Tuesday, 22 August 2017

[ ouroboros ]


Back when I was doing the tinder experiment, I met a guy who said he didn't believe me when I told him I wasn't afraid of death.

He said that was rubbish; everyone is afraid of dying and that anyone who says they aren't is kidding themselves. There were a lot of other reasons we only had one date, but that was in the top five for sure.

Let's be absolutely clear here; I'm not afraid of death or dying. I'm not afraid of what comes after, and I have no worries about where my soul will go, what form my energy will take, or what the next plane of existence looks like.

I am afraid I will leave here before I completely fulfil my potential. I'm terrified I won't get to tell my family I love them a hundred thousand times. I'm bone-chillingly scared of not getting to hold my mama's hand every day.

These fears are the deep and real things that worry me. Where we go, and what we do afterwards, are not.

***

When I was a little girl, I believed in all sorts of things. Some of them persist today, some not, and new things - things I never imagined - have come to take the place of others. 

There has always been the belief in something after this life. An unwavering sense of continuation, where my soul will mutate into something else and move on. Forwards, upwards, whatever. The direction never really mattered, I just knew we went on.

Through tragedy and heartache, sleepless nights and long, lonely days, that belief has never altered. In some ways, calling it a belief seems inadequate. It doesn't seem to convey the quintessential wiring in my core that knows this like I know the sun will rise tomorrow. 

Life's greatest joys have certainly solidified this, making them even brighter and more vibrant with the knowledge that perhaps I will take their experience with me always. However, even in my darkest moments, fear of the afterlife has never registered. 

***

Twenty-odd years as a pagan have unquestionably broadened my knowledge on the varying notions of where we go in the hereafter. So many ideas, so many situations we could be in. 

The Norse have Valhalla and Hel; a giant hall overseen by Odin where brave warriors go, and an underworld presided over by the goddess of the same name where, generally, everyone else goes. 

Heaven, the Christian version, up in the clouds, the place where god dwells, where all good souls go after they die. Then Hell, the underworld, where bad souls, those who have not repented their sins or tried to live good lives, go and burn in eternal damnation.

There's The Summerland of pagan origin; a resting place between lives for the soul. Should you have reached full enlightenment in earthly form, you may be able to stay; this means reincarnating as many times as it takes to learn all you can. The Summerland is also a place to be with loved ones from all your lives past.

Reincarnation; the idea that you live in this plane over and over again until you attain enlightenment. Each life varies depending on how you lived the last one; live kindly and compassionately and you get to come back as a a beautiful bird, soaring and floating, or a wonderful musician, creating great ballads until you die. 

Live a greedy and selfish life, taking and never giving, and you come back as a cockroach. Savvy? 

The continuity of reincarnation threads through many religions, and very basically here, revolves around consistently working on bettering this self, this energy, to join up with other like energies. Until, in the not-exactly-end, we all become part of the same energy. Sounds kind of blissful really.

All that these traditions have in common is the continuation of our energies. That this life, this experience, is only one in a line of experiences. That, even though we may do myriad things and make various choices, there is another, utterly distinctive reality awaiting us when we're done.

Kind of amazing, right?

***

It is no less valid to note those that conclude there's nothing after this life. Just because I don't believe this to be true, doesn't mean I don't occasionally hear them out. But not often or at length.

That being the case, it's interesting that some people think we die and nothing happens, because even then, that is some sort of next experience itself...

As a small note of why this scenario, for want of a better term, is so unlikely to me personally, I base some of my belief on science; energy cannot be created or destroyed. And though I struggle occasionally with the former, the latter certainly makes sense. 

So in terms of whether nothing happens afterwards, that seems a highly suspect and dubious possibility. Just saying.

***

Originally, I think someone asked me to write about what happens when we die. I guess it only just occurred to me that perhaps they were asking for some reassurance themselves, rather than just out of the curiosity for my opinion (though it was also nice just to be asked such a momentous question).

