Friday, January 30, 2009

Cooling off

Cooling off, originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.

At Williamstown Beach. After today's 44 degrees, it's a relief!

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Not..., originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.

It's just too hot!

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Down tools, go home

It's just past 4.30pm and we've been all urged to go home by the boss because the office air-conditioning has been struggling to pump out even a skerrick of cool breath on this miserably sweltering 43º C day. Hurrah!

It has been really uncomfortable, sweaty and, yes, unfortunately, smelly in the office. Yesterday, I twittered: "You know how your sweaty legs stick to vinyl car seats on really hot days? My brain feels like that." Today has been little different.

It does mean that I have to go out into the blistering heat and get on a stinking hot tram... Booh! But that's if the trams are running and the tracks haven't buckled. From what I've read, though, it's the trains that have been affected that way – so far 198 trains canceled today!

Well, the boss has turned out the lights to get us out of the office and go home. Can't say I can argue with that!

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike dies at 76

US novelist John Updike died on Tuesday, aged 76. He lost his battle with lung cancer.

The two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author was highly prolific, and wrote novels, short stories, non-fiction and verse. Updike was famous for his keenly observed, sharply rendered and insightful narratives of middle America’s domesticity and family life.

As he put it once, “When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas.”

Updike also pursued a realism that placed sex and sexuality squarely in the middle of his characters’ lives and thoughts, just as they are in the centre of all our lives. Some thought he took the sex too far, though for different reasons. The prudish British dubbed Updike the ‘laureate of lewd’, while other critics nominated him – repeatedly – for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

However, it’s worth remembering that in the 50s and 60s, Updike was pushing the boundaries of moral prudery and taboo over sexuality in a country and time where many saw Rock ‘n Roll as the work of the devil.

He made no apologies for putting sexuality in the middle of his stories:
“I think taste is a social concept and not an artistic one. I’m willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else’s living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another’s brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves.”
I think that some of Updike’s finest work is in his short stories where he explores small town life and burgeoning adolescent sexuality and angst with more restraint and nuance, yet great honesty.

His two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction were for his famous Rabbit series of novels (beginning with Rabbit, Run in 1961) featuring the middle-aged, middle class, middle America suburban antics of high school football hero turned car salesman Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. Some of his other famous works were The Centaur (1963), The Witches of Eastwick (1984), and The Widows of Eastwick (2008).
“Writers take words seriously-perhaps the last professional class that does— and they struggle to steer their own through the crosswinds of meddling editors and careless typesetters and obtuse and malevolent reviewers into the lap of the ideal reader*.”

— John Updike, Writers on Themselves (1986); Wikiquote

* Whoever that is...

Obituaries elsewhere

A Relentless Updike Mapped America's
Mysteries, The New York Times, 27 January 2009

'Rabbit is gone: Updike's wit, frankness remembered', ABC News Opinion, 28 January 2009

[The image is a Magnum one... shhh...]

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shoulder to the plough

Now that I'm back from Brisbane and back at work, I'm more in the frame of mind to post this quick update and catch up on what's happening.

About the only things positive I can say about yesterday's Australia Day is that I'm glad – proud even – that Mick Dodson is Australian of the Year, and that we went to a lovely, small barbecue at our friends' place in Melbourne's west and met their new (well, not so new after six months...) baby, Alex, who is gorgeous!

Monday also saw the start of the Chinese New year of the Ox, hence the lovely photo of oxen pulling a plough in the mist in India that I found on flickr. Happy Chinese New Year to all my readers! I hope this new year brings good things for you, especially peace, safety, health, good cheer and love. Just as importantly, I also wish the coming year brings you the forbearance and fortitude of the Ox to withstand the vicissitudes of the economic crisis and the emerging social hardships accompanying it.

For all the talk of the economic crisis in the media, I have been somewhat cushioned from the full extent and possible horror of it, seeing that I work in the community sector (but not in welfare/service delivery) and thus am sheltered from the financial shock of profit meltdowns and job-losses in the commercial sector. And I don't take taxis much, so don't hear the stories of taxi drivers going bust as the rest of us tighten our belts.

However, it realy does hit home – as it did me this afternoon – when the retail worker serving you asks where you're working and comments that your job must be safe, and mentions that her boyfriend has just that afternoon lost his job in the car finance sector. Ouch. At least, she comments, he hated his job and hoped he could get another that he liked, and that his real passion was music but you can't make a living as a muso...

I wondered what would happen to her job if the rest of us keep tightening our belts and stopped buying things – or at least cut down – however well made and useful they are.

What I hate so much about how the media, corporations and government are approaching the economic downturn' is that it involves throwing more money at a system that I'm sure is broken in the first place – to encourage us to spend, spend, spend our way out of recession when I think it was our over-consumption-fueled debt crisis that contributed in no small way to the current economic troubles, and certainly does contribute to our current environmental predicament of consumption-propelled fossil-fuel burning global warming.

We are being offered a poisoned choice – to consume our way out of recession to save each others' livelihoods, and to forget how we are consuming our planet's resources at a rate of knots and warming the globe in the process.

I feel like we are people drowning at sea being thrown life-rafts with holes in them. Or worse, with fires lit in them.

[Image: 'Oxen in the mist' by Roshnii under CC license]

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Brisbane morning bouquet

Brisbane morning bouquet, originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.

