The Funny Side of Life

Posted in Under the Sea on February 27th, 2011 by MadDog
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As it was never difficult for me to find humour in the oddest corners of life, it has been disturbing recently that I don’t laugh as much as I used to. The reasons for this are multiple and obvious. Depression never gives one a cheerful outlook. Stress is not likely to invoke laughter. Trauma seldom makes one giggle. Nevertheless, I have discovered that I can regain areas of functionality by concentrating my attention on how I perceive life unfolding around me and consciously adjusting my habitual reactions to those perceptions. In other words, I give myself an attitude check.

For instance:  It has now been nearly two weeks since I last posted. I’ve been fretting about this for days. Sometimes I simply can’t kick-start myself into action. Oh, I have a list of excuses as long as my ape-like arms. However, analysing it as objectively as I can, I have to admit that I just ran out of things to talk about. I needed to give myself some time to let the word well refill. Among other excuses were power outages. Several times as I sat with my hands poised over the keyboard composing the first sentence, the UPS screamed in agony and the air conditioner groaned and fell silent. Also there were rainstorms which blocked my satellite and killed my web connection. A few times I just felt “too tired” or I “had a headache” or I suddenly “got hungry” or any of several other manufactured distractions pulled me away from what I needed to get done.

So, what’s so funny about that? Well, nothing and everything. It’s not funny that a grown (dare I say mature?) man can find so many excuses to avoid doing something which he knows will make him feel better when he’s done it. It’s not funny that depression cripples us in so many unfathomable ways. The list of reasons why it’s not funny is lengthy. However, if you wrote a scene for a comedy and put Steve Martin in as the slightly disturbed and angst filled star, it would be very amusing. It might invoke some self-conscious giggles. Let’s have Steve preparing his CV for an important job application. I can see how he might never get around to actually doing it. Each time he starts and fails to complete the task it adds to the comedic frustration. As time goes by the distractions become more and more contrived. Forgot to feed the cat. Was that the telephone ringing? Oh, I need to trim my fingernails!

If I step outside my skin and watch myself, I have to admit that I resemble Steve in the movie. This strikes me as funny. It’s funny because it’s unreasonable. There’s an almost slapstick quality to it. Each little act of masochism is like a pratfall. One asks why is this guy doing this to himself? Why doesn’t he just get on with it?

Now that I’m writing, I feel better already, though when I read through what I’ve written I can’t imagine that anyone will make sense of it. Oh well, I am not here to make sense. That’s never been a goal.

I think that I’ve flogged that dead horse long enough. I’ll now show you some images from last week’s dive on the wall at Blueblood. I’ll try to find the humour in one of the worst dives I’ve had for ages. I’ll try to smile at a cold, rainy day.

We saw clear water as we approached the wall and prepared to go in. However, by the time we went over the side, we had drifted a bit and we ended up in a torrent of muddy water spilling out from the lagoon. The sky was very dark with grey rain clouds so there was little light. The water was so turbid that by the time we reached fifteen metres the visibility had dropped to less than two metres. I sincerely did not want to be there. I started to give Rich Jones the “I don’t like this” hand signal and pointed upward with my thumb. Rich just kept moving forward. I wasn’t happy about that, but the last thing that I wanted was for us to lose sight of each other. After a while we came into clearer water and things brightened up a bit. I got this shot of a nudibranch:

You may note that it is a bit grainy. That is because the light level was so low. I had to boost the ISO of my sensor to 400 to get an acceptable shutter speed. That is the point at which the Canon G11 gets noisy.

There were no big fish about, something which is becoming more and more common; I don’t know why. Everyone is commenting on it. We see no sharks these days and fish bigger than a hand are becoming less and less plentiful. I did, however, get a few nice shots of unusual corals. Here’s one:

And here’s another:

My thumb is there to show you the size of the coral.

I like this shot of coral polyps streaming in the current:

This is a very young Leather Coral colony, I think:

And this is the most strangely coloured Fungia coral that I have ever seen:

It seems to me that these very strange colourations of many species of coral are becoming more and more common. I have no idea what causes it. It may be another manifestation of abnormalities caused by an increase of water temperature. This is something we have been experiencing for many years. The average temperature of the local reefs has risen considerably over the time which I have been diving here. We are seeing a huge increase of coral bleaching episodes.

