Nob Nob and Kar Kar

Posted in Mixed Nuts on January 28th, 2011 by MadDog
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Today’s post title mimics the sound of baby talk. Nob nob kar kar goo goo. Maybe that’s a stretch. I’m going for a little humor today and finding it more difficult than usual. Some days are easier than others. It’s a roller-coaster.

A few persistent and pedantically observant readers may note that my spelling seems inconsistent. For instance, in an earlier sentence I used the word humor. In other posts I have spelled the word as humour. The machine which I am using today has a US English dictionary installed in Firefox, my web browser of choice. I usually use my computer at home or in my office, both of which have Australian English dictionaries. One might ask why.

Okay, since you are so inquisitive, I’ll tell you why. Having lived in Papua New Guinea so long that I can’t remember how to behave anywhere else, I have observed that Australians are laudably picky concerning spelling. I care about spelling only to the extent that I prefer not to appear as if I don’t care. Strangely enough, Americans seem more tolerant of UK/Australian spelling preferences than Australians are of the “Americanisms”. Therefore, I learned early on that, since a great deal of what I write ends up being seen by those who adhere to UK/Australian spelling than the American standards, it is prudent for me to use the Australian forms. It is simply too onerous a task to have to switch from one to another according to who might be the predominant audience. Australians seem to stumble over every Americanised (Americanized, if you are an American) form while Americans simply zip through text littered with Australian forms.

So, in the text of MPBM posts when there are alternate spellings you will usually not see the American forms. I’m not anti-American. I’m just catering to the closest audience and the one which finds the American forms to be a little odd. I’m not saying that Australians are spelling snobs. They are snobs about very few things, certainly no more things than Americans. However, there are some things which can set them afire. One is the American preference placing the letter z  near the end of words for which Australians insist must have an s.  For example, let’s take the word recognise.  To Americans this spelling appears strange, possibly exotic or even wrong. The Amercan form would be recognize. However, most Americans can recognise/recognize the word. They are not outraged by recognise.

Some Australians, however, would be compelled to point out, after careful consideration assisted by a healthy slug of Foster’s Lager, that is American  spelling. This might be accompanied by a slight frown.

So, there we have it. Now I have managed to insult both Australian and American cultures in a few brief paragraphs. If you are not already tired of the subject, you might look at an interesting Wikipedia item on American vs British Spelling Differences. I learned quite a bit from it.

Having dispatched my insults to my homeland and my favourite playground, it’s now time to proceed to the subjects. Last week I had the great blessing of a house guest. Dr. Riley Savage, a young Australian physician, has been in Madang several times working with the local hospital. Each time she was here she went out to dive with us. I invited her to take advantage of the guest rooms that Eunie and I had prepared so that visitors to Madang could economise by staying in a bed and breakfast atmosphere. It was a wonderful treat to have a friendly face for a few days in the big, lonely house.

We could not dive on the day before Riley was to fly back to Australia. This is because it is unwise to have any excess nitrogen in the blood before traveling to a high altitude. It can lead to symptoms of “the bends”. Instead, we went to visit old friends on Nob Nob mountain. Tag Tap took us for a brief bush walk. On our way up to his house we stopped at the Pacific Orientation Course camp to take in the view of Madang, Astrolabe Bay,  the North Coast and Kar Kar Island.  Here is a shot of Kar Kar Island  taken from the ridge upon which sets the huge TELIKOM communications tower:

The air was too hazy for a good shot. I had to massage this one very roughly. Kar Kar Volcano is potentially very dangerous. It is not gentle on our minds. One of the more interesting recent events occurred on the 4th day of December in 2009 when Kar Kar did not  erupt.

Here is a slight telephoto shot. I was attempting to get a better balance of tones. I tried combining multiple exposures including one underexposed, one normal and one overexposed. I then combined them in Photoshop for a single High Dynamic Range image:The resulting image is no improvement, but does have a point of interest. Look at the top of the big towering cumulus cloud (Cumulus congestus)  to the right of the peak. The rate of vertical development at the top of the cloud is so rapid that the two or three seconds between my exposures was long enough for multiple images to develop. Photoshop did a good job of lining up the three hand-held images, but it couldn’t cope with the motion at the top of the cloud. I’m still learning the HDR process. I was disappointed in this shot. I expected to be able to see detail in the brightest area of the cloud. I think the reason is that my underexposed frame was still washed out in the bright part of the cloud. I should have reduced the exposure even more to capture detail in the brightest areas.

