Monday, November 02, 2015

... last night wherever i was

i'm in sydney.

it's currently about 22 degrees celsius, with a relative humidity somewhere between 70% and 90%. this is exactly this kind of weather i left sydney and moved to melbourne to get away from.

i was also very surprised to see a street i fully expected to be positively hopping with hipsters and other night creatures enjoying early post-midnight drinkies and munchies effectively lights-out and shuttered... but for the "convenience store"...

that being said, it's been a pretty good trip. i've been able to catch up with a bunch of friends and some family too.

the flight up (with tigerair) went through without a hitch (!!!) and (assuming i don't sleep through my alarm tomorrow morning) i hope the (eleven-hour) train ride should be equally smooth. i am rather excited that i will finally be able to binge (somewhat uninterruptedly) on the npr podcast "serial". looking forward to it.

 Serial: NPR

the downside is that my mother went back into hospital again today. over the past year the combined effects of her stroke and her subsequent sedentary lifestyle has meant she's been admitted to hospital with various infections and what have you, finally having to wrestle with sepsis on her last visit only a month or so ago.

my sister was going to call or txt with an update. i have yet to hear from her. i'm not going to chase her up because i trust her to report when there's something to report. but i'm worried about mum. and i'm prayerful.

and i should probably go to bed.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

... my heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today

my father passed away in 1997 and though it's almost twenty years since, i sometimes feel as though he never left. unfortunately, that speaks more to how little we saw of one another and how poorly we stayed in touch. in those last couple of years we talked about hard things - his cancer and what would happen to him when we was dead. he asked me one day what i thought.

"are you a Christian?" i asked.

"i think so," he answered. "i don't know."

"why should you go to heaven?"

he started speaking about how he'd lived his life, how he'd worked hard, had never stolen from anyone, that sure he'd made mistakes but so has everyone and that he was confident that wouldn't disqualify him from going to heaven. then he asked if i agreed. i didn't really want to answer but didn't have an alternative.

"i think there are plenty of good people who are not in heaven because they feel they earned the right. i read in the Bible and know in my heart that it's not a right to be earned but a privilege granted. God offers us forgiveness for our wrongdoing and healing for our brokenness - we simply have to take up that offer and say to any who ask, 'i am forgiven in Christ and when i die i will join him in heaven. not because of anything i have done but all because of what God has done in Jesus for me.' i personally believe that if you cannot say that honestly, then you're probably going to hell."

"you think i'll go to hell when i die?"

"yes, i do."

he was silent for a moment. it was an awkward conversation to be having but one i am still glad that we had. he asked what he should do and i said that he should start by reading the Bible. i gave him mine, set three bookmarks inside where i felt he would most benefit from reading, and asked him to contact me with any questions he had.

six months before he died, he became a Christian, publicly declaring that Jesus Christ was his lord and saviour. he was like a baby in a spiritual onesie, to me. we talked, afterwards, about things. why he continued to feel guilty about some things; the riddle of whether he was always destined to become a Christian or if he chose to on his own; the mystery of knowing he didn't deserve to go to heaven but would go anyway.

then he died. after a while, my memories of those conversations became memories of memories, photographs of thought instead of spools of memory in my head that i relive as i recall them.

since the movie four weddings and a funeral, it's hard to imagine a funeral poem that isn't by w.h. auden. "stop all the clocks" seems to me to have become the go-to poem for loss at a funeral and i almost feel like it's being imposed on my brain by that same part of my consciousness that makes me remember seven lines out of eight in a song and makes it whirl around and around in my head without resolving - auden as earworm.

since my father's death, however, i've come across other poems that i feel now would have far better captured my thoughts and feelings then. dad's funeral was held in the same church that my high-school had used for school chapel services and i think to that point i'd only stood at the lectern out the front barely more than two or three times. to speak the eulogy for my father felt stilted and strange.

