Sunday, 29 June 2008

a completely unbiased review

I was still a bit out of it yesterday, but my brother had invited us for lunch at his girlfriend Linda's new restaurant, Pyrama, and I can always be tempted out for a good meal. It was another gorgeous, jewel-like Sydney winter day and we headed down to shop 1, 56 Harris Street, Pyrmont.

Pyrama is almost at the end of Harris Street, just as the hill slopes down to the water. It's nestled in amongst new blocks of flats and old workers' cottages and wintry trees and a glimpse of sparkling water, perched over a dramatic cutting in the sandstone for the light rail track. It's a really interesting spot, quiet but villagey. It seemed the perfect place to be on a bright winter's morning.

Nic, me and mum

It's always wonderful to hang out with Nic. But it was especially great to see Linda in her restaurant, obviously so proud and excited that Nic had brought his family. She and her brother Jim (who is the chef) have been working towards the launch for a long time, and have put a lot of effort into making it a great space with a really relaxed, friendly ambience and food that perfectly suits the setting. It's unpretentious but delicious fare, not trying to be fancy, but doing simple things well, allowing the top-notch ingredients and the expertise of its staff to shine.

Nic and Mum

We sat outside, drenched in sunlight, each of us sporting our huge sunglasses. Nic and I both need to get more sunlight (me for my depression, him for some horrid skin thing he's gotten), so it was therapeutic too. Linda's mum and sister were also there, so it felt very congenial to stroll into this slick new restaurant and already be 'regulars', knowing the other regulars. But I watched the small team of staff and although they were, of course, very friendly and chatty with us (being connected to the owner) they were pretty much the same with everyone who walked in, which is great.


Mum decided on ricotta pancakes with rhubarb and apple compote from the all-day breakfast menu.


Nic chose a wagyu beef burger with the most delicious chips.


And I had the most tender, light and melt-in-the-mouth calamari with harissa aioli I've ever had (I think I need to change my standard line from "I don't eat seafood" to "I don't eat prawns or oysters" because I quite like calamari and some shellfish. So there you go, this one dish has converted me).

Then my favourite part of any meal, dessert. It was hard to decide, so I promised Linda I'd start at the top of the menu and work my way down it each time I came to eat there. So the top of the list - 'The original' Belgian white chocolate creme brulee with passionfruit coulis.


Ohhh. Aside from the one I had in Paris recently, I can safely say this was the best creme brulee I've ever had (and the Parisian one had extra points because of its location of course). Silky smooth, rich but not heavy, with a perfectly formed and satisfying sugar crust.


Mum and Nic shared the warm chocolate fondant, also smooth and delicious from the little taste I had.

Mum, Nic and Linda

Of course Linda is the consummate perfectionist, so she's never going to be happy with the restaurant and is always going to be tweaking things to improve them, which is as it should be I think. But I think she and Jim should be very proud of what they've created so far!

Nic and Linda, showcasing the fuzzy feature wallpaper

So go on a sunny winter's morning and sit in the courtyard outside (when I go there for dinner I'll let you know how that was, but I'm pretty confident to say it'd be fantastic for dinner too). Eat well and enjoy. You won't be sorry!

Saturday, 28 June 2008

my cat is insane

Actually, it turns out, no, she's just a cat (she ate two gigantic holes in my new woollen top yesterday...well it's made me inventive as to what I can do with the arms of a new woollen top - make fingerless gloves to replace the ones she ate!).

Friday, 27 June 2008

Renewal

I've not been very well the last couple of days. So today I am at home, still in my pyjamas, sitting in the sun and reading Prince Caspian. Makes me feel like a little kid again! There were things to do today, a meeting I was to go to at Parramatta and an article to write, but my aching head won't allow for any of it. I've opted for being kind to myself.

So I will share with you a lovely passage from Prince Caspian that may make your Friday that much better, as it has mine.



Lucy and Peter find the armory at Cair Paravel

The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

'Welcome, child,' he said.

'Aslan,' said Lucy, 'you're bigger.'

'That is because you are older, little one,' answered he.

'Not because you are?'

'I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.'

For a time she was so happy that she did not want to speak. But Aslan spoke.

'Lucy,' he said, 'we must not lie here for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost today.'

'Yes, wasn't it a shame?' said Lucy. 'I saw you, all right. They wouldn't believe me. They're all so-'

From somewhere deep inside Aslan's body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

'I'm sorry,' said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. 'I didn't mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn't my fault anyway, was it?'

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

'Oh, Aslan,' said Lucy. 'You don't mean it was? How could I - I couldn't have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don't look at me like that . . . oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn't have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?'

Aslan said nothing.

'You mean,' said Lucy rather faintly, 'that it would have turned out all right - somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?'

'To know what would have happened, child?' said Aslan. 'No. Nobody is ever told that.'

'Oh dear,' said Lucy.

'But anyone can find out what will happen,' said Aslan. 'If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me - what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.'

'Do you mean that is what you want me to do?' gasped Lucy.

'Yes, little one,' said Aslan.

'Will the others see you too?' asked Lucy.

'Certainly not at first,' said Aslan. 'Later on, it depends.'

'But they won't believe me!' said Lucy.

'It doesn't matter,' said Aslan.

'Oh dear, oh dear,' said Lucy. 'And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you'd let me stay. And I thought you'd come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away - like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.'

'It is hard for you, little one,' said Aslan. 'But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.'

Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.

'I'm sorry, Aslan,' she said. 'I'm ready now.'

