CJ by the Lake

CJ by the Lake

Another year has
Come and gone in a hurry:
Time waits for no one

It was my birthday today. I turned 32.

It feels a bit weird, saying that. 32. I don’t really feel 32. But then I never really felt 18 or 25 either. I guess they’re all just numbers to me in the end.

The weather was beautiful earlier and I went down to the lake for about an hour in the afternoon. I took this photo while I was down there. I try to take a photo on my birthday each year and I thought this would be a nice one with the yachts in the background.

In taking it I set up my camera on a table overlooking the lake, then positioned myself and triggered a timer with an app on my phone. I love how easy wifi makes taking portraits like this these days. It’s all right there on your phone, no bulky remote trigger required!

Father and Son

I also took this photo of a father and son while I was down there. It was a nice moment and I like how it looks in black and white.

Photos and haiku © CJ Levinson 2016

Coogee Memorial

Blue ocean
Holds my heart and tears
Reminds me of you
So far away

Today is the ninth anniversary of the 2002 Bali Bombings. The bombings killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, and Bali is often considered our version of September 11, the moment when our part of the world changed forever.

Many of those killed and injured in the attacks came from Coogee, very near where we live in Randwick, and this memorial was erected in 2003 as a place of remembrance and reflection. It’s a beautiful, quiet spot overlooking the ocean and I often find myself spending time there when I’m in Coogee… I can’t think of a better tribute to their memory. I actually took this photo a few months ago, the day after Osama bin Laden died, and I thought I’d save it to post today.

In many ways it’s hard to believe it’s only been nine years since the bombings as so much has happened since. But even with Amrozi gone & so much time passed, it’s amazing how quickly the memories come back. I still remember that day so well… hearing about it on the news, seeing the fires burning, reading the names of the dead and missing in the local paper. Those memories will be with me for the rest of my life.

When I think about Bali I’m mostly filled with sadness now; for the suffering that was caused; for how the world has changed. But most often I find myself thinking of this memorial and what it represents, a place of peace and reflection, and I find myself hoping that one day, perhaps, the whole world might be as peaceful… that would be the true memorial.

Photo and haiku © CJ Levinson 2011

Update: I wrote this poem as well for the fifth anniversary. I thought I’d share it again in case anyone would like to read it.

5 Things (redux)

So this is my first post in a little while. Actually in a long while when I think about it… I’ve barely updated this blog all year really. I’m sorry for that. I still see blogging as a major part of my writing life and I keep meaning to update more often. I’ve just had other things on my mind, particularly for the last few weeks.

I haven’t been feeling that well recently. I’ve hardly slept and I’ve had an awful migraine for the last few weeks. I blame the weather; everything seems worse when it’s cold and it’s been bitterly cold in Sydney this past month. It’s the coldest winter we’ve had in a long time.

We’ve also been gearing up for a national election and it’s been kind of surreal. Just a few weeks ago Kevin Rudd was our Prime Minister; now Rudd’s gone, we have our first female PM in Julia Gillard (long overdue) and we’re rushing to the polls on August 21. It’s all happened so quickly that it’s almost draining.

Usually I quite enjoy elections but after the brutal way Rudd was brought down and how both parties have gone so negative already, it’s just ugly. Neither party seems to stand for anything and it’s more a battle of personalities than policy. The way both parties are treating asylum seekers is frankly appalling to me. I may have to flip a coin at this rate.

I’ve actually had some good news about my writing, though, during all of this which I’m very excited about. I was contacted by a scouting agency last week who sound interested in looking at some of my work. I’m thrilled… it’s just what I need at this stage. I’ve had some minor interest before as well, so I guess that shows I’m on the right track.

I haven’t worked out what I’m going to send yet. I’ve only just started working on my first novel so I haven’t really finished enough to show to anyone yet. I’ve been thinking about putting together a collection of short stories, so that might be an option instead.

Either way, it’s encouraging. I feel like I’m finally starting to get somewhere, so I think I’m going to focus more on writing my novel for the next few months. I feel like I’ve come far enough to seriously think about publication now and if I can have a draft finished by mid-September then at least I’ll have an idea of if it’s good enough to send away.

