You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Lady Demelza in the Big Smoke of Sydney

  Oh, dear Reader, it's so exciting - I'm in Sydney, and just thrilled to bits to be here.
 It's been several years, and I'd forgotten how much I love this city, which is surprisingly much, given that I can't stand cities generally. Somehow, there's some magical effect here in Sydney that protects me from all the distress of sensory overload and allows me to just delight in the teeming humanity and the heights of human culture.
  Maybe it's because this was my first home. At least, the first one I remember. I was born in Melbourne, but my parents moved to Sydney when I was just a year old. I was eight when we left, so that's some pretty formative years that I spent here. So maybe there is some ghost of my childhood spirit, or a guardian angel from my early childhood that still dwells here, and makes this city so marvellous for me. I was actually just feeling really daunted about the trip here, thinking I would be overwhelmed as I usually am by travel and by cities. And then I arrived and all the magic came pouring back to me. Somehow, here in Sydney, the crowds are not overwhelming, the traffic is not unbearable, and the pace is just exciting rather than terrifying. I was even excited to discover that my hotel has a light well. Imagine, living in a place where there is need to build light wells! It should be terrible, but somehow, I'm delighted.
I will never be able to explain why this seemed so beautiful to me when I discovered it on the way to my room.

  I know that Sydney must have changed a lot since I was a tiny kid, but it feels the same. It smells the same. The dirt and the graffiti and the stone walls look just the same. Even the buses are the same blue and white as they were when I rode on them with my mum more than thirty years ago.
Just below my hotel early this morning

  Today is also the first day in several years that I have woken up to being a free and independent agent. Mr CJ is in the care of a family member, and I have three days off from being a carer. Oh my goodness, the freedom is just thrilling. Me, Sydney, a good pair of shoes and nobody needing me - the world is my oyster, as they say. Off I go!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

of Washing Up, Interrupted by Unexpected and Astounding Beauty



One of my biggest frustrations in the pursuit of blogging is the failure of a photographic image to match up to reality as I perceive it. I see something, and I want to share it with you. So I take a photo, but when I look at the image I have captured, it doesn’t look at all like what I was seeing. And so I can’t share the experience, and I give up on the fledgling blog post. I have tried a few different devices in my search for verisimilitude, and I don’t know if the better camera is producing a ‘better’ image or not, to me, it’s just another version of the image that’s not the one I saw.
I went to start doing the dishes a little while ago, (as one must, repeatedly, apparently) and I was struck with one of those moments that I wanted to share with you. Beauty can always be found in the most unexpected and unappealing places, even in the dirty dishes in the sink.
There was a bowl. It had been filled with peaches and cream, and then when it was empty, filled with water and left in the sink. And a butterfly had landed in it, and just stayed there, lying flat, no doubt stuck to the water by the opalescent, shimmering scum of the cream on the surface of the water.
Well, it probably would technically be a moth if I bothered to find out which it was. But it was so beautiful, I have to call it a butterfly. It was so beautiful, I wanted to share it with you. So I got my camera, and took some pictures, and they look absolutely nothing like the butterfly and the bowl of creamy water that I could see. But something as unexpected as the butterfly itself happened – the photos are beautiful images too, even if they are different to what I saw. I could see that. So I’m sharing them with you anyway, even though they are not the beautiful sight I saw in my kitchen sink tonight.
These are taken with the flash,


… and these are without the flash. Just more versions of something I didn’t see, but all beautiful.


I stared at the butterfly for so long. It’s like I was trying to fill my eyes up with the perfection of its beauty while it so fleetingly existed, to imprint it in my mind that I could always recall it and thus hold the experience forever. I tried to understand what about it made it so perfect and so beautiful, but the nature of perfect, fleeting beauty is not to be understood, but marvelled at. I marvelled. There were the delicate brush strokes of a fine Chinese brush flowing along the wings, the antique hues of sepia, earth and umber. There was the silk-shiny sheen, shaded by the muffled, faded, matte patches on the underwings where the top wings would rub against them. There were the countless layers of geometric patterns in the wing design and the shape of the creature’s body itself, unfolding as I stared, like a shifting kaleidoscope. I could see the antennae as being like rows of eyelashes, rather than unaugmented prongs, and I could imagine how it felt to feel things through them. Time and space fell away and the whole universe revealed itself, floating in a bowl in the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.
I had to tear myself away, eventually, as dishes won’t wash themselves, it turns out, no matter how beautiful the butterflies may be. I really meant to wash all the dishes, sacrificing the beauty of the butterfly to a fate that was already foregone. But somehow I managed to wash all the dishes except that one bowl, and it’s still sitting in the sink, full of creamy water and beautiful butterfly. I know it can’t stay – but I can’t bring myself to be the agent of its demise. I’m hoping that Mr CJ will disturb it with his next dirty dish, and I won’t have to witness it. I’ll get up in the morning, and it will be gone.
I wanted to share it with you. I can’t show you or tell you exactly what I saw, but I can share with you that it was beautiful, and that it was awesome, and that will just have to do.

