Monday, January 31, 2011

Plass repeated


A friend gave me a book a few days ago called Seriously Funny, by Adrian Plass and Jeff Lucas. I'm a Plass fan from way back, and think he's done the Christian community a great deal of good over the years in terms of getting them to laugh at themselves and not take themselves so seriously.

When I ran the bookshop I met him a couple of times - he's toured New Zealand with his wife at least twice - and he's very down to earth, quite shy in a way and, of course, not especially funny in conversation - as humorous writers/speakers often aren't.

Anyway, I began to read this book and discovered it consists of a series of letters between Plass and Lucas, and I thought: I'm sure I've read this before, except it had a different title. And I got niggled that the publishers should put out the book as though it was brand new, and had never been published before, and that Lucas should be appearing in a promo on You Tube saying that they'd just come up with this idea.

Checked the Internet. No sign of a previous book by Plass and Lucas. Felt quite irritated. Said to my wife that it really bugs when publishers pretend they haven't published something before, especially under a different title. (It has happened: we once ordered in a stock of books by a well-known author, thinking that it was a new title, and would be very popular with his readers, only to find out that they English publishers had given it a different title to the American publishers, and carefully not told anyone.)

Got home tonight, was reading the book again, and it suddenly clicked that I had a copy of the earlier version on my shelves. Searched, and there it was!

Except it wasn't. The earlier book is called You Say Tomato; it's by Adrian Plass and Paul McCusker; it's fictional, and, apart from being a series of letters, is nothing like the new book.

Oh, dear. The lights were on but no one was home, as they say.

Marginalising Christianity?

One of several comments made in The Guardian in April 2010 after Nurse Shirley Chaplin lost her legal battle for the right to wear a crucifix at work.

We've redefined oppression as hurting people's feelings, and suddenly the whole citizenry from the secular society to hospital patients are declaring themselves hurt by everything that in the least savours of Christianity. Muslims may wear their burkas, gays their earrings and Sikhs their turbans, but Christians may not wear crucifixes. Marriage is attacked because of presumed links with Christianity, and euthanasia promoted because it is presumed to have none. Alone among nations we require our sovereign to be a Christian, then forbid her government to "do God". But then, Christianity is by definition marginalised. Followers of a Crucified God cannot be insiders.

Donald MacLeod is the recently retired Principal of the Free Church college in Edinburgh.

Art and Science


I've begun reading Proust was a Neuroscientist by (30-year-old) Jonah Lehrer. The following quote comes near the end of the introduction:

Our current culture subscribes to a very narrow definition of truth. If something can’t be quantified or calculated, then it can’t be true. Because this strict scientific approach has explained so much, we assume that it can explain everything. But every method, even the experimental method, has limits. Take the human mind. Scientists describe our brain in terms of its physical details; they say we are nothing but a loom of electrical cells and synaptic spaces. What science forgets is that this isn’t how we experience the world. (We feel like the ghost, not like the machine.) it is ironic but true: the one reality science cannot reduce is the only reality we will ever know. This is why we need art. By expressing our actual experience, the artist reminds us that our science is incomplete, that no map of matter will ever explain the immateriality of our consciousness.

The moral of this book is that we are made of art and science. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, but we are also just stuff. We now know enough about the brain to realize that is mystery will always remain. Like a work of art, we exceed our materials. Science needs art to frame the mystery, but art needs science so that not everything is a mystery. Neither truth alone is our solution, for our reality exists in plural.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

John Psathas


Great documentary on John Psathas, the New Zealand composer, on the weekend. It was called Sound and Fury. I caught up with it last night on video.

Quite a bit of the music was familiar, because I seem to have acquired several CDs with Psathas music on them, but it was good to see the pieces being played as well as hearing them. The one in the German Festival was so energetic - typical of Psathas' style, but it was energetic enough for him to say it even got him going. And the Marimba concerto was just fantastic.

But apart from the music, his comments on the process of composing: the need for uninterrupted concentration and the way interruptions make you easily lose the thread; the way working as a composer makes you guilty because you're not involved with your family; the way a bit of your music will get inside your head and wake you in the middle of the night, and so on.

All very familiar, even for this much less able composer.

Interesting too that he was a pupil of Jack Body at university. I can't imagine a composer less like Psathas!

Progress?

In the past, even before I began writing for publication, I would keep files of clippings out of newspapers and magazines. I even used to try and put them in some order, or keep a primitive form of database so as to know what I had.

In fact, what would happen is that I'd come back to them some years later, find all these clippings which varied in interest from 'none' to 'moderate' and eventually toss them out. The only time they got used was if they were used when I first found them. After that, they usually became excess to requirements.

