THE YEAR OF THE TRUE LIE

As we farewell the star-swallowing black hole that was 2016 – a year in which truth took an extended holiday and is currently threatening to permanently depart our little blue planet, do we need to redefine our relationship with reality?

Amid the racket of tweets and soundbites, exhortations and accusations, fact and its close relative truth have flown off with the fairies.  So it comes as no surprise that the Oxford Dictionary has declared ‘post-truth’ as the word of the year. Never mind it’s two words – that’s so post-truth, it’s perfect.

So how do we coax truth and trust back to our watery world?

Through religion? Oh my God. That word is so loaded the martyr’s sword is already at my throat. After all, one person’s profound truth is another’s  fairy tale. Religions, in their various incarnations, have been plagued by lies, corruption and power-plays since the first ape-man looked up to the heavens in wonder.  Our ambivalent relationship with this complex ideology is beautifully summed up words of the 14th century Person mystical poet Hafiz: “The great religions are the ships, the poets the life boats and every sane person I know has jumped overboard.”

man-praying-with-speech-bubble

What about science?  Even this embracer of reason and empiricism is suffering a crisis of epic proportions. This year polls – those supposedly scientific predictors of opinion – have failed. Twice and sensationally. But the current debate over human-influenced climate change must be the biggest clanger.  Despite all that evidence (rising Co2 levels, studies, graphs and expert’s warnings) the deniers, with their political and corporate agendas, are shouting so loud, the sound waves from their cries are enough to dislodge another sheet of ice from a melting glacier.

After all, quietly rising sea levels of evidence are far less sexy than greed and bellicose subjectivity.

So as I sit and steam like a frog in boiling water in record Sydney heat, I can’t help but think we need to completely change our relationship with truth.

If we can’t even trust science where do we turn?  To art, of course.

I predict, as the final nail is hammered into the coffin of 2016, that 2017 will be the Year of the True Lie. Art, after all, is honest in its homage to illusion. It begins as nothing more than a work of imagination. And this is where things get interesting.  Embedded in visual and literary fictions, we often unearth unassailable truths about the world and the human condition. It’s all about perspective.  After all, when we ponder the fathomless mysteries of the universe or look deep into the mind-bending quantum world, we‘re reminded of how we are limited by our perceptions. In the end, we’re forced back to ourselves – our consciousness – the ultimate conductor of reality.

I’m not the first to suggest we may be residing inside some kind of celestial simulacrum.  So. If everything is an illusion, then art is the mirror that reflects this ultimate truth.  Look how entire tracts and moods of history have been captured in a sublime work of art, literature or music. Look at Picasso’s Guernica. Or Goya’s Satan devouring his children. Veils of propaganda, tradition and propriety have been pushed aside to reveal humanity in its darkest moments.

2016, not only the year of post truth, was also the 500th anniversary of the passing Hieronymus Bosch – an artist who depicted the corruptions of the clergy through his weird and wonderful paintings. History is filled with master illusionists distilling the reality of the human condition. Art  after all, captures truths we have yet to fathom.

And in this past Year of the Lie, I’ve discovered some glowing illusionistic stars. I’m delighted Liane Moriarty’s wonderful novel ‘Big Little Lies’ is being made into a television series. It’s a masterful study of the lies we not only tell others, but ourselves.

For really frightening reading, there’s Ian Leslie’s ‘Born Liars’ –  a book driven by the premise that humanity has conquered the planet because we have evolved into masters of self-deceit.

Then there’s the fabulous movie ‘Arrival’ – which examines how language shapes our perception of time and reality. And ‘The Light Between Oceans’ – a beautiful, heart-breaking book by M L Stedman and now an excellent movie – shows us how sometimes right and wrong can look exactly the same.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that in troubled times, people turn to fantasy.  In 2017 there will be so much political crap flying out of the global fan that many who can afford to do so (and many who can’t) will retreat into illusion.

So 2017 will be a year to look to art as the ultimate purveyor of truth. The Year of the True Lie. A year in which we must confront the fictions of our own existence through monumental escapism –imagined journeys to exotic foreign worlds where we must prise open our minds,  shatter and then mend our broken hearts. All from the safety of our couches.

