Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pillow Talk

One of the characters in the play our church is doing for its 150th anniversary celebrations is called Hopestill Pillow.  Yup.  And she was a real person and that was her real name.  Extraordinary.   Which set me to thinking about pillows as a topic, so I trolled through my clippings on Evernote to see what came up.  

First there's a tweet from the witty writer who goes by the name of Kim Kierkegaardashian.  He or she mixes the serious spirituality of Kierkegaard with the vacuousness Kardashain philosophy of life.  

Weary of people, weary of myself, so weary that I need an eternity to rest. That's why I always carry a pillow when I'm travelling.
And talking about neck pillows, another favourite tweeter, Alan Jacobs, wrote: I salute you, dude who walks around the airport with your inflatable neck pillow tied around your collar.   There's something daft about this sentence. 
On another tack entirely, Joan Acocella wrote an article on the grimness of the Grimms Brothers' fairy tales. There's a reference to pillows in this one: In “The Twelve Brothers,” a king who has twelve sons decides that, if his next child is a girl, he will have all his sons killed. That way, his daughter will inherit more money. So he has twelve coffins built, each with a little pillow. Little pillows! For boys whom he is willing to murder!

A super-preganancy pillow!
And in another article related to the after-effects of abortions, we read about Emily, who, after having had an abortion, began to have flashbacks in relation to live babies: Emily’s first flashback hit her violently when she had her first ultrasound while pregnant with a “wanted” child. As time went on, she would get frequent intrusive thoughts concerning her abortion when looking at the faces of her babies. After a time, she began to also experience habitual, obsessive, and scary thoughts about hurting her children. She imagined stabbing her children with a knife one by one, suffocating them with pillows, and strangling them.
In a piece by Lois Swagerty about churches sometimes forgetting what they exist for, we read:
One way the church may have its comfort zone stretched is when new elements of the community are welcomed inside.
“A young lady from the neighbourhood came in when she was high on drugs,” recalls Cindy Milbry, director of community outreach for Redeemer Lutheran Church in Toledo. “Pastor was doing the sermon and the girl  disrupted the whole process. Someone said, ‘Let’s call the police,’ but I told them, ‘This is what the church is for.’ Instead I took her downstairs and fixed her a plate of food. The next time she came in, she wasn’t as high, but she was still disruptive. One of the girls sat down with her and she fell asleep, so we got her a pillow and covered her up. People didn’t say as much.  Next time she came, she went up front for prayer and gave her testimony. She said the only peace she has is when she comes to the church. She’s learning that the church is a safe place to come and sit. And the congregation is learning that Jesus came for the unsaved, not the saved.”

And finally, a joke which touches on the friendly rivalry between Australians and New Zealanders:
An Australian rugby fan, a South African rugby fan and a New Zealand rugby fan are all in Saudi Arabia, sharing a smuggled crate of booze when Saudi police rush in and arrest them. The mere possession of alcohol is a severe offence in Saudi Arabia, so for consuming the booze they are all sentenced to death. However, after many months and with the help of good lawyers, they are able successfully to appeal their sentences down to life imprisonment. By a stroke of luck, it was a Saudi national holiday the day their trial finished, and the benevolent sheikh decided they could be released after receiving just 20 lashes.
As they were preparing for their punishment, the sheikh announced, "It's my first wife's birthday today, and she has asked me to allow each of you one wish before your whipping."
The South African was first. He thought for a while, then said, "Please tie a pillow to my back."
This was done, but the pillow lasted only 10 lashes before the whip went through. When the punishment was done, the South African had to be carried away bleeding and crying with pain.
The Australian was next up. After watching the South African's horror, he said smugly, "Please fix two pillows to my back." But even two pillows could take only 15 lashes before the whip went through and the Australian was soon led away whimpering loudly (as they do).
The New Zealander was the last one up, but before he could say anything, the sheikh turned to him and said, "You are from a most beautiful part of the world and your culture is one of the finest. For this, you may have two wishes!"
"Thank you, your most royal and merciful highness," the Kiwi replied. "In recognition of your kindness, my first wish is that you give me not 20 lashes but 100 lashes."
"Not only are you an honourable, handsome and powerful man, you are also very brave," the sheikh said with an admiring look on his face. "If 100 lashes is what you desire, then so be it. And your second wish"?
"Tie the Australian to my back."


