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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Illusion, truth and reality (Part 1)

I don’t quite know why I am finding this so hard to write. Come to think of it, yes I do, and you will understand as well, I hope, before I’m done. Maybe it’s just the getting started. But fortuitously I have a way in and I’ll run with that.

   The other day, last week it was, I got a surprise email from a former student. His wife, whom he described as ‘an avid iPhone tweaker, twiddler and tweeter’ came across my blog, he said, a couple of days before. I’m using some of his email to grease the wheels of this posting. Don’t worry, I asked his permission.

   Steve completed his Graduate Diploma in Islamic Studies in 1997. His knowledge and experience of Islam were well in advance of the majority of his classmates and future employers, which was both a blessing and a curse for him for reasons I won’t go into here, or this will never get off the ground.

   He retired six years ago, and I’ll let him tell you what he’s doing now, in his own words:

   Now I describe myself as an agroforester. We're in a joint venture with State Forests, growing eucalypts for veneer production. After teaching adolescents, growing trees is just wonderful, viz

  • they stay where you plant them, and don't just go away into another paddock 
  • they don't decide to go and hit other trees for mysterious reasons 
  • they don't call you '****head' 
  • when you're sick of them, it's quite OK to get out a chainsaw and chop them into small pieces

   I don’t know if Steve would ever have been my student if it weren’t for his father’s desire to get a degree from the UNE. Believe it or not, Peter, Steve's dad, was in my very first class of external students here at UNE in 1976. At that time he always wore denim jacket and jeans. With greying temples in a rather distinguished, post-modernist hippie sort of way, he looked much more the part of the 1970s university teacher of Asian cultures than I did, for I was still in my 20s. He knew a great deal more about life than I, which you’d expect, as he must have been well into his fifties by then, but at least I had the edge in some of the specific things I was teaching about.

   Ah, that Class of 1976! My experience of short Residential Schools as an External Student myself at Queensland University was jaundiced, I confess. The other students looked as if they were dragged there, said little and wrote much down. They were there to mine information in the sense of finding out what the lecturer thought and regurgitate it in the exams. So I expected not a great deal from my first ever batch of Externals as their teacher when they came for their first Residential School.

   How wrong I was! They were fantastic – eager to learn, eager to discuss, unafraid of going out on a limb. After four days of lectures and tutorials, I felt as if I had been through a physical and intellectual wringer, but smiling all the way. And Peter was leading the charge.

   So it was with some sadness that I read in Steve’s email:

   I have been retired for six years, having started by taking leave to become my father Peter's carer. He slipped out of camp nearly two years ago, with the sort of dementia I hope to get, a 'golden dementia' in which he was having an absolutely lovely time; everything around him was utter chaos, but, hey, things were great for him.

   Apart from telling a story that I believe has sufficient merit on its own for inclusion in my Blob, this is all leading to something. But I must round this part of the story off with this. I wrote back to him:

   I am genuinely happy for him that if it must be dementia, he has this form, though recognise the heavy burden this places on you as his carer. ... Of course, the critical thing for him is that you are there to steer him along and hopefully in the end he will slip away gently.

   Now, I understood from what Steve wrote that his Peter was still alive, though in his own world, but I was wrong. I’m sure you understood what Steve meant, but my mind was on another track. By ‘out of camp’ he meant that Peter had died, whereas I thought he meant his body was still here but his mind was elsewhere.

   My mistake certainly, but, as I wrote to Steve yesterday, I was making the assumption I did for a good reason.

   I’ll come back to that in another posting, because it links a lot of things that have been on my mind – life and death, reality, the universe and everything.

   By the look of that agenda, I might have to leave a few things out....


  1. You would be forgiven for making that assumption, Denis. I did the same. Speaking in metaphors invites multiple interpretations.

    I'm glad to see you blogging and tweeting away. I've been tempted to tweet, and once tried to join up, but it was all too complicated for this simple brain and I gave up. At the moment, I'm trying to restrict my computer time to no more than an hour per day in an attempt to curb my email addiction. I'm having a hard enough time trying to squeeze everything into that hour without inviting more information into my life. I can barely process what's coming in.

    I read Robert Mann's article on Julian Assange and so thought our Julia should read it too. She might change her mind about him. However, the Americans wouldn't like that, so perhaps she says one thing and thinks another. If you haven't read it, you can find it online

    We watched our Dear Leader on Q&A the other night. She does very well when she's not reading from a script. I can see why she conquered America last week, and how she got the Independents and others on side in the hung parliament. Tony Abbott is a nasty piece of work, and the ABC doesn't help by taking Julia's comments on the Carbon Tax out of context. The ABC must have John Laws or Alan Jones on their consulting staff. The ABC will rue the day they helped get Tony Abbott elected.

    Off the the pottery studio today and Canberra this weekend. I think I've conquered the 1.5kg bowl the other day, so today I'll test whether I can still ride that bike. It's a bit like that. You struggle and struggle and fail and fail, and then one day, voila, you can ride the bike as though it's part of your own body.