When I first started my current job, back in late 2007, part of my work involved scanning articles of interest onto the computer and databasing them. Sound familiar? However, it quickly became evident that it was much easier to find the article online - most newspapers have websites these days, and most magazines. That saved the tedious process of scanning (the scanner has gathered dust mostly since then) and also saved databasing, since Google Desktop did that side of the job much more effectively for me.

And then along came Zotero, and articles could be copied in the blink of an eye, as soon as you found them online (because now we were catching up with the information less from newspapers and mags and more from the Internet itself). No more cutting and pasting; just a click of the appropriate button and we were away. The databasing isn't so good, and will have to be reconsidered, and sometimes it's better still to use the slightly older method of putting the item on the computer itself.

But with Zotero you have access to the articles wherever you are: at work or at home, or anywhere else.

All this is well and good. You know what's funny, though, don't you? I'll come back to these pieces in a few years time, find they vary in interest from 'none' to 'moderate' and eventually delete them. The only time they'll get used will be if i use them when I first find them. Sound familiar?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Breaking rules

Alan Jacobs posted this quote on his 'more than 95 theses' blog...
“The guardians of the liberal arts have made exactly the same mistake. They themselves are securely grounded in the tradition of the liberal arts—they know the languages and literatures so well they can dispense with them—but they have small interest and less intention of giving their students anything approaching the same grounding. Like the early Jewish secularists in this country, they cannot see that it is their very grounding in the tradition that enables them to “blur [its] boundaries.” Their revolt against the liberal arts belongs to the liberal arts. But not their students’, who have been given nothing to revolt against. For their students, blurring the boundaries of the liberal arts has meant that nothing at all remains to be seen or learned. The liberal arts teachers valued something else, including their own self-image as enlightened revolutionaries, over the liberal arts and the continuity of liberal arts education.”

from A Commonplace Blog: Blurring the liberal arts

I probably don't need to add anything to this; it applies to all subjects in which those in the know fail to ground those not in the know in the basics: music is one obvious area, in which young composers are often exposed only to established composers who have known the rules and then broken them - but the newbies don't have much idea what the rules that were broken were, and consequently write unfocused nonsense.

Friday, January 21, 2011

More on Robertson Davies


Finished reading Robertson Davies' Murther and Walking Spirits last night. It's a late book in his career, and I suspect that if he hadn't been such an established author when it was published, it wouldn't have seen a single bookshop shelf.

It's really two books in one: the first, which provides bookends for the other, begins with the murder of the narrator, goes on to discuss his subsequent interaction with his wife and her lover and other characters (all without them knowing) and then is literally dumped for some 200 plus pages before resurfacing so that things can be resolved in some degree.

The second book is the meat in the sandwich - very substantial meat, in fact. Its only connection to the other story is that the narrator continues to inform us what's going on, and his murderer is also mentioned spasmodically - they're 'sitting' together in a cinema watching old rediscovered movies. However what the narrator sees on the screen (for no explained reason) is different to what the murderer sees. It turns out that he sees several 'movies' about his ancestors, each movie gradually coming closer to the time of the book. In this section there are dozens of characters, some of them receiving little more than a line or two to delineate them. Supposedly the narrator is telling us what's happening in the movies, but Davies goes way beyond that and adds in authorial comment and much more. It's a puzzle of a story, since there's no structure to it, merely the detailing of some of the ancestors' lives and how they interacted with those around them. Often there's no dialogue for page after page (though things come vastly more alive when there is dialogue). Instead the narrator will tell us what the supposed director of the movies is showing him, and somehow this superb director can make the inner thoughts of the people on screen known to the narrator as well. It makes for interesting historical reading, but isn't the material for a novel, in my opinion - at least not as it stands.

As one of the reviews on Amazon says about this book: If you haven't read Davies, "please, please don't start here because this is awful and just not indicative of what a great writer he is." Here's a more detailed review from the New York Times, written when the book first came out.

I read a much earlier Davies book (1951) before this - Tempest Tost - in which a bunch of amateur actors put on Shakespeare's The Tempest. Again there are heaps of characters, some of them only turning up in the last thirty pages or so. There's a lack of any sort of structure (which is interesting, because Davies was a playwright before he began writing novels), and it's hard to figure out who the main characters are: people who start out seeming to play an important part in the action often fall by the wayside; others come into their own for a while and then are dropped into the background. A man who plays a major part in the story takes quite some time to get a head of steam, and even then can vanish for lengthy periods.

