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

Monday, 31 December 2012

Lady Demelza's Year in Books 2012


This year, for the first time since primary school when such lists were pretty much compulsory, I've kept a list of all the books I've read.

I was inspired by the various blogs I was reading. Many bloggers were publishing their reading lists, and I really loved seeing everyone's lists. In fact, I have found several amazing, gorgeous books that I would not have ever heard of but for a mention on a blog I was reading. I thought it was such a good idea that I tried it too, and I must say, it has been very enjoyable to keep this list throughout the year. I like that I can now place exactly when I read a book, and compare it to other events happening in my life at the time. When I started by typing in the first title here, Love Times Three by the Darger Family, I immediately remembered laying on my bed, reading this book and listening to the sounds of the New Year's Eve revellers lurching around the streets outside. I remember that New Year's Day was hot, so I stayed in bed in the cool room downstairs, reading the Dargers' story. I remember feeling outraged at the injustices these people face, and angry at the world for being the kind of place where prejudice and persecution are normal.

So, without futher ado- ta da! The complete Lady Demelza reading list for 2012.

1. Love Times Three by the Darger Family
2. Why be Happy When you Could be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
3. Gift of the Gob by Kate Burridge
4. The Green Wiccan Herbal by Silja
5. Blogging All-In-One for Dummies by Susan Gunelius
6. Mister God, This is Anna by Fynn
7. Dispatches from Blogistan by Suzanne Stefanac
8. Handmade Soap by Tatyana Hill
9. The Natural Soap Book by Susan Miller Cavitch
10. Made in France by Agnes Delage-Calvet et al
11.The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr - my review
12. Making Children's Clothes by Emma Hardy
13. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolley
14. How I Came Into My Inheritance and Other True Stories by Dorothy Gallagher
15. The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith - my review
16. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
17. The Woman Who Lives in the Earth by Swain Wolfe
18. The Alchemist's Daughter by Katherine McMahon
19. The Forgotten Affairs of Youth by Alexander McCall Smith
20. Planted Junk by Adam Caplin
21. Adventures in Mosaics by Meera Lester & Marsha Janda-Rosenburg
22. The Dreamtime by Ainslie Roberts & Charles P. Mountford
23. Mutants: on the form, varieties & errors of the human body by Armand Marie Leroi - my review
24. The Cleverness of Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith
25. Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara - my review
26. A Woman's Europe edited by Marybeth Bond
27. The Superior Person's Third Book of Words by Peter Bowler
28. At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
29. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
30. The Etymologicon - A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language by Mark Forsyth (the Inky Fool)
31. Preincarnate by Shaun Micallef
32. Dingo - The Story of Our Mob by Sally Dingo
33. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
34. Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt
35. Magic and Witchcraft by Nevill Drury
36. Avalon Within by Jhenah Telyndru
37. Searching for Mary Magdalen by Jane Lahr
38. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
39. Daughter of Two Worlds by Audrey Oldfield
40. Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernieres
41. Old World Witchcraft by Raven Grimassi
42. Winter Hours by Mary Oliver
43. The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley
44. Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck
45. Edward Trencom's Nose by Giles Milton
46. The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey
47. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
48. Hung Like an Argentine Duck: A Journey Back in Time to the Origins of Sexual Intimacy by John Long
49. Lessons in Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder by Corinne Grant
50. The Keeping Place by Isobelle Carmody
51. The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff
52. Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks

The award for THE most amazing book I have read all year would have to go to Mister God, This is Anna by Fynn . When I read this book I had to rush around telling everyone I know - "You HAVE to read this book before you die!"

The crappiest book I managed to get all the way through to the end of this year was The Superior Person's Third Book of Words by Peter Bowler, and that was only because I am so strongly attracted to big words. Given what Peter Bowler did with this book, I think it would be more appropriately titled The Complete Wanker's Third Book of Words.

I'm currently reading The Stone Key by Isobelle Carmody, but seeing as I'm up to page 147 out of a total of 996 pages, I don't think I'll be adding this one to the list before midnight tonight.

If you know of a really amazing book out there that I should read, I'd love to hear from you.

*Linked in with Click Clack Gorilla's Book Lover Blog Hop.

Friday, 28 December 2012

of Things Remembered and Suddenly Found

It was a late night for the Maroon Household last night. Yesterday afternoon, Mr. CJ managed to bang his head hard enough to be concerned about a concussion. The thing to do in these situations, of course, is to keep the person awake for a decent amount of time, twelve hours being a pretty good rule of thumb. So we prepared our favourite caffeinated beverages and settled in for a late night.

