Fuzzy, Was He?

Justin and I went and saw a film about depleted uranium weapons last night. We came home and ranted to each other for half an hour afterwards.

Why, oh, why do lefties (I might have said "my fellow lefties" and I don't mean southpaws) tend so often to eschew a fact-based approach to arguments? Why do they tend toward hysteria, fear-mongering and prurient sensationalism?

Why do I so often feel frustrated and embarrassed when people speak up on behalf of values I hold and issues I care about? I know there are plenty of rightwing nutcases (like on much of talk-radio) who also avoid facts and logic and depend on base emotional reactions to make their points, but I find it so much worse when it's coming from educated people with whom I basically agree.

It seems so obvious that if you want a movement to be more than seven guys with beards and 20 hairy-armpitted women (and I'm one a them wimmin), you need to make appeals to the people who aren't there.

I remember Justin coming back from an anti-war rally in Chico asking why the music at protests has to be singer-songwriters on acoustic guitars (and we like sensitive singer-songwriters on acoustic guitars). It's part of the same problem. I guess it's always more comfortable to preach to the choir than to go to the streets where someone might ask you a hard question.

Maybe it bugs me because I,too, would rather just repeat what I feel to be true than to do the research myself, and I, too, find it easier to hang out with "like-minded" people than to seek out people with whom I'm likely to disagree on fundamental issues.

End of rant!

Work, Schmirk

I just realized that I will definitely be working only part time in January because one of my programs (the ESL one) doesn't start back up until the 6th of Feb. I'm really looking forward to having less time at the office and more time to myself. It's funny to remember how I was really ready to work after three months of not working and how after 7 months of working, I've just about had enough! Maybe part-time will suit me perfectly. I've never worked only part time. Anyway, there's three weeks of work and two weeks of unpaid vacation between now and then.

Below are some photos of us to amuse you and lighten your day!
A picture for my friend Lisa who wanted to see photos. As you can see, I'm as stylish and kempt as ever! Posted by Picasa
Justin (self-portrait) on a camping trip in October. This landscape would be much greener now, as we've have over 100 ml of rain since then. Posted by Picasa

Grog II

Sometimes I write to entertain, sometimes to inform, sometimes to persuade, and sometimes I write to help myself to process my experiences and feelings. It was for this last purpose that I wrote my posting about grog. I occasionally share this kind of writing on my blog with the hopes that someone might say something that sheds light on whatever issue I’m grappling with, or perhaps someone else might be processing similar experiences or feelings and be heartened to know they aren’t alone. I appreciate the thoughtful comments which have been posted already.

I got an email from someone who seemed to have taken offence at that post. I hope it was clear to most people that I was not passing judgement on any individual or any group of people. I know people drink for all kinds of reasons and lots of people I love very much drink. As I said in that post, "I feel powerless and baffled in the face of extensive alcohol use."

I was commenting on my own feelings and reactions to seeing people drink, both people I know and like, and strangers. My reaction to alcohol has been one of aversion for a long time. It seems to hold so much power, yet I have seen it cause so much pain. For years I avoided being around alcohol and also avoided thinking about it much.

It is said that aversion is simply another face (or facet) of desire. In the pursuit of peace of mind, it seems worthwhile to explore both desire and aversion. What do I cling to? What do I run from? What attracts me and what repels? What thoughts or events cause me to be suddenly staring down into that deep shaft (is it a pit or a well?) of sadness, listening as a pebble ping-ping-pings down, bouncing and echoing in the dark? I strain to see if there is any light reflecting on water at the bottom, but there’s no sign, no evidence that this well has an end.

Do we all have our own private wells of sadness? We may stumble across them by accident, but then we keep coming back to gaze down in, drop in stones or coins for good luck, try to understand what is in there and where it comes from. Watching or seeing people drink is one thing that can take me right up to the brink of my own sadness, and I'm suddenly looking into that ominous darkness.

What leads you to peer down into your own deep well? And when you've taken a metaphor way too far, how do you step back from that precipice?

More About Grog

I've been wrestling with understanding grog again. Alcohol-drinking is an absolute institution here, as elsewhere; the consequences are so much a part of the fabric and rhythm of daily life that they almost become invisible. Big-city dwellers learn to walk past other human beings as if they were another species, their humanness not registering because they are dirty, out of their minds, drunk, begging, etc. I worry about this happening to me.