    Happy tweeting and twaddling,

  2. Our dear departed Mr Adams put five books into exploring LTUAE (with lots of distractions along the way I admit) and I think it was thoroughly worth the effort. :-) Sounds like it will keep you busy for a bit, life and death, like the two "sides" of a mobius strip. ;-) The continuum of Ishvara, Prakriti and Purusha. Where to start? :-) Looking for a big dollop of LTUAE on your Blob. ;-)

    Joan, +1 on the "nasty piece of work" observation. :-)

  3. Thanks for these comments. For what I have started with this posting, I am finding it very hard to focus precisely on what I will say before the end, because there are so many things happening right now. And, it seems, everything I’m writing in the next part needs an explanation the purpose of which may not immediately apparent. I’ll persevere. This is for me at least as much as for anyone else.

    Enjoy Canberra, Joan. The centre of the known universe.... ☺ when I used to go there for research years ago, I really did find it to be its own world entirely, like the Forbidden City in Beijing, I guess.

    But then you aren’t going there for a dose of politics.

    Scott – maybe I should just defer to the amazing Douglas Adams.
    “He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife.”

  4. Did Denis Adams do something really unforgiveable in order to hope and pray there is no afterlife, fearing pitchfork up his backside or something?

    Actually, several religions include a high god to whom you can pray as well as no afterlife, so he could have had both his prayers and oblivion, too.

  5. Hah! Joan.... Denis 'Adams' is much too weighty a title to place on my slender(!) shoulders. You are right of course, in your last sentence, and I'm coming to this very point in my most recent writing. It hasn't yet been posted - on creating our own images of reality, including that 'high god'. I suspect the joke was just too good for Douglas Adams to resist!

  6. Denis Adams is a sculptor. He did Thunderbolt in Uralla. I always get him and Douglas mixed up.

    Anyway, he'll know now whether his hope/prayer was answered. Whatever happens to us, it will be totally different from what we pray and hope for, anyway.

    I'm in Canberra with broadband. It's another world.

  7. This interchange (exchange?) is a good example of the potential for confusion in our understandings of reality!
    Time real broadband came to Chinook, it seems. Or will that be a further extension of Parkinson's Law?

  8. On Assange, I would like to say so many things. But not here and not now. The article is long, very powerful, and fascinating. I fear though, that he has quite a fragile temperament, not likely to be up to the immense rigours he's going through, and has yet to.

  9. Our perception of reality is confused anyway, so there's no hope that words can sort it out. Doesn't stop us from trying. Right now I'm reading Denis Waite's book on neo-Advaita, "Enlightenment: The Path Through the Jungle". Jungle of words, indeed.

    As for Parkinson's Law, I don't know what that is, but broadband at Chinook certainly has Parkinson's disease, as you will remember from our Skype sessions.

    Julian Assange is pretty tough, I think. He's got fabulous people behind him. However, Manne's article indicated that he's succumbed to the very thing he's against -- autocractic authority. Typical Jungian case of projection.

    Back to work, but I have to admit this is more interesting than searching for information on dry glazes on ceramic sculpture. However, that's what I'm here for, and I have only a precious 3 days to find my way through this jungle.

  10. Re para 1, you're anticipating where I'm heading, Joan! But how come you know so many blokes named Denis? - you need only read Line 1!
    Assange: Catch 22 for him!
    Anyone interested in Joan and Carl's artworks can view them at

  11. I only know the best blokes, and they're all called Denis.

    Out of the ANU jungle tomorrow, and I'm hoping I won't get lost in a jungle of traffic trying to get out of town. I'll be so pleased to get home to a glass of wine.

    I trust the Avastin has kicked in by now. Your subconscious certainly gave Brian the right image - a cougar, a big, big cat. I speak from having known and watched cats for decades now.

    I am spending my last evening in my cute little expensive apartment on campus, brush painting on rice paper. Anything to calm me down after a crazy 3 days without much food or sleep, waiting for my cone to go over (potters will understand). Somehow I prefer the measured, contemplative academic side of university life rather than the manic, chaotic art school side. All those young bodies clad in cute little black clothes. How do they stay so perfect and clean after a day on the potter's wheel?

    The sliding doors of life. Perhaps in every moment there is a choice to go one way or the other, and in a parallel universe somewhere, possibly we've all turned right instead of left and are living completely different lives.

  12. :) para 1. Of course they are, Joan!
    para 3. I suspect another round in the battle has begun.
    para 4. I imagine the cleaner the clothes, the smaller the output. I knew someone who would employ gardeners based on how worn the cloth was in their pants over their knees, rather than how smartly dressed they were.
    para 5. The possibilities are endless at any given point, but we follow only one path. I try to make the most of it. I daresay you are home now. Cool weather!
    I must rest.


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