Friday, January 13, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things: Thoughts on the brain


A war is said to rage, in most men and women, between the head and the heart. The head refers to logic, to rationality, while the heart is the seat of our emotions. This is a metaphor obviously because as we know the heart only has one function: to pump blood around our body. Admittedly, it's a pretty important job, but the point is the heart is merely a muscle with no capacity for producing emotions.

Feelings are generated in our heads, by the chemicals produced in our brains. Does it disillusion you to know that the alleged battle between the heart and the head is really a civil war fought inside your cranium? Head V Head. Different parts of the brain fighting for control of the same territory.


Emotions are merely brain functions, but I wonder if how we feel is a product of how we think, or if it is the other way around. Aha! Another chicken and egg question.

In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov challenges Svridrigailov about the morality of his pending marriage to a young woman much his junior, by saying: 'The fact is this monstrous difference in age and development excites your sensuality. Will you really make such a marriage?'

Svridrigailov replies, 'Why, of course. Everyone thinks of himself, and he lives most gaily who knows best how to deceive himself.'
(spoiler alert: read what happened to Svridrigailov below)

Most of us attempt to control our feelings by managing our thoughts, by restraining them as best we can, but for many this is an almost impossible task and one which, at the very least, is exhausting. Maybe I am the only one whose brain gives him as much trouble as it does pleasure. (What a strange confession.)

My brain controls all my body functions, and I earn a good living with my brain (as a teacher and a writer), but that same organ often gets me in all sorts of bother. A character on a TV soap* recently said that she wished she could take her brain out of her head for a just a few hours so she could have a rest. I feel the same way some times.

Today I thank God for my brain.

*Paige (Olympia Valance) on Neighbours

Photo sources:
http://unstoppablefamily.com/wins-battle-heart-head/
https://fridgepants.wordpress.com/tag/head/ 

Svidrigailov visited his 16 year old fiance and her family one rainy night, paying them a large sum of money and saying he had to go away on urgent business, but would return soon. He then spent a sleepless night in a cheap and nasty hotel where he suffered through an horrific series of nightmares. The next day he proceeded to the American Embassy where he shot himself dead at the front gate, despite the protests of the guard who told him his actions were inappropriate.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: No Expectations

I am enjoying my holiday and doing quite a bit of thinking-as you do. I'm a very contemplative person.

I'm also a planner, an organizer and a motivated target setter. I'm a dreamer with high expectations of myself and others, and life in general. I'm a realistic optimist who embraces disappointment and failure as equally instructive and fulfilling as euphoria and success.

I have not yet learned the secret of contentment. I'm still searching for peace: for a proper connection between what I know is true and how I feel about it. Despite the possibility of this 'ultimate' dream of mine being unattainable, I press on. Why? Because I want to grow. I want to learn. There is only growth or decay. Nothing remains the same. Change is certain and I do not fear it. I want my mind broadened and my heart opened wider. I want to be generous and gracious. 


I'm a work in progress: a masterpiece of the Almighty who daily adds brush strokes to the canvas of my life. The life he has given me. The gifts he has given me which he wants me to use for His glory and the good of others.

In 2017, I intend to live. To grow. To enjoy moments. To be quiet. I will plan less, but expect more from life without needing to define what 'more' will look like, or quantify how much of it will satisfy me. I will enhance the significant and demote the superfluous. 

In approximately thirteen and a half hours from now, when the numbers change on the calendar...my life will go on -if God wills it so - and for this I am grateful beyond words.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Welcome Forgetfulness

From the moment I said good-bye at the airport on August 5 to begin the new Darwin chapter of my life, I began dreaming of my return home for Christmas. As hard as I tried to not wish my life away, I could not resist the emotional pull of family and familiarity. And so, it was with joyful expectation that I counted the months, the weeks, the days and finally the hours until I packed my suitcase and headed for the airport.

