Sunrise 31/07/2014

Sunrise 31/7/2014

Goodbye grandmother
Thank you for your love
And laughter;
We will miss you

Beautiful sunrise this morning. My mother and I stayed with my grandfather last night and I took this from his balcony.

My grandmother passed away on Tuesday morning. It was a big shock to all of us and very sad but it is a bit of a blessing as well as she had terrible dementia and we’ve found some solace knowing that she is finally at peace.

She was cremated this morning. She would have loved this sunrise.

Photo and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2014

O Christmas Tree

O Christmas Tree 2012

Lights and carols
Smiles everywhere
But my heart misses you
This Christmas

Our Christmas tree for this year. We were going to buy a new tree as our old tree broke last year and this spare one is really a bit too small for all our ornaments but as we’re going to be moving soon, we thought it was better to wait. We still managed to get everything on it in the end, more or less.

Putting the ornaments up I found several my grandmother had given us, as well as some beautiful embroidered Christmas pictures she had made for us that I’d forgotten about. I was thinking of her and everything else that’s happened this year when I wrote the haiqua.

With the photo I wanted to try to make it look a little like a Christmas card, so I edited the photo to remove a lot of the detail and make it look more like a painting. I like how it turned out and think I’ll get it printed on canvas at some stage for next Christmas.

The collage below shows a few other angles of the tree as well. I used the Diptic app to create the collage. It’s one of my favourite apps and well worth checking out if you haven’t tried it – would make a good Christmas gift for someone if you’ve run out of ideas too.

Christmas Tree Diptic

Photos and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2012

Waverley Cemetery Panorama

Stone tombs
Looking out
Over an endless ocean:
They still remember

Took this panorama looking out across Waverley Cemetery and the ocean during the Bondi to Bronte beach walk we did last week. It’s a very peaceful spot and one of my favourites along the entire walk; the view is spectacular and I often like to stop there for a few minutes to think and enjoy the peace and quiet.

I know a lot of people find cemeteries quite eerie places but I’ve always found them interesting, particularly as subjects for photography and my writing. As a child we lived next to the cemetery at St. Jude’s Church while my parents worked there as vergers and I remember thinking about all the tombs and how sometimes they almost seemed like trees, listening silently to the world go by. I’m often reminded of that when walking past Waverley Cemetery as well, with all the old tombs looking out across the ocean, and that’s what inspired the haiku.

You can click on the photo to make it larger to see it in more detail as well.

Photo and haiku © CJ Levinson 2012

Where the Dead Rest

Waverley Cemetery

Marble tombs
Forgotten by the world:
Where the dead rest
Forevermore

Went to Gosford yesterday to look at a few houses to rent (no luck unfortunately). It was a long drive and on the way back I went for a short walk around Bronte to stretch my legs. I took this photo outside Waverley Cemetery, just before sunset.

The cemetery opened in 1877 and is one of the most historic sites in Sydney. It’s a lovely spot on the top of cliffs overlooking the ocean and many notable people are buried there, including poet Henry Lawson and Edmund Barton, Australia’s first Prime Minister.

I’ve walked around the cemetery before but for some reason the condition of many of the graves seemed to jump out at me yesterday. The cemetery is well cared for but many of the graves are so old now that they’re almost impossible to read and walking by, I kept wondering who they were, what lives they had lived – if they were remembered. I guess we’ll never know.

It makes me wonder how we’ll be remembered, in 140 years.

Photo and haiku © CJ Levinson 2011

Lest We Forget

ANZAC Cove and New Zealand Point by Frank Hurley

“When You Go Home,
Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow,
We Gave Our Today.”
Epitaph at Kohima memorial cemetery

Yesterday was ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, commemorating the Gallipoli landing on April 25, 1915. Of the more than 44,000 Allied deaths at Gallipoli almost 11,000 were ANZACs; over 130,000 soldiers died on both sides.

This year was the 95th anniversary of the campaign and Gallipoli is still seen as a defining moment in Australian, New Zealand and Turkish history. The operation was a strategic and military failure but it was the moment both Australia and New Zealand started to emerge and forge our own identities, separate from Britain, in the wider world, and it also laid the groundwork for the formation of the Turkish Republic eight years later under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a commander at Gallipoli who became Turkey’s first president.

