Monday, July 31, 2006

Garden: 1

Years ago I had two vegie gardens, and for a while it was quite a production: fences, paths, raised beds, lots of vegetables. But then along came a really hot summer with water restrictions (having to cart water in a bucket instead of using the hose or sprinkler), rabbits and grubs were attacking things, and my motivation had started to dwindle before that anyway, so I gave up. Weeds came and took the gardens away.

I've been meaning to start again. And I mean, for years I've been meaning to start again. Probably every time I walked past the one remaining garden area (the other was turned over to something else), I'd think, "I should get that cleaned up and planted again."

A few weeks ago I made a start, and sprayed the area with herbicide (shudder all you like, organics; the place was so seriously overgrown it was scary to even look at). And on the weekend I finally got in there and started clearing.

Looking south:

Looking north:

I'm planning to post updates here as a way to prod myself into continuing, and also as a way to record progress. This form of motivation had some outstanding success with my philosophy studies, you might recall: the start, the end. (The maths lessons have been here since February, by the way. I avoided telling you because so far I've avoided looking at them.)

The point is: I made a start on the garden. This is good. Yay.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Our mystery-filled, star-born nature

More excerpts from Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul, primarily to give some context and more meaning to the chapter previously posted; at the moment, both posts sit on the same long LONG page here. It's hard to understand quite what he's saying (well, I find it to be so), but I think it's an interesting point of view.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

In case you're feeling homeless

Home. According to Wikipedia, this is said to be the most famous photo in history (except that I've flipped it back up the right way - Antarctica at the top - the way the photographer, Harrison Schmitt, saw it).

One tiny, tiny planet. And, apart from space travel, the home for everything we humans ever have done or are likely to do.

Treasure alert

Stranger's Fever

A blog written by an emergency doctor ("Bronze John") somewhere in Australia, and presumably somewhere in South Australia - it's listed on The Adelaide Index (though maybe that's intentional misdirection?).

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you might (like me) be thinking Oliver Sacks. The man can really write, is the point, and he's talking about life and death and all the bits in the middle.

Monday, July 24, 2006

De Profundis ("out of the depths")

Following on from the copyright infringement** linked to the previous post, I toddled over to Project Gutenberg to find the source of its quote from Oscar Wilde: De Profundis. Not surprisingly, the quote is more interesting in its proper context:

The more mechanical people to whom life is a shrewd speculation depending on a careful calculation of ways and means, always know where they are going, and go there. They start with the ideal desire of being the parish beadle, and in whatever sphere they are placed they succeed in being the parish beadle and no more. A man whose desire is to be something separate from himself, to be a member of Parliament, or a successful grocer, or a prominent solicitor, or a judge, or something equally tedious, invariably succeeds in being what he wants to be. That is his punishment. Those who want a mask have to wear it.

But with the dynamic forces of life, and those in whom those dynamic forces become incarnate, it is different. People whose desire is solely for self-realisation never know where they are going. They can't know. In one sense of the word it is of course necessary, as the Greek oracle said, to know oneself: that is the first achievement of knowledge. But to recognise that the soul of a man is unknowable, is the ultimate achievement of wisdom. The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?

(online reader)

De Profundis was named and published after Wilde's death, but he wrote it as a letter during his time in gaol (Wikipedia). It's a beautiful meditation on the impact of isolation and sorrow, and in one lovely passage he illustrates the resounding power of a small kindness in times of trouble:
(To avoid confusion, please read "-" as the absence of somebody's name, and I've changed what I think was a typo in the first line: from "in" to "is".)

Where there is sorrow there is holy ground. Some day people will realise what that means. They will know nothing of life till they do, - and natures like his can realise it. When I was brought down from my prison to the Court of Bankruptcy, between two policemen, - waited in the long dreary corridor that, before the whole crowd, whom an action so sweet and simple hushed into silence, he might gravely raise his hat to me, as, handcuffed and with bowed head, I passed him by. Men have gone to heaven for smaller things than that. It was in this spirit, and with this mode of love, that the saints knelt down to wash the feet of the poor, or stooped to kiss the leper on the cheek. I have never said one single word to him about what he did. I do not know to the present moment whether he is aware that I was even conscious of his action. It is not a thing for which one can render formal thanks in formal words. I store it in the treasure-house of my heart. I keep it there as a secret debt that I am glad to think I can never possibly repay. It is embalmed and kept sweet by the myrrh and cassia of many tears. When wisdom has been profitless to me, philosophy barren, and the proverbs and phrases of those who have sought to give me consolation as dust and ashes in my mouth, the memory of that little, lovely, silent act of love has unsealed for me all the wells of pity: made the desert blossom like a rose, and brought me out of the bitterness of lonely exile into harmony with the wounded, broken, and great heart of the world.
(online reader)

