Photo by Thanun Buranapong on Unsplash
Bar a few days here and there it has been, as we say out here, dingin doon; read wet, cold and windy, emphasis on the wet part. That is is mid-June adds to the slight sense of gloominess that comes with it, a mood which I see replicated in the faces of the people I run into about town, in my view at least. All of that has left me with quite a lot more time on my hands than usual, which for better or for worse has ended up exploring various reddit rabbit holes, chief of which have been the Thinkpad, ChromeOS and SurfaceLinux ones. They have provided the welcome of distraction of providing the inspiration for me trying to replace Windows on my old Thinkpad Tablet 10 with either Linux or ChromeOS. Both have been qualified fails – a debloated version of windows currently serves me passably on the device -but the ultimate goal would be to replace it with something zipper and functional, à la this attempt. I suspect the search will continue, albeit at a hopefully less time intensive pace. In between all of this, I managed to fit in some time out with the guys from work, a decent enough evening the only black mark against it being the aforementioned bucket loads of rain.
Recently read or heard
Life – and time – have a penchant for throwing up surprises, ones which are sometimes welcome, but (perhaps more often than not?) unwelcome. Never more obvious is this than in the passage of time as measured by times, seasons and the lives of others. Somehow life in the moment, in the here and now – never seems to move at pace; only with the benefit of hindsight does the amount of time that has elapsed become obvious.
This, the apparent disconnect between time in the moment and time as Time, was brought home to me this week thanks to a chance conversation with my cousin V. Out and about for a quick lunch time walk to clear my head, stretch my legs and get some fresh air, I run into him on the corner of Market and Hadden Streets. As we have a quick chat, he mentions that it is his daughter’s birthday tomorrow – her fifth. I distinctly remember being at her first birthday, seemingly only a couple of years ago. How four years have gone by so quickly beggars belief in my mind.
It is now just over two years since H passed. The keenness of loss has been medicated by the time which has passed since then, which I suppose is a good thing. The new normal is more and more embedded, with occasional triggers like remembering one of her favourite songs – When I look into Your Holiness – being the things which jolt one back to the reality of loss. With all that, and the song, came memories of children’s Sunday school and growing up at Chapel in the early 90’s.
One of the more interesting things I read this week was Anne’s musing about spiders; which reminded me that I am due a free eye test; yet another reminder of the passage of time, and in my case how dependent on my glasses I am to function in the real world. On the odd occasion my glasses fall off the cabinet next to my bed, I struggle to find them, such is the state of my eyes these days.
The nip in the air is another telling indicator of the passage of time. It was spring not too long ago, then summer, and now we stand on the cusp of autumn. It is not heaters-blazing-with-multiple-duvets weather yet but it doesn’t feel like there is much between this and that. Word around town is that this year’s winter is likely to be harsher than the last. For now, it is dry, cold and sunny. That, I can deal with.
What has quickly become apparent – as this year of living earnestly evolves – is that far from being the wild, giddy, excited life I half expected when my thoughts began to initially crystallise, it is one that is lived in increments; steady habits being the under-girding behaviours which hold everything together. That sense – of slow, steady if ponderous, progress – is one that has been consistently underlined and reinforced all year; by the book I am currently reading (Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life), the ongoing series at Passion City on Habits and various conversations, the last of which occurred over the weekend with the older guy friend/ mentor O. The general gist of the book and the series is that change is only possible if there is an overarching vision of the future that frames the daily actions that we take, providing an incentive that keeps us plugging away at them.
Discipline without direction equals drudgery, Whitney says; Giglio’s line is that who we become is all about the habits that we create and the habits that we curate.
I made steady progress in January but fell off the wagon massively in February, distracted by pressures at work and all. March though is an opportunity to get back on track, repeat the February habit as well as the March one and take it from there. Roll on the steady habits, shall we say?
