Friday, February 17, 2017

Celebrate the small things: salt and pepper

When teaching my students how to improve their writing, one of the things I stress is the importance of adjectives and adverbs. I explain to them that adjectives add information to nouns and adverbs add information to verbs. Without them, adjectives especially, writing can be dull, and the one thing you don't want as a writer is to bore your readers. I tell them that adjectives and adverbs add flavour to their writing. Without descriptive language, writing can taste very bland to the reader's palate. (with more advanced learners I can also discuss metaphorical language as exemplified by my previous sentence.)

I recently chose a book based on the title and the blurb. Had I also read the first chapter or even the first few pages, I would not have bought it. Why? As far as descriptive and metaphorical language goes, it was a desert. I won't name the book here, but I did, after much deliberation, review it on Goodreads with a rating of two stars. I read through it quickly without feeling engaged or especially interested at any point. At first, I didn't know why, and then I figured it out. Aside from other faults, like excessive use of passive voice, it lacked descriptive language. I might be wrong, but I don't think there was a single metaphor or simile to be found between its covers. 

Quickly moving on to the next novel, I was immediately relieved. To continue my desert metaphor from above, I had made it to an oasis where I was able to jump in to beautiful literary writing, full of wonderful descriptive passages and powerful metaphors. My soul was refreshed after just one chapter of The Water Horse by Julia Gregson.

That is also the reason I love classic novels so much: they feature such beautiful and fascinating language, as well as unusual and complex sentence structures.

So today I am thankful for adjectives, adverbs and metaphors: salt and pepper, and mushroom sauce on my reading steak. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things: A taste of metal

None of my friends, in real life, or in my online life are major heavy metal fans like myself which means I have no one to talk to about one of the loves of my life. My son used to be. He was once obsessed with Metallica, and he introduced me to the band which is now one of my favourites: Australia's own, Parkway Drive. Sadly he has moved on from his metal phase.

To overcome this problem, I did what everyone does when they have no one to talk to...I turned to social media. I found a Facebook group for heavy metal fans, and now I can exchange opinions and music with headbangers from all over the globe. This gives me pleasure, so today I am giving thanks for Crescent Heavy Metal Rock Music.

I also want to give thanks for the genre itself, which contains surprising diversity. Bach is said to be the originator of heavy music, and many of the great early heavy metal bands, Black Sabbath for example, credit this influence. I don't like all the sub genres of heavy metal, but I doubt anybody does. Whilst some think heavy metal is just noise, the bands I like, impress and move me with their musicianship and the lyrical content. I actually find loud, fast and aggressive music relaxing. Okay, so that sounds weird, but each to their own right?

My top five metal bands are, in no particular order: POD, Metallica, Disciple, Parkway Drive, and Trivium.

Here's something moderate for your possible enjoyment:

Friday, February 3, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things: Fluff and Bubbles

Social media represents different things to different people. For some it is an addiction, for others a time filler/waster. To some it is a weapon of activist/fundamentalist warfare, for others it's all about relationships, (sharing and connectedness). For some it's about information, for other it's about entertainment. For some people it's a mixture of all these things with recipes as diverse as humanity itself, while for others it's nothing at all.

I have an eclectic group of friends on Facebook so I get exposed to a wonderful variety of people and their worldviews. I love it! It's so fascinating - irritating and offensive at times, to be sure, but nonetheless engaging, informative and entertaining.

From time to time, I like to take my friends on by making provocative comments because I like a good discussion. At other times, I just want to 'share' my own thoughts. I also, on occasion, simply want some fluff and bubbles. I think most memes are stupid so I just ignore them. It still mystifies me how a video of ducks walking along a road gets millions of views on YouTube, but...whatever. I don't tell anyone what they should or shouldn't like or share because I respect people.

Today I feel grateful for the World Wide Web, and in particular, social media which is, on balance, a wonderful thing. So today because I'm feeling light and fluffy, here's a video of ducks; just for you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Healthy Choice Lasagne

Oops...this isn't supposed to be here. Maybe this 'accident'  happened for a reason.

It's what I also feared (perhaps too strong of a word) about microwave low fat/no fat meals: a lack of taste. This cost $4, and was quite filling, but lacked punch, and cheese. This is easily the worst of the microwave lasagnes I've had. Not terrible, just not as good as the others. 2 mangoes.