The novel basically moves forward in time, but there's no sense of plot, and very little of things known early in the piece coming into their own at a later point. It's enjoyable, and often very funny (more in the writing about the characters than from what the characters themselves say), and Davies has a nice line in aphorisms; the book is littered with them. He likes to play the author as a wise old man...but it's a bit of a puzzle how he's regarded as the Grand Old Man of Canadian Letters.

Summer holiday


Feeling as though your summer holiday isn't up to much? Here's what we experienced one summer holiday when we stayed overnight in Greymouth....

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Accompanying

The poem in the Writer's Almanac for the 17th January this year was The Accompanist, by William Matthews.

The title naturally caught my attention, since I've spent a good deal of my life accompanying singers on the piano, and though Matthews is talking about a jazz situation, the elements are similar:

Don't play too much, don't play
too loud, don't play the melody.
You have to anticipate her
and to subdue yourself.

Wow, that's so familiar! Matthews puts those who suggest that the accompanist and the singer have a 'partly sexual' relationship in their place with the line:

it's partly
sexual but it's mostly practice
and music.

There's a similar thing goes on in playing for 'worship' times at church. Both the Assembly of God (which we used to attend) and the Baptist church (where we still are) lean towards an element of improvisation in the music. Some of the song leaders (often ones that don't play an instrument) think that worship doesn't really require attention to the details of the music. They think that even though we'll have a 'practice' this practice should also be a worship time. Nope, it's a time to practise. I could paraphrase Matthews on this point:

it's partly
worship but it's mostly practice
and music.

There's no worship without the fingers knowing where they're going to go. Musicians in worship bands have a difficult role to play. They're leading the congregation into a place of worship, but they often don't get there themselves, because they have to use a good deal of their brain to keep track of what the rest of their body is doing: keeping to the chord structure, playing the right rhythms for the particular moment, hitting the right notes (or turning wrong ones into right ones). It's a servant role: the guests enjoy the food, the servant brings the dishes in and clears them away again.

Victorian and Modern

At the moment I'm reading the rather odd book by Robertson Davies, Murther and Walking Spirits, in which the narrator (a man killed by his wife's lover in the first paragraph) views 'films' of his ancestors' lives. In the section I was reading last night there was a long story about his Victorian grandparents and the awful way in which the wife treated the husband in terms of conjugal relations (or rather, the lack of them).

I'm also reading Helmut Thielicke's The Ethics of Sex (translated by John Doberstein), in which he discusses in chapter 2B the way in which the Victorians kept sex (eros) in its place and the way in which we moderns have made it so open that it's lost its power.

Here's a quote from that section:

"Today we speak not only about the power but also about the details of eros, even in the best society. We talk in a free and easy way about our complexes and are capable of revealing things about ourselves in the code language of objective terminology which were formerly uttered only in the confessional. This, however, does not reveal a more intact eros, but rather an eros that has been domesticated, exhausted, and robbed of its elemental character. We no longer need to be exorcised. Since it has changed from a wild, rushing torrent, confined to a narrow riverbed, into stagnant flood waters that inundate the whole country and since we are always wading in it and coming into touch with it everywhere (in nudifying concealments and concealing nudifications, in the omnipresent exploitation of sex appeal on stage and screen, in magazines and newspapers), it cease to be something ecstatically seductive and enjoys the prescriptive right to have at its beck and call at any time those whom it formerly had to seduce. Already there are highly civilized countries in which even young children are given sex education by means of films and talks in order that the ecstatic demands of nature may be normalised and reduced to ‘second nature’ at an early enough age, and in order that what is by nature a mystery may be shown to be merely an objective triviality and thus make it harmless. And as a matter of fact, here adjurations and reticences are no longer needed in order to prevent the elemental force from coming too close. The stagnant waters surround us on all sides. The fleeting moment of eros has become an extended flat surface. Has this brought us closer to eros?"

I love that phrase: 'nudifying concealments and concealing nudifications'.

Incidentally, I discovered that this book, which I've had for some time, and which is secondhand, formerly belonged to someone in Christchurch with whom our office has had a great deal to do with over the last year! Books have a way of connecting up: I once put a copy of the book, The Bone People, in the Regent Book Sale only to have it was bought by the person I worked with, who had no idea that it had been mine until she got home with it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Larque

Does anyone else find the words that Google produces when you're making a comment on someone else's (Blogger) blog intriguing? Today's was larque. It sounds like it should mean something, as do many of the other words that I've had to copy in to that little box in order to confirm my comment. (I started collecting them, but didn't pursue it far enough to make a decent collection.)

Larque? A French bird? Nah, too easy. A period of joi de vivre? That was quite a larque (giving it a kind of Continental feel).

In the midst of my blogging, I was struck by a larque moment, when something outside my everyday world broke through. Now, that's making progress...