i went to boston, massachusetts, on holidays a couple of years ago and while there found a piece of verse on a t-shirt, that came from a tombstone, in one of the oldest colonial cemeteries in the united states: king's chapel crypt and burial ground, boston.
Wait the great teacher Death
DEATH is the good man's FRIEND:
And the day of his death
Is better than the day of his birth.
"Was DEATH deny'd
E'en FOOLS would wish to die".
The hope of death softens our cares,
And heightens every blis.
Then rest in peace for we shall live again.
(Monument to Joseph Barrell)
written in a time when people knew the text of the Bible much better than they do know, the verse echoes passages in job, and the psalms, that reflect on the struggle of life, the hard work and uncertainties of the future. in the face of calamity, some people would say that wombs that had never given birth to children would be blessed, or that children delivered stillborn were better off than they would be were they born healthy.

this verse also reflects on the brokenness of the world and of this life. in this life we will know love but also loss; rest, after much toil; bliss, yet only amidst myriad cares. that there should be an end to life as we know it now is thought of as a good thing - that at the end of a long life, full of struggle and strain, death comes as a relief.

consider how many people we have in the world today. what if we suddenly stopped dying? how fast would the world fill to overflowing and society collapse? what horrible choices would good people make, thinking that they were acting in the best interests of humanity as a whole, let along the choices that the evil and selfish might make!

my father was in much pain, at the end, hallucinating because of the morphine and talking to a girl he could see standing at the end of his bed. i learned later that he was talking to my sister, a baby who had been miscarried between my birth and my sister's; a sister i never knew of. i hope that it ^was^ my sister he was talking to, sent by God as a comfort for dad as his time was winding down.

so i'm thinking about these happy, joyful things because i went to another funeral this week. my friend's mother passed away after a brief and horrible struggle with illness and "the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to". this woman has been a Christian for more years than i've been alive and it was a warming and wonderful thing to hear her family and friends talking about her, not merely praising her smiles and good nature and deep love for her family but also sharing the rich depth of her faith in God.

at the conclusion of the service i felt that were i able to ask her, are you happier dying? she would say yes. i believe, however, she would rather stay and not die, because she loved her family and friends and would have wanted, i'm sure, to have seen so much more of their lives, enjoyed their company, shared their joys and sorrows and love. Jesus says that a person's life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions; we must be rich towards God and not merely ourselves. my friends mother was surely rich towards God, as well as those family and friends around her.

wisdom recognises that this life is difficult and the wise person sees that it is not designed to be this way, that it is seriously broken. that same wise person does not wring their hands or raise their fists or turn their back when faced with the God who made the world, however: the wise person respects God, trusts in his will and care, and looks forward to that day when death ushers them into the presence of God and the world as it is truly meant to be.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

... it's a long time between drinks

i've been toying with the idea of a new blog and so now i've started it. it's called:

strawberry wire and columbine

the plan is to talk a bit about poetry on it and i'll be starting out with excerpts from a zine i did about ten of my favourite poems. i'd like to post once a week. we'll see how that goes. (even once a month is better than the once a year i've been doing lately. am i right? am i right? yahhh....)

i had started a blog featuring film reviews but that pretty much died in the cradle. i may look into that again, depending on how this new blog goes. i'm hoping the new poetry blog with help inspire me to write more in my ordinary blog.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

... where am i?

hey. you're still here? that's great.

i have been around, feeling bad that i haven't been blogging, not sure how to start. i suppose this kind of, "awww shucks, i know it's been a long time since i blogged..." post, is a bit traditional, there's my nod to tradition.

i've been on another trip to the united states since my last post, which itself was just after i left chicago at the end of my second week of a six-week stint on holidays last year. a five-week trip saw me visit chicago and the chicago zine fest; catch the southwest chief from chicago to los angeles; visit southern california (and a wedding); head up to portland and astoria, in oregon; take in bits of massachusetts for a week and a half; then head home from boston via minneapolis, los angeles, and sydney airports.

