Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I want!


Image from Amazon

Meet the Kimochi Cat. It's an emotional literacy tool, just the sort of thing to get non-verbal clients "talking" about how they're feeling. It comes with three "feelings", but there are others in the range.

And of course that's why I want this little kitty (and the add-on packs containing six additional feeling figures each), because it's useful to my professional practice. Not because it's fluffy, cute and cat-shaped, with hearts on its paws.

Of course.

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's getting cold

Some days start with howling winds and the lazy drizzle of rains that know there's no hurry to get all Perfect Storm on us; they have all winter to play.

Others cheer me awake by laying a warm-hearted sunbeam on my face, a red herring to the stinging cold outside. The skies are so bright that I forget what season it is right up to the point when I open the door to head out, and then it jumps in and embraces me head to foot: hello, I am the cold and I'll be your outdoor guide for the next couple of months.


But no matter how miserable it is outside, home's a different story.

You know what they say: home is where the hearts are. Or maybe that's just what I say.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The song that's sung


I've played the piano for most of my life. (Usually without a cupcake-shaped lip gloss straddling middle C and the B before it.)

I've outgrown my childhood aversion to playing, probably due in large part to the fact that it was always referred to as "practising" back then, and it was always about reaching perfection to score that elusive distinction in my next exam. The keyboard is my friend now. It helps me to express things that words are too clumsy to describe. On internally stormy days, it helps me play softly glowing peace into an otherwise dark and thorny soul.

At least, it would if I had access to a keyboard all the time. At present, I don't, but I do have a guitar. Still, as much as I try, my stumbling efforts at the guitar don't come close to the effect the piano has. The simple conclusion is that everything I'm able to do with a piano is the result of my having spent hours upon hours playing pieces, chords, drills and exercises, and I don't have the same history with the guitar. Musically speaking, piano is my first language and even if I get the chance to learn other instruments to the same level of proficiency, piano will probably remain the language that I "speak" the most comfortably.

This was the line of thought that came to me while I picked my hesitant way through a simple old song.

Quite typically for me, that thought then skipped about 90 degrees southwest with a brief stop at the time I spent co-facilitating an anger management group, and I thought, no wonder some people are so aggressive.

I know. "Huh?" How did I get from guitar to aggression? I wonder how I got there myself, but I've since filled in the expanse between those two points, so here you go.

See, I "speak" piano. I may not know what the name of a chord is (sorry Ms Piano Teacher... it isn't your fault, I'm just not down with the theory side of things), but if I hear it played, I can either play it back to you or name/sing the notes that form it. If you sang me a melody, I could accompany you key for key. I speak piano fluently, and much of that is because I had a dedicated teacher who helped me to hear the music behind the music, and parents who wouldn't let me forget that they were paying her good money so I'd better cough up the results.

But put a guitar in my hands and you'll hear me stutter, if you hear me at all. My fingers, which I've tamed countless times into playing the most outrageous piano sonatas, will take on all the dexterity of a bundle of lup cheong hanging from a hook in a Chinese provision shop. The confidence with which they race over the black and white keys? It shrivels to a pea-sized lump that usually then buzzes from one left fingertip to another, the only parts of me that have any conviction at all when playing the guitar.

Why? Because the thought of having to speak an unfamiliar language often leaves us speechless and scared. The language that we've used for most of our lives is the one we'll use to express ourselves, to make ourselves understood, to understand ourselves in the first place.

So, I thought, no wonder some people only seem to "speak" violence and aggression. Or insults, or racial slurs, or fear, or intimidation. We speak what we've been taught and directed to speak for most of our lives. We speak what we've practised. We speak what has earned us results in the past. The more and the harder we've practised, the stronger our message. For some people, the "song" they've been groomed to sing is one of attack and anger. And, like me with the instruments, they've learnt that one language so well, their attempts to speak in others are so halting, that it seems almost pointless to try any other way.

