Tuesday, August 25, 2015

compromise and consultation

It is very satisfying seeing the pile of empty packets piling up as the negatives get sorted and filed. Well mostly. I'm beginning to wish I hadn't decided to keep August's non-recyclable plastic waste as well though! There is a sizeable bundle of those pocketed sheets negatives sometimes came back from the developers in. Part of me breathes a sigh of relief when I come across one of those as there is far less chance that the contents will have somehow got mixed up with a different film, but once the negs have been transferred to a filing page it is with something of a harrumph that the same frustration saving item is consigned to the box of plastic.

There is also a broken slides box in that collection now too, and I'm very aware that the pages I'm transferring things into have yet more plastic as part of them. But what are the alternatives? At least digital photography means the amount of plastic being used in this way has been drastically reduced, but I'm sure there are other environmental impacts just as great, they are just less in our faces. This article about the need for legislation to reduce the amount of plastic was both reassuring (I'm not the only one struggling with plastic!) and saddening. I hate that I'm adding to the landfill by clearing out, but again it is that clash of priorities - having less stuff vs the problems of throwing stuff away!

I'd called in at the local photography shop to ask if she could check with their suppliers if they still stocked such things as new pages or folders for them to go in. She rang back to say the bloke had laughed and said they'd gone out with the Dark Ages and the best thing to do was scan the negatives and put them on cds/usb sticks - a service they offered. That's all very well I pointed out, but I still have to organize them first to decide what is worth saving in that manner! Also how long will cds and usb sticks work for? Having just found a stack of 3" disks I'm realizing that whilst I have an external disk drive (somewhere...) I don't know that I have any programmes that would be able to open any of the files any more! Technologically obsolete already. At least negatives can still be turned into prints.

I've got one more pack of filing pages via TradeMe and found a supply in the UK so there is hope of eventually completing the mission. Simply transferring the negs into pages is one thing, filing them in a sensible order however is a whole different ball game! It has been great though as putting out requests for help on Facebook to identify at least what year things were held in has resulted in some collective reminiscing and conversation that probably otherwise wouldn't have happened. I'm still somewhat taken aback by the disagreement over which decade something was in though rather than which of two years in the early '90s, that I really didn't expect. And I thought I was the one having memory problems!

I dare say I'll need to pick a few more brains over the coming months as I sort out the rest. I'm just hoping that the various Pardshaw events have other things on the films as trying to decide which event of those was which is pretty tricky as you can't even always tell if it was Easter or Pre-Christmas from the number of layers we're wearing! Plus certain jumpers are almost as ubiquitous as Ken's Summer Gathering one, albeit usually more tasteful and timeless... The fact that digital photographs are automatically dated is something I'm appreciating more and more as I work through these, although the chances of me having done the equivalent of writing the names on the back of photos are even slimmer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

revisiting faith

This is the piece I mentioned that I found the other day. It was probably written late 2004 or earlyish 2005. After that point I had received the email signed off 'May you be bathed in the blood of the Lamb of God', and somehow I can't imagine having neglected to mention that! Being of the slightly squeamish persuasion it still seems like a dubious proposition and I have yet to come to terms with the concept, no matter how well it has been explained to me theologically. Maybe being a life long vegetarian has something to account for my reaction to it?! Anyway, here is what I wrote whenever it was....

"But what is faith? What do we mean by it?" was the question someone raised recently in the 'Hearts and Minds Prepared' study group I'm in at my local Meeting.

It has been rattling round my head ever since (well maybe resonating - there's not much room in there at present to rattle). It reminds me of a story I heard a good few years ago now, whether an urban myth or true I've now forgotten, but it has stayed with me. A guy is sitting his Higher English exam (Scottish examination taken at 16yrs) and got to the essay question "What is courage?" His answer was simply "This is courage." end of essay. He got an A grade. Apparently a bright student anyway he could've conceivably done well enough on the other questions, but you are left wondering...

In many ways for me you could substitute 'faith' for 'courage' - sure you could write a three page essay on it in an exam, many have written doctorates and literature about it. But in the end it boils down to simply having the courage to believe that there is something out there to have faith in, and trusting that whatever it is will be there to sustain, support and guide us.

