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. 🙂

The Truth About Love

Footprints in the Sand

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

Laying 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

Looking back on Shutter & Pen

So I came across something interesting earlier. As of last Friday my blog is officially nine years old. Happy Blogiversary to me!

It’s actually a little older than that if I think about it; originally I started the blog in 2006 with another host, before moving it to WordPress at the beginning of 2007. I hadn’t written many posts before however so I think of the blog starting more when I moved to WordPress.

It’s been a long nine years and the blog has gone through several iterations in that time. When I first started the blog it was called A Writer’s Life and primarily was a writing blog with some book reviews and other things. Back then I mainly saw the blog as a way of generating interest in my writing and so pretty much everything related to writing or books in some way.

After a while I started to find that too restrictive and I decided to widen what I wrote about. I still saw the main purpose of the blog as generating interest in my writing but I started to approach it differently and started writing more general articles and columns. The topics became more random and the blog much more of a window to my thoughts on life and philosophy as well.

During this time a funny thing happened. I guess originally I stumbled into blogging because I felt like it gave writers an online presence they could control and needed but I actually found I really enjoyed it. I liked writing about ideas and philosophy and knowing that this little space was mine, a piece of my intellectual property. And along the way I started to find a bit of an audience and made some new friends.

This period lasted for about four years, from late 2007 to 2011, and it’s interesting because it probably coincided with the peak of blogging as a whole as well. Blogs were everywhere then, both professional and personal, and it was a good time to be a blogger and reach an audience. Interestingly though I think the quality of blogging was not as high as it is now; while there are fewer blogs now, I think writers are more experienced and more focused now which has definitely helped the quality. They’re blogging because they want to, not because it’s fashionable.

Around 2010 things started to change though and blogging went into decline. The biggest impact on blogging was the rise of Facebook; the majority of blogs then were personal blogs where people shared updates about their lives and interests and Facebook gave them an easier and more convenient way of doing that. So blogging declined and unfortunately I saw it happen to many bloggers whose blogs I really liked and who eventually stopped updating.

During this time I started to cut back a bit myself. Part of it was that I was saddened at seeing many of my friends disappear but the major reason was that my health took a bad turn at the same time and I found it difficult to concentrate and update regularly. I still felt like what I published was good but my output was drastically lower and I went from a post or two a week to one or two a month, sometimes less.

I still enjoyed blogging though and I knew I wanted to get back to doing it more regularly… I just knew that I’d need to find some other posts that were easier for me to do while I worked on my longer articles. And so that’s when I started to post my photography, usually with a haiku or haiqua to provide a link back to my writing.

I’ve always loved photography but I’d never really thought of myself as being a particularly good photographer and initially I was actually quite nervous about posting my photos. But I was flabbergasted by the response I received. Right away I started getting really good feedback on the photos and people seemed to like the haiku as well and thought they complemented each other. And so I started posting more.

And that’s how the blog changed again. The name changed from A Writer’s Life to Shutter & Pen and I started posting more about photography than I originally intended to, to the point where a casual visitor to my blog now probably wouldn’t realise that I’m actually still more of a writer than I am a photographer! But in all seriousness sharing my photos here has been one of the best things I’ve done. It’s made me want to go out and take more photos, which in turn has improved my photography, to the point where I have now sold quite a few photographs and could legitimately look at it as a profession if I wanted to (one I am seriously thinking about in fact).

But I am still a writer first and foremost and whilst unfortunately I can’t write the way I used to anymore due to pain, I do still write… I’m always writing in fact, whether it’s a poem or jotting down ideas, and I’m starting to work on short stories again now, with the ultimate goal being to start on my novel again later this year.

And so that’s where we are with the blog now. What was originally a simple writing blog has become a lot more than that, a window to my thoughts on writing, philosophy, photography and life. And yet, at its heart, I don’t think it’s really changed all that much over the years. The idea is still for this blog to be my intellectual space and somewhat random and that’s what I always want it to be… and hopefully people will have some fun along the way too.

For the next year I guess my goal with the blog is to keep to a bit more of a schedule; I aim to post something at least once a week, with a new column every Sunday fortnight. I also want to try a few new things as well – one of them a semi-regular Q&A which should be fun (feel free to suggest a question if you like!).