To my friend who asked; I'm not sure if this is what you were looking for, but here it is. And should my words not be enough, I hope the deep and abiding perception I have, the steel-like assurance I feel, gives you some comfort.

It never ends. We never end. Somehow, somewhere, we always live on.

~*LTM*~





























Saturday, 19 August 2017

[ sometimes, read stuff you don't agree with ]

Everyone can write these days. They can blog, video, or even live-stream their every thought and experience to the greater population, regardless of talent, education, or even understanding of appropriateness. Journalism, as such, is no longer just the domain of trained writers.

Which is what it is really. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing and, though I absolutely think there is a difference between free speech and hate speech, the ability for any citizen to make their thoughts known (in a hopefully constructive manner) is still a pretty amazing thing.

Just as random examples; a while back we talked about procrastination, and how unproductive it can be. I dipped into the death of romance, and what it means to me today. Let's not forget my cheeky swipe at BvS here too. These are my thoughts and not necessarily shared by my friends, family or workmates, whether in part or entirety.

***

Recently, I introduced you to Alain de Botton, who writes a variety of books, my favourite of which is currently Consolations of Philosophy. It's thoughtful, funny, and jam-packed with ancient and modern references. It left me feeling both inspired and a little gloomy. Still one of my favourite books, however.

This guy is brilliant. Mark Manson is the bestselling author of this, and he's pretty inspiring to an amateur blogger like myself. He also talks a lot of bollocks occasionally and I really don't agree with some of the stuff he comes out with.

Clementine Ford makes me absolutely lose my mind on a regular basis; I'm alternately awed and baffled by her. She makes me hurrah, she makes me cringe, she makes me laugh my ass off. Here and here are the best places I've found to read her stuff, but are by no means the be all and end all.

Be warned, Clem is not for the faint of heart or those who lack the courage of their convictions. She is not here to make you feel better about yourself, but you will anyway and you'll probably learn something as well. I tend to agree with her about 75% of the time, and her methods about the same.

I read her stuff equally when I agree as to when I don't.

***

Here's where we come to my point; I read a decent amount of stuff that I don't actually agree with. Things I feel uncomfortable about, things that I don't really understand, ideas I generally think are, as stated above, bollocks.

Lest we mistake 'things I don't agree with' for hate reading, I'm not talking about going looking for all Trump's latest fascist vitriol, or what all the ex-Bachelor contestants (is anyone else uncomfortable calling them that...??) are up to post-eviction, or even the seemingly endless parade of malarkey our government has been trotting out the last few weeks.

Though to be fair; Trump's Twitter reads like a Garth Ennis comic, ex-Bachies seem to get more press after they've left the mansion, and when it comes to our government, I suspect even Malcolm is starting to get a nervous twitch, assuaged only by copious amounts of red wine and Valium.

But I digress.

Things I have issue with include, the now 'moved-on' (heavy on the sarcasm please, editor) tent city that was in Martin Place, blaming tap-and-go for kids financial literacy, and Westconnex (waaay too many links to just choose one).

Each of these things have such amazing contradictory elements, that I can't just gloss over and be happy with reading a story or two. Taking any of them at face-value would feel terribly superficial and trite, should I want to discuss them with others.

And that's the rub, isn't it? I often find myself in conversations with people about things they know very little about. Apart from being super annoying, it's also really disconcerting.

For example, I know someone who thought the tent city was an utter disgrace and was downright relieved when they heard it had gone. However, they hadn't actually seen it and I had (walking past twice a week on the way to training), and were unaware that the government didn't actually go very far in attempting to rehouse these people - only that it had been there, was an 'eyesore', and 'everyone' was relieved it was gone. The complexity of such a situation - who could have done what and when, including the residents themselves - was also lost on them.

This kind of social ignorance - willfully ignoring or not bothering to do research (a quick Google would have sufficed!) - kind of freaks me out. Especially when highly intelligent, skilled professionals - who are meant to be my peers - bring it up in conversation like they think it's important.