'Now you are a lioness,' said Aslan. 'And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have no time to lose.'

CS Lewis, Prince Caspian, Fontana Lions, 1985, pp 124-126
illustration by Pauline Baynes p30

Monday, 23 June 2008

reflection

Reflected Arrows 1974 Jeffrey Smart

Why does my continual low opinion of my writing surprise me, as though I'm the only one who's ever felt this way? How ridiculous. Jeffrey Smart, an artist whose work I love, was interviewed on Talking Heads tonight and said this about a retrospective of his work, "when i look over them, I see a series of disasters. I feel I'm going to paint my best work...soon."

He's 81 and recently sold a painting for something like $900,000!

Then there's Andrew Bird, a brilliant musician who wrote recently on the Measure for Measure blog,
I listened to my record recently and I’m concerned about how much I like it. This has never happened to me at this stage of making a record. Right about now is usually when I want to scrap the whole thing and start over. In fact, scrapping whole records has become par for the course for me when recording.
I'm not saying that "oh well if other artists think they suck it's okay to think I suck". I don't think I suck. I know there is value in my work, but that doesn't mean I'm immune to being frustrated to tears by it. I guess there's a disparity between accepting that my writing is decent and whether I think anyone else will like it or get something out of it. I like people to read my stuff, but at the same time I'm terrified that people will think I am my work, that they will weigh it in the balance and find it wanting, and by extension will find me wanting.

I think the only thing to do is accept that an artist of any sort is going to feel negative about their stuff, and I guess that can be amplified if you tend towards low self-esteem anyway. It doesn't make sense, and it might seem self-indulgent, but it's just how it is. I just have to accept that and move on through it, reminding myself that I am not my work and finding joy in it.

Gripe

Attention lazy headline-writers/journalists/sub-editors (though I sometimes wonder whether the latter still exist at the SMH online): a woman who is 61 is not 'elderly' (pardon the use of that terrible story to illustrate this point). The journalist doesn't use the term in his story, why put that as the precis to the story? Isn't the headline itself awful enough?

Ah, no, the point is to milk as much emotion and scandal out of a handful of words to ensure the reader clicks through to the story. "'Woman attacked'...hmm. That could be anyone. Sure it's bad, but...Oh, I know! 'Elderly woman attacked' - that could be someone's defenseless grandma! Winner!"

The media is irritating. Since Leigh Hatcher's talk at staff conference, where he asked us to constantly question what the media's agenda was, and to remember that it solely thrives on conflict as a means to grab readers/viewers to ensure revenue, those little cynical attention-grabbing tricks have become more and more apparent. And it bugs me that I can be so susceptible to them!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Saturday night - do do dooo do do do do

After my stupid wrong-bus-catching-and-subsequent-walk-home I didn't have time to have a nap, but pretty much went straight on to Catherine's surprise birthday dinner at the Doncaster. I only stayed a couple of hours, but long enough to get some pics and cuddles with my goddaughter and lovely friends.






My head pounding, I excused myself after dinner, came home and got straight into my trackies.

Saturday in the park with mum

Mum and I went to Peter's of Kensington to buy Catherine's birthday present with the last of a gift voucher I was given. Boy, but you really see some caricatures of entitlement in that place, in particular the bridezillas with their clipboards swanning around making up bridal registry lists, their bored fianc├ęs in tow. We had panini for lunch, then caught the bus into the city.

We got off the bus at Circular Quay just outside Customs House, so I took mum inside to show her how cool it is. Little kids were crawling on the glass over the model of Sydney set into the lobby floor, pointing out familiar landmarks and exclaiming. It was very cute.

We wandered down to the Opera House and, much like the Eiffel Tower, I wondered if it was possible to take a bad photo of this building.

Then a meander through the Botanic Gardens, which were crowded with people soaking up the glorious sunlight. We sat on a bench, then looked up at all the fruit bats, hanging like in podlike clusters from most of the trees.
Mum decided to go home then to let me write and potter around a bit. I went to the Art Gallery, and although I'm not especially interested in the Biennale which is on at the moment, I was amused by the chalk 'graffiti' covering the outside of the building and some of the windows inside.

I spent some time looking at Harold Cazneaux's photographs of Sydney, marvelling at the soft smudginess of them and how that contrasted so abruptly with the hard, glittery brashness of the city on a day like today. Then I had a delicious lemon tart and a black coffee in the cafe and wrote a bit.
When I left the gallery I looked up at one more bit of graffiti on the lintel. I think it totally sums me up:
I walked back through the Domain and through Martin Place.
I was seriously flagging by this point, but wandered through David Jones on the way to the bus stop and got a jumper for half price at the sales. Unfortunately, because I was so tired and my headache was starting up again, I got on a bus that I assumed would go past my place but didn't. I ended up having to walk a few blocks to get home. I was glad to have been out on such a beautiful winter's day, but I wish I was better at calibrating my energy levels so I had enough left to get home!

Saturday morning...who's gonna play with me?




Thursday, 19 June 2008

salty apples

My pet project at work is webSalt, but sadly (and possibly because it's seen as a pet project) I don't get much time to devote to it.

How odd that on a day when I'm sick at home, away from the hustle and bustle of the office, I have sudden inspiration to write an article!

