Friday, March 27, 2015

Reverse Inspiration

Here is a painting I did,
to prove I can SO do
creative stuff, so there.
There's nothing quite as motivating as a little competition. Little did I know I was upping the stakes when I advised my children to get writing. I didn't really think they would. I fully expected them to take completely after me, and therefore to write one or two posts, and then forget all about it.

But no, my son and daughter have taken to the world of words with a flurry of clever, funny and highly interesting posts. Did they stop to think about how lazy this would make their mother look? No. With, clearly, a total lack of respect, and with (so far) boundless, thoughtless enthusiasm, they have poured words on to the page. And now the world can see what a lazy, good-for-nothing hypocrite their mother is. They really should have been more careful. *Sigh*.

It better be a damn good Mother's Day this year, kids, is all I'm sayin'.

As if that kind of pressure wasn't enough, my mother jumped into the fray and now I'm heading to her place for 2 weeks in June to edit a book. My book. Don't they all realise I could have happily carried on as the dilettante I clearly am, probably for the rest of my life? But no, now it's all "work, work, work", creative expression and stuff. How will I keep up with all my watching of TV shows, with this kind of family interference? What about the vast quantity of sleep I need? Ok, to be fair, we all know I will still be sleeping as much as is necessary, for their sakes', as much as for mine.

So yes, I have been "reverse inspired" by my ungrateful children and my whip-wielding mother. If I'd known all that encouragement and applause was going to mean I'd have to make to an effort... Well. You guessed it - I'd have done it anyway. And here's the post to prove it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Hidden Gifts

One of the incredibly beautiful drawings
Jason Padgett made, of Hawking radiation,
and the way it emits from a black hole.
I've been reading about a man called Jason Padgett, who used to describe himself as "a jock and party guy" until he was savagely attacked in 2002. He was left with some serious injuries, especially to his head, and an understandable case of PTSD.

Yet, he says he wouldn't change what happened to him, because of this marvellous and strange thing... He woke up with enhanced mathematical abilities, and now sees the world in geometrical forms. He is an incredibly rare savant, having acquired his new abilities through trauma. It has changed his life so much, that he is now at varsity, studying number theory, this one-time jock who "never cracked a book". He found himself compelled to draw the most exquisite and detailed geometrical representations of mathematical relationships.

It got me thinking about what wonders are locked up in each of us, since the experts say there was nothing 'special' about his brain to start with. Apparently, given the right set of circumstances, any of us is likely to have this ability inside there somewhere. Really?! Good heavens. Not that I'd want to be beaten up outside a karaoke club in the hope that I'd become a savant, of course...

And yet, and yet - what happened to this guy, undeniably awful, gave him something he never had before, and with it, a new direction, and a new joy in his life. And isn't that a great picture of what tragedy, misfortune and obstacles so often bring about in our lives? We only see it later, and we may never see it if we focus on the bad thing that happened to us for too long.

The thing is - and I believe this with all my heart - there is always beauty to be found in tragedy, there is always a gift concealed in our suffering. For most of us, it's not quite as dramatic as Jason's story. For most of us, it won't be doctors who are amazed, it will be our families and friends when they see the change and growth that happens in us. Maybe you learn how to love more, maybe you learn how to be more accepting. Maybe you try something new, or reach out to someone else. Maybe you get more stroppy and confident. Who knows?

As long as you choose to find the gift, suffering is never the end of the story.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

In honour of the 21 Libyan Martyrs

Nothing funny about this post, I'm afraid. I was challenged by a friend to "not look away", and actually watch the beheading of 21 Christians by Islamic State-affiliated men. I did so, after thinking long and hard about it. Yes, I wish I had never seen such terrible images. But oh, how my heart was moved. At first, I thought, "There are no words." Then I realised there were, and the words were bubbling up in me. Here they are...

Quietly, so quietly, they walk,
So still
Knowing that the end is here, on this beach
Quietly, they stand
Quietly, they fall to the sand,
These men
Calling on the Name as they prostrate themselves
in silence
Offering their necks, still praying as the knives
saw life away,
Quiet and brave beyond all understanding,
knowing there is another shore,
another beach,

where the Father will find them.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What does 'black' mean in America?

This lady - Gabrielle Reece - is black.
It fascinates me that different countries can have such very disparate ways of defining and talking about race. In America, apparently, when it comes to black and white, those are the only two options. If you have ever had a black person in your ancestry, you are, de facto, black (according to the article below, 'Celebs you didn't know were black' - and so much else in the media).