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Court scene

Last year I read The Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, for the second time.  I'd first read it many years ago, I think when my kids were small, but maybe it was even before they were born.  I remembered finding the last hundred pages terrifically exciting and suspenseful, and though I didn't have quite that rush this time around, there's no doubt that apart from a few passages, this book whips along at a fair pace.  This time around I found the villainous Madame Defarge almost too bad to be true - her motivation for being such a stinker wasn't quite clear to me (though maybe I missed that in my reading).  However, she certainly hovers over the book like a malevolent presence, and it's a great relief when she finally gets her comeuppance.  The book has fewer characters than many of Dickens' books; there aren't those bodies who turn up seemingly irrelevantly in most of his stories.  Here everyone has a job to do, even the minor characters like Roger Cly.  Here's an extract I made note of when I was reading the book (the joys of being able to do this on Kindle!).  It shows the Prosecutor querying Cly in court, and Dickens whizzes through the question and answers at a great rate by leaving out everything extraneous.  Nevertheless we still learn a great deal from what is written:
Had he ever been a spy himself? No, he scorned the base insinuation. What did he live upon? His property. Where was his property? He didn't precisely remember where it was. What was it? No business of anybody's. Had he inherited it? Yes, he had. From whom? Distant relation. Very distant? Rather. Ever been in prison? Certainly not. Never in a debtors' prison? Didn't see what that had to do with it. Never in a debtors' prison?--Come, once again. Never? Yes. How many times? Two or three times. Not five or six? Perhaps. Of what profession? Gentleman. Ever been kicked? Might have been. Frequently? No. Ever kicked downstairs? Decidedly not; once received a kick on the top of a staircase, and fell downstairs of his own accord. Kicked on that occasion for cheating at dice? Something to that effect was said by the intoxicated liar who committed the assault, but it was not true. Swear it was not true? Positively. Ever live by cheating at play? Never. Ever live by play? Not more than other gentlemen do. Ever borrow money of the prisoner? Yes. Ever pay him? No. Was not this intimacy with the prisoner, in reality a very slight one, forced upon the prisoner in coaches, inns, and packets? No. Sure he saw the prisoner with these lists? Certain. Knew no more about the lists? No. Had not procured them himself, for instance? No. Expect to get anything by this evidence? No. Not in regular government pay and employment, to lay traps? Oh dear no. Or to do anything? Oh dear no. Swear that? Over and over again. No motives but motives of sheer patriotism? None whatever. The virtuous servant, Roger Cly, swore his way through the case at a great rate. He had taken service with the prisoner, in good faith and simplicity, four years ago. He had asked the prisoner, aboard the Calais packet, if he wanted a handy fellow, and the prisoner had engaged him. He had not asked the prisoner to take the handy fellow as an act of charity--never thought of such a thing. He began to have suspicions of the prisoner, and to keep an eye upon him, soon afterwards. In arranging his clothes, while travelling, he had seen similar lists to these in the prisoner's pockets, over and over again. He had taken these lists from the drawer of the prisoner's desk. He had not put them there first. He had seen the prisoner show these identical lists to French gentlemen at Calais, and similar lists to French gentlemen, both at Calais and Boulogne. He loved his country, and couldn't bear it, and had given information. He had never been suspected of stealing a silver tea-pot; he had been maligned respecting a mustard-pot, but it turned out to be only a plated one. He had known the last witness seven or eight years; that was merely a coincidence. He didn't call it a particularly curious coincidence; most coincidences were curious. Neither did he call it a curious coincidence that true patriotism was _his_ only motive too. He was a true Briton, and hoped there were many like him.

The drawing above, from an early edition of Tale of Two Cities, shows Roger Cly's funeral.  The crowd is accompanied by the body snatcher, Jerry Cruncher.   

Start at the very beginning

I came across an interview with the American poet, Richard Wilbur, the other day.  It goes back to 1977, so in one sense it's well out of date.  In spite of that, what Wilbur has to say (often funny, always perceptive) remains worth reading not just for readers of his poetry, but for poets and writers in general.  

He's asked, fairly early in the interview, that typical question: how does he go about writing?  The interviewer means in practical terms, not in reflective ones.   Wilbur's response is:

With pencil and paper and laboriously, very slowly on the whole. I do envy people who can compose on the typewriter, though I reject as preposterous Charles Olson's ideas about the relation of the typewriter to poetic form. I don't approach the typewriter until the thing is completely done, and whatever margins the typewriter might offer have nothing to do with the form of a poem as I conceive it. I write poems line by line, very slowly; I sometimes scribble alternative words in the margins rather densely, but I don't go forward with anything unless I am fairly satisfied that what I have set down sounds printable, sayable. I proceed as Dylan Thomas once told me he proceeded—it is a matter of going to one's study, or to the chair in the sun, and starting a new sheet of paper. On it you put what you've already got of a poem you are trying to write. Then you sit and stare at it, hoping that the impetus of writing out the lines that you already have will get you a few lines farther before the day is done. I often don't write more than a couple of lines in a day of, let's say, six hours of staring at the sheet of paper. Composition for me is, externally at least, scarcely distinguishable from catatonia.
Wilbur as a young man
That wonderful last word, catatonia, is at once a joke and a truth.  To the outsider, at the best of times, it often looks like a writer is doing nothing.  (In the movies writers are always hammering away at typewriters or keyboards; this is only true in part.)  Wilbur here explains why it looks like that. 

