Happy Birthday Joy Davidman

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Joy Davidman & C.S. Lewis

Born on this day in 1915 to a New York Jewish family Helen Joy Davidman was considered a child prodigy, graduating with a masters from Columbia aged 20. The poem below was written in 1936 in the period when she became an atheist and Communist, supporting the Republican cause in Spain.

In the 1940’s she and her first husband, William Lindsay Gresham, began researching religions seeking meaning in their lives. They looked at Judaism and even experimented with Dianetics, L. Ron Hubbard’s system that would become Scientology. Ultimately they were attracted to Christianity, in particular by the writings of C.S Lewis.

Divorcing Gresham after he had a affair, Davidman moved to the UK, and ended up marrying C.S. Lewis. The marriage was largely one of convenience, their relationship was professional and they collaborated in work. When her Visa ran out Lewis offered to marry her to keep her in the UK. He wrote of her;

She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more

Snow in Madrid; by Joy Davidman

Softly, so casual,
lovely, so light, so light,
the cruel sky lets fall
something one does not fight.

How tenderly to crown
the brutal year
the clouds send something down
that one need not fear.

Men before perishing
see with unwounded eye
for once a gentle thing
fall from the sky.

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Happy Birthday George Herbert

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Portrait by Robert White of Herbert painted 40 years after the death of the poet.

Born this day 1593, Herbert is one of the Metaphysical poets.  This poem is considered symbolic of his struggle with holy orders, which he ducked in University for a career in Parliament, only to return to the cloth later in life.

The Collar : by George Herbert

I struck the board, and cried, “No more;
I will abroad!
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free, free as the road,
loose as the wind, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
to let me blood, and not restore
what I have lost with cordial fruit?

Sure there was wine
before my sighs did dry it; there was corn
before my tears did drown it.
Is the year only lost to me?
Have I no bays to crown it,
no flowers, no garlands gay? All blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart; but there is fruit,
and thou hast hands.

Recover all thy sigh-blown age
on double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
of what is fit and not. Forsake thy cage,
thy rope of sands,
which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
good cable, to enforce and draw,
and be thy law,
while thou didst wink and wouldst not see.

Away! take heed;
I will abroad.
Call in thy death’s-head there; tie up thy fears;
He that forbears
to suit and serve his need
deserves his load.”

But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
at every word,
methought I heard one calling, Child!
And I replied My Lord.

Perception is reality.

Darwin

Charles Darwin and his ancestor.

Every day I see a drama played out in the media, and on social media in particular.  Group A present their reality.  Group B present a counter reality.  Group A argues on science.  Group B argues on pseudo-science overlying blind faith.  Group A is constantly baffled by the inability of group B to grasp reality.  Group B is constantly baffled by the inability of group A to grasp reality.  Group A say “that is not reality – it is perception”.  Group B say “I know what reality is”.

Group B is right.  They do know what their reality is.  Group A ignore perceptual reality at their peril.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was a child I grew up in a large Irish Catholic family.  Seven kids of which I was 6th.  As if the house was not full enough we also, until she married, had my Aunt Phyllis living with us.  I was about 5 when she married.  I was supposed to be the “train bearer” but her bossy bridesmaid, would not let me bear the train.  What I remember about that wedding is the cold.  It was a red raw cold Easter wedding.  In the main group photo you will see me retreating from the church steps to escape the wind by going back into the church.

Phyllis was, to my young mind, the living embodiment of Mary Tyler Moore living in our house.  She was cool, sassy, grown up and not a parent.  My two oldest brothers are over 6 ft tall.  Phyllis is about 5′ 3”.  To my young mind she towered over them.  They were teenagers.  They are my brothers.  She was an adult, they were kids.  She towered over them.

My oldest brother, Jerry, is a Solicitor.  Second oldest, Fergus, is an Architect.  Both well educated professionals.  Phyllis was never a professional.  Mostly she was a mother and housewife.  When she married and moved to Swords in North County Dublin my younger brother and I used to cycle out to visit her quite often.  She would feed us and then send us home.  We loved it when she baked a cake that flopped.  She let us eat as much of it as we could before it went into the bin.  In a family of 7 kids cake is a luxury, flopped or not.

So here you have this short woman with no pretensions to a fantastic education.  Beside her you have my two oldest brothers, towering over her, wielding university degrees.  If I have a need to seek advice on an important philosophical matter who am I going to ask?

Phyllis of course.  In the reality of my 5 year old mind she is the adult.  They are the teenagers.

I know, in my 50 something year old brain that my 60 something year old brothers are well capable of addressing deep philosophical issues.  I know, rationally, that they are well educated, highly experienced adults.