I passed an old woman and an old man the other morning who were sitting side by side on the cement foot/bicycle path that I take to and from work every day. (People commonly sit on paths and sidewalks around town and particularly in this area as there are nice trees shading it. I remember being surprised at first that people choose to sit on concrete rather than grass.) The old woman was bawling, sobbing and wailing. The old man just sat looking straight ahead.

I had to veer off into the dirt and grass to go around them, as I often have to do in this area of my ride. Usually I greet the people sitting on the path, some of them apologize for blocking the path, and I'll tell them it's no problem. If the people on the path are extremely hung over, drunk or passed out, the exchange may be entirely one-sided (my "hello"). As I approached these old folks, I wondered if I should stop, if I should ask what was wrong, if I should see if there was anything I could do. But I didn't. There are a million ways to justify my actions, but they don't change the fact that I didn't stop. I didn't ask what was wrong, I just said, "Good morning" as I rode around them.

My greeting sounded so inane. It obviously wasn't a good morning for that lady. I thought about what I could have said (without stopping) that would have been more sensitive. I didn't come up with anything satisfactory.

Anyway, this gets back to grog because I blame my unwillingness to get involved on the extent to which I have become accustomed to seeing people fighting, crying, and passing out in public. I feel powerless and baffled in the face of extensive alcohol use.

GROG in America
I recently read Dry by Augusten Burroughs. It's the follow-up to his childhood memoir, Running with Scissors, although he actually wrote "Dry" first. It highlighted for me the difficulties of sobriety even when you've got a lot going for you, and how hard it is to see that alcohol that you love so much could actually be bad for you. How much harder is it if your life seems like a dead-end, if you feel like a failure, if alcohol seems like your only true and constant friend?

One Friday, more than a month ago, as I left work and hopped on my bike, I felt really happy and full of energy. I had promised to stop by a friend's workplace. As I rode there, I was thinking maybe she'd want to ride down to the hot springs. Instead, I ended up going with these two friends to a bar, where I watched one of them drink glass after glass of wine. She's a strong and fit person and drinks a lot and often, but I felt really sad watching her mental capacity deteriorate quickly. She's smart and clever usually, but after an hour, she'd had 5 glasses of wine I think, and she just didn't get most of the jokes or references that were being made. However, if you didn't know her, you wouldn't notice that anything was wrong, as she seemed perfectly in control of her senses.

Since then, I've been thinking again about alcohol and all the ways it is used around the world and by different people. Why can some people drink a beer on occasion to relax or just to enjoy the taste and be equally satisfied with non-drinking activities, while other people can't enjoy a film or interact socially without grog in their system? Why do alcohol problems become so systemic within certain oppressed populations but not necessarily among all?

What a seductive drug, both beneficial and potentially lethal to individuals and maybe even to cultures. I can't even begin to understand.
Justin found this visitor trying to get into the shower last night after I'd gone to bed. He took pictures and left it alone. I found it in the shower with me this morning.  Posted by Picasa
New address: our backyard. Posted by Picasa
Dragonfly, photographed on Justin's most recent trip to Pigeon Hole. Posted by Picasa

A Morning Delay

Without my glasses, I can see very little. For example, standing up and looking down, I can see that I have feet but not that I have toes. (From a sitting position, I can make out my big toe if I spread it away from the others.)

This morning, as usual, I placed my glasses on the counter and stepped into the shower stall. I turned on the water and noticed something brown moving frantically near my feet. I knew it wasn't a cricket or a cockroach because I could actually see it, and not a gecko because it was definitely brown. I couldn't, however, see it well enough to know what it was. Even though my brain must have registered "spider" as I could tell it was roundish not long (I'd have been more nervous if my brain had registered "snake") and it moved like a spider, I felt much better when I had my glasses on and could actually see it. I'm not generally afraid of spiders; maybe this is why even though I know there are some very poisonous spiders in Australia, I haven't bothered learning what they look like or anything about them. So there's no logical reason why I felt better when I could see what it looked like, but I did.

My next reaction was to go into the bedroom and tell my sleeping husband, "Hey, there's a huge spider in the shower."