We watched Pirates of the Caribbean, and some Stargate SG-1. I read my current library book, Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks, which caused me to occasionally open the computer to google things like interictal personality syndromepalinopsia and the relationship between spirituality and temporal lobe epilepsy. I kept an eye on Mr. CJ to make sure he wasn't falling asleep. He's fine, by the way, and didn't fare any worse than a nasty headache. Amongst all these noctural activities, I somehow had a thought, a memory, come to me quite strongly.

I was thinking about a series of books that I loved to collect and read as a child. I was such a little bookworm. I have no idea what made me think of it, but I suddenly remembered these books that I loved. It was a series of detective mystery stories where the kids are the detectives and solve the mysteries that even the adults can't work out. The main character had the particular gift of a photographic memory. He could see something, and remember it so perfectly afterwards, that he could draw a picture, and we were to know that the picture was an exactly faithful reproduction of what he had actually seen. The clues would be in the picture, and we had a chance to try to work it out for ourselves, or look up the solution in the back of the book.

And when I say we, I mean me, because I didn't know anyone else who read these particular books. Most of the books I was reading - the Trixie Beldens and the Famous Fives - I could share among my friends. But nobody was interested in these particular mystery stories.

What the bloody hell were they called? I kept asking myself as the memories of the books, and the times I spent with them, flooded through me. I wracked my brain and came up with the first name of the main character - Hawkeye. Well, that was actually his nickname, on account of his photographic memory. I knew he had a last name, and a female friend who was his partner in crime-solving - but I couldn't remember any more names, or any useful clues like the title of the series or the books. I figured this was a bit vague even for google. I realised that I had never seen these books around since my childhood, though I often come across copies of most of my favourite childhood books. I mentally shrugged and let the mystery of the unknown mysteries go. It's okay to not know some things.

Today, I had to go to the hospital to pick up a prescription for Mr. CJ at the outpatient clinic. It takes them a little while to fill the script, which I fill in by perusing the hospital book stall. I was halfway through the racks when I came across this.


I resisted the urge to exclaim 'you've got to be fucking kidding me!' aloud.

So the mystery is solved. The dynamic duo I had so admired were Hawkeye Collins and Amy Adams.

This sort of things does happen quite often, really, where you think of something or someone you haven't thought of for ages, and then it, or he or she, just sorts of pops up sometime soon after. Sometimes I think I shouldn't even be surprised any more. But in this case, the object concerned was something that I hadn't seen or thought of for more than twenty years, and it turned up in real life in less than twelve hours. That's pretty impressive.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Art in the Wild - Reel Wimmin

I've travelled, and been to galleries, and studied the Masters and perused expensive art books, but after all my adventures, I must say that the most amazing art is often not found within these traditional boundaries. I love to notice and discover art in the wild, scrawled on city walls and stuck up with blu-tack in the most unexpected places. I discovered this piece of writing on such a scrap of paper, on the wall of the toilet in a share house in Scotts Head, New South Wales, and recorded it in my journal on August 17, 2000. The celebrity references clearly indicate its vintage. I have no idea who the author might be - if you think you might know who she is, or maybe who melina & giselle might be, I would love to hear from you.

Alternative spellings are rendered true to the original.

*****

REEL WIMMIN (inspired by melina & giselle, & Arnie movie bimbos)

And I say 'fuck you, fuck you' to the smarmy smooth images of long-legged blonde bimbos, tottering moronically round Arnie Schwarzenegger movies... just 'fuck you' for parading your one-mold-fits-all icon of Barbie doll superiority in all of our faces; cos I can tell you right  now that REEL WIMMIN don't sit anywhere near your ridiculous mindless models, no way chickie babe, us reel wimmin explode like flowers from your cardboard cut-out examples of womynhood. We're not clones, we're not pre-packaged vials of anorexic plastic... we're short and black and gay and deaf and wide and middle-aged and yellow and pregnant and gap-toothed and fleshy and freckled and black-eyed and afro-ed and teenaged and flat-chested and Moslem and wheelchaired and musclebound and indigenous and hook-nosed and Hindu, and 10 million other variables besides, cos we're multi-coloured lollies to your stale dry Barbie crackers, and we're proud to be real. Yeah, and you betta believe that us REEL WIMMIN don't inch around office desks in restrictive prison-cage clothing, we don't burst with cosmetic surgery outta Hollywood sequins, we're not slinky, sophisticated, seductive or demure, no chance honey, we're running and leaping out of our minds and mini-skirts, reeling and dancing stiletto-less to the sun and the waves, flinging arms and legs and hearts around in joyous celebration of life, as we skateboard tuff-legged down careering rainbow rivers of our own creation. We're witches and warriors and wanderers and whores, we're nuns and electricians and mothers and martial artists, we're downtrodden and triumphant, we're goddesses and junkies... and with seaweed in our hair, stars in our teeth, dirt on our hands and food in our mouths, we tear tumbling down your elongated ribless plastercast molds, till they're revealed in all their vapid futility, yeh we take Christie and Elle and Naomi and Kate, and we lick them, and smash them hurtling shattered out of our headspaces, as we lay back and bask in our own innovative, imaginative, independent, individual REEL WOMYN-hood.

