Keys to the earth.


Ships by Lyonel Feininger (1917)

July 1st and half the year is down.  I sit here sweltering in a heatwave, condemned to inactivity by an injury to my ankle.  This year Ireland has become a sunburnt country.  Oh what I would give for a day on the sea, rolling over the waves beneath a full sail, air conditioned by spray and spume.

So instead I man my Mindship and head out across the oceans of imagination.  On my journey I found Dorothea Mackellar, a household name in Australia for the second stanza of her poem “My Country”.

I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains, 
Of ragged mountain ranges, 
Of droughts and flooding rains. 
I love her far horizons, 
I love her jewel-sea, 
Her beauty and her terror 
The wide brown land for me!

Today is her birthday, in the year 1858.  The title of today’s post is taken from another Mackellar poem below.  I love the notion that Ships are the keys to the earth.  That means that instead of being walls between nations the Seas and Oceans are doorways.

The Open Sea; by Dorothea Mackellar

From my window I can see,
where the sandhills dip,
one far glimpse of open sea.
Just a slender slip
curving like a crescent moon—
yet a greater prize
than the harbour garden-fair
spread beneath my eyes.

Just below me swings the bay,
sings a sunny tune,
but my heart is far away
out beyond the dune;
clearer far the sea-gulls’ cry
and the breakers’ roar,
than the little waves beneath
lapping on the shore.

For that strip of sapphire sea
set against the sky
far horizons means to me—
and the ships go by
framed between the empty sky
and the yellow sands,
while my freed thoughts follow them
out to other lands.

All its changes who can tell?
I have seen it shine
like a jewel polished well,
hard and clear and fine;
then soft lilac—and again
on another day
glimpsed it through a veil of rain,
shifting, drifting grey.

When the livid waters flee,
flinching from the storm,
from my window I can see,
standing safe and warm,
how the white foam tosses high
on the naked shore,
and the breakers’ thunder grows
to a battle-roar…

Far and far I look—Ten miles?
no, for yesterday
sure I saw the Blessed Isles
twenty worlds away.
my blue moon of open sea,
is it little worth?
at the least. it gives to me
keys of all the earth.

Toxic email


A colleague of mine was once accused of insulting a woman and ridiculing her work.  The woman in question was new to the organisation, a bit of an unknown quantity.  She could have ruined his career in that meeting.  The default reaction was “Oh, I didn’t realise he was such a male chauvinistic pig.”

When she made her accusation he checked his file and to his relief he had a printed copy of the email that she claimed was insulting and ridiculing.  He was able to read it out to the room to demonstrate that it was a professional and businesslike enquiry.  In response she said, “it is not the content that is insulting, it is the tone of voice“.

Emails do have a tone of voice.  However the tone of voice of the sender may not match the tone of voice as interpreted by the receiver.  A funny comment may come across as an insult.  A sarcastic comment may be interpreted as stupidity.  In the business world it is dangerous to use email for anything but the most neutrally phrased and factual communications.

If you want to crack a joke, be ironic, be angry, sad, pitiful or communicate any “tone” in your communication then either say it face to face or pick up the phone.

If you send an email and get back what looks like an angry or hurt reply, do not engage in an email conversation.  Immediately pick up the phone and speak to the person.  Continued emails are just likely to make the situation worse, because your “reasonable” tone of voice is being misinterpreted by the other person.  They may hear you as shouting, or as being dismissive, or plain rude.

Never, never, never engage in a flame war at work.  If you feel you have been flamed then take it to your boss and discuss a strategy.

Most important of all, make sure your email does not default to “reply to all” on emails.  It is bad enough to have a person to person misinterpretation, but when it goes company-wide it can be devastating.

So, what happened to my colleague?  Well, he survived his encounter with this strange and toxic lady because he had the paperwork to hand.  She did not last for more than one or two months before a pattern of aberrant behaviour ensured that she was let go before her probation was served.  It was a salutary lesson for all of us.  Mad people can be quite convincing until you get to know that they are mad.


The Rock in the Sea; by Archibald MacLeish


Think of our blindness where the water burned!
Are we so certain that those wings, returned
And turning, we had half discerned
Before our dazzled eyes had surely seen
The bird aloft there, did not mean?—
Our hearts so seized upon the sign!

Think how we sailed up-wind, the brine
Tasting of daphne, the enormous wave
Thundering in the water cave—
Thunder in stone. And how we beached the skiff
And climbed the coral of that iron cliff
And found what only in our hearts we’d heard—
The silver screaming of that one, white bird:
The fabulous wings, the crimson beak
That opened, red as blood, to shriek
And clamor in that world of stone,
No voice to answer but its own.

What certainty, hidden in our hearts before,
Found in the bird its metaphor?

Anchor Rite

Skellig stair

Celtic Monks in need of contemplation,
cast their lot in chance on fickle water.
They sought a desert in the ocean,
trusting life to wind and wave and Father.

In shallow vessels from the West they left,
to fetch up wherever the current bore.
A rocky pillar served them for their rest,
or death upon a lonely wave washed shore.

Had I the courage of their conviction,
would I be anchored on this ebbing tide?
What great mysteries am I denying,
tied up here, wrapped warm and safe inside?

Not for me, the icy north Atlantic,
not for me is death on lonely shore.
Not mine, the wonder of revelation,
or America vast, adventure, more.

I feel I may have poured my last libation
to Gods of wind and wave and spume
and settled with contented resignation
by family, fire, partner, living, room.