Monday, July 30, 2012

Croissant trip

It is a little over a year since i had lap band surgery, and lost 17 kilos. i have been really pleased i did it. i can reach for my seat belt, and walk up hills, and run, and wear ordinary clothing. For a while i thought maybe my arms had somehow grown in length because i no longer needed to roll sleeves up over and over, but then it dawned on me that my new clothes actually had shorter sleeves (doh!). So i have been a happy camper.

About three weeks ago i started to become uncomfortable. i could no longer manage food in the mornings; it would get stuck in the band and i would regurgitate it. After a while i could manage food only in the evenings and the only thing i could reliably eat was ice cream. Then i became unable to drink. i lost energy. i was uncomfortable all the time. i was becoming dehydrated. i was not even thinking particularly well. This morning i drank about 50 mls of water and a couple of hours later at work i was vomiting blood.

i saw the surgeon and he was unympathetic. He said - did you actually think this would get better. Why weren't you here three weeks ago. i couldn't answer him. i suppose i thought it would get better, or i would have seen him earlier. But really i was figuring i ought to staunch it out. Well, i would have drunk my harden-the-fuck-up juice, but i couldn't get it down.

Anyway the surgeon thought the band had slipped, and  took the whole 5 mls of fluid out of it, and recovery was instant. i drank some water. i drank some more water. i went to the Beat Street Cafe, home of the radical Womyn of Occupy, and had the world's best coffee. It was so good i could not even read my book*. It was textured and smooth and bitter and sweet and strong and everything. Then i ate most of  a croissant. Oh God the spinach! And if that was not enough, the tomato! i ate slowly and with real mindfulness possibly for the first time ever. i probably looked a bit strange but i was so focused. Can you trip out on croissants? It felt like the first time i had ever eaten one. i figured the second one i have will never be quite as good. i will spend the rest of my life trying to recapture that first rush, consuming croissants the size of houses, found dead one day alone in my tiny flat, with that light buttery flaky bread all around my mouth and brie cheese wedged in my cleavage.

The Archduke's spag bol was not half bad either.

So 5 mls lighter and i am a free woman. i will continue to eat as i need to - side plate sized portions, and no more ice cream  i think because now i will run screaming from the room at the sight of a Magnum. In two weeks the band will be reinflated and i will be back to normal.

* The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism, by Tariq Ramadan. This very humane author is Oxford don and traditional Islamic scholar both.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Jesus nut

This post is about the nature of belief.

i have always had problems with the idea of belief. In some modern thinking, the idea seems to be that belief affects the physical world. If you believe, you can make things happen. If things don't happen, you didn't believe hard enough. This is a lynchpin of new age thinking, as expressed in books like The Journey. i am not convinced that i can change the physical world with my thoughts. Like Barbara Ehrenreich, in her excellent RSAnimate video Smile or Die, i advocate realism rather than positive thinking, where positive thinking makes us feel guilty for our failures or unable to see difficult truths. And like Alice, i can believe in six impossible things before breakfast, and yet somehow the stars remain in their courses and gravity continues to work.

Another modern feature about belief is that you have to believe in something. It seems to matter less what you believe in than that you believe. You have to have a dream, whether it is a dream of world peace or the Aryan nation.Think of all those inspiring family movies where an act of sheer will makes the dream come true. But this is no ontological fact. It is just a fancy way of sanctioning ambition.

Belief is a prominent feature in modern Christianity. Raw belief seems to be thought of as the engine that drives faith and good works. It is more important than thinking or experiencing. It was not always this way. Karen Armstrong in The Case for God talks about how early Christians struggled to express what Jesus was on about, and hit on the Latin word credere to try to engage with a complicated idea. What Jesus asked of his followers was to open their hearts and minds to the experience of following him. Try it, work with it, see it for what it is, let it work on you, live it. This is different from the current notion of believing in somethng for which there is no evidence.

So belief is a problematic notion, but there is one thing i have been forced to believe in, at least temporarily.

It's the Jesus nut.

The Jesus nut is the nut or pin that fixes the rotor blades in some helicopters such as the Iriquois. The term arose during the Vietnam war - try reading Chickenhawk, for example, for some awesomely deatailed descriptions of flying choppers.

Last week i went in a helicopter, a Hughes 500. i flew up a mountain, landed on its summit, walked about for a bit, and then flew down again. It was astounding. It was incredibly beautiful. Perspective and scale is almost meaningless up there. i think i was inches away from Mt Cook. Tiny square dots were trampers' huts. Sweet little tarns dotted the high hills like puddles. i loved every minute of it. But it occurred to me that i needed a lot of belief to sustain myself up there. i needed to believe in the existence of helicopters and to have some crazy notion that the daft things actually work. i needed to believe in the Jesus nut, and also the gear box because i hear they are tricky things. i needed to believe that the pilot was a real pilot ,that he had his licence,  that he was not on meth, that he maintained his helicopter well, that he had slept well enough the night before.  It seemed an awful lot to believe. i only needed enough belief to make myself climb onto the seat, mind you, but it was something. i think about other things i have believed in, such as ferris wheels and jet boats - and cars, for that matter.

Here are photos. i really did it!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Winter poem

There should be a prayer for evenings.

