Sunday, June 26, 2005

Words and pictures

I've been trying to find something to quote in sets (albums or themed-collections) on my Flickr account. I'm hoping to find something that can explain the photo-taking process, because it's a weird, wordless thing and I'd like to know what's going on.

Walking around with a camera, I'll suddenly see something: some part of the world says, "Here! Look! This is a picture!" So I take the shot. But then I'll think, Well, how is that a picture? It's stupid! There's nothing there! (And please feel free to agree with this assessment.) Inevitably, though, if I just stick with the initial impulse, I end up liking the final result. And alternatively, when there's no impulse saying "Here!", and I take the shot anyway, it never works.

I'd like to know in words what's going on. Don't know why, just do. So I've been looking to poets, thinking they possibly use the same sort of process, except that they end up with words rather than pictures.

Haven't found an answer yet, though. So that's the end of this post.


The following poem comes close to something, though. There's a strange feeling of confidence in walking around with a camera; I usually know (without knowing why) that if I just keep looking, I'm going to find a picture. It doesn't always happen, and I end up trashing most of the pics I take (say 20 to 1 of them). But this poem reminds me of the feeling:

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

- Theodore Roethke

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

We the people

I’ve just discovered Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), a poet from Chile. I haven’t read many of his poems yet (a bit of an oversight, yes) but I like the lecture he gave when accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1971:

Dimly I understood, there by the side of my inscrutable companions, that there was a kind of link between unknown people, a care, an appeal and an answer even in the most distant and isolated solitude of this world.
From all this, my friends, there arises an insight which the poet must learn through other people. There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song - but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny.
And, if the poet succeeds in achieving [a] simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind's products: bread, truth, wine, dreams. If the poet joins this never-completed struggle to extend to the hands of each and all his part of his undertaking, his effort and his tenderness to the daily work of all people, then the poet must take part, the poet will take part, in the sweat, in the bread, in the wine, in the whole dream of humanity.
Our original guiding stars are struggle and hope. But there is no such thing as a lone struggle, no such thing as a lone hope. In every human being are combined the most distant epochs, passivity, mistakes, sufferings, the pressing urgencies of our own time, the pace of history.

[Extracts from the English translation of the Nobel Lecture, 13 December 1971)


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Happy solstice!

A full moon and a very big sky for the shortest/longest day of the year.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Country noise

Found at the Australian National Botanic Gardens site, sound files of bird and frog calls.

War stories

Went to Brisbane today to retrieve my parents from the airport. They’re back from their overseas holiday, and they're so damn happy they nearly talked my ears off during the drive home. Everything in the world is marvellous, the people are lovely, the sights are beautiful, the food is delicious, the mountains are high, the seas are deep... and so on.

Mum and Dad have always been quite conventional types: they know what the social rules are, and they generally stick to them. Please keep that in mind for a minute...

They were on a train, going from a warm place to a cold place (can’t remember where; somewhere in Europe) and Mum started to feel chilly. She was wearing lightweight trousers, but had some long underwear in her luggage and decided to put it on. They had the train compartment to themselves, so Dad suggested she could change right there. Mum was reluctant, but Dad said he’d keep an eye on the corridor and if anybody walked past, he’d give her a signal, giving her time to sit down so the passing stranger wouldn’t notice anything. Mum was still reluctant, but feeling colder and colder, and finally couldn’t see much wrong with Dad’s plan.

So Dad stood in the doorway of the compartment, manning the lookout. Mum stood between the seats and took off her trousers, put on the long johns, and then pulled her trousers back on over the top, facing Dad all the time in case of a signal. The whole plan worked brilliantly... except for the one thing neither of them had noticed. The train had slowed to a near-standstill, and level with Mum’s backside was a large picture window looking out onto a railway platform full of waiting passengers...


Saturday, June 18, 2005

Time flies right out the window

I had a brief moment of panic this afternoon when a radio presenter said, "Here's a cruisy tune to take you through your Sunday arvo..."

Just for a split second I was thinking, "Sunday? Sunday?? I've skipped a day??"

