The Year That Was

war_torn

Buildings Devastated By War

I have been following the scenes coming out of Gaza closely during the last five days. Like most people I have been stunned by how the situation has deteriorated so quickly… this period has been the bloodiest I can remember. I had hoped that a brief ceasefire might be reached to allow humanitarian aid through but that now seems to have been rejected. So far the air strikes have killed more than 390 Palestinians (60 civilians) and injured more than 1900, while more than than 250 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired into Israeli territory, killing 4 people and wounding dozens. The devastation has also overwhelmed hospitals and more supplies are desperately needed.

To be honest it’s happened so quickly that I’m not sure what to make of it all. I support Israel’s need to defend itself but I was caught off-guard by the sheer ferocity of the air strikes; in an area as densely populated as Gaza I would have thought Israel could have shown more restraint. Then again, no country in the world would allow its citizens to come under daily rocket attack and I’d expect a strong response from Israel, particularly when the rockets can reach as far as schools and kindergartens as we saw today. I just wish there was more of a humanitarian effort as well. And now the rocket attacks are penetrating farther than ever before. The whole situation is just chaotic and I feel sorry for the civilians caught in the middle on both sides.

Right now it seems that the best hope for a ceasefire lies with the UN and the European Union, while the US tries to bring pressure to bear on both sides for a more lasting agreement. I hope some kind of agreement can be reached but, with this ceasefire rejected, I doubt it will be for several days… and right now it only seems to be escalating. In the meantime I’ve signed a petition with Avaaz calling on both sides to stop the violence; reading about the destruction, watching the scenes, I just felt like I had to do something, and though it’s only a small thing I hope in some way it makes a difference.

Australian Money

The Economy: The Big Story of 2008

Watching what’s happening in Gaza at the moment has made me realise just how quickly 2008 went by. It’s hard to believe it’s already 2009, isn’t it? This time last year Benazir Bhutto’s assassination had triggered a deadly wave of violence in Pakistan. Can that really have been only a year ago? So much has happened since then that it feels like so much longer. But we’ve had the fireworks and music, so it really must be 2009.

Most years I find that events tend to blur together as the year passes and the memories aren’t as fresh for me by the end but despite 2008 being a busy year, it’s still vivid in my mind. It’s been a sad year in many ways; there have been moments of hope but I think looking back the overwhelming memories I have of 2008 are of pain and sorrow. I think they shall linger for some time

Of course the biggest story of 2008 was the economic crisis. Watching the scenes from the US as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other institutions started to go under was chilling; not only did it have implications for the global economy but these were ordinary people losing their money and jobs. And then of course the proverbial shit really hit the fan; the global stockmarkets crashed, thousands of jobs were cut, overseas banks were being nationalised or filing for bankruptcy, suddenly we were all talking about the R world, “recession” – and then there was the bailout which caused all kinds of consternation. And that was just in September.

It’s been a remarkable period and has been terrible for the people directly affected but I think it serves as something of a warning to the rest of us as well; we are extremely lucky to enjoy our lifestyle in the West but with that comes the danger of excess and perhaps this is a wakeup call for all of us. 2009 will be a difficult year with the rise in unemployment and living costs but if we learn the lessons from this crisis then perhaps some good can still come from it as well. There are more important things in life, after all.

Heath Ledger’s death is also something that still lingers in my mind. As I said at the time Heath was someone I had grown up watching; I saw him in Sweat, his first major role, and most of his films after that. We were only a few years apart in age, so his death at only 28 had a strong impact on me. I thought his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight was mesmerising, and sadly tragic, but it’s his performances in Brokeback Mountain and Monster’s Ball that I’ll remember best. His loss is a profound one for our film industry, one I feel we still have yet to fully recover from nearly a year on.

By far the worst news of the year for me was the devastation in Burma and China. The destruction Cyclone Nargis caused was particularly overwhelming, killing more than 150,000 people (and by some estimates almost a million). I’ll never forget the Burmese authorities claiming that they “weren’t ready to accept” foreign aid workers into the country even while Burma had clearly suffered a monumental humanitarian disaster. And then only days later an earthquake flattened schools and villages in China, killing 87,000 people (19,000 children). The scenes in China were some of the most heartbreaking I have ever seen, with entire schools destroyed and parents weeping.

Like everyone else I was stunned and saddened by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai as well. To see a metropolis of 12 million people brought to its knees for three days, particularly a city with such heritage and prestige as Mumbai, was troubling, as was the sheer scale of the attacks; a series of ten coordinated attacks leaving 178 dead and 308 injured. Then to see the peace that had started to form between Pakistan and India beginning to unravel was even more troubling… it is something the world cannot allow to happen.