It is said that three weeks is an ideal length of time for a holiday. The first week is winding down, the second relaxing, and the third gearing up. I haven't had enough holidays of more than a couple of days duration to properly test this theory, and this time has not been at all normal, but I'm beginning to feel something. Today is day 10 of my holiday-the half way point, and a vague forgetfulness is creeping over me.

The alarm has not, but once, rudely interrupted me from slumber. I have driven my XR6, which I missed, everywhere I needed to go, but the imperative to go has diminished. I eat and drink whatever I want whenever I want - late dinners, early lunches, multiple lunches. Planning for the day happens that morning or maybe the night before. I don't exercise except for spontaneous walks around the beach at Kiama or bicycle rides. There is nothing I have to do. No place I have to go.

I can almost not remember that I live in Darwin, that I have a job there and that I don't know when I will return home for good. The memory of strict routines, buses, gym work outs and continually oppressive heat have faded. The loneliness, and the symptoms of Hug Deprivation Syndrome have disappeared. I feel lazy and unenergetic, and I'm happy to go with that because I am on holiday. I can almost forget that I'll never see my dad again.



It's a beautiful sunny morning. We'll probably go to the beach, but we don't have to. I'll watch some more cricket on TV, swimming in the languid sea of rest, falling all over the lounge in various positions of repost. I might even have a beer before lunch. I don't have any real plans. I'm in week 2 of my break, and I feel calmer than I have for quite some time. To achieve this tranquility means choosing to forget, but not in the sense of not remembering; it's more like letting go.

Photo sources:
http://www.qantasnewsroom.com.au/media-releases/qantas-dreamliners-symbolise-new-era-for-national-carrier/
http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/2980957/sharks-spotted-feeding-in-kiama-photos/mer/
http://www.kotaku.com.au/2014/04/the-big-question-winter-or-sum

Friday, December 23, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things

On the day I wrote my last post, less than an hour afterwards, Dad died in hospital. He'd been released the day before and slept in his bed one last time, before he suffered two cardiac arrests which were the result of the strain put on his heart through lack of oxygen from his his barley functioning remaining lung. The other was full of cancer and already useless. His wife and family were by his side when he died. I wasn't.

It was a quick and painless passing in the end: a shock to us, but a blessing for Dad. His funeral was yesterday. What follows is the draft of what I said at the service. My actual speech was more organic. I spoke from my heart, using a few notes to make sure I said what I wanted to say.


I consider it a great privilege and a blessing to have had Alan Cairns as my father. I know so many people have bad or non-existent relationships with their father; I never took for granted how special our relationship was, or forgot how hard we worked to make it so. I thanked God for my dad every day and mentioned his name in Heaven where is intimately known.

I remember calling Dad from Thailand saying I was stuck in Thailand with no money and nowhere to stay. I remember how he offered to pay for my ticket home and said I could stay with him. I remember how there was nothing in his tone or his actions that said anything accept that he loved me.

There was footy. Dad loved rugby league and in particular, the Bulldogs. They won the premiership in the year he was born, and his love and passion for the Doggies rubbed off on me, and the contagion spread to James and with each generation the madness swelled. Dad would often shake his head as James and I waxed lyrical about the mighty Dogs. He loved them but they drove him mad.

We had sport and we had politics, but the thing which really bound us together was work. I think through  most of his life, Dad prioritized work over everything else. I think he defined himself within whatever job he was doing and over sixty odd years, he had quite a few jobs. During our meeting with the funeral director, we were all stumped by the simple question of ‘occupation’. Eventually we agreed on salesman. Dad could sell stuff because he was easy to talk to and he knew how to connect to people’s needs and wants. People liked him. And they trusted him.

Dad and I worked together on all sorts of building jobs from garden sheds to renovations: paid jobs, and love jobs at his place or mine. He loved a challenge. Loved to mull lover a problem and analyze it from all angles until he found a solution. I think his love of work was one of the primary drivers of his life.

