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Thursday, January 5, 2012

97. Twenty Five (+ a further 25) Statements about Life

I wrote the original 26 statements (in 'normal' font) included in this piece early in 2009. As you will see, Statements 27 onwards [ in italic font] are discoveries I made during and after the start of 2009. I've included the photographs because each holds a special meaning for me:

1. THE POLAR BEAR: Darwin said life was a matter of the survival of the fittest. But I think we survive as best we can, and with luck, find something we can hold on to to see us through.

2. THE VIOLIN/LADY Things are always more than they seem.

3. PATH IN THE WOODS This reminds me of Robert Frost's poem - about being on a path and coming to a place where the path divides, where we have to make a choice. That moment comes with EVERY moment.

4. THE IMAGE IN THE WATER IN THE CUPPED HANDS The longer we look into the contents of ANY moment, the more we can find in it.

5. THE FREEWAY : symbol of the busyness of our world - both our outer world (our freeways, our work life, our cities, our To Do list) and out inner world. These days we have, not so much a stream of consciousness as a traffic snarl of information.

1. I think I’ve had too much alcohol to drink once in my life. I put it down to a burst of adolescent stupidity. I was 35.

27. I'm increasingly seeing this as a wise decision. The latest research seems to reinforce what I have always believed: Alcohol is a dangerous poison that is toxic to the individual mind and body, and to the social body.

2. I’ve never smoked – not ever. I once dreamed of being a smoker. In the dream I looked really cool. Dad – a heavy smoker who died of emphysema – used to wake me every morning coughing up phlegm into the gulley trap outside my bedroom window. It was not a pleasant sound.

28. On July 28, 2009, at 5.35 pm, I discovered that he wasn't my biological father. Linda and Herbie had adopted me - on October 11, 1943 - three months after I was bo

3. I lost my virginity in the long grass at the back of the church car park. I was 18 I think. It was a tough time for me – I was flooded with feelings of guilt and unclean –ness.

29. The narrow social mores of the time caused much pain to many, many young people.

4. I was a lay preacher in the Methodist church at the time. I was even toying with the idea of becoming a Methodist minister. It seemed like a good idea at the time. (I put THAT down to a burst of adolescent stupidity. I was 18.)

30. That was about the time that my birth-mother, Gwendoline Bertram, died of cervical cancer. She was a victim of the narrow sexual attitudes of the 1940s.

5. I’m now an atheist. That is to say, I don’t believe in a god in the sky who cares about each and every one of us, and who notices each sparrow as it falls.

31. Christopher Hitchens, that great atheistic iconclast, is dead. And one of my favorite writers, Catherine Deveny, believes - with Hitchins and Dawkins - that "God is bullshit!" In some parts of the world, simply SAYING that would result in your being killed.

6. When I was 11 I was a member of the Victorian Banjo Club. Plink plink plink. I didn’t like the banjo mandolin. I’d wanted to play a guitar, but they were too expensive.

31. These days I much prefer the 'plink, plink, plink' of the ukulele.

7. My mum washed my mouth out with soap and water when I was 11 or 12 because I called one of our boarders a ‘poofter’. I didn’t know what the word meant – I thought ‘poofter’ was a word you used to refer to people you didn’t like much. I learned TWO things from that experience: a. Velvet soap doesn’t taste very good. B. If you’re going to use ‘bad’ words, do them where your mum can’t hear.

32. I wonder, now, whether maybe I was right. Our two boarders shared a small bungalow; there was about 6o cm between their beds ... Makes you wonder . And, of course, why shouldn't they be. They had every right to be whatever they chose. The problem was with the attitude behind the prohibition of the word 'poofter', not with the choice people might make to be homosexual.

8. When I was 19 or so, and in the midst of my necessary rebellion – I needed to break the emotional hold my mother had over me – I started to use the word FUCK in here presence – to upset her. When she objected – which she did every time – I’d say ‘Well at least a fuck is natural. You use the word bugger all the time , and you know what THAT means! (As you can see, I was a little bugger at the time, and a bit homophobic too, I guess.

33. These days, five and six year olds use the word... God, I'm getting old.

9. My dad was illiterate. He left school at the age of 14, unable to read or write. He was still in grade 5 at the time, at a Catholic school. He claimed that it was the Catholic school that was responsible for his inability to read – they just did “prayers, prayers and more prayers … and when you’d finished with prayers, you had the catechism!”.

34. He was a loving man who worked hard to enable me to live an easier life than he had had.

10. I have been present at the births of all of my children - not uncommon in these enlightened times, but back in the early 70s, when my son Piers was born, it was almost unheard of.

35. Like my older brother, I am not certain about who my father was. He MAY have been the same man who fathered Arthur, who is three years older than me.

11. I have 5 children. Piers is 40, and an optometrist. He has a social conscience – he set up the first optometry service for homeless people in Melbourne. Erin is 38, runs his own Computer Graphics business, and has represented Australia in the Hawaiian Iron man competition twice- 2006 and 2008. Dane is a forester and works in Alexandra. He’s worked in Tassie, in Albany (in WA) and in Hamilton. All three play music. Piers composes a lot of songs and is a writer too.

36. All three attended State schools; all three completed University degrees. All three have had their fair share of struggle and pain, love and bliss, in their lives.