2008 brought with it some interesting stories and moments as well. For Australians one moment was in February when the Federal government finally apologised to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generations. The apology was long overdue and while it’s only one step toward reconciliation, it is a moment I’ll never forget. Then in September we started to hear more about the Large Hadron Collider beneath the Franco-Swiss border, a particle accelerator which we were told could create an artificial black hole… and might destroy the world! Well, it didn’t (obviously); problem was, it didn’t work either – it sprung a leak and they’re going to try again in June. Great.

Also in July Thomas Beatie, the “Pregnant Man”, was rushed to hospital and delivered a healthy baby girl amidst a storm of controversy. Beatie was born a woman but kept his female reproductive organs after undergoing hormone treatments ten years earlier to become a man and conceived his daughter through artificial insemination. I actually found the process interesting and didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about; but then I like weird science. For those who are interested, Beatie is now pregnant with his second child.

But of course the reason most of us will remember 2008 is because of Barack Obama. To achieve what he has achieved is an incredible thing; to have an African American President is something many people did not think was possible and to see the tears on so many faces still moves me even now. It’s a moment in history for America and the world and I think no matter what your political persuasion is, that is something to be proud of. Of course one moment changes nothing; there is still racism and always will be, and we don’t know what kind of president Obama will be yet. But that doesn’t change the fact that November 4 was an historic moment, one I and I’m sure millions of people will always remember.

There were other stories as well. Paul Newman and Sydney Pollack both passed away, as did Arthur C. Clarke. Russia’s incursion into Georgia resulted in more than 500 civilian deaths. The Beijing Olympics were held in August; Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt ruled the world, while the Games themselves were overshadowed by issues far greater than sport. And Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer fought the greatest Wimbledon final ever, a match that lasted over 4 1/2 hours and ended in darkness; Nadal was a deserved winner.

Personally 2008 was a difficult year for me as well. I was ill for most of the year, which was frustrating; my work suffered and I’ve not been able to write at my normal speed for some time now. My grandmother nearly died and required an amputation and I also lost a friendship which meant a great deal to me; both events made me think about what was really important in my life. After a serious fire and several things with my family as well, it has been an exhausting year. So I’m quite happy to say goodbye to 2008.

I think the problems I have had through this year, though, have actually helped me overall. They’ve helped me to find strength in places that I didn’t know I had and I know I can rely on myself more than I believed I could before. I feel like I’ve turned a few negatives into positives and grown as a person, which is more than I could have hoped for from this last year all told.

So that was 2008 from my point of view. A busy year and a sad year, but also one with its moments of hope. As far as 2009 goes I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions but I do have some hopes to stay true to. I’d like to be in good health and happiness; to trust in myself and my abilities; to not take bullshit from anyone; to be good to others and to help where I can; to find someone to love. I do have one very big ambition for 2009 and that is to write something I can send away to an agent; I feel like I’m finally ready and after developing an idea for several years, I want to tackle my first novel.

Globally I hope 2009 is a more peaceful year than 2008 was. At some stage there will be a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas; it’s just a matter of time and, unfortunately, lives, and we just have to hope that it is sooner rather than later. Hopefully the economy will begin to stabilise and peoples’ lives can find some kind of normalcy again. I also hope that Obama’s transition to the presidency will be smooth and he can start bringing people together after so much division. I’m also looking forward to the release of the new Star Trek film (Spock!) and can’t wait for Wimbledon. Hope it’s as good as last year.

So Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for being a part of my 2008 and I hope you all have a peaceful and safe 2009. 😉

Childhood Dreams

When I started this blog two years ago I had a different idea of what I wanted it to be about. You see, ever since I’ve been young I’ve wanted to be a journalist. If you asked me why, I’m not sure I could say; maybe I just wanted to be like Clark Kent (I had glasses too) but I remember being interested in the news and knowing that was what I wanted to do with my life. It probably helped that I had an interest in writing, but even then my style was more suited to essays than fiction or poetry. In high school I wrote an article about life in the 60s which became my first publication and that just confirmed my feelings.

In the end it didn’t work out the way I had planned. My last few years of school were miserable; I was ill and and by the time I had finished, my dream of a journalistic career had faded away. For a while I was bitterly disappointed but after a couple of months I threw myself into the next best thing: my fiction and within a few months had several stories published and started studying philosophy on the side. Basically that has been my routine ever since but I never stopped wanting to be a journalist. In many ways it’s my biggest regret.

I had maintained a website for several years, a CV with links to my work, and in 2006 I decided it was time for a redesign… but then I had an idea. One of the problems I had was that my work was speculative fiction; I’d had feedback that publishers liked my writing but didn’t get what I was writing about. But what if I created a column on my site which explored the same themes? That way I’d have something else I could show to publishers as well, to show that my writing was about an examination of life and philosophy, not just science. And so I created an early version of A Writer’s Life, and moved it to WordPress in 2007.

