Keep taking the tablets

On Sunday Mum and I went to the beach, then I spent much of the next two days pretending to study. The singles interclub competition came to an end on Monday night. In the doubles I played with Superman again, which meant I never really relaxed from the first point to the last. Thankfully, unlike last time, we didn't both self-destruct in our own separate ways, and we won 6-3 6-3 in less than an hour. Then came the singles. I've been involved in all manner of bizarre singles matches this season so it was fitting to end on one. To cut a long story short, I was in all kinds of poo but managed to dig myself out of it, probably due to the youth and exuberance of my opponent. In the first set I was 5-2 down but reeled off five straight games; in the second I was even deeper in the mire at 5-1, but this time I won six games in a row, facing a couple of set points in the process. I struggle sometimes in winning positions because I go into my shell; he did the opposite. In some ways I felt he lost the match rather than me winning it, but after previous experiences this season, in which the boot was firmly on the other foot, I'll take it.

Yesterday I saw the psychiatrist. I was a bit apprehensive, especially as I started off by sitting in the wrong chair. I was dreading the Rorschach Inkblot Test but luckily I was spared that. The upshot of my hour in the chair (once I'd found the right one) was that I need to increase my dose of Efexor and maybe start on lithium. Apparently it turns out I've got some form of bipolar disorder à la Spike Milligan and Stephen Fry. That diagnosis came as some surprise because as far as I'm aware, I don't swing from the south pole to the north, but rather from the south pole to somewhere near the equator. Seeing a shrink is an expensive business, so I tried to get as much bang as I could for my buck by talking incessantly. I felt down for the rest of the day, perhaps because I had to go to work today. I started to lose the plot as Mum helped me sort out my bank statements. I went into fits of hysterics, and for some reason found the ASB statements utterly hilarious.

Today at work could have been a lot worse. I was nervous; it was almost like my first day again. I tried to turn over a new leaf by cleaning my desk which had become a bomb site. I also proudly displayed my "you've-now-passed-a-few-exams-so-you-must-know-something" certificate, which I'd been embarrassed about because I don't know anything. The highlight of my day was a letter I received congratulating me on reaching my fifth anniversary with the company. For my loyalty I get $100 to spend at a restaurant of my choice; Mum and I will have a slap-up meal on Friday night, just before she hops on the plane to go home. I was still agonisingly slow today; I was probably functioning at about 40% of capacity. But I'm hopeful I can turn things around. I just have to keep taking the tablets.

Three reasons I haven't posted lately

1. I've been sick. Boo-hoo. I got hit by another round of diverticulitis (I know:TMI) that was just awful. The worst part is that it didn't respond to antibiotics. It took two full cycles of different "big guns" to knock this thing down. In the meantime, I was in excruciating pain and had a low-grade fever the whole time. I was miserable. Poor pitiful me.

The doctors were a bit concerned that it wasn't just diverticulitis, but that it might have been diverticulitis AND something else. So I got to drink lots of poison, have some more poison injected into me, and have a contrast CT scan. Fortunately, it was "just" diverticulitis. Needless to say, given my family history, I freak out a bit when ever something goes wrong in my abdomen.

I'm glad to say I have recovered and I'm feeling MUCH better... I can hardly wait for my colonoscopy in three weeks.

2. My favorite aunt and uncle have been visiting. They were in town for a week, and we were having wonderful family time. They are lovely, gentle people ... who are getting old.

My Uncle Walter is 80, looks a bit like Jack Nicklaus, and has a warm heart, ready smile, and great bear hugs. My Auntie Pami is my mother's younger sister. When I look at her, I feel like I am looking into a mirror 30 years into the future. She and I have similar bone structure, similar hair, similar build ... it's eerie. It's also good that I like her so much!

3. I don't really have much to blog about these days. I feel like I've written everything I need to write. I know that as Mother's condition deteriorates, and when she dies, there will be more to say. But for now, life goes on pretty much the same from one day to the next.

Two things I should post about

1. Mother is doing amazingly well these days. For a while, it seemed as though the decline had begun. But she had tremendous energy while my aunt and uncle were here: She was able to everything she wanted.

In fact, Mother is doing so well that -- brace yourselves -- she and Jane and Pierre are going to China for 3 weeks. Yes, China! When they booked the trip, they weren't sure that Mother would really be able to do it, but now ... she's so excited. She knows that she most likely won't be able to do EVERYTHING, but simply being there and seeing all the things she has dreamed of seeing her entire life will make the trip worthwhile.

