Monthly Archives: October 2007

what did I want?

What did I want?
I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, “The game’s afoot!” I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and Lost Dauphin.

I wanted Prester John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and to eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be the way they had promised me it was going to be, instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.

I had had one chance – for ten minutes yesterday afternoon. Helen of Troy, whatever your true name may be – and I had known it – and I had let it slip away. Maybe one chance is all you ever get.
– Oscar Gordon, “Glory Road” Robert A. Heinlein

My father died back in 1990. It’s taken us some time to sort out his stuff. Partly because Dad was a collector – a hunter/gatherer of the old school; and partly because he was a graduate of the 1930’s depression and his collector behaviours became reinforced. “You never know when it’ll come in handy.” And quite frequently that has been proven to be correct. The last few days have been a bit of a nightmare – we’ve (my sister, brother-in-law, and myself) been working through the tail end of the various collections – and there is a continuum of values – some things have sentimental value, some have commercial value, some have entertainment value, and some have recycle value. And some things are just valuable for helping balance the load on the way to the landfill.

I was unable to get leave from work so Friday night saw frantic grabbing of rental vans, scarfing down food (no pasta lest I go to sleep at the wheel), and then on the highway north to my old home town. I spent the last night in my childhood bed, and listened for the call of the poaka – the pied stilts. Their beeping call used to reassure me on empty nights, but on Friday night it was just the sounds of the wind. Saturday dawned cold – as if wanting us to get finished and get on with our lives. Dad used to say “Cold shoulder, hot tongue”, and it was bitter outside.

We packed and loaded, with laughter and tears, Dad’s prized books. I don’t have the room or really the interest for all of Dad’s books, and so some fairly heartrending decisions were made. When we were kids, if we got sick, we were allowed to get up and get a couple of Dad’s books to read. Dad’s collection was essentially about New Zealand history and culture, Māori culture, and in particular, New Zealand flora and fauna. Dad had a particularly soft spot for New Zealand birds.

I don’t recall that he had any exceptional favorites, but I have a happy memory of him showing us the Ruru – Ninox novaeseelandiae – the native owl (Moreporks) that used to sit on the post and wires when we lived on our farm. Later the adult ruru were joined by a clutch of juveniles – I can remember their eyes glowing with the reflected light from the house. Dad told us stories about how in some areas the ruru nested in tomo – like hakoke, the extinct laughing owl – in holes the ground instead of in trees, and how there was even a place named for their home – Putaruru. He said that in the Māori tradition, the ruru was the guardian, the watcher. I loved hearing their calls at night – some say the call is ‘mournful’ or ‘haunting’, but I have always found it friendly and reassuring – a clear sign that things are as they should be.

As I drove home on Saturday night, I got to thinking about reading – I guess the books in the back were talking about their new lives living with Marica and I. I read non-fiction voraciously, however I love it when an author can persuade me to get on a raft down the Mississippi, or some other adventure. I’d told Marcel that I planned spending time while driving plotting out a novel I’m working on. Instead, I spent the time thinking about how the books now in the back of the van had influenced my father – provided the education he’d hungered for but had never been able to achieve in a formal sense. As a result of his reading and learning he’d willing shared the ideas, information, and insights with me; and so, in a way, I was carrying not only my father’s collection, but in many respects my own collection. I didn’t have to bring it all, just the bits I wanted and needed; but no matter what, I couldn’t avoid bringing some of my heritage with me; now and where ever I go in the future.

I drove in our gate, flicked the van off, and stood outside in the still night air. The moon was exceptionally clear and the stars were bright. I could smell the fragrance from the night blossoms. It was good to be home. From somewhere very close, a ruru called. I felt uplifted – it was as Dad said – everything is as it should be.

every thing tells a story…

Some years ago I took my Mum to Townsville, far north Queensland. She’d had some surgery that hadn’t gone well. I was working three part time jobs being as full time work was unavailable. It was the middle of winter and some recuperation in the tropics seemed like a good idea for us both – I wanted my Dad to go with us, but he wouldn’t be parted from home. Off we went and we had the best time. We really enjoyed having a decent cappuccino – Wanganui being something of a coffee desert in those days. I decided to buy a cappuccino machine – and snapped the dividers out of the polystyrene box the machine came in to act as a chillybin (esky for the full Australiana) when we drove up to Cairns. We made very full use of the box – it was absolutely brilliant for keeping food and drinks cool. When it came time to come home there was no room in our suitcases to bring the box home – and so I went out to the dumpster to toss the box away. The nearer I got to the departure point, the worse I felt. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such complete guilt as I consigned our helpful friend to the trash. I went back to our rooms and I told Mum about what a complete fool I felt about feeling guilty about discarding the box. She felt the same – but there was no way we could bring the box back with us. Years later I still feel bad. And slightly silly about being emotionally attached to polystyrene packaging, repurposed as a chillybin.

Lately I’ve had cause to work through a lot of my possessions from my past. They’re just things – inanimate things – usually man-made, but not exclusively. Some things I’ve kept, some things I’ve sold, some things I’ve given away, and some things I’ve dumped. At times it’s been heart wrenchingly traumatic; other times it’s been a ‘oh no, just no, what were you thinking?’ moment. I have been wondering why some things are so hard to deal with. My niece, Catherine, said, ‘The trouble with all your stuff is, every thing has got a story. There’s nothing here that doesn’t have a story to go with it.”

