a way you can show us that anger instead. Trust me, your writing will be much stronger for it.

  • Do you think Tony Abbott will ever be Prime Minister again?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: I know some of Abbott’s supporters are convinced he’ll have a chance to be Prime Minister again at some stage but I can’t see it. I think a lot of this comes from the idea that Turnbull is some kind of bandaid fix for the problems that afflicted the Coalition under Abbott’s time as PM; that Turnbull’s popularity will get them through the next election but eventually dissipate and then Abbott could regain the Prime Ministership. I’m sure that Kevin Rudd’s return probably gave them heart too.

The problem is that Tony Abbott is not Kevin Rudd and thinking that Turnbull is a temporary necessity also ignores the problems with Abbott’s leadership. Kevin Rudd still had public sympathy on his side from being dumped as PM in such a harsh way and it made a return to the top feasible; Abbott though was consistently polling disastrously and while there is some public sympathy for him, most people don’t want him back and would not be happy if the Coalition positioned him as a potential leader again.

The main problem with Tony Abbott is that he (and by extension his government) was perceived as out of touch with mainstream Australia and not listening to what people wanted; like his strong opposition to gay marriage, the knights and dames situation, climate change, his way of often politicising issues and giving them a religious context (again like gay marriage but also things like the state of science in schools and how that plays in to creationism and intelligent design), etc. He lost trust and popularity and so when Turnbull prevailed, the reaction was more relief from people than anger or surprise. And so I just can’t imagine the Coalition being able to justify returning him to power.

I can see Turnbull losing popularity at some stage, particularly if people become frustrated with him not being able to deliver the changes they assumed they’d get under a Turnbull leadership, but if Turnbull was to make a substantial misstep I imagine Scott Morrison is the one who’d be positioned to take over. And even then Julie Bishop would be a formidable contender too. I very much doubt it’s likely to happen any time soon though, if at all.

The best thing for people to do is to accept the truth: Abbott’s leadership is over and he won’t be returning. After the election, perhaps he could return to the cabinet as his experience would be useful, but that’s a long way off yet. Really people should just move on and let normal politics resume.

  • Speaking of that – do you think creationism should be taught in schools?

I think there is a place for talking about creationism in schools but no, I don’t think creationism and other ideas should be taught and particularly not alongside evolution in a science class.

Evolution is a theory, yes, but a theory in scientific terms isn’t the same as a theory generally: we might think of a theory as like an educated guess but in science a theory is an actual explanation or statement for why something exists that has been repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation. For instance, if I looked and said “ my hand has five fingers”, I am making a statement based on what I can observe and verify.

The same is true for the theory of evolution; it has been tested and reconfirmed many times and is the best explanation we have for how human beings came to be, based on our current understanding. It has stood up to scrutiny for a very long time but that does not mean it cannot be proven wrong, or refined, just that it is what is scientifically verifiable and correct right now. Something like creationism however is not and has in fact been disproven by scientific methods, like radiometric dating showing the age of the earth.

I understand creationism is important to people but I don’t believe that belief is reason to teach something in science classes that is thoroughly unscientific. If we did then it would be potentially misleading and confusing to students as presenting creationism alongside evolution would seem to give the idea a scientific weight it does not have.

This does not mean that creationism should not be in schools at all. Personally I believe it should be mentioned in detail as part of a theology course. But science classes are for science and creationism is not science.

  • How long do you think you’d survive in the zombie apocalypse?

I’d like to say quite a while but honestly I doubt I’d make it more than a few days, if that. I’m not the fastest runner and I think my fitness would hold me back. So yeah, zombies would be feasting on my yummy brains in no time.

My best bet would be to join a group and try to contribute through information and knowledge rather than strength. With a good group maybe I’d last a little while, who knows? Hopefully I’ll never have to find out!

  • Who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?

So with Batman v Superman coming out soon I’ve discussed this with a couple of friends recently, who all thought Batman. I just don’t get that. Superman is basically a God amongst humans; he has super strength, speed, can fly, is practically invulnerable, has heat vision, etc. I just don’t get how Batman is supposed to go up against Superman and win.