2. Since my family will be out of town for Easter, so will I. I'm taking the boys back to Maryland for Spring Break, including the great liturgies of Great Week and Great and Glorious Pascha. I cannot tell you how much this trip means to me. We'll spend the first three days of vacation in church (the boys are really looking forward to that ... NOT), and then another six days seeing as many friends as possible. It will be WONDERFUL.

Financially, I have no business going. I really can't afford it at all. But this is something I need to do for my own spiritual and emotional well-being.

One thing you need to know

Whether I'm posting five days a week or five days a month, the friendship of my online community means the world to me. Thanks for being here ... even when I'm not.

Finally... an update

Well, finally scrounging time and energy to do an update.

The marsh is for all practical purposes complete : an old blue sheet, blue cellophane stickey-taped together to form a complete sheet and then crumpled up, and islands.

Still got to make the rest of the boats...

So if you go down to the marsh today...

I've also done trial layouts of two other scenarios I plan to use for the Leviathan competition.

The Shards of the Sun

And their terrifying guardian

The tomb complex


A lovely sunny day at Hornsea today, venue chosen by Harry because he wanted to dig holes in the sand. Also found a pink footed goose at Hornsea Mere taking the years total to 78.

Hard man

The following story appeared in today's Hull Daily Mail:

Man assaulted and hit by car
Friday, March 27, 2009, 18:20
A Hull man was allegedly assaulted and hit by a 4x4 in Holderness Road, east Hull.
The 36-year-old Hull man was near the Boyes store yesterday at 3.16pm when a Mitsubishi 4x4 pulled up beside him and a man got out of the car and assaulted him.
The victim tried to run off but the car was driven into him.
He suffered a broken ankle and cuts to the head, but did not need medical treatment.

The last line intrigued me, a broken ankle, but did not need medical treatment, that's impressive.

House hunting

My mum arrived on Wednesday. It's great to see her. She realises I've got problems (or issues as we call them) so she's extended her stay till next Saturday. I've spent the last two days "semi-studying" for my exam, by which I mean looking at books and notes vaguely connected with the subject, almost for entertainment purposes, without concerning myself with any of the detail (and it's of course the detail that largely determines whether you pass or fail). For instance there's a book I was given by one of my work colleagues, The New Finance, that flies in the face of anything I've learned by suggesting that average returns go down as you take bigger risks. So it's an interesting read but probably not that handy for my exam. Right now I couldn't care less about my exam, though I daren't tell Mum that.

I took my first Efexor pill yesterday morning, and I felt like total crap for the next 48 hours, just like I did in August 2001 when I first took citalopram. Only this time I didn't have the added complication of thinking about dying 18 hours a day. Because I can see parallels between now and my previous experiences, I'm optimistic about the future. Even my bizarre fits of laughter on the day before taking Efexor were a repeat performance of my weird behaviour just before I started the citalopram.

On Thursday and Friday I simply didn't want to know, but today I've improved significantly. Mum and I spent the morning looking at houses, though only from the outside. Mum is much more "house-savvy" than me. Whevever I go down south, Mum and Dad are always taking detours to look at newly built houses, which I often find depressingly ostentatious. Some modern constructions scream "look how much money we've got" and I'm thinking, why not go the whole hog and paint a great big dollar sign on it. I should point out that Mum and Dad designed their own house and it isn't ostentatious at all - I really like it actually. Anyway, Mum knows a lot about houses, but things that bother her greatly don't matter to me one bit. "It's so dated, like something from the eighties; I wouldn't touch that with a barge pole," Mum would say, while I'd almost see that as a plus. Anything that looked like the place I grew up in would likely bring back happy memories for me.

On Tuesday I finished reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Though it took me a while, I found it utterly captivating. There was a lot of stuff I could relate to (going to university and being socially isolated) as well as plenty of stuff I couldn't (intricate murder plots for a start). But what really got me was how someone could write that well at such a young age. Writing a novel would be the most amazing thing, but I haven't had anywhere near enough life experience yet and my writing probably isn't good enough anyway.

Wheeldale Moor

Popped up to Wheeldale Moor at the weekend, very cold, but the journey yielded 2 new birds. A Red Kite (magnificent) and a Curlew taking the yearly total to 78. Cancel that I've already had a Curlew, make that 77.