And thanks to these fictions, 2017 will be a year in which we turn back towards the truth. And hopefully do something real to build the world of our dreams.

A CHRISTMAS MEDICAL MYSTERY

Hello, my name is Ziggy and I have ataxia. If you see me walk, you will think I’ve been hitting the Christmas egg nog. That’s because I have congenital cerebellar disease, which affects the balance and coordination part of my brain.

ziggy-christmas

This turn of events has also affected the equilibrium in my owner’s brain. I’ve recently watched her tear at her hair and shout: “WTF! This is my first dog! I prepared for this puppy! I researched and googled! I choose a breed known for its good health!”

Instead, she got me. Diagnosed last week with this rare, untreatable neurological condition which may or may not get worse.

Now, I may have cerebellar disease but I’m still a supreme mood reader. I can feel hearts squeeze every time I fall. Although for me, stumbling, tripping over my feet and skidding on wooden floors seems perfectly normal, my charming puppy clumsiness is now a sign of a serious condition with an unknown prognosis. Ah, knowledge can be painful!

Personally, I think there’s a lesson here for my owner.  Life can sometimes be a bad Santa who brings crappy, unwanted gifts. So I’m here to teach her acceptance.  I’m here to remind her we can’t control everything.  After all, randomness is built into the very fabric of existence.

In other words, shit happens.

Sadly, my owner – being human with a tendency to over-think and let her imagination run off with the fairies – is still seeking an explanation for the cause of my illness.

Was it that time during renovations when I fleetingly chewed on an arsenic-infused chunk of wood?

Or was it that piece of really, really, smelly poop I once ate?

Then, there’s this doozey: Perhaps I’m a reincarnation of a Soldier of the Third Reich, my imperfect goose-stepping walk (characteristic of this illness) not only a reflection of the eternal life of the soul but also clear evidence  the universe, in all its wisdom, understands the transformative power of irony and poetic justice. Either that or there’s a deity out there with a warped sense of humour.

I prefer to simply see life as a balancing act. And if there is one thing that is certain in this world; it’s uncertainty.  May I add, all this unpredictability is no excuse to lie on our backs, expose our tummies for a rub and yield to complacency.  No. There are still some things we can change.  So.  A moment for practicalities, please.

We little dog-animals are bloody hard work. So no giving of puppies for Christmas.

I am also a glowing example of the importance of pet insurance. Diagnosing my condition ( X-rays, blood and fluid tests, an MRI scan and specialist consultations),  has cost a small fortune.

On the bright side, to compensate for my awkwardness, I’m strong. Really strong. Just try and pull me away from some fabulously interesting smell. I can still jump insanely high and when I run, I’m like someone with a speech impediment who sings like a star.

Plus, there’s one thing of which I am certain.  I know what makes the world turn, the oceans stir and the stars come out at night. I know I’m wildly loved. I know my family will be beside me on this journey and pick me up when I fall.  I know they will care for me, do all they can to make sure I live out a happy life, no matter how brief that life might be.

After all, who among us knows how long we have in this wonderful world?

So look into my eyes and succumb to the enchantment. Smile, poke out your tongue and drool. Happy Christmas. And I hope you like my hat.

THINGS THAT MAKE MY BLOOD BOIL – EPISODE TWO – Putting the Green Squeeze on Big Business Bastardry

The other day I visited a new local enterprise called Juiced Life and chatted to the owner as she made me a freshly squeezed juice. When she gave me the drink in a very attractive glass bottle, I asked her if I could return with the bottle and re-use it. No, she said. It’s against the law.

She told me (rather sadly, may I add) Juiced Life’s original business model was one where customers would buy the juice in a branded bottle, then return it for their next drink. It makes sense doesn’t it? Fewer bottles in landfills, less overheads and energy wasted on recycling. She explained they even had a bottle cleaning machine on the premises ready to make sure the returned bottles were thoroughly cleaned.

Alas, legislation here in New South Wales forbids such environmentally responsible initiatives.

Outraged at such irrational,  small-business-crushing legislation, energised after my deliciously nutritious drink, I stormed home and googled.

My first guess as I searched for answers was this nutty law had something to do with the nanny state and potential litigation. If a bottle isn’t clean and a customer gets sick, someone can be sued.  Yet when I dug further, it turned out the beverage and packaging industries have lobbied to curtail any changes to current legislation.