If Batman had time to prepare for a fight, sure, he could get a special kryptonite suit or something to even the odds, but even then all Superman has to do is fly away and use his heat vision. The only way I can see Batman winning is if Superman is completely unprepared and taken by surprise. Which isn’t really a fight then, is it?

So for me it’s Superman. I’ll be interested to see how they do it in the movie. Hopefully it makes sense.

  • What’s your favourite album?

My favourite album is probably also the first album I ever bought. Tina Arena’s Don’t Ask.

There are other albums I love too but listening to it always gives me the feeling of coming home. And there are some great songs on there, like Chains, Heaven Help My HeartSorrento Moon and Wasn’t It Good?.

If there was one album I’d want with me on a desert island and would never get sick of, it’s this one. Don’t think you can really ask for more than that.

Q&A #1 – Trump, Atheism, Love and Guns

So this is the first in a new series of posts I thought I’d start. I’ve always liked the idea of having a random q&a section on the blog; I thought it’d be a fun way to talk about some extra topics and help people to get to know me a little better. So that’s what this is.

The questions below are fairly random and are a mix of questions I’m often asked either online or in real life and others I’ve created to cover a few topics I’ve been wanting to write about. Like most bloggers I have a lot of ideas for posts that I end up not writing about for one reason or another and I thought this would be a good way to cover some of those topics too.

I’m looking to do this semi-regularly and I’d love it if, as I do more of these posts, people started to suggest questions and topics as well. So if you’ve got anything you’d like to ask, feel free to leave it in a comment or use my contact page.

I’m game for most questions, so go wild. 🙂

  • Do you believe in true love?

Yes and no. Do I believe there is just one person out there in the whole world we are destined to be with? No. I find that idea rather insipid to be honest and I dislike the idea of “The One’.

Actually I hate the idea of ’The One’. I think it’s unhealthy and spreads an unrealistic expectation of what we should be looking for in relationships. Basically it gives us permission to be extremely picky over partners and to turn down people who we could potentially be happy with simply because they don’t seem ‘perfect’. And then we wonder why we are alone.

So I don’t think there is any such thing as ‘The One’. I do however believe in love and think there are many people we can be compatible with throughout the course of our lives. We just have to be in the right place and frame of mind to be able to recognise them, and that usually means being willing to compromise and to recognise when our standards are unrealistic.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that we are destined to meet them though. They may live in another country or we may simply not be in the space to recognise them, etc. Whatever the reason sometimes people never meet and that’s sad but it’s okay. It’s life.

Personally I think the best thing is to try to be happy with your own company. If you’re happy with yourself then finding love and companionship is a bonus. And love often comes along when you’re not expecting it too.

  • Can an atheist be a moral person?

This is something that often comes up when people first realise I’m an atheist. Which surprised and insulted me at first but I think it’s because a lot of people relate morality to religious teachings and are curious what keeps someone’s moral compass in check if they don’t believe in God.

The truth is that morality isn’t about religion and I consider myself a very moral person despite no longer being of faith. Morality is something that is perceived to be closely tied to religion because that’s the way for thousands of years people were taught about good and evil, right and wrong, but when you actually think about it morality itself is a concept, a framework for how we should live our lives, that comes from being part of an evolved society.

I believe basic ideas of right and wrong are intrinsic to modern civilisation and are taught in many ways; through religion, yes, but also through school, books, movies, the media, our parents, elders, etc, and our modern world and laws are based on the same ideas. In other words I believe morality is a universal constant and just removing somebody from the religious world doesn’t suddenly make them more likely to commit a terrible act.

For instance, you could say that a devout religious person who is a convicted murderer would actually be a far less moral person than a peaceful atheist. Whether someone is a ‘good’ person or not has more to do with their upbringing and things like potential mental illness than whether they believe in God or not in my opinion.

  • What do you think will happen to Donald Trump? Could he really be President?

At this stage you’d have to say that yes, it’s a real possibility Trump could become President. My gut feeling however is that Trump won’t be President. I also don’t think he will win the Republican nomination either, although I am less sure about that as he has already lasted longer than I thought he would and his momentum seems to be growing.