it's a start. cheers.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

... from north to south (north)

my last day in chicago was taken up with revisiting north milwaukee ave, following up where i'd briefly visited on friday night. i caught the blue line north but ended up gong slightly too far, stopping at damen instead of division. by the time the blue line reaches damen, it's elevated, and walking down milwaukee gave me a great opportunity to see the shops that were all closed and dark when i visited on friday night for the reading at the boring store.

i wanted to find out more about the boring store and 826-chi and was lucky enough to get a good spiel from the staff member behind the counter. the boring store exists, effectively, to support 826-chi and its work in chicago: 826-chi is part of a nationwide reading and writing programme called 826 co-founded in san francisco by author dave eggers and educator nínive calegari. the website has a great video that's too good to make you go to the link, so i've included it below:

the 826 programme is one of the most exciting things i've found on my trip here. i'd never heard of it before and while i think it has a particularly american flavour - if for no other reason than that so many american schools languish terribly under a lack of resources - i can't help but think that the model would be awesome to somehow bring to australia. there are so many learning centres and kumon-style places, so many parents who want to see their children do more than they feel their schools can get them to, than they feel they themselves can get them to - i really think that a volunteer-backed, grassroots movement like 826 would work wonders in australia.

the boring store has a dazzling array of entertaining stuff and i would easily have spent far more time and money there than i had of either. i left and headed to the next stop: oberweis ice cream and dairy store at wicker park in chicago.

the staff at oberweis were very friendly and helpful and i really couldn't recommend them enough (except in one small regard that really is more of a personal taste thing... but more on that later). again, i was almost licking the windows wishing that i were staying long enough to be able to justify buying the 1/2-gallon bottle of chocolate milk but, alas, it was not to be. i ordered the biggest glass of chocolate milk i could and sat down to enjoy it. if you're familiar with yogo dairy dessert back in oz, i can say it tasted very similar to that, just runny enough to be milk but with a good strong body to it.

unfortunately i couldn't make the drink last forever. i had a hankering for mac-and-cheese and asked the young man at the counter if he knew anywhere local i could get some. not local, no. try whole foods at north kingsbury. you can walk there from here. (i didn't really want to.) he even ran off a google map for me.

that was enough to get me going, even though internally i was a bit leery of mac-and-cheese at a big supermarket-y ind of place being worth trekking for. he was very excited about it and i was hardly one to point the finger, given how much mac-and-cheese i've been eating since i arrived in the us. i was definitely not walking, however, and i caught the blue line back downtown and changed for the red back up to north and clybourn. i lost my bearings a little bit but, aside from the slight distraction of the container store, i found my way there. the staff were friendly and helpful - particularly one hispanic lady in the hot foods section who indicated to me what the best containers would be to use, gave me a taster sample of the sweet potato fries - and there was a great mezzanine to sit at and watch the hoi polloi shopping downstairs.

the mac-and-cheese was all right. it wasn't fantastic, although it definitely hit the spot, and that would be the only thing i could fault the staff at oberweis on: he talked it up just a little bit too much. it wasn't really mac-and-cheese that i felt keen enough to cross a city for. as it was, i did, but i wouldn't do it again for that particular mac-and-cheese.

i browsed the container store for a while, noting a few things that would be awesome to have, and left without buying anything. like visiting ikea, i could see how easy it would be to rationalise almost any purchase there, so i felt a tiny bit chuffed that i didn't buy anything.

it was beginning to get dim when i arrived back at the hostel. i was tired, though not overly so, but i stayed up for a bit, read some zines, had a peanut butter twix (my snack-machine achilles' heel) and got myself organised for the morning. my flight to wilmington left at 2pm and while it wouldn't be onerous to get to the airport from the hostel (the blue line terminates at o'hare), i didn't want to leave any more timing to chance than was natural. i tried to get a somewhat early night.