Monday, 23 May 2016

of the Vintage Crockery Collection

I have begun photographing my collection of vintage crockery before I take most of it off to a collector in town. Of course I wish I could keep them all, because they're so beautiful. But it's time for a Decluttering, so off they go.

I found all these pieces in op shops. As you can imagine, there have been countless beautiful treasures I have found since I let my blog lay fallow. Today, let's start catching up with some plates.

Johnsons of Australia


Midwinter by Stonehenge, England

Johnson Brothers, England - there are three different sizes of this one. I love that they are oval rather than round.

Two small plates from Japan

Tiny dishes. Top two - England, bottom - Japan

England

Two more from Japan

Burgundy Rose by British Anchor, England

This pair is unusual for the difference of just one small motif between them. Johnsons of Australia
 
Classic scenes. Left - Crown Lynn, New Zealand, right - Swan Inn by J Broadhurst & Sons, England

Mikasa, Japan

Sunday, 15 May 2016

on the Proper Disposal of Old Journals


I used to keep journals. I kept them lovingly, faithfully and well. Journalling was an important and cherished part of my life. I discovered so much of myself through my journals. Or at least that’s how I remember it.
Because my journals were so important to me, I’d keep them every time I edited my possessions in order to move house. By the time I turned 30 I’d collected a big, heavy pile of journals. It might not look so big to some – I’ve often read writers’ accounts of having piles of old journals stacked from floor to ceiling in their attics or cellars. I’m guessing that these are mostly the kinds of people who have houses with attics and cellars and get to stay put in them for long periods of time. But me, every fucking time I moved house or even re-organised the one I was living in, I’d have to pack the fucking things up, lug them about from here to fucking there, and find somewhere to bloody well store them again. You can tell how frustrated I’ve become by this by all the fucks.
Baggage - extremely literally
 
It was around this time that I pretty much stopped journalling. I was just too daunted by the thought of more fucking heavy books to carry around with me when next it would come time to pack. I couldn’t bear it. And so I stopped writing. Yep, that’s pretty sad.
I first started thinking about (shock, horror) getting rid of at least some of my journals a few years ago when I was packing up to move up from Victoria. I thought long and hard and deeply. I even googled ‘should I get rid of my old journals?’. Most of the pages that Google offered me were blog posts written by people wondering the same thing as me. The verdict was pretty clear. Nearly everyone who commented on any of these pages said no, no-one should ever dispose of one’s journals, because one day at some point in the future there just might be someone who would benefit from reading those journals or some part thereof, and it would be a terrible disservice to the future of the human race for one to willfully prevent such a thing from happening. So I packed the fucking things up again. And still didn’t produce any more.
And now, I want to keep a journal again. The dread of the pile of accumulated journals growing heavier hasn’t lessened, so I had to ask myself again, well, how about if I got rid of at least some of them? And so, of course, I had to ask Google as well. Google has certainly changed its mind on the subject.
This time I found people considering the content of their journals more closely when questioning the proposition of getting rid of their own journals. Many confessed that they discovered that their early journals, at least, were full of a lot of stuff that they didn’t really have any interest in holding onto any more. This post here by Erin Kurup is a great example. I love how she came to this realisation -  "They were negative, whiny, obnoxious, phony. And you know what? I knew the words were fake as I was writing them. I remember deliberately choosing what to record based on what I believed the record I thought I was supposed to write would look like."
Many people told of sorting through their journals, throwing out the things that they didn’t need to keep a record of any longer, and keeping the things that were still important to them, now, at this time. They reported that they were glad they did it.
So I dug my suitcase full of old journals out from their dusty storage corner. I started at the beginning, with my earliest ‘serious’ journal. I started it when I was nineteen years old and embarking on a very intensive journey of psychotherapy. I’d been told that I could cure my depression by working with this psychotherapy, so I worked it very hard. And all these years later, well, yes, I’m glad I did it. It didn’t cure my depression but it gave me some decent tools for managing my emotions. The journal from this time is very much a therapy journal, very much a torturous exploration of why on earth I might be so fucking miserable – or scared, mostly. So many of the sentences in it start with “I’m scared.” It details the crappiest bits of my relationship with someone who has since passed away. There is really no need for there to be a record of all that stuff. I don’t need to keep it any more.
So I tore all those pages out. I kept some things, like the art therapy pieces that were the most special to me.