The main reason I think he won’t get the nomination is that as the race goes on and more candidates drop out, eventually an anti-Trump challenger is going to galvanise support behind them. While Trump is definitely popular, he has relied a lot on his anti-immigration, anti-establishment demographic and you’d think as the process moves into other less conservative states that votes will start to solidify behind Trump’s main challenger. And eventually I think that will be too much for him.

Who that challenger will end up being though is another matter. Rubio seems to have shot himself in the foot recently with his debate performances and Cruz doesn’t seem well liked enough to rally enough people behind him. And Carson has never really recovered from some of his foreign policy comments earlier in the campaign. My guess is that Rubio will finally emerge but there is a real possibility that Trump could ride the wave right to the nomination.

Which, if that ends up happening, would have seemed inconceivable a year ago. But the thing is that Trump is not simply the anti-establishment fluke people have been taking him for. What Trump actually is is a very shrewd political opportunist; the Republican Party has largely been about obstruction for the last ten years and add to that many conservative radio and tv hosts popularising immigration and minorities and all Trump has done is taken the opportunity to personify that. You can’t blame Trump for playing to a demographic that has largely been created for him.

I still think that in the end there are far more people in the Republican Party who disagree with Trump and that eventually they will rally around someone like Rubio. The problem for the Republicans though is that most of the candidates seem fairly bland and taking someone bland into the main election cycle against Hillary Clinton, or even Bernie Sanders, could be a huge problem. But that’s the reality they are left with.

My guess is that in the end it will be Rubio vs. Clinton and Clinton will win but of course Clinton comes with her own baggage which will pull her back. She would then face a real challenge in 2020 from a much stronger Republican candidate. As for Trump I don’t think he’d run as an independent – it would mean spending more money and I think he’s already got enough exposure out of this. But who knows? He is very hard to predict.

Of course this is all just guesswork from an outsider with an interest in US politics, so please take it all with a grain of salt. I’ll be curious to see exactly what happens and if I’m way off too.

  • Do you think countries would be safer if everyone owned a gun?

This is something that has come up a few times recently with the terrible shootings in the US and the way Australia’s gun laws are sometimes mentioned in the debate making people re-question them. Which is understandable I guess seeing as there is a lot of misinformation going on about our gun laws, most of which is not true.

Personally, and I’ll take this from the point of view of if Australia’s gun laws were potentially being loosened, I am not in any way in favour of more people potentially owning firearms, let alone everyone having access to one. I think the laws have made a big difference here and we have not had another Port Arthur style shooting since which is not a coincidence. More importantly they also do not stop people from being able to own a firearm, just that certain weapons are prohibited and overall it’s not been a big loss.

I think our gun laws are sensible and if the US was to try to do something about gun violence, ours wouldn’t be a bad model to look at. But obviously it is a very different country, with a very different gun culture, and I’m not sure it would work the same way there even if there was the appetite to try.

I’m not unsympathetic towards people who do think more guns are the answer though and I know some people still believe that here in Australia. I think it’s understandable that when people see violence they would want to look at ways of protecting and defending themselves.

I just think though that if you stop and actually consider gun violence as a whole, particularly in the West, you realise how while mass shootings are awful, they’re actually just a small part of a much larger problem. The number of accidental shootings in the West is actually far, far higher than the number of assaults and murders committed with firearms and so if you were to multiply that by adding a vast number of new guns into a country, well that is potentially a recipe for disaster. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and the more guns that are available, the more opportunities there are for people to be hurt and killed either accidentally or maliciously.

If everyone had access to a gun it might result in fewer mass shootings, yes, but if it also resulted in a much higher number of accidental shootings and deaths, in the end is that really a trade worth making? Not for me.

I think our gun laws were the best thing John Howard did while he was Prime Minister… I was often on the other side of politics from him but this was one of the good things he did for all Australians and I’ll always be thankful for that. However the US tackles the problem I hope that it is successful and that something happens sooner than later.

  • I’m looking to get my first SLR. Which camera and lens should I buy?

I’m asked this quite a lot and my first piece of advice is, before you buy an SLR, stop and think about if you really need one. Any camera can take good photos. The most important thing is learning about photography; owning a better camera won’t make you take better photos but learning about photographic technique will.