What he says also explains why writers have a tendency to fiddle with things when they're 'supposed' to be writing.  The desk name plates, for instance, or a family portrait, or the pens and pencils in the holder, and so on.   It's like writer Anne Lamott wrote in a recent tweet: Wrote one hour, 7 minutes. Not great but had VERY low expectations: and met them. Not life-threateningly bad. So I get a partial credit.

I'm intrigued by Wilbur's approach to writing - he seems almost to be saying that once he's got one line right he proceeds to the next.  I don't think it's likely to be that simple.  However, there's a parallel in how I do much of my writing, I think: poems tend to start at a point and go from there.  They seldom start in the middle and work outwards, or backwards.  Music, especially songs, tends to start with the first words of the poem I'm setting and keep moving forward.  Of course in each case there's lots of revision and sometimes there'll be switching around of material, but in general the framework applies: start at the very beginning; a very good place to start.  

I haven't read much of Wilbur as yet, though I got his Collected Poems out of the library today.  However I came across one of his wittier poems the other day: The Prisoner of Zenda. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Surrounded by bees

I'm working my way - very slowly - through Charles Spurgeon's massive book, The Treasury of David.  Certainly the Book of Psalms, to which the title refers, is a treasure, but what makes Spurgeon's book interesting beyond this are the notes that he added to each Psalm: not only his own notes, but those he culled from dozens of books by various authors who had preceded him, some of them dating back two or three centuries. 
Sometimes he quotes the old Fathers of the Church, such as Augustine, or uses extracts from writers who describe modern day equivalents of situations mentioned in the Psalms. The following is such a one, relating to the verse in Psalm 118 verse 12: "They (David's enemies) surround me like bees." It comes from George Schweinfurth's "The Heart of Africa," published in 1873...

Now, as the north east wind of course was adverse to any north east progress, it was necessary that the boat should be towed by the crew. As the rope was being drawn along through the grass on the banks it happened that it disturbed a swarm of bees. In a moment, like a great cloud, they burst upon the men who were dragging; everyone of them threw himself headlong into the water and hurried to regain the boat. The swarm followed at their heels, and in a few seconds filled every nook and cranny of the deck. What a scene of confusion ensued may readily be imagined. 
Without any foreboding of ill, I was arranging my plants in my cabin, when I heard all around me a scampering which I took at first to be merely the frolics of my people, as that was the order of the day. I called out to enquire the meaning of the noise, but only got excited gestures and reproachful looks in answer. The cry of "Bees! bees!" soon broke upon my ear, and I proceeded to light a pipe. My attempt was entirely in vain; in an instant bees in thousands are about me, and I am mercilessly stung all over my face and hands. To no purpose do I try to protect my face with a handkerchief, and the more violently I fling my hands about, so much the more violent becomes the impetuosity of the irritated insects. The maddening pain is now on my cheek, now in my eye, now in my hair. 
The dogs from under my bed burst out frantically, overturning everything in their way. Losing well nigh all control over myself, I fling myself into the river; I dive down, but all in vain, for the stings rain down still upon my head. Not heeding the warning of my people, I creep through the reedy grass to the swampy bank. The grass lacerates my hands, and I try to gain the mainland, hoping to find shelter in the woods. All at once four powerful arms seize me and drag me back with such force that I think I must be choked in the mud. I am compelled to go back on board, and flight is not to be thought of... I felt ready, in the evening, for an encounter with half a score of buffaloes or a brace of lions rather than have anything more to do with bees; and this was a sentiment in which all the ship's company heartily concurred. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mr Prosser

