More head miles than my legs can cope with

My New Year’s resolution to post to Utterance every day in 2010 has hit its biggest challenge recently thanks to a condition a good friend describes as ‘head miles’.

I first heard him use the phrase when I asked him why it was he stayed awake all night, most nights, walking the streets.

‘Oh, I just walk around and do lots of head miles,’ he replied calmly. He put it down to a combination of schizophrenia and the drugs used to treat his condition. I can claim neither as contributing factors for my mental mileage.

Unfortunately I also cannot claim the same positive side-effect of doing lots of walking. The phenomenon has dried up quite a bit since the City to Surf although I have turned to cricket in an attempt to stay fit. That, and about a kilometre quick-march as part of my journey to work each day.

Having watched a great deal of the big game of cricket on a small box in recent years, I was clearly lured into a false sense of my own ability. In a team made up of much younger men, including my sons, it has been somewhat embarrassing to discover my body simply won’t cooperate.

During the first game, not only did I manage to go out to bat with my pads on the wrong legs, wearing left-handed batting gloves and with my helmet in an oddly sight-reducing position, but I pulled my ham string fielding in the slips.Read More »

Relentless, restless reading confessions

People with blogs often tell other people, with or without blogs, about what they are reading. This may be to come across as a clever, readerish type or out of a genuine attempt to stimulate reading and discussion.

In my case I’m going to tell you what I’ve been reading because the litter of books next to my bed could be ignored no longer. I suddenly noticed it one day and thought, mmmm.

Anyway, here’s what I’m reading and feel free to use the comment facility with this post to inflict on me what you are reading. No, seriously, I’m generally interested! By the way, this reading does not include the portions of novels I am required to read for the publishing and editing courses I am doing which so far has included Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, James Bradley’s The Resurrectionist and Brett Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park (and that’s just the first week…). And then there is the constant noting of books other people are recommending in my lectures so that I now have a list of about 37 books that simply must be read…

But back to the leaf-litter around my bed:

Read More »

God purposefully stringing me along

God had me on a string today, I thought. Everywhere I went, seemingly by chance, I met people, seemingly on purpose. I arrived at Lunch just in time for the Young Woman to ask me about her mental health. ‘I don’t want to be kicked out on the streets or get locked up. How do I seem to you?’ My answer was sweet and sour like the steaming bowl of food before me. ‘You have been more unwell than this but you were right to say the best thing is to see your doctor as you are not quite yourself.’ She was reassured and I left Lunch just in time to see the Old Woman exit the building opposite, heading for the bus. I walked up beside her and gave her the gift that was tucked away in my bag. She kissed me with delight and yelled thank you as we parted. After eight kilometres walking with Tall Boy in misty rain around Blackwattle Bay, I considered my next move and headed for a hair cut. Crossing the road I saw the Owner, who I had just been thinking off. He spotted me and came over with friendly smile and clipped accent. We chatted and he offered me a job and I said for us both, ‘It’s in God’s hands.’ Young Man appeared as we continued talking in the street, also heading for a haircut, which he beat me too. It has been some time and at least we locked eyes and I was able to find him in the barber’s seat and grip his shoulders. The Iranian was all smiles and curls and pleased to see me. I said I would return tomorrow and headed for the bus. Waiting at the lights before the River of Traffic, I spotted the Older Man, on the other side. We waved across the rapidly moving, and I let my green man go as Older Man crossed over. We shook hands, and affirmed friendship and there was more deep eye contact, much-needed assurance. As we spoke, Woman Carrying Box appeared next to us and so as the green man appeared again, we farewelled Older Man, and I switched conversations once more. ‘Growing in confidence’ I thought, as we talked at the bus stop, with women looking on it seemed. She asked a question or two and the red 10 arrived to deliver me from the enjoyable relay-conversation in which I had just featured, all on a city corner. Later, having left Something, I was driving back when I missed Someone’s call. I was not surprised (considering the day) upon reaching my destination to see him parking too, as if we’d planed a rendezvous. We talked in hushed tones and found the Walker sitting cross-legged on the floor, but that is one story too many. As I prepared to leave, having intended to ‘slip under the radar’, Woman of Art arrived but I left with a wave, thinking that if this piece of string continued, I would never get home. But I did.

What drives you – plot, character or both?

In literature, stories are said to be either plot-driven or character driven, but what about life?

Some novels are all about the plot – the unfolding of action and drama – while the development of character is less important. A Matthew Reilly novel would be an example – we don’t really need to know his characters other than have a vague sympathy or antipathy for them, as long as something blows up every few paragraphs.

Some novels are character driven – the characters are highly developed and the plot flows out of who they are. Jane Austen meticulously crafts her characters and we watch and see how they negotiate the life that unfolds from the authentic decisions they make.

Of course no story can be one or the other – plot requires people and unless we replace them with plankton, some degree of characterisation is required. People do things and have pleasures and problems and so a plot will develop. If all we had were just endless descriptions of people, we might prefer they were plankton.

For me it is the issue of starting point, of emphasis. One emphasises things happening more than the people to whom they happen. The other wants us to see inside people more fully as things happen.

I can’t help but draw a line to real life, our lives. Is our life more about plot – what’s happening next – or more about character – who we are as things happen?Read More »

On getting off drink and closer to God

Walking away from the small community centre, past the sitting smokers, down the path in the warm sunshine, he stops and calls me Pete.

‘Pete, there are a lot of people on the streets who could get up if they wanted to but they don’t want to.’

I nod in agreement, ‘None of us make any changes in our life unless we really want to, so I guess that applies to people on the street too.’

‘I was homeless you know Pete,’ he says. ‘But I got myself up. Drugs are the real problem. Drugs and alcohol. I’ve never used drugs but alcohol was my problem.

‘But after I did 15 years straight of a 20 year sentence, the last thing the parole officer said to me was, “Are you going to give up drinking?” and I said, “Yes.”‘

And I haven’t drunk for 34 years.

‘That’s an inspirational story, you’re a great example,’ I say.

He chuckles, and fixes his ebony eyes on me and I feel privileged that this elderly man who carries a remarkable sense of wisdom and dignity, chooses to tell me his stories, week after week.

‘There was one time when I was drinking that I got picked up on the street by three policemen and put into a police van with three deros. When we pulled up at the station we all got out of the van and the police each took one of the deros into the police station and I walked straight across the road and into the Oxford Hotel,’ he says with a chuckle.

He talks about people in prison who ‘became’ Christians to get out of the big house. ‘I’m not a Christian, never will be, but I wouldn’t do that, just put it on.’

He recalled the advice of his mother. ‘She told me that God keeps way off in the distance and always has his eye on us. He’ll get them…’

Might not be great theology but I can feel the faith in this man, I can feel that he has a closeness to God that is born of respect, honour and honesty. One day I might just get to help him see it. I am encouraged. PH

Death to cheesy Christian movies

“The death of cheesy Christian movies” writes Greg Stier of Christianpost.com about new teen movie To Save A Life which has just opened in the US.

That’s got to be good news… Check out the official website and watch for release dates in Australia.

Contemporary Christian communicators, by and large, often try so hard to get their message articulated in triplicate that they lose all sense of storytelling. This applies equally to movies and novels, with some exceptions.

Apparently To Save A Life bucks this trend which can only be a good thing. Remember how good a storyteller Jesus was, and often he didn’t even bother to explain a parable because he knows we are wired to ponder and explore narrative. A truth we find for ourselves is doubly found. PH