Thursday, January 28, 2016

And another one gone, and another one gone, another one bites the dust...

You know I'm getting pretty hōhā with 2016, or as some of my younger f/Friends Stateside would put it 'enough already!'

Yesterday came the announcement that yet another artist who's work makes up the soundtrack of my own life has died prematurely. Part of me is thinking that there must be a party somewhere with one heck of guest list or jam session, regardless of the fact that I have no idea really whether I believe in life after death or not, and if there is what form it might take. But it's the sort of thing that we console ourselves with though when grieving, when logic has no place.

When David Bowie died, shortly followed by Alan Rickman, I was trying to get my head around the why the passing of someone I'd never met felt like such a kick in the guts. It's not like I'd plastered my walls with posters of them, nor been a fanatical follower. Sure I have several David Bowie albums, consider a good few of Alan Rickman's films to be up there amongst my favourites of all time, and yes I too bought Black's album on the strength of 'Wonderful Life' alone but I never bought any others, nor had even realized there were any until reading Colin Vearncombe's obituary today. It was this tweet seen on Facebook though that helped made sense of what I was feeling "Thinking about how we mourn artists we've never met. We don't cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves." And, as I said before, precisely because they make up the soundtrack of our own lives.

There are lyrics that resonate with us, that make sense of our own tangled emotions, that let us know we aren't alone in feeling that way. In the same way there are characters portrayed in films that speak to us on a deeper level. But there are also the songs and scenes that stay with us because of associated memories of where we were, who we were with, who we've sat with endlessly quoting lines back and forth or even just listened to others doing just that.

After a year watching several new film versions of Robin Hood, on top of repeated viewing of the videos of the TV series the one thing our uni crowd was unanimous about was that Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham outshone the rest by far. He more than made up for the dodgy accents and Forestry Commission forests complete with signs masquerading as Sherwood, not to mention the really lousy geography. When the clip of him cancelling Christmas was shown during the obituary on the news it wasn't just Alan Rickman's brilliant acting I was seeing encapsulated in a few seconds, but 25yrs or so of friendships, and a whole gamut of Robin Hood books, films, songs and associated memories of which he was such a defining part of. It felt like my own life was flashing before my eyes rather than his acting career. And that's just one of his stellar performances.

Fran was saying on Facebook that her boss had set the office homework to come in with their favourite Bowie track after the weekend. One track???? It's just as well I wasn't expected to do the same! I realized as I worked my way through the many Bowie tracks shared on social media as well as my own itunes library that I couldn't choose any track purely on musical merit. It depends on so much; what mood I'm in, what do I want to be reminded of? The fact that David Bowie managed to cover such a wide breadth of styles over so many decades means there's pretty much a suitable track for any occasion! No wonder his work has touched so many of us; his songs transport me back to many places, times and people that have been important to me and/or define a time in one way or another. Many bands and artists have those sorts of connections for me, but Bowie represents some of the most diverse and numerous. Bowie reinvented himself and his image time after time, he was always just that little bit different, but that was okay. A good reminder to have when you find yourself feeling like a square peg in a round hole. Hopefully I can expect to see out at least another three decades and it doesn't seem quite right to think that there will be no more new Bowie tracks to define them, obviously that day was inevitable, but I wasn't quite ready for it to happen. There is a sadness for the loss of what might have been created.

'No need to laugh, and cry, it's a wonderful, wonderful life...' a song that has probably made it's way on to more compilation tapes and cds that I've put together over the years than any other. In my minds eye the song conjours up the dreadful carpets and wallpaper in our Croydon Rd flat and other images from the time, but it also makes me think of the many people since then who I've passed the song on to. Perhaps in doing so making it part of their life story at a different time.

I can't say as I felt any personal sense of loss when Lemmy or the guy from Rainbow (the band not the tv show!) died recently, their music not really being quite my cup of tea, but the fact that there seemed to be so many not quite making their three score year and ten all in a rush does still seem a bit much (okay for the pedants amongst you Lemmy had passed 70, but only by four days...). There is an expectation now that people live longer than that, especially those who can afford decent health care, even those whose lifestyle might be described as burning the candle at both ends for many years. These days seventy seems too young. Musicians and actors that are contemporaries of my parents are suddenly dropping like flies... it's no wonder really that it is getting so many of my generation worried. We're not ready to be the older generation yet!