While still on the ridge I shot this rather plain flower. It is not a very interesting shot except for the discoloured areas of the petals:

I’ve seen this on many flowers here. Red hibiscus blossoms often have bright blue patches which look a little wilted. It appears to me as if there is a base colour on the petal which is overlaid by another colour. If something happens which disturbs or removes the top layer of pigment the base colour shows through. You can get a hint of this by the general appearance of the petals. There is a hint of blue showing through.

When we started on our bush walk, I was strangely uninterested in shooting. I took only a couple of exposures. Riley was shooting everything, but I failed to get any images from her before she returned to Australia. This line of mushrooms up the side of a rotting tree did catch my eye:

Tag Tap said that they are edible. I’m cautious. I never eat wild mushrooms unless I find them at the market. These looked as if they were safe, but I don’t trust my extremely limited knowledge. Even if they are not poisonous, I might still be taken on a trip for which I’m not prepared.

I was greatly amused by this very elaborate flower. I think is is some kind of Pasiflora:I hope that Anne-Marie sees this and let’s me know what it is. Tag Tap says that it is used to combat fungal skin infections. If one has an itchy patch all that is needed is to find some of these and rub them vigorously on the skin. I had no itches, so I didn’t try it. Pasionfruit and Sugarfruit flowers are very similar in configuration and general appearance to this, but are much larger.

UPDATE: Anne-Marie rescued me with the species name. See her comment.

Getting back to Kar Kar, here are a couple of panoramic stitches of multiple images which include the island. You can see it in the distance at the left end of the large island:

With my equipment and skills images without obvious geometric distortion seem out of reach. I have seen a few, but the requirement for this seem complex to me. The shot above has no troublesome distortions, but it sags a bit in the middle. I ran out of time before I figured out how to correct this. I’m sure that Photoshop provides a method, but I couldn’t find it quickly.

A second series of exposure and a different style of stitching yielded this image:

The water line in this one is straight and most if it looks more realistic. However, the distortion at the right is distracting.

These images are for Rich Jones. Rich asked that the shot include the swinging rope from the Tarzan post. There was a Big Event at Blueblood recently of which I hope to write soon.

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More Coral and Flatworms – Ho-hum

Posted in Under the Sea on January 25th, 2011 by MadDog
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A week ago I would have bet against a long delay until my next post. That was before I remembered that I would have a house guest for the week. To further delay me, PNG Power arranged a splendid display of incompetence by switching the power on and off over nearly the entire weekend. My dinky UPS was not up to the task. When It got to the point at which I could not safely shut down my computer before the UPS gave up with a shriek, I decided that I could use a break anyway.

Today I’ll show a few more coral and flatworm images from our dive on the wall at Blueblood.

I looked through my pitifully inadequate marine invertebrates reference book for this coral without success:Likewise, this specimen escaped the attention of my book:I’ve found the web virtually useless for identifying organisms. Give me a big, fat book anytime. Once I have narrowed down the possibilities by leafing through the pages and scanning the images quickly with my calibrated eyeballs, I can pretty quickly determine what it is, or at least that my book doesn’t have it.

Pretty much the same thing applies to flatworms, such as this little beauty:It’s easy to identify which of the items here is the flatworm. It’s flat. In fact, they are so flat that they remind me of the creatures inhabiting a bizarre two-dimensional world which sprang from the mind of the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott in his novel Flatland written in 1884. The work was  a not-so-subtle dig at certain aspects of Victorian society.

And here is a junior Flatlander:

This is an infant version of the previous one. This one was only about five millimeters long. You may note that the image looks a bit grainy. This is because of the digital noise from the sensor. I had very little light here, so I had to push the sensor up to ISO 400. On the Canon G11, this is the threshold at which noise becomes a problem. This was made worse because I had to take only a portion of the frame, since the critter was so small.