SLRs are great cameras and I highly recommend them but only if you have started to reach the limitations of the camera you are currently using. SLRs will help you to take better photos at night, for instance, and can give you more control over your exposure, but they will not help you to take better photos, just ones with more detail. This is a mistake a lot of people make and they often end up regretting their purchase.

Saying you are one of those people who does need an SLR I would recommend buying an entry level model and seeing how you go with it. A lot of people spend thousands of dollars on getting the best camera, like a Canon 5DS, but they don’t need it and never get the best out of it. Starting with an entry level camera allows you to work out exactly what you need and then if you need to you can upgrade once you find you are reaching its limitations.

For recommendations the Canon 760D is a very good camera, and with a twin lens kit (normal lens and telephoto) that’s pretty much all most people would ever need. I personally prefer Canon over Nikon but a camera like the Nikon D3300 is very good too and would suit the same purpose. I really like Olympus gear too and being mirrorless cameras, they’re much smaller and lighter which is a bonus. Something like the E-PL7 is a great little camera.

I also recommend getting something like Photoshop Elements or Lightroom, no matter what kind of camera you own. You can spend thousands of dollars on gear but a good editor will help you get more out of your photos than any camera or lens. I think Lightroom is the best photographic purchase I have ever made and it doesn’t take long to learn either.

  • Pepsi or Coke?

Can I say neither? I guess I’ve never been particularly into cola, the taste just doesn’t do much for me for some reason. If I had to choose I don’t mind Coke Zero every now and then so I would probably say Coke. I’d rather have a lemonade or lemon, lime and bitters any day though.

Childhood Heroes

Did you have a childhood hero growing up? Maybe a superhero you loved or a sports star who set the world on fire? Or maybe it was a parent or a family member who inspired you to try to be like them?

I had a lot of heroes growing up but I think most of all I loved the swashbuckling heroes from old adventure novels. As a child I used to read a lot of the children’s versions of classics like Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers and Treasure Island; I loved them to bits and used to love imagining myself as part of the adventure, fighting alongside the musketeers, etc.

I guess more than anything I just loved reading though… I devoured anything over the years, from The Velveteen Rabbit and The Selfish Giant to Black Beauty, Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton… in particular The Fantastic Five and The Secret Seven were big favourites of mine and continued my love of adventure stories. I loved Timmy… I thought he was as brave (if not braver!) than any of the others and I’ve always wanted a dog ever since.

Around the same time I fell in love with the stories of Robin Hood and King Arthur, and a little later The Chronicles of Narnia. Part of that was because I spent several years in England when I was younger and was exposed to them at just the right age but I also think it was because the themes really resonated with me. Themes of good and evil, love and loss, sacrifice, are universal and are the perfect tools for teaching children about morality and right and wrong and I guess they resonated strongly with me at that age.

Dad and Chris (castle)Of all the heroes and characters I loved Robin Hood the most. I went through a stage for a couple of years where I pretty much devoured everything to do with Robin that I could. My parents bought me a costume and toy swords and I used to run around pretending to be Robin Hood vanquishing the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. We used to visit Sherwood Forrest and some of the castles in England, particularly Arundel which I loved, and I must have watched the old Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood film on video a hundred times.

We went to see Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves at the movies too when it came out in 1991, which was a bit of a funny story. We’d just moved back to Australia from England and my parents got the public holidays mixed up; they took me to see it on what should have been a school day. We wondered the whole time why there were no other kids around until we finally realised. My 1st year teacher seemed to find it funny at least.

So yes, I loved Robin Hood. He was my first big hero I guess and in many ways those stories and others like King Arthur and The Three Musketeers helped to teach me the skills I’d need growing up and eventually led me to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman and so many other stories I love now.

As I got older I found that my heroes started to change and in particular I started to admire real people more. I’ve loved tennis for about as long as I can remember and in the early/mid 90s Andre Agassi was my favourite player. I loved the flair with which he played the game and also the good works he did off the court. Even now, while I love watching Federer and Nadal, Agassi is still special for me and always will be.