 
I also kept the pages on which I’d recorded my dreams. I’ve always found it a very powerful practice, to record and pay attention to my dreams. Reading them long after I’ve forgotten them, they are still speaking to me. Some of the smaller journals are dedicated entirely to dreams. It looks like I’m going to have to keep those ones for the time being.
By the time I got to the end I’d removed at least 90% of the pages from the journal. And as for the proper way to dispose of old journals, this was widely discussed in the blog posts I read. For me, it could only be by burning them. Fortunately I have a proper fireplace where I can do such a thing. And whoooosh, off they went, up in flames.
And then I picked up the next journal, in chronological order, and continued.

Friday, 6 May 2016

on the Pursuit of Happiness


I came across this quote by Australian writer Hugh Mackay last night. It struck a chord with me, and I’ve found my thoughts returning to it throughout the night and this morning. It articulates my own feelings on the subject quite well.
 
"I don’t mind people being happy – but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying 'write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep', and 'cheer up' and 'happiness is our birthright' and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position – it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say 'Quick! Move on! Cheer up!'. I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word 'happiness' and to replace it with the word 'wholeness'. Ask yourself 'is this contributing to my wholeness?' and if you’re having a bad day, it is.”
 
The western world has a culture of trying to be happy, trying to find happiness, to follow our bliss or however you want to put it. But in spite of all this freedom to do so, we’re not getting any happier than our ancestors, who never had a cultural construct in which to question whether or not they were happy with their lives, and whether they might have other options, or what they should do to make themselves happier.  Life was just what it was, and they got on with it. I believe they were better off for it.
I’ve had clinical depression for nearly 30 years. I had two major nervous breakdowns before I left my teens, and another in my mid-20’s (which was most certainly partly caused by trying to follow an idea of happiness, and being bummed that it didn’t work). I had a huge breakthrough when I just gave up thinking of happiness as something that’s important. I don’t even ask myself or wonder if a particular course of action will make me happy or not – it’s not even a criterion for decisions. And I can affirm that life is definitely better and easier this way.
This is an attitude that gets me a lot of criticism from people who are strongly engaged in a philosophy of ‘positivity’ and are into searching for happiness. They think I might be depressed because I fail to pursue and find happiness. I know that’s not true. Depression is a constant – it’s just the state of my brain, probably, I think, as a side effect of having epilepsy and autism. Just faulty wiring. How I deal with depression and the rest of my life is another matter – that’s an active, continuing process and function. It turns out that trying to be happy really doesn’t help at all, and just wastes a lot of energy that could be put into making life as it already is easier to deal with.
It’s not that I don’t feel happiness. I often feel happy. I recognise that I’m feeling it and I appreciate it. I do feel sad more often – that’s part of clinical depression. My point is that I no longer measure the balance or deliberately try to change it. I just get on with life anyway.
Gratitude is a buzzword I’m hearing a lot of people go on about lately. Apparently, we can all make ourselves happier by reminding ourselves to be grateful. It’s pretty much an industry in itself these days, where you can buy a blank book that says ‘Gratitude’ somewhere on the cover, which is supposed to make it somehow more useful in making life ‘better’ than a plain blank notebook would be, or attend a ‘gratitude’ workshop for a fee. I can see that this would have benefits as a cognitive training exercise, for some people who are unduly obsessing on needs or desires and forgetting to recognise or acknowledge all the wonderfulness along the way. But it’s become oversimplified in the process of commercialisation into an equation where basically, more gratitude equals more happiness, and therefore, if you don’t have enough happiness, you must be in need of more gratitude.
I experience gratitude deeply, profoundly and frequently. Several times a day, I’ll spontaneously need to have to take a second to take a breath and allow the intensity of the feeling of gratitude to wash through me. I don’t need to make myself do this, it just happens. A lot. Common triggers include lying down in a comfortable bed, reading excellent writing, the taste of food, the kindness of others, and the beauty and sheer marvel of the natural world. This happens consistently, regardless of whether I’m in a good or a poor mood or state of mind. I sometimes wonder whether I have a need for God in my life partly out of need to ascribe some agent of existence toward which I can direct my gratitude. I often read that people tend to forget God until they’re in trouble and need help, and then they pray. I find the opposite happens to me – I can forget God for a while, until I’m confronted with something, usually a phenomenon of nature, that overwhelms me with wonder, and then I need God to have something to be thankful to, and to rationalise the thrill, not the misery, of existence. So I know that a lack of gratitude is not the cause of my depression.
I think people find the nature of my illness confronting. They don’t want to believe it exists, perhaps, so they try to define clinical depression as a lack of something – sufficient pursuit of happiness, or whatever – on my part. I’m not buying it. If you want to follow happiness, and you’re not hurting anybody else in order to do so, well off you go then, whatever floats your boat and bakes your potatoes, mate. I really can be happy for you, truly. But if you’re trying to tell me how to fix life with happiness, you’re wasting your time. I’ve already tried out that particular philosophy, and I know that I’m better off without it.

