Giving up the past

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

A little piece I wrote back in 2010 – Sanitation? … or sanitization? – has been receiving a bit of attention from blog-readers in recent times, so I took another look at it myself … and it seems quite an appropriate topic for the season of Lent (which began last Wednesday (05 March).

Responding to a comment on the original post, I explained that “The between-the-lines inferences and implications of my post [had] to do, on the one hand, with destroying incriminating evidence, hiding my inner life … and, on the other hand, with holding on to mementos and souvenirs, and maintaining a record of things I [wanted] to remember.”

A bit cryptic – to say the least.

In the original post, I quoted something from A. Whitney Brown: “The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down.” (A. Whitney Brown, in The Big Picture)

What I didn’t make clear, in that 2010 post, is that what happened in the past is still in the past – nothing of the event itself is actually happening now. In effect, all that’s happening now is that a voice in my head is reading aloud what got written down in the past, and maybe reminding me about the wrong I have done and the good I have not done … and maybe I’m cringing, feeling guilty.

An act of contrition is one thing; getting rid of the rubbish is another. But this is not a lenten sermon, so back to the crux of the matter: “Giving up the past”.

In my experience, the inclination to clutter is often the outcome of either of two impulses: at one extreme is the Proustian urge to document everything (see note 1 below); at the other end of the scale, I hang on to things I cannot find the inner resources to attend to, process, or deal with.

Of late, I’ve been managing pretty much all the day-to-day chores and commitments, but there is a persistent residue that is harder to shift. A high percentage of that stuff still clutters my living-space; the remainder clutters my mind and my heart. The physical clutter is the manifestation of inner states, and its persistence is invariably anchored in the past.

The prophet Isaiah – who, by the way, had some worthwhile things to say about fasting and repentance (see Note 2 below) – said: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” (Isaiah 43:18, NIV). Whilst digging around on the interweb, I found a nice paraphrase: “When your past calls, let it go to voice-mail. It has nothing new to say.”

So I have plenty of work to do – giving up my past, and putting out the psychological and emotional trash.


1/ Proust, who claims to have no memory, keeps track of everything. His letters (there are several thousand) provide a running inventory of his bodily functions – letters to his mother providing an update of his respiratory condition, letters to his doctor listing the details of his menu, little notes handed to his housekeeper every morning reporting the number of times he coughed the night before. (Rebecca Comay, in Proust’s Remains)  

2/ The symbolism of the familiar Ash Wednesday ritual – a cross smeared on the forehead using the ashes of palms gathered up after the Palm Sunday procession – connects back to repentance practices in Old Testament times – see Isaiah 58, for example. 

Dian Fossey and the Google doodle

Google doodle celebrates Dian Fossey's 82nd birthday

Google doodle celebrates Dian Fossey’s 82nd birthday

Google has celebrated the 82nd birthday of late American zoologist Dian Fossey with a Doodle on its search page, The Independent reported today. The Guardian carried a similar story. Dian Fossey was born on 16 January 1932, in San Francisco, California.

Considered the world’s leading authority on the physiology and behavior of mountain gorillas, Dian Fossey fought hard to protect these “gentle giants” from environmental and human hazards. She saw these animals as dignified, highly social creatures with individual personalities and strong family relationships. Her active conservationist stand to save these animals from game wardens, zoo poachers, and government officials who wanted to convert gorilla habitats to farmland caused her to fight for the gorillas not only via the media, but also by destroying poachers’ dogs and traps.

Tragically, on December 26, 1985, Fossey was found hacked to death, presumably by poachers, at her Rwandan forest camp. No assailant has ever been found or prosecuted in her murder. (

The capacity of human beings to embrace, support, and protect life stands in stark contrast to our willingness to plunder, exploit, and murder.

The Dian Fossey doodle is the latest in the more than 1,000 doodles created for Google’s homepages around the world. Answering the question, “How did the idea for doodles originate?”, an About page explains that “In 1998, before the company was even incorporated, the concept of the doodle was born when Google founders Larry and Sergey played with the corporate logo to indicate their attendance at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. They placed a stick figure drawing behind the 2nd “o” in the word, Google, … intended as a comical message to Google users that the founders were ‘out of office.'” (About Google Doodles)

Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!