I also enjoyed cricket growing up. This was the golden era of Australian cricket and my favourite player was Mark Waugh. I even wrote a letter to him when I was younger; my handwriting was atrocious in those days but I think it was the neatest letter I’ve ever written. I don’t think I ever got a response but I did get his autograph once.

The other player I really admired was Chris Cairns. Cairns played for New Zealand during the 90s and early 2000s and I loved the way he played the game. He is one of cricket’s great underappreciated talents in my opinion.

There were other people I really admired too. Learning about politics in school in the mid/late 90s I found myself admiring Bob Carr. I also quite liked Bill Clinton and Harrison Ford and I admired Nelson Mandela immensely.

But eventually all heroes must be tested, even ones in real life. And some heroes are destined to fall.

In mythology the hero’s fall is often the heart of the story and even in real life those moments that test us might be the ones that end up defining our lives. If you think about Robert Downey Jr, for instance, he went through hell but the way he has recovered from his darkest years has informed much of his success today. Likewise if you read the stories about King Arthur, the real drama and tragedy of the story comes in how Arthur is tested and particularly the price Arthur must pay for his liaison with Morgause, which eventually leads to his battle with his son Mordred on the fields of Camlann.

Likewise Star Wars isn’t really about droids and space battles, it’s about the battle for Vader’s soul and his fall to the Dark Side, and now Kylo Ren’s fall.

And that’s the thing about heroes. Whether they are real people or fictional, we want to believe in them, but we also like to watch them struggle. It makes for a good story. We raise them on pedestals and turn them into giants but in the end, heroes are human and flawed and capable of making mistakes. Sometimes terrible mistakes. Mistakes like flying too close to the sun, or taking performance enhancing drugs, both from hubris. It’s those potential for flaws that make them interesting.

My childhood heroes were flawed too, both in reality and in fiction.

For instance, Andre Agassi revealed in his autobiography that he used crystal meth in 1997, and worse still that he failed a drug test and lied to cover it up. Chris Cairns has recently been embroiled in a match fixing controversy and while he was acquitted, his name will probably forever be associated with it now, whether he was actually guilty or not. And we all know of Bill Clinton’s dalliances and indiscretions.

Mum and ChrisEven Robin Hood doesn’t escape scrutiny. Robin is usually presented as the archetypal hero but if you think about it, he is still stealing and committing vicious felonies. In fact, recently discovered text written by a monk in a medieval history book called The Polychronicon suggests that Robin Hood “infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies”, which is hardly a glowing endorsement.

There were actually rumours about ten years ago that a new film about Robin Hood was going to turn the story on its head and make the Sheriff of Nottingham the focus and Robin the villain. It eventually turned into a more familiar version of the story starring Russell Crowe in 2010 but I can understand more now where that original idea came from.

The reason heroes often fall in literature is because they are meant to be human like us. And the same is true for sports stars and celebrities, our modern heroes, who the media and fandom often like to worship like gods but are capable of the same mistakes and poor judgment as the rest of us. Whether they are Robin Hood or Andre Agassi, they may seem larger than life to us, but they can fall and fail, and that subsequent struggle is the thing that makes them interesting and compelling, whether in fiction or real life.

I mean, a story about a hero who always wins isn’t particularly interesting, is it? Nor does that story feel particularly real to us, because there’s nothing we can recognise in it. A hero who is challenged and fights and falls and gets up again is far more interesting, as that’s what we can see in our own lives too.

That’s why I think a lot of people were so enamoured with Agassi as a player and a man, for instance, the fact that he reached the pinnacle of tennis, fell on hard times, and then came back again was such an incredible story. And while his revelations are sad, they don’t change his feats themselves or the player he was. He is one ‘hero’ or star who is more interesting for his fall.

Maybe all that sounds a bit silly, holding up real people next to myths and legends, but we do idolise sport stars and celebrities and the hero worship some people have for them is almost scary at times. They’re heroes to some people every bit as much as Robin Hood or King Arthur or Achilles were. Perhaps more so, as their exploits are inescapably splashed across every tv screen and phone, and children look up to them as role models, making every failure and fall all the more problematic.