He replied, "I know, I saw it last night and took pictures."

Me: What do you think I should do about it?

Him: Coax it into a paper bag and put it outside. (Then he went back to sleep.)

Now, Justin spent far less of his childhood out in nature (and I suspect encountered fewer spiders in his house) than I did, so I don't know why I asked him what to do, or where he got his idea.

After chasing the spider around the shower stall with a bucket, I resorted to Justin's idea. Guess what? The spider went right into the bag, but not deep in, just inside the edge.

Happy ending: I left spider and bag in backyard. When I came home today, spider was gone. Either she ran away or was eaten by a resident lizard. Either way, it's a happy ending for someone.

And I got to shower alone.

Forest's contribution

Thanks to Polly, Sophie and Mom for posting poems as comments on the last post. I had asked my brother for his favorite poem on the phone earlier and he emailed me what follows. I thought others would like to read it too, as well appreciate his comments. Thanks Forest!

Signpost, by Robinson Jeffers

Civilized, crying: how to be human again; this will tell you how.
Turn outward, love things, not men, turn right away from humanity,
Let that doll lie. Consider if you like how the lilies grow,
Lean on the silent rock until you feel its divinity
Make your veins cold; look at the silent stars, let your eyes
Climb the great ladder out of the pit of yourself and man.
Things are so beautiful, your love will follow your eyes;
Things are the God; you will love God and not in vain,
For what we love, we grow to it, we share its nature. At length
You will look back along the star's rays and see that even
The poor doll humanity has a place under heaven.
Its qualities repair their mosaic around you, the chips of strength
And sickness; but now you are free, even to be human,
But born of the rock and the air, not of a woman.

Uhh, you said to include with the poem a couple sentences about why you like it, but this turned out to be a couple paragraphs! Feel free to select. [I didn't cut anything.]

People criticize Jeffers for being too "brutal." However, I think this poem shows that he is no misanthrope, just that he locates the value of humanity within the greater beauty of nature. Humans are beautiful not because they are exceptional, but because they are also a part of nature. This perspective, shared with deep ecologists, is also consistent with the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions that have undermined the anthrocentrist view that our planet and our species, respectively, are more significant in the universe than other planets and species. Jeffers perspective is appealing because it seems factually correct, but also because it resonates with my own personal experience. It has helped me reconcile myself to people in times when I have been repulsed by our shortcomings.

On the other hand, I don't think my own worldview is as thoroughly ecocentric as his. It may be (and seems to be) that humanity is not particularly "special" in any satisfactorily objective sense, but looking at the world objectively is a cold and sterile practice, and not the only option available. The most exciting and meaningful bits of life often go hand in hand with a decidedly subjective perspective. My family may not be objectively more valuable to the universe than anyone else's, but it is more valuable to me, and I love it most. The same goes for humanity. It might not be exceptional in the bigger cosmic picture, but by god, it's my species and I care about its survival most. In the end, the earth and all the people and species on it will be engulfed by the expanding sun. For meaning and purpose, we have to turn to our own -- and each others' -- subjective experiences.

More on poetry

I have a partially-formed idea up my sleeve, and I need your help. If you have a favorite poem, please send it to me (either as a comment on this posting, or by email) along with a line or two about why you like it. Don't forget to include author and title if you know them. Thanks!

By the way, if you want to see the official press release about the NT Literary Awards (including a photo of me receiving mine), look here. Thanks, Greg, for pointing this out.

The local Katherine paper (a weekly) published an article about me which contained errors in the headline, the photo caption, and within the body of the article. Impressive really, to make so many mistakes in so few words. Might be seen as kind of an art form in itself...


Now that we have ways of transmitting pictures and sounds over long distances with relative ease, I wonder when we will be able to share smells? I guess we're stuck with the entirely inadequate medium of language!

The smell I wanted to share with you was the amalgam of scents I encountered one day on my way home from work this week. We'd gotten a decent rain during the afternoon which my students and I had enjoyed, first, by hearing it pound on the tin roof, then by watching it blur the view through the window, and finally by going out and feeling its effects on the air in the covered patio.

By the time I was riding my bike home, the rain had been done for at least half an hour. The sun was out, but low in the sky, and the ambient temperature was comfortable. Post-rain smells are relished around the world, I think, but it's amazing how different that post-rain smell can be. I was conscious of that as I rode along the riverbank, thinking of how the first rains in California smell after the long hot summer.