"La Marseillaise"

“La Marseillaise”

Yesterday, on the eve of Bastille Day, I experienced “patriotism” more profoundly than ever before. The agent of my enlightenment was Mireille Mathieu – and I have not a drop of French blood. 😉 PS: I was listening to a radio programme of music by French composers on Radio New Zealand Concert.

This post appeared on a certain Facebook page on 14 July, but I did not have the opportunity to post it here at that time … so I have adjusted the publication date.

Michael Schultheiß / Schultze / Praetorius


Born on 15 February 1571, Creuzburg an der Werra, Michael Praetorius died in Wolfenbüttel on his 50th birthday, 15 February 1621.

According to Wikipedia, he was born Michael Schultze, the youngest son of a Lutheran pastor, in Creuzburg, in present-day Thuringia. The CyberHymnal says his real name was Michael Schultheiß (German for ‘mayor’, which in La­tin is ‘Praetorius’).

Wikipedia adds: “His family name in German appears in various forms including Schultze, Schulte, Schultheiss, Schulz and Schulteis. Praetorius was the conventional Latinized form of this family name.”

The Dances from Terpsichore, a compendium of over 300 instrumental dances, is his most widely-known work – and, regrettably, his sole surviving secular work. His harmonization of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming) – written by Praetorius in 1609 – is a particular favourite.

Iron cross

“More than a century since they opened and more than a decade since closing down,” reported The Dominion Post earlier this month, “work is under way to transform some notorious Courtenay Place toilets into a pizza, coffee and gelato bar.”

iron cross (15 Nov 2011)

iron cross (15 Nov 2011)

The story reminds readers that “Before being closed down in 1999, the men-only toilets were a notorious pick-up spot …”

My photo (dating from November last year) was triggered solely by the appeal of the iron grille, a mere detail set into the lovely old arts and crafts–style brickwork.

How to fix mistakes

Sometimes when I paint or draw and make a mistake my left hand twitches as if it’s pressing CMD+Z … (Jonathan Zawada)

There are days when all the mistakes you ever made get together for a reunion, reminding you how angry, how bad, how stupid, how unworthy, how pathetic you are.

There’s so much you regret — and so little you can do about it.

In the world of computer games, we learn that it’s okay to die again and again — because we get to take up new lives, one after another, again and again.

In the real world, there is no CMD+Z.

There’s a piece about Jonathan Zawada in Juxtapoz, August 2011, n127, p92.

Communication calls for passion and compassion

… communication is a matter of hearts willing to communicate and not limited to verbal language … (Antiphon’s Garden)

Those words quoted above are part of a comment Antiphon’s Garden made on “a brief note” about Esperanto, posted by RT on The Rag Tree.

Antiphon’s Garden is the nom de plume of a bilingual blogster notable for her stimulating and provocative posts — some in French, some in English — and for her pertinent comments on the blogs of other writers.

AG’s motivation: “Sitting on my garden bench, I help a few people to increase their perception and handle these new insights. Philosophy includes for me, living in nature, being creative, and annoying the absurd aspects of society out of compassion for this planet and its fragile inhabitants.”

A treatise known as On Truth, of which only fragments survive, is attributed to Antiphon the Sophist, a contemporary of Socrates, and living in Athens (possibly) in the last two decades of the 5th century BC. The treatise is said to be “of great value to political theory, as it appears to be a precursor to natural rights theory” (from biographical notes about Antiphon the Sophist, a webpage belonging to the School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews, Scotland).

You might also like to read Wikipedia’s article about Antiphon the Sophist.

Exposed floor

exposed floor (07 May 2011)

exposed floor (07 May 2011)

“Did you get yourself through uni waiting on tables, drink endless cups of coffee on Table One?” asks the author of a Facebook page devoted to the iconic Wellington Settlement Restaurant, open in Willis Street from 1974 to 1999.

“… did you ever dream of living in the gallery upstairs, did the restaurant pick you up and put you back on your feet again …?” 

What does all this have to do with this image of an exposed floor?

Here’s the question that makes the connection: “Were you one of the thousands who signed the petition when they wanted to build the carpark ?”

PS: There’s another image in this series, but I’m saving it for tomorrow.