***

Mistaking the forest for the trees seems to another modern tactic in keeping ourselves complicit in such ignorance.

Reading that children are in danger of being financially illiterate is certainly a very real concern. Blaming it on the system that was created to make financial transactions easier, more stream-lined, and keep customers less in touch with their finances, feels less like a blow in the right direction of education, and more like a clumsy attempt to nail down a complex issue without considering all the elements in play.

Children may become financially illiterate because we are developing faster and easier ways to make adults illiterate. We give our society options to manage money without explaining it in detail, and therefore have people racking up debt they can never pay off.

It's certainly not all as bad as that sounds, but it's not all good either. Choosing the relatively recent invention of tap-and-go and then focusing on our youth - who are years away from managing finances as it is - seems a woefully inadequate start, and a strange way to spend a researchers grant money.

***

Westconnex is the multi-layered beast for which there seems no clear way to define. 

Way back when, while I was having breakfast one morning, there was a long and loud protest march on King Street, Newtown . This was in the very early days, before any of the actual construction had started, and I knew very little about the project to be honest, except that it was destined to be the solution to our transport problems. 

Back then, I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about; er, modern new transport system, surely a good thing, right...? 

Well, yes and no, as it turns out. Far from jumping off the bandwagon, I did my research (and continue to monitor developments), and found out how much more intricate it was, and continues to be. 

I'll spare you the endless articles and pieces, and give you the frills-free notes; Westconnex was set to be a brilliant transport solution (still is...ish). We got $16 million (no, not a typo) over budget before work even started. Ex-Premier Mike Baird jumped ship just as the going got tough, which really wasn't a great sign, to be honest. Sydney CBD started to look like one giant, mechano-set, construction zone, and things kind of went downhill from there...

But, (and this is where it gets sticky, because it's all sounding rather brown trousers time about now, isn't it?), nothing is ever as simple as all that. 

Westconnex will create a transport infrastructure the likes of which Sydney has never seen. It has created 10,000 jobs including apprenticeships, and 1,600 benefiting businesses have signed contracts to the tune of a cool $1.6 million. 

Confused? Yea, me too.

Because here's the thing; I thought Westconnex was great, then I thought it was a farce, and now I'm not so sure. I walk to work through mini dust-clouds of construction every day. The noise alone is utterly appalling. Even then, it's hard not to see the proposed structure taking shape. The sections are small, and they presently do not outweigh the monster building works around them...but they are there and they are growing.

And seriously, if you bullishly ignore the 10,000 jobs, then there's not really much more we have to talk about.

Maybe the weather?

***

Hate reading is bad, and spreading fake news is toxic (Trump didn't invent it, he just Tweeted it first). This shouldn't be something we need to discuss.

But being naive and uninformed is. I know, because I was. Not badly and not often, but certainly at times that made me look foolish and uneducated.

It's 2017; we can't be that person.

Whether we do it not to risk FOMO (I'm appalled I know this term considering how much I loathe YOLO, but at least I know it), want to be able to make intelligent conversation, or are actually involved in whatever it is (and if we don't know as much about it as our baristas, we should probably quit our jobs) -  we need to be informed, we need to be educated, we need to be armed with knowledge. Remember; knowledge is power.

So, go on, read about the South China Sea (it's ok to be confused at the end - we all are). Check out Wikipedia's Brexit if you're still unclear about it (more confusion, also fine). Follow some conspiracy-theory threads written by not-so-peer-reviewed writers.

And pick up a newspaper or turn on the radio occasionally (yes, we still have those, they are connected to the sound system in your car, it's not just house music and Beach Boys).

Besides, if nothing else, just remember; being smart is sexy. Looks will fade, being brainy is forever.