** Waving at you, M.

Darker beauty

An alternative view from Thomas Moore: Gifts of Depression.
The soul presents itself in a variety of colors, including all the shades of gray, blue, and black. To care for the soul, we must observe the full range of all its colorings, and resist the temptation to approve only of white, red, and orange - the brilliant colors.
Care of the soul doesn't mean wallowing in the symptom, but it does mean trying to learn from depression what qualities the soul needs. Even further, it attempts to weave those depressive qualities into the fabric of life so that the aesthetics of Saturn [the Roman god once identified with melancholy] - coldness, isolation, darkness, emptiness - makes a contribution to the texture of everyday life.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Happiness takes work

I was exceedingly grumpy this morning and, hoping to find a magic solution (while simultaneously pretending to treat the matter in practical fashion), I googled "happiness takes work". (Of course, as Queen of the Universe I should be entitled to just click my fingers and call for happiness on demand, but I've been doing that for ages and no, it isn't working. You just can't get good help any more. It's completely scandalous.)

Googling quickly led to a whole nest of guru-like articles by one Dr Margaret Paul. I'm finding them helpful and will link to some below, but please be warned: if the following keywords make you want to hurl projectiles, or just hurl full stop, don't bother reading further:

inner child
core self
higher guidance

Also, the main website spruiks a self-development course which is said to involve "dialoguing", but please don't think that I'm recommending it. In my opinion, anything stupid enough to use the term "dialoguing" is too stupid to be allowed anywhere near your life, but maybe that's just a personal thing, and you probably think I'm too stupid in recommending these articles anyway, don't you? :)

Happiness Takes Work: 5 Choices to Create Happiness
Happy people think and behave according to these principles:
1. optimism
2. kindness
3. forgiveness
4. acceptance
5. gratitude

Does Your Life Lack Meaning?
Loneliness is the primary feeling when we want to connect with another and the other is unavailable. If you were completely open to your feelings, you would feel moments of loneliness throughout the day. However, most people never feel this feeling and are completely unaware of it, because the moment there is a twinge of emotional pain, they move instantly to various addictions and addictive behaviors, such as substances, activities, thoughts, shame and blame. Yet when we shut out pain, we also shut out joy and a passionate sense of purpose.

Selfishness versus Self-Responsibility
Giving ourselves up to avoid being called selfish is not self-responsible - it is manipulative and dishonest. When we give ourselves up to avoid criticism, we are trying to control how another feels about us.

Are You Invisible?
If your own feelings and needs are invisible to yourself, they will end up being invisible to others. It is not realistic to constantly put yourself aside and then expect others to value and respect you. Anytime you tolerate uncaring or disrespectful behavior in others to avoid conflict, you are training others to see you as invisible, to not care about your feelings and needs.

The Powerful Secret to A Loving Relationship
At any given moment, each of us is devoted to only one of two different intentions: to control or to learn. When our intention is to control, our deepest motivation is to have control over getting love, avoiding pain, and feeling safe. When our intention is to learn, our deepest motivation is to learn about being loving to ourselves and others.

More articles:
Personal growth
Main index

Thursday, July 20, 2006

For Gerry

[Image removed because it infringed upon the copyrights of others.]
Gary Larson. The PreHistory of The Far Side: a 10th Anniversary Exhibit. Kansas City, USA: Andrews and McMeel, 1989. ISBN: 0836218515, p.211.

**Note to non-Gerrys: diogenesian discourse has joined the list of threatened species.

Striving to be happy / Hidee-hidee-ho!

I sometimes wonder about the point of being happy. Why bother? What's it for? Yes, I'm a pain in the arse, and yes, I've found some good reasons: happiness matters because:

(a) it makes you stop looking for reasons;
(b) it makes you more likely to care for other beings, things, and yourself;
(c) it feels good;
(d) it makes you want to live;
(e) it makes you stop looking for reasons.

There's a nice bit in Woody Allen's 1986 film, Hannah and her Sisters (posted over here) in which Mickey realises he could start being happy if he stopped being miserable. Not that this has ever been an issue for me, of course, and I could give you 50 reasons for that, but I've always loved the scene and its conclusion: that the meaning of life is Why The Hell Not.

