Friday, 31 July 2009

More of My Enchanted Fifteen

Over the last week I was supposed to find an object to help focus my writing. I go halfway there. I know what I want, but, unfortunately, it doesn't exist. I think I will be able to photomanip it, though, so I'm trying that. Meanwhile, the week has rolled around and I'm supposed to be on the next step already. Maybe I'll succeed in doing both at the same time.

Actually, the task for this week is not as difficult as it might be, because I can tie it in with something I've wanted to do anyway. A bit of extra motivation might get me going. The concept for this week is writing from a source; spending time being inspired by something before writing.

For a while, I've been thinking that I should try to understand Shakespeare a bit better. I love reading Shakespeare, but I don't always put the effort into understanding it and analysing it that I could. I think the idea will tie in beautifully to writing from a source, though.

Every Saturday I'm going to try to post something Shakespeare-inspired. Saturday is a good day, because I should have time to read and think before writing. Also, Shakespeare and Saturday almost alliterate, which is aurally pleasing. This way, I kill three birds with one stone, which is rather convenient.

Tomorrow I will begin; today I get away without actually saying anything.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Learning through Doing

The quadpod in the picture was built using a cloverleaf lashing. There are two reasons why I built it. The first is a trick I picked up from some of the younger girls in our scout troop: if you keep a bit of string in your pencil case, you can practise your lashings when school gets boring. Admittedly, that probably works better when you aren't studying via correspondance. Secondly, Lynx (one of the scouters) emailed me instructions for the cloverleaf lashing and I just had to try it before our meeting tomorrow.

The whole exercise reminded me of an aspect I really like about scouting. Scouting is about learning much more than it's about testing. At school, kids are generally taught how to pass the exam. There's no point in learning something if it won't be tested. Scouting turns that paradigm on its head.

Sure, there are badges and some people really enjoy signing off as many as they can. There are other girls, though, who just aren't that interested in badges and don't do much work for them. Every single one of them has learned heaps from scouting. You can't be a scout without learning, even if you don't realise it.

Every girl who's built the full size version of the quadpod in my photo understands the concept and the importance of bracings. It's not because they've been drilled on the engineering principles behind them. It's because they've seen what happens to a four-metre-high structure when you don't brace it, or at least how unstable it is while you're bracing it. I'm sure they would understand the engineering principles quite easily now - much more easily than if they'd tried to learn them cold.

The same principle can be applied to most aspects of scouting. Scouts get the chance to put their hands on things and fully understand how they work. Even if they don't try, scouts learn a lot through observation and osmosis. I wish the school system could work that way, but I realise there are practical constraints. I'm grateful that there is a system like scouting where kids can experience practical learning that is anything but boring.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

I heart teh internetz

I made a deal with myself that I would not add any linky gadgets to my blog until the end of July. At that point I will have been blogging long enough to magically tell the chaff from the seed. Well, maybe not quite, but a deal's a deal, even with yourself, so I can't post link lists yet. However, there is nothing stopping me from doing it in the guise of a blog post.

There really is something special in the concept of Web 2.0, though. Not only does it create entire sub-languages like lolcat, but it allows those of us who wish to picky about proper English to do so. I mean, where in my real life would I find someone who tells me off for using 'as' five times in the same paragraph? Most people don't even seem to notice. Where else do people hand out free lessons in self-discipline and other cool things? Where else will I see two people who've just met agree to disagree on the believability of Luthien Tinuviel (or be told that English keyboards are deficient for not containing accents and diaereses)? Where else would I find an automated bible search? Where else can I make friends with people I don't know?

Also: where else would barely passing for bilingual seem rather plain? Or seventeen seem rather old to have not read the classics? Where else would I learn so quickly that doing everything is not possible?

I am affirmed and built and challenged through my connections on the web. I'm sure I'd survive without it - I might even read some of those classics - but I'm glad I have it. It's fun.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Ents and Dryads

the trees of the field will clap their hands
Isaiah 55:12b

The way animated trees catch the human imagination is rather strange. We invented dryads. Middle Earth has its Ents. Shakespeare gave us Birnham Wood in Macbeth. Even the bible mentions these trees.

I'm inclined to think that the mention of hand-clapping trees in scripture is figurative, but it's still very interesting. In a way, it validates our fascination with trees. It tells us that there's nothing wrong with imagining things about trees; there may even be something right about it.

Thinking, talking or animated trees seem to be a recurring theme in fantasy fiction. As well as the tree-beings I mentioned above, the Eragon books contain a thinking tree. Harry Potter has the Whomping Willow. Enid Blyton created the Magic Faraway tree. Thalia is turned into a tree in the Percy Jackson series. In short, we're very, very interested in trees.

Trees are essentially simple. The basic biology and engineering of a plant is much more straightforward than that of an animal. People can understand them. Strangely, though, trees still outlive us. The oldest trees in the world are older than I can really comprehend. I think that trees give us a downsized, human-viewable vision of eternity. Trees are just small enough that they don't blow our minds. We can understand them, but they still surpass us in some ways. They're older and, on the whole, stronger. They're a glimpse of greater things.