I’ll probably have to put some of my other projects aside while I work on the novel but I’ll be continuing with Sleepless at the same time. I may change a few things about how I’m writing the story (I’ll probably hold onto a few updates rather than posting them all live, so I’ll have something to post when I’m busy with the novel) but I’m still really excited about it and some of the ideas actually complement the novel, so it shouldn’t be a distraction.

If you’re following Sleepless, by the way, you’ve probably noticed I haven’t updated it for a few weeks. I took a break from writing to plan out the rest of the story but I’ll be getting back to it later tonight. With everything planned out now, there shouldn’t be any more delays. Thanks again to everyone who’s followed the story so far. I really appreciate it and all your feedback.

Anyway, as it’s been a while since my last post I thought I’d do a fun post to get back into the swing of things. So how about a meme? About two years ago I did the 5 Things About Me meme and as it was one of my favourite posts, I thought it’d be fun to do a follow-up now and see how my answers have changed… kind of like digging up a time capsule.

I’ve answered the questions differently where I can and I’ve added a few new ones as well to show what’s changed in the last few years. Just looking back at the original post now, it’s amazing how much has changed since then… we’ve changed Presidents and Prime Ministers, gone through the GFC, watched Haiti suffer, Michael Jackson become a memory… I’ve made new friends and lost others, watched from overseas as my grandmother nearly died… you don’t really realise just how much can happen in two years until you look back.

I hope you enjoy the meme. Has much changed for you in the last two years?

5 things found in your bag
I’ll use my messenger bag again

  • Camera
  • Glasses (mainly for reading these days)
  • iPhone
  • Sunscreen
  • Notepad and pen

5 favourite things in your room

TV Corner

  • Favourite pen
    I have a number of pens but my favourite is a custom-made Amboyna Sapwood pen that I’ve had for a couple of years. I tend to prefer wooden pens to metal ones; I write by hand and they’re just more comfortable when you’re using them for a long time. I use it mostly for writing letters and editing and I always use it for the first page of a new story.
  • Writing area
    My computer died earlier this year, so I took the opportunity to get a new desk as well. I loved my old writing desk but it was too small for the monitor, so I’m saving it for when I have more room. I’ve got a nice area set up now. Now I just need to get on with writing!

Computer & Desk (side on)Computer & DeskComputer, Desk & Chair

  • Memory box
    Everyone probably has a memory box somewhere. Mine’s mostly filled with simple things – photos, trinkets, my school prefect badge, a copy of my favourite book from when I was a child (The Velveteen Rabbit). It also has my first acceptance letter from when I was published and my first email from a reader.
  • Statues and figures
    I mentioned that I collect these in the original post as well but I’ve added a few more since then. The Egyptian figures are made by Veronese from cold cast resin; most of the pewter ones are by the Tudor Mint. The Le Morte d’Arthur piece (right) is my favourite.

Egyptian CollectionPewter Figures

Pewter Fellowship sculptArthurian Collection

  • Wall plaque
    I got this for a bargain $2 on eBay a couple of years ago. I love Asian-themed art and it’s one of my favourite pieces. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out much about it, though; I only know it came from Melbourne and has a “Partos” sticker on the back.

Asian Wall Art

5 things that have changed in the last two years

  • My writing
    My writing’s come a long way in the last two years; I’m much better at editing in particular now and finally feel confident enough to try a full-length novel. Also, I’ve really taken to poetry, which has been a surprise. I’ve never really thought of myself as much of a poet.
  • My philosophy
    I’ve been an atheist for about two years now. It was a gradual thing; I lost my faith after 9/11 and Bali and considered myself an agnostic for several years, before I started to drift towards atheism. Atheism isn’t what a lot of people think it is; it’s a philosophy based on the absence of personal belief, not the worship of science. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I feel more content now. Most people seem to respect that.
  • My family tree
    I’ve always had an interest in genealogy and I started researching our family tree last year. So far I’ve found several distant cousins and an entire side of our family we knew nothing about. I’ve also learnt a lot about Isaac, my great-great grandfather.
  • My taste in music
    I’ve never been that into modern music but I’ve found myself drifting more and more towards indie and alternative artists and music from the 60s and 70s over the last few years…. I can’t even remember the last pop song I bought. I’ll take Sarah Blasko over Katy Perry any day.
  • My hair
    I guess it’s just a part of getting older but I’ve started to lose a little of my hair over the last year or so. It’s not that bad but still, I wasn’t expecting it just yet! And the icing on the cake? I found my first grey hair the other day as well…