Friday, January 22, 2016

ponderings on Peru and possibilities

A big diversion for me this week is reading the many updates of f/Friends who have headed to Pisac in Peru for the World Plenary of FWCC. I did a quick tot up of names and got to at least 35 Friends there that I know, and there are no doubt many others that I just haven't discovered are there yet!

I was reading Rachel's blog post about the event and was struck by how similar the four consultations are to the four themes that have emerged in our Yearly Meeting's structure review so far. I commented on this in an email to the nine Friends from our YM heading there and got this reply from Elizabeth Duke "Your perception of the similarities between the themes being considered here and those in our YM is spot-on. I'm co-clerking the consultation on 'Equipping FWCC', along with Michael Eccles, and our planned movement through our four sessions owes more than a little to my experience on the YM working group." Part of me was surprised at the co-incidence, but the rest of me remembers reading a Quaker blog post (sorry I've long since forgotten who wrote it!) that spoke of god-incidences instead, and I figure that it makes perfect sense that a process of discernment as to why both FWCC and our YM exist comes up with similar answers!

It is exciting to think that the experience of those attending the World Plenary are going to be so timely for our ongoing discernment here. I came back from the 2012 World Conference of Friends in Kenya with a renewed enthusiasm for Outreach after the message of not hiding our light under a bushel came through loud and clear. There has indeed been a stirring of enthusiasm for outreach across the YM, but there has also been a distinct lack of direction. How do we reach out to those who may be looking for us if we don't really have a clear vision of who we are, and the structure we have clearly needs overhauled? 

So we've muddled along in the background with vague ideas but lacking content. In some ways it has felt like putting the cart before the horse, even more so seeing that the Handbook Revision Committee has been updating our equivalent of Church Government when the status quo is under review. However Quaker process isn't renown for its speed so we'll no doubt get a good few years worth out of their labours before much changes! Similarly there is plenty for the MM Outreach Committees to be picking up on meanwhile now we have at least got the outreach conversation going on a national level at our recent Summer Gathering.

One of the perks of the job I have helping put together the Documents in Advance for Yearly Meeting is not only getting to read all the contributions early, but being immersed in them for several weeks. Much better preparation than the hasty skim read prior to and during scheduled discussion of them that has been far more common for me over the years. I'm keen to see where the review process takes us this year and what impact it has had already on the Meetings around the country. The view has been put forward already that the issue before us is a spiritual one as much as a structural one, and if we revitalize the spiritual the rest will follow. I agree that spiritual nourishment and renewal is vital, and will indeed lead to more Friends being willing to 'live the transformation', but we still need to figure out how to underpin that work with a better functioning structure. I've often heard it said that the reason Quakers survived well beyond the other dissenting churches that started around the same time was due to the organizational structure and skills of the likes of Margaret Fell. This was repeatedly used as a reason for not changing things when Britain YM reviewed its own structure about a decade ago - it had worked for 350yrs why change it?! Well, actually it wasn't working all that great and from what I can tell from here (having emigrated as it was in the middle of happening) the changes have led to a revitalized Yearly Meeting. So whilst I took some persuading initially in Britain, I'm all for reorganizing things here.

Admittedly I have a vested interest in putting forward the view that it makes sense to pay someone to do more of the administrative tasks to free up Friends to work on building our spiritual communities, work on our social testimonies, strengthen our Meetings and do outreach, as I'd love to be doing that work for more than the current 100 hours a year. But it makes sense to me as a model anyway. Having grown up with the resources of Friends House in London on tap, and on a much smaller scale the Scotland General Meeting administrator role I suppose that is no surprise. Additionally I don't have as many decades of attachment to the local system to shed as others do, and I do have the benefit of an international perspective. Not only have I been part of more than one Yearly Meeting, my involvement with FWCC over the years, first with the Europe & Middle East Section and now the Asia West Pacific Section, as well as global events like the 2004 Triennial, WGYF 2005 and the 2012 World Conference, means I've come across a wide range of Quaker experience and practices.

So we'll see how the year unfolds, but first there is the rest of the World Plenary to follow! Here's hoping the wifi holds out and Friends continue to find the time and energy to share their experiences with us as they happen.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

leftover from last year

I wrote this last year, but for some reason didn't quite get around to clicking on 'publish' before Christmas and heading off to Summer Gathering...

Well I'm getting there! I now have my much loved American cabinet and the blanket box out of storage and in my room, and my small bookcase full of children's paperbacks. However even with the best will in the world the larger bookcase and my chair will not fit and still leave me with enough room to actually get from the door to my bed, so they remain where they are... for now!