Check it out
(it's a rant about the new Sydney Apple Store). Hopefully there'll be lots more coming soon.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

clouds

I love things like this - Wordle is amazing (thanks Doug!). You just dump a bunch of text into the site and it generates a beautiful word cloud. You can adjust the colours, direction of words, fonts, number of words it displays. And it seems to be able to handle a lot of text very easily (it managed my 53,000 Undragon words with nary a hiccup). I find this fascinating because you can see what words you use the most, and maybe what sort of themes are coming out in the bit of writing. And it's pretty. They're like fingerprints.

So here is my novel in word cloud form (using 400 word clumps...that might be too many for this exercise, but...it's still pretty).

The Jasmine bits:

The Daniel bits:

The whole shebang:


Click on the pics for a closer look. I guess I must use the word 'don't' a lot.

matching luggage

Interesting Boundless article:

As my friend and I talked and reminisced our conversation fell to our single plight (deep down we all want things like marriage and family). "It used to be really simple," my friend said with a laugh. By "it" he meant establishing a romantic relationship. (He was engaged his senior year of college, but it fell through.)

"Now I've lost confidence in my ability to choose," he said. "I know how I am. I know all these things about myself, and I know what won't work for me. I almost know too much about myself."

I knew exactly what he meant. In the eight years since college, I've accumulated more than a house full of photographs, furniture and dishes that aren't plastic — I've developed a fairly complex identity. And honestly, finding someone who's a fit seems like a much more difficult task than it used to.

I was just thinking about this very thing the other day. In the case of the article's writer, she's talking about the baggage of achievements and things that we have accumulated throughout our 20s, and what effect that has on meeting a potential partner. I was thinking of those, yes, but also of emotional baggage, of course. I thought about what would happen if someone I was interested in, who already knew about all my achievement baggage, discovered my blog, opened up this public Pandora's box and read about what's in my emotional baggage.

I guess in my 20s I would have been keen to hide all that stuff to some extent. I wouldn't want to turn someone off getting to know me better, and so would present a particular version of myself, the 'display' model. We all do that, I guess (I always loved the term 'residual self image' that was used to such good effect in The Matrix). You want people (and I don't just mean potential partners) to be attracted to the best parts of you, you want to look your best, sound your best, be your best, and you try to put out the markers that will make this new person choose you as a potential friend. If you actually get into a conversation, it's full of calculations and control, whether conscious or not. You laugh winsomely so they will know you enjoy a good joke. You pepper the conversation with witty asides so that they know you have a good sense of humour. You try to connect on a meaningful level so that they know you're not just about the superficial. All the while, there is a simmering undercurrent of 'if only they knew what I was really like...' (well, there is for me).

But now that I'm older, even though I'd still be mildly nervous about what someone new would think of me upon reading my backstory, the fact is I know that close friends are the ones who know all that stuff and want to know me better in spite (or because?) of it. I've had plenty of friends over the years who only knew the 'display' version of me, and most of them have fallen away. I look at photos of my 21st, recalling how I agonised over who to invite and how each person there I considered to be vitally important to me, and honestly I'm only in touch with a few of them now. Some of them I can barely remember their names. The friends who have stuck are the ones who know all about the dark and the light parts of me and love me anyway, whether I've known them ten years or ten months.

I know there are lots of you out there reading and I have no idea who you are, but obviously there's something there that's kept you coming back. I am grateful that I'm not hollering into a void. Hope you stick around.

i'm an owl

This is great (full article here). (I also really like that style of illustration with lots of factoids to ramble over - maybe it stems from when I was a kid and loved poring over exploded diagrams of spaceships and buildings and other random things in books my brother owned.)

I should probably heed the advice in the article, especially given that I tried to go to bed two and a half hours ago and I'm still awake (also I am well aware that looking at a computer screen is counter intuitive but I was getting bored).

I'm planning on bringing a couch into my new office (1 July...so close!) but I'm not sure whether I'll be able to get away with siestas. Damn larks, trying to force me to be one of them!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

mourning the ghosty things

I switched off the light last night and as though the switch had been flicked in me, I started to cry. For a moment I didn't know what I was crying for, and tried that ineffectual trick of scolding myself out of it. Then I realised, with some surprise, that I was mourning the loss of something I had never had. It wasn't a particularly terrible loss, or something that was ridiculous to get upset about ("waaa...I've never owned a pony..." for example). It was just something that was quietly sad of its own accord, missed time, missed opportunity, missed potential, a litany of 'what ifs' that lead nowhere.

As I've said a million times before, I'm only here because God has brought me here, and all the things that have or haven't happened in my life are part of him bringing me to himself. But it's something I've been thinking about, particularly as a result of my recent counselling sessions where we've been talking about the reality of loss and mourning as you become an older single woman. Certain milestones pass by unmarked; you note them but they aren't anything you can claim for yourself. Things you maybe thought you would mark in the appropriate time crumble to dust in the light of reality and how things have panned out.

That sounds terribly maudlin, I know, but there is a kernel of truth in it, even for those not prone to crying in the middle of the night. There are seasons of life that some of us move through at the 'right' time, and then there are those of us who are just waiting, a little confused and wondering whether we've done anything wrong, and feeling guilty for feeling sad about things that haven't happened. It's the emptiest kind of grief, unvalidated, unasked for, unnoticed. It feels pointless, but maybe that's a way through - maybe it's worth acknowledging and staring at in the light, to reduce that sadness to its appropriate size and make it less of a thing that goes bump in the night.

Monday, 16 June 2008

gratitude and grace

It's been cold and rainy and windy these last few days. Finally weather that warrants a coat and thick scarf and a hat. It's also best when you're indoors, even better when you can sleep or you're with friends.