5 things you want to do in the next year

  • Finish my novel
    I feel happy with where I am with my writing at the moment, so I finally started work on my novel a few weeks ago. I’ve been developing the idea for almost a year; it’s a modern fable exploring racism, terrorism and religious extremism. I won’t know if it’s good enough to publish until it’s finished but I think it could be excellent if it all comes together… something quite different to what’s around at the moment.
  • Study
    I’ve been thinking about this for a while and at some stage during the next year I want to get back to studying. Now that I’m finally working on a novel I want to have something to fall back on as well and I think now’s a good time to think about studying again. I’m looking at library studies atm; I could do a Masters later as well, which would allow me to teach, something I’ve always wanted to do.
  • Meet someone
    I don’t talk about my love life that often. I don’t date that much but the last time I had something close to a relationship was about two years ago, when I met someone I became very close to… I’m not sure if it was “love” but it was certainly the most intense connection I’ve ever had with someone. It ended quite suddenly; I don’t know why exactly, though I suspect it was because I became an atheist as she was quite religious. I haven’t really been looking to meet anyone since then, but I’d love to meet someone during the next year, someone I could be myself with. I don’t know if it’ll happen but it’d be nice if it did.
  • See the Australian Open
    I love tennis and I’ve been wanting to go to the Australian Open in Melbourne for years. Hopefully 2011 will be the year! It’ll probably come down to whether I can afford it closer to the date but it’s something I’d love to do to start off the new year. I’d love to see a cricket match at the MCG if there’s one on as well.
  • Get a good night’s sleep
    I’ve had insomnia for about three years now. I only get a few hours sleep a night and frankly it drives me nuts. I mean, what are you supposed to do at 4 in the morning? Just once in the next year I’d love to get a good night’s sleep. That’s not too much to ask, is it? 😕

5 things you have always wanted to do

  • Perform a poetry reading
    I’ve always enjoyed poetry readings and I’ve often thought about sharing some of my own work in public. I’ve always been worried about embarrassing myself as I’ve not taken my poetry that seriously before but I still love the idea. I’ll have to do it one of these days.
  • Learn to play the piano
    I’ve never been that talented as far as music goes; I’m completely tone-deaf and the only instrument I used to be able to play was the little plastic recorder they made us play in school (I still wasn’t very good!). But I love music and if I have the time and money one day, I’d love to learn to play the piano. I’d have to get soundproofing for the neighbours first, though.
  • Travel to Egypt and Japan
    There are a lot countries I’d love to visit one day – India, Canada, New Zealand, the US – but if I had to choose two, I’d really love to see Egypt and Japan. I’ve always loved the idea of trying to find my way in a completely foreign city, of seeing the Pyramids, the Asakusa temples in Tokyo. Hopefully I’ll make it to both one day.
  • Be an extra in a movie
    I’m a big movie buff and I’d love to be part of a movie as an extra one day and see how they’re made. Maybe I could be a red shirt in the next Star Trek film and die a horrible death. What do you think?
  • Ride an elephant
    I’ve always loved elephants. Some treks in India and Africa actually allow you to ride on the back of an elephant and I’ve always thought that would be an amazing experience. I’d only want to do it if it was safe and the elephant was comfortable with it, of course, but it’s something I’d love to do… a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.

5 things you are currently into

  • She & Him
    I’m a big fan of M. Ward’s and one of his side projects is a folk duo with Zooey Deschanel called She & Him. Deschanel reminds me a little of Julia Stone (who I love as well) and they’re kind of a throwback to 60s music with a modern twist and sound refreshingly different to anything else out there right now. Their latest album’s one of the best I’ve heard in years.

  • Scrabble
    I have a kind of ritual I go through before I start writing; I do a word game or a crossword to start thinking about different words. Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Scrabble and I’m hooked. I got my highest score the other day (425) and still lost! I’m still not quite sure how.
  • The West Wing
    I’ve been working my way through all the DVDs of The West Wing over the last few months and it’s become one of my favourite shows. The writing and acting are incredible and it’s interesting, seeing the parallels to both Bush and Clinton administrations. It’s brilliant. I can’t believe I missed it on TV.
  • Catherynne Valente
    I hadn’t heard of Catherynne Valente until recently but she’s quickly become one of my favourite authors. The best way I can describe her is that she writes modern fairy tales, with some of the most beautiful, haunting prose I’ve read in a long time. If you like Margaret Atwood or Kelly Link, you’ll love her books. I can’t wait to read Palimpsest next.
  • Natalie Portman
    Because she’s Natalie Portman. What? Some things never change. 😉

5 people you want to tag

I won’t tag anyone as I did it in the first post. But if you’d like to do the meme yourself or do it again, feel free to use it… I’d love to see your answers.

