Tuesday, 26 May 2009

mind the gap

I'm suffering from an excess of velleity.

Velleity is volition at its weakest. It's a mere wish or inclination, without any accompanying effort.

My velleity is fed by an overactive imagination... I can see in my mind's eye exactly what my dream garden looks like, for example. So when I am outside, I'm imagining a tree there, a shrub here, a winding path and a bank of flowers. so the lack of all those things and the lack of effort on my part to make them happen don't worry me so much. It certainly makes things easier when you are living with a very large garden during our excessively hot and dry summers.

I'd write more... but what can I say? Velleity strikes again.

Friday, 22 May 2009

feeling very friday

It's one of those days where the idea of concentrating on any one thing seems like way too much effort. The up-side is that if I keep doing little bits of things, they'll eventually get finished!

I have six stories, an annual report and a brochure to write, two proposals to finish, and some other stuff too. So I started the day by baking a loaf of bread and I've just finished mixing a double quantity of buttermilk rusks. I know why those boere tannies have strong arms. I need a Kenwood Chef.

So, in another desperate effort to delay work, I decided to suggest some blogs for you (my few but very valued visitors).

So these are some of my favourites that I haven't mentioned before:
Born Animal... we used to eat neanderthal babies???

My Marrakesh I find the constant use of the third person a bit trying, but her pictures are stupendous and I want to live in her house

Journey Mama and her husband who write about their lives in India

That's enough... concentration limit reached.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

biofuels and the food chain

One of my all time favourite books is The Day of The Triffids by John Wyndham.
It is a book which has had a major influence on my life, ever since I was about eight years old and first heard it being read on the radio.In brief, most of the world's population are blinded by some strange lights in the sky, and as a result the Triffids - strange, ambulant, people eating plants (not purple people eaters... that was something else that caused childhood nightmares) are easily able to kill their prey. Society as we know it breaks down and the hero is forced to make some tough choices about survival.

look, there is a movie! I had no idea.

What would you do if you were one of the few people with sight in the world? Work hard to help the others? Recognise the futility of trying to save and feed everyone else and save yourself?

One of the reasons that I am thinking again of the Day of The Triffids is that I went to the launch of the LEAF project recently.

The Leaf Project is bringing together researchers from the University of the Western Cape, the CSIR, Stellenbosch University and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology to find and genetically map the enzymes that most effectively digest lignocellulosics as part of the process of producing ethanol for biofuels.

Leaf (Lignocellulosic Enzymes for Agricultural Feedstocks) has as its basis the concept of producing biofuel in a way that does not compete with food grade carbons.

“We'll be finding ways to use the lignocellulose in the thousands of tons of sugarcane, maize, forestry and soya waste – the leaves and stalks and husks - that are produced in this country each year,” explained Professor Don Cowan, head of the Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics at UWC.

The project is getting off the ground with startup funding of R24.5-million from Plantbio Trust, its biggest ever investment into a venture which is in its high-risk pre-proof of concept phase.

So what's the connection with The Day of the Triffids? In the book the few survivors are able to forge out a new and seemingly cosy existence, without losing too much sleep over the dying masses.

In the LEAF project, like so many projects and initiatives nowadays, the central focus is on making a difference to everyone. In this case, the determination of the researchers to produce a biofuel that does not compete with food stocks was repeated again and again.

Is society as a whole becoming less selfish? Have the global economic pressures and the fear of climate change meant that we are beginning to embrace a way of thinking that would previously be scorned as being only for those who were perceived as the loony, tree-hugging left?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

tunnel vision

It's been a strange week. Periods of intense busyness, a couple of moments of sheer indulgence and unconnected people suddenly telling me how they see me.

It got me wondering about the chasm between the way we see ourselves (or is it just me?) and the way other people see us.

This picture of Simon's seems to sum it up perfectly. We are looking down a tunnel. Uneven, rusty and filled with the debris of what we think is important into the eyes of the people who intersect our lives.

It all started with this post where I said that I am a black lace and candlelight kind of person. Larissa, who is my son's girlfriend (and whose amazing blog is here) disagreed with me quite emphatically. Where I see myself as dark and moody, she sees me as "bouncy, happy and colourful. and you're almost always smiling. you're like a naughty little girl trapped in a woman's body.. a creative wild child who doesn't want to conform but has to".

How do we get to see ourselves the way other people see us? And what difference would it make it my life if I were to see myself as "sweet" (another title I was given this week) instead of "difficult" (which would have been my description).

And, when it gets down to it, whose truth is the real one?

Friday, 8 May 2009

lives well lived

This morning we were up bright and early, making a real South African breakfast for two of our friends who made our home their first stop on their big adventure.
Les took early retirement (very early) and he and Sharon set out today on a journey with no fixed destination or time scales which will take them around a large part of Southern Africa. They are completely free to go where their whim (or God) leads them.

As Les said this morning, "I could have worked longer and got a better pension, but why? You don't need a lot of money to be happy".

I stole this picture off their blog here. (Sorry Les. Sure you'll tell me if you mind)It gives you an idea of what their home will be for the next six months or more.

I really admire people who are prepared to live life to the full.

I really despair when I think of the people I know who are not prepared to stray an inch off the path of the conventional. I want to cry when I think of all those who reach retirement age and then sit around, getting more grey and more dull and dying in stages until they leave the world without ever having had a "why the hell not?" moment.

