Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Lateness, Life, and Obligations

My new  books arrived...in a sack! on TwitpicToday I got a large blue sack in the mail. Inside was a foot-long box. It contained just ten books, five each of Splashdown's new releases. The sack, in my opinion, was overkill - but certainly fun.

I have been feeling rather overwhelmed lately, and not getting near enough done as I believe myself capable of. In need of a brainstorming session, perhaps, a mind map on a very large piece of paper, or the inside of that there sack. Pursued by the suspicion that I've forgotten something very important, while on the inside crying out for peace.

The things filling up each day seem to fall into one of three categories: obligations, which have to come first; things that are late, and thus quite urgent; and then there are the other things that make up real life.

Obligations include working and taking care of my boarders - shopping and cooking mainly. I love to cook, but it takes a lot of time out of my best part of the day, since I start getting active in the late afternoon and then have to stop and make dinner. And work, yes, earning money, but thank goodness it's irregular and some of it is at will to be taken on as I wish or not.

The late things. Ouch. Mostly to do with writing and publishing. A story due here, another there. Large numbers of books to be read and reviewed, many with deadlines. Marketing my own books, following up on reviewers, all that sort of thing. A full-to-bursting Acquisitions folder for Splashdown's author talent quest. Keeping tabs on projects in the works for upcoming release. Website tweaks. Bookkeeping.

And the Life things. Things my passion calls me to pursue. Painting. Writing. Walking on the beach. Reading - that two-foot stack of novels isn't getting any smaller. Snuggling the cat. Sleeping plenty. Yep, I need that to stay sane. Plus other random spice like playing bodhran (haven't done that in weeks) or a little exercise.

So what's my solution? Keep calm, in any case. Don't panic. Don't try and do everything at once, either. If some things end up taking longer than I thought, well, okay. So be it.

Do what must be done. Do it well. Work enough to survive, but no more.

Fight for space to let passions flow free. Without them, there is no spark.

Each of the three areas - late stuff, life, and obligations - contains about an equal amount of stuff. So I figure to try doing one, then another, and another. One by one. Don't know as I'll ever get done, but it's my aim to keep 'em more or less equal.

And the publishing? That IS a passion. Just one that requires a lot more time input than any other. Patience, I tell myself. All in good time. No need to overreact and puff up the issues till they are as big as that sack around a handful of books. Cause the books are what it's all about, really...

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

another song for the sea

sand, seaweed, soccer
gulls dozing on black volcanic rocks
A complete rainbow spans the sky
bright glow of seven colours
reflected in the wet beach gleam
small children in gumboots
and cosy hoodies
run circles around their parents
Sun reaches through the clouds to my page
the wind is bitter cold
but stellar radiation cheers this winter day.
Shortly I will leave this rich green of grass
this simple pine bench
this calm ocean murmur.
food to buy, business to do
money to make and spend
but before that comes this island of quiet
this orchestra of nature and humanity
The road rescue man,
come to jumpstart a stranded vehicle,
chatting about rural economics
The families dodging stray raindrops
The surfers looking in vain for a wave.
the islands are still brown from summer’s drought
but now the rains have come
and life will follow after.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Déjà Vu

It was even the same taxi driver.

Two weeks earlier, my flatmate and I were both up insanely early - she didn't need to be, but wanted to give me a send-off for my trip. I left the cat snoozing under the warm covers. Oh-dark-thirty, a glance out the kitchen window told us the taxi was early. Gulp down the tea, heave luggage out the door. She helped me with the bags and waved enthusiastically as the taxi driver attempted to reverse out of the driveway and ended up making mud off the edge of the concrete.

Then, it was a happy occasion. And it was a wonderful trip, as you'll know if you've read my recent Friday posts.

Just one day after I got back, my flatmate got news that her mother is battling cancer. Quickly, she booked a flight to leave the country and be with her. Sooner than anyone could have imagined, we were both up insanely early again, both dragging bags out to the taxi again, where the driver inquired whether I'd had a good holiday.

He mangled the grass strip again on his way out. Anyone'd think the concrete wasn't wide enough. But as I waved my friend away and turned to go inside, shut out the cold and get back in my bed where the cat still waited, I pondered how two situations that looked so much alike could be so utterly different.

I suppose my point is that no matter what you see with your eyes, the facts of the matter can vary greatly. In part, this is what we do as writers: we observe, and add a different background to the same actions we have seen from the people around us. Or we place the scenario in an invented world. What if the house were a space station and the taxi were a shuttle? Suddenly the grip of winter seems more ominous, as if it could come close to the icy vacuum of space. Perhaps it is as close as one may come in these parts.