"Greetings in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!" A year ago had I opened an email that started like that I'd've hit delete without reading any further, assuming it was yet another 'we have lots of money to get our of the country' bid to get you to participate in money laundering (does anyone actually fall for these?). But now I always read to at least the next line. Okay so there are still the chancers our there, but there are also genuine WGYF emails sending Minutes, references and applications from the more christocentric and evangelical branches of Quakers. At first I found the language awkward, it isn't that which 'speaks to my condition' and culturally (in Britain) tends to be associated with the kind of religious fundamentalists who come knocking on your door claiming you'll go to hell if you don't see it their way (as my idea of heaven is a place without religious fundamentalism of any strain we'll all be happy!). Or it is associated with centuries of hypocrisy and abuse of power by the mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches. In fact I'd add 'spiritual abuse' to that too - so many Quakers by convincement in Europe (and the Meetings elsewhere around the world that have stemmed from Friends emigrating over the last 100 years or so rather than evangelical missionary work) are 'refugees' from mainstream Christian churches. Some lost, some convinced that there must be something less hypocritical, but others with gaping raw wounds on a spiritual level, some also the victims of literal abuse at the hands of the churches - both physical and sexual. Our newspapers are seldom without the latest scandal of this nature as adults and children manage to find a voice to speak out about the atrocities they suffered at boarding schools and care homes. Films such as Rabbit-Proof Fence and Magdelene Sisters haven't exactly covered the church in glory either. Oh and just don't get me started on the patrification of religion and the Spanish Inquisition! On top of that our mainstream Christian Churches have a long history of dissent, of claiming each other to be the devil's work yet all purporting to worship the same God, the same Christ, to love thy neighbour and thine enemies.

In this respect not much has changed since the days of George Fox. The Christian church in Britain is facing a crisis, attendance is falling, church buildings are expensive to maintain and with smaller and smaller congregations to support them more and more are being sold off and turned into flats, pubs, warehouses and art centres etc. Some churches merge and become more ecumenical, but others maintain their line that 'they are right and the others are wrong' and risk dying out because of their intransigence and the obvious dichotomy between the biblical words quoted from the pulpit and their actions. People are questioning the Churches, questioning the version of Christianity that is being offered. Yet with the Dead Sea Scrolls, the emergence in popularity of the Apocrypha based books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail and the recent Da Vinci Code kind of retelling, many are starting to realize that christianity and Christianity are two very different things, and that the christian message is one that can speak to them and be meaningful in modern society.

For me a major revelation over the last year is getting my head around the idea that on the whole many evangelical Friends fall into my definition of christianity, not Christianity. Sure there are a few things that I have great difficulty with regarding the deification of Christ and some statements which look to me like creeds. [note from 2015: I can't help but wonder - what would George Fox say?!] I've started to reclaim the language I'd written off as meaningless to me. Okay so I'm still not going to open an email with 'Greetings in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ....' as that simply isn't how I see Jesus, but words like blessings and God are creeping in in a way I'd never have considered before, and they feel right. I've come to realize that it's Christianity [note from 2015: I've since heard it described as Churchianity] I've rejected, not christianity, and that whilst the concept of god is far more important to me than Jesus (who I see as a prophet, and a damned good one at that) I'm now more inclined to listen for the christian message when I hear words that used to set off alarm bells for me.

For those living thousands of miles away from the centuries of abuse done in the name of Christianity I can understand why Britain must seem like a Godforsaken country. Or rather a a God-rejecting one, as I doubt if we're forsaken. But we are also an increasingly multi-ethnic society, people are no longer needing to travel halfway around the world to visit synagogues, mosques and Buddhist temples. The wisdom of other religions is around us and just down the road. We are finding that they too have their fundamentalists and skeletons in the closet along with the Christian churches. But their underlying messages are remarkably familiar. There are far more options when seeking a faith that fits than there used to be, and hopefully this means fewer 'lost souls' unable to find what they are looking for.