*****

Amen, sister. 

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

the Story of Christmas

Long, long, ago, when the world was young and humans were just getting themselves together as a species, people paid a lot of attention to changes in the natural world. It was necessary for survival. So they noticed that the days grew shorter each day. They watched the point at which the sun rose on the horizon, and noticed that it was a little further along each day. Then came a time when the night was terribly long and cold, and when the sun rose in the morning, it did so at the same point on the horizon as yesterday. Some people probably even worried that it was never going to come back. Maybe this was the end of the sun's life? There was no way of knowing back then. So they watched, and maybe they prayed and chanted, and on the third day, the point of sunrise was a little further out again, and the day was a little longer. The sun was on its way back, and the people rejoiced. There was no way of reckoning such back then, but by today's calendar, that day would have been December 25th.

This went on for many thousands of years. Civilisations and cultures grew, and the people found stories that told the mystery of the cycle of the seasons. Most cultures around the world developed some concept of a Sun God. Peoples of northern and western Europe developed customs and rituals such as bringing an evergreen tree indoors throught the period of solstice, and having a feast to celebrate the returning of the light. The ancient Egyptians had Osiris, who was born on December 25th, of a virgin mother. When he died, he stayed dead for three days, before being resurrected. Sound familiar? Remember, these stories go back many thousands of years earlier than the story of Christ.

The Phrygo-Romans had Attis, also born of a virgin mother on the 25th of December. The Persian god Mithras is also a Sun God, and was also born on December 25th, also of a virgin mother. He became very popular among the higher classes of Roman society around two thousand years ago. The Emperor Constantine was a member of the cult of Mithras, and celebrated Natalis Sol Invictus - the Birthday of the Invincible Sun - on December 25th. He was already well into his forties when he decided to convert to Christianity. Despite the fact that Christians were regularly persecuted and fed to hungry lions at this stage in history, the boss converting meant that all of Rome became a Christian Empire, and the Catholic Church was born.

It wasn't easy converting a whole empire of decadent, pagan Romans into Christians. They would persist in practising celebrations of pagan festivals, such as Saturnalia, in honour of the god Saturn, and of course the impressively named Natalis Sol Invictus. You can't blame them, it sounds like heaps of fun. Then, in the 4th century CE, Pope Julius I came up with a brilliant idea of assigning Decemeber 25th as the Feast of Nativity, or a celebration of the birth of Jesus.

We don't know the date on which Jesus was born. But we can be absolutely certain that it wasn't December 25th. Think of the story - room in the manger, shepherds in the field - definitely not the middle of winter. Clearly, Jesus was born sometime in the spring or summer, but that was not at all relvant to Pope Julius I, who was just looking for a way to bring the pagan hordes into line with the company policy.

But the people still kept up the pagan practises like bringing green trees indoors, or going around town singing carols. And that didn't hurt the church any, as long as those people paid their tithes and shut up about Mithras. Life went on. The Empire as a political entity collapsed, but the religious arm went out around the world with the colonisers, force-fed to native peoples at the point of a sword, or a gun.

Now, this is a very sucky story - but I would have been able to accept the mishmash we have now for what it is, a reflection of the intricacies and shifting politics of human society. But then something else happened to throw another seasonal spanner in the works. People discovered that the world was round, and that there was something on the other side. Eventually, they found that something, and lots of white European people moved to the Antipodes. Once they got there, they celebrated Christmas in the middle of summer, and just about all was lost.

I think I would be able to deal with Christmas if I lived in the northern hemisphere, and it was actually winter. I would be able to appreciate the tree, the fire, the feast and the carols, and not quibble too much over whether we mark the actual Solstice or the return of the light a few days later. But I live in Australia. It's the middle of summer, the sun is blazing at the height of His powers, and people still pretend that it's midwinter, and bring in trees, and cook big chunks of roast meat, and dress up in woolly velvet suits. This situation is just too ridiculous for words.

