Archive for May, 2013

The Enemy: Without or Within?

May 30, 2013

It seems man’s natural state to be at war; after all, our history is one of conquest and battle, enemy and ally. But where do our enemies really lie? Sure we know globally at the moment it seems to be the West v Islam, just as it used to be the West v Communism and before that the Allies v Germany. We can infinitely recurse our way through history stopping at any number of legendary battles, where enemies faced off over vast fields, or many years, but are all our enemies faceless others?

beserk

History tells us that on the Western Front, Germany and the English famously called a halt to battle on Christmas Eve, 1914: stopped their war to sing carols, exchange gifts and souvenirs. While over on the beach in Gallipoli, the Anzac troops saw the enemy much more as the English officers, sat a mile away from the front-lines, calling the shots, sending young men to certain death: they were more enemies than the equally young and inexperienced Turkish soldiers.

We all have enemies, those who seek to harm us, do us down, damage us. Sometimes for good enough reasons, sometimes for no real reason at all, other than it seems they can get away with turning our lives into our very own personal and twisted war-zones. It is human to battle, to fight and to have enemies. It seems that to travel through life without causing others to feel strongly about us (for good or ill) is to leave no mark, make no impact on the world. So perhaps to have enemies is not so bad, providing we do not let them destroy us, or let our enmity of them destroy them (or us) either.

So, where are your enemies? Far off strangers, whom you hate because of their colour, race, religion or belief? Or closer in: were they once friends? Remember the adage: keep your friends close and your enemies closer… Remember too, that many have been killed by those closest to them. Philip of Macedon was killed by his own body-guard. His son, Alexander the Great, is also rumoured to have been poisoned by his inner-sanctum and we all know that Julius Cesar was stabbed by his closest mates, including Brutus.

julius c

But look closer still, right up close and intimately personal. Is your worst enemy actually you? Who is it that does the most damage to your life? Is it some nameless other, some adversary at work, some friend or lover? Or is it you?

Once you reach a certain age it is possible to look back, to look at repeating patterns of destruction. Are you fatally attracted to the same sort of lover, doomed to fall in love with the same bright beguiling surface only to find the same darkness beneath each succeeding partner? Do you repeat self-destruct actions and behaviours at work, finding yourself looking once again for a better place because this one has become utterly intolerable? Do you talk yourself down to the depths or up to the sky without a strong hook into reality that repeatedly leads you down false trails, costing you time, money, emotion, pride?

Being grown up means facing up to certain difficult truths about ourselves. Yes, the world can be a nasty, evil adversarial place, seemingly hell bent on destroying us. But are we helping the world too much, are we actually the architects of our own doom?

warrior

As you step away from your latest disaster it might be timely to consider where the enemy really is. Successful generals understand their opponents, seek intelligence about them, size them and then apply a range of strategies to defeat the enemy. Wars are not won by brute strength alone, by blundering on, losing men and resources, giving away too much ground. Wars are not won by superior numbers but by skill, strategy and then brute force.

If you are your own worse enemy it probably is time to stop and re-think how you are living your life. If your battles are leaving you too bruised and broken, too battle weary, then it is probably time to find another strategy, another way to live your life.

By now you will know what it is that trips you up but can you stop it? A frank appraisal of your repeating destructive patterns is called for. If you can’t do it alone ask someone you trust, someone who knows you well enough and is honest enough to tell you those things you don’t want to hear but need to be told. There maybe call for professional help – psychologists are excellent at helping people identify problems and find solutions. Of course, there are self-help books on everything.

xena

Step away from your life for a while. Stand outside yourself and watch. Take note of what you see, how you feel, what you are doing, how that impacts on others and yourself. Take a deep breath and take another step away – away from the things that destroy, repeating patterns that damage and scar you. Do it today, stop now. Stop being your own worst enemy, be the you you really want to be, the better part of you, not the battling war-monger, the destroyer of your own happiness.