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. 😉

The Books That Changed My Life (part two)

I’m happy to announce I’ve just passed a small milestone. This post marks my 200th post! About time, eh? 🙂 While I know it’s not that many posts, considering I wasn’t sure if I would continue blogging that long ago reaching 200 posts is something I’m quite pleased with.

I’ve known the 200 was coming for some time and it seemed like a good time to change my blog as well. I’m now self-hosted. After several experiences on WordPress, I felt it was time for a change; I have less time for blogging and this way I can enjoy writing at my own pace. I’m looking at it as a chance to explore some new ideas, so I hope you enjoy the journey with me.

I wanted to do a special post for my 200th and decided to save the second part of my books project for the occasion. I’m quite happy with how it’s turned out so far. It’s been fun revisiting these books again.

This second part is more about the books that have shaped my philosophy. There’ll be one last part to end the series next week, a profile of the three books that have had the biggest impact on my life. Let me know if you’ve read any of them. I wonder which books have changed your life?  😉

American Pastoral by Philip Roth
American Pastoral is one of those novels that leaves you reeling. On the surface it’s about two parents whose idyllic life is destroyed when their daughter sets off a bomb to protest the Vietnam War. But beneath that Roth examines the morality of objectivism (Merry becomes a Jain, concerned about murdering germs while oblivious to the deaths she caused) and the bond between fathers and daughters. Swede’s world falls apart and Pastoral left me wondering how far we’ve really come in 40 years. Which is Roth’s point.

The Speaking Land by Ronald and Catherine Berndt
I’ve been interested in Aboriginal mythology since I was young, particularly the stories of The Dreaming and the Rainbow Serpent. Aboriginal culture dates back over 50,000 years and The Speaking Land is the best collection I’ve read; it gives a real sense of the beliefs behind the myths, the reverence Aboriginal people have for the land and the spirit. It showed me an Australia I didn’t know, one I wish more people could see.

God Said, Ha! by Julia Sweeney
God Said, Ha! is remarkable in that it deals with big issues like cancer and death in an honest way and never feels depressing. In the mid 90s Julia Sweeney had just begun to look forward to a new life, but then her brother was diagnosed with cancer. As she started to care for him her parents moved in – and then Sweeney was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It’s a sad memoir and yet incredibly funny and insightful. It shows how laughter can get us through even the most difficult of times.

Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
I first read Nietzsche in high school but didn’t try again until a few years ago. As a critique of society Beyond Good and Evil is still relevant but it’s Nietzsche’s development of the “will to power” I find interesting. It’s often interpreted as violent (or fascistic) but that wasn’t what Nietzsche meant; rather it’s about overcoming individual weakness, explaining the motivations of individuals and societies and their actions. It’s one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read and has influenced my writing many times.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
I first read Kafka at about the same time as Nietzsche and I loved the absurdity of Metamorphosis. The idea of waking up one day as a giant insect makes the story so surreal but also very human. Kafka is less interested in the science of the transformation than in how Gregor tries to adjust to his new life. In the end it’s a very sad, tragic story, and yet darkly funny. Which makes its critique of society and our loss of humanity all the more poignant.

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
Childhood’s End was one of the first SF books I read. It’s about an alien race that suddenly appears on Earth, promising to help humans reach their full potential; and yet reaching that potential means losing everything that makes us who we are. Clarke uses the story to explore the idea of utopia and what the loss of inspiration means for society. The depth of ideas in the novel is staggering and it leaves you both a little wiser and sadder for having read it.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
I didn’t like The Handmaid’s Tale the first time I read it; I was too young but I was stunned when I reread it. It’s a moral fable, a warning against the dangers of totalitarianism, and it has a feel of history to it that makes it all the more troubling. Set in an America where women are property and the Handmaids’ only role is to have children, Handmaid is eerie when you think about the role of women in some countries. Atwood’s other novel Oryx & Crake is almost as powerful.