I think I would even be able to get into Christmas if it actually were Jesus' birthday. While I'm not at all impressed by the cults that have taken over the world in His name, I don't have a problem with Jesus. In fact, I love and adore Him, and I accept Him into my heart and soul as my spiritual Lord and Master. It would be cool to celebrate his birthday. Even if the date December 25th had just been chosen randomly, just so that we could celebrate His birth every year even though we don't know the actual date, I could have gone along with it. But it wasn't like that. The adoption of December 25th as a Christian feast was another tactic in the vicious and violent suppression of the pagan peoples throughout Europe,  a deliberate corruption of our true heritage. There's no fucking way I'm going to celebrate that.

It's been, oh, more than fifteen years now, I think, since I worked all this out and decided to reject Christmas. A lot of people think that this is sad somehow, that I am missing out on something. I don't see what I'm missing out on. I do have Yule, which happens on 21-22 June in my southern world. I have friends, and family, and I celebrate having them in my lives and spending time with them. I often give people gifts, and often receive beautiful gifts. I still have all these things in my life. They didn't disappear when I rejected Christmas. I wonder about people who think they need a socially-approved season in which to celebrate these wonderful aspects of human society. It seems to me that they don't believe these positive qualities of humanity actually exist within their own right, but require a specific season, and specific rituals to be performed, to be brought into actuality. It looks to me like a sad life where Chirstmas is only allowed to happen once a year. I have the joy of that spirit any day, any time I think about all my loved ones and all the precious strings of love that hold us all together. All I'm missing out on is a huge dose of bullshit that's been fed down to us through the centuries.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

What Littletree said, Part 2

I was lucky enough to get the chance to spend a week with one of my most favourite people, Littletree, and collect these sage and wonderful gems.

*****

Littletree was a little overwhelmed by how big the airport was.

Littletree: It's such a long way to walk from the building to the car.

Me: Yeah, it is. Sorry about that.

Littletree: Oh, don't apologise. It's not your fault. You didn't build this stupid place.

*****

I had just told Littletree a cute, funny kid story about myself when I was five years old. The climax of the story involved me presenting my Nana and Pa each with a piece of fruit cake. Littletree loved the story, and laughed and smiled, and then became quite serious and thoughtful.

Littletree: One day, if I become a grandmother...

I had the feeling that she was about to make one of her profound pronouncements, and listened carefully.

Littletree: ...I'm going to have to warn my grandchildren that I don't like fruit cake.

*****

While pondering how to get the fruit down from a tall tree, one that is not a good shape and inclination for climbing.

Me: We'll just have to get our thinking caps on.

Littletree: Oh, that's good, because I brought my thinking cap with me.

*****

Waiting to cross the street while walking home.

Littletree: Hey, Demelza...

Me: Yes?

Littletree: When we get home...

Me: Hmm, what?

Littletree: Please don't tell me there's a spider on my pillow.

Fortunately, this was a request with which I had no problem complying.

*****

Littletree was writing a postcard to a family she knows, and started with all their names.

Me: That's great sweetie. I think we might want another comma after A's name, as well.

Littletree: Oh no, because A and B are twins, and so I can't put a comma between them.

*****

While discussing colonial history.

Littletree: My great-great-grandparents were alive in the time of slavery.

Here I realised that Littletree had picked up a common misconception about the place of slavery in history, and thought I had better set out correcting it.

Me: Actually, the history of slavery is a lot more recent than that. Even, say, when Uncle CJ was alive, when he was young, there were slaves in this country. Well, they weren't called slaves, they were just called servants, but really they were slaves, because they didn't have any choice in it.

Littletree: Oh my god! Is Uncle CJ  really old?

He's only forty-eight. We worked it out.

*****

We were waiting to cross a busy road, when a car pulled up and the driver motioned for us to cross.

Me (once we were safely across the road): That was nice of that driver to stop and let us pass. That's been happening a lot since we've been walking around town. I don't usually see so many nice, kind drivers. Maybe it's because I'm walking with a cute kid.

Littletree: Yeah, I can't help it. I do have cute power.

Me: Oh, that's not something you have to help, sweetie. It can be a good thing, as long as you use your powers for Good and not Evil.

Littletree: What does that mean?

Then I had to explain what I meant, that I was kind of joking but also explaining the moral lesson in the saying.