Be your own best friend not your worst enemy. (Images from Google Images)

Be A Christian, Don’t Just Say You Are

May 25, 2013

God and religion have passed me by. Once I was a believer but that changed some years ago. Now, while not as atheist as some, I think I am more Christian than many of those I have known over the years who proudly and loudly proclaim their faith and then behave in utterly reprehensible ways.

What does it mean to be a Christian? It is very simple: to be Christ like. So, to be compassionate, kind, helpful, forgiving and tolerant: a person without bitterness or ambition, someone who believes in justice and fairness, not about status and power, who sees the good in all of us. Jesus Christ, it seems to me, from the Bible stories, was a decent young man, going quietly but determinedly about his business, trying to make the world a better place, unbowed by those oppressive Romans.

the romans

Regardless of your belief in the Bible or in Christ’s actual existence, the desire to be Christ-like or Christian, in the ways I have described him, is not such a bad thing.

Sadly over the years some of the most under-hand, sly, scheming and down-right evil people I have worked with have emphatically claimed the Christian label as theirs. Many years ago in a universe far away and hot and dry there was Beatrice who was always doing things that her church thought were valuable and worthwhile, often co-opting things from the school for the church. At work she busily went her own way, not letting anything stop her from doing what she wanted – regardless of the parameters within which we worked. If Beatrice needed something signed off she would seek my approval and I would duly read over her request and sign the bottom of the form. Doing the right thing? No, because she then filled in the space between her last item down to the bottom of the page where my signature seemingly approved the twenty odd items above. Fortunately my colleague in the photocopy room knew both Beatrice and myself and knew that I would not have approved such a monstrous amount of photocopying. It was a sneaky thing to do and would have succeeded without the eagle eyes of Jen. Thus to forestall further exorbitant claims (for anything – Beatrice always wanted money or approval for her many projects) I signed and dated forms right under her writing. It effectively stymied her without a nasty confrontation. Ah, Beatrice, who had to be watched all the time, not to be trusted – so very Christian.

And then there was Meredith. Ah, she was amazing and if I hadn’t had the joy of her as a member of my team I might have applauded the way she knew everything that was happening in the organization, that she spent more time away from her desk causing upheaval wherever she went and managed to upset people with her ‘casually’ careless comments. Yes, Meredith went to church every Sunday and was part of several little groups within the church where she was central to business and spreading the good word. But there weren’t that many good words said by Meredith (or about her) and when she offered to help people were uncertain whether she was going to make things better for them or worse.

stoning

I worked in a Catholic school for five years. The kids were great and so were most of the staff. Ah, but the management and the clergy who were part of the organization were something to behold. Lies and malicious intent seemed to be their MO. When I mentioned to a friend how amazed I was at the naked lack of Christianity exhibited by the nuns and priests, she just laughed at me. She was a good Catholic girl and found none of it amazing, just sadly familiar. This was where I lost my faith – working so closely with people who were meant to be the embodiment of Christ-like behaviour, yet they were more intent on damaging people, in maintaining their own power and importance, in being anything but Christian.

Over the years I’ve worked with people who carry Bibles in their bag, who tag their emails with inspirational quotes from the Bible, who tell us how involved they are with their church and what they do to organize and help their church. But these people do not behave with decency and care towards their colleagues. Their lack of compassion towards others staggers me, the way they hide behind their Christianity as if it allows them to brutalize others, as if confession or being with God once a week makes everything they do in the week all right. They seem not to be able to join the dots.