I bought myself another half pineapple for $2.50 from Coles, and had some tonight. Great. Sweet and juicy. 5 mangoes.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things:Australia Day

"Australia is a 21st century project being worked on by around 24 million people." - Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

These words were spoken during a citizenship ceremony in Canberra last Thursday: Australia Day. I've been thinking about what he said a lot since. His words resonate deeply with me. I find them both profound and inspirational.

January 26, 1788, was the day the First Fleet, led by the incomparable Captain Arthur Phillip, arrived in Sydney Cove and raised the British flag over a new penal colony. With a simple ceremony the British empire claimed another piece of 'empty' land as their own. 

January 26, 1788, was the day the white man came and dispossessed the Aboriginal inhabitants, ushering in a long period of human rights abuses against them. A number of Australians now call January 26, "Invasion Day" - not a day for celebration, but a day for mourning.

While the debate rages around me, I mostly avoid it and continue to celebrate Australia Day because I love my country, and I, as the PM stated, believe in our future. I understand and 'own' Australia's history, and the plight of Indigenous Australians fills me with regret and sadness, but I am not responsible for what happened. I am responsible for how I treat people now. I believe we can find our way to true reconciliation so I focus on all the good things.This is a great country. It is my home. I was born here, and I am thankful for that.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things: Rules

Despite my aversion to Chinese take-away food, I placed an order with Happy Garden, and fifteen minutes after my call, I strolled down the road to collect my dinner. It is a short, and typically uneventful journey, which I have made on numerous occasions.

As I left home, I heard my second least favourite suburban sound: a leaf blower. (Why can't people just use a broom?) When I turned the corner, I saw the offending contraption being wielded by a neighbour. He was operating on the same side of the road on which I was walking. Blowing leaves and twigs from his driveway and the section of footpath which stretched across in front of his property. I came closer, he saw me, but continued his two-stroke puffing. On the assumption that he would cease his labour momentarily to allow me to pass, I continued. I even caught his eye, and nodded in the laconic masculine way we Aussie blokes acknowledge strangers.

When he didn't stop, I deviated off the footpath on to the road and
received a faceful of dust. Blinking furiously to clear the offending detritus, I was unaware of the man's dog running towards me. I only realized it was there when it jumped on me and began humping my leg. I turned to the owner who turned away, and when the dog was finished, it too, left me alone, and both returned to the private space behind the automatic gate which was closing.

I reckon this man broke a number of social rules; the worst of which was not apologizing. Thankful for the fact that none of the stuff he blew in my face damaged my eyes, and neither did his overly friendly dog do me any harm, I simply reflected on the fact the world is a better place when people are considerate of other people.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things: Thoughts on the brain

A war is said to rage, in most men and women, between the head and the heart. The head refers to logic, to rationality, while the heart is the seat of our emotions. This is a metaphor obviously because as we know the heart only has one function: to pump blood around our body. Admittedly, it's a pretty important job, but the point is the heart is merely a muscle with no capacity for producing emotions.

Feelings are generated in our heads, by the chemicals produced in our brains. Does it disillusion you to know that the alleged battle between the heart and the head is really a civil war fought inside your cranium? Head V Head. Different parts of the brain fighting for control of the same territory.

Emotions are merely brain functions, but I wonder if how we feel is a product of how we think, or if it is the other way around. Aha! Another chicken and egg question.

In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov challenges Svridrigailov about the morality of his pending marriage to a young woman much his junior, by saying: 'The fact is this monstrous difference in age and development excites your sensuality. Will you really make such a marriage?'

Svridrigailov replies, 'Why, of course. Everyone thinks of himself, and he lives most gaily who knows best how to deceive himself.'
(spoiler alert: read what happened to Svridrigailov below)

Most of us attempt to control our feelings by managing our thoughts, by restraining them as best we can, but for many this is an almost impossible task and one which, at the very least, is exhausting. Maybe I am the only one whose brain gives him as much trouble as it does pleasure. (What a strange confession.)

My brain controls all my body functions, and I earn a good living with my brain (as a teacher and a writer), but that same organ often gets me in all sorts of bother. A character on a TV soap* recently said that she wished she could take her brain out of her head for a just a few hours so she could have a rest. I feel the same way some times.

Today I thank God for my brain.

*Paige (Olympia Valance) on Neighbours

Photo sources: 

Svidrigailov visited his 16 year old fiance and her family one rainy night, paying them a large sum of money and saying he had to go away on urgent business, but would return soon. He then spent a sleepless night in a cheap and nasty hotel where he suffered through an horrific series of nightmares. The next day he proceeded to the American Embassy where he shot himself dead at the front gate, despite the protests of the guard who told him his actions were inappropriate.