I guess I’ve always been interested in all forms of heroes and I find the psychology behind our need for them particularly interesting. The main reason we need them as children in particular is not so much make believe and fantasy as one might think but rather because they give a face to the human experience and in particular our own common cultural experiences.

Joseph Campbell, who wrote The Hero With A Thousand Faces among other works, believed that the reason we create myths and heroes is so we can reflect common real world experiences in them, using those stories to draw inspiration and to help overcome challenges in our own every day lives. And that’s particularly important for children.

If you think about the common trials a child goes through on the journey to adulthood, it makes sense. When they are young they first try to find their place in the world and to assert their independence, then they move through school and have to navigate things like a social hierarchy and bullying. As they get older still they start to inherit responsibilities and begin to work, perhaps experience love for the first time, and begin to pull away from and challenge their parents. Perhaps they even have their first experience of death and loss. All of these things are different for each child but they are common themes right through childhood and it makes sense that we’d explore them through our stories and myths and draw parallels with similar journeys in sport, etc.

That is one reason why I find it odd when I hear people say they don’t like children, particularly boys, reading adventure stories and playing with action figures and pretending to be Zorro or Spider-Man or Han Solo, etc. Usually the reason is because they don’t want to expose children to violence and themes of death and destruction too early and whether that is healthy at all.

Birthday PartyBut worrying about that is missing the point. Children, particularly boys, need that kind of physical outlet and they usually won’t get into it until they are ready for it. But more importantly, an interest in, say, superheroes and wanting to play good guys vs bad guys actually isn’t necessarily about wanting violence at all; it’s a child’s way of making sense of their place in the world through play, becoming a superhero to give them a feeling of power and freedom in a world where they have to conform to the wishes of their parents and teachers. Similarly using weapons or superpowers in play isn’t so much about killing things as much as it is about feeling in control and being powerful. Most psychologists think it is very healthy behaviour and suggest that parents can even use it to introduce concepts to children.

In any case I dressed up as Robin Hood and played with toy swords and action figures and I think I turned out all right.

Anyway I guess the reason I’ve been thinking about this lately is because I’ve been researching mythological archetypes for a couple of story ideas I’m playing around with and as you’d expect Campbell’s idea of the monomyth, or hero’s journey, keeps coming up again and again. I’m not sure I particularly want to draw on that archetype – if anything I’m more interested in subverting it – but it has made me look back on many of the stories I loved growing up and think about how many of them fit into that structure. Star Wars is a well known example, as is The Lion King, and King Arthur and Robin Hood do too to a degree. More recently The Matrix and the first Hunger Games are prime examples and even The Wizard of Oz draws on it too. So I guess that really does show how most stories and themes have been recycled over the years.

The other thing they all have in common is that pretty much all of the characters from those stories are flawed in some way or other, which again goes along with the hero only being as interesting as the force that tests them. Which would seem like a good entry point for subverting the whole structure if I wanted to do that. Something to think about.

So looking back after all these years, do I feel any differently about my childhood heroes now? Yes and no. I still love the stories and legends of Robin Hood and whenever a new version is announced, I’m always excited about it; if there ever was a real Robin Hood though (which seems up for debate), that Robin I’m less enamoured with. I still want a dog like Timmy and still have a soft spot for Narnia as well, although as an adult I am much more uncomfortable with Lewis’s use of Susan at the end.

Andre Agassi I still admire a lot but I was disappointed to hear of his drug use and cover up and that will probably always be a bit of a sour note for me. Mark Waugh has become an interesting commentator and I enjoy listening to him immensely. Bill Clinton I still feel much the same about.

Chris Cairns is the difficult one for me. I admired him enormously as a cricketer and the idea that he might have played a part in match fixing of any kind tarnishes that memory. Nothing has been proven but it doesn’t feel quite right either. I’d have to say I treasure the memories of him as a player but I feel let down by everything since. It will probably depend on what his side of the story is when he eventually decides to tell it.

Regardless I am thankful for all of them though. They all played a part in my childhood and in making me who I am today. The stories they told me and the lessons they imparted will stay with me for the rest of my life.

And so whatever happens, in that way my childhood heroes will live on, like all good stories and characters do, in me.