Anyone else any thoughts?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More Maori-English

Last week I quoted a paragraph from Joan Metge's book, Tuamaka.

Here's another, longer quote, in which she discusses some of the wordplay that's occurred as a result of interchange between NZ English and Maori.

While it was Maori wordsmiths who coined mana-gobbling and mana-munching, Maori and non-Maori alike gleefully use these words to skewer the pretensions of those who seek to increase their own mana by eating that of others; at the same time, they approve other actions as mana-enhancing. A Maori politician describes a Waitangi Tribunal report as 'another step on the mana whenua ladder' for his people. When a Maori lecturer renames stress leave as 'mana restoration leave,' a Pakeha colleague files it away for her own future use.

I have already referred to the proliferation of different kinds of hui; recent additions to the list include ratification hui, cyber hui, 'annual general hui, commemoration hui, crime hui, queer youth hui, regional consultation hui, summer hui, workshop hui, and youth hui.' Hui-hopping, hui fatigue and 'too much hui too little dooey' may have been coined in the first place by Maori impatient of demands on their time, but they have long since passed into such general currency that it is impossible to pinpoint their origins. New variations on this theme continually surface. I chuckled over the headline 'Hui hooey' cropping up in a Business Herald article written by a Pakeha columnist. I have since heard reference to a 'hui bluey', playing on the slang term blue referring to a mistake.

Compounds of Maori and English words are used to express both approval and disdain, often to humorous effect. Describing projects and services as iwi-initiated, iwi-led and even iwi-driven generally conveys admiration, but insistence on the iwi as the only valid form of Maori organisation is mocked as iwi fundamentalism and iwi-isation by both Maori and Pakeha. The South Island iwi Ngai Tahu named its superannuation scheme IwiSaver, adapting the name of the national scheme KiwiSaver. Kaumatua flat is a widely used synonym for pensioner housing generally, but dial-a-kaumatua and rent-a-powhiri rebuke the practice of calling in elderly experts just to perfom rituals for show. A golden handshake is made at home in New Zealand as a golden koha. As Maori make creative us of new technologies, compounds such as reo-texting and reo-phobes appear in their blogs and reports, and the Maori Language Commission signs a memorandum of understanding with Air New Zealand to provide 'te reo expertise' for cabin staff.

To these examples I cannot resist adding compounds incorporating words I have not discussed here. Waka are canoes that range from 5 to 36 meters in length and are crewed by up to 80 paddlers. Knowing this, New Zealanders are wryly amused by the phrases waka jumping (to describe Members of Parliament changing party allegiance mid-term), a waka paddlepast (the prime Minister inspecting a fleet of waka at Waitangi aboard double-hulled waka Te Aurere) and a waka-themed playground planned for central Auckland. The admonition 'Catch the waka before it gets too far from the shore' is a fresh take on more than existing aphorism. Students interested in the combination of music and dance know what it is to be bitten with the haka bug or to experiment with haka boogie, and tall poppies are transmuted into tall ponga (tree ferns).

From pages 97-8. References included in the original text have been ommitted.

Catching up on Tunisia


Like many other New Zealanders, no doubt - and probably many other Westerners around the world - the recent unrest in Tunisia has come out of the blue. Where is Tunisia, for starters, and who are the people involved in the situation?

On my Google Reader I get a daily roundup of a lot of blog sites, but one that's been most helpful in getting some small grip on the Tunisian situation has been GetReligion.org, which not only sums a lot of things up very well, and quotes other sources more than adequately, but also gives helpful links for further reading, if you're of a mind. (GetReligion aims to clarify the religious aspects of journalism, but alongside that it's a very readable site in terms of the news.)

Their piece, Tunisia's Islamist-free revolution, is the article in question, and one of the most interesting things to come out of it is the way in which successive rulers in Tunisia have kept the Islamic opposition in its place; rather brutally, at times, but certainly they've avoided many of the problems that plague other Arab countries.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Left-handedness

There was a patch when I used to write regularly on the topic of left-handedness. This was partly inspired by the number of lefthanded people in my immediate family: my mother (who'd been forced to write with her right hand as a child), my mother-in-law, and two children. I'm also partly ambidextrous - as is one of my grandchildren, I've just discovered. We both play certain sports lefthandedly, even though right-handedness is our norm.

If you want to see some of my lefthand articles on the Net check out these: Look Left and Get it Right, Eight Things about Left-Handedness, We're All a Little Right and Left-Handed, and A Bit Sinister, in which my (slightly disguised) mother has a little rant about some Canadian professor who stated that left-handers were worse drivers than right-handers (partly based on an assumption that everyone in the world drives on the right side of the road). His conclusions, like so many reported in the media, came across as nonsense, and would probably prevent left-handers from getting cheap auto insurance rates compared to right-handers.