Currently Listening to: When the Rain Comes – Third Day (from the 2003 Grammy Award winning album Come Together)
Yesterday was a seventh consecutive day of having managed to start my day with a time of quiet contemplation using the devotional I’ve chosen to use for the year. The reading, from 1 Corinthians 9:27 with its imagery of war with the body got me thinking of all the other metaphors faith (at least in the Christian sense) is described by. A few readily came to mind; an athlete, a soldier, a farmer and a steward of resources. I suspect there are more, if one chose to delve deeper, but all these seemed to support the narrative of focus and discipline on one hand, and reward on the other.
WHEN MY MOTHER was angry with me, which was often, she said, ‘The Devil led us to the wrong crib’
So begins Jeanette Winterson’s autobiography, a meditation of sorts on growing up adopted and the descent into dystopia that was her childhood; spent growing up in a Pentecostal home being groomed to be a missionary. It is a childhood that is quintessentially evangelical, replete with very regular church meetings, Biblical literalism, corporeal punishment and a feening for the apocalyptic dawn of the next world to the detriment of the enjoyment of this one. Looming large in that phase of growing up is the image of her adoptive mother, a controlling creature, intensely fundamentalist and addicted to her cigarettes, who both in her quiet moments and in her moments of rage ruled the roost,with the young Jeanette and her adoptive father as collateral damage. Being adopted, and the uncertainties this brings to family relations is a recurring motif in the book, and her successful search to find her birth mother takes us through an emotional wringer.
A few choice quotes:
On the waves of Pakistani immigration to the North West of England:
Then, as now, nobody talked about the legacy of Empire. Britain had colonised, owned, occupied or interfered with half the world. We had carved up some countries and created others. When some of the world we had made by force wanted something in return, we were outraged.
Happy endings are only a pause. There are three kinds of big endings: Revenge. Tragedy. Forgiveness. Revenge and Tragedy often happen together. Forgiveness redeems the past. Forgiveness unblocks the future.
It took me a long time to realise that there are two kinds of writing; the one you write and the one that writes you. The one that writes you is dangerous. You go where you don’t want to go. You look where you don’t want to look.
In the end, she evolves into perhaps the antithesis of an evangelical missionary – she falls in love with a woman – which prompts the statement from her mother which becomes the title of the book.
Listen to the Radio Open Source interview here.
Amidst the bedlam that was a return to work after almost three weeks away, I completely forgot the small matter of having passed the second-year anniversary of my starting at my current job. The lads at HR though were not exactly keen to let me forget ; and I was suitably reminded via a letter in my home post box advising me of my eligibility to enrol on the company enhanced pension plan. Bar a few moments of drudgery, it has never really felt like I have been stuck out here for the past two years, even though I’ve twice come close to leaving; once to Nigeria, and the other time to our biggest competitor across town.
For one, the two lasses I have had to share Room 3.26 with for all of a year and a half – the Irish drinkard-swearer Si and her not quite prim and proper Glasweigian side kick – have provided me with invaluable insights into the minds of women. Having to
over hear conversations about repairing broken nails, spray tans, weight watcher points, trips to the hair dresser and excited squeals over scoring a pair of Louboutins for 900 pounds is about as mind numbing as it can get. Thankfully, these conversations have not segued into the murky waters of bikini waxes and other more quintessentially feminine matters, yet. My timely offshore trips and a six month period spent working at a different site appear to have helped maintain my sanity. I suppose in some dark, murky parallel universe out there, some inertial frame exists within which there are positives to all these. If in 2015, that all Nigerian chic decides that her bedside prattle will consist in its entirely of the highs and lows of the not all together trivial pursuit of getting a broken nail fixed, I suspect that I will merely smile smugly to myself and zone out, thankful that between a feisty Irish lass and her side kick I have heard it all.