Saturday I just slept and pottered and slept a bit more. Sunday was a City Writing Day, except we had it at The Sweet Spot at The Spot. Ben came too and we ate yummy cakes and all tried to harness the writing bug (it's a very tiny bug with a very tiny harness...). I just wasn't in the mood to write, even though I had been looking forward to hanging out with my fellow writerly friends for a couple of months. My head was cloudy and sad, and try as I might I couldn't think of anything I wanted to write. I did manage to get some stuff down; it was just writing for writing's sake, but sometimes that is much better than a blank page.

Karen wins at boxing...or was it baseball?

Then we got Thai takeaway and went back to the Uns' place to eat and play Wii. I think I get as much fun watching people play Wii as actually playing it myself. We laughed a lot, which was much needed by all. Though by the end of the afternoon I was getting a little weary. M came home from visiting her parents, so the Beilzes and I took our leave and headed out into the rainy afternoon.

We went to church, and it was another great Kurt sermon about Paul and his Christian journey in Acts. He started off with the startling comparison between Paul and a modern-day suicide bomber, saying that to contemporary Australians there probably wouldn't seem to be much difference between the two. However a suicide bomber is ready to die so that others will die; Paul was ready to die to bring others life in Jesus. The key thing was Paul's attitude; he had already gone to Jerusalem expecting death, so fearlessly proclaimed Christ because after all, to Paul "to live is Christ, to die is gain". Kurt said that although we aren't facing death like that, are we willing to die to our ambition, life goals, comfort, security for the sake of the gospel? If we're struggling to live for Jesus, maybe it's because we still think we have life apart from Jesus. But the fact is, we don't.

I've heard a few talks like this recently and it really does challenge me, especially in the area of work. I complain and gripe about work and the money and all those standard bitching and moaning things, but really what am I complaining about? If I am committed to the spread of the gospel, and am serious about the fact that my job contributes to that, then I should be honoured to work where I do. And I am.

the AFES staff at conference last week

I am grateful to work in a place where we get to open the Bible together and study it every day. I am grateful to work with colleagues who are constantly striving to be more godly. I am grateful to have the chance to think about living as a Christian as part of my job, and to write about those things, to encourage others. That doesn't mean the work is going to be easy, in fact, it probably means the exact opposite. And we're still a bunch of sinful humans messing things up and getting frustrated and irritated with one another, getting tired and stressed, not coping with life generally. But I guess the difference is that because we are trying to be more godly, and trying to remember that we are serving Christ in our work, we apologise, we seek resolution, we try harder next time. So I shouldn't be discouraged by work, but I should be encouraged, and should go to it gladly.

Some days that's easier to do than others. But with God's grace, I struggle on.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

safety net

On one level the fact that I've already spent over $1000 on medical bills in six months this year is kind of upsetting. But one great thing is that I've finally reached the Medicare Safety Net threshold. This means that now although I'll still need to pay the $80 and $110 bills, I get all but $8.40 back from my Medicare claim. Woohoo! Yay for Medicare!

Friday, 13 June 2008

joy!

Karen went to a Shaun Tan reading/signing at Kinokuniya last night. She texted me a photo of him drawing last night. Then this morning she brought me back my copy of tales from outer suburbia with this on the inside:

If you can't quite see it, he's drawn a flower with a sign next to it saying 'for Bec'...oh okay, here's a close up:



Thanks K! You made my day!

Lollipop

Just a respite from all my doom and gloominess, a question for you: in school zones, when there is a lollipop man/woman helping the children cross the road, are they also supposed to help adults cross the road? I wonder if the lollipop man outside the French school near my house is just susceptible to the good looking and charming parents dropping their kids off; I seem to have to stop while he ushers adults across the road more often than children.

The other thing I notice about parents dropping kids off at school is that they seem to forget all the laws of the road. People pull out of parking spots and block the peak-hour traffic going both ways while they do a three-point-turn without waiting to see if anyone stops. They just stop in the middle of the road. They expect you to give way to them even when you have right of way.

Maybe I'm just crankier in the mornings.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

being a depressive at staff conference part 2

I wake long before my alarm, much earlier than the time I usually get up. I'm cramped and uncomfortable, so I decide to go for a walk. The air outside is sweet and cool compared to the awful dorm room, and I walk with long strides. I try to veer off onto a bush track, but it's been raining and I don't like my chances on the muddy ground, so I stick to the road.

When I get back to the site, I sit in a corner with my laptop and ipod on, trying to write, but other early morning risers keep wanting to chat to me. That's okay, I guess, though I don't feel like I have much to say. I sit with Mark and Tim for breakfast.

Grimmo gives the morning Bible talk on Philippians 3:1-16. He starts off by making poo jokes, which is kind of unexpected, but segues neatly into how the apostle Paul described everything in his life prior to knowing Christ as dung. Our translations are much too sanitised (the NIV and ESV use the word 'rubbish') but Grimmo said it was more akin to bin juice, or whatever the most revolting thing you can think of is. Before his conversion, Paul was the 'Jew of Jews' and was obsessed with keeping the law and being made right with God by doing the right thing. But after knowing Christ, he knew that was impossible, and was prepared to give all that up, his reputation and everything he had worked for, thinking only of straining towards the goal ahead of him - life in Christ.