i woke with my alarm on tuesday morning and hustled into the shower. the showers at the hi-chicago really weren't as good as the ones at hi-boston, if for no other reason than that people seemed entirely okay in chicago with leaving their wet towels on the floor of the cubicles... after drying themselves off on the dry floor. what the - ??? i'm pretty forgiving about accommodations when i'm travelling and i understand that people behave a little differently when they're away than they do at home but this is one thing that really gets my goat: why, in a shared environment anywhere, would you step onto a dry area to dry yourself off??? i don't get why people don't dry off while they're still standing in the shower cubicle or bathtub and only step onto the dry floor when they themselves are now dry?! it baffles me. like standing in a queue for five minutes at a coffee shop and ignoring the menu clearly displayed above and behind the service counter... until they have to make a choice about what they'll order. argh.

breakfast was not particularly noteworthy, although i did snaffle a couple of bananas to eat later on in the morning and while i waited to change planes in charlotte. i checked out without any fuss, got my bags unhurriedly to the blue line station on jackson (around the corner from the hostel) and then couldn't get change from the ticketing machine. argh! oh well. it didn't cost any extra to get off the platform at the end of the line and into o'hare airport (take note, sydney airport!!!) so in the end i didn't begrudge (reporting it aside) the 5-dollar rail ticket.

not being in a rush, i had a fairly easy time of checking in and getting on the plane to charlotte. i've made a habit of booking seats near the back of the plane - not many people like to ride back there so i've had one or two free seats next to me during my travels - and it also means that sometimes i can check an extra bag for free. us airways, on domestic flights, charge you to check in luggage - $25 dollars for the first bag, $35 for the second - but it you have a carry-on bag they have no room for on your flight, they'll check it through to your final destination for free. nice. my satchel is chiefly for carrying around my laptop, so my cabin-bag - bought specifically with this trip in mind - has chiefly been used to store each day's additional dirty-washing quota. checking it for free is just icing on the cake.

the flight was pleasant enough and charlotte is just a beautiful airport! i've waxed lyrical in the past about how much i love san francisco airport as a place to transit between flights but charlotte is just delightful. while i can say that none of the food outlets really did much for me, there was a chocolate shop i bought peanut butter fingers from that were great. besides which, i had my bananas with me.

the connecting flight to wilmington, north carolina, was likewise relaxed and it was great to see the friendly face of my australian host at the airport. my plans, after arriving in wilmington, changed somewhat from what i had originally envisioned, and my blogging is lagging a bit, so i'll be doing a bit of summarising over the next few entries, which will bring me up to date in portland, or.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

... sunday goose chase

my friend whitney put me on to a church in the north of chicago called ravenswood covenant church. it's a bit of a hike from the hostel and for some time they've been doing upgrading work on the various train lines that form a large part of chicago's public transit system. going to and fro on the blue line (thus far, at least), i'd been hearing about changes and buses ferrying people between the points on the brown line that weren't being served on the "l" for the time being. (the wells st bridge was being upgraded.) so getting to ravenswood was a bit of an adventure.

i caught the red line from around the corner from the hostel to chicago ave, where i alighted and walked the several blocks to the brown line. it was a bit drizzly but only very lightly, and i kept myself bundled up fairly tightly in my coat. the train stop on the brown line is elevated and quite open; there are places where you can stand that have heat lamps - between november and march, you can press a button that gets them warming up; all in all, there were maybe a dozen or a score of us waiting for the train, and i was waiting for a good ten or fifteen minutes. i think i might have just missed one.

so i found myself to be running late. i thought i'd allowed myself enough time but clearly not. the church has a "sunday school" - for everyone, with various classes for different folk - that runs from 9.30am, with a church service following at 10.45am. i stopped off at a cafe i passed on the way and enjoyed a very delicious hazelnut latte(?) and used the internet for a while until it was much closer to time to go to church. i finished up and headed off.

ravenswood is a nice church, the sermon was good (and when it's about the prodigal son it's always interesting to see what tack a preacher will take, given its familiarity), and they were taking the opportunity this week to send off one of their own to begin pastoring a congregation on the other side of the country. after church was good too, with nice coffee and munchies downstairs, and i was able to have quite the long and involved discussion with one of the team involved in youth ministry.