Mid way through January I am two books to the good and a good way through the third. A re-reading of Jeffrey Archer’s Shall We Tell the President was quickly followed by Drew Dyck’s Generation Ex-Christian, an evangelical’s attempt to unpack the reasons why 80% of children reared in church disengage by the time they turn 29 [I appear to be a classic ‘drifter’ by the way – adult PK, single and firmly in the throes of a cognitive dissonance I seem unable to escape. 😦 ] Mid way through Binyanvanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place, I am increasingly enthralled by the self deprecating wit which he pens this memoir – but then since Open City and The Sense of an Ending I have been on a one man crusade to devour everything written that explores the conflation of memory and reflection that is a well written memoir.
I am hoping that my reading will cover a lot more genres this year – worldviews both Christian and secular, memoir, business, the usual fiction and which ever book wins the Booker this year. Given the way my year in books has started off, it might yet be a good one.
I finally completed Julian Barnes’ 2011 Man Booker Prize winning book – The Sense of an Ending. Considering I felt both previous Booker Prize winners I read earlier in the year – The Finkler Question and Midnight’s Children were not easy reads, I was pleasantly surprised to find I liked this one. In addition to it being ‘readable’ [and that was the subject of a furore which threatened to engulf this year’s awards] I suspect I liked it because it explored the conflation of memory and reflection, a genre of books I’ve been drawn to since I read Teju Cole’s Open City.
My favourite passage is a reflection on time and how it paints the past in a different, less sure light.
… how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them.
Time … give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical..
Arthur Ashe’s moving memoir ‘Days of Grace’ ends with a heartfelt letter to his (then) six year old daughter Camera in which he unpacks all the things he suspects his illness will deny him the opportunity of telling her in future. Covering a range of categories from the importance of family, racial discrimination, loss, marriage, money and even faith, it reads like a distillation of many years of living and learning. The section where he talks about faith and religion reads like a primer for a balanced, liberal, yet essentially Judeo-Christian worldview. Excerpts below:
…have faith in God. Do not be tempted either by pleasures and material possessions, or by the claims of science and smart thinkers, into believing that religion is obsolete and that the worship of God is somehow beneath you. Spiritual nourishment is as important as physical nourishment, or as intellectual nourishment. The religion you choose is not as important as a fundamental faith in God.
… Beyond the different dogma must be the sense of yourself as created by God for a purpose, and as being under God’s law at all.
… Be ruled by that rule called golden; do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Do not beg God for favours. Instead, ask God for the wisdom to know what is right, what God wants and the will to do it.
A profile of the man and his wife’s thoughts on losing him in ’93.
Slightly better September again – but I have fallen a lot more behind (5 books behind the plan according to the goodreads widget). Most of my reading is currently being done off my kindle which makes it marginally easier to read too. So here goes:
- Hell’s Corner – David Baldacci: Bought after stumbling on an ad on TV (the dangers of daytime TV I guess). Interesting read, especially given my long hiatus from reading spy-y books.
- Paradise – Toni Morrison: My first Toni Morrison book. Loved the attention to detail – one I intend to re-read.
- Another Country – James Baldwin: Bought this off the Kindle store on an impulse. It does seem like I am being drawn to the books I read in my youth all over again…
Thanks to lulls here and there – as opposed to the fast pace at which April, May and June went by – I managed to do a bit of reading:
- Salman Rushdie’s – Midnight’s Children (1981 Booker Prize winner, 1993 Booker of Bookers Winner & 2008 The Best of the Booker Winner): I read this one mainly on the go, off a hand held device which probably affected my enjoyment of the book. I did think it was a laborious read at times. It might be a thing I have for Booker winners, as I didn’t exactly enjoy my reading of The Finkler Question either earlier in the year.
- Ian McEwan’s – On Chesil Beach (2007 Booker prize shortlisted): Good read, if only for its description of 1960s England, before the advent of the pill and the mainstream-ing of contraceptives.
- Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz (2006 New York Times Bestseller): An engaging read on Christianity, and how it is meant to be a passionate relationship not based on stultifying rules. The section on being addicted to solitude hit too close to home too… Definitely one I should re-read at a more leisurely pace.
- Haruki Murakami’s After Dark: Seven hours one Tokyo night… Part real life, part dream.