And so the endless cycle of greetings and partings goes on, and who knows what it will bring? I've got three spare bedrooms now...

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Who are you, Nouméa?

So I’m home again from my travels, with plenty to tell you about New Caledonia. It was my first time there, and as the plane neared the island, the coral reef became visible – the reef that encloses the world’s largest lagoon, so I’m told. Outside the reef, choppy winter blue seas roll up and crash onto the divider. Within, pale sand shines through to form the brightest, purest turquoise colour, dotted with giant corals.

Coming in to land, great green slopes rise up around the aircraft. You thought New Zealand was lush? Well, it is, but it’s got nothing on New Caledonia in the wet season. "Wet" being a short downpour every fourth day or so. Tall folds of mountains clothed in rich forests wrap the road to the city. Soon I am alighting at Anse Vata. But I’ve already told you about that; go look at last week’s post if you haven’t already.

At first it was hard to grasp the character of Nouméa, a place both thoroughly tropical and thoroughly European – a contradiction in terms. But the island’s natives are all citizens of France, and the bakers produce fresh bread all day long as French custom requires. Of course the brand of French spoken here has its own quirks and is a little different to standard language – much like New Zealand English differs from British or American, I imagine.

Nouméa boasts just on 100,000 inhabitants, spread out across the hills and valleys of a sizeable peninsula in the southwest of the island of New Caledonia, just 350km long in the vastness of the Pacific. Locals never lived on this promontory before the coming of the Europeans, who settled there because of the deep harbour.  Later, during World War II, many thousands of soldiers passed through since Nouméa was the U.S. Army headquarters for the Pacific.

The local currency is Pacific Francs, of which you need a couple of hundred for a loaf of bread, and a couple of thousand to dine out. The cost of living is high, but you can haggle for bargains at the waterside markets where there is a building especially for fish, one for meat, and several for fruit, vegetables, baked goods, and handcrafts.

The gentle winter sunshine makes this the perfect escape in July, although it’s mostly too cold for swimming at this time of year. Wild and refined, stylish and rough, simple yet sophisticated – a unique place indeed.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

I write in church (divine inspiration)

I huddle in the crowd standing around me
forest-like, branches waving
amidst the voices I do not join
velvety melted chocolate and pure diamond clarity
that is what they sound like
I write all through the preaching
—what’s that you say? this is not what one should do
of course, but who am I to observe social strictures
I am damaged
but God is close here, the source of my words
the poetry that swirls through the room.
I am here to meet him
and that is what I do
unacceptable though it might seem to certain ones.
Thank goodness for the anonymity of pen and paper.
So while my mind whirls with superheros and cyborgs,
God looks through my eyes at these scribblings
And do you know what?
He’s smiling. Dancing.
Suggesting words. Injecting significance.
Assisting in the birth of stories,
congealing my mess of letters into something he wants in the world.
And so, as the words and music wash over me,
shake the chair,
fill the room,
I sense God’s favour in the bread and wine
and he says
everything’s all right.
I do not sing. I’m not ready for that yet.
but the chords of my heart are in motion

(For the background, please see Monday's post)

Sunday, 11 July 2010

On Surviving Abuse, Part 2

See last Monday's post for the first part.

Maybe this psychological abuse is one reason that the book I was driven to write, right after I finished the first one, was all about mind control. In Legendary Space Pilgrims, I describe a physical and invasive form of emotional manipulation and a journey to freedom. No doubt it carries reflections of my own pilgrimage in liberating my thoughts once more.

That picture was taken in the thick of it. I imagine I look a bit harrowed. Trying to talk myself into not rocking the boat, because that would just get me hurt.

A similar manipulative effect was thrust on my prayer life. As we prayed together in the group, this man would often interrupt and ask why I prayed this or that and whether I had asked God if that was the right thing to pray, because he was certain it wasn't. So I learned to spout highly spiritual prayers tailored to please the leader, but which came nowhere near my own heart. To this day I will not pray aloud in a group. In fact, I don't pray at all in the usual sense, not even in my head. Hence the companionable silence with God. I don't think he minds. He's not like that.