It's all the more amazing, then, that we have such control over trees. Not only do we farm them, but Isaiah 55:12 tells us that they're subordinate to us. Adam received the same message in Genesis. These amazing structures, windows into a greater a world, are less than us. I think we struggle with that, and so we make trees more important in fiction to try to rationalise it. In reality, though, we are in some sense greater: we are made in the image of God.

Somehow, that helps me to simultaneously be humble and to believe that I am made in His image. I think that it is a position I have been born into, rather than an award that I have earned.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

My Brother, the Businessman

This term, my brother does his Grade Eight entrepreneurial project. I never expected him to do a bad job, but his beginning has totally blown me away. I am very proud of my little brother.

Entirely on his own, he mustered the self-discipline to write his business plan in the holidays. It's well written too. Admittedly, he did abuse the semicolon very slightly, but I do not consider that a major flaw. Professionals do much, much worse things to apostrophes.

He's better at making adverts than I am, too. He intuitively fulfilled every requirement that the project gave for his posters. His photos were pretty cool too. I think he might be a natural.

He is only in Grade Eight and his project isn't perfect. It still impresses me. He certainly has a facet of businessman in his character. And did I mention, I'm proud of my little brother?

Saturday, 25 July 2009

I think I might be a Mary Sue

ConCrit, anyone?

I like the world of fanfiction. It makes a great base for a beginning writer and it's a fun way to explore a novel (or other fictional setting). Sometimes, though, it gets on my nerves. A case in point is Ms. Mary Sue.

Mary Sue is an original character made up and put into somebody else's world. (Except that these days you can also find her in original fiction.) She's pretty, she can sing, she absent-mindedly saves the world whilst simultaneously wooing Mr Darcy and Harry Potter - we're not sure what they were doing aboard the Enterprise. Wouldn't you love to be her? (Actually, I wouldn't, but play along, okay?) The problem is that the author would too.

I understand why fanficcers discourage other fanficcers from writing about characters like that. My problem is that the term's become far too general. People don't seem to care about whether or not their character's interesting an believable, so long as it's not a Mary Sue. The identifying characteristics of Mary Sue become broader by the millisecond. Somebody has probably decided that Elizabeth Bennett is a Mary Sue, because she got to marry Mr Darcy. In fact, I think I have many of the characteristics of a Mary Sue.

I have long hair. If you look closely at my eyes, they're not exactly brown, but they're not hazel either. That's technically an unusual eye colour, right? And everybody says that 'technically yes' counts as 'yes'. I have a name that I like; my parents like it; I've occasionally been told that it's a pretty name. I'm even distantly related to a minorly famous person and was not always aware of it.

I think the Mary Sue tests would be advising that I rethink my character by now. Some of them would immediately add demerit points because I've read Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings several times. I might make it to the stage where it is strongly recommended that I rebuild the character. I think that might hurt, though.

Mary Sue was a good term once, but it isn't any more. It's become increasingly generalised and wishy-washy. People all over are terrified of writing about her - even published authors - but they're not sure exactly what she is. So, rather than rebuilding my character (maybe I could get those coloured contacts so my eyes are properly brown), I'm giving up on Mary Sue. Characters may be believable or unbelievable. Description may be excessive or not so. These are possible and I'll say them, but I no longer believe in Mary Sue.

Thank you.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Charli's Mopey Two-Part Brain Theorem

Part of me doesn't want to write this blog post. I just want to curl up in bed. Another part of me knows that I will regret not posting and that doing nothing will only make me feel mopey.

I was not as busy today as I thought I would be, because my Linear Algebra textbook has a non-linear scale of difficulty. It gets easier the further you go. So I worked really hard for two days and did a fraction of the work, then finished up the rest in about an hour this morning. If I was really dedicated, I would have started the next assignment, but even I am not that keen on Maths.

That left me with time. I'm really bad at long stretches of time. I don't think of all the things I need to do; I just sit around and mope. I actually did quite a few things today, but not enough to keep myself busy. Now that it's late and I should really get to bed, I can think of a pile of things that it would have been really good to get done.

So I have come up with a theory. It's a very, very cracked theory, but I don't think it's entirely untrue. My theory is that the part of my brain that handles organisation only works when I'm busy with something else. While the front part of my brain is proving that the commutative law of multiplication is invalid in matrices, the back of my mind is busily working out a list of things I need to do and the best times to do them. Failing that, it will analyse the literary strengths and weaknesses of the book I read last week or come up with some commentary about the jazz playing next door. The back of my mind does all sorts of things that I really like being able to do. The problem is, it only does it for as long as the front of my mind is busy wih something else. The front of my mind is pretty useless for doing the things the back of my mind does.

On a day like today, the front of my mind isn't occupied by default. Any concept of actually thinking goes out the window, until I have to arrange things like how I'm going to get to my scout meeting and write a blog post and get to bed early (solution: change the definiion of early). As soon as the front of my mind is busy with that, the back switches on and I think of all the things I should have done today. It could make me even mopier. I won't let it, though! I may have to become a workaholic, but that's better than being a mope-aholic, right? At least a little bit better.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Enchanting Objects

I've been doing the writing for fifteen minutes thing for three weeks now. Some days I follow the principle more strictly than others, but for now I'm okay with that. If writing my blog becomes a chore I'll end up not finding time for it at all. Finally, I am looking at the second part of Blog Nerd's enchanted 15 series.