Later that day, Littletree was pretty tuckered out. She was telling us about a dilemma she was experiencing, in which she wanted a chocolate treat from the shop, but was too tired to walk there. Mr. CJ pointed out that as he had to go out later to get milk anyway, he could give her a lift to the shop in the car.

Me: There you go, honey. It looks like you can use your cute powers to get Uncle CJ to drive you to the shop.

Littletree (quite strongly alarmed and disturbed): Oh no! I couldn't ever do that!

Me: Well, okay. But why not?

Littletree: Because you told me about how I have to use my powers for Good and not Evil!

*****

More of What Littletree Said is here.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

of the Travelling Sister

I'm the luckiest girl. My baby sister came to visit me!


Well, she's not a baby any more of course. She's all grown up, with qualifications and a passport that has seen more stamps than the lady at the post office. She's so busy flitting around the world that this is her first visit in eight years!

Yes, we are aware that we don't look much like sisters. We don't sound like sisters either. Aya has a posh London boarding school accent and I have an ocker drawl that grates even on my own ears.

The short story is, we have different mothers, so technically we're half-sisters. For most of our lives we've lived in different countries, and if I added up all the hours we've actually spent physically together, it wouldn't come to much. But there's more than that with us. We've always had a connection, regardless of time and space. We are spirit sisters, perhaps more than kin. We are both always a part of each other, even when we don't connect on the physical plane.

It's a mystery, the depths of human connection, and it makes me the luckiest girl.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Confessions of a Bloglife Crisis, or, This is Not an Abandoned Blog

...despite recent appearances to the contrary.

I certainly haven't forgotten about my blog. Indeed, it's been the elephant in the room of mind all this time since my last post. I haven't had any shortage of adventures or inspirations to blog about. Ideas for blog posts are still coming thick and fast. But they don't get through the minefield of my brain to see the light of day. It's not that I don't love my blog any more. On the contrary, I've missed blogging terribly, to be honest.

Obviously, I have a problem. What I have discovered recently, however, is a name for my problem. A nice, cute, modern little name that fits neatly into an online search box. It helps, when blogging about a topic, to have such a name for it. My problem is perfectionist paralysis. It's not a new thing in my life. Perfectionism has always been one of my more challenging personal neuroses. Blogging just gives me yet another platform on which to experience and observe this particular brand of emotional baggage.

I can never get a blog post quite right. There will always be something I should or shouldn't have mentioned in context, or the thought that I couldn't quite express in words clearly enough. Later, after I've published a post, I might think of a way that I could have improved it. I could, if I wanted to, edit a post. But I know the nature of perfectionism well enough to know that if I started on that road, it would never end. I wonder about the integrity of a blog that is regularly edited, and and I really don't want to go there.

The labels really drive me crazy. I understand that they're useful in navigating a blog, and that one day I'm going to need them myself. But I can never decide on the right labels for the things I'm talking about. I second-guess and go back and change them, but I can't clarify a system that works for me. It seems impossible to divide the experiences of life up into categories like that. Any one action or thought reverberates throughout all the dimensions of my life.

All these things only even get to be considered if they get through my even bigger problem - deciding what to blog about. I don't really have any idea who my audience is. It's not really one of my intentions to upset or offend people by blogging. But obviously, it's not something that one can avoid in the big bad world of the Internet. That scares me. It scares me to think that the things I write about here go out into the world and I can never get them back. The world might be a very different place at some point in the future. I can have no idea of the potential consequences of blogging about sensitive issues, the spiritual, religious, political, the deeply personal, no idea of the standards by which I might be judged by a yet-unimagined future society. One solution is to stick to blogging about the easy things that don't offend anyone - op shop treasures and gardening. But that is just not in line with my personal goals for this blog. I continue to be inspired the most by the people who are really, honestly sharing the hard things, the big things. The ones who are dancing with the elephants in the rooms of their lives. These ones remind me that by staying safe, I am not living and embracing life to the fullest.

All these doubts and fears have conspired and colluded to leave me with a pile of half-started draft posts of great potential, and a suspiciously long absence in the chronology of this blog. This is not a good outcome.

These were all the reasons why I didn't want to take on the responsibility of a blog in the first place. But I have found that it is something that I simply must do. I don't have any solutions to these problems, any insight beyond noticing how they limit my expression. I don't have a particular strategy for going on blogging that will address all these fears I have. I'll just go on, and keep working it out as I go, just like everyone else. But, you know, they say it helps to start by admitting you have a problem.