This is the point at which Group A and Group B fall out with each other.  You can prove, without a doubt, to the adult mind, that Jerry and Fergus are the more qualified mentors.  You can absolutely convince me on the evidence that I should ask them for advice.  I will absolutely agree with you, and then I’ll go consult Phyllis.

Vaccination protagonists present all the science to anti-vaccination people, who read it, internalise it and refuse to vaccinate their kids.  Astronomers present incontestable evidence to flat-earthers who nod and smile and go back to live on their flat earth.  Democrats present cast iron evidence that Republicans are exploiting the working man and the working man reads it, shakes his head and votes Republican.  Atheists disprove God again and again.  People of faith can’t argue back, but they know what they feel, and they feel they believe, and in belief lies salvation.

Evidence, statistics, facts, research, proof, they are all good.  They are all worthy valuable pursuits.  But they don’t necessarily change our innate perceptions.  Our reality is founded on our perceptions, not on the cold hard realities of the world.

Again and again Group A think they can win by arguing reality.  In truth they will only win by changing perceptions, and that is a far harder task.

Martin Luther challenged the reality of the Christian Church in 1517.  By the 1960’s the church had, for the most part, altered it’s perception, with the enactment of Vatican II.  That was a hard won victory, 450 years and counting.  Charles Darwin postulated the theory of human evolution in 1859.  That took only about 100 years to gain widespread mainstream acceptance.

Changing perception takes time.  It does not take weeks, months or years.   It takes generations.

 

Living with Dementia

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100 year old man who climbed out a window and disappeared

For anyone who has been through the rounds of dementia or alzheimer’s with a parent the poem by Louise Cole below will strike a chord.

The internet is full of warm cuddly fluff such as “Do Not Ask Me To Remember” by Owen Darnell.  That may help us feel all compassionate for five minutes, until you get a bang on your arm from your mammy’s crutch.

There are moments of comedy and pathos in those visits but they are few and far between.  For the most part you are faced with a parent who is a shadow of the person they used to be.  This is all the more cruel because parents are larger in our lives than other mere mortal adults.

You see them deteriorate both physically and mentally.  The first day you realise they don’t know who you are is a hard one.  My mother was a brilliant actress so she fooled many of the family for years that she knew who they were, but the signs are there if you really want to see them.  Imagine the confusion if you woke up and recognised nobody in your life?  However hard it is for you it is ten times harder on them.

If they remember your kids they remember how they were ten years ago as 7 year olds.  This hulking great 17 year old teenager is a total stranger, and very scary.

You see the weight fall off them until they look like skeletons covered in parchment.  They look small and frail and weak, and we want our parents to loom large and strong for us, to be the foundations for our lives, pillars of strength and wisdom.

The days when you arrive at a nursing home to find your mother sitting in her own shit, because the “cleaning crew” have not gotten around yet, those are hard days.  Because today you know you are here, but tomorrow you will be in work when she is sitting in her shit and piss.

Dress your parents well, in good clothes.  Buy new clothes.  Make sure their hair is styled, the men are shaved regularly, their fingernails are manicured.   This may seem a pointless extravagance if they spend all their day in a nursing home.  But know this; well dressed people are treated better than dirty, unkempt or untidy people.  People speak to them more politely, treat them with more respect, and are more likely to shake their hand, give them a hug or do them a small favour.  All those little moments add up.

People who care for the old are heroes.  Anyone can care for babies because they are so cute.  But changing the nappy on a crabby old man who is trying to bash you on the head, that takes the soul of an angel.  Go out of your way to honour the staff who care for your parents, they deserve every ounce of your respect.

As an aside:  the phrase “Fur Coat and No Knickers” is a common Irish phrase used to describe people who are all flash with no substance.  The kind of person who spends money on a fancy car in the driveway to impress the neighbours, instead of fixing the heating boiler and buying new shoes for the children.

 

Fur Coat and No Knickers; by Louise G. Cole

Drawing breath between tales of dead
little brothers and elderly neighbours
moved away, my mother looks inside
a lifetime that’s 92 and counting,
claims no-one’s visited for months,
thinks I’m her cousin Betty
with designs on her fur coat and hopes
of borrowing a fiver.

I try not to mind the care home smell
and wonder what else to talk about when
the devil himself taps my shoulder
suggests I unburden, reveal secrets
never before shared, so I offer a revelation:
I lost my virginity four times
before I was married. She’s never yet listened to me
so it is no surprise she doesn’t hear,
continues with a rattle about imagined walks
in the park yesterday, shopping
trips she’ll make next week.

A carer comes to tuck her in,
brings weak tea and egg sandwiches,
asks if I’d like some,
is relieved when I decline.
I get up to leave and the frail old cripple
who used to be my mother
spills her tea and demands
to know when cousin Betty intends returning
the fur coat, says quietly: ‘I always knew
what a little whore you were’.

