this is the seventh(?) place i've lived in since i moved to melbourne. (carnegie; elsternwick; camberwell; camberwell again; balwyn; surrey hills; camberwell this latest time...) moving wasn't too much of a hassle, compared to previous moves. i had planned to use a "pods" or "taxibox" storage unit to move - i would store my stuff while i immediately decamped to a five-week vacation in the united states (my bi-annual treat for myself) - but in the end i had so many offers of help from folk at church that we moved everything in the one day. i had about seventy-five percent of my stuff packed and of course the last twenty-five percent took most of the day to pack up. grrr...
so the new place is super-conveniently located adjacent to church and it has actually seen me make the effort to go to the morning service as well as the usual evening service that i go to. it has also proved very convenient for the Bible study (or "growth group" as we designate them) that i host for some of the young adults in church. (i should blog about that group at some point - we are doing very interesting things in our group!)
one of the interesting things about my new place is the decor. exhibit one:
given that my u.s. trip is from march 3 to april 6, the plan for moving in was to set up my sleeping arrangements, pack my bags for my trip, set up the tv/dvd in the lounge room, and install as much of my food and cooking stuff in the kitchen as possible for my housemate to be able to use while i'm away.
i was up around 07h30 and got to bed around 01h30, a dangerous proposition given my early rise time for getting to the airport. i did manage to get up without snoozing too many times (twice) and got to the airport in good order. and now, five week in the united states, checking four new states off my list of states i've spent the night in. exciting!
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.
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.
... 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.
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.
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.
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.