I haven’t found much humour yet, so I’ll finish up with this grinning Moray:

Rich Jones found it hiding in a crevice. It was very difficult to get a shot. I took about ten exposures. This one was the best.

Now Safely Home

Posted in Mixed Nuts on February 14th, 2011 by MadDog
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On Thursday I went out to Kranket Island  with the workmen from Lae Builders and Construction to put in place the monument for Eunie’s grave. The bright, sunny day belied my mood, which was dismal. I have been very anxious to finish this unhappy task before I leave for an extended holiday for some rest and recuperation. I was grateful for the company of an old friend, one of Eunie’s pals from a decade ago, Regine Neuhauser, who is visiting Madang for a short while. I needed to be propped up a few times during the day.

It was very hot in the blazing sun and the monument was extremely heavy. It is very solidly built. LBC did a good job.

It took quite a few of us to carry it up the hill from the water’s edge to the grave site.

I did not attempt to help the workers lower it into the hole. I was feeling shaky enough already. We were there for four hours. We left as soon as the workmen returned to town to get more cement, as they had discovered that they did not bring enough.

On Saturday morning twelve of us piled into Mike Cassell’s boat for the short ride to Kranket Island.  Until I got on the boat I thought that I was going to be ok. Then I felt as if I were going to lose it. I asked Mike and Trevor to talk to me. They kept me chatting until we got to the island. Nasty black clouds were gathering over Madang.

I had fretted all evening concerning whether the workmen had dug the hole for Eunie’s ashes. As it turned out, they had “forgotten” to do so. I could hear Eunie laughing at me. “Silly man. You expected everything to work smoothly? Did you forget where you are?” After a I made a suitable display of frustration and dismay one of the island residents retrieved a shovel and dug the hole while we all waited inside the small church.

Once again I found that I had no idea what to do. I asked Mike what he thought. Should I pour the ashes into the hole or simply put the whole container in? Mike decided for me that it was suitable to just place the container in the grave and cover it up. Hey, that’s what friends are for – to help you when you can’t help yourself. We all gathered around and I mumbled a few words of gratitude that we had all worked together to give Eunie the best possible care from the time she became ill. So many people helped – many more than gathered here to say goodbye to her. Finally, I invited all to drop a handful of sand into the grave and speak a few words if they liked. All I could manage was, “Goodbye, Baby.”

Here is the small, intrepid group who braved the tropical sun at midday and made the trip to Kranket to bid Eunie farewell. In the background from left to right are Monty Armstrong, Di Cassell, Regine Neuhauser, Jenn Miller, Mike Cassell, Rich Jones and Trevor Hattersley. In the foreground are Meri Armstrong, me, Karen Simmons, Pascal Michon and Maureen Hill.

I was only mildly surprised that Di Cassell had laid on a very nice lunch for us at the Cassell home. We were all happy to recover from the heat and refresh ourselves in good company. It was a celebration of life. I could not help thinking that Eunie was enjoying the party. It is just the sort of gathering which she loved.

I have been very blessed to have gotten through the complex and uncertain processes necessary to lay Eunie’s remains to rest in accordance with her wishes. It was something of which I was always aware while she was with me, but in a detached, otherworldly way. Yes, I knew what would be required, but the details proved to be messy and impossible to work out quickly. It took me five months to do the job. All that time Eunie’s ashes rested in my closet two metres from my head as I slept. I can’t say that I was in any way uncomfortable with this, except that it reminded me that I had not yet fulfilled my promise to her.

I do feel relieved now, but not as much as I thought I would. I still have much to do to recover and build a new life. Most of what I need to do is not going to be much fun. Some of it is very scary. However, in about three weeks I will be off on a major adventure. Never in my life have I made such a journey alone. That, by itself,  is a little scary to me, but it is necessary for me to learn to do all things in life alone.

That includes learning to enjoy life alone. This is going to be the most difficult task of all.