Left-handers are better off than they used to be, but there are still odd prejudices around, as you'll note if you read any of the articles above. (No....a promo for my articles? Pulease!) One that I remember reading somewhere related to there seeming to be a predominance of movie actors who were left-handed. It was noted that in many movies, when someone writes something down, they write left-handedly. You'd think that would show there was a bias towards left-handers, rather than not. But the conclusion this particular writer came to was that it was often more convenient for the director to film the shot from the actor's right, and in order not to block what they were writing the actor was asked to write with his left hand.

Yeah, right.

PS
Someone else has noted this left-handed writing thing in the movies too....and if there seems some inconsistency about whether I put a dash between 'left' and 'hand/handed/handedly', there is. I've never been sure about which is the proper option...if there is one.

An Open Letter to John Key


Dear Mr Key,

I have continually been amazed at the way in which you have ignored voters since coming into power. Huge numbers of us got you into office and yet again and again you have failed to listen to what the voters say.

Your offhand attitude to the referendum relating to the anti-smacking bill was the first shock for those who trusted you to do what you'd said before you went into office.

An unnecessary increase in GST easily wiped out any gains people got from tax cuts. The total foolishness of the Emissions Trading Scheme is nothing but an additional tax which makes absolutely NO difference to climate matters.

The Marine and Coastal Area Bill is just the latest of your faux pas. In spite of being told by those who know what is going on that this piece of legislation will be a disaster for the average Kiwi and their current ability to use coastal areas freely you insist on forging ahead. Who is forcing you to pursue the progress of this Bill?

You have broken several of your pre-election promises. Thankfully there are people around who are wise enough to keep track of what you say and hold you accountable for it.

How about starting off 2011 by listening to them?

For those who want more detailed information on the Mr Key's track record since becoming Prime Minister, read this article.

Psalms, Preludes and Fugues

Years ago I remember reading that the famous cello player Pablo Casals used to start his daily practice routine off with what you might call a meditative period: he would play a Bach Prelude and Fugue (on the piano) before he began to practice on his cello.

It always struck me that it was somewhat like reading a Psalm each morning, something I've done fairly regularly for years. The Psalms, even after countless readings, always have something fresh to say, something that triggers a response in the spirit and gets the mind working beyond the mundane.

Over a period of about three months I read Kathleen Norris' Amazing Grace. It's a book in which each (short) chapter focuses on a particular 'Church' word - the sorts of words we use in everyday Christian life. Why I mention her is because time and again she writes how the Psalms have been one of her mainstays in her Christian life, and how one or more are read aloud daily in the Benedictine monasteries she's visited on many occasions.

Bach's Preludes and Fugues can play a similar role in a musician's life. If we were, like Casals, to play one of each every day, we'd find we were running the gamut of (spiritual) emotions in a way that was similar to the way we run through them in the Psalms. Bach goes from joyous exuberance (some of the Preludes, in particular, seem to have fallen out of heaven and onto the page) to anguish to deep meditation (those Fugues that seem to go on in an endlessly inventive way for pages) to sheer wonder at the mathematical genius of the way some of the Fugues offer a theme, turn it upside down, inside out, back to front and still provide beautiful music.

A good way to start the day would be to reflectively read a Psalm, and then go off to the piano and play a Prelude and Fugue. The soul would be all the better for it.

More Dunedin quirky places

A dog is an anti aging product that works, by which I mean that one of the great advantages of having a dog is that he/she forces you to get out in the open air. Even though our dog is small, and can race back and forth through the house at lightning speed - and thus get some exercise - he still needs to get out into real world where there are endless smells and interesting things to follow up on (don't ask) and grass under his feet, and a ball to chase across a field...and much more.

Maori Rd runs through an extensive area of bush. For years I've walked and driven this road, and quite often I've gone down the main (bitumised) track that leads from Maori Rd to MacLaggen St, but it's only since we had the dog that I've discovered that there are multitudinous other tracks in this bit of bush, and sudden open spaces with grass, and even an Oak Grove with a cairn dedicated to Queen Victoria on the occasion of her diamond jubilee.

No doubt many other Dunedinites know these places well, although so far we haven't seen another soul when we've walked on these tracks. But I've lived in the city for more than fifty years, and never realised just how walkable this place was.

It's great to discover something new about your own city after all this time. (By the way, the link up above for Maori Rd takes you to a very short video encouraging some change to the two laybys on Maori Rd, so that they don't get further damaged by hoons driving their cars over the grass. If you don't know the road, this will give a small idea of it, and the encompassing bush.)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tattoo


For a brief period, when I was last in England (in 2007), I toyed with the idea of getting a tattoo.