12. My daughters, Jordan and Tanner, are 13 and 8 respectively, and are both at primary school.

37. Raising girls is very diferent from raising boys.

13. I’m grateful that I grew up at a time when drugs were virtually unheard of.

38. Today's newspaper carried the story that Australia and New Zealand have the highest rate of marijuana use - around 15% of the population - and the highest rate of amphetamine use - around 5% - in the world. We won the cricket today too. Is there no limit to our competitive edge!

14. I’ve just entered my 48th year as a teacher.

39. I have no desire to retire. I would like to reach at least 50 - maybe even 55 years. I still enjoy my teaching. In fact, 2011 was one of the most satistying years of my teaching life.

15. I’m a prolific song writer, averaging maybe a song-a-week over the past decade.

40. During October, 2011, I wrote around 27 songs - for my Year 12 class: one song per student.

16. I spent 14 years teaching Prof Writing and Editing – at Chisholm TAFE (Berwick & Frankston), Sunraysia TAFE and – for the last 9 years – at NMIT Greensborough.

41. Teaching adults - especially in a Writing course - can be very satisfying. Working with people who want to work hard and who want your help - what more could a teacher ask for?

17. I finally took up guitar at the age of 32. I’m pretty much a self taught guitarist.

42. These days, I mainly play the ukulele. It is such a simple, unpretentious instrument, and is less painful on my arthritic hands tahan the guitar.

18. During my 68+ years on this planet, I have gone through an enormous variety of FADS. I collected stamps, bottle tops and fossils in my childhood and early adolescence. I’m still fascinated by fossils. In my early 30s I became obsessed with building coffee tables and chess board tables and making chess pieces from plaster of Paris. In the 1980s I went through a jam making binge, and made quince jelly and crab apple jam.

43. The ukulele is probably my LATEST fad.

19. I’m currently going through an obsessive phase with Suduko. I spend one hour each weekend trying to work them out.

44. I read somewhere that Sudoku is good for keeping your brain cells working.

20. Karin, who I’ve lived with since 1986, used to call me ‘Baggy Monster’. She is remarkable tolerant of my obsessions. Sometimes, we have a conversation that I never tire of; it goes like this:
HER Do you know what I really like about you?
ME What?
HER Absolutely fucking nothing!!!

45. What's not to like?

21. Three years ago embarked on a new career – or rather, revisited an old career – I’m teaching English at Warrandyte High School, and thus far, I’m really enjoying it.

46. Jack Thompson quipped, when he discovered that his forbears were convicts: " Yes - I am Australian royalty!" I am Australian royalty on TWO counts:

Firstly, my great great grandfather, Lewis Bertram - was a convict, sent to Australia for stealling (of all things) DUCKS! Secondly, my GRANDFATHER served at Gallipoli, and was three times wounded in the first World War. AND went AWOL in order to marry my grandmother.
His name was Nigal. After he married Lily GENTLE, he was ever after called Tiger.

22. I recently embarked on another new venture, too, in a partnership with two other creative people: Sarah Cowan – singer, writer, songwriter, editor, and most importantly, friend; and Jerry Speiser – drummer & muso, music producer, arranger, physicist, business consultant, manager – and most importantly: friend. We’ve formed a partnership called JS Baz Music; its mission is to develop creative music projects.
Our music performance group is JS Baz. And our first recordings, GUANTANAMO BAY and GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS can be viewed on YouTube. Just google “jsbazmusic” + “Guantanamo” . Our collection of children’s songs – The Music Cubby – was published in 2011.

47. Without a song and a dance, what are we?

23. I have been obsessed for several years now by the notion of the MOMENT. The idea that the past is a construction that we have made, and is ‘illusory’ in the sense that it is constantly changing. Put another way, our sense that our lives have continuity is an illusion. (A bit like movies. A movie is made up of a whole series of ‘Frames’ that pass through the projector at the rate of 16 per second – or something like that. It the film stops rolling, we simply see a STILL.) Our experience is like that: a series of STILLs – a series of MOMENTS. The past is gone; the future is indeterminate. We could – all of us – cease to be at any moment.
And each MOMENT is like a grain of sand, passing through the ‘narrow neck’ of an hour glass. That ‘narrow neck’ is the PRESENT MOMENT – it is our NOW, and it is all that we truly have.

48. And I let time go by so slow. And I let every moment last. And I thought about years - how they pass so slow, how they're gone so fast.

[From a song by Beth Neilson-Chapman]

24. Each MOMENT – each grain of sand – is like a multi faceted crystal – or like a disco ball composed of millions of tiny mirrors. And the more we look into any given moment, the more we find it contains. It’s like William Blake’s image … ‘to see the world in a grain of sand/ and eternity in an hour.’

49. How can anyone, ever, be bored, when each moment holds so much?

25. I have a detailed plan, a blueprint, for living the rest of my life. My plan is to try to be present in each passing moment – to the extent that that is possible. That means being as aware as I can be of each moment as it occurs, rather than daydreaming or scheming. In the end, being HERE, NOW is all we have.
That’s why to me alcohol and drugs are so destructive – they are escapes from the here and now; they drug our minds into a state of anaesthetic non-presence.

50. THIS moment - my moment of writing the new 25 ststements about life - has been a longish moment: around two hours of intense flow. Flow is probably the closest we get to happiness.

When I wear a suit and tie, Tanner says – each and every time: “Daddy - you look handsome!’

51. I did tell you: she IS only 8.

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