The idea this week is to find objects to define my writing space. For me, this links to the spiritual profiles in Gary Thomas's book Spiritual Pathways. Spiritual Pathways is about different ways that people grow closer to God. At first I thought that there was something irreverent about relating how I write to how I worship God, but it has dawned on me that I want my writing to be an act of worship, in the spirit of Colossians 3:17. Relating my worship profile to my writing profile is exactly what I'm trying to do.

The two profiles that I most identified with in Spiritual Pathways were those of the sensate and the ascetic. As I've thought about a writing space, I've seen that my thoughts about what I want there fit those profiles too. It seems contradictory or somewhat bipolar at first, but I find the sensate-ascetic profile very logical (perhaps because that's who I am!)

As an ascetic, I like to avoid having things around me when I'm praying and when I'm writing - although I recognise that I can do either at almost any time. If I have the choice, though, I'll turn off the music or even listen to white noise. I'll face a plain wall and make sure that other windows on my laptop are closed. I sit in a position that makes me as unaware of where I am as possible.

When I pray, though, I don't totally isolate myself from the physical world. I like to have some physical artifact to focus my attention on: often it's a cross of some sort, but I've used other things to help me pray too. That focus on the physical - an awareness of God by filling my senses - is a sensate trait. I find, though, that I can only appreciate one thing, if I am to make it a real focus point, so I am ascetic in every other regard. When I take the time to make a space like that for prayer, I pray better - more sincerely - than I do at other times. I feel that it is more real.

Following the same principle in writing seems good to me. If I must have an object to help me write - an object that will bring me into the enchanted world of writing - I want just one object which I can focus fully onnn and almost write 'through'. More than that would become clutter.

However, if I am going to endow an object with that much meaning and power, it can't be just anything. In fact, I know that I want to write through Christ; I sometimes forget that, but ultimately it is what I want. If I am going to write through an object, it must be an object that will take me to Christ so that I may write through Him. Other things may work for other people, but for me, anything else would feel like a farce.

This week I will be looking for items that will help me to write through Christ. In some ways I think writing with such an object will make writing more difficult. Everything I write will be right under God's nose. I know that's always been true, but I haven't always been aware of it. This enchanting - or perhaps sanctifying - object will make me aware of it, if it does anything. The way I think about certain things will have to change. That is a good thing, but it's also more than a little nervewracking!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Pursuit of Knowledge

The author of my Astronomy textbook sometimes appears to confuse his opinion and scientific fact. Suffice it to say that I'm very glad that humility is not an examinable topic, despite the book's content. In today's reading he said something implying that curiosity is one of the noblest human sentiments. (If my book had a search function I could go into more detail. Unfortunately it's not that advanced.)

Later in the day I had a discussion about how we appreciate good more because we know evil. I find that worship can stem from awe at what God isn't almost as much as from what he is. My dad pointed out to me that the forbidden tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Although eating the fruit was a sin and introduced humankind to the knowledge of evil, it also introduced us to the knowledge of good.

The idea of a world devoid of wonder at the pure and holy, in which righteousness is unremarkable, bemuses me. My first reaction is that it would be bland. It doesn't seem complete. On reflection, though, I think that response is part of my imperfection.

In Malacandra, C. S. Lewis paints a convincing picture of a society which is good and yet fulfilled. That is a tangible way of knowing I am wrong. More certainly, but less tangibly, I know that God chose not to give that knowledge to Adam and Eve. I know that evil can never be good, even it unwittingly causes good.

Knowledge, in fact, is not always good - although even the forbidden fruit was desirable. Curiosity is not always a noble sentiment: it can be a vice. This is so counterintuitive that it takes me a while to understand, although I realise that I already have some experience with the concept.

Usually when something interests me, I fond out more about it. I don't believe that's a bad thing: God gave me the faculty of reason and the ability to learn so that I could use them. There are some interests, though, that I don't indulge. Occult rituals, for example, hold a weird fascination. They also happen to be entirely opposite to God. For that reason, I choose to starve my interest, rather than to feed it. I don't research that topic and I'm wary of anything that approaches it. I've already recognised that some knowledge is not good; some curiosity, in fact is not noble.

That recognition couldn't kill an innate love of learning and knowledge, though. In fact, I find that I can't believe that curiosity isn't good. Instead, I find myself going back to Lewis. In Malacandra, the characater Weston is driven by his desire to ensure the survival of humankind. This is his justification for the many atrocities he commits. Oyarsa says that the good which is love of kin has become evil, because it was blown out of proportion.

The same thing can happen with knowledge. In themselves, curiosity and reason are surely God-given gifts. It is when our search for knowledge becomes too important that it is wrong: when we value it more than God Himself; when it is a justification for things we know are wrong.