I like that idea. 🙂

Along the Lakefront

Belmont Lakefront

Along the lakefront
All is calm
As the sun sets
On another day

I took this shot earlier this week while going for a walk by the lakefront in Belmont. The sun was setting and the light reflecting off the water gave the scene an almost dreamlike quality which came across well in the final photo.

Looking at the photo it reminds me a little of a painting which actually wasn’t the effect I was initially going for or realised I had captured. I like it though and I didn’t do much editing to the photo either – it really was that beautiful and dreamlike.

Sometimes I deliberately edit my photos to make them closer to a painting but it’s always a complicated process and never looks quite as natural, more like digital art. It was nice capturing that look in camera this time and it feels authentic.

Which just goes to show there’s no substitute for capturing something in camera. And for how amazing Mother Nature’s natural beauty can be.

Photo and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2016
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The Truth About Love

Footprints in the Sand

It’s half three
In the morning
And I find myself
Thinking of you

Lying here
I cannot help but wonder
If you still
Think of me too

Did you know that
I would have
Followed you anywhere
You asked me to?

I would have gone
Through Hell’s gates
If it would have
Brought me closer to you

But now
So much has changed
And this is one place
I cannot follow too

How I wish
I could hear your voice
Because I am lonely
And miss you

But what would I say
When it still hurts
And there is nothing
I can do?

I wasn’t looking
For love,
Never thought I would find
Someone like you

But that is love
And when it comes along
There is nothing
You can do

You made me
Feel special
Like I could do anything
I wanted to

I felt safe
And warm in your arms
And I knew
That you wanted me too

Now I feel
Lonely and cold;
It is over
And I could not reach you

We hurt each other
And you pulled away
And just like that,
We were through

And I know
That I must be strong
And find a way
To live without you

And I know
Life will go on
But in my heart
I will always love you

For you
Are my heart and soul
And whatever comes
That will always be true

So if
You ever think of me
Please think kindly
As I will of you

And if
You ever speak of me
Please remember
What I meant to you

And please
Have no regrets;
One day everything ends,
Even love too

What matters
Is everything we shared
And the joy
We held on to

And I do not know
If one day
I will ever find
Another you

I loved you
With all of my heart
And I am sorry
It all fell through

But the truth about love
Is it may not last;
Trust
Is all we can do

And so
If this is goodbye
Then I wish you well
And happiness too

May you have
A wonderful life
And find someone
To share it with you

And please
Do not worry for me
I will be fine
And find my way through

One day
I will love again;
I am just sorry
It will not be you


I wrote this poem over a few night this week. It was good being able to let it out and I wanted the poem to be reflective rather than sad, which I think comes across.

Originally it wasn’t meant to be a series of haiqua but eventually it took that shape structurally as it seemed to give the poem the simple, lyrical flow I wanted it to have.

I took the photo during the trip to New Zealand last year. It was one of my favourites from the trip.


Photo: Footprints in the Sand © CJ Levinson 2015
Poem licenced under Creative Commons

Looking Towards Clovelly

Looking across towards Clovelly Beach at sunset.

Under a clear sky
I search for answers;
None come,
Only memories

This is a photo from my archives. I don’t think I’ve shared it before on the blog, just on Facebook and Flickr, so it should be new to most people.

I had meant to post something else today but I’ve had a hard week. Last night was three years since my father’s suicide attempt and I’ve been finding it quite difficult. It’s basically been three years of hell and while I keep thinking it will get easier, it never does. Maybe it never will.

One of my friends suggested that I use photography to try and focus on something positive today and so, as I didn’t feel up to getting out to take any photos, I decided to look back through my archives instead. Which is when I came across this.

It’s from back in late 2012 and it’s one of my favourite photos. Perhaps it’s the water or the light but I have always found it very peaceful and calming and I often come back to it when I am having a bad day.

I also find it quite positive as no matter what I am feeling, it always reminds me that the sun will rise the next day.

I took it on a walk, looking back towards Clovelly Beach, and looking at it I can still hear the wind roaring around me and the seagulls calling and breathe in the rich smell of the ocean.