There was a bit more of the original piece but it was getting waffley and tangential, even by my standards! In many ways it is strange now reading it - I've become more of a Kiwi than I had thought. I certainly don't feel as though I can speak for how Britain is now. I'd like to think Pope Francis is having a positive impact on the general perception of the Catholic Church and Christianity in general. Although from the number of memes on Facebook pointing out the discrepancy between the status quo view of a (quote) Christian country Government/mass media and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth on certain issues, there are plenty still wearing blinkers that can't see their own hypocrisy.

Like a good number of my peers I've started to appreciate the huge difference between faith and religion. You don't have to subscribe to a particular religion to have faith. As Thomas Owen stated in his message given at the World Conference of Friends in Kenya 2012 'I don't believe that God invented religion to reach humankind. I believe that humankind invented religion to reach God.' It is possible to have a faith in God (or whatever...), something to believe in, without the formal trappings of religion, but religion provides a framework to support us in our reaching out and trying to make sense of it all.

I suspect many have religion but lack any real faith - they go through the comforting familiar motions each Sunday but apply very little of what they hear to the rest of the week. Not long ago I finished David Copperfield, and I saw Mr Micawber's enduring faith that 'something would turn up' despite all evidence to the contrary and multiple setbacks, to be a depth of faith few of us have. He got his reward in the promised land, albeit of Australia rather than any afterlife! I'm pretty sure Dickens was quite intentional in this portrayal. I know at times my faith in 'something turning up' wavers at times, no matter how much I know it to be true. Those are the times when having the religious framework of Quakerism really helps keep me focused.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

looking forward, looking back

A week tomorrow I set off towards a WGYF+10 reunion in the Kahuterawa Valley near Palmerston North. The event was originally planned for June, but due to clashing diary dates it got rescheduled for August which proved to be a Good Thing as the original date saw much of that region under floodwater, the silt from which is causing major problems and it will take years for the Whanganui & Manawatu River regions to fully recover. The new date also happens to be bang on the actual anniversary of the event which was 16-24th August 2005!

I've got a box of things that I've been putting together ready to take with me - various photos, cards and reports, plus a pile of FWCC stuff as the reunion is also partially preparation for those heading to Peru in January. I've also got a bundle of things I'm gifting on as part of my decluttering/downsizing, plus a patchwork quilt to deliver.

There have been a number of elements surrounding this event that have held a certain symmetry with those of 10yrs ago. The new dates mean Fran can no longer be with us for the reunion as she's relocated back to the UK (for now!) and as she said, the whole WGYF planning and happening was whilst she was transitioning between the UK and Aotearoa in the opposite direction. Charlotte, Jonathan and Thomas had all been at the 2004 FWCC Triennial with me in Auckland, and Charlotte and Thomas will now be heading for Peru. And once again I'm in major clear-out mode, although this time with no intention of moving anywhere in a hurry, let alone emigrate! I'm sure as the weekend progresses next week we'll find more such connections.

Today's major mission was sorting through a pile of paperwork and filing. Originally I just started to look for something (which I've yet to find!) but the task took on a life of it's own. It was rather therapeutic to consign a huge amount of paper to the recycling, fire and printer pile. That which ended up on the fire was a collection of UK official paperwork that had long since passed it's 7 year 'keep until' date. Another step of my transition from one side of the world to the other. So after investing in a new concertina file I have now managed to reduce the amount of space such paperwork takes up quite considerably.

Towards the end of the pile of paperwork I was working through I found a piece I'd written, possibly for our GM or MM newsletter, but I can't remember writing it let alone why! It had been written at some point during my time as the WGYF administrator, so it felt timely to rediscover it. So I can recycle the paper version I'll type it up as a post (Tomorrow? Too near bedtime to start that now!). It was good to get a reminder of that part of my spiritual journey as it is all too easy to remember the practical challenges of making such an event happen, whereas which parts of my spiritual life link to that event rather than anything in the subsequent decade I find a little harder to untangle now. Maybe I should re-read the first few months of this blog to remind myself of the impact, although I suspect more posts will be about the practicalities of emigrating!