Here is another denizen of Flatland:

In this shot you can see the fault with the flash arrangement on the Canon G11 factory underwater housing. If you get too close with a macro shot and need to use the built-in flash you will find that the lens portion of the housing casts a shadow on the lower part of the image. You can see evidence of that here in the blue cast in the bottom portion.

I’ll finish with a couple of more unidentified coral images:

There’s a spiky one.

I don’t know how to describe this one:

A princess castle under the sea? Okay, I’m reaching now.

The headstone for Eunie’s grave should arrive from Australia this week. I’ll be contacting my friend Shane at Lae Builders to find out how quickly he can construct a cement monument suitable to hold the headtone. Taking care of Eunie’s resting place is something which I must see to before I leave for Australia and North America hopefully before the middle of March.

I wish that I could overcome the anxiety which I feel when I think of planning my trip. I know from experience that I will be okay once I get on the plane out of Madang. It’s always the same. However, the planning for this journey is going to be very tricky. I have some very important things to do. My future welfare will depend on the results of my efforts in ways which are new in my life.

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Tarzan Meets Yoga

Posted in Mixed Nuts on January 18th, 2011 by MadDog
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It was a grey day up at Blueblood a couple of weeks ago when a bit of silliness crept back into my life, welcomed as a dear old friend who has been absent too long. Sunday afternoon at the beach has long been a cherished feature of my week. Being with friends who have their own serious concerns and  difficulties to deal with throughout the week and, as I do, wish to let these matters fall away for a few hours is a mutual exercise in caring for one another. It’s a place of consolation, a place of healing and comfort. And, it is usually a place of unrestrained silliness. Serious issues are set aside. We breathe deeply of the thick tropical air and live in the moment.

A long rope dangling somewhat uncertainly from an overhanging coconut tree is a recent addition to the constantly changing playground. It was probably put in place by the village children. It did not take the more athletic of us to take advantage of it. Here is an early attempt by Rich Jones to emulate Tarzan:

This was the best part of that swing. The end was anticlimactic.

Will had a go which was similarly unspectacular:Swinging on the rope is no particular challenge. The difficulty is in climbing the slanted coconut tree to get high enough to clear the water. The wooden step you see in this shot is about five metres up the side of the tree. Walking up the tree while hanging onto the rope is no small feat.

Here is one of Rich’s more interesting landings:

I was not even tempted to try it.

Visitors Emily and Alice were going for the Free-Style Extreme Yoga record:

This pose is difficult enough standing on firm ground. I can’t imagine trying it standing on a wobbly float.

The results of these attempts were invariably comical:

This is the second time at MPBM that I have shown a picture of me standing on my head:

I think twice is enough.

The headstone for Eunie’s grave has been shipped from Australia. It should be here in a couple of weeks. As soon as I know that all arrangements are made and it appears that I will be able to fulfil my promise to her I will purchase my tickets for my trip to Australia, the USA and Canada. I’m trying to pump up my enthusiasm for the sojourn.

Anything could happen.

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Birthdays, Books, Bananas, Coffins

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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A friend of thirty years appeared to me yesterday morning at the office to be more than usually tired and glum. He’s carrying a load that would break my back. I heard him mention that he needed to get to the workshop to build a coffin. It was his second coffin making experience in the last few days. It suddenly occurred to me, as the murky haze shrouding me in self-pity cleared for a moment, that coffin building, let alone serial coffin building, is not something one should have to do alone. I coaxed him to let me drive down the the workshop with him to lend a hand.

It was a thought provoking experience. As we measured, sawed and hammered the coffin a boy who had suffered measles as a young child now lay dead from a type of meningitis which occurs eight to ten years after a measles infection. Sometimes it’s good to have something to do with your hands as dangerous thoughts run demon-like through your brain.

Death. We tread lightly around the subject. We seldom discuss it unless the prospect sticks its ugly head up out of the pit and says, “Boo!” A father considers the possibility when a child is ill with measles. It’s a killer and a maimer here. The son defies the odds and survives, seemingly healthy and strong. Years later the son sickens and dies as the time-delay fuse on the landmine burns through. A husband and wife quietly and with careful logic, keeping it at arm’s length, discuss the ever so remote possibility as if it were the most unlikely thing in the world. Suddenly the subject becomes less academic. The psychic earthquake topples all of the complex edifices. They show themselves finally as facades. How we trust life!