For years it was hard to even enter a church. Yet I insisted on doing it, because it remained the best place to meet people with similar moral standards to my own. Funnily enough, the same year I left the scene of that group, I ended up leading worship for several months with the guitar in a little church in Balbriggan, Ireland, due to sheer need - they had no one else to do it. They were very supportive and didn't notice the stiffness I felt. Anyway, back in New Zealand after that, all through last year, I would frequently run out of church services to weep profusely for reasons I couldn't pinpoint. Looking back I think it was grief for the faith I once had, the trust in the Spirit's guidance which had been so thoroughly destroyed.

Now I no longer grieve, but I have not regained what was lost. Rather, I have found a peace with the way things are. I'm thankful for all I have been given - and it is not inconsequential - and when I write, often it is as if the words come spiralling down from heaven to my screen. If that isn't living with God, I don't know what is. Woe betide any who push me and insist I'm not doing it right. Insistence is exactly what damaged me. I am now allergic to pressure and power plays. The life and the faith I have now is vastly different to what used to be, but I would go so far as to say it's better.

There are many who would say I'm not a real Christian, because of not praying, or my irreverent use of church services to write stories, or because I am sick to the stomach with what is known as Christian evangelism. That's okay. You can think what you like. Maybe I'm not a Christian according to your standards. But you know what? I don't think I care. And what's more...I don't think God cares, either.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Anse Vata, New Caledonia

Itchy feet again? Yep, it's your neighbourhood globetrotter reporting in from a tiny coral island off the coast of Noumea. Looking back across the water, I see the hotel mile along Anse Vata beach, and the towering mountains beyond the city.

Please excuse me if this post is a little scatterbrained. Another time I’ll get some background information for you on Noumea proper, but for now, all I’ve seen so far is the beach and this island.

A yellow water taxi brought me here this morning for the snorkelling. Alighting from the boat into shallow water, I stepped onto a beach consisting of strangely-shaped coral pieces. This is the Ile aux Canards,though I never saw a duck here. It is small enough to walk around in five minutes, each angle offering new views of the lush and rugged mainland.

We are still firmly inside the lagoon made by the protective barrier reef that surrounds New Caledonia's Grande Terre. Off to the east, white breakers are just visible beyond the Amedee lighthouse.

Anse Vata is where the tourists stay, but there aren't  too many here now in the tropical winter. At 25 degrees Celsius, that's equal to summer back home in NZ. There are a couple of decent restaurants and bakeries, but it's quite a hike to the supermarket.

Everything's pricey here, for the simple reason that it's nearly all imported. Even the butter comes from France - but boy, is it good! Tropical ambience mingles with European chic to make for a unique experience.

This island paradise is in fact still a colony of France, and all the locals are French citizens, whether of Kanak or European origin. They gather at the beach to sing and play bowls, and I've even seen them napping on the grass under the palm trees.

The aquarium at Anse Vata is well worth a visit. You get a real close look at brilliantly diverse fish and deep-sea life forms. I was particularly taken with the glowing corals in yellow and orange and blue, displayed in a pitch-dark room without artificial light.

And here at the Ile aux Canards, I've floated amidst hundreds of brightly-coloured fish just a few metres from the shore. This is a great place to be, and especially for us New Zealanders - it is only a three hour flight from home.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


As recounted in the history of the Legendary Space Pilgrims, these are the first of the Words which preserved the journeyers from the Baxter mindwiping, aided them in escaping Planet Monday, and guided them through many challenges to their destination. In the days before they left Monday, or rather Lumina as we call it here on Viva, it was these very words which Mario spoke to silence the emotion alarms and keep himself and Caitlin safe until the appointed time. Once their travel began, they also had need of the Words to keep them sane in the confinement of the spacepod and help them through various dangers on the planets they visited. They did not know what—or whom—they spoke of; they were unfamiliar with our Order of the Pathfinders and possessed no concept of the King, except in the one practical matter that they did hear his Voice and followed, which is why we determined that they were indeed the fulfillment of the Legend.
—Darcel, Chief Historian, Council of Elders, City of Spire, Planet Viva.

Listen to me—I must be first.
Do not confuse me with another,
and do not speak carelessly of me.
Be still and listen, and I will speak.
Obey what I ask
and the Pathfinders I will send you.
Treat life in a manner worthy of me.
Esteem loyalty
and do not give in to bent desires.
Respect what belongs to another.
Speak the truth at all times,
and do not wish for anything I do not give you,
for I will give everything you need.

Legendary Space Pilgrims by Grace Bridges
Now available from www.splashdownbooks.com!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

On Surviving Abuse, Part 1

I'm a survivor.