There is a dawn service held at ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli each year to commemorate the fallen and ANZAC Day has expanded over the years to remember all  those who have died and served Australia and New Zealand; from World War I and II, to Korea, Vietnam, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq. Usually there are services and veterans’ marches in every capital city.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Gallipoli campaign but I must admit I have slightly mixed feelings about ANZAC Day. As a day of remembrance and reflection it’s something I value greatly, particularly knowing how lucky I am to live in a free country and the sacrifices many Australians have made in her name. What I don’t like about ANZAC Day, however, is the  way we often overlook New Zealand and Turkey in the commemorations, and particularly the nationalistic fervour that sometimes overwhelms it.

In recent years ANZAC Day has become more like a day of national pride in Australia. That’s not necessarily a bad thing except sometimes it’s seen more as a national holiday than a day of remembrance and some Australians think if you don’t wrap yourself in the Australian flag and wear green and gold, you’re being unpatriotic. Personally I try to commemorate ANZAC Day in my own way, looking at old photographs from Gallipoli and reflecting quietly on the losses on both sides and what it means to be Australian, but that attitude has begun to intrude on ANZAC Day more and more. It’s got to the point where the role of New Zealand is often overlooked in Australian commemorations and some Australians almost consider ANZAC Cove to be Australian soil, even though Gallipoli is still Turkish territory. I often wonder if we’re starting to lose what ANZAC Day is really about: remembering the cost of war.

Worse, though, is when people seem to have no respect for the ANZAC legacy at all. A war memorial in Sydney was vandalised on Saturday night, with a flag pole broken and garbage strewn around the Cenotaph. Why? What kind of person would do that? There was also a furore recently over the suggestion that because ANZAC Day fell on a Sunday this year, there shouldn’t be a public holiday in lieu on the Monday as it would be disrespectful (something I agreed with). But there was a public outcry against the idea and so the holiday stood. Likewise Kmart and other retailers recently applied to be able to trade on ANZAC Day morning, which RSLs were outraged by. Both cases show that people are beginning to associate ANZAC Day as more of a holiday than a day of reflection, which is troubling.

 

I’ve come across that kind of thing myself. I caught the bus home from Bondi on Saturday and a couple stood next to me, about my age or perhaps slightly older. Their language was vulgar, so much so that I won’t repeat most of it, and they spent most of the trip talking about an all-day party they were having on Sunday, planning to get so wasted they’d need Monday and Tuesday to recover and to “fuck like bunnies” all night. I have no idea if they even knew Sunday was ANZAC Day or not. Worse, though, they were standing in the way of the door and when an elderly woman stumbled into them as she was getting off, one of them called after her, “Fucking bitch. I should hit you so fucking hard for that. I hope you drop dead.”

They really got under my skin. First, I don’t see why such abysmal language is necessary in public. There was a little girl in front of me who heard all of it – and believe me, most of it she definitely wouldn’t have heard before. But much worse was the way they treated the woman. She was old enough to have been a nurse or war bride in World War II; is this the way we talk to our elders? To abuse them the night before ANZAC Day? Who knows what she has seen or done in her life. And what about the party? Getting that wasted on ANZAC Day of all days? Don’t you have any respect?

Maybe I’m off the mark but I think the ANZAC legacy deserves more respect than that. I know the original ANZACs wanted ANZAC Day to be as much a day of celebration as commemoration but I think the very least you can do is to spare a few minutes to think about how lucky we are for all we have on this one day of the year – and perhaps to abstain from getting so drunk that you won’t be able to remember any of it in the morning.

But perhaps it’s ignorance that is the real problem. After all, how can you really respect something if you don’t know the true story behind it? I wonder how many Australians actually know the true story of Gallipoli? Not the legend that has arisen since but what really happened? Somehow I doubt many do. There’s a famous quote by Alan Bond after winning the America’s Cup; his crew had been behind at one stage and he commented afterwards “it was just like Gallipoli, and we won that one”. That is simply wrong (not to mention insensitive). The Gallipoli campaign was a complete disaster from the beginning, ending when the Allies pulled out in January 1916 – yet it’s a misconception I hear again and again. Likewise many young people believe the first ANZACs gave their lives to protect Australia from invasion. Again that’s not true. The Allies were the invaders; the purpose of the campaign was to capture Istanbul (then Constantinople) and provide sea access to Russia, a campaign in a war we joined because of our ties to Great Britain. Also, Gallipoli is often referred to as the birth of our national consciousness, but the Western Front was just as important. Some Australians don’t even seem to know that New Zealand was part of the ANZAC Corps as well: at least one student at Queensland University was “shocked” recently when a New Zealand professor told them what ANZAC really stood for.