In the meantime, someone somewhere is nailing a coffin together.

Outside the workshop a banana tree was busting its guts to make bananas:

It’s got to be one of the stranger flowers on the planet. This orb holds a great number of very strange things – pathways leading to indeterminate destinations, doorways to alternate universes.

Here are the usual suspects present at Blueblood last Sunday where we celebrated several birthdays and one anniversary. Any excuse for a party:

We were desperately short of eating utensils. I ate with my fingers. Someone, who shall not be named, but is sitting at the far left of the picture, forgot to bring the cutlery.

Hmm . . . I seem to be rambling this evening. I’m between major dirges. This will be a tiptoe through the garden of fitful discontent.

Though I am sleeping much better now, I may as well get used to the idea that I’m never, barring a serious concussion, going to have a long, uninterrupted snooze again. Early life sleep patterns go awry in maturity. Onset of sleep becomes more haphazard and difficult to achieve. Interruptions are more frequent and the return to sleep is delayed, sometimes impossible. I’m trying to minimise as much as possible my intake of sleep aids, because they have some very undesirable side effects.

One thing which I’ve relied upon for years is a not-so-good book. I always keep my glasses where I can reach them without moving too much. The book is just under them. If I read through slitted eyes and try very hard not to go to sleep, I’ll usually doze off. Then the light interferes with slumber and my glasses are all cattywampus and hurting my ears. So, I wake up again. What do I see? Those who suffer insomnia will probably recognise this sight:

Yes, that’s your hand somehow still clutching the book loosely while the pages flap lazily in time with your breathing. It’s decision making time, eh? Rouse enough to remove the spectacles and turn the light off or find your place again (if it really matters) and try again. Sometimes it seems a very difficult decision.

We trip lightly through a world where most everything seems to stay in its proper place and things usually appear to work more or less as they should. We’re not seriously threatened by regular tragedies and life can go on for decades with little bother or fuss. There are usually no huge injustices or overly troubling developments to rattle our cages enough to enrage or frighten us. It strikes me that this orderliness makes us very innocent and vulnerable. We’re ill prepared for adversity:

The world can grow suddenly very dark and scary. Everything takes on a dual aspect of terrible familiarity while simultaneously being strange, out of kilter. This is the alternate universe idea of which I spoke. It is as if one accidentally takes a wrong turn, stepping through some odd black door and finds oneself in a world in which everything known is instantly transformed into a twisted version of itself. Up is down. Right is left. Right is wrong.  Look around for the back side of that odd little door. You can’t find it. It has disappeared – vanished in a puff of pixy dust. As it is so succinctly stated in The Eagles’ Hotel California,  “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”

Here’s me the Birthday Boy, perilously close to sixty-seven years young. That’s some kind of weird flower. It clashes with my very nice twenty-five year old silk shirt:

It’s a self-portrait. I call that a smile these days.

I had a very nice semi-surprise party at Monty and Meri Armstrong’s home. Meri had very sweetly asked me what I wanted to do about my birthday. Frankly, I’d been dreading it, along with Christmas. I not-so-subtly told her that I really didn’t want to be bothering with it, but if someone decided to do something about it I wouldn’t object. How clever is that? It’s about as nuanced as a ball-peen hammer wrapped in velvet. Meri was very gracious and within a day or two I had a mysterious invitation to “dinner” on Saturday night. I was not disappointed.

Meri’s cheesecake was the star of the evening:

Since it was an intimate gathering of friends there was plenty of this magnificent bit of culinary prestidigitation for all. The blackish stuff is some kind of delicious berry, the name of which I can’t recall.

So, for the upteenth time I’ve gotten through a rough patch by the simple device of allowing my friends to drag me along. They suffer the thorn pricks and stone bruises along with me. They pick me up when I stumble, patch me up when I’m bleeding and leaking salty tears.

I’m a very wealthy man. You can’t count my fortune. Numbers don’t go that high.

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Crazy Colours

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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I need to redecorate this place, refurbish it. It’s in danger of getting boring. I’m getting tired of theme posts and the same ol’ same ol’. We need more variety and humour, like in the old days. A breath of fresh air will be . . . uh, . . . refreshing. I haven’t yet thought about how I might get some variety back into Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  I’ll have to cogitate on that for a while.

