Christmas…

Snowed in on my first Aberdeen Christmas…

***

As I write this I am slouched in a chair, head banging and eyes sore from the remnant of a cold, the only hint of Christmas out here being the podcast I am listening to, profering explanations for the Star of Bethlehem. In my head though, I am back to my first proper Aberdeen Christmas from which this picture comes, the enduring image being one of snow, bitter cold and loads of time for introspection. Many years ago, when I still was in children’s Sunday School in the University Chapel my family attended, the carol service and reeling off lengthy passages committed to memory were most looked forward to, alongside rice and plentiful chicken. At one of those, I played the Magi with Myrrh, in addition to the scripture memory. Since then, the story of the Magi who bearing gifts has always intrigued me, particularly as it relates to the moving star.

At the linked podcast, Justin Brierley, Mark Kidger and Gillian Straine ponder the physical evidence for an event observable from the earth as a moving star and the theological implications of a natural explanation. Well worth a listen if that kind of thing is your bag. Merry Christmas regardless….

Wordle 382: About Town

382

Wordle 382:

***

We brave the howling wind, wincing on the odd occasion when its icy fingers somehow reach within the folds of our coats to touch our necks. Along the snow covered streets, the children play, their shrieks of joy as they spin again and again piercing the air a hundred hundred times until they drop with exhaustion. From the coffee shop around the corner, different caramel drizzled drinks bring back their strength. This is the plan, to – with any luck – keep them so occupied that all they can do on the train home is sleep, so we get some peace and quiet.

 

My Year in Reading 2018

It is that time of the year when others – more (or better) read than I – share the highlights of their reading from the year. As with last year, I’ve commissioned myself -unbidden, besides perhaps a desire to record the key themes that drove and/or came out of my reading – to weigh in with the highlights of my own reading.So here goes.

***

Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury was all the rage on the airwaves at the turn of the year, which is how I ended up grabbing a copy for myself and digging in. As I plodded through it, I found the mix of fly-on-the-wall behind the scenes reporting and qualified conjecture curiously engaging, drawn by the lurid details behind public events and happenings in what at the time had been a Trump presidency that seemingly lurched from one PR disaster to the other. A few themes ran through Fire and Fury – the Trump team being surprised by the election win and thus poorly prepared to lead, the hold of Stephen Bannon and the alt-Right and infighting amongst various factions of the administration. Despite strenuous denials at the time, the events of the year – multiple firings, leaks, indictments, evidence of Russian activities and prison sentences – would seem to give credence to the viewpoint of the book, more so as the year draws to an end.

After that maelstrom, John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead seemed the perfect riposte given its subject which was life across (regular) America. Of the essays included, Upon This Rock resonated strongly, bringing back back memories of growing up within the Christian Youth subculture and bingeing on the music of its stars such as Relient K, DC Talk, Audi Adrenaline and Petra. Elsewhere in the collection of essays, there was reflection on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Darwin before Darwin (Constantine Samuel Rafinesque) and one of the more nuanced assessments of Michael Jackson – warts and all – I have read. This Christian subculture, amongst other things, also featured in Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, his description of growing up in South Africa including a reflection on the centrality of church in all its various guises. Other themes of interest touched on included the dysfunctional malehood of his step father, school and navigating the evolving racial landscape, all themes which have shaped is journey and his perspectives as he hosts The Daily Show.

Since reading Colm Tóibín’s 2014 essay, The Literature of Grief, at a time I was wrestling with my own grief and loss, each year I have returned to something related – sometimes tangentially – to his work. Last year was finally watching the movie Brooklyn, this year it was reading The Testament of Mary, a somewhat contrarian retelling of the latter part of Mary’s life as she jostles with the gospel writers who try to recast Jesus as the son of God, remarkably relevant to this age of fake news I suspect.

For new and emerging technology I read Soonish, a fly-by-the-seat-of-the pants look at upcoming technology with a focus on potentially transformative technology and the issues which need to be resolved to bring them to fruition. Quantum computing, rockets, scramjets, asteroid mining, fusion power and origami rooms all showed their heads in this wide ranging book. Jim Al-Kalili’s Quantum: A Guide For The Perplexed, was a fascinating review of the older scientific underpinnings of technology. His BBC podcast, The Life Scientific is one I have enjoyed over the years, and still do.

I found Austin Kleon from a retweet by Alan Jacobs, which led to my signing up to his weekly newsletter and reading his book, Steal Like an Artist. From the newsletter, I found Merlin Coverley’s The Art of Wandering, a reflection on the writer as a walker both in history and in modern times. It, the writer and/or his/her protagonist as a walker and observer, is a theme I have found myself drawn to over the years, influenced primarily by the works of the likes of WG Sebald and Teju Cole.

The two biographies I read this year; Jonathan Eig’s Ali: A Life and David Leeming’s James Baldwin, A Biography offered two perspectives on race relations in 1960/70’s America. Where Ali’s basis for fame was his brute strength -some would say his essential skill was the finesse with which he boxed- Baldwin’s was largely intellectual. The common thread in both their lives was dealing with the weight of their fame, and the expectation from all sides of the race debate – the establishment, white liberal America and the various Black empowerment factions to carry the flag for their various causes.Both biographies were deeply personal, making a strong effort to show the persons behind the huge reputations, full marks were achieved by both books in my opinion.