Friday, 25 March 2016

on March 25th, Lady Day

It was quite a while ago that I first heard of March 25 being called Lady Day. Of course I thought that sounded just lovely, but I was only aware of it as a Christian festival, the Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary, or The Feast of the Annunciation. It is given as the day that Mary conceived Christ, and was told by an angel that she would be carrying the Son of God.

Now of course that's not something that means much to me. Seeing as I don't believe that any such thing happened, I didn't feel at all entitled to claim or celebrate this holiday, in spite of its most excellent title. But then lately I started hearing references to March 25 being the birthday or celebration day of much older, pagan goddesses. I've looked into it, and discovered the missing piece to a puzzle that I've wondered about for a long time.

Why would March 25 be anything of much excitement in itself, falling just three days after the Equinox (spring in the northern hemisphere, autumn in the southern), when all the action really happens? It turns out that it all comes down to the shift from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar that we all mostly agree upon nowadays. Before this change, which shifted the dates by about three days, March 25 was in fact the date of the Equinox, and it was celebrated accordingly on this date. This post here explains it all as simply as can be, for something so convoluted. Now it all makes sense! It also sheds new light on my understanding of how December 25 came to be Christmas Day - it's the same three-day translation of the date of Yule, the winter solstice.

So, quite simply, March 25 is just the Equinox in the old money. In the northern hemisphere, this was celebrated as the festival of Eostre, or a celebration for Ishtar or Astarte or whoever the local Goddess of Spring was. The Catholic Church made a clean sweep of assimilating both interpretations of the date of the Equinox by assigning one as the conception of Christ, and one as his death/resurrection.

It was interesting to discover that for several centuries March 25 was considered New Year's Day. This date was significant in many legal and official aspects of life. On this day, rents were paid to landlords and leases and contracts of all kinds were granted or renewed. It was a also a time when many marriages and handfastings were performed.

This aspect of the tradition of this day really struck a chord with me, as it was a year ago today that the Goddess came to me and released me from a spiritual contract that was a great trial to me. Though of course there was, and still is, a heavy price to pay for it, the freedom from this burden has been a great blessing to me. Today I give thanks for this bittersweet blessing.

And now the concept of March 25 being 'Lady Day' makes sense to me, it has a reality and I can claim it as part of my cultural history and tradition. Whether we call her Mary or Eostre or by any of a multitude of other sacred names, today is a day to celebrate and honour the power of the Great Lady.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Lady Demelza's Year in Books 2015

Hello dear readers. I'm very pleased to say that 2015 was a very good year in books for me. Especially through the autumn and winter, so many really excellent books passed through my hands. I must admit, Goodreads deserves some of the credit. Checking out their recommendations and 'other readers enjoyed' I've found a few precious ones I might otherwise never have heard of, such as The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. Absolutely brilliant.

Each book title is linked to its page on Goodreads, so you can quickly see what kind of a book it is.