I remember when I announced to mum and dad that I wanted to drop out of high school, dad took me, his then 17 year old son to the pub and bought me a beer and we walked it over. After listening to me patiently, he said he would allow me to drop out, but I had to get a job. I have never forgotten his  words. Get a job, or get out of my house. That was 31 years ago and I have never been unemployed. I knew this was a great source of pride to dad.

Which leads nicely into the other driver of his life. Family. As the years rolled on Dad became almost obsessed my the need to keep the family together and to keep it strong. Good relationships only required good communication and I’ve got to say that although it took him a while, he eventually achieved mastery in personal relationships.

Many of you will have heard of Dad’s famous/infamous CRAM,(courtesy, respect, attitude and manners), philosophy. I thought it was stupid and simplistic and I told him so, but that was dad: a simple man with a simple philosophy.

We were all beneficiaries of that. That simplicity and tolerance. His good communication skills. But I suspect the greatest beneficiary was Andrea. I have said this to Dad but I want to say it here to Andrea, especially. I regret not recognizing  and appreciating how good your relationship with Dad was earlier than I did.  I know how much Dad  loved you and how happy you made him. Thank you
.
Dad was a proud man: a self made man who did the best he could with what he was given. He was a little vain, and the hairpiece years have become the stuff of legend. I’ll never forget the night he came home with ‘it’ and how Justine and I, too young to know how to respond, simply laughed at him. His pride caused serious problems at various times, and especially for me and him, it meant that we finished our time on earth together in strong disagreement over a particular issue. That said, the disagreement had no impact on ability to talk, to share and to love and encourage one another. Of all the attributes dad possessed, I think the thing I most admired was his resilience. Things never quite worked out for him, despite his planning and hard work which meant that as he stormed into his eighth decade he was still working harder than he should have had to. Dad was physically strong beyond his years, but also mentally tough. That toughness came from his father.

For a man who professed to not believe in God, he had a remarkable capacity for forgiveness. To keep moving forward and not wallow in past mistakes is one of the many valuable things I learned from him. Again, and also surprising was how he saw his role as father. I mean as a father to adult children. He once said this to me, “I sometimes think that God has given me this wisdom to pass on to you.’ I was stunned at the time that he would even speak about God as though he was real, but I could not, nor can I now, argue with the truth of what he said.

I began by saying that I lost my father and my friend. I lost my ‘go to guy’. During the week I went to buy a tie, this tie/Jessie Rose was with me, and after we had selected a nice tie, she reminded me that I don’t know how to tie a tie. When I needed that job done, I went to dad. I neatly lost right there in Myer. Jessie Rose asked the sales guy if he could tie the know for me.

I’ve  lost the physical presence of my father and my friend. I can’t call him to speak to him, now, I can’t sit down beside him and talk to him. I can’t shake his hand and give him a hug of thanks or love or whatever. His physical presence is gone, but as I thought about it, I realized that he’s not gone. Every time I watch the Dogs play, he’ll be there. When Labour is returned to government, he’ll be there. When I have a beer, he’ll be there. When I watch a James Bond film. Through the highs and the lows of life, he’ll be with me. He’s in my blood. He’s my father. I’m his son. Always will be.


 Three generations of Cairns men: me, Dad and my son James.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: Gratitude reigns!

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but gratitude is the panacea for my mental health. For me, at this time of year, it is hard not be overflowing with thankfulness. There is so much for which to be grateful.

It was my last day at work yesterday, and we finished with an early mark and a nice staff lunch. We played (is that the right verb?) bad Santa. It was my first time and it was a lot of fun. Then my boss dropped me in town where I did all of my Christmas shopping. I made a list and I checked it twice. (smiley face)

Moving to Darwin four and a half months ago was a risky move which has paid off in spades. The job is great, I love where I live and my new church home at C3 Darwin, and I am getting on top of my debt. I also sold 24 books this month which is a record.