Another reminder of what feels like a past life was a page I'd written up for a 'getting to know you' session at Summer Gathering - what isn't obvious is whether that's NYFSG (these days Summer Shindig) or Summer Gathering here as 'SG' could mean either! Reading through the games and ideas there are things I'd totally forgotten about - I haven't played 'Radio Cars' in years! Thankfully the notes are detailed enough to remind me how to play them all too, much better than a list I came across in one other clearout some years back that was just several columns of game names but with no explanations. Having said I'll help organize JYF Camp next year it is good resource to find - now to find somewhere to keep it where I'll be able to locate it again in time... such facilitation and planning is an area in life I feel decidedly rusty in. Yet a decade ago Ruth, Susie and I planned an entire Link Group w/e in 20 minutes! I found the cd I'd done for them for the Friday night epilogue a few days ago, I'm planning to recycle that one at Summer Gathering here after Christmas! I hadn't got to that Glasgow w/e due to WGYF commitments, so it feels right to be planning to reuse it in this time of remembering a decade ago.

Given the general inter-connectedness of all things Quaker, I suppose it is unsurprising to be coming across so many links, both tangible and otherwise, between life now and ten years ago. I think of the people who were such an enormous part of my life back then, and where they are now. Mary (from Australia) is even back in Edinburgh for the Festival! Bar some long standing couples, none of us are living in each others inboxes and daily lives in quite the same way as we were in the run up to WGYF. Many of those people I haven't seen since, which feels way too long. But an email I got this morning from Katy (who I've known since my early days as a YF in the UK, but who also lives here) summed up what I know to be true of those connections too: Whenever I catch up with you, and other friends, like this, I ask myself why it doesn't happen more often! But perhaps it doesn't really need to: we pick up from where we left off, however long the gap. 

The same is also true for those I'll see next weekend, and whether it is less than 8 weeks or over 8 years (the two extremes!) since I last saw them, I know I can look forward to a weekend of deep sharing, love, laughter and f/Friendship that I'll treasure and carry with me for years more to come.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

filling in the gaps

Today I discovered why my filing of negatives had appeared to start at a really random point in time. It seems that it wasn't 15yrs ago when I started this mission, but more like 24! I'd started with the latest film and worked backwards. So when I picked up the gauntlet 11yrs later I'd simply carried on where I'd left off!

It made me laugh to discover this, it all makes perfect sense now. Of course I started a really detailed filing system when I was in the middle of writing my dissertation - you couldn't get much more worthy in terms of procrastination, and far more satisfying than housework. It is also typical of me that I shoved something in a cupboard for years and then started it up again. It was around that same time that I finally finished a patchwork project that I'd had since secondary school. That now forms part of a cushion on the previously mentioned captain's chair! Thankfully my patchworking has never since been consigned to the 'pending...' pile for years on end.

One of today's bonus discoveries was the negative of a photo I took of my Grandad a few months before he died. I haven't had a copy of it for many, many years having given it to someone (Mum? Granny?) thinking I'd get a reprint done and then of course not getting around to it before the negative got buried too deep in the box to easily find. So finally I can fill the gap in my photo album and Granny will no longer be on that page on her own! Another loose end tied up. Plus I've found the negatives of the elusive JYM '88 photos that I'm really hoping are in the blanket box...

I'm already one box down, admittedly it's the smallest one, but it feels like a good start. There's something very satisfying about finally seeing a project through to completion (albeit that happy state is still a long way off!). I'm quite enjoying the elements of detective work involved in reuniting strips that had been taken out of their packet to get reprints done, back with the rest of the set they belong with. It is something of an eye opener to contemplate how much money I have spent on film and processing over the years too! That's probably responsible for a hefty chunk of my student overdraft and visa card being maxed out by the time I graduated.Thankfully most of the travel expenses to the various Quaker gatherings many of the photos are of were covered, otherwise I would've been living off lentils and bread from the half price bakery around the corner... oh wait, I already did.

So, after more years than I'd been alive when I started this, I'm reconstructing about a 23yr section of my life, give or take a film reel or two. Trying to put things back into chronological order (if anyone has suggestions as to how to date several entire films worth of photos of the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, with no recognizable people in to assist in this matter, they would be gratefully received!). You know life would be so much easier if I could settle for being either extremely organized or haphazard (but usually with a system of sorts - like a box, or four, with negatives in... in no particular order), but I never seem to be able to stick with just one. Not only is this project cataloging a substantial chunk of my life, but the entire endeavour reflects me in other ways too: as a person, a photographer, a documenter of events, and no doubt other things I'm too tired to think of right now. It does make me wonder if in years to come when someone comes across the end result (assuming I ever finish it!) what assumptions they would then make about me - I don't for a moment expect that to be accurate!