I can’t say any of it surprises me. I’m convinced the majority of Australians (and perhaps it’s true for other countries as well) don’t know their own history well enough. If we did there would be more sympathy for Indigenous Australians in particular and figures like Ned Kelly and Jimmy Governor wouldn’t be so notorious. I guess I can understand why; history is often dull and legends tend to take on lives of their own. But I don’t believe you can know who you are unless you know where you truly come from. That’s why I’ve always been interested in learning about the colonies, and Gallipoli, and why I began to research my family tree as well. I think most Australians would be surprised by how different much of our history really is. I doubt many people even know the extent of our deployments outside of Gallipoli, or just how close we came to being occupied by Japan in World War II.

I guess I’m just afraid that we’re slowly losing what is really important about ANZAC Day: remembering the fallen and our troops around the world, and the true cost and horror of war. Instead some people barely seem aware of it; for others it’s becoming more a day of national pride and while there is room for that as well, it shouldn’t be the focus. Each year ANZAC Day is being commemorated by more young people, at their schools and with their families, so that is a good sign at least. It shows they want to remember, to hear the stories and know what happened. If we can pass on the true history of Gallipoli to them, then the real Anzac spirit should never be forgotten.

In any case, I wanted to do a post to commemorate the 95th anniversary but I thought I’d post this on the 26th instead as I didn’t want my views to seem disrespectful. I thought I’d do something special as well, so I’ve put together another photo post, to show what the world and war was really like at that time.

The photos are from the Australian War Memorial, the State Library of NSW, the National Library of New Zealand and the National Media Museum on Flickr. They are all from World War I and II. Lest we forget.

And to all of our troops around the world, stay safe. We’re thinking of you, always.

Click here to see the photos

I Am

I Am Another You

Image: I Am Another You ~ Jeff Robinson

I am many things
A son, a writer, a boy, a man, a friend
I am all those things and I am nothing
On myself, I depend

I am a memory that will be forgotten
I am a face that will fade away
I long to be remembered
But even night must fade into day

I am a student, always learning
I am a child looking at the sky
I seek neither knowledge or power
Just the means to open my eyes

I am a dreamer of great dreams
I am the voice of all sorrows
I live for the simplest of things
A laugh, your smile; gone tomorrow

I am an atheist, asking questions
I am a soldier seeking peace
I do not fear death, or darkness,
I welcome its release

I am the wind howling in the treetops
I am the voice whispering in your ear
My anger can be quiet and unspoken
Or fill your heart with fear

I am the beggar on the street corner
I am the insect crushed beneath your feet
Pity me, for I am no one,
A lost soul in full retreat

I am a chameleon with many faces
I am a prisoner suffering on my own
I struggle silently behind my mask
But cry when I am alone

I am wise and I am stupid
I am a writer lost for words
My past haunts my footsteps
My story is waiting to be heard

I am honest like a true friend
I am jealous like the gods of old
Hurt me with tears and I am forgiving
But words make my heart grow cold

I am the fire burning brightly
I am the thunder and the rain
Everywhere I leave death and destruction
In my wake life grows again

I am a child born at the wrong time
I am the remnant of another age
I long for an end to violence
But war is history’s stage

I am a walking contradiction
I am everything I should not be
Proud; arrogant; ugly; beautiful
I am me

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence

You can also listen to the poem at AudioBoo


If you’re wondering what inspired this poem, I wanted to write something different than I had written before. I have been feeling unwell recently and I wanted to write an honest examination of life, with all of its ups and downs.

It’s about me, an exploration of who I am as a person, but it’s also about everyone. I wanted it to feel personal but also to mean something different to everyone who reads it.

I hope you enjoyed the poem and that it means something unique to you, as it does to me.
~ CJ

Gone Too Soon

I’m still stunned by the last couple of days. It’s hard to believe we’ve lost two of the most iconic stars of the twentieth century in one day.

I’ve been reading the tributes from around the world for both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett but I think this one by Cathy Babao Guballa captures the feeling beautifully; that their lives, having achieved so much and touched so many people, should remind us of how fragile life really is, and to enjoy what’s important in our lives every day.

Jackson’s death in particular has affected me. These last two days it’s seemed like he has been everywhere; every shop is playing his music and every now and then you see a small crowd gathered in front of a TV, watching a concert or one of his music videos on DVD before moving on. It’s like everyone wants to be a part of it, to share their memories. The last time I can remember that was with Princess Diana’s death.