I think curiosity can be noble. I will keep on learning as much as I can, but I will do it in Christ. What I can't learn in Christ, I most emphatically do not want to learn.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak, thank you

Ever since I wrote an unhappy blog post about Harry Potter, I've been thinking I should write a happy one, to balance things out. I've always - or at least for a long a time - been fascinated by Dumbledore's welcome speech in the first book. Dumbledore himself could be the topic of an entire book, so I'm sure the speech is enough of a base for one measly blog post.

Nitwit: Ron said Dumbledore was "off his rocker", but still brilliant. From his very first day at Hogwarts - and probably even before that - Albus Dumbledore was different. I doubt that he appreciated it as an eleven year old, but by the time Harry meets him, Dumbledore is different with style. It's a bit like the way being a geek or a nerd can be a good thing, these days, if you do it with confidence. Perhaps we could class Dumbledore as a protogeek.

Blubber: I suppose the odds are that Rowling was thinking of whale fat when she chose this word, but that's not the association I have with it. 'Blubber' makes me think of the beginning of Lewis's The Magician's Nephew when Polly thinks Diggory should wash his face, especially when he's been blubbing. So to me, 'blubber' means 'cry', like Harry does in the hospital wing after saving the Philospher's Stone. Dumbledore, we are told, became very interested in a bird outside the window at that point.

I think it is very like Dumbledore not to notice that Harry is crying, but to do it actively, rather than passively. He's not embarrassing Harry and he's precluded any need for an explanation. He's definitely conscious of what's going on, though, and Harry knows it. Personally, I'm also inclined to think that Dumbledore was genuinely interested in that bird, but I don't have any evidence to back up that conclusion!

Oddment: in particular, one silver Put-Outer. In the first book, the Put-Outer is a fun gadget and our first real introduction to the world of magic. It's soon eclipsed by more exciting developments. When the Put-Outer appeared much later in the series, in the hands of The Order of the Phoenix, it struck me as ominously significant. It symbolised the moving of the series from something almost childish and whimsical to something darker and more serious. It's also a milestone along the path of Dumbledore's development from a relatively simple spin on the mad scientist stereotype to a complex, confusing and significant entity.

In the first book, the Put-Outer has a Nesbitt-ish feel too it. More than most of the story it is whimsical and light-hearted. Real and serious things are happening, but gloom does not threaten. When it next emerges, it is a tool in the battle against evil. The story has moved from bright, suburban Privet Drive to the unpleasant Grimauld Place. I wouldn't say that either type of story is better, but there's a very distinct difference between the two.

Tweak: Dumbledore uses a variation on some well known spells to knock out the ministry wizards before his escape in Order of the Phoenix. It's one of the moments when his sheer genius shines through. Despite the urgency of the plot, it was enough to make me stop and reevaluate Dumbledore's intelligence. I knew he was bright, of course. He has his own chocolate frog card. He discovered all those uses for dragon's blood, which I'm sure future Potions students will curse him for, like some Muggle Maths sudents curse Pythagoras.

Despite all that, it was the way Dumbledore tweaked the spells that impressed me. He did it on the fly. He defeated a fair number of powerful wizards. He did it thouroughly, and he didn't even break a sweat, or the magical equialent. He calmly issued instructions and moved on. That's not just smart. That was not the product of hours of hard work over a cauldron. That was mindblowing genius. It's probably harder to do than Numerical Analysis, which I hear is pretty bad.

Thank you: People often seem to leave this word out when they quote the speech. Admittedly, it doesn't have the ring that the body does, but it's still part of the speech. Because it's there, we know that Dumbledore's a gentleman. He's not always nice - I wouldn't like to stand in the shoes of some of the Ministry officials - but at the least I think he could be called suave. It comes full circle, back to the element of style.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Remember Always

We celebrated communion at church tonight. Communion is always something special; something sacred, but tonight I saw it in a new light. Communion was by intinction which meant the communion stewards weren't moving from person to person. I happened to be sitting quite near to them, which meant that even after I had received communion and was back in my seat I heard the words the stewards said over and over.

"Remember always, Christ died for you."

The consistent, quiet repetition struck me as something special. Although there are many phrases used during communion, the one above is what sticks with me. I'm not sure if I heard it tonight - at least, I'm not sure if I heard it physically. I definitely heard God telling me to "remember always".

It gives me renewed energy to live with God at every moment, in every part of my life. It's easy to slip into compartmentalising things, but He knows what I need. I think that tonight God was reminding me to remember Him always: not only forever, as I sometimes interpret that "always", but constantly. When I sat in the church I physically heard the steward repeating the blessing. Now, as I go out into the world, I need to mentally and spiritually have God's presence resounding within me.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

When the Numbers Dance

We visited our postbox soon after we arrived back home and found a package from UNISA. My study notes had arrived. For me, it marks the end of holiday time and the beginning of hard work. I have about twenty assignments due in the next nine or ten weeks!

I'm going to be busy, but I know I'll enjoy it; I'm already enjoying it. I've been studying Spherical Trigonometry, because I don't need a textbook and because the first assignment is due in less than a fortnight. Also, because Spherical Trig is really just so cool.