Animal Farm by George Orwell
It’s hard to decide which is the better novel between Animal Farm and1984 but Animal Farm, with its complete disdain of power and those who abuse it, has always left more of an impact on me. As a novel critiquing social and political power it’s unparalleled, but also in the way it continues to raise concerns about the way we exploit animals and their conditions. In the end it’s a pessimistic novel but it’s ironic as well that by turning Stalin and Trotsky into animals, Orwell actually succeeds in making them more human.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Of all of Hemingway’s works it’s The Old Man and the Sea that I’ve always related to the most. It’s exquisitely written and such a simple idea, a battle of wills between an old man and a marlin… yet it’s so much more than that. It represents the maturity of Hemingway and his writing; how rather than have Sargasso return victorious as a young Hemingway might have written, instead he returns with no more than a skeleton. It’s a lesson about life and courage and I’ve learned more about writing from Hemingway than any writer.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Like Childhood, The Left Hand of Darkness was one of the first SF books I read. The story revolves around Genly as he tries to convince the inhabitants of Winter to join the Ekumen, but it’s really about gender and friendship. The Gethenians are hermaphroditic and the friendship between Genly and Estraven forms the heart of the novel. Darkness was one of the first SF novels to create a world convincingly, with believable characters. It influenced much of my early writing and still does today.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Stranger had a huge impact in the 1960s, introducing “grok” to the English language. It follows Mike Smith, who is raised by Martians after a failed mission to Mars. When he returns to Earth and learns about humans, Mike begins to spread his Martian philosophy, forming his own church, causing others to begin to see him as dangerous. Stranger is a brilliant idea-driven novel and one of the few SF novels that’s genuinely literate; reading it is like getting a high of ideas and the scope of the novel is breathtaking. It’s the kind of novel I’d love to write one day.

The Once and Future King by T.H. White
I’ve always enjoyed old myths and my favourite myth is the legend of King Arthur. When I first read White’s version what struck me about it was the tone; it starts playfully but by the end it’s mirthless. Yet that’s what makes it so strong. White uses the legend as an allegory for World War II, filling it with the realities of war and an examination of communism and socialism. It’s as much about human nature as chivalry, Arthur struggling to find a philosophy that fits his (and our) world. It’s a sad, beautiful novel, one I reread regularly.

How cynical are you?

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How Cynical Are You?

Just thought I’d make a quick update as I haven’t posted in a while. I’m still not feeling well which is why I haven’t been online lately… I think it’s just a virus but it’s frustrating. I haven’t been able to answer comments yet either but I wanted to thank everyone for their thoughts on my last post; you’ve given me a lot to think about and I’ll be following up with another post in a few days.

I haven’t done much writing either but I’ve been thinking about an idea which could be different for me… it was sparked by a dream and I’m just debating whether it should be a screenplay or a story at the moment. I had this image of a man emerging from a fire, a shape-shifter, and everything’s just fallen into place from that scene. I’m leaning towards the screenplay, but we’ll see… I’ll post a short synopsis once the details are worked out.

Anyway, as I haven’t been able to do a normal post, who’s up for a quiz? 🙂 I found this one earlier and thought it was interesting. I’ve never thought of myself as much of a cynic but I am with my writing; I’m confident but I try to keep myself in check. Apart from that my result seems about right… I’m fairly positive but I know how the world works and my impressions are pretty accurate.

I wonder if being cynical is so bad, though? A cynic is often portrayed as pessimistic but I think you can have a healthy scepticism about anything; sometimes being a little cautious can be a good thing. What’s interesting is how our impression of cynicism has changed from its origins, though. Originally cynicism wasn’t about seeing the world in a misanthropic way as much as advocating a simpler lifestyle in the pursuit of virtue. It encompassed a number of Greek philosophies but now a cynic is someone who always believes the worst in humanity… as a philosophical movement you can see its benefits but now it seems somehow dishonourable. Strange how times change.