I was always more of a casual fan but had great respect for what he achieved, particularly in his early career; breaking down racial barriers long before Oprah, Tiger Woods or Obama, and advancing modern dance to another level. At times watching Jackson dance was like watching a ballerino, he was so graceful; other times he was so raw, primal. He always dominated the stage. I doubt we’ll see someone as multidimensional as he was again.

He was also an underrated songwriter, writing many of his best known songs, and I don’t think anyone (except perhaps The Beatles) could have rivalled the quality of his output during his most successful period, with Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad, and Destiny, Triumph and Victory with The Jacksons.

If I had to choose a favourite song it would probably be Man in the Mirror. It’s a beautiful song about how making a change in the world has to begin with making a change in your own life first. It’s a different side of Jackson where you’re carried into the song by his voice alone; with the events in Iran at the moment, the message seems just as relevant.

As we all know his later life was plagued by bizarre behaviour, and while I’m not excusing it I always felt most of it was due to his childhood. It inspired his creativity but he always seemed desperate for the childhood he had never had… even trying to recapture the appearance of youth through plastic surgery, until it ended up becoming a form of self-mutilation.

But regardless of that, his music endures and will always be with us. He gave millions of people great joy for so many years and that’s the way I want to remember him: so young and vibrant, like a burning star dancing in the sky.

I think it’s Fawcett’s smile I’ll remember best. The majority of her career was before my time but I remember first seeing her in a small role in Logan’s Run, and then in reruns of Charlie’s Angels in the 90s. The thing which struck me about her then and still does now wasn’t so much her beauty but her charm; some people can be physically beautiful but ugly in other ways, but there was just something genuine about her that seemed to shine through.

I always thought she was a better actress than people gave her credit for as well; she was excellent in The Apostle, opposite Robert Duvall, but of course she was more important as a cultural icon in the 70s and how that affected the roles of women. Charlie’s Angels showed that women could be powerful and successful in traditionally male-oriented roles, something few shows had shown before. She also represented something for America at the time; following a bloody war and the Watergate scandal, for everyday Americans she and Charlie’s Angels presented an empowering image and a distraction from the chaos surrounding them. I think that’s why she was so popular with both men and women, particularly with the poster and her fashion.

My enduring memory of Fawcett, though, is of how she continued to handle herself with grace and dignity right up until the end. Even while the media hounded her, and even when the cancer returned, she never gave up and still had that same beautiful smile on her face.

I feel very sorry for her family; her son is my age. Hopefully through her struggle she’ll help to save many more lives.

I guess there are certain days which will always stand out in my memory; like when Kurt Cobain or Michael Hutchence died, or when Heath Ledger or JFK Jr passed away, or Princess Diana. Now I’ll be adding two more names to the list. They’ve left us too soon. But with memories to last a lifetime.

These Are the Voyages…

spock

Click here to take the “Which Star Trek character am I?” quiz

This is just a quick update as it’s been a while since my last post. To be honest I didn’t realise it had been so long; I’ve had a lot on my mind these last few months and haven’t felt up to blogging until now.

I haven’t been feeling well for several months; my health has been very poor and I haven’t been sleeping well again. While I am coping, this last year has been exhausting as it’s just been one thing after another… I’ve had to cut back on the amount of time I spend online to adjust.

We also recently learnt of the death of an old friend. Belinda was like an aunt to me when I was younger and was a dear friend of my mother; it’s brought back a lot of memories and we’re all feeling her loss.

But I’m trying not to dwell too much. I’m feeling a little better now and tomorrow I’m seeing the new Star Trek film with MQ, which is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I grew up with the more recent Star Trek series but it’s always been the relationships between the original characters that made me a fan and have defined Star Trek; to see Kirk, Spock and McCoy again after all these years should be a lot of fun.

Star Trek has needed refreshing for a while now and it looks like they’ve found the right dynamic with a young cast and a new approach. This Trek can have a wide appeal and it reminds me a little of Batman Begins; build word of mouth for a sequel and hopefully that will do even better once people realise that this isn’t the same kind of Trek.

The thing about Star Trek, which a lot of people don’t get if they think it’s geeky and boring, is that what it’s actually about isn’t science but humanity. Star Trek at its best gives us an optimistic view of humanity; it was born out of the 1960s as a counterpoint to issues like racism, sexism, communism, and war, showing us that whatever our differences, we can overcome them and unite in peace, a view that was well ahead of its time.

That’s the message which has always made me a fan; that the future can be better, if we want it to be. It looks different but as long as the new film keeps that message in some way, then I’ll be happy. And I think it will. That message of hope is just as relevant now, in a post-September 11 world, as it was in 1966.