I’ve also worked with real Christians, those who believe in God, who go to their church, who are central to their faith community. At work they do not pronounce their belief; they go quietly about their business being Christians, showing compassion, kindness, care for their friends and colleagues.

cruxifiction

For me there is no point in saying you are Christian if you then do not act as one. If Christ is central to your life, then surely being a Christian isn’t something that’s turned on and off when it suits you. I return to my best literary friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘action is character.’ So, just like in the best stories don’t tell me you’re a Christian, show me that you are. (Images all from The Life of Brian – on Google Images)

Why I Won’t Be Seeing Luhrmann’s Gatsby

May 18, 2013

The reviews are coming in thick and fast and the response is mixed but Baz Luhrmann’s latest epic, his re-imagining of The Great Gatsby is hauling in the loot and that’s what matters. It may have cost $125 million but it’s first weekend made $51 Million, so that’s not a rubbish start and and judging by the amount of reaction it will only enhance Luhrmann’s reputation as one of our more eccentric and inspired movie makers of out time. Besides the critics have always been divided about films of Gatsby and about Luhrmann, so why the surprise about the range of response now.

 GG new

Australians will remember the delightful Strictly Ballroom that launched his career. Then there was the wonderfully extravagant Moulin Rouge and the utterly inspired Romeo and Juliet, with DiCaprio at his youthful exuberant best. Perhaps Australia, Luhrmann’s take on the Aussie classic, Capricornia, was a bit much for some. Certainly his Darwin (my beloved home for many years) bore no resemblance to my Darwin. But in the end it was quite an enjoyable film (thank you, Hugh Jackman), if a bit long.

Now, after all the hype, the on-going delays and expectations, we have The Great Gatsby. It seems, like Romeo and Juliet, it is Luhrmann’s version of the story, not exactly faithful to the original. This shouldn’t matter really: the film of the novel/story/play does not have to be a faithful representation. (But you must tell the students otherwise they will refer to the film and not the book – Of Mice and Men is classic in this department.)

The Great Gatsby is one of the classic texts taught across the world to senior English students, so a new version will sit on the top of English teachers’ lists of films to see and DVD’s to buy. Just as he did with Romeo and Juliet, a thousand classrooms across the world are saved from out-dated 70s film versions of literary classics. So, well done, Baz, that will be helpful. Perhaps you could do something outrageous with Macbeth – that would be good.

But this is the thing – there can be only One. And usually it is the One you saw or read first. So for me, the One is the 1974 version of the film with Robert Redford in that beautiful pink suit, on that verdant green lawn, in that fantasia of a house, yearning for the superficial, luminous Mia Farrow as Daisy. I can’t get past Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan, or Tom Waterston as Nick.

RF as GG 

In fact the main reason I won’t be going off to the movies to watch Luhrmann’s latest lavish extravaganza is about the actors. I guess I am showing my age, and being resistant to modernization of one of my favourite novels. In fact, I think it IS my favourite novel. Perhaps that’s why I won’t go too, I don’t want my version – true with Mr Redford as Gatsby – messed around by Luhrmann’s take on Fitzgerald’s work.

I don’t want my favourite book bastardised by some lurid remake that renders the book impossible for me to read again for a number of years as all my images and feelings will be obliterated by Luhrmann. The Great Gatsby is defined by a lightness of touch, of writing that is exquisite, that inspires the writer in me. It’s the best put together 50,000 words in the English language. I don’t want Luhrmann’s focus on excess and garishness to over-take that. It was the same years ago with The English Patient, another of my favourite books, also exquisitely written. I could not watch the film until quite some time had elapsed and I could accept the film version alongside the story in my head, such that one version did not destroy the other.

 RF & Mia

Just as Gatsby is Robert Redford, and not Jack Nicholson, who reportedly was considered for the role, bringing out the darker, less romantic side of Jay the bootlegger and man of dubious origins, so DiCaprio is forever Romeo. I can’t watch DiCaprio trying to be Gatsby. I know he is a wonderful actor and I have enjoyed his skills in many other films, but I want him to remain that gorgeous youth, not that gorgeous man. It’s perverse, I’m sure but I want Gatsby to be Redford forever, and not mussed about by being DiCaprio.

 Leo as Romeo

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I saw the 1974 film with someone I loved immensely, in all the idiocy of teenage passion, and when I watch Redford and Farrow I remember how I felt all those years ago. And you know, I don’t want to have that taken away from me. (Images are film stills taken from Google Images)