A prayer to put alarming blackbirds

To sleep gently

With the charm of woodsmoke.


A prayer for the shops to stay open a little longer –

And the heart, too, long enough for morning.


A prayer for the small flame of company –

Or at least the company of a small flame.


And if you do have to go gently,

A prayer to show you how

To go wideawake,

And thinking and thanking.




Sunday, July 8, 2012

On dogs and caves and ecstasy

'If you can sit quietly after difficult news;
 if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm;
if you can see your neighbours travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy;
 if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate;
if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill;
if you can always find contentment just where you are:
you are probably a dog.'

The quote is by Jack Kornfield, one of my favourite Buddhist thinkers, of the Theravada way. He wrote the wonderfully titled 'After the Ecstasy, the Laundry'. i related well to that, having had in my life both ecstasy and laundry. A fair bit of laundry, actually.

The first and obvious thought is that i am not a dog. Should i emulate a dog? There is a view in Islam that animals are already Muslims. Islam means submission, and animals already submit to the will of God, without effort. Muslims are not into dogs much though. Only one dog gets to go to heaven. That is the dog who guards the Seven Sleepers. These early Christians hid in a cave from their persecutors, fell asleep and woke hundreds of years later, into a Christian world where they were welcomed. It's not a big story among Christians but it features well in the Islamic world, and the faithful dog who guarded them got to go to heaven with them when they died.

So i can't be like a dog, i do not naturally submit, nor do i easily give up my limited view of the world, even when i recognise it's illusory, or unsatisfactory, or problematic.

We suffer and we are aware of our suffering. i used to be quite blithe about the meaning of suffering, when i was younger and actually was suffering more than i am now.  i thought that suffering was either due to spiritual tests of some obscure sort, or due to my not trying hard enough. i did not see suffering as mysterious. And it is mysterious.

i have said before that we live in a society that seems to deny suffering any meaning. We go from - A bad thing happened, to I feel bad, to I should not feel these feelings, to I cannot tolerate these bad feelings even for a moment. Thing is, we suffer, we just do. We need a far more sophisticated and intuitive way of thinking about it, so we can do more than just tolerate it but actually derive some wisdom there.

i struggle to lean into suffering and to discern its lessons. i wish i was a dog. i am glad i am not a dog. It is mostly OK to be this human.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Restaurant critics

I hear Auckland faces major problems with its transport system. Specifically, the people of Aukcland were promised that the two transport companies that run their bus systems would have a single transferrable system so a swipe card would work for buses from both companies. i heard Mayor of Auckland Len Brown being interviewed on the radio about it. He sounded brightly defensive. He talked a lot about focusing. It seems he is focusing a lot. He is focusing on many things. He is absolutely focused on fixing the public transport system and is probably focusing on it even as we speak.

Down here in Christchurch i am amazed we even have a bus system. After the earthquakes the buses ran from several places on the edges of the Red Zone, because the old bus exchange had been destroyed. Back then you got a bus to the Red Zone, and another bus to get you to the other side of the Red Zone, and then another bus to your destination. But it sort of worked and everyone tried pretty hard. Now there is a new temporary bus exchange. Buses run more or less on time and most routes are covered, except those that run to the most damaged areas. i bus when i can, because i want to support public transport and i like the down time when i am not driving and can listen to Rage Against the Machine up loud.

We often scoff at Aucklanders down here. A few years back there was a major snow fall, and one town was without power for some days. Farmers were without power for over a week and did some pretty extreme things to save stock and keep warm. While they huddled under blankets beside their dying fires with their cattle in their kitchens, and their immigrant workers ate their sheep, and then the dogs ate the immigrant workers, and Oates said he would be some time and walked out into the blizzard,* the central business district of Auckland was hit by a power cut for several hours. Scandal! Auckland businesses complained that Auckland would become the laughing stock of the civilised world. New Zealand would be considered a third world county and nobody important would invest here.  And down south we tough buggers scoffed and scoffed. While we huddled, of course. Nothing like a good scoff whle you're huddling.

There is always a tension between warm climate people and cold climate people. In the northern hemisphere, think of European stereotypes. Southerners are mercurial, charming, urbane, sophisticated, imaginative, fickle, effete, soft, treacherous. Northerners are reliable, tough, independent, careful, solid, stolid, inflexible, and dour. We would expect nothing less of the warm climate Aucklanders than to moan about no lattes for the day. Presumably they expect us to tramp about in the snow with giant rams over our shoulders without complaint.

i imagined how that most urbane of Aucklanders, the restaurant critic, would survive here in the south, immediately post earthquake. No electricity, food spoiling, nothing open, rubble and dust and silt.

'The staff at the Roundabout Convenience Store did not seem to understand the term medium rare. In fact, the pie they served appeared not only pre-earthquake in age, but positively antediluvian in taste and texture'

'Now that Burger King is finally open, I easerly anticipated an adventure in gastronomy. However, while the food was at least consistent, the service, while expedient, was surly and the waiter was monosyllabic and appeared to understand little about the menu.'

*Some of that was untrue.**

** Oates was pushed. i think i've said that before.

Poor restaurant critics, with nowhere to go, driven out of town to warmer and more stable climes.