People often ask me if I miss Sydney since moving to Newcastle. The answer is yes and no. I don’t miss the noise and the traffic etc but I do miss my friends and the culture and beautiful scenes like this most of all.

This was the Sydney I loved, the Sydney I was heartbroken to have to leave just a few months after taking this, when everything fell apart.

Interestingly my father was with me at the time I took the photo. I feel like that was one of the last real moments we shared together, before he disappeared behind the mask of someone I didn’t recognise.

Mental illness is a terrible thing but I think one of the things that doesn’t get talked about as much is how it impacts the people around them. How families suffer watching the person they love transform into someone else; how they can suffer horrible abuse but have to endure it because they are not the priority; how their lives are interrupted too and are never the same again.

Families and friends are the silent victims of mental illness. I just wish they received more attention and understanding. I know it would have made a huge difference for my mother and I and helped us in recognising that what we were experiencing was not acceptable and that we weren’t alone.

I hope you like the photo and the haiqua and that perhaps, if you’re having a bad day as well, it can help you find peace too.

Photo © CJ Levinson 2012
Haiqua © CJ Levinson 2016

Sarcophagus in Macro

Tutankhamun Sarcophagus 1

Oh to live
In ancient times
For just a day,
What wonders would we find?

These photos are from a small statue I own. I have a small collection of Egyptian figures and vases and this is one of my favourite pieces.

I’ve always found the lines and etchings on the statue interesting and I thought I’d put it under a macro lens to examine up close. I really like the results; the textures look very different and dramatic.

I wanted the photos to have a bit of an old-fashioned look and they came out well in black and white.

Tutankhamun 2

Close up of the eyes

Tutankhamun 3

Lines and shadowsTutankhamun 4

Rough textures

Tutankhamun 5

Curved lines

Tutankhamun Sarcophagus 6

Heiroglyphs

Photos and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2016

The Old Man and the Boy

Man By the Lake

On a beautiful clear day
Two people sat on a park bench
An old man and a young boy
Watching the world pass by

What is it like to be a child?
The man asked the boy
It’s been so long I cannot remember
What it felt like to be so young

Being young is not so bad,
The boy replied to the man
It can be hard and frustrating
But I know I have much to learn

And what is it like growing old?
The boy asked the man
Does it scare you to know
You are running out of time?

Growing old can be difficult,
The man answered the boy
But not so hard as living with regret
And knowing you have wasted your life

And how do you feel about adulthood?
The man asked the boy
Do you know what you want to be
When you grow up?

I never want to grow up,
The boy replied to the man
Just because I will get older doesn’t mean
I can’t stay young at heart

And how do you feel about love?
The boy asked the man
Have you ever fallen in love
And did it last?

Love can break your heart,
The man said to the boy
I loved once and swore I never would again
And now I am alone

Whatever you do, don’t be like me,
The man told the boy
There are few things worse in life
Than living with unfulfilled dreams

I promise, I won’t be like you,
The boy said to the man
I will make something of my life
And even if I fail, at least I shall have tried

The old man nodded and they sat in silence
As people walked by around them
Oblivious to their conversation
Lost in their own lives


I wrote this poem over a couple of nights this week. For a fairly short poem it was quite challenging to write, more than I thought it would be.

I felt the overall structure of the poem was important and I spent a long time refining each stanza. I specifically wanted to try to tell the story in a minimal way so as not to distract from the conversation and finding that flow was probably the most difficult part of the poem. I like how it came out in the end.

Something I often think about is if I could somehow give advice to my younger self, what would I say? That’s what initially inspired the poem and the boy and the old man are meant to the same person, years apart.

They are not meant to be me, however, so much as a reflection of society in general and the way we are often forced to conform from a young age and the path that sets us on for the rest of our lives.

I’m not sure what I would say in that situation but I suspect it would be a variation on some of what the old man says. I would probably tell myself to not be afraid to take chances as you’ll never know where they might take you.

The photo is one I took a couple of years ago in Sydney’s Centennial Park. I think it suits the poem well. I like to think this is the man the boy eventually grows into, on his way to becoming the old man one day in the future.


Photo: Man By the Lake © CJ Levinson 2014
Poem licenced under Creative Commons