You can’t get your life sorted out and then come back to God when you're ready. There’s nowhere else to go. All you can do is come back to Jesus and fall at his feet, and lay all the crap of your life at his feet. The three takeaway points:
  1. Keep finding your righteousness in the Lord Jesus Christ and in nothing else. (Not in achievements - it’s not about achievements but ‘have I honoured Christ?')
  2. Forget what lies behind. There is nothing that has happened in your past that needs to define you in your relationship with God. A profoundly excellent truth!
  3. Suffering and perseverance is part of it - but so is resurrection. As we share in his death, we will share in his resurrection. One day this body will be taken away and we will be given bodies that are fit for glory.
All very good things for me to be reminded of in my current mindset!

We have prayer groups again, then go into a couple of hours talking about SPRTE. This is our big conference at the end of the year, which this year will include students from all over the South Pacific. The logistics of it all are already wearying us!

I ditch lunch (processed meat...bleagh) and go down to Fairy Meadow to visit Stacie. I always think it's funny that Fairy Meadow sounds like such a cute sort of place but it's on the highway, with huge almost industrial buildings here and there. But Ben and Stacie's house is kind of cute. We're both feeling a bit flat and blah. Stacie puts Eli down to sleep, we just chat over lunch. It's always good to chat to Stace as you can be as blunt and honest as you want and it won't faze her because she is also blunt and honest.

I head back to the conference site. I'm getting so peopled out, making eye contact, making small talk, keeping it all together. The afternoon session is really good though. Leigh Hatcher, who is a Christian journalist and news presenter on Sky TV, gives us some media training and interview techniques. He has a warm, lyrical voice that sounds like the aural equivalent of butter menthol. He never says 'um'.

I'd seen him on Channel 7 news, but I wasn't hugely aware of him before I read his book I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell. It's an easy-to-read autobiography looking specifically at the period of his life when he was struck with chronic fatigue syndrome, and how he had to work through that and ways of dealing with it and other peoples' impressions of what the illness was. I know it's not the same thing as depression but I think it does share a similar stigma. It's always helpful to see someone on the other side of something like that, looking healthy and happy and helping people. I feel fairly confident I'm going to come through this somehow, and I will be fully functioning again one day. I hope I never take good health for granted, if I ever get it back.

I chat to Mark and Keith and Cathy over dinner and then Cheryl and I drive home. Ahh, my own bed! My own hot shower! My own block of chocolate! It's good to be home.

being a depressive at staff conference

I really didn’t want to come. I’ve been in the middle of a depressive period, black and tear-filled and unassailably glum. I’d look in the mirror at myself and think, “who could care for that fat, ugly, unmotivated lump?” and that would just reinforce the negative thinking with the force of a fist slamming into me. I cried the night before coming, desperate to just hide, to not do anything, to just be immobile and uncontactable and quiet. To not have to talk to anyone. I packed my bag with reluctance, and slept.

I put on my bright face as I leave the house, gear my tongue ready for conversation, pick up my colleagues and we are away. I chat without any problem, we listen to music, I make light. But it’s like holding together a broken vase with sticky tape; I fear that at any moment the pieces could start to fall away.

We arrive and people are glad to see us, of course they are. We go into prayer groups and I’m asked to introduce myself to those who don’t know me and to talk about how I became a Christian. I don’t shy from that sort of conversation, and my goal is to always be as honest and open as I can be about the trials I’ve been through, but also God’s great grace in saving me and keeping me safe through the difficult times. It’s good to be reminded of those things as I speak. The girls in my group pray for me, loving, earnest and heartfelt prayers that feel like a balm to my cracked soul.

The day’s sessions are filled mostly with admin and policy talks. I try to concentrate, but feel my attention slipping. During free time I get in the car and do what I do every year, go in search of decent coffee. It takes me a while to find a place that’s open and decent, but I don’t mind. The drive down to Thirroul along the Sea Cliff Bridge is one I don’t tire of, the majesty and contrasts of creation on all sides, the vastness of the ocean and the hugeness of the sky. I have my coffee and cake, then go and sit up at the Bald Hill Lookout. The sea is a silver sheet of rippling satin, and it is quiet up there.

I catch up with J over dinner and we have a honest heart-to-heart about the things we’re dealing with. I talk to her and T about what depression looks like for me, what it’s like when I can’t stop crying, when I can’t get out of bed, when I have to force myself to just get out the door in the morning, when I’m exhausted and just sad about everything. J prays for me.

It’s a night off but there aren’t really any options I feel like joining (State of Origin? No thanks), so I go to bed early, before everyone else gets there so at least I’ll have a few hours of lying down without worrying about making noise or whatever. I listen to a talk on my ipod and drift in and out. The room smells like toilet cleaner. It’s stuffy and full of peoples’ stuff. My bed isn’t comfortable, it’s like sleeping on a couch when you fall between the cracks of the cushions. I hate staying in dorms like this but I’m glad I brought my own pillow and can curl up like a caterpillar in my sleeping bag. I eventually go to sleep when the others get to bed and settle down.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

DestructoCat

Things my cat has eaten or ruined:

  • My amigurumi owls
  • The strap off my Von Troska top
  • A red ribbon (this was no great loss)
  • My fingerless woolen writing gloves

Damn thing. It doesn't seem to matter whether I leave things lying around or put them away, she somehow finds a way to destroy whatever she can. It just makes the end of a blah kind of day worse when you come home and discover your not-especially-attractive-but-very-useful Mimco gloves lying on the ground in the middle of your room, each of them chewed and frayed around the edges. That cat deserves the sore belly she's going to have from eating all that wool.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Twisted, part 3

We don't get lost this morning, but we're running late. This last day of TWIST is only a half day and they've switched the order of things around, so we start with a workshop. I'm in Song Leading Advanced with the lovely Julie Morrow. It's a great group that seems to get along well and share ideas easily, and Julie is a welcoming and friendly leader. We all get lots of tips and encouragement about why and how we lead the congregation in singing, and ideas on how to prepare and write meaningful introductions, rather than just saying "Okay now we're going to sing, please stand."