This is one of the few films I’ll probably be able to see this year, but hopefully it will be the beginning of a new era for Trek. So I thought I’d post a fun quiz as well to celebrate the release of the film.

I wonder which character you are? Apparently I’m most like Spock. I guess that makes sense; I do tend to be quite logical. Not sure about the ears, though. I don’t think they’d suit me. 😉

Update: Just found a fun website that can change your photo into a Star Trek character. Mine is here. As I said, the Vulcan ears definitely don’t suit me!

Update #2: Just got back from seeing it a few hours ago. It was excellent. Even better than the hype, actually, which was a surprise. I’ll post a review on my other blog tomorrow but it’s very different and probably the best Star Trek film so far. Highly recommended.

One Week Later

vic_bushfire

Image: Fire in Upper Ferntree Gully ~ jsarcadia

This is a follow up to the poem I posted earlier about Black Saturday and the bushfires in Victoria. I wrote the poem as a way of trying to move through the horror I felt in the days following the tragedy. There were so many images, so many stories, it was overwhelming and this felt like the only way I could make sense of it. Writing has always been cathartic for me and while I would have liked to have done more with it, I think the simplicity suits the poem… the starkness seems to capture the devastation of what happened.

It’s one week later now and in many ways I still don’t know what to make of it all. I have lived through several bushfires before but none as ferocious as this; it was like the entire southern coast of Australia was on fire and there was smoke around Sydney for days, as well as the overwhelming scents of various native plants, which will always remind me of the fires now.

The tolls keep increasing; 1,800 homes have been destroyed and 181 people have lost their lives so far – that may go as high as 300. As someone who respects the Australian landscape so much, to see it so devastated is awful; some parts of Victoria resemble craters more than bushland and over a million animals may have perished. Many fires are believed to have been caused by arson as well. For that terrible day, it truly was hell on Earth.

Am I angry? I’m more sad than anything else. Sad at the loss of life and property; sad that in many cases the warning signs weren’t heeded. Sad that it’s taken another tragedy for us to realise how fragile life can be. I’m also very grateful for the amount of good that people are doing, the way they’re helping and coming together; the donations and support, making quilts and toys, auctions for charities, giving blood. The way people have responded, here and overseas, has been incredible and filled me with a lot of hope.

I do understand the anger, though. When so many lives have been lost and homes destroyed, you feel helpless and anger is a natural response. I think we need to be careful not to deflect blame, though. There’ll be time for a closer examination of what went wrong but right now it seems like arson is all the media cares about. Arson is awful but we shouldn’t be so fast to deflect all of our anger onto it – there’ll be many factors contributing to this tragedy and what we really want is to make sure this never happens again, rather than to strike out in vengeance. Right now we need time to grieve.

APTOPIX Australia Wildfires

Sam the koala and firefighter David Tree

For me I think this photo is going to be the main image that stays with me from these fires. It’s amazing; the koala almost looks like a baby being fed from a bottle, and the fireman is being so gentle. There’s been some confusion about when exactly it was taken but it’s still an image that shows you how devastating fire can be and the compassion it can bring out in people. It shows that even in the darkest of situations you can find some hope, which I wanted to reflect in my writing as well.

Sam and her rescuer seem to have become the global face of the bushfires; I know the photo has been featured in a lot of blogs and newspapers around the world. That’s largely because there has been so little good news coming out of these fires and something like this really raises all of our spirits, which is what we need right now.

That’s why I was disappointed when TMZ mocked the photo recently. I detest TMZ anyway but mocking a selfless gesture – twice – when people have died and lost their homes seems very tasteless. How about some sensitivity for what people are going through? That’s TMZ for you, I guess.

At least we know Sam is being cared for now and hopefully will recover. Sadly many other animals haven’t been as lucky. They are the forgotten victims in this tragedy, in many ways.

In any case, I wanted to post this and my poem today to mark the week since the tragedy. I’ve not been able to concentrate on much else; everything else seems rather trivial at the moment, particularly when you think about the amount of money spent on Valentine’s Day when people have nothing.

I hope my poem is respectful; I wanted to try and work through that day in my mind and to be evocative of the landscape. I hope in some small way it speaks for what we’re all feeling at the moment.

I don’t think any of us can ever really understand what it must have been like on that day but I found this video by someone who filmed the Churchill fire; it killed 21 people, 1 near where she was filming at Jeeralang. It really brings the impact home, particularly when you hear the wind howling.

It really was hell on Earth.