It was quite nostalgic going through the contents of the blanket box which had been filled to the brim with 'stuff'. Anything I couldn't remember either owning, or the origins of and had no immediate need for went in the 'get rid of' box. There were a couple of things that have long since been replaced and they too have been passed on. Having unpacked everything and sorted through it all I then began to repack the blanket box with the kitchen stuff I don't currently need, and then started filling up the remaining space with various odds and ends. But then I stopped and thought about it.If I'm trying to downsize to a Tiny House kind of quantity of belongings then I have to not only be able to fit it all in my bedroom, but if it can't be useful in this sized space then why keep it? There won't be room in a Tiny House for storing things for 'one day I might live somewhere bigger'! So the pictures in frames and stained glass came back out, and a couple of ornaments that have too much sentimental value to part with. And yes I found space for them, albeit with deciding to part with a few other things that had been previously taking up that space. A few things did go in the blanket box though earmarked for gifting on to particular individuals at some future point in time.

It feels very satisfying to have more of my belongings around me, rather than them scattered to the winds. There is a lot of history, my history and family history, represented by the things that have survived several decluttering culls. Everything has a story behind it, although there's one rather pristine looking paua pendant that I can't quite place, but I've hung it anyway on my 'mobile' of necklaces made from an embroidery hoop and a spare cord.

And you know what? I still have free cupboard space and my room doesn't feel overcrowded. Okay so the pile of Christmas presents and the pile of stuff gradually accumulating to pack to take to Summer Gathering does take away from the overall picture of an organized living space, but it is still very much livable in. It made me realize just how much I must have got rid of during this major declutter. Also it makes me realize that I might just be able to pull off this total downsizing thing after all! Which means one less hurdle in the way of doing so. An exciting, liberating, but also slightly scary thought.

Years ago the idea was mooted at a Young Friends camp for a bunch of our generation getting together at some indeterminate point in the future and forming an intentional community, a bit like the Quaker Settlement, but not at the Settlement. There were various reasons why a different set-up was felt to be preferable, and probably a totally incompatible combination of ideas as to what it could comprise of. But practicalities didn't matter as it was a 'one day in the future' idea rather than a 'lets do it now!' one. However almost 9 yrs down the track and several children later, the idea has resurfaced, suggestions as to a where have been made and there's even a possible site... and including Tiny Houses in the overall scheme of things has been suggested as one couple are in the process of building theirs! Well the timing isn't right for me if the current suggestion goes ahead, but it opens up another possible future option, whether they manage to set something up sooner or later. Again an exciting, but slightly scary thought. And then an email came through about a Quaker women's cooperative house possibility, again an immediate option that wouldn't work for me, but an new idea to mull over....

Thankfully I don't need to decide anything right now, but Leith's words in a conversation we had at the WGYF+10 event keep coming back to me; we were discussing employment rather than living circumstances at the time, but it is just as relevant. I was trying to explain my inability to articulate quite what it was I felt called to do in life, and she astutely asked 'is that because you don't know what you are called to do or because it doesn't exist yet?' Part of my Tiny House dream is to live as part of an intentional community, to have my own space, yet not be 'living alone'. I haven't explored yet whether that could be possible at the Settlement, but the fact that they are looking in to having Resident Friends has offered one possibility of a means of being there at a future date and seeing if it is the right place for me. After all I can't imagine me getting anything built in a hurry! I'm still not convinced about leaving the Far North though, but as each new option arises it helps me figure out what it is I am looking for, and where I'm being called to be. However I'm pretty certain that here is very much where I'm meant to be for now!

Books 2015

For several years now I've kept track of the books I've read through the year. The idea is to read at least 52 books in a year, cover a range of genres, continue to work my way through the BBC's 2003 100 Big Read list and try not to let re-reads dominate my reading. Audio books have again come into their own, not just when travelling, but also when doing handcrafts and when my eyes are too tired to read at night. I've picked up a few of the 100 Big Read books 2nd hand lately so I've got several already lined up for 2016, plus of course 13 more volumes of War & Peace!

The Very Best of Charles de Lint posed an ethical dilemma - someone posted a link to it on Facebook and I had a look expecting to be able to read a few pages at most which at least would give me an idea as to whether it was worth pursuing. Well it was, and it turned out that there were several of the short stories in full that you could access. However the entire book wasn't available unless you downloaded it, for free, which sounded like a good price. But the site was Amazon and I'd signed up to the Amazon-free Christmas pledge a few months earlier fully intending it to be a year round commitment and I didn't really want to break that, as even if I wasn't going to be giving them any money it would show my account to be active... so it remains unfinished! I'm not going to lose any sleep over it, whilst I enjoyed what I read I can live without the rest.