The scene shows a Marx Brothers' film, Duck Soup, which is summarised here:
Firefly: Not that I care, but where is your husband?
Mrs. Teasdale: Why, he's dead.
Firefly: I'll bet he's just using that as an excuse.
Mrs. Teasdale: I was with him to the very end.
Firefly: Hmmph. No wonder he passed away.
Mrs. Teasdale: I held him in my arms and kissed him.
Firefly: Oh, I see. Then it was murder. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.
Mrs. Teasdale: He left me his entire fortune.
Firefly: Is that so? Can't you see what I'm trying to tell you? I love you.
Mrs. Teasdale: Oh, your Excellency!
Firefly: You're not so bad yourself.
Yeah, it's just a theory, but what the hell. C'mon and sing it with me, people! Hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-ho!


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Don't listen to advice (including this)

Continuing my breathless series, Sage Advice for Successful Living! (and yes, joking, yes, indeed), I've just posted a newspaper column written by Mary Schmich in 1997, Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.

Her words were later circulated in an internet hoax about Kurt Vonnegut (supposedly having given the commencement speech at MIT), and still later used - legitimately - by Baz Luhrmann for a song called "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)".

I like the text, so that's reason enough for posting it. But it also makes me wonder why so much advice is directed towards Yoooth, when it should be blindingly obvious to anybody who looks that it's actually middle-aged dodderers like myself who really need it. And no, I'm not talking about something like this:**


Have a happy Tuesday, if you can manage it.

** New Yorker cartoon by Bruce Eric Kaplan, published 23 August 1999, available through The Cartoon Bank.


New Yorker cartoon by Charles Barsotti, published 10 April 2000, available through The Cartoon Bank.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Demon ducks of doom!!


Palaeontologists from the Uni of NSW recently found the remains of huge birds (reportedly related to "water foul" [sic]) they're calling "the demon ducks of doom". Hahaha. How cool is that?

Of course, other creatures - killer kangaroos!! - are getting the headlines. But that's just silly. Demon ducks are better.

Anyway, just between you and me, I've always been a bit wary of kangaroos:

Photo from the 1600s: Mum, my sister J, an unnamed kangaroo, and me on the right, ready to make a quick getaway if the killer starts galloping.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A simple and magnificent stillness

The latest post from The Blog of Henry David Thoreau (Thoreau's Journal: 12-Jul-1851) is lovely.
Farewell to those who will talk of nature unnaturally, whose presence is an interruption. I know but one with whom I can walk. I might as well be sitting in a bar-room with them as walk and talk with most. We are never side by side in our thoughts, and we cannot hear each other's silence.
And the good Mr Thoreau knew a thing or two, too. Back in 1851 he looked far into the future and gave us this treasure:
Nature is in as rude health as when Homer sang.
Bless him :)

(Picture from here.)

Sunday, July 09, 2006


I've just posted a copy of Max Ehrmann's Desiderata and National Lampoon's Deteriorata over here. (For a short time only, that third link gives you two posts for the price of one click, reader. Great value!)

I know it probably looks like Desiderata has been done to death - tacky posters, shonky quotes, etc. - but still, I really like it. And I like what its author, Max Ehrmann, said in his journal in 1922:
I would like, if I could, to leave to my country a bit of chaste prose that had caught up some noble moods. My life is spent in a time and among a people of commercial interest, with its attending selfishness, cruelty and ostentation.

I would reclaim a little of the heart of man, infuse some gentleness into the stern ethics of trade, and make life the supreme art instead of acquisition.

If, in an hour of noble elation, I could write a bit of glorified prose that would soften the stern ways of life, and bring to our fevered days some courage, dignity and poise - I should be well content.

And if your stern ways and fevered days are getting you down, please give the Deteriorata a try: "Know yourself. If you need help, call the FBI."


A right royal shellacking

I don't understand the appeal of rugby union for participants. I can see how it's good for spectators - you pick a team, get caught up in the rivalry, go ra-ra during and celebrate/commiserate after - but playing is different. Players must expect to be smashed into the cold hard ground as though they're made of anything but living breathing feeling human stuff - every time they go out on the field.

Do they want to get hurt? Do they want to hurt others? Are they so full of aggression they need a socially-sanctioned means of releasing it? That's possible, I guess, but it's probably not likely. Look at Jonny Wilkinson, for example (Australia's pin-up for the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Sydney, and he was playing for the opposition). He represented brains and dignity and goodness, not rampant aggression. And (horror of horrors) my sweet young nephew Beansprout recently started playing rugby with his school, but there's no way anybody could describe him as being aggressive.

So. I don't know. The whole mock-combat thing: I don't understand wanting to get involved in it, except at a distance, and safely, if at all.

The point I'm slowly getting around to is this: last night New Zealand's rugby union All Blacks beat Australia's Wallabies 32 to 12, and that's a mighty victory. I didn't see it. I turned the TV on at 5pm to see the start, but the pre-match on-field pseudo-ad-lib banter by the Australian commentators was so extremely irritating, I didn't even last as far as the national anthems. Boo.