Still, I do know what triggered my thinking about change. It’s not what you might suspect. It has to do with moving my wallet from my back pocket to my front pocket.

Yesterday, at the town market, I was the victim of an attempted robbery. It’s not as dramatic as is sounds. It is, however, becoming a far too common event in Madang. No matter how much we love the place, we have to accept that even Paradise is not immune to any and every kind of decay. The decay of security, feeling safe in one’s living space, has been shocking.

As I was leaving the gate of the market, I felt a disturbance in my personal aura space. Then I experienced an abrupt violation of my very personal physical space as clumsy fingers attempted to sneak into the back pocket of my ancient Levi Strauss 501 cut-offs. Fortunately, there were plenty of people around (not that that helps much). So, when the first try failed, there was no violent second go at the wallet. That’s when things get nasty. The clumsy thief beat a hasty retreat back into the market followed by my nasty comments regarding his personal hygiene.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I returned to my car and sat there for a minute of quiet gratitude that I did not have to replace my various driver’s licenses, identification and credit cards. As I sat there I decided it was time, disregarding comfort, to move my wallet permanently from my back pocket to the front.

Reading back over that, I realise two things. First, I realise how little sense it makes. Then, I realise how difficult it is to connect an attempted mugging to my sudden need to spice up MPBM. As you may have gathered, I’m making this up as I go.

Now that I have wasted this much of your time, you may as well stick around a little longer for the main course of blather.

As I was looking for some amusing images from about forty that I have lined up for posts, I was struggling to find some that fit together in any interesting way – some way that I haven’t already worked to death. A few stuck out like sore thumbs. Some greens, reds and magenta hues began shouting in unison, me, me, me, me. Well, how can you ignore that? So, mixing them up a little (shaken, not stirred), I begin with Green Coral Imperfection:

There is some interesting detail in this shot. You might want to click to enlarge it. I particularly like the one structure which sticks up above all of the rest. It becomes that place which the eyes simply can’t stay away from. The rest becomes a negative space which all the more directs the eyes back to that single difference, that imperfection.

Switching from green to red, here is an image of the embers left from lunch at Blueblood last Sunday afternoon:

I confess to a childish fascination with fire. Given some spare time and an opportunity, I can sit by a fire much the same as a ten-year-old boy, poking sticks and throwing objects into the flames just to see what happens. These visceral reactions to fire seem primordial. As a natural phenomenon, I imagine that fire is at once the most useful and the most dangerous of the processes that humans have been able to harness. Possibly that is why it holds such sway over our emotions. Fire is possibly the most comforting and the most terrifying force of nature.

When I saw this fern at Blueblood, standing alone on its dead tree fern pedestal, the afternoon sun was lighting it up like a neon sign:

It looks to me like a huge green flower.

Mixing the colours up a little, we have here a Magnificent Anemone hosting two Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion):

It’s a delicious combination.

Finally, let me show you this lovely magenta-stained Solitary Coral (Fungia fungites).  These are also known as Mushroom Coral:

I wish that I knew what causes this colour. I’ve not been able to find a reference for it. Behind it and in front are three other species of coral. The white and green blobs to the left and below are a species of sea squirt.

The muse seems strangely mute this night. I have promised myself that I am going to try to avoid laying down on the bed this evening until I’m ready to go to sleep. I’ve been reading about bad sleep habits lately, in hopes of finding something which will help me. Lounging in the evening in the bed in which you sleep is reckoned to be a very bad habit. That’s a tough one for me to fix. I’ll have to think about moving some things around. I hate that. I like for things to stay the way they are. I’m going to have to get used to change.

So, it seems that what I ended up with here is yet another theme post.

Oh, well.

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Bush Pétanque

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 22nd, 2010 by MadDog
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It would be fair to say that Madang is the home of one of the world’s more peculiar sports. The game of Pétanque is played around the world. The rules and regulations are established by a couple of governing bodies, one of which is F. I. P. J. P. (or Fipjip, as it is fondly known). Here in Madang we dispense with most of that and keep it simple. Our speciality is Bush Pétanque.