Friday, June 17, 2005

An outbreak of security

I had to go to Lismore yesterday (a large country town), and it’s the first time in months I’ve walked around the streets there. There was something new about the place: security guards everywhere you look. In just one small street there was one in front of a credit union, one in front of a bank, two patrolling the footpath... I’ve seen the patrollers before but the others weren’t there last time. What’s going on? Have we had a huge wave of street crime and bank robberies in Australia? Has anybody forecast one?

Those guards make me feel more nervous, not more safe. And I bet they're not necessary. I don’t like it. Boo!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Lunch with Rainer

I was fussing today, trying to solve the mysteries of life, and asked Rainer Maria Rilke for advice:

RMR: Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
ME: Huh?
RMR: Good! That’s very good!
ME: No, I mean: What?
RMR: Excellent! You’re doing well!
ME: No, you stupid man, what do you mean, "Live the questions now"?
RMR: That’s it! You’re doing it!
ME: NO! Tell me what it MEANS!!
RMR: You’re a natural at this, aren’t you?
ME: Oh, bugger off! Fool!

Never have lunch with a dead bloke. All you get is indigestion.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Chattering quite unnecessarily

I posted once before about the mindless chatter that runs in my head all the time. I'm not channelling spirits or hearing voices, it's just what my brain does when there's nothing more important to do. Here's a little gem from today that's still making me laugh:
"I love to spit. It makes me feel alive."

You really wanted to know that, didn't you?


Just discovered I'm in good company: William Butler Yeats had surprising words springing to mind as well:

This sentence seemed to form in my head, without my willing it, much as sentences form when we are half-asleep: "Hammer your thoughts into unity." For days I could think of nothing else, and for years I tested all I did by that sentence.

Obviously he was pretty cluey, so I'm going to take his lead. Henceforth I'll be testing everything that I do with my own special question: "Does this make me feel like spitting?"

Please don't stand downwind.

Friday, June 10, 2005


I'm sorry about the pitiful rate of posting I've been doing here lately, Reader. I can't find anything to say. Errr... ummm... ahhh... (et cetera).

If you haven't yet noticed the "Atom" link in the sidebar, you can click on that, put the URL into a feed whatsit (you know what I mean, whatever they're called) and the next time there's a new post here, you'll be informed. Saves you time and effort, dear.


Flickr pic: Human Behaviour

Copyright Human Behaviour (Tom Williams) of Sydney, Australia. All rights reserved.

"outside the police station, town hall, george st. sydney 2004."

A view of homelessness that says more than words could. I think it's a fine pic.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


This blog post has been giving me trouble. I was going to write about the terrible state of Australian public hospitals, provoked by a visit my sister and her kids made to a local Emergency ward last night. I'll tell you that story in a minute, but first there's the small matter of working out what this post is about.

This afternoon I wrote a draft of the aforementioned hospital rant and then went for a walk with the dogs. But plodding along I realised the post made big generalisations based on not much at all. How would I know what's going on in hospitals? I don't, is the answer. Damn.

So I jotted down all the points I wanted to make, and wrote "Where's the angle?" (meaning Where's the story? What's my point?). But instead it came out as, "Where's the angel?" And that suddenly seemed like exactly the right question to ask. Where's the angel in this mess of notes, and in the situation? And I think now I can see it. I'll let you know at the end. Here's the story:

My niece, Surfergirl, was injured while playing sport last night, possibly breaking her leg (they still don't know). Her mum, J, took her to the local hospital. They arrived about 8:30pm, and, somewhat miraculously, Surfergirl was taken straight in and given a bed.

I say miraculously, because you usually need to go through several stages before you get to the Emergency ward itself. First you sit in the waiting room, then you go to the reception area, then you're transferred to Emergency (which at this hospital, and perhaps temporarily, is at a distance from the waiting room/reception area). There are not enough staff and too many patients, and it can take hours for a doctor to become available. If you go in seeking medical attention but are not close to death, there’s a good chance you’ll have to sit in the waiting room until you ARE close to death. J thinks that Surfergirl was given priority entry to the reception area (and allowed to bypass the waiting room) because it was obvious she'd need an x-ray, and the x-ray facility at this hospital closes at 9pm (please don’t break any bones after that hour, citizens).

