Tuesday, February 23, 2010

butterfly observing

I've started helping with childcare, one day a week, for my sister, who has two small daughters, R. and M. They are lovely to be around and so much fun to look after - last Tuesday R. was a little bit upset and so we had to have an emergency screening of The Little Mermaid. This was followed by (a) reading The Little Mermaid book, which was continued throughout the day by R., who can't read but basically knows it off by heart, and who added Ariel singing to most parts of the story ... "ah ah ahhhh, ah ah ahhhh"; (b) making little mermaid paper dolls, using the old method of folding up some paper and cutting one out so they all hold hands, and in this case, tails; (c) making gingerbread men who were decorated as mermaids.

Anyway - what I was intending to share was that my sister and her husband have been slowly working on their garden. It was pretty much bare when they bought the house except for a big green lawn. They really want to make it a cool place for little girls to live, so one of the things they added was a collection of swan plants.

Swan plants, in case you don't know, are where monarch butterflies like to lay the eggs that become the caterpillars that curl up in a chrysalis and then become a beautiful butterfly! Just like in The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It's been very cool watching the plants weekly and seeing things happen.

Butterflies visiting.

Caterpillars growing.

And chrysalis appearing! (Does anyone know the plural for chrysalis?)

I'm really hoping that I'll get to see at least one butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.

I love that I get to be a little girl again when I look after R. and M. I get to make paperdolls, gingerbread men, watch Disney films, and spend time observing butterflies!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

feminine intuition

I'm starting to realise the power of instinct. To trust the little voice - well, not even a little voice - to trust my own reactions to people.

I'm trying to do this as anonymously as possible, so I can't be perfectly clear in the anecdotes that will follow. I apologise if details are a little fuzzy at points.

Case study no. 1

Old man for whom my father feels sorry because he's stuck in a rest home most of the time, and so he invites him round for lunch reasonably often. When I happen to be there, I find myself behaving very coldly towards the man, who I just can't seem to make myself like. In fact, I find him incredibly creepy. I can hardly bring myself to talk to him and I avoid him. So I feel very rude. This is not how I was brought up to behave.

Later, I come across someone who works at the rest home he lives in. I would much rather have not heard this - honestly - but, according to this person, he's got a track record of saying inappropriate things to the young women on the staff there, one of whom filed a sexual harassment complaint against him.


Case study no. 2

A middle-aged man who attends something I attend. (Again, sorry about the vagueness.) This man has had many medical problems all his life, and he looks slightly odd. He also happens to have quite a strange manner. When he comes and talks to me, he's always very friendly, yet I find myself being, again, icy cold.

I torment myself about this. How can I treat someone like this, just because I find them "weird"? "Different"? Am I altering the way I treat him because I don't like the way he looks? How could I be so superficial? If this were a movie, I would be the mean townsperson.

Then someone comes to me: they have noticed this man approaching me. They warn me that he has, in the past, had a tendency to become obsessed with young women who are nice to him. He cannot tell the difference between kind friendship and romantic interest, and a while ago he proposed to a young woman who felt she should treat him just as she would treat any other male friend.



It is astonishing to me to discover my intuition. To realise that even if I don't have a logical, reasonable argument for the way I instinctively react to someone, my reaction may still be trustworthy.

It's strange to realise - after a lifetime of being taught to love my neighbour as I love myself, to be kind to everyone regardless of their age, race, sex, appearance, whatever - that sometimes it's wise to listen to myself when I respond to someone with dislike.

I'm not saying that I think the principles I was raised on are incorrect. I just think they need to be applied with wisdom, and with understanding of the individual.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

the new me


I'm a bit weirded out by the new me. Whenever I catch sight of myself in a reflection, I get confused because glasses make me look different. And I get sick of having these things sitting on my face which I can't just shove upwards and sit on my head like sunglasses. And it rained today and as I walked into university I considered tracking down Hermione Granger to do the Impervius charm on my glasses so they repel water. (Yes, I have been re-reading all the Harry Potter books. I LOVE THEM.) But, all things considered, if I had to get glasses, these aren't bad ones. I think. But it will take some getting used to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

four eyes

I'm getting glasses.

It seems weird, because I thought I had missed that gene. All five of my siblings (who have a different mother than me) have had really poor eyesight all their lives, whereas I thought I took after my mother, who only needed glasses for reading when she was about fifty. I didn't need them in the mandatory eyesight check at age five, before I started school, so it never occurred to me to get them checked again.

Then I tried on a friend's glasses, just for fun, and - astonishingly - everything was clearer!

So I went and got my eyes checked, crossing my fingers that I would actually need them, but not too much, so that glasses for me would be like a cool accessory rather than a hindrance. And it turns out my vision is not really bad - it's 85%, and you need 80% to drive without glasses - but it's bad enough that glasses will help me. It also turns out that one eye is longsighted and the other is shortsighted. That seems bizarre to me, but perhaps it's quite normal.

Cool accessory it is! Then I found out that (a) this cool little accessory was going to cost me about $500; and (b) spectacles are quite different from sunglasses on the face, and it was really hard to find a pair that I actually liked or felt pretty in.

Flatmate to the rescue! Rosie came, looked at the three frames I'd set aside, went "no, no and no", and then proceeded to help me find a really cool pair of frames that I really liked that were not ridiculously over-the-top expensive (I liked some Prada ones more, but given that the price tag would be close to a grand, my attraction to them rapidly dissipated). When I get the glasses, I will provide photos.