It's been a long time coming, this post. Even now I'm trying to avoid writing it. But I owe my friends an explanation, at least of the sort that can be given in public, as to why me and God co-exist peacefully rather than partaking of talk and action as Christians seem to like to do.

You see, the abuse I suffered increasingly over a four-year period was not physical. It was psychological, spiritual, and personal. It slammed me right at the hinge of my faith and snapped a fair few choice ligaments.

At the centre of the horror stands a man who still haunts my dreams, telling me I will never be sufficient, in that absolutely convinced voice of his that will permit no argument. It came as a surprise when he stepped in to lead a loose prayer group I had been involved with, yet he took the reins and set off at a gallop. I cannot call him a pastor, for he was never that.

He meant it well. Of that I have no doubt. It's just that he seemed perpetually unable and unwilling to consider the viewpoints of others, or that he might be wrong in his assessments of the miserable flock he had been given. Any disagreement at all, no matter how slight, was met with anger like a brick wall. No, let me rephrase that. Like the Great Wall of China, coming at you on the back of a hundred tanks. We either gave in and agreed, or remained stubborn and received a thorough verbal shredding. Me being the rather hard-headed type, I ended up getting hammered often, at times to the point of screaming.

The matters we disagreed on? I've forgotten most of them. They were probably minor. But one thing that came up again and again was the direction taken in the music. We were the kind of group who didn't like to plan out how many times to sing a song or its verses or chorus or bridge or instrumentals, or even which songs to sing. We'd just start into it and reach into the Spirit inside us for guidance on where we felt it should go next. If you're not familiar with that practice, don't weird out on me, it's called free worship and it can be a lot of fun, even making up spontaneous songs on the spot.

Well, you guessed it. We disagreed on just where the Spirit was leading us. I had to learn to quash my own sense of listening in favour of the leader's. Did I mention my position was actually the worship leader? Yeah. It got tricky. Often. Many, many times, too often to count, I would lead a song in one direction, only to be stopped short and admonished for hearing wrong - and this in front of everyone in the meeting. The meetings were never large, but it gouged my soul nonetheless. He taught that every note we played had to be guided by the Spirit - and not only that, but it had to match up to what he believed the Spirit was saying. So an incredible heavy stiffness and uncertainty came into every note of our worship. I never knew when I was going to be right or wrong, commended or berated.

All the while, I was trying to convince myself that he was right and I was wrong, as it was the only way to go on. I have not trusted myself to attempt free worship since leaving that group. Since free worship was the source of inspiration for my songwriting, guess what? I haven't written any songs since then either. Oh yeah, and I've pretty much stopped playing the guitar. While in Ireland I took up the bodhran, a nice, safe percussion instrument without the necessity for leadership - just spicing things up, which suits me fine.

More next Monday. Quicklink to part 2 here. In the meantime, I sure would appreciate some virtual hugs.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Rural Bavaria

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For a country with only a little more land area than my own and twenty times the population, it has always surprised me that there is so much open country in Germany—where the silence is so heavy you can feel it, and the pace of life is slow and settled. This can be explained in part by the presence of apartment blocks even in rural villages, and of course the high density of the cities.

Country folks speak different dialects to city folks; they often travel far for school and work, and the young people move out when it comes time to take up tertiary study. A transport network of occasional buses links up the tiny townships with their little supermarkets, fire departments, and primary schools.

The larger villages also offer amenities along their tiny main streets: perhaps a baker, a butcher, a hairdresser, a driving school, and most likely a restaurant or two of the type where retired farmers are likely to spend the day nursing a pint of local beer and talking politics. The food available in such establishments is simple, filling and good value—even if it can be on the heavy side with its dumplings and gravies.

Cycling from village to village is a singular experience in Bavaria, as the edge of the settlement is clearly defined: one minute you’re passing tall housing blocks, and the next you’re in amidst the farmer’s fields with nary a soul in sight.

In the summer, the dry heat wafts up from the reflecting earth, and fields of corn and hay ripple in the breeze while dark conifer forests loom beyond the warm haze. Village dwellers can be found fishing in tiny lakes and walking their dogs on farm tracks between the fields, dotted here and there with a pilgrim’s cross or tiny chapel shrine to a saint. The hills of Bavaria are gentle, providing an easy walk for hot days.

In winter, blankets of snow intensify the silence until it becomes almost a personality in its own right. Fresh-tilled soil soon freezes solid. Out the window, the forest trees and the icy fields turn the world into a black and white movie, and you could easily believe you’ve travelled back a hundred years in time.

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