Monday, August 03, 2015

negatives into positives

At the weekend we got rid of a chest of drawers from my room, and I collected the three remaining boxes from the shed at Pukepoto. This does not mean all my stuff is now here, not by a long chalk. There's a blanket box crammed full of goodness knows what (although I'm hoping I know what some if it is, as if it isn't in there I've lost it!), there's also my cabinet and captain's chair, not to mention three bookcases full of books! But getting those last three boxes here feels like a fairly major landmark.

It's just as well I haven't got the cabinet here yet as I'm using the extra floor space to help sort things out. I did an initial sort through on Sunday, taking out some boxes of stuff here too and resorting it so like is now with like. In the middle of all this I joined in with MM via skype whilst surrounded by piles of stuff, hopefully no-one was looking too closely at the state of my room! I did manage to hide most of what was immediately next to me as I was handsewing the binding on a quilt and it handily covered it over.

So now I have a box of letters, a box of diaries/journals along with artwork and school work, plus a box of the soft toys mostly made by my Aunty Lilian that I still can't quite bear to part with plus a few other childhood treasures, now all shoved under the bed. They'll get revisited some day, but today is not that day...

What this day has been about is photographs. Or to be more precise negatives, plus a box of slides. Once upon a time, many years ago, in a fit of organisation I bought a folder and a few packs of pages to hold negatives, plus some to hold slides. I did manage to make a decent start on the negatives, but as I was doing the job properly and filling in the index pages with a description of every single frame I'd unsurprisingly shelved that task to be completed 'later'. About 15yrs later as it happens! One huge advantage I have now over then is that I no longer take film photographs so the task has a very definite end point to it at some stage, much less daunting than trying to embark on the task at the height of my film usage!

So now I have my slides all archived - I'd forgotten I'd even taken some of them as slides, I'd only remembered about my QYP '87 set. Turns out I have some of East Lothian, Glen Esk, St Andrews and a christening too! I've made a start on the negatives, but once I'm through the ones already sorted into some semblance of order it could be a slow process. But given how many boxes I have full of negatives I'm determined to make some serious inroads on the task so it all takes up less space.

It's amazing really just how many of the pictures I can recognize from a quick glimpse at a strip of negatives held up to the window. They hold a lot of memories. Revisiting them in this way is an interesting process; there isn't time to dwell on anything as each memory that comes up is quickly replaced by those associated with the next strip. It is all there: the good, the bad and the ugly... which does make me think how different my digital archive is in that I delete a lot of the blurry photos etc, and tend to thin out the multiple images once I've decided which of the (insert excessive number here) that I took of the same thing that I'm going to keep. But also it is far easier to delete images that don't have good memories attached to them when they aren't physically attached to others you do want to keep! In many cases the prints have long since gone of the 'bad' photos, but they still remain in the negatives. I guess like life you don't have to take those memories out and dwell on them regularly, but they still make up part of your life, and who you are. You can't cut them out!

So far the less than cheerful memories brought back are those that time has healed, as I'm working through the earliest part of my collection (I'm not entirely sure why I started with the year I did 15yrs ago, rather than at the beginning. Maybe the earlier negatives were 'in a box somewhere' at that stage!). It will be interesting to see how other years, times and places feel when I get to them. Useful too in terms of being something of a timeline checklist which fits in with the counselling sessions I go to.

For now the negatives are just getting labelled generally on the sheets they are in, maybe one day I'll get round to completing the detailed catalogue pages, but somehow I doubt I'll ever be that stuck for something to do! When I get bored of this task I'll switch back to photobooks for a while, but hopefully first I'll have at least one less box of negatives to store. And instead of all those boxes filling me with guilt and frustration each time I come across them (you have no idea how long it took me to find the negatives for the missing photos out of one album recently! But having finally found them I still haven't got the reprints done... hey ho), I'll have a wonderfully organised archive, and that has to be good for the soul as well. One day... but that day is not this day either, as now it is most definitely time for bed.