One In A Million.

Believe it or not, I’m one in a million. 

A million authors writing to entertain others.
A million poets bleeding their souls onto the page.
A million people trying to help others.
A million people who are actually loyal. 
A million teachers going the extra mile for their kids. 
A million people caring for someone they love. 

It might be easy to get lost in the crowd. 
It’s easy to feel insignificant.
One tree among a million in the forest, so to speak. 
But I know I am one in a million. 

We all write and grieve and serve and give of ourselves differently. 
Each of us is unique. 
Each of us is a distinct blend of personality, talent and substance. 

Not a single one of us is worthless. 

I may not stand out among the million. 
I may never strike it rich or become famous.
I may never be someone else’s ideal. 
I cannot be perfect.

The truth is, I don’t have to.None of us do.

What matters is the contrast with some of the other people on this planet: the hateful, the cruel, the greedy, the selfish, the power-hungry, the narcissists. 
What matters is that I stand against the things they accept. 
What matters is that I am true to who I am, to my priorities, my values, my faith. 

What matters is integrity. 
That’s what stands out in this world. 

That, more than anything else, makes me one in a million. 

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A Favourite Shakespeare Play: ‘King Lear’.

I have loved ‘King Lear’ ever since I saw a performance of the play in my teens and was completely transported by it.
I find it impossible to consider a parent being betrayed by their child without thinking of Lear, and am compelled to utter the quotation, “Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks. Rage! Blow!” at least once during every good storm I witness. 

‘King Lear’ is the story of a king with one daughter who actually loves him and two who are the most selfish, greedy, and deceitful women the kingdom had ever seen. The problem was that he was unable to tell which was which. And so, his story turns to tragedy. 

Shakespeare didn’t have to worry about being historically correct or pleasing the right people with this play, although it wouldn’t be right to show the king as being a bit of an idiot when it comes to his family relationships, so he was sure to stay safe by putting the blame on the king’s horrible daughters and their ambition to take what was not rightfully theirs. Loyalty and faithfulness were, after all, very important qualities and concepts for anyone living in Elizabeth’s England, and you couldn’t have people just seizing land and power that didn’t belong to them. 

It’s not just Lear’s elder daughters, either, that turn on their father. The Duke of Gloucester, faithful supporter of Lear, also feels the dagger of betrayal planted firmly in his back Edgar, by his bastard son, Edmund, who is seeking to take all that rightfully belongs to his brother Edgar. 

In all of this, there are valuable lessons to be learned about who to trust, how to discern who is really loyal to you, and the fact that some people are far more driven by greed and ambition than they are by familial love. Given that we live in a world where kids have been known to turn on their parents and even divorce them in some cases, and where families are divided and sometimes irreparably broken by disputes over money and property,  ‘King Lear’ is clearly a play that still holds relevance for us today. 

It is a beautifully crafted story, full of pathos and tragedy and heartbreak. The language and imagery is magnificent. The dramatic irony of Cordelia’s fall from grace and Lear’s subsequent fall from power at the hands of General and Regan is heartbreaking. Cordelia’s fate hangs in the balance right up to the end of the play while, it seems, the evil people win. That is another point of relatability for the audience: we don’t like seeing the evil people win, and we want to see them get their just desserts. It’s a theme that Shakespeare explores at length in this play, and he expertly positions the audience to keep hoping that Lear and Cordelia will win the day. 

It is the nature of Shakespearean tragedy, however, that pretty much everyone dies and there are a few minor characters left to pick up the pieces at the end, so the audience has to be content with the poetic justice delivered to some and the beautifully tragic ending that comes to others. 

The fact that it doesn’t have a happy ending is one of the things I like about it. Life often involves less-than-happy endings, and it has always seemed to me that those who hope only for happiness are setting themselves up for an enormous struggle when adversity shows up instead. We can’t always have what we want, and Lear would have done well to remember that. Cordelia would have been better off if she had realised that not everyone who should recognise your integrity will do so, and that sometimes you need to play the game better than the cheats do in order to make them lose. 

Sure, I believe in happiness, but I know from my own experience that life is generally far more complex than being able to achieve happiness and simply stay there. We are constantly challenged to maintain a balance  between necessity and luxury, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, lest we be overrun by one or the other. Achieving that balance is the art of life. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne

Winnie the Pooh and his friends have been dearly loved for generations by readers all the world over. The stories of friendship, loyalty and fun are delightful entertainment for children and grownups alike. 

Of course, Disney’s purchase of the production rights to the stories resulted in greater exposure to new generations, but it also gave the characters newly altered appearances and American accents. The movies and TV programs are fun, and I enjoy them immensely, but in my mind they are a different generation of a much loved family. 