Yes, I do realise that I was 62 at the time. I'm not sure why being in England should have brought out this somewhat unfocused latent desire in me; I'd never really thought that tattoos were that exciting a thing to put on your body. I still don't. Two of my daughters have them, and most of the time you can't see them because they're not exactly in visible places (the tattoos, I mean, not my daughters). One of my sons has had two lots of tattoos - the second joining up with the first. (I kinda hope he stops there.)

Even knowing that there's such a thing as a tattoo remover doesn't greatly endear me to the idea of putting marks on my skin that would require me to grit my teeth while they're being done - and require me to grit my teeth even more if I decided to have them taken off again (leaving nasty marks of a different kind).

So why would I even consider getting a tattoo - it wasn't as if I was going through a midlife crisis. Even given that being in your sixties is now not considered 'old' when it used to be, fifty years ago, I don't think I can really claim a midlife crisis at 62. I'd had two or three or more midlife crises earlier on in my life; I didn't need another.

I just think it was one of those things I was kind of daring myself to do; I don't dare myself much of the time, as it happens, so in that sense this was rather daring of me even to consider daring myself. If you're still with me. In other words, I'm not the world's greatest risk-taker. I read these obituaries where young men and women have 'died doing what they most enjoyed', usually something that requires climbing sheer cliff faces, or cycling through impenetrable forests, or canoeing down rapids that will flip you over as soon as look at you. And I think: well, dying while you're enjoying something is okay, but wouldn't it be better to enjoy something that doesn't destroy you in the process?

So I find doing dangerous enjoyable things a bit incomprehensible. Being tattoed can't really be classed as dangerous - unless you strike a tattoist who doesn't keep his needles clean - but my whim about getting a tattoo seems to have died after leaving the UK. And while I may sometimes look back and wonder what would it be like, I really don't regret not spending money on indelibly marking my skin. It's getting enough indelible marks on it already....

Photo by Glenn E Malone: Follower of Christ, Husband, Father, Musician & Geocacher

Always good at something


Here are three wonderful lines on the value of old age. They come from a poem called Towels by Samuel John Hazo. The poem is mostly about the worth of towels, from their glory days, when they're full of 'sheer, plump tuft' to their 'old age' as rags.

The lines that struck me were:

en route from use to uselessness,
it's no small asset ever
to be always good at something.

Hazo will be 83 in July this year.

Click here

After a number of years of being on the Net and writing links that baldly said, Click here, I was told a couple of years ago by the Communications Officer of our organisation that this usage was now terribly out-of-date, so 1980s, and shouldn't be used.

So I began to find alternatives to 'Click here,' or just added the link to a particular word in the content.

But I miss 'Click here'. It had a kind of authority about it, an essence of command, a kind of assurance that if you did click here you'd find something worth looking at. Adding links to random words, as is the norm these days all over the Net, tends to make me ignore the links...unless I'm really, really interested in going somewhere different.

Click here said: this is a vital part of the post, and you should read it. A link added to a word within the post just says: take it or leave it, I don't care.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My face


Two versions of my face acquired at the interactive Your Face Here exhibition currently on at the Otago Museum.

The left one consists of half of my face and its opposite, and shows how easily it is to misinterpret how your whole face should look.

The right hand image overcompensates for the problem, and makes me look much fatter in the face than I really am.

Neither is in the slightest bit complimentary!

Fortunately there was too big a queue to check out what we'd look like when we're (really) old, so I don't have those versions of me. Still, this was the best interactive exhibition I've been to at the Museum in many years.

Gold and the IRA

At the end of February this year, my job comes to an end. I'd known about the possibility for a while, but my initial reaction was that I'd really like to carry on working, because I enjoy working.

I became eligible for the pension/superannuation in May last year, so I've been getting that as well as my wages (well, I've been getting the bit that the Inland Revenue will allow me to have once they've taxed it quite heavily as secondary income).

I've been on holiday since the day before Christmas Eve, 2010. And something dreadful has happened: I've begun to consider that maybe retirement isn't such a bad thing after all. Freed from that constant stricture of having to go to work and stay there until the hours are done, I'm feeling quite good about the possibility of not working at all. However the income aspect is a bit of a problem, and maybe part time work somewhere (without stress or responsibility!) would be useful, just to pay those nasty bills that turn up occasionally.

I came across the acronym, IRA, recently. It isn't related to that Irish group who went round shooting innocent people (and some not so innocent ones) but stands for Individual Retirement Account - or Arrangement, depending on who's telling you what it means.