Losing my mind

Things have escalated in the last couple of days. On Sunday night I went to bed late, which meant I got up late, which meant I got to work late. At 9am I had my daily meeting with my boss and pretended that things were basically OK. Shortly after that, we had a team meeting - these are often a source of embarrassment for me because my boss asks each of us in turn what we've been doing in the past week and what we've got coming up, which for me is usually not a lot. But yesterday I had a smorgasbord of items on my plate so I rattled them off when asked, knowing full well most of them would remain untouched. After the meeting, time seemed to fly by: eleven, half-eleven, twelve, half-twelve, and I still hadn't done anything. I was constantly yawning. I ate a Subway at my desk, partly because I felt I was too far behind to take a proper lunch break, but mainly because I couldn't face sitting with the usual crowd and having to make conversation with people who are so jovial and optimistic and young and alive. Not that I have made conversation with any of those people at lunchtime for a while - I just sit there with the paper, if I can get hold of one (they're like gold dust) and do the crossword if the woman from Distribution hasn't already filled most of it in. There are a couple of ifs there so that means I often just stare blankly into space. Even though my concentration is impaired, I can still do things like crosswords because I've done them hundreds of times before. I've even compiled them on occasions. Anything new, on the other hand, and I'm screwed.

In the afternoon I tried frantically to find the one vital spreadsheet, out of those ten or so spreadsheets I had open simultaneously on Friday, that I needed to complete my most urgent task. I promised I'd have it done by the end of the day, which wasn't far away. A figure of eleven grand was bandied about that morning, but I couldn't find any figures on any of those spreadsheets that were even close to eleven grand. I called Brian over. "I've got a lot of spreadsheets open here, Brian, and none of them seem to be the right one." "Did you save it?" "Er, ah, I think so. Oh hang on, my computer crashed on Friday and I ended up crawling under my desk and turning it off at the wall. So maybe I didn't." "No worries," said Brian. "All you've got to do is change this and add in that and check the claims." "Thanks." Change what and add in what and check what?! I gathered this was probably a simple task but I had no idea what Brian was talking about. I went to the toilet and found myself writhing around in the corner of the cubicle, moving my head backwards and forwards, and after a while, laughing uncontrollably. Shit, I'm going mad. I must have been in the loo for twenty minutes. When I'd composed myself I went back to my desk and waited for the clock to tick round to five. Outside the office, nothing seemed real. The sunlight was almost intoxicating, rather like how it seemed when I arrived in New Zealand in 2003, having been accustomed to the weaker English sun. The walk to my car felt like a hike of several miles. I still hadn't sent off my assignment which was due at 5pm Sydney time. After a lot of faffing around (why do they make the process so damned complicated?) I got it sent off just before the deadline, not that it really mattered anyway. I can't see how I'll pass the exam. I haven't done any study for weeks now. I went to tennis - the boot camp session where you run around and hit balls and don't have to worry about scoring - for the exercise. I felt better after that, but then my mum rang. She's coming up from the South Island tomorrow; she managed to get one of those "grab-a-seat" fares. I was unable to talk coherently and had to hang up at one stage due to my inability to stop laughing. She's understandably very worried about me and I wish she could be up here for longer than just three full days.

I saw my doctor this morning. I was lucky to get an appointment at such short notice. I told her all my symptoms before again being overcome by uncontrollable laughter. I was told to take the next five days off work and to make an appointment to see a psychiatrist, which I did, in spite of the cost.

Future Star?

Harry has started football training, he enjoys it and I hope he continues to do so. I am not particularly competitive, so will never be one of the Dad's on the sidelines screaming at their kids. What surprised me at Harry's first training session was 5 year olds feigning injury as well as the over elaborate goal celebrations!


Let's face it, 7:45 was never going to happen. And when I did get to work, I was all at sea. I must have had at least ten spreadsheets open at one point. After successfully crashing my computer I spent the rest of the day in meetings.

Had tennis - again - on Saturday. Didn't play with Bazza this time; instead I partnered the bloke I played in that friendly singles match on Thursday night. We both played well that night and on Saturday we carried on where we'd left off, racing out to 6-2, 3-0, 30-0, at which point my partner thought he was Superman and could latch on to anything at the net. In contrast I hardly hit the ball at all. The more he played Harlem Globetrotters-style tennis, the more tentative I became. Every drop of confidence had drained out of me, and soon I was hating the whole experience and just wanted to get off the court. After falling behind in the second set, we had three match points on my serve at 6-5, 40-0. They all came and went, as did a fourth, and we were fortunate to close it out on our fifth opportunity. Fortunate, because mentally I was gone.