it's always tricky talking youth stuff. some youth ministry types tend to latch on to the question while others try to avoid it - "how many kids in your youth group?" - and after (effectively) twenty-two years in youth ministry it's something i try not to ask right away... but i have come to accept it's the elephant in the room. there aren't too many ways for you to obviously measure growth in a youth group, especially since the goal most youth groups seem to aspire to - spiritual maturity in their youth that works itself out in personal evangelism and holy living - is hard enough to see growth in in the lives of everyday parishioners! an economist would ask the question, "well, what's the incentive?", and the truth of the matter is, i think, that our incentive (to honour God and to grow the church in holiness and maturity) is one where the reward is so far off that our incentive structure can easily get out of whack.

we want to see the church grow. good! so let's get some warm bodies in there. ahhh, there's the rub. how do you ask your friends along if (a) you don't have any Christian friends at school who aren't already at a different youth group, (b) your friends at school don't know you're a Christian, (c) you're home-schooled and everyone in your family already comes to church, or (d) you're scared that asking them along will mean you have no more friends. for a school student (for anyone, but especially when you're at school) that's a big ask. working through 1 peter only goes so far and sooner or later you either settle on spiritual growth and a "beads on a string" approach to slow-growth youth ministry, or you go for the "scooper" approach and run a programme high on games and light on spoken scripture. they both have their benefits and costs. i heard one friend put it that you can go for an inch-deep and a mile wide or aim for depth and go as wide as you go.

the young man i spoke to was very earnest, clearly loves the Lord, and is keen to see youth grow in his church, in maturity and numbers. i felt (as much as i ever have in this way) that God is working in him and i have little doubt that the church will be blessed. chicago has a lot of people coming and going and a church that loves its parishioners sees those people come back; i pray that ravenswood continues to grow as such a place.

i had planned, afterwards, to go to a place called the read/write library to a letter-writing even they were hosting. the inclement weather drove me into a coffee shop called eva's cafe near sedgwick, where i was planning to alight to get the bus to north california ave and the read/write library. eva's was great and i enjoyed one of the nicest mocha's i've had. they even called it a "moh-kuh" and not a "mow-kuh". refreshing. i spent a good hour or two dwelling on coffees, checking email, getting a handle on my travel plans, reading zines from the day before. delightful.

the rain didn't really stop and eventually i decided to cut my losses and head back into the city. there was trackwork going on on the wells st bridge, so it was a bit of a magical mystery tour heading back to the hostel. whereas in the morning i'd taken the train along a parallel and walked from one train line to the next to avoid the bridge, on the way back i got off the train and took the shuttle bus as advised by the chicago transit authority. the bus connected us to the station at washington and wells, where i caught an orange line train to the jackson stop, conveniently-enough located not far from the hostel.

in the classic tradition, i gave travel information advice to a group of teenagers trying to navigate the weekend's trackwork (me, who'd been in chicago for all of a few days). the evening passed quietly.

Monday, March 11, 2013

... chicago zine fest's big day in

i was up fairly early on saturday morning. it was pretty clear, a tad drizzly, but otherwise quite a pleasant morning as far as my standards go. of course i like things cold and grim, which is fine. (sunday and monday were just miserable and wet, which is different enough to the more exotic snowy and miserable (also known to the uninitiated as snowy and magical) to be disappointing.) i breakfasted and hoofed it down quickly to columbia college, keeping my peeled for any open paper- or art-supply-stores that i could duck into to buy covers for my zines. i found nothing, even after traipsing around for an extra dozen blocks or so.

i turned this blog entry into a zine. i managed to format it so that one us letter-size sheet of paper, copied both sides, could be cut into three, matched with a cover and one staple, and that would be the zine. i called it "squid".