Generally speaking, I think Australia presents itself to the neighbours as being a nation of arrogant self-centred fuckwits, and maybe that's exactly what we are. My source in the Pacific (and I only know about 3 people in the entire universe, so guess who) watches NZ television news feeds and says that, unlike our Australian jokey rubbishing of Kiwis (who we seem to regard affectionately as our impish and naive younger siblings), the NZ version of cross-Tasman rivalry has more bite to it. In fact, Australians: it's entirely possible that many or most or even all New Zealanders hate us. Would or should this be surprising?

Anyway. The All Blacks beat us. Soundly. According to this article, the Wallabies were smashed, bashed, tarnished, monstered, and even, would you believe, nailed to the wall. Respect where respect is due: the Kiwis were good and they won. Well done, New Zealand.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The whys and the hows

New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner, originally published 11 December 2000, available through The Cartoon Bank.

I used to have a book by Victor Frankl, and it was really helpful. He said things like this:
It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
And this:
A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."
(quotes from Man's Search for Meaning)

And I can't think of a way to turn this post into anything other than a series of links and quotes, so here's another link: an interview with Mr Frankl in 1995.

Monday, July 03, 2006


I've always been amazed by the internet, and maybe that's because I came to it late - not growing into it, but plonking. The idea that my computer connects to your computer connects to their computer... it's too big, it's too amazing. What a world we live in.

I've just come across a prime example of this amazingness - but a word of warning beforehand: if you have a dial-up connection (as I do) this file took 44 minutes to download; and if you have a fucking useless computer (as I do) the thing may crash (as mine did, twice). But still, it's worth the aggravation. So: guitar, a video at YouTube.

It shows a kid in a bedroom playing a guitar. You can't see his face, he's wearing a baseball cap and looking down. All you can see is part of a bed, a table with computer gear, and him playing guitar, and maybe he's just miming (I can't tell). Actually, I can't even say for sure he's a he - maybe it's a girl. But the music: ahh... I love Pachelbel's Canon in any version (even the uber-tacky ones) and this one is very fine. Somebody, hopefully this kid, is a guitar fiend.

Watching this video, the tone of my day turned around. I've been a tad unhappy for a while now and I was crying so much while eating lunch, I nearly choked on a piece of toast (which then seemed so ridiculous, after regaining enough oxygen, I had to laugh). The point is: some anonymous kid somewhere changed the shape of my day. Me. Here. Now. He doesn't know me, I don't know him, and he'll never know the effect he had, or how grateful I am, but the day I'm living now is better, thanks to him. He could change the shape of your day too, if you download the video.

And here's the headline: this kid and his video have been viewed - at present count - 6,071,573 times.

Did you get that? Six million, seventy one thousand, five hundred and seventy three times. That's a lot of joy, and all thanks to a kid sitting in his bedroom, playing guitar.

Do you see? The net, reader: you, me, him. We're in it together. It's a new world, and it's good.



A number of sites allow you to download and save this video. Two examples:

- Google Video (.avi files) Sadly, sadly, very very sadly, I tried two files from here and neither would play on my elderly Windows computer. I think they require the Google Video Player, which in turn requires Windows XP/2000 and a 1Ghz+ processor.

- Metacafe (.wmv file, 17.3MB). Works just fine. Yee-har.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people.

I've just posted a copy of Robert Fulghum's credo, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten". You might have seen it before but I found it for the first time yesterday. Apparently it was hugely popular in the late 1980s. (See this article from TIME magazine.)

There are reprints and quotes all over the net. In a sense this makes me feel okay about ripping it off myself - because "ripping it off" is what I've done. Posting it is a copyright violation, isn't it? I think it is. I assume it is. I've probably just stolen something. And I've done this to show you an essay which says in part, "Don't take things that aren't yours."

Hmm. And yet... And yet... I feel justified in posting it. Mostly, maybe, because I'll never have to face the consequences of having stolen something. It doesn't feel like stealing something.

Added to this is the fact that most versions online show only the "rules" themselves, and don't include Mr Fulghum's reasons for writing them. But knowing how and why he wrote the piece affects your reading of it. So in my own mind I've done the good thing, not the bad - righting wrongs, rejoining halves, fixing something broken.

Still. Nevertheless. However. It's messy, isn't it? And it seems like everything always bloody is. Everywhere you look: messiness, complexity, confusion. And I think that's why it's such a huge relief to read things like this credo. Just for a minute you can hope that all our many complications and uncertainties and worries in fact just hide the truth: that living, at heart, is simple:
Share everything.

Play fair.

Don't hit people.