I think that having reached this stage of my life, I've proved that I'm not likely to ever grow up or be serious or make the sensible choice. And that's just the way I want it to be.

When I was a child, I remember often asking my mother "Why not?" and her answer was invariably "because it's just not done". I don't think she ever realised how much I was screaming inside, or how important that answer was in shaping my life.

I want to do things because I can, because it's cool and because it's fun. I want big adventures and all the risks that go with them. I want to experience life first hand. I want to still be living until the day I die.

Luckily, Greg wants that too... so the rest of this journey should be great.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

do you want to feel good?

I'm still getting lots of exercise kicking myself after yesterday's debacle, so I popped on over to one of my favourite bloggers.
Color Me Katie is a lesson in exuberance. How could you not feel cheerful after reading about the shadow project?

She is so filled with life and joy and colour that it's impossible not to smile, and think "wow, what a cool idea", and "I wish I'd seen that".

But I have a confession.

Unlike some of my blog friends and aquaintances, I'm not sure I'd actually like to meet her. I'd feel intimidated and stressed by all the bounce. I'd feel that I just wasn't colourful, or inventive or sparky enough.

I'm more of a black lace and candle light and long silences kind of person.

But I am really glad that people like Katie are out there. Keep up the bounce, Katie!

I'd even contemplate living in a nice, quiet cave like this one.
If it had good carpets.

bouquets for a dingbat

Making me feel better: my 81-year-old mother and my husband, heading off 35km to the next closest town to buy a milkshake a couple of weeks ago

Yesterday I made a huge, totally unprofessional mistake. Thankfully it's been a long time since I proved so conclusively that the fact that a head is connected to a neck does not mean that any coherent messages are getting through.

It was the end of a horrible day, filled with frustrations and clients who don't pay on time. The only thing I can say for the mistake, was that I also proved that my commitment to always doing a job as well as possible extends into all my endeavours. I didn't send an email with premature information to a couple of close friends. I sent it to close to 100 highly influential journalists. How's that for a screw up of note?

One of the things that I learned through the debacle was that my family is totally, completely loyal to me. I had no idea, and the realisation is humbling, scary and certainly makes me feel a whole lot better.

One of the things we did during April: Greg's birthday breakfast in Paddagang in Tulbagh. Yes, we went on the bike

My husband, my mother and my son Simon all had the same reaction (Ben's still in pirate-infested waters in the Seychelles, or he may have had the same response). They immediately assumed that it was someone else's fault, that I must have been given the wrong information. This morning when I spoke to my mom, I was still trying to persuade her that the mistake was something that I had to take full responsibility for.

Isn't that just amazing? I'm sitting at my desk, wrapped in a blanket, and with a hot water bottle and warm slippers, but what's really keeping me warm today is the feeling of being loved. It's a great place to be.

One of my favourite feel better spaces: our bathroom in the evening, lit with candles. There's bubblebath too, and a bath so deep and long I can float in it.

Monday, 4 May 2009

what happened to April?

Somehow, April just vanished in a haze of work. After not knowing how much I'd earn month by month - which is exciting and a little daunting - all of a sudden I have four clients who are paying me a monthly retainer. It's really cool to have the certainty of income. I don't think the lack of blogging it is connected to the new arrangements because I had been working for many of them anyway, but somehow, in the midst of it all, April just vanished.

I subscribe to many of my favourite blogs through bloglines, and as of today I have 36 posts to read on Meri's Musings, 19 of Julie's to read and 98 of Seth's. 98!!

I could go on, but my bloglines notifier keeps popping up on my screen to tell me I have 2761 new items to read, and I feel like I may start screaming.

One of the new retainers is to work for the Spier 2010 Contemporary Art Exhibition for five days a month. I almost feel guilty about being paid for it. The office where I am working is in the visitor centre for the new Green Point Stadium. Actually, the office I share is in what is left of the old stadium (astroturf carpets! How cool is that!). It's a place of bustle and noise and life and good company. A couple of times a day, school groups come to see the presentation about the new stadium, and a fabulous production by the talented Apollo who tells the story of soccer in South Africa and the common. The children start their tour with a warcry: "We are the future! 2010!" which puts a lump in my throat for all kinds of reasons. And I get to write about art.

Keeping me grounded is another new retainer for a long-time client. Isandla Institute is concerned with issues of poverty and urbanisation, and the work the small team there does always leaves me feeling a bit more hopeful that the warcry of the children will reflect a positive tomorrow.

And, talking about all those tomorrows, our election has come and gone and all that is left is for the fabulously expensive inauguration of our new president. I could, and probably should, rave on. But I won't. Not today. I'll just gaze at the picture of the amazing rainbow coloured bug I saw in the garden yesterday (see above) and think quiet thoughts about what our rainbow nation was supposed to be.

And last but most certainly not least. I got a package of surprises in the mail from Julie, all the way from Denmark. The Swedish Ginger and Lemon chocolate was triply wonderful (as in three times and a trip) because it was the first chocolate I had eaten since December. Greg and I shared it out, square by square, and it lasted five days. The most beautiful hand bound books are on my desk now, waiting to be filled. I don't know if you are the same, but when I have something so beautiful, I'm almost reluctant to write the first word, or add the first sketch. But they will come.

The big, squishy envelope, covered in Danish stamps is also on my desk, slowly being filled with surprises to send back to Julie. I'll mention the stone from the Namibian desert, because I've already told her about that one. The others, both she and you are going to have to wait for.

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