I went for an hour's walk around my mum's neighbourhood this morning. I love the flowers, trees and abird life around here.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Up to Brisbane again

Not quite on the road, but I'm flying up to Brisbane again tomorrow afternoon to see my mother. My dad would have turned 70 on Wednesday, and instead of having a celebration, we'll be having a Catholic mass at Mum and Dad's home in his memory.

I'll be there the rest of this week, so without internet access at Mum's place I seriously doubt there will be much blog action here until Australia/Survival Day or after. Unless something especially strikes me and I try to post from my mobile phone. We'll see, you never know.

Until then, I particularly recommend Ampersand Duck's post on reading and traveling – in this case bushwalking – at Sarsaparilla. I'm printing it off as it will make some great reading while I'm flying. I really want to do more long walks and walking travels this next year and more, and &D's post in another inspiration for that.

In a similar vein, I'm also truly enjoying Tony Kevin's
Walking the Camino: a modern pilgrimage to Santiago, which I gave my father for Father's Day last year in honour of his (then) upcoming September holiday in Portugal and Spain with Mum. When they returned, he told me he really enjoyed it, and we speculated on walking the Camino together in a few years when I'd saved the money. Mum recently told me he took me seriously, and that he'd read the book twice. I can see why.

What was a flippant comment in conversation with my father has now taken a new meaning. I'm aiming to do that walking pilgrimage when I'm 45, if not earlier. It's like my dad's holding me to it. And I'm holding myself to it.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

The best laid plans

After this time and distance, it's been hard to come back to this blog – for many reasons. I've been away from Melbourne and the internet for nearly a month, I haven't really felt like writing much for an audience, and I would have to explain – to put into words – why I've been away for so long. But I will anyway, because to do otherwise is to pretend nothing has happened.

A couple of days ago, I emailed some friends to explain what happened, so I'd found the words to explain the events, but not quite the words to express how I feel or what it means to me. I think that will come later. So I've decided to post here an edited version of what I wrote my friends.

A lot happened in the last weeks of 2008 - particularly something very shocking and sad. My Dad passed away from a sudden heart attack on Saturday the 13th of December, and I rushed up to Brisbane that evening.

My partner Shelley, our boys and I were meant to go for a holiday at the Sunshine Coast on the 16th for three nights, and then we were going to spend Christmas and New Year with Mum and Dad, and celebrate their 70th birthdays together. Mum's birthday is on 27 December, and Dad's nearly a month later. I was suggesting a joint party while we were up there.

Of course, all the best made plans are tossed in the air by cruel chance.

Shelley and the boys joined me in Brisbane that week, but Shelley had worked wonders to change our travel and accommodation arrangements so we could delay our coastal break to the end of our stay up north.

My sister and her family were in Europe on the tail end of their extended holiday and they rushed back from Rome as quickly as they could when they got the news. They were wrecked.

Peter J. Lawrence

My Dad was so well, so we thought, and showed no sign at all of having anything at all wrong with his heart or health besides the usual things associated with ageing and high cholesterol. What we didn't know is that he had serious heart disease - his coronary arteries were severely blocked, and had been for many, many years, leading ultimately to the sudden heart attack.

I was pretty much in a state of shock for a while when I got the initial pathologist's findings from the Queensland Coroner's office a few days after the death. It was a very, very heavy sense of dismay, incredulity and pain that this had been building up so long with no sign at all that we could interpret to indicate heart disease.

Cruel, cruel chance. I think you could imagine the anger, frustration and deep sadness I feel at not being able to see my dad again. I don't know about these different stages' of grief – I seem to be feeling them all at once, and at various times. In the previous two weeks, I was more numb than anything.

We held the funeral on Friday 19 December, the day my Dad was intending to drive up to Noosa to pick up my family and I to bring us back to Brisbane. This would have been the first time I'd seen him since he and Mum came down to Melbourne in November 2007. I gave one of the three eulogies (and a poem reciting) at the funeral, a blistering hot day in the sweltering Catholic parish church my parents had been very active in since they retired to Brisbane some 12 years ago. Three Catholic priests officiated at the Mass. That doesn't happen very often. My parents' co-parishioners were wonderful, sharing our grief and truly supportive of my mother. They really love my both my parents, and miss my father terribly. But not as much as we do.


Shelley, the kids and I spent 3 nights in Noosa after the New Year, and the break and rest has done me much good. We go back to Melbourne last Friday, and I've been back at work since Monday. Thankfully, it's pretty quiet and still a bit cruisey, so I can get lost in the background and mope for a little longer.

I'm still worried about my Mum, of course, as this is very, very hard for her. She has a large and close group of friends up in Brissie, through her parish, and many close relatives there, and my sister and her family are there, but it is not the same when you've lost the person you've loved for nearly 50 years, and been married to for 45!

But I'll see Mum again soon - next week, in time for Dad's birthday on the 21st. And I'll be going up again on 28 February when we hold the commitment of Dad's ashes into the Columnbarium at the parish church he and mum went to.

I haven't yet decided whether I will publish my eulogy for Dad online, although I'm inspired by other examples to do so. It's a bit long for this blog, so if I decide to upload it somewhere, I'll post the link here. What I can say for now is that my Dad was a great man, and a good man, and we loved him very, very much.

Meanwhile, I just want to say a big thank you to all my good friends and family who have been a big help and support to me and my family at this time. You're wonderful and I love you.

I certainly intend to make the most of each moment we share together.

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