The rules are fairly simple. You have to stand in the circle, which is drawn by the first player wherever seems to be the most fun. That player throws the “jack” (a special little white ball or a golf ball, in a pinch) wherever whim dictates, except in the water or down a crab hole. Each player in turn tosses the heavy steel boule at the jack, trying to get as close as possible. The score is determined for each round (until no players have any boules remaining) by counting the number of boules of one team which are closest to the jack. One starts at the jack with the closest boule and counts each boule further from the jack until a boule of the other team is found. It’s that simple.

I may have forgotten a couple of rules, but they probably don’t matter. What does matter is form.

Here we see “Master Mike” Cassell demonstrating the epitome of Bush Pétanque style and elegance:

The shot shows Mike in mid-toss.

And this is the “release”, or the “toss-off” as we call it. Note the position of the fingers which allow the boule to glide smoothly from the hand (the underhand toss is the most elegant and effective) and impart the ever so necessary back-spin to prevent the boule from rolling upon impact with the sand, mud or tree stump or whatever it lands on:

Executed to impart sufficient back-spin, the toss should result in the boule landing ker-plunk and not rolling so much as a centimetre. This is, of course, supposing flat ground, of which there is none. This complicates matters considerably.

Nevertheless, Mike’s form is superb. His pièce de résistance  is the amazing “levitating release” during which both of his feet leave the surface planet momentarily. Though he demonstrated it several times on Saturday, I was not able to capture it digitally:

The shot above is as close as I got.

Michaela was in excellent form also. Here she approaches the circle with a knowing smile:

Mental preparation is the key.

In the Chinese practice of Pétanque this stance and release is called “The twittering bird of joy lofting from the firm foundation of reality”. It’s characterised by the open-handed release and the firm planting of both feet flat in the circle:

Leaning at a seemingly impossible angle without actually falling down is impressive but hazardous. Some people are just fun to watch when they are having fun.

My approach to Pétanque is very straightforward. A brief prayer of thanksgiving for the game and a fervent request that I not appear too foolish prepares me for my turn:

Really, it only takes a couple of seconds. Geneviève toasts my sincerity while Trevor stifles a giggle.

Now spiritually prepared, my back-swing is relaxed and confident:

My slightly bent knees act as shock absorbers and aid balance. Falling down during the back-swing is very poor form.

My release is casual and sans souci:

And my boule goes straight down a crab hole.

Fortunately, nobody cares who wins.

Note the Orang Utan like length of my ridiculous arms. Really, they are positively simian. Curious about that this morning, I got out a tape measure. Sure enough, my arms are nearly five centimetres longer than my legs. This is not mormal. What’s going on here?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’m happy to report that my “run” at the Country Club with Geneviève and Michaela and some other nice, young ladies seems to have done me no damage. I could not find my running shoes, which was no surprise, since I have not seen them for years. I had to make do with some funky old sandals. That was my excuse for poor performance. I knew that I had zero chance of keeping up with these very fit and well toned women, who quite frankly appear to be children to me.

I propelled myself possibly four or five kilometres in total, maybe one kilometre running (okay, okay, jogging) and the rest walking as fast as my stubby legs could carry me. I kept thinking to myself that I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning to feed Sheba. “What am I doing to my dog? I have to stop this right now!”

I’m amazed and profoundly touched by the kindnesses, warmth and caring which has been lavished upon me by these ladies. I think there is some kind of “be nice to your kindly grandfather” thing going on here.

All I know is that I’m not asking any questions.

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What Can Make Me Happy?

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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At the end of my last post, I talked about my current inability to derive joy from activities which have previously provided me with the emotional, intellectual and spiritual satisfaction which we all crave. This disablement has resulted in a strangely lifeless life. I’m sure that for many readers this will be preaching to the choir. As I’ve said before, this is my first experience with dire personal tragedy. I’m a late comer just catching up with most people my age.

My friend suggested that, as I engage in these experiences, say a Saturday out with friends on the boat SCUBA diving, that I pretend  to enjoy it. I took this to mean that I should try very hard to not let my mind wander to subjects best left alone for the moment and that I engage with others as if nothing had happened and laugh when it seems appropriate and so on. You can make up your own list of fakery. The theory is, I suppose, that if one does this consistently it will become real. This makes some kind of wacky sense to me.