The song and dance about Mr Prosser because of his hyperbole about young Muslim males seems to have died down, perhaps because it was really nowhere near as big an issue as all the other politicians (except Mr Peters) made out.  In his article in Investigate, Mr Prosser was plainly writing in an exaggerated fashion, which is what hyperbole means: the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech. It may be used to evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally.  [My italics]
The only reason all the MPs took it literally was because (a) they felt it was the PC thing to do - tolerance and all that; (b) Mr Prosser became the scapegoat for all those 'mistakes' that other politicians make - either intentionally or unintentionally.  It meant they could heap all the garbage on him and make themselves smell clean.
The Green Party made this statement, which is equally full of hyperbole: "...the Green Party moved that Parliament affirm "that all New Zealanders, regardless of their religious faith or ethnicity, should be treated equally before the law and that the rights and dignity of all people, in particular of Muslims, should be upheld, and that the House acknowledge the responsibility of all New Zealanders to care for one another, to honour the sanctity of each and every one of us, and act with justice, equity and respect in all that we say and do." Fine words, but note the phrase 'in particular of Muslims'.  This could easily be read as putting Muslims on a rung higher than everyone else.  Is that what they meant?  Very unlikely.  
And note the other phrase 'to honour the sanctity of each and every one of us.'  Compare this to this clause from the Green Party's Policy on Women: Review abortion services to ensure equity of access for women throughout New Zealand.  So it's all right to honour the sanctity of each and every one of us in a fancy, rhetorical style, but when it boils down to honouring the sanctity of the lives of children as yet unborn, the Green Party wants to ensure that women claiming their 'right' to do what they want with their own bodies, can abort these children.  
With one hand the Green Party hoists itself up a notch with its fine words; with the other it drops back again into the same old tired slogans.  
In another paragraph from the NZ Herald's report we have: But while some, including Dr Ghani [President of the Federation of Islamic Associations], said they accepted [Mr Prosser's] apology at face value, others, including Prime Minister John Key and Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres, were doubtful.  Mr Key's comment was: if he's apologised he's just doing that to move on. 
Huh?  Would Mr Prosser apologise in order to stand still?  He had no reason to apologise in the first place, but having apologised he's supposed to act as if he hasn't apologised.  Please, Mr Key.  Speak logically if you will (and remember that every time you open your mouth you tend to contradict something you said on other occasion; it's all reported by the media).  David Shearer said anyone holding Mr Prosser's sort of views shouldn't be an MP.  Really?  I'd be interested to hear what the criteria are for being an MP.  It might be enlightening. 
The right honourable Hone Hawawira was so incensed with Mr Prosser he wouldn't even let him make a personal statement in Parliament.  Where was the Speaker at that time - or has Harawira decided that he makes the rules in the House now?  Note that this is the same Mr Harawira who swore in response to a question from a student at Waikato University in which the student, Steve Baron, referred to Māori as a "minority group," (which statistically, they are). Harawira said Mr Baron was a racist who "lumped Māori in with other minorities like homosexuals and Asians.....He tried it on and he got his comeuppance."   The same Mr Harawira who was part of a group that assaulted University students with bats and hoses.  The same Mr Harawira who said he "wouldn't feel comfortable" if one of his children came home with a Pākehā partner, but he asked whether "all Pākehās would be happy with their daughters coming home with a Māori boy? The answer is they wouldn't." He was asked, since some of his whānau have dated Pacific Islanders and he didn't have an issue with it, "does that make him prejudiced?" He said "Probably, but how many people don't have prejudices?"
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Mr Prosser should leave Parliament.  'This is hate speech, I'm concerned that NZ First continues to support him.'  Green Party members are very concerned about 'hate speech'. A 74-year-old German female pensioner was dobbed in by the German Green Party for carrying a 'hate speech' sign in a demonstration; Presidential Candidate for the Green Party, Roseanne Barr, called a Christian speaker 'an accomplice to murder' for disagreeing with liberal views about gay marriage. The problem is, that what the Green Party calls 'hate speech' used to be called 'free speech' - in other words, a different opinion on some particular question.
Act Party leader John Banks said while he'd probably made more mistakes than Mr Prosser, "he needs to fall on his sword."  It's interesting to hear Mr Banks admitting to making mistakes - he's never apologised before for most of his blunders since he's been in Parliament.  
 So, as usual, the upshot is that if there's a chance to win points off an MP, or a Party, then other MPs or Parties will do so.  Never mind about governing the country; just waste heaps of expensive time (even more expensive since the last politicians' pay rise at Christmas) on issues that are small in the overall view of things.  Perhaps Mr Prosser was foolish to write in such an exaggerated fashion.  Nevertheless he's pointing at a real problem, which is that airport security since 2001 has become a nightmare: it's expensive, it's time-consuming, and it's mostly unproductive.  And worst of all, the innocent passengers who just want to get from A to B are the ones that suffer.