We all know how this parable ends.

We all know how this parable ends.

Before I say more, here’s  a link to a related piece of research on the topic from The Conversation.

http://theconversation.com/spin-the-bottle-the-fraught-politics-of-container-deposit-schemes-37981

Here’s an excerpt that made my juices curdle:

The beverage and packaging industry have, over the years, provided modest funding for litter-reduction campaigns or initiatives to reduce packaging, in exchange for governments resisting calls to introduce a system which puts responsibility for recycling cans and bottles on the companies that make them.

So where does this leave a small business that does want to take responsibility for their packaging? Breaking the law, apparently.

Many small businesses run on the smell of an oily rag and owners often work hours that would have employees screaming exploitation and racing to their unions or the Human Rights Commission.  So, short of spending vast amounts of time and energy fighting for change, there’s not a lot a small business owner can do except adapt to current legislation, which is what Juiced Life has been driven to do.

But there’s hope. Consumer demand is the force for change. Consumers have the power to put the squeeze on those bloated, self-serving manufacturers of preservative-riddled, tooth-rotting, chemical-infused beverages in non-recyclable packaging by refusing to buy their products. By buying natural and local, making responsible and informed choices and supporting small business, consumers can make a huge difference. Because didn’t someone important once say the meek shall inherit the earth?

After all, look what happened to Goliath.

David chats and beheads Goliath

THINGS THAT MAKE MY BLOOD BOIL – EPISODE ONE – Invasion of the Thought Parasites

I wrote the following piece a while ago in a moment of fury and decided not to post it. Now I’ve read it, I’m fuming all over again. So here’s it is…

The situation involved an already hot and humid Sydney summer morning, a stressed man and a willful puppy. I’d just crossed a busy road on the way to work when the aforementioned puppy escaped its lead and bolted. Too overwhelmed to give chase, the man previously attached to the puppy suffered a medical episode and collapsed on the sidewalk.

Strangers appeared everywhere to help and comfort him as he writhed in pain and gasped for breath. A man ran down the road and retrieved the escaped puppy.  Another called an ambulance.

I sat with him and held his hand as we waited for the ambulance. More people came and stayed to make sure he was OK. Then, a woman arrived and pushed her way into the gathered crowd. She knelt beside him and said: “Now. Let’s pray to God for help.”

To some of you, this may seem a harmless response to a person in distress, but my first thought was one of shock and affront followed by an intense urge to shout at her and say: HOW DARE YOU ASSUME THIS MAN BELIEVES IN GOD!

I have to admit to feeling so angry, I wanted to tell her to sod off. To assume a stranger follows a particular brand of belief is, to me, a massive act of arrogance. To impose one’s ideology on someone in this way in a moment of need is to me, both deeply inappropriate and offensive.

While your defences are down I will infect you with my doctrines

While your defenses are down, I will infect you with my doctrines

Look, I know she had good intentions, but her gesture came across as massively rude. All I saw that morning was an opportunistic bully attempting to cajole a stranger who could barely speak into muttering utterances to her dogmatic version of the unknown. This woman was applying the heat of religious indoctrination when all that man needed, until medical help arrived, was warmth and compassion.

Aware this was neither the time nor the place for an argument over matters of theology, I held my tongue. Thankfully, as this happened near a fire station, a fire engine arrived and began to minister practical help to this distressed soul and rescue him from that fevered evangelist.

On that steamy Sydney footpath, there were two fires that needed extinguishing that morning – the flames of that woman’s righteousness and my own smoldering indignation. So. Thank God for the fire service.

THE LOSS OF LUNA

On Tuesday Luna – our beloved Chocolate Burmese cat – suddenly passed away.

Just before the deploying of the 'don't humiliate me' bite.

Just before the deploying of the ‘don’t humiliate me’ bite.

Although I’ve lost cats before, the children grew up with him and have known him as long as they can remember.  Most of us have, at some point in our lives, lost a beloved pet, but it’s particularly hard on children, and often their first experience of grief and loss.

As well as being a shock as painful as a punch in the gut, an unexpected loss like this is also a sage reminder of how fragile and fleeting life is and how it can all change in an instant.