It's another chilly, damp day, but not raining as much as yesterday. We have morning tea chatting to Jocelyn, who used to work for AFES, then we go and sit in the third row again for the last session.

Dominic's talk is on 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. He talks about orderly worship, the 'weighing of prophecy', and how we're expected to consider and weigh up the teaching we receive, not just wholeheartedly accept everything that is said from the front. But even this weighing up needs to be done with thoughtfulness and in an orderly, self-controlled manner (so not everyone carrying on and talking over the top of one another).

This then leads into the tricky bit of the passage about women staying silent in church. "Er...I think I'm out of time!" he jokes. But I think he handles this subject really gently and with love, and gives clear examples that illustrate his point. He outlines what stances people generally take on the subject, and then gives us his opinion, that it's a particular word for married women (although there are implications for other women too), and it's certainly not suggesting that women are to be silent in church at all times, in every situation. It's more talking about the time at the end of the meeting when the 'prophecy' is weighed, and saying that it is important for the unity of marriage to be upheld in public, so a wife shouldn't be contradicting her husband in front of everyone. It's respecting the order of Christian marriage. It isn't saying that women shouldn't have an opinion or shouldn't express it, but it's saying that for the thoughtfulness and order that was mentioned earlier, wives need to respect that their husbands represent the head of their households in public. He uses himself and his wife as an example, saying, "If I spoke in public and then my wife piped up and said 'I completely disagree', that not only undermines me but it puts the marriage on the line in public too."

This is a complicated and emotive issue, and it's hard to condense it down into one blog post without the context of Dominic's whole talk. So if you're interested in what he had to say, I'd highly recommend getting the TWIST talks on CD if/when they go onsale from Emu.

One thing I find interesting is when he says that it's the world that has shifted its perspective, not the Bible, not God. God's word hasn't changed but society has, so to our 'modern', post-feminist sensibilities, a passage like this seems oppressive and archaic. But Dominic stresses that the Bible's teaching on gender matters, that this is God's instruction to us, and as Paul says, if you overthrow the Bible's teaching on gender, you will be ignored. I don't know about you, but I can't think of anything worse than being ignored by God. The very thought of it makes me quail.

He ends his series of talks with an exhortation to us to retain the theological heart of our music worship, but to remember that we are not just brains, we are bodies too, and we require an emotional response as well as an intellectual one. This is something that is certainly lacking in many Anglican churches, and something we touched on in the song leading workshop too, that people aren't engaged. As music leaders we need to engage peoples' hearts and minds and prompt them to respond to God's word in their lives.

After the talk, the kids who've been at the kids' programme get up the front and sing a song. You can tell that they're kids of musical parents because they dance and sing and are right into it (although there is always one kid who seems to stand front and center with no idea what's going on, just staring into the middle distance).

We close with a couple more rousing songs, and then it's all over for another year. Mum and I decide not to hang around for the sandwiches and head home for leftovers of delicious beef stew. Then I do some washing and nap. And that's the end of the long weekend! Lots to think about.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Twisted part 2

I'm really not concentrating this morning as we drive to TWIST for day 2. In fact, I'm just thinking about the pleasant vanilla scent of Tic Tacs as you pop them into your mouth (as I had just done) when we sail on past the Pennant Hills Road exit. "Was I supposed to get off there?" "Yeah." "Oh." After a few turns around, we eventually get back to the Kings School and head up to the main hall, hearing the strains of music from within.

The Kings School is absolutely massive (set on over 300 acres of land, according to their website). Coming from a small, inner-city school that (at the time) was located in an ex-factory, it's pretty eye-popping to wander around this exclusive, wealthy boys' school with so many facilities. In fact, even though there are no boys from the school around on the weekend, it feels weird being a girl at a boys' school. Things like having to use the boys' toilets and being overwhelmed by the persistent smell of urine in the grim toilet block; you can just picture some tiny boy being victimised at lunch time by those much bigger than him (I eventually found nicer 'visitors' toilets in the newer buildings). Or the posters and displays of inspirational men throughout history in the Centre for Learning and Leadership. Or the crude representations of male anatomy graffitied on classroom chairs and tables - I guess it goes to show that the old adage is true, boys will be boys, no matter where they go to school.

We learn a couple of new songs again (I especially like one of Mark Peterson's new ones that we did at NTE last year, The day will come (though I'm not sure I like the arrangement of it on Come Hear the Angels Sing, the latest Emu album)). One of the key ideas behind this year's conference is 'The Naked Church', borrowing the idea from Jamie Oliver's Naked Chef. Basically they're saying that we have such wonderful raw 'ingredients' that this year's TWIST is designed to strip it all back, and rather than just presenting us with the finished product, they show us different ways of putting things together to create a delicious, nourishing 'meal'. So, for example, they played In His Image and each verse played it in a different style just to show us how easy it was to completely change the feel of a song.