~*LTM*~







































Friday, 4 August 2017

[ recommended reading lost ]


No, that's not a typo. Yes, I did mean lost. It's a play on words, see? You've heard of those right; where something can have a double meaning, be a pun, or is supposed to be funny? Because you want to get lost in a book and on that front, I've got a good list of them...

(Sorry. Really, I am).

Anyway. Back to the reading.

The Winter weather is super chilly this year and most like to curl up with a good book instead of going out. Fair call, I'm with you there. So on that note, I've compiled a menu of some truly great reads for the last little spell of frostiness to intersperse between Netflix marathons. I promise they're not all from the geek section. Mainly...

Enjoy!


The Great Zoo of China - Matthew Reilly

Starting with a good, old action adventure, Reilly does his usual best and gives us a cracking good read. The Chinese have discovered a creature long thought mythical, and now they've created a zoo full of them. How could anything go wrong?

It's not a spoiler to tell you it's dragons, and they are AWESOME. Ok, so the protagonist is pretty spunky and intelligent; a reptile expert with National Geographic. But the dragons steal the story, and it's well worth it.

If haven't started your cold weather reading yet, this is a great one to sink you teeth into and you don't need to get too involved in it. Settles you for something more meaty later on.


***

Whether you want to go for darkly epic romance or just darkly epic, the next two can be swapped in order of reading depending on your preference.  Personally, I'd go them in the order I have them, but see how you feel...

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

This fantasy novel was originally written for NaNoWriMo and shared over three of them. It's a glorious story of a travelling circus that only operates from dusk until dawn. Under the guise of the performance, two magicians have been rivals for such a long time, and groom their proteges to compete on their behalf.

It is a dangerous game these two old competitors play; each opponent must continue playing until a winner is decided, and that may not mean a triumph.

But our two protagonists are like none before them and quickly develop a connection no one foresaw.

Without spoiling the story or the glittering ending, I hope this is enough to reel you in. If not, the first few pages, the beautiful descriptions Morgenstern lays out, will surely draw you in like nothing else.


***

Mister B. Gone - Clive Barker

Stepping away from the fact that they call this a metafiction, recall the wonderful little film that is Fallen and you get close to this book. Creepy, weird, a little bit intriguing. Read this one with candles on and the wind howling through the trees.


***

Brooklyn - Colm Toibin

"Don't look for a happy ending. It's not an American story. It's an Irish one" - The Devil's Own 

Irish stories always have this beautiful, bittersweet thing going on, and this one is no exception. The amazingly resilient heroine, Eilis, will give you hope and break your heart, then put it back together again, all at once.

If you haven't had a wee cry in a while, or just need to remember that yours is not the only life that turns out differently than expected, this is the book for you.


***

The Consolations of Philosophy - Alain de Botton

Alain is a modern philosopher that I first encountered watching The Project one night. He was touting his newest book (not this one), and I became intrigued. 

Whether it was his way of speaking, his dry humour, or perhaps his easy, evolved manner, I was hooked. He speaks of love, life, and our relationships to one another with thoughtfulness and care, and explores the various states of the human condition, engaging in a way I hadn't encountered until now.

Consolations isn't his first book, but it is the one I was most drawn to. For a man whom I thought was on the opposite side of my beliefs, there's a startlingly large amount in common, and this book was a brilliant read. 

Both depressing and comforting, this is a great read when even dark humour can't pull you out of moments of existential despair. Also, it's intelligently funny; bonus!



Is It Just Me? - Miranda Hart

In the same vein as above, but infinitely funnier, I give you the inimitable Miranda Hart. 

This glorious, Amazonian comedian, of self-confessed awkwardness and possessed of such wit only the beloved British have, this is the book that speaks to us all; the one we wish our teenage selves had read, but were obviously too busy drinking, snogging, and getting into trouble to do so. 

Why are chopsticks so hard to use? Why are barstools designed only for those born with a natural elegance the rest of us only imagine? Aren't pedicures a little bit...odd, a little bit...wrong? 