So are you a cynic? Do you think cynicism has its place? I’d be interested to find out. And I’m looking forward to catching up with your blogs again too. It feels weird catching a virus when it’s still 26° C outside… must be Murphy’s Law. Or maybe I’m just being cynical. 😉

Nature's Fury

Sydney Surf

If there’s one thing I’ll never get used to it’s the weather. Sometimes it has a mind of its own. The last few weeks have seen some bizarre weather conditions across Australia; it was pleasant in Sydney over Christmas, but the other cities sweltered in 45°C heat and for the last week or so we’ve had wild storms sweep across the eastern coast.

The rain’s been intermittent but annoying; it’ll stop quickly, but you’ll get soaked if you’re caught in it. What’s been amazing, though, is watching the gigantic waves crashing against the beaches. I’m not sure how well the picture shows it; some of the waves are up to four metres high. Most of the beaches have been closed for the last week, but they’re still attracting people to watch.

Foam

Even stranger has been this sea foam that’s washed up on a couple of the beaches. I’ve seen it once before and apparently it’s a lather of crushed up plankton and seaweed; it almost looks like yeast. A few people tried swimming in it; not sure I’d want to, but it’s amazing to look at. This guy looks like he’s had the bath from hell. 😉

The weather’s caused a lot of damage but it’s still strangely beautiful. Just reminds me that with everything we can create, there’s nothing more beautiful than nature’s fury.

7 things I want to do before I die

The beginning of the new year’s made me think about a few things. Well, that’s not unusual; I’m always thinking. 😉 But particularly I’ve been thinking about some of the things that I’d like to achieve in my life. Recently I’ve decided to have a look at my priorities, so I thought making a list of some of those things might be a good place to start.

It’s just a short list; I plan to add something new each year so it stays fresh. They’re things I’d like to be able to look back on in later years, things that would make me feel I’d achieved something and could remember with fondness. I wonder how many would be on your list?

7) Learn to dance.
I’m a terrible dancer. I always feel self-conscious and awkward. A large part of that is I’m very sensitive to noise, so being near loud music is difficult. But I’d love to be able to dance; to dance with my wife at our reception would be something I’d remember for the rest of my life. Of course, first I’d need a wife…

6) Spend time on every continent.
I’ve always wanted to see more of the world. Over the next 10 years I hope to see more of Europe and the Americas and it’s my dream to see the Pyramids. Eventually I hope I’ll be able to spend some time on each continent. Antarctica will be the difficult one, if you believe Al Gore.

5) Make a pilgrimage.
I’m not sure where I’d like to go yet but making a journey I’d remember for the rest of my life is something I’d love to do. Jerusalem would be one possibility, or tracing Rome’s history… probably what appeals to me the most is tracing Darwin’s route through the Galápagos.

4) Sleep under the stars.
This is probably the easiest one to do but one day I’d love to get out of Sydney and spend several nights under the stars. You can barely see the stars at night here and the sky is never clear; I imagine being away from the city, the darkness would be beautiful.

3) Listen to someone’s life.
I’ve always liked the idea of a speaker for the dead, to use Orson Scott Card’s term, someone who would learn and speak about a life honestly. One day I hope to listen to someone tell me their story, to truly get the chance to know them… and then if someone wanted to know about them after they had passed, to share it so they would live on.

2) See John Williams and Howard Shore in concert.
I talk about music a lot, but I’m actually more interested in classical music than I am pop music. I write to it and I think movie scores are the closest thing we have to the great compositions of the past. For me John Williams’ score for Star Wars and Howard Shore’s for The Lord of the Rings are the greatest scores ever written (Miklos Rozsa’s Ben-Hur a close third). I’d love to hear both performed live, given the opportunity.

1) See all 4 Grand slams.
Tennis tragic that I am I’d love to see Wimbledon, the Australian, French and US Opens live. I haven’t been to the Aus Open in Melbourne yet but I hope to go next year; if things work out well, that might be when Federer overtakes Sampras’ record. Hopefully I’ll be able to see the others too at some stage. Maybe I’ll be able to see Agassi’s and Graf’s daughter win Wimbledon. 🙂

Is happiness a state of mind?

You know, one of these days I’m actually going to finish a post when I mean to. Recently I’ve got into the habit of starting posts and not finishing them… I’m not sure why, there’s nothing particularly wrong with them. I just don’t feel like posting them and they get put aside.

I started doing it again with this post; I started writing it on Boxing Day and only got back to it today. I needed a couple of days to clear my mind anyway, so it wasn’t a bad thing… it’s just annoying and feels too much like writer’s block to me. I have enough of that in my life already, thanks.