To which my sister, Gillian, replied, ‘Well, yes. That’s why it’s here. If it didn’t have a story we wouldn’t bother with it.’

When I used to leave Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport, there was a sign that spanned the highway – ‘Every story has a beginning, a middle, and a beginning’. It was an ad for something – I have no idea what. But I loved the idea then, and now. When things arrive in my hand it’s rarely the beginning of the story. Rather it is part of the middle of a story. And the story continues once the thing leaves my hand. Objects don’t attain their own energy or their own personality – that’s what we/I ascribe to them – it’s their role in our stories that makes them hard to part with. What I’m realising is that the story doesn’t end when the item comes to me, and really, it’s better if I keep the story going by keeping the item moving. I’m feeling better about it that way.

thick as a brick…

…but not as tasty. Manuals, that’s what we’re talking about here. Manuals. How to do it, be it, make it, fake it, break it, hack it, fix it – the list goes on. But oh, if only the zen masters could be engaged in writing manuals for the rest of us. Short. Simple. A haiku that explains everything you need to know about the patch for Vista. Ha! As if – SP1 for Vista – a blistering 1Gb of remedial patching…imagine how chunky that manual will be…

If only there were no thick manuals.


the last avocado…

avocadoThis is an avocado (Persea americana). Not a particularly large avo, not a trophy avo, true; but it was very tasty. I’d have to say more tasty than any other, ever. Why was it more exceptional than usual?

Some years ago I managed to get an agreement with my father about where I could plant my avocado tree. It was barely a sapling then – a young, grafted avocado. We sorted a space – in itself no easy task as Dad was (rightfully) very protective of the space used in his garden. I dug the hole, and we planted the tree – I planted, Dad supervised and made sure I was doing it right. The avo proceeded to go backwards for some months, and then away it went – the russet coloured young leaves growing into the lush dark green as they matured. After a few years the avo flowered and then later produced fruit.

I can remember the first fruit – small, not unlike the one in the picture above. But no avocado was ever more cherished, and it was the first of many. Very many. I used to have a bit of an arrangement with the birds who’d help me get the avos down from the top branches, in exchange for a few pecked scraps. I climbed the trees on stormy nights to enjoy the full surge of the wind and rain. I used to pile lawn clippings and other garden trimmings under the tree to build up the nutrients. I love the soft, pale creamy green flowers that open on different days, and I’d hope/wish/pray for warm days in Spring so the fruit would set. We went through quite a lot together – I spent a lot of time up in and around my avo tree. It was always welcoming and generous to me. I used to bring bags of avos for my wife to be, and future in-laws; and there was always room for another avo in my diet. My fruit of choice, and – I like to think it was the careful feeding – I believe my avos were the best flavoured ever, far and away superior to those mass produced supermarket offerings. I love avos, and as I wrote here before, I’m sure there’ll be avos in heaven, and if not, it’ll be job one for me to get some planted asap.

As my friend Marcel would observe, some scripts in my life are becoming reworked from the threads of the past. Tonight, Marica and I shared the last avo we’ll take from the tree. It was just perfect. The tree itself is fine, but I don’t imagine we’ll be able to get any of the next season’s crop. Someone else will. I hope they take good care of my friend. A true friend is one who nurtures you.

tiddle me

I was talking about my new online Japanese haiku tiddlywiki with one of my workmates. He was saying how he’d like a tiddlywiki to create manuals etc, but the whole online hosting drama was just a pain when you’re not a geeky – after all, there’s a lot of energy required to create the content, and then working out the grit of getting a web site running – erk…

Well, fear not, would be/wannabe tiddlywiki owners, help is at hand. The illustrious team of Simon Baird and Daniel Baird have created a spot where you can have your tiddlywiki hosted. Online. Free. Ahhh – nice. They call it, well, tiddlyspot. Thanks, guys. And thanks also for the nice write up.

I’m not 100% sure if tiddlywiki is a wiki in the model of wikipedia – I’m uncertain about its ability to scale to that extent. I’m inclined to think Jeremy and his team have come up with an entirely new form – looks similar – but different. But I am extremely sure about the way my laptop is becoming entirely infested with tiddlywiki managed information – I’m managing a lot more information – knowledge, if you will; a lot better. I’m taking more and more of the information I’ve stored on paper, and weaving it into my tiddlywiki – an orderly world is a productive world.

updates done

Right, that’s that done then – I’ve finally got the AkoNet web site sorted. It hasn’t been a huge upgrade, more of the annual tidy up that should’ve (ahem) happened back in January/February (when, instead, we were packing ready to move off to our new home).

I’m most pleased with my first online tiddlywiki – I’ve created a presentation of classic haiku and while this is not an interactive wiki (a la wikipedia) it does make use of some of the rather more succulent delights of tiddlywiki. For people who’re wanting to explore their own web site (but don’t have html skills), a tiddlywiki is a great place to start.

write on

It suddenly seems like I haven’t written here in a very long time. It’s not that I’m not writing, I’m working through the update of the AkoNet web site and that uses up my writing for the day. There’s only so many words available in any given day – by the time I blow some at work, and then more later working on the site, there’s not many left…