 

 

Poster Semiotics

Signs

Semiotics is the study of signs and it fascinates me. Seldom does semiotics become so literal as to encompass actual signage. I am struck by the difference in signage between the #savethe8th rally which is run by the #ProLife camp and the #Repealthe8th rally run by the #ProChoice camp.

For those who do not live in Ireland: the 8th amendment to our constitution gives protection to right to life of a foetus (if you are pro-choice) or an unborn child (if you are pro-life).  Language matters here.  It is not possible to get a legal abortion in Ireland because Doctors are working in a political minefield.  This recently resulted in the death of Savita Hallapanavar who had complications in pregnancy.  An Indian born Hindu dentist who fell afoul of a Catholic hospital culture.  She died of septicemia after being refused an abortion.  The government is currently proposing to remove the 8th amendment and the nation will vote this Summer.

On top the pro-choice signs. Home made. Personal. Emotional. This is what a groundswell of public support looks like.

On the bottom the pro-life signs. Professionally printed. Money was spent. This is what centrally organised and funded support looks like.  And it might be worth adding, for non-Irish readers, that Ireland is a predominantly Catholic country and the pro-life position is the stated and supported position of the Catholic Church and its various organs.

Here is how it plays out face to face in sign wars for this campaign:  a young pro-choice girl with her home made sign facing down an old man who was handed his sign.

Sign wars

You have to trust your supporters if you let them make their own signs.  They can say anything and they could take you off message.  But on the plus side they are going to be much more entertaining than centrally edited messages and as I always say on this blog, #tainment always wins over boring argument.

I can see centralised campaigns organising sign painting sessions to avoid the corporate, homogeneous and funded look. They may try in future to fake the DIY look of public groundswell.  But it is not that easy to fake sincerity.

Tough enough to get the “rent a crowd” to the event.

Asking them to make their own signs is a stretch.

Expecting them to create witty or truthful signs is a pipe-dream.

So you get centralised messages made with different colour paint.

Here are the photos from the montage above in detail.

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Savethe8th

Happy Birthday Bob Marley

Marley

Bob Marley is fantastically interesting to semioticians.  Semiotics is the study of signs.  When a person, or the image of a person, evolves to become a sign, that is interesting.  Che Guevara has become a sign for revolution.  Bob Marley has evolved into a sign for the anti-establishment.

Born on this day in 1945 to an English father and a Jamaican mother.  Bob Marley died at the young age of 36, leaving behind a rich legacy of meaning.

In 1962 Marley recorded 4 songs as “Bobby Martell”.  In 1963 Marley and a group of his Trenchtown, Jamaica friends formed the Teenagers, which probably reflects what they were picking up on the radio from the USA.  They then moved into Ska music and renamed as the Wailing Rudeboys, and then the Wailing Wailers and then became the Wailers.  Marley converted from Catholicism to Rastafarianism and stopped cutting his hair, developing his famous Dreadlocks.

In 1969 the band moved away from Ska, slowing down the beat to create Reggae.  From there the rise of Bob Marley became stellar.  He was shot in 1976 on the eve of a political rally and went on stage with the now famous line “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”

His political credibility soared and his music followed.  The album Exodus spent 56 weeks in the British Charts.

The high point of his life was probably the “One Love Peace Concert” concert in Jamaica in 1978, uniting bitter political rivals in Jamaica on stage in a manner that has been copied since by U2 front man Bono in Northern Ireland.  Bob Marley became the face man for the anti-apartheid movement and for Zimbabwean independence.

The appropriation of his image for various causes is interesting.  He is used by groups to represent black issues, anti-establishment/anti-globalisation positions, Cannabis culture, pan-Africanism and the concept of a Black God.

Get up, stand up:  Bob Marley & the Wailers

Preacher man don’t tell me heaven is under the earth
I know you don’t know what life is really worth
Is not all that glitters in gold and
Half the story has never been told
So now you see the light, aay
Stand up for your right. Come on

Get Up, Stand Up, stand up for your right
Get Up, Stand Up, don’t give up the fight

Most people think great God will come from the sky
Take away everything, and make everybody feel high
But if you know what life is worth
You would look for yours on earth
And now you see the light
You stand up for your right, yeah

Get Up, Stand Up, stand up for your right
Get Up, Stand Up, don’t give up the fight

We’re sick and tired of your ism and skism game
Die and go to heaven in Jesus’ name, Lord
We know when we understand
Almighty God is a living man
You can fool some people sometimes
But you can’t fool all the people all the time
So now we see the light
We going to stand up for our right

So you’d better…
Get Up, Stand Up, stand up for your right
Get Up, Stand Up, don’t give up the fight