I know that there are many people who don't like maths. I see that it's real, but I have to admit that it's not something I really understand. For me, the numbers dance. Sometimes I don't follow the steps, but that doesn't mean it isn't grand to watch.

The concepts of spherical geometry are beautiful. The distinction between a distance and an angle blurs. One number dances right into the position of another. A nautical mile is a distance, but it is defined by an angle. A spherical triangle's side can be 43° long. It sounds absurd, but it's entirely logical. The numbers are dancing.

It's good to remember the beauty of numbers and mathematics. I'm glad to have so much work to do, although I still want to find time to keep on doing lots of other things. It's good to be busy and it's good to immerse myself in things that stimulate me and appeal to me. Today, I can blog and I can solve triangles. Life is good.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing

Today I discovered that if I sit down for six hours and do maths without a significant break, my brain pretty much stops working.

That might be why the first four questions of my Astronomy assignment worked out beautifully, but the fifth one simply wouldn't come together. I might be why I wrote a blog post and then wondered what I was trying to say when I reread it. It is definitely a good reason for me to go to bed and stop trying to be intelligent until I've had some sleep.

I'm very excited that my coursework has arrived, but I'll have to be coherent about it another day!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Somethingly Ever After

The new Harry Potter movie has made enough of a splash in the media that one can hardly help being aware of it. Given that Harry Potter articles are one of the reasons I originally started reading newspapers (I used to skim through the headlines only paying attention to anything mentioning Harry Potter) I probably had even less chance of being unaware of the new movie.

The funny thing is that while reading about Harry Potter used to excite me, it evokes a sort of sadness more than anything now. It could be that I don't trust them to make the movie right and it's a 'desecration' of my beloved books. I don't think it's that, though, because I'm not really all that attached to the series any more. Besides, the Lord of the Rings movies don't upset me that way.

It could be a disappointment that the series is finally finished. I will never again spend hours arguing with my sister about what will happen in the next book. We know who R.A.B. is. Harry has found all the horcruxes. The one thing we agreed was impossible has happened: Ron and Hermione got married.

That's certainly part of what I feel. I don't think it's all though. I was unhappy when I finished reading The Lord of the Rings, but I got over it and discovered that rereading it the second time was nearly as good. On the other hand, I simply don't feel like rereading Harry Potter after the articles I've been reading. The whole concept seems rather depressing.

What I don't like about Harry Potter is the happy ending.

It took me a long time to accept that an unhappy ending is a valid conclusion to a story and I'm still a long way from particularly enjoying unhappy endings, although I can see that they work very well in some cases. When I read Deathly Hallows I was glad that things had worked out so pleasantly.

I still don't subscribe to the school of thought that said Harry should have died - especially not the one that said he should have died almost regardless of what actually happened in Deathly Hallows. It's a series of children's books, after all.

I do think the ending would have been better if it had been a little more bittersweet. It had all the potential for that, right up to the prologue. There was war and people died. They were really dead, even if Harry did meet Dumbledore in that freaky King's Cross scene. Good triumphed over evil, but at great cost.

And then everybody got over it and life went on as always. Which is a bit anticlimactic. They lived happily ever after. Harry named his kids after the people who had died, and that totally made up for it. In my mind, something bigger should have happened. There should have been some sort of immutable change to show us that what had happened had meaning.

Deathly Hallows lacks that bittersweet change. I think it's because the world of Harry Potter has no higher authority. It's like the law of conservation of energy. The world can move things around within itself, but it can't pull itself up by its own shoelaces. Some books recognise this and are poignantly sad. Some books recognise that there is a higher authority; that what is bitter in this world may be sweet in the next. Harry Potter tries to sit in the middle, and so it fails to satisfy me.

(For the record, I still think the Harry Potter books make great reading material. They just don't make my top-of-the-top list.)

Monday, 13 July 2009


Today has been bittersweet. Some things were awesome, like walking on the beach with my family. Visiting my mom, being on holiday, are good. On the other hand, several nights without sleep and a horrid cold have been catching up with me. Also, we go back home tomorrow. Having my very own bed back will be good, but leaving my mom behind is not good. In the balance, my mom wins (by quite a long way!), but there are other reasons we have to go back.

So today has had its high and its low points. What has been made very clear to me, though, is that I have Rock to hold on to no matter what happens. Nothing can happen that will take me away from God: 'neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come'. (Romans 8:38, NKJV) I've sometimes considered that a little obvious, but today it really resonated with me. No matter what happens, Jesus is the rock that I can hold on to. I don't know how I'd do life without Him, because even in my relatively easy life, I spend a lot of time asking Him for help. I think it's good to spend a lot of time with Him, and I'm really, really grateful that he wants to spend that time with me. The sea of life is quite scary enough as it is.

Saturday, 11 July 2009


We went to see Stilted tonight. It was very, very good. I don't think I got all of it, but that didn't detract from the play: it gave it depth. If it had been a book, I would have turned it over and started reading again from the beginning. Maybe with a few other books to refer to when I thought I was missing something.