Faking It – or Pretending to Be What You Are Not

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on February 11th, 2011 by MadDog
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I’ll do something a bit different today. This post is actually a magazine article which has not yet been published. I submitted it nearly a year ago, so I don’t think it will find ink. So that it doesn’t go to waste, I’ll use it to bore you today.

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Sea people are adventurers and poets. Sea people are those who paint their lives boldly and joyously stroke by stroke on the vast canvas of Earth’s oceans and fresh waters. Fishermen, sailors, divers and snorkelers, surfers, sailors, merchantmen and marine warriors are all of a breed. They are bound by their love of and respect for the sea. How much great literature and visual art has been born of the relationship between humans and the sea? How can those who share this love of the sea not be inspired to and desirous of expressing their sentiments by the creative work of their minds and hands?

This is all very well and good, providing that one possesses the tiniest quantity of artistic talent. Being able to write a complete sentence and snap a decent photograph are largely demonstrations of technical skills. True artistry, however, mystifies the untalented. One might be capable of drawing water, but little else. Therefore we, the great ungifted masses, have forever been awed by those who are competent to pick up a pencil or brush and create from their mind’s eye a unique vision of the world. It’s a gift which few of us possess.

Therefore, out of sheer jealousy, we are inclined to mimic it. Since the arrival of the digital age, wretches such as us can aspire to play monkey-see-monkey-do and create images which, though utterly bogus, are pretty in a chintzy sort of manner.

Most folk today are familiar with basic image manipulation software. Nearly everybody can download pictures from their camera and play with them. Some of the software which comes with cameras even allows a bit of expression in the way of filters which apply special effects to the images. These are worth playing with to get one’s feet wet.

However, if one is serious about faking it, one must be prepared to step out a bit and trudge up a slight learning curve. I use Photoshop CS4 for all of my work. This is primarily because I work for someone else who wields enough financial clout to purchase it. It is absurdly expensive. One might liken it to the Rolls Royce of photo software. Adobe, the producer of Photoshop clearly states, “If you have to ask how much it costs, then you can’t afford it.” I’m absolutely certain that there must be ten pirate copies of Photoshop running on computers around the world for every copy which has been purchased.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. The GNU Image Manipulation Program, cutely nicknamed GIMP, is very capable and free software which strives to provide much the same power as Photoshop.

No matter which program one is using, the process details will be similar. We won’t go into details here, because our purpose is to show what one can learn to do in a couple of evenings. There are thousands of excellent tutorials available on the World Wide Web without payment which provides step by step instructions for the use of the tools in the software. Much of is learned feels very intuitive and quickly becomes habitual so that one can concentrate on the creative experience instead of the technical details.

Aside from the familiar controls with which most of us are familiar when working with our snapshots; brightness, contrast, colour saturation, hue, there are very many filters available to create effects which provide an almost endless range of possibilities for artistic interpretation of an image. A filter is a bit of software which examines the pixels of an image and then applies a complex mathematical formula to it to modify its appearance. Fortunately, one needs to know absolutely nothing concerning what is going on inside the complexity. There are simple slider controls which provide a way to adjust the actions of each filter. Simple filters can deal with elementary things such as noise (unwanted “static” in the image making it appear as if it were a miss-tuned TV), sharpening edges to make an image appear more focused, and corrections of distortions, such as correcting camera tilt by making the horizon level or correcting the apparent tilt or leaning of buildings.

The real beauty begins to glow when one begins to apply the artistic filters. There are dozens of them with names such as watercolour, poster edges, dry brush, fresco, paint daubs and palette knife. One can even apply filters upon filters to achieve genuinely wild effects. The trick is to learn when the fiddling has gone too far. Both programs mentioned above allow one get in the time machine and go back to an earlier stage of the process if sudden nausea occurs while examining the resulting image.

Though we concentrate on the sea and especially on creatures under the sea, there is no limit to the type of image with which one might begin. It can be anything. A carrot, if it seems particularly handsome.

One might ask of what use are these creations? Are they really art? My response is that neither question is pertinent. Unless one is obliged to make a living from artistic endeavours, then the exercise need only be purely for enjoyment.