But the one I really enjoy is when we sing Crown Him with Many Crowns with the same melody and words as always, but with a really upbeat rock feel. It gives what is usually a very solemn, stately song an injection of energy and vibrancy that has everyone dancing around. It just shows you don't have to do songs the same way each time, that there is a place for doing the traditional hymns in a traditional style, but also for changing things up a bit.

Dominic's talk builds well on yesterday's. I've got written at the top of my page "Before you think about the volume of the guitar, you need to think about the heart of the band", which I think is a good summary of yesterday's talk! Today's passage (1 Cor 14:1-25) is mostly about gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues. Dominic said that although some churches make it a very public thing, speaking in tongues is a private form of communication with God that does nothing to help those who are listening because it is unintelligible. It's especially alienating to the visitor or outsider. So similarly, with music and the way we structure our church services, we need to be mindful of whether we are serving people, whether we are playing music to build others up, or whether we're doing it to make ourselves look good. He said, "I don't see that there's any place in church for a Latin chant." (basically because nobody speaks Latin, so what help would it be to get people to sing something they can't understand) "Sure, you might have the best Latin chant ever...sing it at home! Don't bring it to church!"

After morning tea, there's a special concert for kids' music, with lots of kids and parents who have come especially for it. Ben Pakula plays first, and totally rocks out with songs from his excellent new album, A Very Special Tent. This is a Christian kids' album for kids who aren't really into the...gentler kinds of kids music. This is for kids (and maybe parents) who love their guitars loud. I had had the privilege of listening to some of the album last week when we went to Ben and Stacie's for lunch, but it's just as good on second and third listenings (one of my favourite lyrics of Ben's is "Thank you God for lollies! (and for giving me a good toothbrush").

After Ben's bit was the J is for Jesus concert. It's a bit like the Christian version of the Wiggles or Hi-5 (though I should be loathe to compare anyone to Hi-5, I dislike them so) - the little kids absolutely love it. They've all heard the CD so many times they know all the songs and the bits when they're supposed to sing really loud. Sarah, Julie and Matt muck around and ham it up, showing a completely different side to themselves than the one they display when they lead the adult singing.

We head outside for lunch. The weather is totally opposite to yesterday; it's cold and drizzly. But we find a step under an awning and eat our sandwiches. Then it's off to workshops. I'm in Sound Recording, led by Rob Smith. He's friendly and warm and I learn a couple of tips and tricks about amateur recording, though I realise that I have learned quite a lot already by just teaching myself how to use GarageBand. It's much more helpful than yesterday's seminar, though, and inspires me with the possibilities of what I can do with my dinky little home set-up. Though I think I'm actually going to have to buy a proper microphone one of these days.

There is a huge rainbow arcing over the campus as I walk back to the car. Mum joins me from her songleading workshop and we head home. I briefly toss up going to church, but although I'm not quite as tired as yesterday, I realise I just need to get inside and have a rest. Maybe I'll go and have a hot bath.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Twisted

For a mother's day present I bought mum a ticket to TWIST. We have both been heavily involved in music ministry for a number of years. She is still carrying the can at St Martin's, and I had to have a long break when I moved to Wild Street as I was quite burned out. I thought TWIST would be a good thing to go to, as when we've been in the past it has really energised us and re-motivated us, and refocused our vision on why we do music at church. It's a pretty good thing to do with our long weekend too (although just blobbing out would have been pleasant too, but I can do that on a regular weekend).

We get up early and head off to Parramatta and the Kings School. I decide to take all the toll roads because it's less hassle and also I don't have to think too much about how to get where we're going. It's quick and there's hardly any traffic.

We hang around in the quad at the Kings School after we register, soaking up the delicious sun that has been hiding behind sopping rainclouds for the last week. Everyone blinks sleepily into the morning light; I don't think musos on the whole are made to be awake before midday.

After a while, we shuffle into the chilly auditorium, and grab a seat in the third row centre. With about four minutes to go, a giant projection of a clock starts counting down on the screen while the band wanders onstage and starts getting ready to play. The countdown is oddly mesmerising. And the exact moment it hits zero, the band launches into Hallelujah to the King of Kings.

Any sleepiness is gone, a huge grin breaks out on my face, which is reflected back in the faces of the singers as we just exult in singing praises to our great God. I've always loved this song sung congregationally, since the first time I sang it at TWIST a number of years ago. It has such a great sense of momentum and when you sing it with hundreds of people you really do get a sense of that heavenly praise. I'm excited to sing again in a room full of musicians and music-minded people who are full-voiced and joyous.

The irrepressible Jodie McNeill is the MC as always, and his energy and enthusiasm is infectious. He introduces Dominic Steele, this year's speaker, with a game of 'Twist and Specks', asking Dominic to sing tunes to some well-known Emu songs using the words from this year's conference booklet (Dominic gratefully hands the duty over to one of the band members instead, who makes a good job of it!).

We sing more songs, some good new ones that I imagine will be popping up in churches all over the place fairly soon. That's the thing I like about TWIST - there is so much singing! Normally at conferences you get a couple of songs at the beginning, a couple in the middle and one at the end, but at TWIST you sing two or three songs in a row after each segment from the front.

Dominic preaches on 1 Corinthians 12-13. He reminds us that there is no particular gift that marks you out as a 'spirit person', but the marker is whether or not Jesus is Lord of your life. We need to remember that being a musician in church is no more important than being a dish washer - it isn't the task that is the gift so much as the faithfulness that means you turn up week after week to serve others. Each member of the church has different gifts and each one is called to use those gifts to build up the body (that is, the church) so that it can proclaim Christ. Every gift is needed, valued and wanted.