Surfergirl's bed was in a cubicle, separated by a curtain from the desk and chairs in the adjacent cubicle, which is where a nurse interviewed patients before sending them back out to sit in the waiting room (Surfergirl having been given the only bed). There were 12 to 15 people waiting. (In the four hours Surfergirl was present, the four on-duty doctors – perpetually busy in Emergency – managed to see only two people.) Thanks to the superior sound-insulating abilities of the curtain, J and her kids could hear every word exchanged between nurse and patient during interviews in the next cubicle, and consequently know that in the waiting room sat:

- an elderly woman with a broken arm, shallow breathing, and the chance of heart problems. The nurse tried to arrange an ECG, ringing three or four times to request it. But when J and the kids left the hospital about 12:30am, the woman was still sitting in a wheelchair in the waiting room;
- a baby who had fallen out of bed and who screamed every time he/she was moved;
- a teenage boy who had been tackled while playing rugby, and who kept asked the same question ("Who won?"... which is kind of funny) over and over, despite knowing the answer and not being able to work out why he was asking;
- a person with burned arms, which a nurse finally (after some hours) dressed, despite having no authority to do so, telling the patient a doctor would probably be angry she'd intervened;
- a woman who had been vomiting all day;
- a woman who had been bashed by her husband, and was worrying about the kids she'd had to leave with a neighbour.

For most of the time there was only one nurse in attendance, and sometimes there was none. At one stage J had to take Surfergirl to the toilet and back unaided. It's not easy to lift an adult-sized person with possible broken leg up onto a bed; Surfergirl nearly fainted several times. J called out to ask for help from the receptionist but this was apparently against the rules of receptionist duties. (I suppose there's a reason for such a rule, but it's hard to see the justification for it in such circumstances.)

Surfergirl finally got to see a doctor about midnight. Leaving the hospital about 12:30 am, all of the above-mentioned patients were still waiting to be seen.

I don't know whether the chaos in this Emergency department is widespread in hospitals across the nation. I've heard people say it is, but maybe they don't know what they're talking about either. But in a sense it doesn't matter, because for the people dealing with this chaos every day, what matters is their own hospital, their own hours, their own duties and problems.

We're now getting to where I think the angel was in this situation. The nurse who'd almost single-handedly managed the waiting room/reception area had been run off his feet all evening, trying to find doctors and resources which were just not available. He'd been kind and helpful with everyone, over and over and over, accompanied by the sounds of the poor screaming baby in the waiting room. He had a jocular approach to the job and kept saying "Sweet!" and "Sweet, darl!" to everybody and everything, despite continual problems. Then towards the end of his working day (late at night) the phone rang and someone asked him to extend his shift. He told J later that he'd already worked a 20-hour shift this week, and the hospital was no more busy last night than it is any night.

After this phone-call he was cranky and upset, and took it out on the next patient he had to interview. But then, J said, she heard him sigh, as if he was pulling back from involvement in the situation, and then he was back to his previous light-and-breezy manner.

For me, that's where the angel was. In the midst of chaos, at the end of a too-long day which suddenly wasn’t going to end after all, trying to find the patience to deal with yet one more person in pain and in need of help, this man could focus. His job was to help this one patient, not worry about anything else. So that’s what he did.

He and his colleagues shouldn't have to contend with the hospital shambles that surrounds them. It's a disgrace. But day in and day out, they cope. They focus, and they go on. They save our lives and keep the world turning. Bless them. They're heroes.


J rang the hospital today to find out what's going on with Surfergirl's radiology report. It wasn't ready. I don't know how long these things usually take, but three days seems just a tad slow, in my opinion. They still don't know whether her leg is broken or not.

And here's my rendition of the exchange which then took place:

HOSPITAL PERSON: When the report's ready, it'll be sent to your GP [general practitioner], Dr T.
J: Sorry, who?
J: That's not my GP.
HOSPITAL PERSON: That's what it says on your file.
J: I've never been to a Dr T in my life.


Good news for Surfergirl: damaged ligaments but no broken bones. She and J arrived at their doctor's office yesterday afternoon to find that the radiology report STILL hadn't been sent through. Their doctor had to ring the hospital to have it faxed.