I had no energy at all in the mixed match, which thanks mainly to my partner, we won 6-0 7-5. I've got no idea how that score in the first set happened because I was like a zombie for the whole match. Overall we won 5-3 and I was glad it was all over. We had to forfeit a match because one of our players strained his achilles, and there was way too much bitchiness among the women for my liking.

I woke up this morning with no sensation in my limbs. Made it to Takapuna market just before they packed up - visually the market was a bit more than I could cope with, especially as I had only ten minutes to make my purchases, so everything happened so quickly. When I got home I felt completely scrambled. Got my hair cut this afternoon - quick, cheap, probably not that good but I didn't care - and went for a swim which seemed to improve matters a bit. Negotiated the supermarket, which would have been an impossible task a few hours earlier, but now I'm totally knackered.

I did it!

I've always intended to, but I didn't know when. I've always known I would, but I didn't know when.

But today ... I did it.

I didn't know I was going to do it today. I wasn't planning on doing it today.

But I did. Today.

I wrote the introduction to "my book." It's not much, only one page, only 342 words.

But I did it.

And I sent it to a trusted eye to review.


Today hasn't been a bad day really. I was struggling for the first two-thirds of it and wasn't totally coherent in my meeting with Andy. But I played tennis tonight against someone from my interclub team and managed to find an intensity level I haven't reached in months. So many of my recent matches have been played in slow motion, but tonight I couldn't get on with the next point fast enough. We were evenly matched and my lower unforced error rate proved decisive in my 6-4 6-4 win. A crucial moment I felt came towards the end of the first set. Despite playing two solid games, he played out of his skin, and my 5-2 lead was pegged back to 5-4. But instead of panicking and going into my shell as I've done so often lately, I stuck to my guns realising he was unlikely to play at that level for a third straight game, and if he does, well that's just too good.

I'll be coming off citalopram in the next few days and starting on Efexor (one F or two?) which seems to have more side effects than you can shake a stick at. It's a bit alarming for me because I already have some of those symptoms without taking Efexor. Apathy for one - Efexor could plunge me deep into don't-give-a-shit territory. Still, I'm strangely excited about the prospect of taking a new drug, having been on the same stuff for nearly eight years.

I'm still way behind at work, though I did wipe off some of the deficit yesterday. My goal is to get to work at 7:45 tomorrow, which is only nine hours away. This morning I was still in bed at that time.
It's hard to write a normal post after a gut-wrenching one. Anything I might have to say seems somewhat anticlimactic.

Life goes on, and so do I.

Battling the brain

I did it. It was hard work, perhaps even harder than I predicted, and my time of just under 53 minutes was a full five minutes slower than my 2006 effort. It was probably only because I was dragged along by a heaving mass of humanity that I finished it at all. As you can see if you click on the link, a good chunk of those 53 minutes were spent getting to the start line, and for the first couple of hundred yards you couldn't run even if you wanted to. Plenty of people didn't want to, and walked the whole way - I think they had the right idea. There was one runner with a huge brain attached to his head. I got close to him - close enough to read the slogan on the back of his T-shirt: "I'm joggin' for my noggin" - and I was determined I would beat the brain. But unlike last time I had no sprint finish and the brain powered to the finish line, leaving me for dust.

After the run and some much-needed calorie replenishment, I watched our doubles tennis team win comfortably without me, seven matches to one. I went for a dip in the sea and that was pretty much my weekend over.

Monday at work was uneventful though my legs were aching from the previous day's exertions. I probably wasn't in the best shape to play tennis that night, but really it made little difference. Though I didn't play at all badly, my opponent was tactically very astute and I found his game almost impossible to combat. I lost my singles 6-2 6-3 and the doubles 6-4 6-2. The team we played are top of the league, a position attained by consistency and guile rather than scorching winners.

Everything kicked off yesterday. I used to worry that my boss wasn't speaking to me. Not any more. I now get to meet with her every day! The last few months, when I haven't performed at all, have finally caught up with me. I haven't done anything right at work since heaven knows when, and even in a large company where you can slip under the radar a bit, you can't go on like that for ever. Hopefully these one-on-one meetings, which will involve daily work lists, might bring some much-needed structure to my work - most of the time I don't know whether I'm coming or going - but the fact that I need these meetings at all is an idea of how far things have slipped of late. After yesterday's meeting I was in a daze and couldn't think straight. I couldn't find what drive or directory anything was saved in, and spent the rest of the morning wondering how I was going to get myself out of this mess. I was pleasantly interrupted by a phone call from my dad who was about to hop on a plane to the UK - I wished I could join him. In the afternoon I actually got some work done.