Personally, I find such pursuits a pleasant alternative to sitting in front of the TV absorbing what currently passes for entertainment. This seems to me to be entirely passive. If you seek to create instead of consume, try your hand at Faking It. You might be amazed by what you can do.

You’ll find a variety of images here, some of them fishy and some not.

Scratch the last sentence. All of them are fishy.

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A Promise Is a Promise

Posted in Mixed Nuts on February 5th, 2011 by MadDog
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How do you eulogise a loved one in three or four lines of text? It’s impossible. A few months ago I fretted over the words for a couple of days and finally sat down and wrote them in ten minutes. On the black granite slab the size of a large coffee tray I had only three lines to tell of her. The words flow from her priorities – God, her man and everyone else. She had enough love to serve us all a healthy portion.

So, finally, I have assembled everything I need to fulfil my promise to her. She wanted to be buried on Kranket Island in the little cemetery full of the last remains of decades of missionaries and Kranket residents. The small field sits next to the island’s Lutheran Church only a hundred steps from the quiet harbour.

A couple of days ago, my friend Mike Cassell took me to Kranket Island to inspect the site and make final arrangements with the head man. As it turned out, Bill Koi, the fellow we went to see, had just left for Madang to see Mike. Crossed paths! Mike is a lot like Eunie was. He knows everybody and can get anything done. If it’s at all doable, he can make it happen. Friends like him you need. I asked him if he would handle the negotiations for space in the cemetery and smooth the way for me. It was absolutely painless.

Here is a shot of the approach to the long defunct docks at the harbour’s edge:

This is a familiar sight to any resident of Madang.

Since the docks are no longer functional, Mike left some kids to tend the boat while we walked inland:

We soon found what we were looking for, the last resting place of Bob Peaker:

Bob was a pilot for Missionary Aviation Fellowship, a world-wide organisation of Christian workers who provide aviation services to churches and missionaries. Bush flying is dangerous business. Bob lived with his family next door to us. Over the years we lost two next-door neighbours to bush flying incidents. Eunie was very specific. I don’t know how many times we talked of it. I had elaborate plans for my cremation and the subsequent spreading of my ashes over the quite waters of Madang. Eunie was less demanding, “Bury me next to Bob.” It was that simple.

Another friend, Gary McGowan of Lae Builders and Construction, is working on the marker stone. The engraved granite slab is shown here in its place before the cement is poured. The slab of concrete will be covered by ceramic tile:

When the marker is finished it will be carried to Kranket and set into a hole which will then be filled with concrete to hold it in place.

If everything goes as planned I will be accompanied by a small band of friends to the island on the twelfth of March (UPDATE:  Whoops! That’s the twelfth of FEBRUARY.) to put Eunie’s ashes in the ground in front of the marker.

I don’t know how long I’ll last. I don’t know how long I will remain in Madang. Much of it is not up to me. Much of my future is going to be determined by others. It seems that is the way it must be for now. All that I know is that if I leave Madang alive it will be very strange for me to leave Eunie behind and never be able to visit her resting place. I agonised over this for weeks. Take her ashes back to Illinois? Keep them with me? How can I deal with that final parting?

In the end it was the promise which led me to decide. Only the past speaks for her now.

A promise is a promise.

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Posted in Mixed Nuts on February 2nd, 2011 by MadDog
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I seem to be plodding through life at a very uncertain pace. I can see that I’ve made progress, so I’m not alarmed, or rather I’m not as alarmed as I once was. The eighth of February will mark five months since Eunie left me. I wonder if I’ll ever stop counting the months and years. I suppose not. I’ve heard many friends on many occasions recall such momentous occasions with chronological accuracy. I formerly had trouble remembering how old I am. It didn’t seem to matter. There’s nothing I can do about it.

I am astounded by what I’ve accomplished in these five months. When I use the personal pronoun I take far too much credit. Going back to the time early in 2010 when Eunie first became ill and following the events up to this day I can see that my creator’s hand has been busy at every turn.  To some this may seem nonsense. Nevertheless, I believe it and find strength in that belief. After each hammer blow I could review the event and the outcome and see that it could so very easily have been much, much worse. After each small step toward my recovery I have asked myself how I could have done it; why was it so much less traumatic than I thought it would be.