If you've ever asked yourself these questions and more as an adult, and wondered why being a grown up is so undeniably weird and horrifying, this is the book for you. 

You'll laugh, you'll snort, you'll nod your head sagely in agreement. No need to thank me now, just enjoy. 

***

For those of us who like a long, drawn-out tale, crossing over various characters, places, and sometimes timelines, I have two rather different collections for you. Both are in the fantasy genre, but one is set in the modern world, a storyline in a parallel universe, and the other is a set of books that retell your favourite fairy tales, but not as you know them. Read both or just one, depending on your mood...

The Business of Death (omnibus) - Trent Jamieson 

Steven de Selby is a psychopomp, and he's had a hard day at the office. He's hungover, his boss has gone missing, and he's trying to plan out the big romantic gesture. He is not keen on bright lights, exercise, or avoiding being shot at. 

When your job means helping the restless dead to the afterlife, you can expect things to get a little hectic sometimes. But Steven's day is about to get as hectic as you can imagine, now that a very old, very pissed off god is stirring, and means to destroy life as we know it.

Steven has to stop the End of Days, find his boss - Death, that is - and deal with the madness of the Hungry Dead within himself. 

If he doesn't, his world as he knows it will end. Which would pretty much sour any chance of ever getting married really.

***  

Poison - Charm - Beauty (Tales from the Kingdoms)- Sarah Pinborough

What if the Prince was a bit of an idiot, not all the Princesses were sweetness and light, and the villain wasn't always full of dark intent, just really, really frustrated with life?

Pinborough spins these traditional fairy tales along the lines we thought we remembered, but in glittering new light. See characters in a way you've never considered before, hear stories told from the other side of the fence, and fall in love all over again - but this time, happily ever after is a matter of perception.

Some of my favourite retellings of all time; relive your childhood in a grown up way and find that the past can be changed if only you look at it a different way.

For those who like their fairy tales a little fractured.

***

The Witches of New York - Ami McKay

Should the epics above have not sated your desire for a world out of this world, then Witches is for you. 

In 1880 Manhattan, two women open a tea-shop together, quietly feeling safe enough to call themselves witches and cater to the high society of New York. Both of a very different breed, Adelaide and Eleanor's unusual friendship creates a wonderful little world of practical magic, mystery, and lots and lots of good tea.

One afternoon, an intriguing young woman enters their shop and instantly becomes interwoven into their lives as an apprentice and a friend. When Beatrice goes missing, the two women are frantic and suspect more is at work here.

Confronted by spectres from their past as well as in the present, our Adelaide and Eleanor must battle not only with what they can see but also what they know.

A stunning tale of resilience, sisterhood, magic, and the enduring legacy one can create if only you are brave enough.

***

Fevre Dream - George R. R. Martin

Long, long before Game of Thrones, Martin wrote one of my favourite vampire tales to this day. 

A steamboat captain is lured into taking on a strange partner in traversing the mighty Mississippi. Abner Marsh should have asked more questions, should have taken more care. But when he meets Joshua York and hears his proposal - so much gold, a bonny new ship - he discovers this is an offer he can't refuse. 

A dark and sinister story, with secrets seething just below the surface. Characters of depth and imagination. A journey you'll never forget. 

Long before the White Walkers, there was Joshua York and his mesmerising gaze. Abner Marsh and his dreams of immortality. And the ancient, undying length of one of the greatest rivers in the world. 

Fevre Dream is a grandly menacing legend that will stay with you, long after the Winter nights have faded away.

***

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt

Seeing as we are still feeling all creepy and threatening, here's an old favourite that I reread every few years or so. 

A southern Gothic set in the deep south, the narrative is actually based on real-life events from the 1980's, but reads like a novel and rearranges the sequence of events.

Whether you have seen the movie of the same name or not, this is a dazzling story of eccentric personalities in Savannah, Georgia, and how this tight-knit community unwinds around a murder mystery.