Took ages getting to sleep last night - my mind was racing away - but today I worked my butt off. Got in maybe ten minutes late but stayed an extra hour and didn't take a lunch break. Just popped out for a sushi which I ate at my desk. Since the last time I had sushi, the price had risen from $7.00 to $7.90, a deceptively large increase of 12%. No wait, 14%. Hang on a minute, it's 17%! God, I really am losing it, I thought. I can't even work out a percentage any more. In the end I settled on 14%. This afternoon I was introduced to a new spreadsheet, which was fun in a funny sort of way. You had to change a few cells to make some other cell as close as possible to zero without going under, a bit like blackjack in reverse. It behaved unpredictably, and just when you thought you'd got it, bust! and you'd have to start again. If and when I do this task again I'm sure I'll have forgotten most of it, but I'll still remember the reverse blackjack spreadsheet. When I got home I realised the sushi price hike was in fact 13%. Man I'm going crazy.

Tomorrow I'll be seeing my doctor about possibly getting my medication changed - I've been on citalopram almost non-stop since 2001, though I did increase my dose a couple of years back. I'll also be seeing Andy. He informs me that it's not CBT, but it's very useful all the same. It's great just having someone to talk to because so often I don't.

My mum will be coming up to see me next Wednesday. I'm very much looking forward to that. This place is a complete and utter mess - I'll have to give it a serious clean at the weekend and get all my washing done. I don't think I can face my previous experiences of my mum hanging undies from my phone wire or my CD rack! I should probably try and make some inroads into my piles of unopened mail as well.


Today I will, with some help from friends, start making a marsh for the Sebeki to play in.

Also, I hope to work out why I'm having so much trouble with images, and maybe how to make PDF plans accessible.

2 more

A much better view of a Barn Owl than last week and an orangey hued Greater Spotted Woodpecker (maybe we should call it a Ginger Woodpecker!), I also saw a couple of Common Buzzards taking the yearly total to 76.

Making things - Pyramids

I play a lot of Wargods of Aegyptus

It's a fun game with excellently sculpted miniatures, a very nice game engine and a fun background based on Egyptian mythology.

Anyway, building terrain is one of my favorite things and what is more egyptian than a pyramid!

What you need :

  • Foamcore
  • A4 sticky lable paper
  • Something solid to base the model, such as 3mm MDF or thin plywood or masonite. The minimum base size is 250mm square.
  • Texture paint
  • PVA glue
  • Gold foil
  • Masking tape
  • Polystyrene foam and any parts you want to use for an interior.
  • The Pyramid Side PDF file at My little PDF site
  • Sharp knife
  • A ball point pen or similar for scribing blockwork
  • A ruler
  • A small square food container.
Print out four copies of the pyramid side template on sticky lable paper

Trim the printouts, such that one side is cut level with the edge and the other has about 10mm on the edge. The base can be left alone or trimmed as desired. The reason for the 10mm overlap is to reinforce the bend line.

Reduced: 85% of original size [ 797 x 672 ] - Click to view full image

Stick down the printouts on your sheet of foamcard with the tops meeting in the centre. Make sure the overlap is under the next sheet along.

Reduced: 68% of original size [ 992 x 846 ] - Click to view full image

Reduced: 79% of original size [ 851 x 705 ] - Click to view full image

Cut out your pyramid blank.

Score the blockwork.

The procedure is to lightly cut through the outer layer of card and then run something like a ballpoint pen along the cut to indent the foam.

Cut and score the horizontal lines before cutting and scoring the vertical lines.

Reduced: 66% of original size [ 1024 x 768 ] - Click to view full image

Reduced: 66% of original size [ 1024 x 768 ] - Click to view full image

Reduced: 66% of original size [ 1024 x 768 ] - Click to view full image

Reduced: 66% of original size [ 1024 x 768 ] - Click to view full image

Mark the main fold lines on the underside.

Flip over and cut through the foamcard most of the way through on the main fold lines. You want to cut through the inner layer of card and the foam, but not through the outside layer of card.

Reduced: 66% of original size [ 1024 x 768 ] - Click to view full image

On each side of this cut and at each of the bare edges, mark a line 4mm away and cut through the inner layer of card.