Yet what Luna taught us about unconditional love has been priceless. Despite the heartbreak, knowing and loving him, watching him grow from full-on kitten into occasionally sedate senior has transformed us. A cat with a huge personality and a bottomless capacity for love, every day, he made us happy. Now, we smile at all those memories.

For Luna, it’s now cat heaven with no more painful bouts of pancreatitis, or humiliations being dressed up in silly Christmas hats or monthly flea treatments or the poking and indignities of rectal thermometers at the vets.

Being a pragmatic sentimentalist, it’s worth listing here, the things I, as primary cat-caregiver, won’t miss:

  • The litterbox cleaning.
  • The cat puke surprises I’d find on the carpets or down the backs of couches.
  • The gifts of fleas collected in the garden.
  • The occasional dismembered cockroach delivered to a bed in the middle of the night.

Nothing of course, compares with what we will all miss.

  • That Burmese meow which sounds like a tortured peacock.
  • That furry bundle that was always somewhere – sleeping on a bed, a couch, a chair or stretched out in bliss on the deck in the sun.
  • The tinkle of his collar and the shrieks of the myna birds that heralded his return from his territorial inspections.
  • The sudden shake of the bed in the middle of the night as he arrived or departed on one of his bed-hopping sprees.
  • The beautiful sight of him snuggled up next to a sleeping child.
  • The cuddles, the purrs and leg-rubs and that cat-smile that was one part smug, nine parts bliss.

So much about life is choosing how we react to the curve-balls it throws at us; how we approach love and process its inevitable sorrows. This wonderful article on resilience says it all.

http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/the-secret-formula-for-resilience?mbid=social_facebook

Finally, here’s to thirteen years of love with a cat so special, he must have been made just for us. What a Chocolate Burmese ride.  Thank you Luna for everything.

A CHRISTMAS MENU FOR MISCREANTS

My scientist father wasn’t terrifically fond of Christmas and when he was alive, would regularly say around this time of year: “I’d like to go to sleep and wake up when it’s all over.”

As my father’s daughter, I know exactly how he felt. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, exasperated and stressed at this time of year. Not only by the expectations we impose on ourselves but also by the pressures advertisers impose on us. The barrage of advertising urging us to not only consume, but to increase our consumption, is one I find particularly offensive. Yes, I know sales drive the wheels of our market economy, but I can’t help thinking we’re getting this all wrong.

And what is it about Christmas dinners? Depicted in all those ads for puddings and turkeys as a joyful gathering, the reality is often the opposite. Thanks to all that emotionally manipulative merchandising, so great is our expectation for happiness that we can’t help but be disappointed.

In Robert McKee’s fabulous writing bible – ‘Story’ –this is called ‘the gap between expectation and result.’

This gap – created when internal desire encounters the antagonist of external reality – is often a turning point – a character-defining moment, a chance for transformation, a recipe for disaster or all of the above. It’s a place where a story teller finds the ripe (and sometimes festering) fruits of inspiration. In this gap – which is often a metaphorical canyon – things get interesting.

So, in the spirit of giving, realism and that gap between expectation and result, I offer you this alternate Christmas menu:

Menu 3

CHRISTMAS GREETINGS FROM AN INFIDEL

Yes, indeed. That archaic word, which simply means someone who doesn’t’ follow the dominant religion, is loaded with dysfunctional, medieval baggage. It also means free thinker, non-conformist and dissenter. Sounds like a description of most authors and artists!

Hooray for royalty-free images from artists who’ve been dead for well over fifty years plus thanks (and apologies) to Jan van Eyck.

Hooray for royalty-free images from artists who’ve been dead for well over fifty years plus thanks (and apologies) to Jan van Eyck.

Christmas also means books, travel and time to read. Weightless eBooks are perfect for travelers, so here’s a chance to grab a discounted/free copy of the acclaimed The Infidel’s Garden and load it on to your device.

After all, what better time to read a page-turning story about the need for peace between the world’s different faiths and explore the gentler, more sensuous side of Islam?

Indie publishers rely heavily on reviews for sales, so if you do download The Infidel’s Garden, this author would greatly appreciate a review on Amazon or Goodreads or whatever platform you choose.  The result of this will be even more Christmas good will, karma, positive vibes and oxytocin surges. And of course, the force will also be with you.