To be honest, even if you have seen the movie and not read the book yet, you'll enjoy southern gentleman Jim Williams, and his old-world charm. A charm that hides a more insidious and unnerving personality.

Let yourself get involved with an array of quirky characters in a seductive setting, and settle back for a riveting story you can keep coming back to. Perfect cold-weather reading.  

***

Transmetropolitan - Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson, Garth Ennis

Lest we fall too far down the rabbit hole of dark and sinister tales, here is something completely different.

Well. Sort of.

Goodreads do much better justice in describing this series than I can, so here's a taste of what you're in for;

After years of self-imposed exile from a civilisation rife with degradation and indecency, cynical journalist Spider Jerusalem is forced to return to a job that he hates and a city he loathes. Working as an investigative reporter for the newspaper The Word, Spider attacks the injustices of his surreal 23rd century surroundings. Combining black humour, life-threatening situations, and (loads) of moral ambiguity, this is the first look into the mind of an outlaw journalist and the world he seeks to destroy. 

If Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs went on a bender on Jupiter, with a shitload of cash, an unnerving amount of cocaine, and their usual desire to expose the seedier side of the human condition, Spider and his exploits would probably be what you ended up with.

Alternately disturbing and hilarious, and sometimes both, the Transmetropolitan series of graphic novels (this is the first of ten) will leave you feeling just a little bit fucked up, but in that oh-so-pleasant way.

***

Sandman Slim (Sandman #1) - Richard Kadrey

If you took a real shine to Spider, then you'll fall in love with James Stark.

Would-be magician, Hell's own hitman, and recent escapee back to LA, Stark is ready for revenge and absolution. He wants to carve his way from the past into the present, and he's got a list as long as his arm of people to get through.

Keep up with the violent, often darkly comic antics, and join the mis-adventures of our anti-hero as he finds his way in a world he hasn't seen for 11 years. There's blood, there's gore, there's beer. And maybe even a little romance, if he doesn't get screwed over first.

Resurrection sucks, but Hell was worse. Probably.

***

The Outsorcerers Apprentice - Tom Holt

Bringing it down a touch, we have some Tom Holt. Less fantastical than Gaiman, more mature (comparatively) than Pratchett, another male protagonist on a weird adventure, a la Arthur Dent-style, but somewhat less ridiculous. Kind of. 

What if the best way to a happy, productive workforce was to outsource? The Wizard's got it nailed with unlimited resources, some sound financial planning, and blissfully unaware workers. Perfectly good business model. High chance of success and profit. 

Except for the irritated goblins. The professional dragonslayer. And the young woman who thinks things are not-quite-right, but can't put her finger on exactly why...

Oh. And one young man with absolutely no idea what's going on, and the slight risk that the fabric of reality could be torn to shreds. 

Honestly, there's no pleasing some people. 

***

As a final farewell to the cold grey and wintery shadows, I thought I'd go with a book that surprised and inspired me in equal measure, turning out not to be what I expected at all, but in such a good way...


Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman

Inspired by the ancient mythology of the Norse, all-time treasured storyteller, Neil Gaiman, retells these northern tales with his unique flavour.

Travel through the nine worlds, meet gods and dwarfs and giants, and feast in the halls of the Vikings. 

Follow Odin, the all-father; wise, daring, and cunning. Adventure with his son Thor, strong but not always as clever as he could be, and Loki; trickster, manipulator, and much more complicated besides. 

Through Gaiman's wondrous accounts, discover all over again the fierceness, the passion, and the bloodlust, of a breathtaking tribe of beings and a world from long ago. 

Told in an entirely new way, you can put this one on your reference shelf, but you'll want to come back to reread it like a cherished novel.

*** 

This is not even half of what I've read these last few months, but I hope you've enjoyed the dip into my personal library!

Feel free to share any good books you've read recently or even in the past, I'm always on the hunt to fill the To Read shelf...

~*LTM*~