Anyway, I’ve found myself thinking about happiness a lot lately. What started it was when I had dinner with my parents on Christmas day. A funny thing happened. It was just the three of us as we’re never that fussed about having a big Christmas. A couple of hours before we were going to eat, my mother decided to use the good china and we spent about ten minutes trying to find the good glasses to go with them. I think they must have vanished into the Twilight Zone because we couldn’t find them, so we settled for some champagne glasses instead.

I don’t drink much, so it was just ginger ale and it probably would have been easier to have drunk it out of the bottle. But it seemed like a nice idea, so I went along with it. My mistake. I’m halfway through the meal – a nice salad; we can’t imagine a roast on a hot day – and start to take a sip. Except I can’t. The glass won’t go past my nose.

I’ve never thought of myself as having a particularly large nose, but I must have as I just couldn’t get the glass past it. Maybe my nose was broken when that sandbag hit me ten years ago; maybe I’ve been telling too many lies like Pinocchio. Either way, it wasn’t working and tipping my head back didn’t help. I had a decision to make; either admit defeat (ha!) and get a different glass, or work out some other way.

So very slowly I started to slide down in my chair. I was able to angle the glass more and eventually the drink started to tip out. Of course by this time my parents were in absolute hysterics and I’m busy studying them, trying to work out which was to blame for my humongous nose. Strangely they’re both quite normal. I guess the gene must have skipped a generation. 😕

Later on I thought about it and I realised that, in a strange way, it was a nice experience. I mean, yes, I was being stubborn, but I didn’t feel embarrassed or stupid; I was with family and it’s been a while since we’d laughed like that. Even now when I think about it, it still gives me a happy feeling and that’s something I’ll remember for a long time.

Happiness is a strange thing, isn’t it? It’s something that can feel so different; contentment and peace can give us one kind of happiness, intense joy another. The way we each experience happiness is different, as is what makes us happy. Something I find funny – a show like Seinfeld or Friends – might be annoying to someone else; likewise some of us might go through our lives without showing much emotion, but might still feel peaceful and content. Happiness is so hard to define, but plays such an important part in our lives.

What I’ve been wondering recently is, do I feel happy in my life? Am I a happy person? If I’m being honest then I’d have to say I’m not sure. Most of the time I’m probably not; I like to laugh (and make people laugh) and try not to take things too seriously, but I consider things carefully and that’s my natural response. At the same time I’m not unhappy or sad either. I actually think I’m at peace most of the time. Happiness or sadness is an emotional response for me; I’m neither all the time, I’m just going about my day.

I think a lot of people confuse being “positive” with being “happy”. Being positive is a way of looking at life; being happy is an emotional response which comes from your mindset. You can choose to be positive, but usually something happens that makes you happy. I’ve heard people say they’re positive and so they’re happy, but I’m not so sure. For a lot of people having a positive mindset is a great thing; it lets you look to the future and it’s helped sportspeople and people in everyday life. But I’ve met several people who I’ve thought are so positive that they’re miserable. They work so hard at creating their outlook that they bring everyone down, including themselves; their relations with their families and friends are strained and though they’re positive, they never seem particularly happy… they always want more.

I think having a positive outlook in life is more likely to make us happy, but doesn’t mean we will be happy. And I suppose that’s why I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been reading some articles recently that indicate if you’re happier, you’ll be healthier too. One study found that “happy” subjects were one-third less likely to develop a cold, while another found that people who thought in happier and more positive ways were more likely to increase their longevity by an average of 10 years.

If that’s right then there’s a definite reason to want to be happier. And so maybe I should make more of an effort to be happier and not let things bother me… although again I don’t feel like I’m unhappy or particularly negative. I’m content with who I am and think I’m a fairly realistic person. Plus isn’t the whole idea of what makes us happy all relative? I’m writing a new poem at the moment and like a lot of my poetry, it’s quite melancholic… some people might find it depressing but even though it’s sad, it makes me happy because it’s something I want to write. I think the key to happiness is respecting yourself, and in that way I’m at peace.

I wonder what you think? Does being happy make us healthy? Is happiness a state of mind? I’d be interested to find out, and I wish you all peace and happiness in the new year. 🙂