Although this is also early rain after a season without rain, it's a different smell. There's something tropical in the smell here, even though the landscape may look similar to California's golden dry grasses and gray-green trees. I felt, as I was riding, that I was smelling the potential of the thick green foliage that will come with a few more rains.

Probably the key difference is the amount of humidity in the air which, combined with temperatures in the 80s (F), bring a different smell. When I think of that first rain in California, I think of a sort of dustiness relieved, rain dropping into hot dry air and transforming the ground and the air into something clean, clear and fresh. Here, I felt that the rain was evoking tropical fucundity, rotting wood, tangling vines, water sitting in curved leathery fallen leaves.

As I rode through a small park area, I also got the thick heady scent of frangipani, whose white blossoms covered the trees and littered the ground beneath. It infused the other post-rain smells in an almost intoxicating steam.

I wish I could send you this smell.


In order not to have to email everyone who has asked about it, I will tell here about the poetry awards.

On the weekend between the camping trips (14th October), Justin and I went up to Darwin with our friend KB (a.k.a. Kibby) to attend the NT Literary Awards. I was invited because I had submitted a few poems back in May or June. I was told (in August maybe?) that one of my poems was a finalist for the Dymocks Red Earth Poetry Award, the winner of which would be announced at the Awards night.

I already felt satisfied because my poem would be published in the little journal, as all the finalists in all the categories would be. I was looking forward to getting my copy of the book. Although I haven't pursued getting published much, each time I have submitted something somewhere and had it published, I feel happy about it. Despite my laxness in pursuing an audience, I do in fact write for an audience.

Anyway, my poem won the prize of $1000 (that's US$750)! The big cash prize seems especially funny since poetry is so notoriously not something anyone does for money. Here is the poem:


Each delicate strip carefully positioned,
layers of colours held in place
by the glue of your conviction

Invention is easier than
absolution automatic:
the person C. hates “doesn’t exist anymore”
past is shrugged away

You construct yourself
from Robert Anton Wilson,
Freud, and superheroes;
the old you disappears under
acid, long hair, macrobiotics;
in public you read Burroughs and Starhawk
while sipping mulled cider

I’ve never heard you laugh with joy
or at your own folly, only snicker
at people mistakenly satisfied
with ordinary lives

Still, I like how you notice beauty
in surprising places, how your fingers
are kind, sometimes your smile is fragile.
You dance with clumsy abandon.
Beneath sandalwood and goldenseal,
I smell some sweetness.

Your colourful tissue-paper shell
makes me wonder what kind of stick I would need—
whether I could do it blind-folded—
how hard I’d have to swing—
and whether I’d do it for the candy
or just for the pleasure
of breaking you open.

You'll notice the Australian spellings. Some of you may recognize the idea in this poem from an earlier draft. Like many of my poems it sat for a long time because I was unsatisfied with it. Suddenly I looked at the poem in a new way, focusing on the speaker rather than the subject, and it came together in a way that satisfied me. There are, of course, still lines I don't quite like. In saying that the poem "satisfied" me, I mean that the poem became more effective and more interesting than it had been, it came to have a reason for being, and that was enough to let it go.
These seedpod/cone things feature as the villainous Banksia Men in a much-beloved series of Australian children's books about the Gumnut Babies, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (or is it Cuddlepot and Snugglepie?). Posted by Picasa
There are so many interesting and really varied seedpods here. I always pick some up as we're hiking, but most don't make it all the way back to our flat. These did, though I photographed them in camp. Posted by Picasa
Can you stand one more waterfall picture? Posted by Picasa
I forgot to mention that Princess Leia (P for short) came hiking with us.  Posted by Picasa

Previous Camping Trip

Following this post are photos from our camping trip of October 8-9th. At that time Waz wanted to go to Biddlecombe, but the rangers said it was on fire and therefore off-limits for the weekend. So we decided to go to Dunlop Swamp instead, a place none of us had been, but less than 9 kms in.

It was very hot and we started around 2:00 in the afternoon. Probably unsurprisingly we didn't meet anybody else on the trail (that was true for our more recent trip too).