My other goal is to get back into interacting with the community more. I’ve got into a bad habit of just reading other blogs recently and I’d like to put that right, particularly as there are so many brilliant bloggers out there, like the wonderful Cordelia’s Mom and Manniqueen, two people I’ve met recently and whose blogs I absolutely adore.

Looking back over the last nine years I think the most interesting thing for me has been watching how blogging and the internet have changed. A lot has happened online over that time, particularly the way people access the internet. I was looking back through my stats earlier and that’s the thing that really jumped out at me. Even four or five years ago (let alone nine) the number of people accessing my blog on a smartphone would have been fairly small, probably around 4% or 5%. Looking today it’s 27.2%. That’s huge and shows just how much smartphones and tablets have changed how we interact with the web.

There were some other interesting things in the stats too. One was the average length of time visitors spent on my blog. 90.7% of visitors spend less than 30 seconds, which isn’t great but isn’t too bad I think for my kind of blog – it’s just a small, low profile blog so people tend to come off Google a lot and click away -, but the really interesting thing to me is that 4.1% spend longer than an hour looking. So basically that means almost half of the remaining visitors spend an hour or longer on the site which to me seems like a really good ratio. Drilling down on it a lot of that looks like people going through my stories and poetry as well, so I guess it shows if I ever do get a novel finished, I might have some people interested in reading it which is encouraging.

The other interesting thing was which posts have been my most popular ones over the last couple of years. Since 2012 the top 5 posts have basically all been the same and they’re all older posts. I’m not sure why that is. It may be that they have particular staying power for some reason, or perhaps I just haven’t been writing about things that catch on as much these last few years. Either way I thought it was interesting.

These were the 5 most popular posts from 2015 if you’re interested:

Do we rely too heavily on technology?
What makes something art?
5 famous misquotes from literature
10 things I’d do with 10 million dollars
5 sayings that don’t make sense

Anyway that’s just me getting geeky. All in all 2015 was a pretty good year for my blog but the truth is, none of that matters. I’ve never craved hits. I do this blog for me and not for any other reason. Never have and never will. What matters is that I’m happy with it and I’m glad other people seem to like it too.

Hopefully 2016 will be a good year too as the blog continues to evolve. Thank you to everyone for reading and I hope you continue to enjoy the journey with me.

There’s No Place Like Home

Home 2Home 1

Do you ever wonder what it is exactly that makes a home, well, a home? What it is that makes something more than just a collection of bricks and mortar and instead a home, somewhere special that you look forward to coming back to every day?

I’ve been thinking about that quite a lot recently. Largely it’s been to do with the time of year as the festive season always makes me rather contemplative and there are many reminders of ‘home’ over Christmas; of buying gifts and going home for the holidays, of decorating your home for guests and loved ones, of music telling stories of loneliness and missing home.

Christmas can be a nice time of year but if you’re lonely or away from home or nursing a broken heart then it’s not much fun. The constant reminders of home and how Christmas is for spending time with the ones you love can be depressing. I must admit I’m struggling with that quite a bit this year and I’m feeling little desire to celebrate at the moment.

I think the other reason it’s been on my mind though, and probably the main reason, is that I was broken in to recently. A couple of people went on a rampage through my block of flats; they were after my neighbour initially who wasn’t there, then in a rage they started to destroy everything; they rounded on my flat next and smashed through the screen door and yelled and threatened me, before they broke the windows in the block and hit someone on the head as they ran out.

It was scary and it took a few days (and the door to be fixed) for me to start to feel relatively safe in my own home again. And yet, that’s the thing as well… I was upset and obviously scared but I actually felt very little about the break in itself, which surprised me. I thought I would feel angry or violated in some way but I didn’t. Which I think goes to show how little this place has ever really felt like ‘home’ to me.

I’ve been living here for a little over two years now since leaving Sydney and while I’m grateful to have shelter, a roof over my head and (relative) security, I guess I’ve never felt much attachment to this place. It’s okay as far as flats go but I took it out of necessity rather than because I really felt anything for it and I think that’s why it doesn’t really feel like home. It’s a place where I live and sleep and have created some wonderful memories – but it’s not ‘home’ and I don’t think it will ever feel like home to me, or the way a home should.