It seems rather a pity that I can't do that with a play, but I suppose that's the nature of the art form. Even if I could watch the play again - which I'd be quite happy to do - it wouldn't be the same as rereading a book. The closest I'd get to that, I think, is if I could sit through all the rehearsals. Since I can't do that, though, I'll just reflect on what I did get to see, which I enjoyed very much.

Like when actor Richard Antrobus stepped to the front of the stage, began a sort of 'mime behind a glass wall' routine and remarked, "Oh, it's the fourth wall." Or the time(s) he tried to leave the play, but was ordered back on stage by a determined techie.

And then there were the stilts. Have you ever seen a guy in stilts (that must have been about a metre high) jumping on a trampoline? Or doing somersaults over a bed on stilts (both the bed and the actor)? It wasn't the sort of physical theatre I learned about at school, but it was definitely physical and definitely theatre. It made me think and pushed at my preconceptions. It was fun!

I think the whole arts festival has done that. We've done a lot of stuff that wasn't festival-related, but we've done enough festival to stretch and stimulate. I don't think I could actually take in ten days of AMAZ!NG. A couple of days were plenty. Today's the last day of the festival. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sorry it's over. I've absorbed what I can and it's time to move on.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Of Elephant Birds and the Eremozoic Era

During the festival, every possible venue in Grahamstown is taken over. Today we visited the Albany Science Museum, which hosted a number of art exhibitions. Much of the museum's original content was still there, though, and I'm not sure there weren't at least as many people examining the Foucault pendulum and the ecology displays as there were admiring the art.

The photography exhibition that had inspired our visit made a curious meeting point between the artistic and the scientific. It was called Plant Portraits: on the cusp of the eremozoic era. In the centre of the room were a number of printed pages. At first I thought they were museum exhibits that hadn't been moved, but it finally dawned on me that they were actually part of the photographic exhibition, explaining the eremozoic era: the age of loneliness, a term coined by E. O. Wilson to describe the time after the predicted fast-approaching, or perhaps already-occurring, sixth mass extinction. The exhibition carried the message that we need to change our ways or be caught in this unappealing era.

Later, I came across a life-size statue of the elephant bird. The statue was almost necessarily a fossil reconstruction, because the elephant bird is extinct and has been for hundreds of years. It must have been a magnificent creature, standing at about twice my height; it is not difficult to see the tragedy in its extinction (especially when its statue is harmlessly inanimate) and by extension, the tragedy in many other extinctions. It served as an unintentional reinforcement of the exhibition's message, but it also served to frustrate me.

The elephant bird's extinction may have been caused by humans, but it's not certain that it was. It's likely that humans caused the extinction. It's also likely that humans caused the extinction of the woolly mammoth, though. That was before we'd even developed complex technology like farming, though. That was during the idyllic stage in which man was at harmony with nature.

Except that, uh, we were exterminating other species already. It doesn't seem very idyllic or harmonious. It frustrates me, because people seem to feel that we can solve the earth's problems by living with less technology, or living more like people did thousands of years back.

Back then, we were wiping out species. Now, we're wiping out species. Nothing seems to change. There's nothing to go back to, unless we go all the way back to Eden. We can't do that; if there is a humane way to be human, it's in the future not the past. Even so it seems rather futile - must we value animals above the homeless? Should we take it a step further and value the AIDS virus above its victims?

I can't seriously suggest that anyone should or would do that, but it is where my frustration leads me. I see a problem, but I don't see the solution; what is popularly suggested to be the solution turns out to be unhelpful. I am left empty-handed.

Thursday, 09 July 2009

From Concrete to Abstract

A while ago I blogged about poetry and how understanding the concrete concepts expressed in a poem is one of the first steps in appreciating the abstract aspects of that poem, at least for me. I think that principle can actually be applied to most art forms.

Today I went to the Burning Bridges violin recital. I think music is necessarily fairly abstract - particularly instrumental music. Most of the music I couldn't immediately appreciate abstractly, although that's likely because I'm rather inexpert.

What I could do, though, was to concrete-ise the music. Since I was very small, I've listened to music by imagining the visuals that might accompany it and, increasingly as I've grown older, the story that it tells. I doubt that the story I imagine is always or even often what the composer had in mind, but it gives me a starting point from which to enjoy the music.

Even when I've lost track of my story, I'm caught up in the music. I think this is even easier in a live performance, because the performers themselves are telling a story; providing a concrete connection to the music.

I don't think I'm demeaning the music by bringing it to a level that I can began to understand, if I'm not changing the music itself. I think, in fact, that I elevate what the music is for me, since by looking at it differently I can appreciate it in some way and begin to appreciate it truly abstractly. I also think that even if I'm listening to it the wrong way now, but I keep listening, I'll eventually learn to listen to it the right way. So it's better to listen wrong than not to listen at all.

Wednesday, 08 July 2009

My Personal English - Science Dichotomy

When I was in Matric, I had this plan. I was going to study well, but despite that, my Science mark would be higher than my English one, so I'd know I should study Science. It was a really nice plan, right up until the point when my English mark turned out to be significantly higher than my Science mark. Oops.