A day or so later I got a Facebook message from Ush Antia who has departed Madang, but is fondly remembered by her friends. Having read my remark about pretending, she sent to me a very interesting link. A guy named Dan Gilbert presented a twenty-one minute lecture titled Why Are We Happy? I’m not going to go into detail about the content, because you can watch it for yourself. I’ll just say that our prefrontal cortex gives us some remarkable abilities that we may not ordinarily recognise. Here’s a little blurb about the lecture:

Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness,  challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

Really, if you are less than ebullient concerning life in general, you might want to view it.

In order to investigate and reorient myself to what my current standards of happiness are, I decided to conduct a little experiment. All of the images which have speared in Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  are in one folder on my computer. I set out to scan through these several thousand images as quickly as possible, getting as far as I could in five minutes and pick out eight pictures which instantaneously, as in a word association test, elicited the response, “happy”. This is not as easy as it sounds.

Some of the images seem logical responses while others are puzzling. I’ll comment briefly on each one, if I can think of anything to say.

This one is so obvious that it requires no analysis. It is a composition of many tiny images from MPBM in a mosaic which simulates a picture of Eunie and I at our anniversary party.

Who would not respond with “happy” to this?

This one is not so straightforward. It’s important to remember that analysing these lightning responses one-by-one is a bit like Monday morning quarterbacking.

I think that I responded with “happy” here because, though the surface message of the image is decidedly not happy, the experience of expressing these feelings in an artistic manner was  happy. I derived considerable pleasure from the process of capturing a precise mood in an image.

This one of Carol Dover goofing off during a dive is another obvious choice. Friends always make me happy. That’s because I have no troublesome ones. That has not always been true in the past.

While it is sad that Carol is no longer here in Madang, true friendships never leave the heart.

This shot of a Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  got the “happy” tag because it is one of my favourite underwater images and always makes me think about the great mysteries of the sea.

It is one of the few underwater images in which I have deliberately fiddled with the colours. This is not the natural colouration of this anemone. However, I wanted to accentuate the surreal beauty and alien quality of the creature. So I did. That’s the beauty of digital photography. You can do anything you like.

This one is not to difficult to figure out either. It immediately brought to mind all of the wonderful times I spent with Eunie in far away places. I don’t remember anything about this lovely statue which we found in Berlin of a young woman releasing a bird. I do remember that we both were captured by its beauty and significance. It belonged in that place.

Eunie and I were very fortunate to have been able to travel considerably during the last thirty years. The necessity of moving back and forth between Papua New Guinea and North America gave us the advantage of seeing many places without spending much extra money.

As I looked back over my choices and pondered my response to each, this one gave me slight pause. It is of a lady selling her produce at the Madang town market.

I did enjoy working with the image. It required quite a bit of effort to get it just the way I wanted it. However, I don’t think that is why it struck the ‘happy” chord. Maybe it represents home to me. That’s a bit of a stretch, but it is close enough.

This baby balancing shot taken up at Blueblood is a no-brainer. Kids, friends, tropical warmth and water, a party . . . who would not think “happy”?

I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

The last shot also is obvious – family. I got this image of Tamara, Pippa and Audrey on the train returning from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. It is one of my favourite images of Hans’ little family.

Though there is the sadness of so seldom seeing them, happiness is the feeling I enjoy whenever I think of them.

What can I take away from this little exercise? I’m not sure that I know. All that I can do is make an observation.

Of all of the ideas, things and people in the images above, only one is physically missing. While it is a very crucial point that my wife is no longer on the scene, everything else remains, at least for the time being.

So, the question is, can I take what remains, do a lot of pretending and take the lessons of Dan Gilbert’s lecture to heart, trusting my brain to rewire itself in its own self interest as a function of its natural immunity against adversity and despair? Will my prefrontal cortex kick in and create a new standard of happiness?

I trust that it will. And when it does, it will feel real to me. Right now, I don’t see how it can happen. That it will  happen requires trust in something much bigger than my brain. God will have to handle that one.

I trust that God will do that for me.

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