Fold the main cut back on itself and cut a 4mm bevel on each side of the main fold line. This will allow the pyramid to fold up.

Reduced: 66% of original size [ 1024 x 768 ] - Click to view full image

Reduced: 66% of original size [ 1024 x 768 ] - Click to view full image

Similarly, cut a 4mm bevel along the bottom edge so that the pyramid will sit flat.

Reduced: 66% of original size [ 1024 x 768 ] - Click to view full image

Cut a square approximately 80mm on each side from scrap and bevel the edges as above. It is important to get this square as it will hold the whole pyramid square and reinforce it.

Reduced: 83% of original size [ 814 x 605 ] - Click to view full image

Trial assemble the pyramid, folding it up and making sure everything fits.

Take a length of masking tape and run it through your hands a few times to take some of the 'sticky' off.

Run a bead of glue down each fold line and use the masking tape to assemble the pyramid.

Reduced: 73% of original size [ 926 x 666 ] - Click to view full image

I have found putting the pyramid into a square food container point down works well for allowing it to dry

Reduced: 66% of original size [ 1024 x 768 ] - Click to view full image

Glue the edges of the bevelled square into the pyramid and put something heavy-ish in to hold it in position.

Reduced: 66% of original size [ 1024 x 677 ] - Click to view full image

Reduced: 92% of original size [ 734 x 657 ] - Click to view full image

Allow the glue to dry.

At this point you need to decide if you want to do any interior for your pyramid. A lot depends on what parts you have available. You could do a large-ish chamber or a simple tunnel and indicate a shaft to an underground tomb. Whatever you do, you need to plan it now and assemble any parts needed onto the base

Glue pyramid down onto the baseplate.

Allow the glue to dry.

If you want to cut the top off the pyramid, I suggest cutting along the third or fourth horizontal line of blockwork.

Note : The entrance could be at ground level or could be above ground level.

Reduced: 80% of original size [ 845 x 768 ] - Click to view full image

Painting :

Paint with texture paint. This has the effect of also smoothing out somewhat the scored lines for the blockwork.

Then paint or drybrush or whatever to suit your other terrain

Here are some completed pyramids in use...

And so it begins...

... my first blog entry in my first blog.

Isn't it wonderful?

5 seconds

For 5 seconds Tuesday, my life was all about me.

I wasn't feeling well and had actually gone to the doctor (so you KNOW I wasn't feeling well). The first 44 minutes, 55 seconds in his office were about my insurance coverage, my medical history, and the illness that brought me in to see him. After he gave me the necessary prescription, he looked me in the eye and asked if there was anything else he could do for me, anything.

In that moment, I could have said anything and it would have been okay. It was all I could do to keep from sobbing; my lower lip was twitching like a cat ready to pounce. But I held back, smiled, and said, No, thanks. That's all.

But for those 5 seconds ... it was all about me.

It wasn't about my mom -- how is she, how is she really, how bad will it be, how long ...
It wasn't about my sister -- thank God she's okay, she makes me crazy, I'm so glad we've got each other, oh poor Jane ...
It wasn't about the boys -- time to go get them, I have to finish this now before I go get them, do I have time for this, idiot child, darling child, oh my poor babies
It wasn't about the house -- the dishes, the bathrooms, the vacuuming, the garbage, the laundry, the cat box
It wasn't about dinner -- what's for dinner, what can I eat, what will the boys eat, what do I have in the house, what should I buy, ugh ... the frying pan is still in the sink
It wasn't about money -- taxes, rent, mortgage, bills, Mother's money, my money, screw money!
It wasn't about grief, loss, parenting, daughtering, sistering, housekeeping.

For 5 seconds, it was about me. Was there anything else he could do for me?

When I got home (after going to the grocery store, putting away food, checking on Mother, checking the clock to see how soon I had to get the boys, feeding Clara, putting on a load of laundry), those 5 seconds hit me again.

Now (after two days of my life being about everybody else), I just want 5 minutes where my life is about me.

Five minutes with someone holding my hand and asking what I need. A kind word. A hug. A hanky. I want to cry for ME for 5 minutes. And I don't want to be alone when I cry.

I'll settle for 5 seconds.

metany, n.

no results found.

Imagine my surprise when I went to find a precise answer to Annie's question and encountered no results found. Neither nor has an entry for the word metany. It's an ecclesiastical term meaning prostration. I could have simply answered Annie's question in the comment section, but this is Great Lent, and I feel compelled to give a more complete reply.