I really love the original stories and the illustrations by E.H. Shepard that accompanied them. The books that I had as a child have been passed on to other children in my family, but I do have a lovely set of paperbacks on my own shelf that still have all those original illustrations. 

I also have a copy of the 80th anniversary edition of the book, complete with hard cover, dust jacket and colour illustrations, that is precious to me for a reason beyond the fact that it’s a book I love. This particular book was given to me by a family as a thank-you gift for teaching a number of their children and helping them get through senior high school English. I keep their ‘thank you” card inside the front cover to preserve the memory, although I doubt I will ever forget that beautiful gift and the kindness with which it was given. 

ANZAC Day, 2019

101 years after the end of World War I, people all over Australia and New Zealand gathered today in remembrance of our soldiers, the nurses and doctors who supported them, and all those who served to preserve our freedom.

At our local ANZAC Day ceremony, I witnessed some lovely moments. 

Members of the CWA had knitted poppies and used them to line the path to the cenotaph. They looked beautiful, but also served as a poignant reminder of those who had given their lives during the war.

Local men who had served stood proudly, wearing their medals. There are fewer of them each year, but their number was supported by the children and grandchildren of those who have passed, wearing their forebears’ medals with pride and reverence.

One of my own former students gave a beautiful heartfelt requiem for the fallen. He spoke so well, and really knew his history. He made me really proud. 

An elderly gentleman standing near me bent down, took his restless young grandsons in his arms and explained to them why they needed to be quiet and pay respect. He then pinned his own poppy on one boy’s shirt. The smile on that child’s face as he stood quietly beside his grandfather for the rest of the ceremony was a wonderful thing to see.

Several young people of my town raised the flags of Australia and New Zealand to half mast and stood with their heads bowed during the Last Post and the minute of silence before raising the flags to full height and saluting them. 

Over thirty local groups, organisations and businesses laid memorial wreaths at the base of the cenotaph. Young members of the local Scout group carried and laid wreaths for those who were too elderly or frail to do so, keeping pace with the older folk as they walked to and from the cenotaph. 

A teenaged member of my theatre company sang the national anthems of both countries with reverence and pride. Everyone in attendance stood and sang along with pride. Not everyone knew the New Zealand anthem, but plenty of folk did. 

After the ceremony, the local Scouts carried around plates of sandwiches and refreshments for the townsfolk who had congregated. Every single one of them said “Excuse me” before offering us something to eat. Every single one of them smiled and spoke respectfully.

I have no doubt that similar things happened in every locality across Australia at 11am today to commemorate all those who served to defend our country and preserve our freedom, because that is what Australians do on April 25th.  

Poem: ‘Good Friday’ by Christina Rosetti

This poem expresses what I suspect many people, even very committed Christians, feel on Good Friday: we should weep more than we do, we should feel more than we feel, in response to Christ’s death on the cross.

While it’s true that faith and feelings are very different and distinct from one another, Rosetti observes here the misery and doubt that comes from knowing and believing in Jesus yet feeling as though she remains unaffected by her knowledge and faith, and expresses most eloquently the desire for God to help her to believe more fervently.

Whether or not one is a Christian does not limit their ability to be affected by the pathos in this poem, nor to consider the power of the imagery with which the poet evokes that sense of lonely difference from other people that pervades it. 

‘Good Friday’

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon–
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Poem: ‘Easter Day’ by Oscar Wilde

‘Easter Day’ is a sonnet about seeing the Pope on Easter Sunday. It is not, however, as reverent of the pontiff as it first appears. 

After describing the scene, Wilde observes that while the ceremony he observes is impressive, it actually has little to do with the reality of Jesus’ life.  It’s all about thethe Pope, far more than it is about the death and resurrection of the Messiah. 

This is a very powerful observation, and one that certainly resonates with me.  As I have said many times before, “I love Jesus. I just have significant problems with the actions of many who claim to represent Him.”

This poem, then, serves as a reminder to not put faith in man-made institutions, regardless of who or what they claim to be, but instead to focus on Christ himself, what He taught, and on one’s own faith in Him as a personal, intimate relationship. 

Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.

Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.

My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
‘Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.’

Never Too Busy For Poetry!

This weekend is crazy busy. One evening and two full days of rehearsal for the show I’m in, which hits the stage on the first two weekends of May. 

The show is Monty Python’s Spamalot, performed by Camperdown Theatre Company. We’re working hard and having a blast rehearsing it, although one of the hardest parts is not laughing at the genuine comic talent of the actors.