I was back to square one: do I like English or Science more? The question's just about impossible to answer, though. They are both super-awesome fields. I mean, music and drama and cinematography and pure maths and teaching would all be really fun to study, but I can see that English and Science are much closer to what I should study. It would make me happy to learn how to edit movies, but it would make me unhappy not to learn about spherical trigonometry. (I know. I'm a nerd.) The problem is, it would also make me unhappy to not learn about why it matters whether or not Shakespeare was Catholic. Unfortunately, most universities don't offer double majors in English and Engineering. Seriously, who doesn't want to double major in those?

Once I had finished being thrilled about my English mark, I was very glad that I'd decided to take a whole year to decide what to do next. It turns out that the year was exactly what I needed, although not for the reasons I expected.

At the beginning of the year, I was supposed to sign up with UNISA for a couple of courses. For complicated reasons, I was never actually signed up. For probably the first time in my life I went for several months without being told to do maths or science. (Okay, maybe the second time. I guess I didn't do much Physics as a newborn.) I didn't like it. I didn't make myself do maths either, though.

Writing, on the other hand, I do make myself do. Very often, 'make' is not a good term, because I actively want to write. The obvious conclusion is that my active desire to write should win out and I should study English. The thing is, even though I won't make myself learn spherical trig unless there's an external deadline, I'm still unhappy when I don't do it. So I need to subject myself to the pressure of studying Science. I know that I'll read good books and keep writing and read about writing pretty much no matter what happens.

So when I start doubting myself I remember all that. Then I remind myself that most of those lovely, lovely science books were written by people who studied Science. I think, briefly, that maybe I could even study English and Science, somehow. Then I remember that if I do Science I'll get to do spherical trig, analysis and other exciting things and meanwhile I'm already learning about Shakespeare and writing technique. Mostly, I try to focus on the spherical trig.

Tuesday, 07 July 2009

Just Keep Writing

Writing fifteen minutes a day on my blog turns out to be harder than I expected. I'm not entirely sorry that I can't move on to the next stage of this enchanted fifteen thing. If I didn't think I needed to be at home to make it work, I'd move on despite whatever I felt. As it is, I don't object to a bit more time to master this concept.

Writing for fifteen minutes a day is pretty easy. I almost do that without trying. If you were to count the things I compose in my head, but don't take any further, I'd do even better. Writing for fifteen minutes every day for my blog is much more difficult. Sometimes I feel like writing something different. Or I think that there are better ways to write blog entries (which there probably are, but I seriously doubt that there are any I could keep up consistently). That's when it becomes a real challenge.

The even greater challenge is the bit about not editing. I pretty much fail at that. I edit a lot less than I used to - a lot less than I used to. I just change the structure of my sentences occasionally, or maybe erase a couple of words. For a girl who was taking eight minutes to write nothing, that's pretty good going, I think. Even though I deleted the whole sentence that was going to go here.

I have a long way to go with this fifteen minutes thing, but I think it's good for me. I'm pretty sure I can already write a better blog post in fifteen minutes than I could in half an hour before I started. Part of that, I'm sure, is because I'm getting used to writing posts with a bit of substance to them. (At least, I think they've got a bit of substance to them.) A good deal of it, though, is that on the whole my writing doesn't need to be edited all that badly. So writing solidly means I actually get my thoughts onto (digital) paper in a vaguely presentable form, rather than losing track of what I'm actually saying because I go back to make miniscule changes.

Writing without editing (much) is good, although there's still much more thought, structure and fiddling in my blog posts than there is in my journal entries!

Sunday, 05 July 2009

"So you'll know I'm joking."

Cameron did something strange with his hands, thumbs touching at the tips, fingers curled above.

“What's that?” Prudie asked him.

“A smiley face. Emoticon. So you'll know I'm joking.”

From The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

I made my first foray into Web 2.0 some years ago when, at the suggestion of my schoolfellows, I created a MySpace account. At that point, netiquette seemed quite simple. Don't spam. Don't flame. Don't type everything in capitals. Don't forward emails containing viruses.

Today, the rules seem much more complicated. A pair of asterisks bolds a piece of text. Alternatively, the asterisks could indicate that the enclosed text is an action, much like the italicised sections of a script. Weirdly, though, you don't use asterisks for italics. For that, you use a pair of backslashes.

Then there are TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms): the norm on some sites, but unacceptable on others. Usually the forbidding of excessive TLAs goes hand in hand with the forbidding of excessive emoticons. I understand that the TLAs get confusing, but it's stranger that emoticons are banned. After all, most netiquette guidelines recommend using emoticons to indicate what body language and tone of voice would usually communicate. Simple text, apparently does not have the scope to communicate those things.