The key comes in chapter 13, when Paul talks about love. It's a passage that's famously used at weddings, but Dominic pleaded with us not to use it: "In context, it's actually a stinging rebuke from Paul, saying 'this is what you aren't'! Not really something you want to say at your wedding!" But the idea that comes out of it is that our service should be an act of love for others, not an act of self-promotion or false humility. Love is other-person centred, and this must be shown in the way we do everything in church, including music, because ultimately it is all for the glorification of God.

More singing, then morning tea, then we split into two large groups for a 'thinktank' session. I go to the one on creativity in music ministry, and mum goes to one on 'why people don't sing in church'. We meet up for lunch in the quad and chat about what we'd learned in our sessions.

After lunch is the first of our workshop sessions for the weekend. I had chosen 'Song Leading Advanced - Harmony'. Perhaps I misinterpreted the title; I assumed that it would be a reasonably advanced group. But when Janelle, the leader says at the beginning "If you're like me and can hear harmony almost as soon as you've learned a song, you might want to leave now and find another group because this is going to be pretty basic", my heart sinks and I realise that 'advanced' means the next stage up from singing the melody as a songleader, not 'advanced harmony'. But I'm sitting in the front row, she is one of our AFES Staffworker wives, and we had been told we weren't allowed to swap workshops, so I don't feel like I can leave.

I'm fairly bored for most of the session, especially the musicianship stuff. But if anything it makes me realise how much of my musicality is intuitive and innate. When did I learn this stuff? I mean, yes, I did AMEB piano and flute throughout high school, and learned jazz piano at uni, but I don't remember ever actively learning how to sing or create harmonies. I could just hear them. I just knew them. Maybe it was because my mum had always sung to me, and we sang together from when I was a little kid. I think I definitely have a good ear for it, much more than looking at a chord chart and being able to see patterns and possibilities there. In fact, my piano and flute improvisation was always a bit lacklustre because I could never make the sounds in my head translate into the instruments. But with singing, it just came out how I wanted it to sound, usually.

I realise I am very blessed with that!

We head home and are both exhausted and starving by the time we walk in the door. We have pizza for dinner, I sew a little bit, the cat is happy to sit in front of the heater with us, and all is well with the world. Now to bed, so I have the energy for TWIST Day Two!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Grey

Reasons why I hate Anzac Parade, Kingsford:
  • the people who stand in the street and scream obscenities at one another
  • the prostitutes who push past you as they hurry up to the brothel
  • the clumps of people who stand at the bus stop and block the entire footpath and get annoyed with you when you try to navigate a path through the crowd
  • the staff at the IGA who are rude and unhelpful and make you feel like an idiot for insisting that they charge you $2.70 for the packet of biscuits, as was marked on the shelf. "That ticket was out of date," huffs the manager. "But I'll give it to you for that price anyway."
  • the whole feeling that it's just a corridor on the way to somewhere else
  • the general air of grey-faced malaise and misery mixed with an aggressive sense of entitlement
But maybe it's just my mood today. I can't tell. The whole place makes me think of the grey town and its bus stop in CS Lewis' The Great Divorce.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

over already

My, but weekends go by so quickly.

Saturday morning I had breakfast at Mickey's in Paddington. It was a delicious stack of pancakes with stewed rhubarb and apple. Karen joined me and then we went to see the Phantasia show at the Australian Centre for Photography. It's just a small show but really good (from the promo blurb: "Vivid, complex and magical, the works in this exhibition abandon the traditional realm of the photographic - the real world - to conjure images of the fantastical"). To the left is one of my favourite images, from Alexia Sinclair's series, Regal Twelve. The exhibition is on until next Saturday June 7; if you're in the area it's well worth checking out.

Then we drove down to Wollongong, chatting about notions of creativity and listening to music. Ben B met us down there and we all had lunch at Ben and Stacie's. As well as catching up with them, we were there to meet their five-week-old son, Eli. He was very sweet, even though he was unsettled with some digestive problems. It was so good to see them. Ben P played his new album for us too, of metal-influenced Christian kids' rock - it was awesome.

I drove home on my own and sang at the top of my lungs, always a good thing to do when you have the opportunity. Mum and I had a delicious, nourishing stew for dinner and finished Gilmore Girls season 7.

I slept til about 12.00 today. I had planned to get up and go to Customs House to write, or even just get in the garden and do a few things, but I just was wiped out and still melancholy so let myself sleep. The cat came and kept me company, which is always nice. I had some errandy things to do, after which mum took me to the city for yum cha and I ended up buying some clothes and boots, which was unexpected (can never find good clothes or shoes when I am purposely looking for them, but if I have no particular plans I will often make some good finds). I also bought Shaun Tan's new book 'tales from outer suburbia' and although I've only read a little bit, it's typically beautiful and whimsical (the guy who sold it to me at Dymocks barely looked at me until he noticed what I was buying, then we had a collective moment of gushing over Tan's work and how there needs to be more whimsy in the world. He gave me a genuinely warm smile when he handed the book back to me).

Church tonight was good too, and I actually stuck around for dinner afterwards, something I've been meaning to do more regularly. I tend to just scurry away after church, usually because I'm tired and need to get home. But Karen's started coming to Wild St, and as dinner was in the church hall, it was easy just to hang around and continue chatting over yummy pasta and garlic bread.

And now the weekend's almost over. Again. It's never long enough.