Tomorrow, I'm flying home for Christmas and I can't wait to see my fiance and my family. I just received a phone call from my brother-in-law to inform me that my dad was taken to hospital by ambulance last night. His heart stopped en route, but the paramedics revived him and he is in a stable condition now. He was only released from hospital two days ago after spending a couple of weeks there with breathing difficulties. He has lung cancer and I know I am going to lose him soon. I'm grateful for the wonderful relationship I have with him, and even as he struggles to breathe, I am thankful to God for him, and for the breath in my lungs.

Merry Christmas everyone. Peace and blessings to you all in Jesus' name.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Scylla and Charybdis

Dilemmas come and go: some invited, others not, and some self inflicted. Dilemmas are choices on steroids. By their very nature, dilemmas can be excruciatingly stressful. Whether they are actually life or death conundrums, or they merely feel like they are, we must all confront, at some point in our lives, difficult decisions. If you have never been on the horns of a dilemma, (or even more painfully, a trilemma- yes there is such a thing), then you surely will. This is another of life's certainties.

Roughly, four or five weeks ago, I started a new blog called I Don't Cook. As a reflection of my reality-living alone in Darwin- it is accurate. As a means of amusing myself with all the time I have on my hands, it is effective. I understand myself: specifically that I enjoy attention. Apparently this desire for and love of the limelight is a characteristic of Leos, of which I am one. In any case, I not only blog for personal satisfaction, but I am also continually seeking attention. (Not always-to be fair to myself, but frequently.)

I Don't Cook has been moderately successful, (670 page views in November including 120 views from Russia and 111 from Poland. ???), although Square Pegs, my main blog, my seven year old baby, received 1619 page views in the same period. I would like these numbers to be higher-much higher, but they are what they are.

Which brings me to my dilemma. I am facing a very difficult decision related to my blog. Agonizing over this matter is prematurely ageing me, depriving me of  sleep, and robbing me of joy. You see, I Don't Cook is not just a blog, it is a mission statement. So here is my question. Perhaps you can help me. Perchance you can carefully dislodge me from the horns of this awful dilemma.

If I cook eggs in the microwave, will I be breaking my rule, and will I then plummet headlong into the murky waters of the sea of No Integrity?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: Reptilian Friends

My backyard is teeming with wildlife. It's a real menagerie inhabited by all manner of creatures...mostly small, and all very interesting, and many quite noisy.

Ever since I was a boy I have loved reptiles. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve chasing and catching lizards from garden skinks, to blue tongues, bearded dragons and frill-necks. I remember one day, when I was in junior high school, I decided to build a herpetarium in the backyard. I recall how horrified my father was when he came home to discover the massive hole I had dug in the middle of the yard which was stage one of the awesome reptile enclosure I planned. Needless to say, my construction permit was denied and I was forced to fill in the hole.

I still love reptiles, and find lizards especially fascinating. My backyard here in Darwin has garden skinks and water skinks with which I am familiar, but I've also met a couple of new reptilian friends: Gilbert's Dragon These are cute little things with an unusual upright posture and an endearing habit of nodding, and also waving. It is from this latter gesture that this lizard derives its nickname: The 'ta ta' Lizard. These guys probably don't know I exist, busy as they are flying around the yard hunting for bugs, so to call them 'friends' is a bit of a stretch.


Not so unaware of me is my other little mate, who comes inside each evening, under the door and climbs the walls and ceiling. I watch TV while he watches me, and occasionally attempts to catch flies. Let me introduce to you...


The Asian House Gecko, Australia's only non-indigenous gecko. One of the reasons I like them in the house, apart from the company, is that they eat spiders, and I don't like spiders. This gecko also has a distinctive barking sound which is nowhere near as annoying as the cacophony caused by the Green Tree frogs outside.

I really love these lizards. They're so cool, and they make me happy. That's what I'm thankful for today.