Now that I know I need glasses, it is suddenly becoming clear to me how unclear my vision is. How easily my eyes get tired. How many headaches I get from staring at a screen or books all day. How the edges of some things are blurred; sometimes even double. But the funny thing is, before I tried on my friend's glasses, I didn't notice at all. And I'm really glad that soon things are going to change.

So if you are someone who has always assumed you have wonderful vision and never bothered to get your eyes checked, I would highly recommend it.

Monday, February 08, 2010

on music

I've been listening to Concert FM a lot lately - it is the only radio station in NZ that plays classical music (as well as jazz, folk, world music or other forms that don't get played on other radio stations). They sometimes have interviews with people which are often quite interesting, because they pick people who normally would be completely ignored by mainstream media.

However, there was an interview the other day that completely bugged me and here is the general gist of it. I WILL be dumbing it down and probably misrepresenting the complexities of this guy's ideas, but this is how it appeared to me.

They were interviewing an academic who has written a book about the future of music and the problems music faces today. He thinks that "Music", as it stands, is constrained by really limiting rules of, oh, harmony and rhythm, which exclude people who don't fit into those rules and which exclude other forms of audio material which should really be seen as Music too.

The idea of Music as limited by rhythm was forced upon the world by Pythagoras and we've all been playing along ever since, as if it were ordained that Music should incorporate timing. This is nothing less than - and I quote - "METAPHYSICAL FASCISM".

Folk music is more likely to step outside the box than "classical" or high class music, whereas all the bad smart people at universities or conservatories around the world have been grinding under their thumb the development of Music into a more inclusive art form.

Just in case my feelings about this are not yet clear: What utter crap.

Firstly, it's completely typical of an academic like this to "speak for" the lower classes, or for more earthy forms of music such as folk. I suspect that if you go and speak to the people he's claiming to speak for, or tried to play them the type of audio he would like to see classed as music, they would cover their ears in disgust, run away, and go back to enjoying their rhythmic, harmonic music.

Secondly, it's completely typical of an academic like this to use big words like "dialectic" or "metaphysical fascism" in the hope that this will awe critics into submission.

Thirdly, although he may claim music is too limiting and there are too many rules, he is simply creating a new structure into which he thinks people should fit. In fact, the rules of music are continually being bent by good musicians and composers. They are an exciting box within which to work, in my opinion, just like the form of the sonnet which Shakespeare worked within, but fiddled with. This academic seems to be suggesting that all rules are bad, all boundaries are bad, and all boxes must be broken. It sounds okay, it sounds romantic, but it is not actually reflective of reality, and it seems like he completely ignores the amazing variety which harmonic and rhythmic music has produced over even the last hundred years, let alone all time.

Fourthly, unfortunately for this academic, as much as he may theorise, people listen to music that pleases them. There is something about rhythm and something about harmony that is not simply an idea; it clicks with something inside us and once we've got it, we can't give it up. I'm not saying that everybody likes the same harmonies or rhythms, which is clearly untrue. And there is an element of truth in the idea that we like what we've been conditioned to like. BUT! Music in all its forms will endure, whatever he has to say about it, because people like it. There is no secret governing body out there forcing everybody to listen to the music they approve of. Instead, he seems to be setting himself up as some authority on what people should do - and he is doomed to failure.

What do you think? Will we all be dancing to the sound of discordant harmonies and beatless music in fifty years? Am I just reactionary?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

my new abode

You may remember me, just before Christmas, complaining every now and then about moving into a new house, and all the work this entailed, but exulting in the awesomeness of our new flat. It's been almost two months now and the exultation continues.

We have a lovely kitchen which, apparently, is not lovely enough because the owners are going to update it during the year. We have a dining room with fire, a large lounge, and a conservatory which is amazingly warm, even on cold days. We have a big deck that is fantastic for entertaining, and, as soon as we can persuade one of us to buy a barbecue, that will be a great space for a barbecue. We have a vege garden on its way - celery, cauliflower, cabbage, silverbeet and lettuce - plus herbs - rosemary, basil, thyme and Italian parsley.

Whenever there is a slight problem, we ring our landlord and landlady, and they fix it within a couple of days - EVEN around Christmas time - and we send up a heartfelt prayer of thanks for landlords who actually do their job (compared to last year's abysmal one).

We have a new flatmate who is basically the ideal flatmate personified, and we send up more heartfelt thanks that we no longer have a flatmate who will steal our food, generate enormous power bills, and hoard ice cream in her room. [I am not kidding. ICE CREAM, which soon became melted, rotting cream. We had to get commercial cleaners to rid her old room of the smell at the end of the year.]

I love my new room. At my last flat, I had a huge bedroom that was actually built as a lounge, which felt luxurious in a way. In this flat, my bedroom is not big at all, almost small, but it's pretty, and comfortable, and even if it gets a little cluttered, it's good for me to have to make an effort to keep things tidy. Here are pictures of it:

I LOVE my armchair. It is not a beautiful colour but it is the most comfortable armchair for reading books that I have ever sat in. And although the view you can see through the window is not the most flattering one, when I sit in the chair I can see out to the vege garden, the road, and the park across the road. I can sit mugs of hot chocolate on the windowsill and basically it's the perfect reading environment.

I really like the colour of the walls. They are a greeny-blue which feels quite fresh; no more boring cream walls and ugly carpet like the last flat. My bookcase looks tall and imposing without taking over the room entirely.

And, finally, at my desk I can sit and work [= fool around on the internet] for hours, gazing out the window onto the deck.