There is also the matter of helping hands reaching out to me at every turn. Friends and strangers alike have assisted me continuously and without complaint. It would have been impossible for me to do some things for myself in the first couple of months. I am now shocked by my incompetency and insane thoughts during that period.

This week or next week, according to how much of Cairns, Australia survives the cyclone bearing down on as I write this, the last of the medical bills will have been settled. Some of my friends cautioned me that dealings with a health event of this magnitude could go on for a year. Without my friend, Trevor Hattersley, I would still be hopelessly mired in paperwork. He is a genius. I sold a house, a car and a motorcycle. The house and the car were half-way around the world. I would have said that this was not possible, but an old friend assisted me in ways which seemed inspired to me. Acting on my behalf with my Power of Attorney, he had the house sold in just over one month. I have settled a life insurance claim and numerous other matters arising from Eunie’s death. Needless to say, I would much rather not have had to do any of these things and I was often in despair. My prayers were pretty much reduced to asking for strength and wits to get me through the next day. Each time the clouds parted and some kind soul would step forward to help or mysterious circumstances would arise to allow what seemed not to be allowed.

Now that Eunie’s headstone for her grave has arrived I hope to have the pedestal completed so that a small group of friends can accompany me to Kranket Island  to put her ashes in the ground in the place where she wanted to rest. It is going to be a hard day, but I need the relief of knowing that I have fulfilled my promise to her.

My next tasks are to do all of the things necessary to give myself a more or less graceful and uneventful exit from Madang for a much needed period of rest and rebuilding. I plan to leave Madang on the ninth of March and will not return until at least the 15th of June. I have been around the world at least a dozen times. However, I have never planned the trip. I know that sounds ridiculous. I have been very nervous about doing all of the things which Eunie did to get us from place to place so effortlessly and without me doing anything but stuffing my essentials in my back pack. Millions of people do these things every day. I had to get all flustered about it. I went to Air Niugini today and bought my tickets to get me to Brisbane. I’ve decided to buy tickets for the other legs of my travel as I need them, because of my uncertainty about when I want to go where.

I know that someone is going to say that I should have blurred the details on my electronic ticket. Believe me, terrorism is way down on my list of potential problems. I don’t think I’m a likely target.

This modest fisherman’s tackle box contains Eunie’s lifetime accumulation of jewellery. There is nothing in this box which is worth very much in terms of money. Eunie had exquisite taste, but never wanted expensive things. I was horrified this afternoon to realise that I have misplaced her wedding ring. All of this is going to my granddaughters. I especially wanted to make sure that they received the ring. I have no idea where it went. I remember having it when I returned from Australia. I spent the afternoon frantically searching for it, shaking and breaking out in a cold sweat. I have now gotten to the point at which I am ready to accept that I will either find it eventually or I will not. There is nothing more I can do now.

I remember with great happiness watching Eunie each morning as she prepared for work. She would choose her clothes first and then go the the bathroom to select her perfume and fix her hair. She would then return to the bedroom smelling wonderful and select the jewellery which matched her attire. I don’t know why this scene always calmed me. Some things are inexplicable.

I am glad that many wonderful memories are now returning to me through the gloom.

So, as I continue to calm myself, I’ll show you the latest dazzling display sprouting from my Fishtail Palm. Both of them have now produced fruit several times. This does not bode well for them. My understanding is that they do not last long after fruiting several times. Each event is accompanied by the sound of hundreds of buzzing bees:

This shot is better for viewing the bees:

On the right you can see some of the red fruit which takes several months to form after the flowers disappear.

While checking the possibilities for my flight from Brisbane to Honolulu I got help from William Butler to see if my Qantas frequent flyer points would be of any use. It turns out that I had enough points to save about US$500. That made me very happy. I have never used any of the frequent flyer miles. Pushing my luck, I decided to seen if I could use Eunie’s frequent flyer points. I reckoned that she must have about a million. After finding her card and guessing correctly her PIN for the account I was disappointed to see that she had ZERO points. I have no idea how they disappeared. First the ring, now the points.

That’s two steps back. Never mind. I’ll just keep walking.

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