As part of my decluttering I had decided to pass along my Deltora Quest books once I'd completed the first series, and my Linda McNabb books on top of that. This cleared several inches of shelf space and they went to a good home. As I've now got about 3/4 of my books in my room now the temptation to re-read old favourites is growing, so all the more reason to keep track of what I read this year and not find myself falling down the rabbit hole of nostalgic comfort reads never to try anything new again....

* still reading
italics - re-read

January - March 2015
i. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens (started last year)
1. God Just Is... - Curt Gardener
2. An Unexpected Hero - L.P. Hansen
3. The Sleeper And The Spindle - Neil Gaiman
4. Dune - Frank Herbert (audio book)
5. The Seventh Son - Linda McNabb
6. Shadow Girl - Sally Nicholls
7. Mountains Of Fire - Linda McNabb
8. Song Of The Selkie - Cathy Dunsford
9. Rowan and the Zebak - Emily Rodda
10. War & Peace I - Leo Tolstoy (audio book)
11. * The Very Best Of Charles de Lint - Charles de Lint
12. A Wind In The Door - Madeleine L'Engle
13. A Swiftly Tilting Planet - Madeleine L'Engle
14. The Royal Ranger - John Flanagan
15. War & Peace II - Leo Tolstoy (audio book)
16. Dune Messiah - Frank Herbert

April - June 2015
17. Tanith - Sherryl Jordan 
18. Oor Wullie - DC Thompson
19. One Hundred Years Of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
20. First Test  (Protector of the Small 1) - Tamora Pierce
21. Page (Protector of the Small 2) - Tamora Pierce 
22. Squire  (Protector of the Small 3)  - Tamora Pierce
23. Lady Knight (Protector of the Small 4) - Tamora Pierce
24. Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness 1) - Tamora Pierce

July - September 2015 
25. In the Hand of the Goddess (Song of the Lioness 2) - Tamora Pierce
26. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (Song of the Lioness 3) - Tamora Pierce 
27. Lioness Rampant (Song of the Lioness 4) - Tamora Pierce 
28. Wild Magic (The Immortals 1) - Tamora Pierce
29. Wolf Magic (The Immortals 2) - Tamora Pierce
30. The Emperor Mage (The Immortals 3) - Tamora Pierce
31. Realms of the Gods (The Immortals 4) - Tamora Pierce
32. Trickster's Choice - Tamora Pierce
33. Trickster's Queen - Tamora Pierce
34. My Side of the Mountain - Jean Craighead George
35. The Usborne Fairy Tale Treasury (mostly read to Lucy)
36. The Forest of Silence (Deltora Quest 1) - Emily Rodda
37. The Lake of Tears (Deltora Quest 2) - Emily Rodda
38. City of the Rats (Deltora Quest 3) - Emily Rodda
39. The Shifting Sands (Deltora Quest 4) - Emily Rodda
40. Dread Mountain (Deltora Quest 5) - Emily Rodda
41. The Maze of the Beast (Deltora Quest 6) - Emily Rodda
42. The Valley of the Lost (Deltora Quest 7) - Emily Rodda
43. Return to Del (Deltora Quest 8) - Emily Rodda
44. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45. Singing Home the Whale - Mandy Hager
46. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

October - December 2015
47. Scorpion Mountain (Brotherband 5) - John Flanagan
48. The Tournament of Gorlan (The Early Years) - John Flanagan
49. The Forest of Silence (Deltora Quest 1) - Emily Rodda (read to Seany)
50. The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle 1) - Patrick Rothfuss (audio book)
51. In Search of Simplicity - John P. Haines
52. The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle 2) - Patrick Rothfuss (audio book)
53. Spellsinger (Spellsinger 1) - Alan Dean Foster (audio book)
54. Hour of the Gate (Spellsinger 2) - Alan Dean Foster (audio book)
55. The Day of the Dissonance (Spellsinger 3) - Alan Dean Foster (audio book)
56. The Moment of the Magician (Spellsinger 4) - Alan Dean Foster (audio book)
57. The Paths of the Perambulator (Spellsinger 5) - Alan Dean Foster (audio book)
58. * The Time of the Transference (Spellsinger 6) - Alan Dean Foster (audio book)