But how should a home feel? And have I ever really felt that? I’m not sure. There’s what society and Hollywood tell us a home should be like and I guess that’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think about it – the idea of a happy family living in a nice house, with a couple of pets, a picket fence and lots of laughter, etc. The kind of place you come back to years later and the place echoes with memories.

Of course that’s an unrealistic fantasy; no matter how much money you have, there’s no such thing as the perfect house, just as there’s no such thing as the perfect family, or the perfect you. Life is about compromise and working hard to make your life better and eventually afford the things you want; a lot of people though seem to want everything now without being prepared to wait and work for it and I think that’s why many people seem so unhappy these days. They seek instant gratification and in the end that only leaves them unfulfilled.

So no, that fantasy, which I think a lot of people have (particularly first home buyers), isn’t a home. It’s a lifestyle, a fairytale; it’s what we’re told life should be like if we want our happily ever after. A real home, is something else.

Personally I think a home is not just a place, it’s an idea. A ‘home’ obviously must be somewhere that is attractive to you and suits your needs but I also think as a concept it is much more fluid than that and what ‘home’ is is probably different and unique to every person. For some people the ability to get a mortgage and buy somewhere they like may be what makes that place actually feel like ‘home’ to them, because they know it is theirs and they can build their life there and make what they want of it. For other people a mortgage may mean little and it’s only when they have realised whatever work and life goals they’ve set for themselves and have more freedom that a place starts to feel like ‘home’. For some again it may be when they have children and a place fills with their laughter; for others it may be when their children have grown and the mortgage is finished and the next stage of life begins. I think a home can mean many things and perhaps in the end all that matters it is that it feels special.

For me I think home is not a fixed place at all and never has been; I don’t feel like I’ve ever really felt an attachment to a place, at least not that I can remember, nor feel like I will anytime soon, so for me I think home is the memories I have made wherever I’ve lived. It’s the memories of where I grew up; the memories of where I had my first kiss; the people I have shared my life with; the fun and laughter, the pets who brought me joy, the friends who stood by me; the moments I cherish and the sorrows that define me. In that way everywhere is home, and nowhere, as I take it with me.

Or, to borrow from Doctor Who, for me home is like a Tardis; it’s my heart and it’s bigger on the inside.

I used to think that maybe I was missing something because I didn’t feel a particular attachment to somewhere, to a physical home. Perhaps I still may one day, if I buy a place or have a family. But even then I don’t think it will be having a physical place that will make it ‘home’ for me, it will still be the memories and the life I bring with me.

And I think ideally that’s what a home should be. It should be what we bring and what we make there, not the place itself. I think a lot of people get too focused on buying their idea of a dream home and that’s another reason why they can feel unfulfilled, because in the end the reality can never match up to the dream.

I think that’s why I didn’t feel much after the break in as well as it’s just walls to me; they could have trashed it, set it alight, done anything, but all I would have lost were things. It would have been unfortunate but I wouldn’t have lost anything important and I have insurance.

It’s probably also why I’m struggling a bit with Christmas this year now that I think about it as well. This is the first year I’ve really been by myself. I wouldn’t say I feel lonely necessarily but I definitely feel a sense of loss this year.

Then again I often don’t get into the spirit until late. Maybe I just need a mince pie, put some music on, and create some new memories.

Either way I guess the important thing is to make the most of what we have. Home can be many things and come in many shapes and sizes but it’s what we bring to it that matters. In the end there really is no place like home.

‘Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there ‘s no place like home;
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there,
Which sought through the world is ne’er met with elsewhere.
John Howard Payne – Home, Sweet Home
From Clari, the Maid of Milan

Some thoughts on extremism

I posted this on Twitter and Facebook last night in the wake of the Paris attacks and thought I’d post it here as well for posterity and to share some additional thoughts.

Like everyone I was shocked and appalled by the attacks and my heart goes out to everyone in Paris and France.

But as the hours went by, I started seeing a lot of posts and comments blaming muslims and all of Islam for the attacks. As well as how muslims needed to convert to “the Christian god” so we could have peace.

I guess I lost it but I am sick and tired of hearing how Islam is a religion of hate and it’s “us vs. them”. It’s a bigoted worldview and it’s not only ignorant and wrong but it is dangerous as well.