Regrettably I don't have much of an IR Arrangement...seldom having worked in a job where there was a pension attached, I'm having to rely on the Government to see me through (and they, money-grubbing people that they are, are even taking the tiddly bit of English pension I earned thirty plus years ago and using it to pay my pension here!) So I won't be taking up a gold IRA even though it sounds like a great idea...because the amount of gold I've got is pretty much limited to my own wedding ring and my English grandmother's one - and that looks like a very skinny curtain ring, anyway. Talking of rings, the phrase IRA gold has a nice ring of its own, but unless some currently unknown relative dies and leaves me some gold in their will, it's going to have to continue to ring without my appreciating the sound.

I don't know much about investing in gold (for the reasons stated above) but seemingly: Gold IRA accounts benefit from negative economic, political, environmental, or monetary conditions [that] contribute to a rising gold price. This is the reason gold has always been referred to as the “crisis commodity” and why investors are rolling their 401k and 401b's into Traditional gold IRA and Roth IRA gold accounts.

Does this mean anything to you? Plainly it means something to people who have gold to invest, so I checked out the Web and found out this: In the United States of America, a 401(k) retirement savings plan allows a worker to save for retirement and have the savings invested while deferring current income taxes on the saved money and earnings until withdrawal.

Sounds like a nifty plan, and I'd really like to be involved in a 401k gold plan in my imminent old age. Certainly appeals more than storing the gold I don't have under the bed. All I have to do (if I'm a gold holder, instead of a Gold Card holder - which I actually am) is do a gold IRA transfer.

Actually it's possible that the Irish IRA might well be interested in a gold IRA transfer....certainly more than a Gold Card transfer. Still, Gold Cards are not to be sneezed at. I travelled from Wellington to Paraparaumu on the train the other day - and back - for free because I'm a Gold Card holder. That was a Wow moment for me, really. So far my Gold Card has done nothing more than get me to and fro on the buses either at a discount (in peak hours) or free (in off peak). I'm not complaining, it's just that the train trip was the best bonus I've had in a while. Even getting into the movies with a Gold Card isn't much cop - you save all of six dollars....that's also pretty much Wow, but in a rather different mode.

Photo courtesy of IzaD KasmijaN

Men's clothing

Some time ago I wrote an article for Triond entitled, 'Hitching Up'. It was to do with men wearing braces/suspenders instead of belts. For many people, braces are a thing of the past, and anyone seen wearing them is regarded as a little odd. It's only since I started my holidays this year that I 've started wearing a belt again, and that's only because I prefer to use a belt with the gardening/work trousers I wear.

For the past year or two, I've been wearing braces, and in general they're a lot more comfortable, especially if you've put on any small amount of weight around your middle. (And if you've lost weight, you're not forced to tighten your belt in order to keep your trousers in place.)

In movies, you often see executive-type people dressed in braces; it seems to be some sort of statement of authority as far as the movie costume designers go. In real life, of course, you don't see many braces worn at all, but maybe they'll come back into fashion again. They've done it before on several occasions.

The poet, Les Murray, notes that men's fashion comes and goes a good deal in one of his poems - The Dream of Wearing Shorts Forever:

....long pants, which have themselves been underwear repeatedly, and underground more than once....

Bow ties are another item of men's clothing that movie costumiers always associate with a particular type of character: psychiatrists are often given them, or those college professors who don't have a life out of the school. (The bow tie goes when the aforesaid college professor falls in love with some lovely lady, usually one who gets rid of her 'intellectual' glasses halfway through the movie, to show that she's a real person, and not just a brain.)

I can't say I've moved towards wearing bow ties in recent years; in fact I've moved away from wearing ties at all. The only time I put one on these days is when I'm playing the piano at some concert, and then the tie I wear usually has a musical theme and gets interested comments from those distracted from my playing by it.

I used to wear a tie to work all the time, and then when I became the assistant at OC Books (or the Otago Church Bookstore as it was in those days) my (female) Manager said to me one day: you don't have to wear a tie to work....and I never did again.

I read an article in Triond a while back (don't ask me to link to it, because I have no idea what it was called now) in which the female writer berated men for strangulating themselves with ties, as though there was something foolish about men wearing something that gave them a bit of colour in their costume.

The curious thing was that the writer seemed to fail to see that women who wear spindly high heels are likely to do themselves a great deal more injury than men - who don't actually strangulate themselves in a normal working day. One slip off your high heel and you can sprain, crack, break your ankle. I've never seen a guy fall over because he was wearing a tie....at least not yet.