In Eastern Christianity, there are two metanies, the Great Prostration and the Little Prostration.

Great Lent is the season of the great prostration, which is made three times during the prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian, which is itself read twice at the end of each weekday service during Great Lent:
O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. (metany)
But give to thy servant rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love. (metany)
Yes, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother or sister. (metany)
For thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

The great metany consists of dropping to your knees, touching the floor with your forehead, standing, and making the sign of the cross.

The little metany knows no season. The little prostration consists of bowing from the waist, touching the floor with your fingertips, straightening, and making the sign of the cross. We make little metanies when we enter the nave of the church, when we venerate the icons, when we approach the Holy Place, when we sing Blessed art thou, o Lord, teach me your statutes.

But WHYYY, Mommy? WHY do we make these prostrations? WHY can't we just bend our knees (the literal meaning of genuflect) a bit the way the Catholics do when they enter the pew? (and WHY don't we have pews?) WHY do we have to hold our fingers just so when we make the sign of the cross? WHY? WHY? WHY?

Hmmmmmm... where to start...

The word metany comes from the Greek word metanoia, which means conversion, which comes from the Latin word conversus, which means turning around. Conversion is turning away from sin, from that which would turn us away from God. In a metany, our body guides the mind and spirit in an attitude of repentance and turning toward God.

It's important to understand that Eastern Christianity has never seen a dichotomy between the human body and the human spirit, has never seen the two as warring with each other. (The West can thank St. Augustine for the prevalence of the idea that the spirit has to subdue the body.) We don't need to sit perfectly still so that our minds can relax and our spirits pray. Rather, we understand that engaging the body in worship and prayer makes it easier for the mind and spirit to do likewise.

We stand throughout the liturgy. We turn to follow the Gospel in procession. We move to the front of the church to be as close to the proclamation of Word of God as possible. During certain services of Great Lent, we prostrate ourselves for long(ish) periods of time. (You can't do that in a church with pews!) We move through and around the church, the body helping the mind and spirit to leave the current place and time and enter the Eternal Now.

Alexander Schmemann explains it this way:
In the long and difficult effort of spiritual recovery, the Church does not separate the soul from the body. The whole man has fallen away from God; the whole man is to be restored, the whole man is to return. The catastrophe of sin lies precisely in the victory of the flesh -- the animal, the irrational, the lust in us -- over the spiritual and the divine. But the body is glorious; the body is holy, so holy that God Himself "became flesh." Salvation and repentance then are not contempt for the body or neglect of it, but restoration of the body to its real function as the expression and the life of spirit, as the temple of the priceless human soul. Christian asceticism is a fight, not against but for the body. For this reason, the whole man - soul and body - repents. The body participates in the prayer of the soul just as the soul prays through and in the body. Prostrations, the "psycho-somatic" sign of repentance and humility, of adoration and obedience, are thus the lenten rite par excellence.
Source: The Missionary,
The Internet Edition of St. Luke's Mission Periodical

Fun run - the world's greatest oxymoron

Another utterly frustrating day at work. I've been a lame duck there for quite some time, but now I'm heading into "dead duck" territory. I sit at my desk with that same sinking feeling. I've got tasks to achieve and deadlines to meet but I don't know where to start. I feel embarrassed and stupid. I wonder what the hell I'm doing there. Wanting to put a fist through my computer monitor I instead gnaw on my pen. I pluck up enough courage to send (or "flick off" as they say here) a couple of emails asking questions that I hope aren't ridiculously basic. I take a phone call about a subject I know something about and for the only time that day I'm able to help somebody. I stare at the screen which is full of bizarre alphanumeric codes. I get distracted by palindromes or combinations that spell things forwards or backwards or in another language. I look at my watch - only five minutes have passed in what seems like half an hour. And so it goes on. Every day is the same.

I've spent hours trying to organise this weekend's tennis, though I won't be playing. That's because I'll be one of the 70,000-odd people doing Round the Bays. It's Auckland's annual fun run, which must be the world's greatest oxymoron. The distance is 8.4 kilometres or a smidgen over five miles. Just like for my two previous attempts (in '05 and '06) I've done no training, so just like it was then, it's bound to be hell.

pilgrimage, n.

  1. A journey to a sacred place or shrine
  2. A long journey or search, especially one of exalted purpose or moral significance

To understand the significance of my recent trip to Santa Fe with Mother and Jane, you have to know that the last time we three traveled together, just us girls, was back in 1989.