That's why an author like Terry Pratchett can't write beautifully ironic prose without smileys. It's why Jane Austen scattered '<3's throughout her novels; otherwise, naturally, we wouldn't know that there was romance involved. It's why people have never written letters without funny combinations of numbers and punctuation marks. You probably wouldn't be able to tell that I don't mean this paragraph seriously, except for this: :P

I think emoticons are great in some contexts: chat threads, IM, some emails, amongst other things. It doesn't seem right though, that we use emoticons for everything. There's quite a bit of meaning to be mined out of words themselves. I know that if I let myself use emoticons everywhere, I get lazy about choosing words that mean exactly what I want them to. When I become lazy in what I write, I become lazy in what I say. I can see that I might end up like Cameron in Fowler's novel, but I hope that I won't. Emoticons, in my opinion, remain inferior to all the things they can replace.

Saturday, 04 July 2009

Not 15 Minutes

I can't blog for fifteen minutes every day while I'm on holiday. Well, I could, but then I'd have to give up spending an hour walking to the supermarket to buy rolls and crisps for lunch or going to bed early and annoying (aka talking to) my sister or looking at tye-died hoodies at the Village Green or one of zillions of other little things that aren't necessarily more important than blogging, but are more holidayish. While I'm on holiday, more of the strange ideas that grow in my head will just have to stay there. I promise I'll write in my journal tonight, though. Some things always happen. Writing is one of them.

Friday, 03 July 2009

Village Green

The National Arts Festival is billed as Ten Days of AMAZ!NG. I might have been upset about the misuse of the exclamation mark (some of us have to be grammar nazis, right?), but the ads I saw on deviantART also say 'And we wouldn't put that exclamation mark there unless we really meant it'. That justifies it for me, which means my first impression of the festival this year was positive, rather than sternly neutral.

I'm not in Grahamstown as a 'festino' as such, but it's impossible to avoid being sucked into the culture of the festival at least a little. Besides, I don't know why anyone would want to avoid the fun. Today we visited the Village Green; my senses are now very satisfactorily sated.

'Green' is perhaps something of a misnomer, since the field was covered with wood chips for as far as the eye could see. Admittedly, my eye could only see a few hundred metres in any direction until it encountered a marquee of some sort, but to a city girl it was quite impressive. Scattered about the wood chips thickly, but not uncomfortably, were the people.

The people are really what make the whole thing work. The percentage of people dressed unusually was certainly higher than in most places – people weren't (on the whole) dressed weirdly, but rather in that style that one finds at Eisteddfods, drama classes and, well, art festivals. There was a mishmash of languages, too. English was predominant, but I heard snatches of Afrikaans and (I think) isiXhosa too. If was a better linguist and had listened harder, I'm sure I would have picked out more.

After observing the dreadlocks, the scarves, the wood chips and the size of the green, I began to pay some attention to the content of the fair: incense, artworks, instruments, clothing, food stalls; something to appeal to every sense. I felt mohair blankets and wished I had a reason to buy them; I didn't though, so I had to move on. Many of the stalls were burning incense. At first I found it somewhat repellent, but gradually I became more used to it. It's not what appealed to me most, but it was an important addition to the sensory experience. The smell of cooking seemed irresistible, so we stopped to buy delicious pancakes. Later we watched traditional singer-dancers and enjoyed picking up the beat of their drums.

By the time we left the green, I felt saturated. It was almost a relief to visit the shopping centre, so busy that it felt more like Jo'burg than Grahamstown. I've been given more than sufficient input for one day: now I need to process it. In a few days I might know whether or not I want to buy a trumpeting wooden elephant, a set of performing sticks or a marionette. For now, I'm just trying to appreciate the experience of more sensations than I can pour into a single blog post.

Thursday, 02 July 2009

Praying Continually

Things in life are often much more closely linked than I take them to be. I tend to see my life as composed of different areas: family, writing, church, friends, work, school and so on. Each of those areas is, mentally, distinct. In reality, though, they're not. On a superficial level, I know many of my friends from church; my family are involved in my studying; something that I realise while tutoring might inspire a blog post. Those are all overlaps, but there is a much greater overlap between all these areas, which I often fail to realise: me. Beyond me, God is in all these areas too. Thinking of them as unrelated is silly if not downright impossible.

For that reason, it shouldn't surprise me that when I disrupt one part of my life, the rest of it is disrupted too. It does, though. Skipping my quiet time just once, because I left my Bible in the car outside shouldn't mean I'll be grumpy the next day and struggle to write a blog post. It's not like I have to post about my bible reading. I could post about anything. Somehow, though, it doesn't work out very well.

When I admit that I'm not writing in my own strength, the ideas come readily. I no longer have to wonder whether or not I'll write a post today: I only wonder which idea it would be best to write out. I don't think that one day without bible reading in itself stopped me from writing, but I think the attitude I took to it stopped me from living life in all its fullness.

I can centre my life around me, but really, I'm not that exciting. I can centre my life around other people, but if I'm honest, they're not that interesting either. They're not boring, but they don't fill me with an all-consuming passion to learn to know and serve them better either. I can focus my life on God, who, it turns out, is fairly fascinating. He also wants me to focus on Him and has the power to help me do just that. Making God the centre of my life fits; it makes everything work like it should, even when it takes more effort. God spills over into every aspect of my life; I am not only spiritually fulfilled by Him, but everything I do is enhanced and completed by His presence.

I think that's something of what Paul meant when he said 'pray continually'.