High heels photo by Markusram

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Hui of a time

Joan Metge's 2010 book, Tuamaka, (published in her 80th year) provides good insight into Maori language and the way many Maori words have been co-opted into everyday New Zealand speech and writing. She is careful to define how the words have shifted and expanded meanings over the last century, and to clarify how Maori speakers use them compared to how they're used in the wider community.

Occasionally this produces some humour, as for instance on page 74, where she's discussing the use of the word, 'hui', which is now used in a multitude of not necessarily appropriate settings. She quotes from the New Zealand Dictionary Centre's newsletter, NZ Words 10, from 2006 which wrote of the 'Proliferative Hui', where the word is used to mean 'meeting,' or 'gathering' or discussion'. It went on to list 24 usages, only four of which had Maori references...

"Newspaper reports, public notices, and websites reveal a 21st century widening use of hui in lieu of meeting, gathering, or discussion, by a range of organisations and groups. Many Government departments hold consultation hui. Political parties, trade unions, writers' groups, city and regional councils, Landcare and other environmental groups, the gay community, youth groups and churches hold hui of different hue. There are peace hui, blog hui, Out There hui, theological hui, communication hui, advisory hui, claimant hui, mandating hui, follow-up hui, taskforce hui, inaugural hui, regional training hui, assessment hui, annual hui, strategic review hui, trustee hui, planning hui, and regional cluster hui. There are problem gambling hui, hui-a-iwi, hui-a-tau, hui pooti, and hui topu. And a participant in a government-sponsored hui claimed that 'we suffer from hui fatigue.'

What education can & can't do


In the Wellington paper, the Dominion Post, there's a weekly segment relating to the education of a particular well-known person. EPMU national secretary and Labour Party president, Andrew Little, was the man this week, and I liked a couple of things he said:

Although your formal education teaches some knowledge and understanding, as well as technical skills, it cannot teach values, personality, character and other things that matter in life.

and...

Study is a good starting point for whatever discipline you're preparing for or just for developing an inquiring mind, but that's all it is. It isn't a substitute for life's other passions or the creative spirit.

Morning Glory

Over the last week and a bit I've been away on holiday, so blogging has gone off the radar completely. Which isn't a bad thing, and I haven't actually missed it particularly. However, it's nice to get back to doing some writing, even though taking a break from that too has been fine.

Anyway, while we were in Wellington over the weekend, we went to the movies - mainly to rest our weary feet, I think. The choices weren't great, or else the times weren't convenient, so we wound up seeing Morning Glory with Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton.

Keaton, who's a superb actress in the right roles, seems these days to play dopey characters with issues. However, given the material she has in this script, she does it perfectly, and is often very funny. Ford plays Mr Grump of the Year - or the Third Worst Person on the Planet, as one of the other characters describes him (the underused Patrick Wilson, who's supposed to be the hunk in the story, but gets no room to develop his character in any great way). Ford doesn't have to do much except be grumpy, and he does this very well. He's probably relieved that he never has to walk at more than a snail's pace - at 68 it's definitely time for him to hang up the action hero hat. (There was a noticeable moment early on in his last Indiana Jones movie, where he was required to jump up from one tall box to another. As a fellow-sexagenarian I could feel his - and see- pain.)

Rachel McAdams, who's not an actress I've really come across before, (though she was in the Sherlock Holmes movie that came out a year or so ago, but I think there she was struggling to be seen amongst all the hamming-up done by the two male leads) here plays an 'energiser Bunny' as Roger Ebert puts it. Quite honestly, she drove me a bit batty: she was supposed to have great talent, but was such a ditz that you had to wonder how the talent could shine through. Anyway, she's the lead, and she has a ball with her kookie character. I'd hate to come within a hundred miles of the person she plays, but that's okay, I'm not likely to, since this person gets up at 1.30 am every day to go and produce a breakfast 'news' program. Whether what they do is 'news' is what the movie is partly about, and is the source of Ford's character's issues. The former NZ Breakfast Show presenter Paul Henry was widely regarded a plonker after what he said about the Indian politician and the Governor General, but it's likely that most of the characters in Morning Glory would approve him entirely. He'd certainly fit in with their mentality.

There are few serious moments in the movie, when one character actually faces up to another with the truth, but the truth usually gets whizzed out the window a few seconds later.

I think we were probably too tired to enjoy this for what it is, but at least in the dark of the theatre we could take our shoes off without anyone noticing, and rest our weary feet.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

What it takes to be a writer

Ninety-nine percent talent . . . ninety-nine percent discipline . . . ninety-nine percent work. He must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don't know why they choose him and he's usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.

From an interview with William Faulkner, published in the Paris Review Spring 1956