There was supposed to be water (for drinking) at Dunlop Swamp, but when we first got there all we saw was a murky pool and some other muddier bits that feral buffalo had been trampling in. It seemed that the name "swamp" wasn't overly modest. It was late, we were tired and our only other option would've been to continue on down to the gorge, another 2-3 rough kms. It would've gotten dark while we walked.

Instead we decided to stay. We explored further and found that there was cleaner water available and even a nice little pool for swimming in. We set up camp in a lovely spot under the trees, had a swim, a campfire and were in bed by eight thirty. (Californians need to remember how close we are to the equator here--it's dark around or by 7 most of the year.)

In the morning I went down to the water for a swim and startled a big mob of red and green lorikeets out of one of the trees. A flock of colorful birds in flight is a lovely way to start a morning! I was not, however, able to get a photo.
Pas, Waz and Justin on the trail to Dunlop Swamp (heading up the first ascent and still smiling). Posted by Picasa
High temperatures made resting essential. The immediate uphill nature of our trail turnoff made this seem like a necessary place for a break! Posted by Picasa
There was no shade, so Waz made his own. Posted by Picasa
A fallen pandanus fruit. Posted by Picasa
Dunlop Swamp by early morning light. Posted by Picasa
Back at Nitmiluk Centre for a cold drink and some hot food. The sign says "don't fee the birds," but people leave their leftovers on their tables. These birds aren't stupid. They wait in the rafters of the patio. When they swoop onto a table, the remaining tourists whip out their cameras. I was one of them. Posted by Picasa


My friend J just emailed me this:

"-Georgia O'Keefe loved flowers and rich, wet gardens so much that she moved to the desert so that she wouldn't be distracted from her painting. It seems like she gave up what was second-best to her to allow her energies to be more fully realized. I wonder if I could ever make that kind of sacrifice?"

Today, before coming home and reading this email, I was at work creating a little module on learning strategies and goal-setting. One of the things in the material I looked at asked students to consider what a person has to sacrifice in order to pursue a goal of winning an Olympic medal. I expanded on this saying something like "we usually have to sacrifice something to get something else we want. We might decide to give up time or money or habits or even relationships if there's something that matters even more."

As I wrote it, I thought about Ruby Payne's work saying that people living in generational poverty have to give up a lot if they are to get out of that poverty. She says that relationships are central to cultures in poverty (because people are the only possessions you reliably have), while in middle class culture individual striving and effort are more important (inanimate possessions are the marks of success). She talks about middle class people giving up relationships for other things (like you might move in order to get a better job, even if it means leaving friends and family), but that would be unthinkable for many people in generational poverty (family comes first, including extended families and dysfunctional families and abusive family members).

Somehow, amidst all this, I find myself wondering if the idea of sacrifice is old-fashioned, not current, even in middle class culture? It seems like "you can have it all" is a more popular notion; "you deserve it" is the underlying notion in many ads. Then again, there's also the "you've worked hard for this--you deserve it" message.

Is there a culture of self-indulgence? Is sacrifice an outdated concept? What do YOU think? What about the role of sacrifice in religion? What about people who feel that if they pre-emptively punish themselves, they won't be so severely punished by their god or by the fates?


In order to foil further spam commenting, I've enabled a setting where you have to decode a word in order to post a comment. Please do not let it deter you from commenting. I really like comments from real people who are really reading my blog. I don't really like getting excited that there's a comment and then finding that it's actually an advertisement for some commercial blog. So. Let me know how it goes and if it's too much of an pain.
Picture yourself here. The sun is overhead. It's about 40 (C), [over 100 (F)]. You're wearing a pack. You still have a long way to go. Posted by Picasa
Because of the rain on Saturday, this area greened up overnight. Posted by Picasa
This is the landscape we were walking through. Posted by Picasa
On the trail (on the way back). Posted by Picasa
Biddlecombe Falls and its surrounds. There's more falls above and below, but we couldn't get the camera to capture it all. Posted by Picasa
Biddlecombe Falls. That's me there on the rocks near the top. Posted by Picasa
A view from on top. Posted by Picasa
A perfect pool. Posted by Picasa
This area burned two weeks ago. Posted by Picasa
Along the way to Biddlecombe Falls. Posted by Picasa