As a/an (armchair) Liverpool FC fan, John Barnes comes to mind as the most successful black footballer to have worn the Liverbird with distinction, it was fascinating to read of a black footballer from another time, Howard Gayle, who had the distinction of being the first black player to be part of the first team at Liverpool FC. He tells his story in 61 Minutes in Munich, which in addition to sharing his experience of coming on as a substitute against Bayern Munich in the 1981 European Cup final (the precursor to the UEFA Champions League) also delved into Liverpool – the city’s – slave trading legacy and the racism black footballers of that era had to deal with. Incredibly, in a year in which France won the World Cup, and a fairly diverse England team reached the Semi’s, racism in football is back on the front pages.

The Best American Essays collection has become a staple of my year. 2017’s version, edited by Leslie Jamison featured a number of noteworthy reads for me, Rachel Ghansah’s The Weight of Baldwin being one of the triggers for reading the fuller Baldwin biography this year. Jason Arment’s Two Shallow Graves, Emily Maloney’s The Cost of Living and Rachel Kushner’s We Are Orphans here were others I found noteworthy/ deeply personal for a various reasons.

The fate of book stores and libraries is a subject persons invested in them have strong opinions on, which was how I stumbled on to The Library Book, a collection of essays on the subject of libraries from famous names including amongst others Seth Godin, Stephen Fry and Zadie Smith.

In other reading, I finally managed to read Dinaw Mengestu’s highly praised The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine (a much lighter read) and Skye Jethani’s What’s Wrong With Religion, another one I picked up from listening to his (and Phil Vischer’s) podcast.

Wordle 381: Half Dead

 

381

For Wordle 381:

Last night they gathered with intent, forty-eight memos a lingering stench that could no longer be shrugged away. Behind the bluster of “doing the right thing” was the lure of the keys to Number 10.

When the frame is badly broken can the picture be restored? Is the crime of lying words so great that everything is irretrievably broken and no longer of use? Inside, the Wounded lived to fight another day; outside the circling hyenas beaten back for a season will return.

Almost The Season of Good Cheer

Although the lights have been on around town for a while now, only now with the office Christmas party a few days away has any sense of good cheer begun to rear its head. In addition to the bunting everywhere (and our very own special office Christmas tree), the subject of Christmas plans has now seeped into our coffee machine conversations, as has the buzz around the office secret Santa reveal. The Christmas party is definitely a highlight of the season, not least for the special costumes a certain someone breaks out year after year and the alcohol enabled banter which in my view tends to reveal the inner workings of peoples minds more often than not. On a personal note, I am looking forward to catching up with a couple of friends of mine ahead of Thursday, which means I’ll be out everyday from Tuesday till Friday when I hop on my flight down south to formally kick off my period of unplugging.

Until then the precious black gold has to keep flowing to fund our lifestyles, and having three teams in various stages of projects offshore who I have to keep an eye only makes it more imperative that I keep my proper head on. It is the best I can hope for, all things considered.

When I Still Don’t Desire God…

For Day 4 and 5 of the WordPress Finding  Everyday Inspiration Challenge

Struggling has hope of success, but forsaking the struggle does not

                                                                                                          – John Piper

John Piper is perhaps most famous for his espousal of Christian Hedonism, the idea that ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him’. One of the essential tenets of this is that we are designed to, and should indeed, desire God not only on the level of mental assent but also at a deeper heart, emotional level. The reality of most people of faith is that our hearts and heart connections to God wax and wane, the strength of our feelings never really existing continuously in that Christian Hedonist space.

It is in a reflection on fifteen years since publishing that book that the quote above comes. This is both a source of hope and concern, hope because the struggle is proof that some life is still left in my faith, but also concern that they might just be the final thrashings of a thing recently dead thing. Food for thought!

Wordle 380

 

worlde-380

For Wordle 380:

This entity – 
bare arms rippling with intent-
pulls victory
out of thin air.
Time and time again,
the potential
for losing one’s head
in a flurry of jabs
is overcome by the evidence
of winning, the one thing
missing in this me being
a fear that flinches
before the rolling fists land.
This is how it ends-
victory snatched
from the claws of loss
when we decide.

I Write Because…

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

One of my earliest memories of doing stuff with my mother is of a newspaper cutout, sheets of paper and her sitting beside me encouraging me to apply whatever iota of critical thinking I could summon to whatever was the task of the day, usually some Close Up essay competition or the other. I don’t recall us ever submitting any of those, the discipline of wrestling thoughts into semi-coherent arguments perhaps being the point of the entire exercise. That sense of writing as a vehicle for thinking aloud about a subject is one that has stayed with me over the years.

I would like to say that this search for (small t) truth at the nexus of a subject is what motivates me to write but that would be bending the truth somewhat. That is partly the truth of course, but it is the sense of being curator of my own little corner of the internet, and the probability – however increasingly minuscule in this world of SEO and algorithms – that makes me write publicly. I have known the delights of minds connecting over a turn of phrase deliciously delivered and also the angst from forlorn pages which have seemingly disappeared into the great void of the internet. Be that as it may, that is a drug, the lingering memories of a past hit drawing me to write again and again in hope.

31 Days of Journaling, Day 31: Wrapping Up

It has been a fascinating month going through the Art of Manliness Jump-start your Journaling 31 Day Challenge. I suppose the key is in the challenge bit because for what it is worth it wasn’t the easiest of things to complete. A few themes came at me time and time again, mainly related to my relationships with people and how much (or how little) I ave allowed others into my deepest space. That (friends and brothers, mentors, my romantic relationship and a few others) is one of the key focus areas for the next year, which I have captioned The Year of Living Intentionally.

Loads to do!!!