ISIL and similar groups want us to be divided and to turn on moderate Islam; it’s one of the goals listed in their own publication – to eliminate the “grayzone” as they call it, the zone of coexistence we share and have everyone live in a black and white world which makes it easier for them to spread their ambitions through the Levant and beyond.

Everyone who lumps all of Islam together with ISIL and their ilk is doing their work for them and helping to create more recruits and likely more attacks like we just saw in Paris.

There are 1.2 billion muslims in the world and the vast, vast majority of them are peaceful and moderate and just want to live their lives; it is unfair to place them all together and it is beyond reality to expect that over one billion people should be held responsible for the acts and beliefs of radicalized extremists.

Our struggle is with extremism, all extremism; the scenario should never be framed as “the West vs. Islam” or “us vs. them” but rather “moderates against extremism”. Wherever it strikes and whomever it oppresses in the world.

If you can’t see that, nor how all religions have struggled and continue to struggle with extremism (from the KKK, to The Army of God, to Eastern Lightning in just the recent past alone), then I would suggest that the problem is with you, not with Islam.

And if you seriously believe the only solution to this whole situation is for one group of people to convert to another religion, then I would suggest as well that you have more in common with ISIL than most muslims ever will.

***

I’m seeing a lot of posts and comments on Facebook and Twitter at the moment blaming muslims for the attacks in Paris.

Some are even asking for people to pray that all muslims “convert to the Christian god” as that is the only way “we can have peace”.

Others, more understandably, want to send ground troops to take care of IS.

I feel like I need to say a few things as seeing all this pop up again and again is driving me nuts.

1. The vast majority of Islam is moderate and peaceful. The people responsible for these attacks are ideological extremists. They are a perversion of Islam, not a true representation of it. It is wrong and ignorant to blame all muslims for their actions.

2. Every religion struggles with extremism. Please remember Christianity’s past history with the Crusades, the Inquisition and the KKK before passing judgment on all of Islam.

3. #PrayForParis means we are thinking of and stand with the people of France. It does NOT mean pray for muslims to convert to “the Christian god”. How dare you use a tragedy in such a way?

4. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all share one common link: Abraham and, by extension, Abraham’s god. It is likely you actually already believe in the same god.

5. This is a “war” that will likely last generations and it cannot be won through military force alone. The only way to defeat extremism is to change people’s perceptions over time by engaging with community leaders and tackling issues like poverty and youth dissatisfaction. ISIL and other threats need to be confronted as well but without tackling the root causes of terrorism, the cycle will never end. And that may take decades.

6. ISIL and other groups want us to turn on our communities, to make it the West vs Islam. They want young muslims to feel persecuted as it drives them straight into their arms. Turning on each other only makes ISIL stronger.

7. In the end our global response to tragedies like this sends a message and it’s up to us what we want it to say. Do we really want to blame Islam? Or do we want to show that we stand united and unbowed as moderates against extremism? The choice is ours. I know which I’d prefer.

5 Things (part the third)

I turned 31 a couple of weeks ago. I had meant to post something at the time but I didn’t want to mark it that much. I’ve never really liked birthdays. I know a lot of people say that but it genuinely just feels like another day to me and I don’t like making too much out of it.

In any case I had a nice, relatively quiet day. My Facebook went into overdrive and my mother and my partner and her son spoilt me after they came up from Sydney for the weekend.

One thing birthdays always do is make me a bit reflective, so I’ve spent the last week or so thinking about the last year as well. It’s been pretty full really, with the trip to New Zealand earlier this year definitely the highlight.

It also made me think about how much has changed in the last few years, not least of which leaving Sydney and starting a new life here in Newcastle. It also reminded me that it’s been a few years since my last 5 Things About Me post and I thought now might be a good time to do another one.

If you haven’t read the original posts, this is the first post and this is the second. Originally it was just a fun meme where you had to answer five questions about yourself to help people get to know you better. I really enjoyed it though and thought I’d start doing it every now and then as a way to keep track of how things change over time, a bit like a time capsule. So I did a second post about two years later, adding a few more questions while still trying to keep to the spirit of the original meme by keeping each answer to just 5 things.