It made me think about the language I'm speaking with my life. I'm not looking for an easy excuse for bad behaviour, in the sense that I'm only repeating the "songs" that my family has played for generations. I am so thankful that I have the chance to choose my own song, to do the gruelling work of learning a new language if for any reason the old one proves unavailable or unhelpful.

Does any of this make sense to you? I get this way sometimes. I'll think something really profound and then I imagine myself trying to explain it to someone else and ending with, "Right?"

And then, in my imagination, the answer comes with glazed eyes. "Uh... I guess. [Pause] Hey, do you still have any of that pumpkin casserole?"

So, if you have any thoughts, please let me know. And no, I've finished the casserole. But I can always make another.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Back in the kitchen again

For a while, life was feeling wholly bland and tasteless, as though I lived in an apartment with all-beige walls and dank black carpet, and spent my days taking long commutes to a dull job in a stark white office.

Say now...

Anyway, I'm still not sure if this was cause or effect, but around the same time I lost all inclination to cook. Frighteningly, I can't remember what I've been eating for the past two months. The fact that I always seem to be buying only bread, salad leaves and tomatoes implies that the answer might be "sandwiches". Which isn't exactly suicide by poor diet, but still, I felt I was missing out.

So this is my attempt to bring the flavour back. In addition to the quick meals that are a necessity during the week, at least once a week I'll try a new recipe, preferably one that uses fresh basic ingredients rather than prepared mixes. The extra incentive was finding that I'm not alone; my good friend Maggie will be jumping in and joining me on this little project.

Well, remotely, at any rate. It's a bit hard to share a kitchen when one of you is in Sydney and the other in Singapore. But it's good to see the life coming back into my eyes and tastebuds. It's good to be mixing marinades again, and doing the intricate choreography of the Baste With One Hand, Hold Up Oven Rack With The Other And For Goodness' Sakes Don't Burn Yourself Again! dance.

Here's last Sunday's subject: slow-roasted pork in a lemon rosemary marinade. As always, so many lessons to be picked up.

First, that I can cook pork that isn't better used as a baseball mitt than human feed, after all. Wonders will never cease.

Second, that parsnips and potatoes take an impossibly long time to cook in the oven. I was so tempted to yank them out and boil the lot, but they were hot and there are only so many times you want to do the dance in a given day.

Third, that you can mess with a good thing and not regret it. Raw pears, yummy. Pears soaked in lemon rosemary marinade and roasted with the pork, potatoes and parsnips, even yummier. The pears, being very sweet to start with, were the only things to come out from the lemon assault relatively unharmed.

Fourth, that I should be much more sparing with the lemon in the lemon rosemary marinade next time. It's just, I had so much fun hand-juicing them that I completely forgot to think of the repercussions taste-wise. Note to self: Save the lemons and get a stress ball.


So the taste wasn't great because of the overpowering sourness, but it was nothing that could not be helped with a generous pile of chopped mint and bread in a homemade red wine vinaigrette.

It's nice to be cooking again.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Manly by moonlight


End a drab day at the office by taking a bus to Manly. Talk to a friendly pharmacist with a thick Irish accent about the best remedy for the persistent pain in your right eye. Walk along the Corso with a woman looking for the hospital. Stand on the beach for a good 20 minutes stunned by the beauty of the clear night sky. Attempt to photograph the moonscape without benefit of tripod or steady hands. Notice someone else trying to do exactly the same thing. Walk to the ferry wharf. Stop for conversation with a huge tricolour cat that unexpectedly steps onto your lap and makes itself quite at home, looking annoyed when you stand up to continue on your course. Get on the ferry, snagging the prime seat for moon-watching. Ride to the city entertained by the sight of gulls swooping in alongside the ferry, fighting mid-air for prime spots, while behind you conversations take place in Hindi, Mandarin and Dutch. Take the bus home. Walk the 50 metres uphill to your building. Glance up. The moon is still there. The stars are still there. Remember that on a cloudy night when things seem overwhelmingly, frustratingly monotonous yet again.
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