It’s enormous fun, but it’s fair to say it’s exhausting. 

While most of my social media for the weekend could be scheduled and was organised by Friday, and there were only a few “on the spot” things I needed to do, I decided ahead of time to spend as little time online as I could over the weekend. Any spare time I have will be spent resting and relaxing, which means reading.

One of the lovely things about poetry is you can read it, and keep thinking about it at odd moments during the day. It adds a dimension of beauty and calm to a hectic schedule, and opportunities for reflection that might not otherwise offer themselves.  Even just a few lines can change a perspective and transform a moment into something that lifts the entire day. 

Another lovely thing about poetry is the sense of connection the reader has with the poet. Despite the fact that many of my favourite poets have been long dead, I can still experience a moment of empathy and understanding that reminds me that I’m not doing life in a bubble.

That is my hope for my own poetry. I may not become famous, or even widely known, for the poems I write, but I know that my own readers experience that same connection with me because their reviews and communications tell me so. 

So, even in the midst of a busy weekend, I’ll always make time for a little poetry. 

Poem: ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley lived at a time when there was enormous interest in the archaeology of the Ancient Near East, following Napoleon’s victories in Egypt. Archaeological finds were being brought back to British and European museums, fuelling the creative imaginations of writers and stimulating a most fashionable interest in ancient history.

‘Ozymandias’ was inspired by a fallen statue of the Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II, who is believed by many to be the arrogant pharaoh of Exodus in the Bible. It should be noted, though, that this is not the same statue that Shelley writes about.

There isn’t  any archaeological evidence for the existence of the statue Shelley describes in this poem, which instead seems to be based on a statue and inscription described by the 1st century Greek historian Diodorus Siculus- but that isn’t the point: the poem is about the fact that the statue created in honour of one so powerful and wealthy ended up broken down and surrounded by nothing but endless desert. 

Shelley’s message is clear: whatever we build for ourselves in this life does not last, and people may not actually remember us for the things we’d like them to remember.

This short poem presents some powerful contrasts: vanity and ruin, honour and despair, sculpture and degradation, commemoration and mockery. 

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

If you’d like to know more about the relationship between Shelley’s poem and the history of Ozymandias, you can read this article by Stephen Hebron that provides a detailed explanation in plain English. 

P!nk and Poetry

In my post on Songs and Poetry, I explored the idea that lyrics of songs are often poetry. Indeed, one could argue that the more poetic and emotive the lyrics, the greater chance of that song becoming an anthem for some listeners. This is certainly true in my own experience. 

One of the artists in my “Anthems” playlist is P!nk. I love her attitude, her style, and her voice. Even more, I have found some of her lyrics to be enormously powerful and emotive, and very relatable. She may be a rock goddess who knows how to entertain, but she is also a poet who knows how touch someone’s soul. 

That’s why it came as no surprise to me that she used to write poetry. It shows. 

What P!nk says about the therapeutic effects of writing poetry is true, too. It does feel good to get the darkness out, and to shape it into something that is meaningful to others as well as oneself. As I have often commented, writing poetry is the most effective therapy I have ever had. 

Indie Authors: Don’t Let The Scammers Win

There has been quite some consternation among Indie authors over past months in various ways that dishonourable people have found to scam the system and get quite rich selling books that are not what they should be, particularly on Amazon, or who steal others’ books and make them available on pirate websites, or plagiarise and “rebrand” them as their own work.. 

Understandably, those who put a lot of effort into writing and publishing excellent books find such situations discouraging. It’s hard to be upbeat about what we do when others seem to “win” with shortcuts that are plain wrong. 

As I commented in yesterday’s post on integrity and ethics, it seems as though the floodgates have opened to allow all sorts of deceitful behaviour.
It’s hard to know how to respond.

What honest writers must not do, however, is quit. 

It’s up to us to keep on creating fantastic stories and poetry for the readers out there who crave excellent books. 

It’s up to us to hold our heads high, proclaim “I write every word of my books!” and then show the world what we’ve got. 

In short, it’s up to us to show the cheaters and scammers how it should be done. 

Nobody but honest and hard-working authors can restore the faith of readers in Indoe and self publishing. The only way to do that is to maintain a premium of quality in the books on the shelves in stores, libraries and homes all over the world. 

We may have to work harder, smarter and cleaner than ever before. Still, we’ve had to do that in order to give traditional publishing a good shake, and we’ve certainly achieved that. 

We Indies have so much to offer. We have each other for support and an entire future that is yet to be shaped ahead of each of us.

I refuse to quit. I refuse to let the scammers win. Who’s with me?