(wow - it only took half an hour to find this link...) so i ended up stopping into artist & craftsman supply, who were kind enough to let me use their counter to cut the paper i used for my zine covers. the paper actually looked much like a big, thick sheet of that seaweed you use for making sushi rolls. After much calculation and close attention and figure-cooking, i still screwed up how i was cutting the paper and ended up making two covers less than i expected to be able to get out of the sheet of paper. the staff were nothing but friendly and helpful and i would heartily recommend the store for any specialty paper requirements you might need on a small scale or need urgently.

covers in hand, i headed down to the next stop, indigo digital printing, on the corner of s. wabash and e. 9th street. again, nothing but helpful, and the fellow behind the counter even used to enormous computer-controlled cutting machine to cut my paper for me. i was a little disappointed that i had estimate for him one-third of 11 inches, in addition to the fact he didn't know the measurements in millimetres. i think if you work in printing for any length of time, you should know or be trained in knowing a certain number of measurements by heart (or have on a handy ready-reckoner at all times). i know that an a4 sheet of paper is 297x210mm; that 100 sheets of 80gsm bond a4 copy paper is about 1cm thick; that you can cut an a4 sheet into three equal-sized sheets 99x210mm and that one such sheet will fit flat and unfolded into a dl-sized envelope. using us letter-sized paper is a bit fraught - it's 8.5x11 inches, which doesn't evenly third, and even though it's 279mm high, it's actually not (it's 279.4mm). i suppose i'm being finicky but printing is an exact profession and if you're manning the store solo on a saturday - on any day - i'd expect you to know this stuff.

nevertheless, the service was great, and my zine was prepared by about 11.25am - five minutes before i had to be on deck at the zine fest info desk. i made it with maybe a minute to spare.

the zine fest tabling area was amazing. there were 99 tables in all (i looked at all of them after my shift finished) and the variety in quality, quantity, and subject matter was kaleidoscopic! it was spread over two levels, with 45 tables on the 8th floor (where i was stationed) and 44 on the 1st floor (that's the 7th and ground floors for us aussies!). some titles were sold out long before i got to the tables, especially those titles that had been read by exhibitors at 826-chi the night before, but i still managed to grab quite the selection of stuff. i traded as often as i could and left the tables with maybe four copies of my zine remaining.

trading is always a tricky proposition. how do you put a value on your zine? do you only price it according to the material you used, or the time taken to assemble it, or a qualitative estimation of the value of the contents, or (more frequently) some ad hoc blend of the three? i generally consider the cost of assembly (materials and a rough measure of time), since i very rarely write new material especially for a zine. i don't recall what the cost of the cover paper was, but even if the sheet had cost $10 (which it most certainly didn't) and i'd actually got the 20 covers out of it i'd planned for (i only got 18) that would have made the covers 50c apiece and copying sides were 6c each and i got the cutting thrown in for free. (total 50+6+6=62c per zine cost - an overestimation!) i valued mine at one dollar. in terms of trade, i was open to offering mine for a zine up to $2 cover price but felt iffy about trading it for anything more expensive, so i ended up buying quite a few zines as well. some i did a bit of both trading and paying.

i haven't finished reading all the zines i have, so i won't review any here (i plan to, though). i was pretty wrecked by the end of the day's trading and i headed back to the hostel for a bit of a nanna nap. there was an after-party but i just couldn't make it. i stopped into dq chill and grill, which is next-door to hi-chicago, ate dinner and read some zines, then went back to the hostel and hit the sack. i was zonked and wanted to be sure i could be up in good time to go to church in the morning.

it was great to see so many familiar faces from portland. dave roche and alex wrekk were both tabling and alex remembered me from portland. i do still get a bit star-struck talking to her but she's inspiring and approachable in equal measure and has always been incredibly friendly. i was disappointed at missing the panel discussion on friday afternoon but a transcript was posted on the czf website here, so at some point i'll get into that too.

i'm running out of battery here but that's pretty much it. more to follow.