Click on the link to travel to Amazon and get The Infidel’s Garden.

star with wings

 

TRADITIONS AND OTHER BAD HABITS

I saw this ad on the back of a bus the other day.

EAT ONE LOVE THE OTHER

Why indeed? It’s something to dwell on as we move into The Season of Massive Consumption.

Along with eating meat when we know we can get protein from more environmentally sustainable sources, here’s a smattering of other things we do out of habit and/or tradition.

Yes, yes, I know – some of these issues are fraught with convoluted legal, ethical, economic and cobwebby religious constraints – but from this subversive pragmatist’s point of view, they make no sense.

  • Euthanasia. While we put our pets down when they are old and/or suffering, the legal systems and moral codes in most countries prevent us from doing the same to people who are terminally ill and have expressed a wish to die. Why, when it comes to terminal illness, do we treat our pets better than we treat our fellow humans?
  • Blood Sport. What is it about killing beautiful, noble and free animals that gives some people such a thrill?

As Socrates said:  ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’.

Writers and artists – individuals whose professions revolve around this very examination of the human condition –  through choice or temperament, often prefer to hover on the outskirts of society and watch the world from a distance. Grist for the creative mill comes from observations that much human behaviour is ruled by vanity, social conditioning, fear of rejection and a desire to conform, imitate and impress peers.

Governments and legal bodies often reflect our breeches of common sense on a grander scale. So continuing on with my list:

  • Fossil Fuel Dependence. Why in sunny Australia is the government not offering more business subsidies and solar incentives to support clean energy?
  • Drugs and Drink. Why is alcohol – the cause of countless deaths – legal, while marijuana is still in many countries criminalised?
  • Smoking. Given the obvious link between health problems and smoking why on earth do tobacco companies still exist?

I welcome your additions to my list.

Meanwhile, SETI continues its search for signs of other civilisations in the universe. To date this quest has revealed nothing but utter silence (except that single ‘Wow’ signal). This raises the question: Is there intelligent life out there? Or have we got this the wrong way round?

Perhaps there’s no technologically advanced civilisation out there dumber than us. Perhaps, just like the Vulcans in Star Trek, before they make contact, advanced alien species are waiting for humanity to pull itself together and discover the warp-drive of common sense.

They may also be waiting for us to cotton on and eat more insects.

After all, those delicious crustaceans (lobsters, scallops, prawns) we eat are really just bugs from the sea.

A delicious protein- packed addition to your Christmas menu.

A delicious, protein- packed addition to your Christmas menu.

Back to those cute animals and the questions posed at the beginning of this post. Aside from the initial yuk factor of insect consumption (and BTW, what  is more yukky than eating the red bleeding flesh of a dead animal?), if you have a rational answer  that doesn’t involve tradition, laziness, habit or the fact that bacon tastes good, then I’d love to hear it.

My guess is I will hear nothing but utter silence.

 

bosch demon 1 flipped with shadow

Press on the link demon above for more discussions on the future of food:

THE FLEA REVELATIONS

As we enter another brutal flea season here in sunny, humid Sydney, I’d like to share a piece of parasite-inspired enlightenment.

If you are – like me – allergic to and revolted by those bloodsucking little bastards, I hope you find this post of some help.

What was God thinking when He created the flea? Is this a spiritual and scientific challenge? Or a case for atheism?

What was God thinking when He created the flea? Is this a spiritual and scientific challenge? Or a case for atheism?

A few summers ago, before the family departed on holiday, anticipating unwelcome housemates of the blood-sucking kind, I set off flea-bombs. When we returned, we were greeted by an army of hungry, pesticide-resistant fleas. A combination of daily vacuuming, constant laundry, diligent cat flea treatments and more bombings failed to bring the plague under control.

Violence had led to resistance. This frustrating failure of military might culminated in an epiphany. I needed a more subtle strategy to defeat the enemy. Fleas, I noticed during this plague, are drawn to light and bright surfaces like white socks and paper. In that moment, I understood I needed to exploit their weakness.