That seems weirdly simplistic to us South Africans, for whom 'black' is itself a broad simplification of a huge variety of tribal and cultural identities. And where 'coloured' means of mixed race, but of a certain, specific established culture and going back centuries, and 'mixed race' is something else entirely, but generally means your mom and dad were any kind of mix, whether black and white, or coloured and black, or indian and black, or white and coloured, or whatever.

Why we humans have to constantly classify each other in this way is another question - but right now, I am fascinated by WHY someone in America who is obviously mostly white, with a little black thrown in, is 'black'. This article (link below) is an example of what I mean - something that seems to me to smack of inherent racism, as if we're supposed to somehow be surprised and amazed that these 'celebs' are not 'white'. And - I've been wanting to ask this for years - why is Obama the "first black president", when he is obviously both black and white? His father is black, his mother is white. Why does the one fact outweigh the other? Why is he never called "the first Hawaiian President"? Or to put it another way, how come, when someone from mostly black ancestry has one white grandparent, the media never calls them 'white'?

Honestly, the American obsession with who is and isn't black strikes me as deeply racist, in an institutionalised, taken-for granted way that's more disturbing to me than the way my own country talks about and conceptualises race. For us, an article like this, singling out people because they 'look white' but happen to have 'black' genes - well, it would be unthinkable. Ludicrous. Offensive. It smacks of the kind of race classification that apartheid made infamous.

Is it just me - or is this article offensive to anyone else? I'd be interested to know.

This is the slideshow that got me pondering on this stuff...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I Used to be a Genius

An extraordinary percentage of my relatives live from their creative talents, one way or another, including me. We have all grown up with the unshakable conviction that a life spent doing what you love is worthy, no matter what you earn or whether the world notices. We're an accepting and inclusive bunch, even when (as happens randomly in every generation) a mutant child or two is born, curiously uninterested in anything remotely artistic. Though such a child may show mystifying tendencies, such as an inexplicable interest in accountancy or town management, the only thing that really counts to us, that instantly wins family approval and respect, is passion. And we really, really like intelligence, too.

So it really was rather fortunate for me that I was such an exceptional child. I knew this, because so many of the children my age were clearly stupid, and also because, when I was 9 or 10, I overheard my class teacher telling a policeman that I had a genius-level IQ. At the time, I was standing in a sort of icy-cold daze in the corridor outside the classroom, overcome with terrified remorse for A) bunking history with my friend and then B) deciding, inexplicably, that we could totally get away with it if we said we had been trapped in the bathroom by a scary man in a black leather jacket, and C) completely and utterly failing to foresee that being believed would inevitably lead to the POLICE being called.

Consumed with guilt, and still horrified at my hitherto unsuspected capacity for spontaneous duplicity, I nevertheless could not help noticing the intriguing fact that a large number of adults had believed me. I had to at least consider the possibility that this could be because I was indeed a genius, in which case, I should probably be on the lookout for signs of any superior intellectual capacity. Modestly, of course. I was already a voracious locust of a reader, but now that I was most likely a genius, it seemed likely that I might have developed a taste for the books on my parents' bookshelf.

I sat cross-legged on the carpet and looked at the bland, mono-colour spines. Since I might very well be a genius, and geniuses doubtless read adult books without pictures, it followed logically that I probably liked these books, and just hadn't noticed it yet. Old habits die hard, though, and my eyes kept sliding to the only book on the shelf with a picture on it. The whole cover was, in fact, a black and white photograph, a simple title - The Yellow Star. As I reached for it, my mom walked into the room, and immediately sat down with me. "There are books on this shelf with some very difficult, horrible things in them, " she said. "Some people would not let children read them. But I think you are old enough to choose whether or not you want to. It's up to you."

I took that book up to my room, feeling solemnly mature and definitely of above average intelligence. I began to read and within moments, I was swept away, engulfed in a flood I had never imagined could exist, a tide of horror and disbelief at the unspeakable thing that was the Holocaust, at the wrenching, impossible news that people did this, people died like this, in my world, where my . I forgot that I was practicing to be a genius. I wept and I thought, and I wept and absorbed. I read it over and over again, searching for a key of some kind, a way to make sense of these impossible, unforgettable, terrible truths. When I finished it, I found I couldn't stop. I had to know more. I read every book that shelf, immersing myself in history from countless eras. I flew over words I didn't understand, hungry to KNOW, to understand why and how it could be possible for humans to do such terrible things.