Looking back now, a lot has changed. Looking at my answers I think I was concerned with much smaller things then and I didn’t have any idea how much life was going to change in just a few years. I’ve moved from Sydney, both my grandmothers have passed away, I’m in a happy relationship, I have my own home… life is different and I guess I’ve matured. The world has changed a lot too, from our revolving door of Prime Ministers, to Syria and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, to the Diamond Jubilee and Royal Wedding, to the death of Nelson Mandela… five years doesn’t feel that long but it shows how much can happen when you stop and think about it.

I’ve included a few photos below to show what my home and bedroom are like now as well. Obviously a lot has changed with moving but it’s interesting how the style doesn’t look that different on the whole to the photos in the previous posts… I guess my tastes are still much the same five years on.

I hope you enjoy the meme. What’s changed for you over the last five years?

5 things found in your bag

I’ll use my backpack. This is one thing that has definitely changed as I used to carry a messenger bag and small camera quite regularly. I rarely do anymore though as my phone has more or less replaced my point and shoot these days. The backpack I use fairly regularly though for serious photography or if I’m going to be out all day.

• Camera (usually my Olympus E-M1 with a lens attached)
• iPad Air
• Headphones
• Tissues
• Sunglasses

5 things in your home you love
5 favourite things

Cricket cufflinks
My partner Gen bought these for me while we were in New Zealand. They’re of two sets of cricket stumps with a ball breaking the stumps. They’re lovely and will always remind me of our wonderful trip there.

• The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
I loved CS Lewis’s Narnia series as a child. My parents gave me this hardcover of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for my eighth birthday. I adored it and still flick through it every now and then.

Marble chess set
I found this in a charity store a couple of years ago. The pieces are made of solid marble and are beautiful. The whole set was only $20!

• Star Trek pocket watch
My grandmother gave me this watch almost twenty years ago. She knew how much I loved Star Trek and saw it in a Franklin Mint catalogue. It means a lot to me, particularly since she passed away last year.

• Word blocks
I’ve had these for a couple of years now. Some word blocks can seem a bit trite but I really like these and I got them at a time in my life when the messages really meant a lot to me too.

5 things that have changed about you in the last 5 years

• My location
I left Sydney in early 2013 and I live about two hours north of Sydney in Newcastle now. It’s been a transition and I miss Sydney quite a bit at times, particularly as it can feel quite isolated here sometimes, but I’m also enjoying the change of pace and relative quiet that comes with being out of a big city. It’s nice being able to see the stars at night too.

• My family
Both my grandmothers passed away during the last three years, which was a terrible shock both times. My grandfather is also in a nursing home now with dementia. I’ve lost contact with some of my family over the last couple of years as well but I also met my partner Gen who I adore and her son, mother and cats. I’ve lost family but I’ve gained family as well so it’s evened out for the most part.

• My writing
My writing has changed a lot over the last few years. I’m unable to write as much as I used to and have been struggling with a novel for several years now; unfortunately my migraines make it difficult to concentrate, so I’ve mostly shelved that side of writing for now. I mostly write poetry, particularly haiku, these days and I’m also starting to write some short stories again. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back in to longer works again over the next year or so.

• My priorities
Maybe it’s all just part of getting older and growing up but I feel like my priorities have changed over the last five years. I don’t think things bother me as much as they used to, particularly when I don’t reach a goal I’ve set for myself or feel like I’ve been wronged. These days my priorities are trying to be a good partner, a good son and a good friend. What else really matters in the end?

• My hair
My hair’s started to recede a bit more these days and there’s a nice splattering of grey starting to come through now. I don’t mind it actually; makes me feel distinguished. 😉

5 things you want to do in the next year

• Move
I’m settling into Newcastle well on the whole but I do feel like I’m going to need to move soon. I didn’t know the area very well at the time and this part of Newcastle isn’t where I want to be longterm. Hopefully will be able to move sometime in the next six months or so.

• Watch The Godfather Trilogy
I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen any of The Godfather films, just bits and pieces over the years. As a movie buff I feel a bit weird about not having seen them. Will have to get around to watching them soon.

• Start writing regularly again
As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t written as much as I’d have liked to during the last couple of years. Most of that is health-related but I also think with moving and life in general, I needed a bit of a break too. I’ve still done bits and pieces but I’d like to get back to writing regularly soon.