My plan involved a lure comprising cheap solar path lights, shallow white soup bowls filled with water and a  squeeze of detergent (no bubbles – the little sods can use them as life-rafts). Each night I perched a light over the strategically placed bowls so the water glowed with an ethereal blue light. Come morning at the height of the flea season, I would find, in each bowl, up to thirty fleas suspended in their watery graves.

No manufacturer of pesticides will ever offer such handy hints, so let me repeat these ingredients:

  1. Shallow soup bowls filled with water and a squirt of detergent
  2. Bright night lights (solar powered lights are perfect)

I have come to regard this victory as one of great philosophical significance. It demonstrates that enticement is a far more potent method of conquest than military force. For aren’t we human beings just like those fleas? Driven by desire? Seduced by illusions and buoyed by hope for some kind of material, physical or spiritual fulfilment?

History shows that conquest through gradual seduction and assimilation is far more potent and lasting than military might. Today, after many wars between neighbours and distant lands we have sushi, futons, bratwurst, kebabs, lasagna and baguettes. Andalusian architecture combines the very best of Islamic and Christian concepts of symmetry and harmony.  And that’s just the food and architecture.  These are all cultural conquests that, hundreds of years ago would have been inconceivable. This is evolution. Of not only genes, but memes.

Isn’t peaceful assimilation wonderful?

Clearly we’re not going to assimilate, Borg-like, with fleas any time soon. Although let it be noted, that insects don’t catch viruses. No flea ever had to take a sick day because of a cold.

Parasite-inspired enlightenment requires great leaps of faith and another ideological flea-jump leads this blogger to contemplate the end of life as we know it. What happens in that moment when we learn that, just like those fleas drowning in their watery graves, it was all just a trick?

Sufis believe that at the moment of death the true purpose of our existence will be revealed. Some theoretical physicists suggest our reality is in fact a five-dimensional hologram emanating from the event horizon surrounding a black hole. Who knows? No one has come back with video footage or written a non-fiction account of their experiences.

In the absence of concrete answers to these existential questions, I’ll live with the illusion that it’s the journey, not the destination, that’s important. So hop to your graves in happiness, you doomed little fleas.

CELEBRATING A RAVE REVIEW

A million thanks to The Historical Novel Society’s A.K. Bell for this wonderful review of The Infidel’s Garden.

Time to Celebrate.

Time to Celebrate.

 

I am not a fan of first person narratives in present tense. In my experience, few authors can deliver the richness of character required to lift such narratives, so it was with some hesitation I approached Ms Banwell’s novel. It took two pages – at most – for me to realise that here was a character so complex, so enigmatic, I did not care about narrative person – or tense.

…here was a character so complex, so enigmatic, I did not care about narrative person – or tense.

The Infidel’s Garden is the story of Soheila, born in Andalucía in the late 15th century. Soheila is a bastard, born of a Moorish mother and an itinerant Christian father. Soheila is raised as a Muslim, but when she is ten, calamity strikes. Everything she took for granted in her life is trampled to dust, and instead she ends up in a Dutch convent, there to be raised as a good Christian, and baptised Marjit. But in her heart, Soheila remains always a Muslim. Always.

The convent, the little Dutch town Hertogenbosch, the interiors of the houses – Ms Banwell presents us with a vivid depiction that teems with as much life as a Brueghels painting. Things smell, there is noise and texture, elaborate meals and a certain Archdeacon Solin, expounding repeatedly on the evil of infidels such as Marjit, now serving as a maid in a wealthy household.

Marjit walks on eggshells, navigating a society replete with bigoted Catholics, the somewhat disturbed Hieronymus Bosch, jealous women – and Pieter. For the first time in her life, Marjit lusts for a man – unfortunately, Pieter is not only the master of the household, he is also a devout Christian.

Things are further complicated when young women turn up murdered. Marjit has reasons to suspect the Archdeacon, but such accusations are dangerous to make – especially if you’re a potential infidel. Marjit’s life takes a turn for the worse – one harrowing experience after the other follows, and as things unravel I am left holding my breath, captivated by Ms Banwell’s complex plotting as much as by her writing.

…I am left holding my breath, captivated by Ms Banwell’s complex plotting as much as by her writing.

A very enjoyable read, from the very first to the last page!

e-edition reviewed

Link here to the genuine article:

star with wings