1. True Brews by Emma Christensen 2013
2. Mothers Grimm by Danielle Wood 2014
3. Awake in the Dream World: The Art of Audrey Niffenegger by Audrey Niffenegger et al 2013
4. Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh 2009
5. The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Eddie Campbell 2014
6. Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins 1971 (re-read)
7. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs 2014
8. The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood 2004
9. The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons 2010
10. The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin & Richard Panek 2013
11. The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye by A.S. Byatt 1994
12. Coraline by Neil Gaiman 2002
13. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman 2008
14. Murder in the Dark by Margaret Atwood 1983
15. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks 1985
16. Dear Greenpeace by Simon James 1991
17. The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden, 1906/1971
18. Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban 1975
19. Sweet Poison by David Gillespie 2008
20. What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg 2009
21. Mattress Actress by Annika Cleeve 2012
22. The Women in Black by Madeleine St. John 1993
23. The Goddess Companion by Patricia Monaghan 1999
24. The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester 1998
25. Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. 1992 (re-read)
26. The End of Overeating by David A. Kessler 2009
27. The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby, English translation by Jeremy Leggatt 1997
28. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North 2014
29. The Runaway Brain by Christopher Wills 1993
30. The Hours by Michael Cunningham 1999
31. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood 1985
32. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein 1937
33. The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrow 1966
34. How to Cook a Galah by Laurel Evelyn Dyson 2002
35. Brain Bugs by Dean Buonomano 2011
36. The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy 2009
37. An Imaginary Life by David Malouf 1978
38. Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge 2014
39. Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker 2009
40. A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge 2012
41. Forrest Gump by Winston Groom 1986
42. 12 Edmonstone Street by David Malouf 1985
43. Five Bells by Gail Jones 2011
44. Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge 2011
45. Love & Hunger by Charlotte Wood 2012
46. An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage 2009
47. Wired for Culture by Mark Pagel 2012
48. Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith
49. Moon Over Minneapolis by Fay Weldon 1991
50. The Dawn of Time by Ainslie Roberts & Charles P. Mountford 1969
51. The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing 1988
52. Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge 2007
53. Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time by James Howe 2008
54. The Language of the Goddess by Marija Gimbutas 1989

The best book I read this year was, without a doubt, The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood. It was a completely random find in an op shop. It caught my eye just because of the author's last name - I had been keeping an eye out for any books by Danielle Wood. I opened it up and read the three or four pages of the prologue, and I swooned. I felt a thrill running up and down my body. The visceral pleasure of the beauty of the words was just intoxicating. And it stayed that intensely marvellous all the way through. Once every page or so I would have to put the book down and just breathe and feel the astounding impact of the words on my brain and spirit. I didn't always like what was happening in the story. Some of the characters really pissed me off. But it didn't matter, it was a superlative jewel of a book.

Because this year contained so much high quality reading, I find myself unable to come up with a shortlist of other really good books. At least half the books in my list were amazing or excellent or some other superlative.

There were a few that took a considerable amount of skimming to get through, such as The Runaway Brain by Christopher Wills, but they all contained something I really wanted and  I was willing to wade through the dross to find it.

The crappiest book I read this year was Five Bells by Gail Jones. It started off promising. It described Circular Quay in Sydney, a place I'm very familiar with and fond of, from the points of view of two characters, one of whom was really happy, and one who was really depressed. I know that. I know how Circular Quay looks when I'm happy, and when I'm depressed. I loved how she captured the reality of there being different places in the same place, depending on one's perception filtered by mood. But then, nothing happened. Seriously, nothing. There was only one page which contained an event of any significance. I kept on, thinking surely, something must happen to bring it all together in the end, but no.

A special Crappy Book Mention goes to Forrest Gump by Winston Groom. This is an example of that incredibly rare thing, a movie that was better than the book it was based on. In this case, the movie is orders of magnitude better than the book. Watch the movie if you haven't seen it yet, but don't bother with the book.

I'm now up to about page 50 of the 1100+ page monster of a volume that is the seventh and final volume of the Obernewtyn Chronicles, The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody. I waited impatiently for something like three or four years for her to get around to publishing it, and in that light, the time it will take me to get through it doesn't seem like so much.

I'm continually reinforcing and refining my strict rules about not wasting any time reading crappy books, so I'm looking forward to another fabulous year of books in 2016. There's so many out there.

You can also check out my Year in Books for 2014, 2013, or 2012.