I was making a 3-day business trip to Tucson (!) and had decided that I would tack on a 10-day vacation, going up to the Grand Canyon and wherever else I felt inclined. I mentioned it to Mother and Jane, and the next thing I knew, my private, meandering exploration of the Southwest had become a fully orchestrated tour with my sister in charge. We had a fabulous trip: Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Mesa Verde, Taos, Chimayó, and Santa Fe. "The three girls" got along wonderfully, enjoyed the amazing Southwest, and did some great shopping. (I bought my first southwest weavings and my first pottery.)

Shopping, 1989

Twenty years later ... "The three girls" got along wonderfully, enjoyed the amazing Southwest, and did some great shopping.

I had originally suggested that we go to Santa Fe because I knew my mom wanted to, and I knew that it was a short enough flight that she'd be able to handle it. She added in going to Española, Taos, and Bandelier because she loves those places -- she and I had been to them in 2007 with the boys, and she wanted to share them with Jane.

The first two days were spent in Santa Fe, one day at the museums and one day shopping. Mother pushed herself to the limit both days: She saw EVERYTHING. She did EVERYTHING. We had great margaritas and wonderful food.

The third day was spent at Bandelier and Taos. Mother was in pain, but she insisted we go to Bandelier, and that Jane and I make the 2-hour hike necessary to tour the ruins. It was really important to her that we do this, so we did. Jane had never been to Bandelier, but this was my third visit, and she knew how significant the place is to me. She deeply appreciated my sharing it with her.

Climbing up to Alcove House, 2009

I first went to Bandelier with Nick in 1994; we'd been married less than 2 years, and we were transfigured by the beauty and the holiness of the place. Then I went with Mother and the boys in 2007; it was hard to sit with the boys in Alcove House, to remember having sat there with Nick, wishing he were there to show it to the boys. I got terribly choked up walking the trail to Alcove House ... remembering Nick, remembering walking it with Mother. My mouth was silent, but my brain was wailing: I came here with Nick, and he's dead. I came here with Mother, and she's dying. Now I'm here with Jane ... Will she be alive the next time I come? Will I be able to bear coming again?

The view from Alcove House, 1994

I tried to say something to Jane about my memories and how it hurt, but she didn't want to hear it. The pain Mother was in that day had made her coming death more imminent than either of us wanted to contemplate, and for Jane -- with her particular history of having that beast in her own belly -- it was just too much to think about. Nonetheless, the hike was blessed and peaceful, and Jane and I did savor the beauty and the holiness of the place, and that was what mattered.

Mother was better by the end of the day, and she had a good night's sleep. But she woke up on the last day with a sore throat and that ooghy feeling of getting sick. She wanted to go to Chimayó anyway, both to see the sanctuary and for one last shopping spree at Ortega's.

Shopping, 2009
In 1989, we went to Chimayó at the recommendation of one my colleagues; we knew nothing about the place and had no idea what to expect. There is a small church in the town that has become "an American Lourdes," with mystical experiences and healings. When we visited in 1989, we were the only people in the sanctuary: It was a clean, beautiful place.

Chimayó, 1989

Chimayó, 2009

When Nick and I visited in 1994, the grounds were littered with debris left by visitors. When Mother and I went in 2007, we didn't even stop the car: The area in front of the church had become a street bazaar, filled with tourists and vendors of tacky plastic rosaries --- it was awful. I didn't even want to drive by it last week, but I did because Mother wanted to see it again.

The plaza had been transformed. There were discreet shops (no doubt selling the same ticky-tacky rosaries) and pleasant seating areas. A prayer service was underway when we arrived; I went in, but Mother and Jane did not -- Jane later said she was overwhelmed by how strong and holy the place was. I sat for a few moments, walked to the altar, made a metany, and ducked through the low doorway leading to the small sandy hole in the ground that is said to be a font of grace. And found grace.

Chimayó sanctuary, 1989

The rest of the day was relatively uneventful: One more delicious meal in Santa Fe, arrival at the Albuquerque airport with time to spare, an awful horrible flight that felt much longer than 55 minutes, and great relief to be home.

I know there is so much more I could say about this trip --- so much more happened during the trip. But so much of what transpired among us three was outside words, in that place of sacrament and mystery, where words fail love but love does not fail.

The end of the trip, 1989

The end of the trip, 1994

The end of the trip, 2009