A Writer’s Life was never meant to be a blog as such; it wasn’t meant to be updated frequently and I didn’t expect comments or care about stats. My early posts were like a newspaper column and the blog’s purpose was just to exist for my work. But then a funny thing happened. Some of my posts started getting picked up by other sites. Suddenly I was being cited as CJ Writer, not CJ Levinson. And then people started commenting. To be honest those first comments freaked me out and I didn’t know how to respond. I hadn’t written those posts to be read and suddenly people were asking me questions! Help!

But slowly I realised people were responding because they liked what I wrote and their comments made my posts much richer than if I had just turned the comments off. Over several months I started to look at blogging as an outlet and a means of communication rather than as a tool, and my writing style changed to reflect that. Blogging became part of my routine; I looked forward to it and A Writer’s Life started to take on a life of its own.

But several months ago that changed. It started with a comment I received on my blog about my name, that I used CJ rather than Christopher. It was just a troll and it shouldn’t have bothered me, but it did; and then a few months ago I was viciously abused in a comment I deleted – only for the commenter to come back, accuse me of censorship and make the first lot of abuse look eloquent. I deleted that too but I started to wonder if it was really worth the effort. Blogging had started to feel like a chore.

At the same time as all this I have been very ill; I’m only just starting to recover now and the result was that I decided to have a break for a couple of months, have a think about things and hopefully come back feeling refreshed. What I didn’t realise was that people would start to wonder if something was wrong and I’m sorry if I worried anyone. I appreciate all your comments and emails; they’ve helped me more than you can know.

But now I’m back! I’ve had time to think and I’m looking forward to writing some new posts. For a while I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to come back but in the end A Writer’s Life still represents, if only in a small way, the life I never had. I’m not ready to let go of that yet. But I will be making some changes to the blog over the next few weeks. I might not post as frequently and I’m looking at ways to stop these trolls – and splogs. I also plan to share some of my photography as well, which I’ve never done before. Scary. 😉

So that’s the story of how I came to blogging. I never really wanted to be a blogger but in the end blogging has given me the chance to fulfil a part of my childhood dream and that’s been a wonderful thing. The blog continues to evolve as I evolve as a person; it’s no longer a column as much as a reflection of my life and philosophy and there have been more positives than negatives. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that – but then, what dream ever turns out exactly the way we’d planned?

There are many childhood dreams I’d love to fulfil. I’ve always wanted to see more of the world; to own my own home; to have a novel published; to start a small bookshop; to meet someone to spend my life with. We’ll just have to see how those go. My dream of becoming a journalist won’t happen but in this blog I get to write about the topics I would have written about. I get to live a small part of my dream; not many people can say that.

Our dreams guide us and I think it’s the attempt that matters most, that we try to reach them even if we never do. They’re the reason I write; they’re why I started this blog after one of my dreams died. And they’ve helped me to meet people like you, who I’d never have met. Doesn’t seem like a bad trade-off now, does it?

A lone voice crying:
Tears of sorrow on the wind
A dream forgotten

A lone voice singing:
Music of laughter and joy
A future revealed

A blogday mystery

Does anyone else have a problem remembering dates? I always used to have a good memory but for some reason recently I’ve just been going blank. I forgot a couple of birthdays last year, was late for several appointments I shouldn’t have forgotten, and the last few weeks have got into the bad habit of using the wrong date when I sign my signature.

But this has to beat all of them. My blog turned one a few days ago – and I completely forgot! I see the date every time I look at my profile but I couldn’t remember. Maybe I should start doing more crosswords or sudoku or something. My poor blog deserves better.

The only reason I remembered at all was because I’ve had a bit of a mystery to solve over the last few days. I’ve been seeing a notification that my domain mapping is about to expire as it’s been a year and I went to purchase the credits for the upgrade again… only there were already 10 credits in my account. For a moment I thought I’d forgotten buying them but I know I didn’t; I went back through my PayPal receipts and the last time I bought anything on WordPress was in November and that was for another domain.

So where did the credits come from? I’m still not sure. I thought it might have been a gift but wouldn’t I get an email about it? Or perhaps it was a glitch and some of my old credits reappeared? That could happen but to cover the exact amount for the domain mapping? The only thing I can think of is that perhaps staff did it, but that doesn’t make much sense either… anyone else have any ideas? There might be something simple I’m missing.

Anyway, the mystery made me realise it’s been a year since I started this blog, so Happy Blogday! We need music. Where’s Madonna’s Holiday? I know it’s on my iPod somewhere… 😉 It really doesn’t feel like a year; the community around WP is wonderful and the time’s gone so quickly. If anyone’s interested in the stats, so far the blog’s had 10,854 views, with 145 posts, 401 comments and 3,333 spam. My most viewed post is this one; this is my favourite.

The blog’s changed a lot since it started; originally it was a mix of a portfolio and a column, but now it’s really a window to my thoughts on life and society… there’s more of myself in it now and I never imagined receiving such wonderful feedback, meeting so many interesting people. So here’s to the next year! Let’s hope it’s even better than the first. 🙂