• Learn to drive
This might come as a bit of a surprise but I don’t drive. I’ve always wanted to but getting regular migraines, it didn’t seem like the best idea. These days though I feel like I’m managing the pain better and I might be able to now, even if it’s with some restrictions.

• See the 2016 Australian Open
I love tennis and I’ve wanted to go to the Australian Open for years. I’ve come close to going a couple of times (it was even on my last 5 Things list) but things kept falling through unfortunately. This next year though I definitely plan on going, particularly as it may be Federer’s last Aussie Open and I’d love to see him before he retires.

5 things you have always wanted to do

• Fly
When I was younger I used to have dreams where I was flying like a bird. It’s something that’s stuck with me and I often wonder what it would feel like to fly. Probably the closest I could get is to go paragliding one day.

• Write a Star Trek episode
I grew up loving the original Star Trek before getting into the spinoffs and I’ve always wanted to write an episode for one of the shows. I know what I’d want to write too if/when Star Trek comes back to tv. I know it’ll probably never happen but still, it’s nice to dream.

• Publish a photo in a magazine
I’d love for one of my photos to appear in a magazine like National Geographic one day. I have sold a few photos now so who knows, if I’m lucky it might happen one day.

• Retrace Isaac’s journey
I’ve written before about my great great grandfather Isaac Levinsohn and his journey to England. I’d love to retrace his journey one day. It would be an interesting way of seeing Europe and might give me a better understanding of what he went through.

• Visit Antarctica
I’ve been fascinated by Antarctica since I was in primary school and did a project about it; I wrote to one of the science stations and they sent me some flyers which I was thrilled with. I’d love to spend some time there one day. The photography alone would be amazing.

5 things you are currently into

• Bob Dylan
I love Dylan and go back through his albums every now and then. I’m listening to The Essential Bob Dylan at the moment; it has most of what you’d expect and is a good quick fix.

• Netflix
Netflix launched in Australia a few months ago (finally!) and I’ve been really enjoying it so far, particularly the original Netflix series. I wish the catalogue would update a little more frequently but there’s a good selection of content seeing as it hasn’t been that long since it launched. Can’t wait for Jessica Jones next month.

• Doctor Who
I just finished going back through the last two seasons of Doctor Who on Netflix before diving into the new season on ABC. I’m still not sure how I feel about Peter Capaldi’s Doctor… I like him but at the same time he hasn’t really grabbed me yet. Maybe this season will do it.

• Monopoly
Mum gave me Game of Thrones Monopoly for my birthday. Game of Thrones + Monopoly + my love of board games… don’t really need to say more, do I?

• Natalie Portman
Because she’s Natalie Portman. And she still rocks. 😉

5 people you want to tag

I won’t tag anyone again but please take the meme if you’d like to use it on your blog or Facebook. I’d love to see your answers.

Moonrise Reflections

Moonrise Over Jesmond

The moon hangs over
Houses, trees, grass –
I am home
But feel far away

The Moon

A couple of shots of the moon from my back veranda.

I took the first photo yesterday evening as the moon rose and the sun set; I loved the colours and the way the birds were beginning to nest. I was lucky to catch a couple of them in flight.

The second photo I took this evening. It’s fairly heavily cropped as I don’t have a long enough lens to do this kind of thing properly (hopefully one day!) but still came out reasonably well I think.

After being here for eight months, this place is starting to feel more like home now. I’m starting to get to know my way around Newcastle and once you get used to the noise, it’s not too bad.

Some days I still really miss Sydney though, particularly my friends – one of my best friends just got engaged and I’m sad I’m not there to share it with her -, and I guess that’s what the haiqua was about… how sometimes even when you feel at home, your heart can still be far away.

Photos and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2014

Birthday Moon

Sunset 19/9/2013

A full moon rises
Bringing an end
To another year:
Life goes on

Full Moon 19/9/2013

I turned 29 yesterday. Had a nice day and just as the sun was setting, the moon appeared over the ocean and I managed to get these shots before the light disappeared. Came out really well.

It’s been a long year but seeing the sun set and the moon rise, I felt very peaceful, like I was starting to be able to put the year and all of the difficulties that have come with it behind me. Here’s hoping the next one brings better things.

Photos and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2013