I was a genius until I was twelve, the only kid in South Africa at the time to get 100% on the official aptitude test for language, a prodigy with the language skills of a varsity student and an astonishing grasp of European history. I was placed in a gifted kids' program, which was gratifying, though disappointingly bland. Still, there I was, secure in my clever little spot in the sun... And then the school district had the audacity to retest my IQ... And as far as I was concerned, I failed. In a crushing blow to my status as a child prodigy, not only was I not, in actual fact, a genius, but adding insult to ego injury, my little brother  - MY LITTLE BROTHER - had made the genius grade. How rude, after all the years I'd spent practising my mysteriously knowing, gently wise Genius Expression. When you have been a genius, 'Above Average' is cold comfort.

At least I still had my prodigious language skills, reading at varsity level, still special after all. Until one day, when I was 20, it suddenly dawned on me that my entire generation was now reading at Varsity Level. Just like that, I was ordinary. Any illusions of genius that I may have secretly been clinging to snuck away in embarrassment when someone pointed out that it took me until the age of 20 to figure out the 'everyone reading at varsity level' thing.

Having assumed for a long time that I would obviously be very good, and quite possibly GREAT at something one day, it took me a while to get comfortable with who I actually am, a 'Jack of all Trades, Master of None' type. It took longer still to grasp that this, in itself, is a different - and very valuable - kind of genius. I will never be 'great' at anything, which is a tremendous relief, since I am so very, very busy learning how to be passably competent at MANY things, and as it turns out, actually rather good at a few others, if I say so myself. It turns out I have an insatiable appetite for novelty and fresh challenges. And the dawning realisation, at long last, of what riches that holds for me?

Well, that's genius, that is.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Parable Dog

Ninja the Neurotic has just crawled on her belly to me. Silly thing - she is completely forgiven, as far as I am concerned, for the heinous deed of stealing a kitten. But in her head, I am apparently yelling, because a gentle scratch of the ears resulted in her slinking off with her tail between her legs.

There's pretty much nothing I can do about that. I have accepted her apology (belly-scraping crawl to my feet). I have shown love and acceptance (scratch between the ears, soft and loving voice). And still, she ran away, convinced that I hate her, as far as I can see.

She has to deal with this in her own way, and as I know her, tomorrow, she will be back to her normal neurotic self, with a slight measure of extra paranoia.

It does make make me think of my own reaction to God, my family, and everything around me. I suspect I love this dog partly because she reminds me of me. I get to laugh indulgently at her ridiculous ways, while studiously not noticing my own random and useless guilts, paranoia's and inexplicable behaviours.

Thanks, Ninja. With you around, I can always feel slightly more sorted.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly... of Pets

I was actually busy writing a post with almost the same heading, about clients. And I could rant for a while about that. But even as the words were on the screen, I heard loud squeaking, and had no choice but to down tools and run. Sure enough, I caught our mentally deranged dog, Ninja, with a kitten in her mouth.

Stop! Breathe, everyone. The 10-day old kitten is alive and well, though severely spat upon. The dog is suitably chastised and sitting in the garden under a bush with a look of utter weltschmerz upon her face. She knows she has done a Bad Bad Thing, but I'm pretty sure she has no idea exactly what that was.

We're soft on this dog, and we know it. We have to be, because she is neurotically challenged. She was born to an extremely surprised 13-year old labrador, on Christmas Eve three years ago. Suckers that we are, we fell in love with her without even seeing her, and helped with money for the highly expensive puppy formula to keep her alive. We should have known she'd be a total weirdo. What am I saying? She had us at 'ridiculous birth story'. It was a done deal...

The Blundertribe has an affinity for weird animals. And weird people. We're just like that. We pick the runt. Or the one with funky backwards paws. Yup.

So, yes, Ninja wants to eat kittens. This is bad. But she also waits every morning for each of us to appear from our bedrooms, and has to greet each one personally, and talk to them, and nuzzle. Big cuddles. She actually gets up on her hind legs and HUGS Sean, which is tear-jerkingly sweet. After that, she won't let you anywhere near her for the rest of the day, and regards most overtures of affection as proof that someone wants to kill her. Did I say neurotic? That doesn't really cover it.

I reckon she is our family lesson in how to accept someone really, really interesting, who is also really, really strange. Hmmm... Yup, she fits right in around here.