Here for a Good Time? Insanity? or just want to know How To survive the Modern World?

Need some recommendations for Christmas reading?

A bit of a mixed bag above, right? It’s a nice sandwich with a shit filling right there. And that’s just here, in Aotearoa. I haven’t even gone to threats of nuclear war, the orange blob still not in prison, and hundreds of thousands of people suffering, losing their loved ones, children in Africa starving, women in Iran being murdered for having their headscarf on “improperly” all because of the male megalomaniacs.

As always I turn to Alan de Botton for solace and common sense. Not the that I always follow his advice of course. it’s a bit like committing to yoga everyday or a healthy diet. It works sometimes. How to Survive the Modern World is apart from anything else a beautifully illustrated book. It’s also an easy read; De Botton knows how to amuse us, shine a light on our foolishness and to put things in perspective. Here are the chapter headings:

When I feel despair, I now like to refer to the universe we live in as described by De Botton. Page 238, Perspective: the scale of the universe from the chapter on Science and Religion.

I really can’t get my head around a billion trillion but I reckon it’s a lot. Note to self, find some pictures to hang up of images from the Hubble telescope.

The Milky Way above the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo, Aotearoa. ( pp239)

Pictured above are just a few of the 100 billion stars in the MilkWay which is one galaxy of ten billion. I feel my angsts and problems aren’t quite so important any more, but I’m still sad that last week I lost my replacement phone purse purchased in St Emillion this year. I had worn out the one I bought at the same little shop in 2017.

On the other end of the scale from the universe, one dip of a hand net reveals this beautiful picture (pp250)

Oh and did you know there are 43 quintillion atoms in a grain of sand? (pp251) Yep. Dr Zeuss wasn’t far wrong with Horton Hears A Who. De Botton concludes this chapter with,

When our psyches allow us a moment of respite, we can be grateful for all the seemingly random circumstances in place for us to even exist… (pp 252)

It’s a beautiful book in all the senses of the word and De Botton uses many works of art to illustrate his philosophy.

In his chapter on Media, De Botton tells us, “…the wisest step might also be the most unlikely and taboo-sounding in modern society: not to listen, or rather to listen a little less.”

(I can already hear a chorus of friends’ voices say, “We told you so.”)

I get it, I’m nothing but the tiniest speck and I can’t do anything about anything but then again, tell that to Rosa Parks or a flea. Not that I am suggesting for a millisecond I am comparing!!

So being the foolish, flawed person that I am, I rollercoaster between trying to get perspective and yet still remaining up to date with most news simply to bear witness if nothing else, to the death of 22 year old Mahsa Amini for example. I do a bit of volunteering for the Aunties and try my best to be grateful. After all, there is a hell of a lot to be grateful for, such as simply having a NZ passport.

Speaking of the Aunties, if you have a few spare readies please donate to them. Christmas is coming and times are tough for many. Account number is in link above.

De Botton goes on to say, “The news we really need is that which speaks of the imperative to forgive, to reflect, to appreciate, to be grateful, to be still and to be kind.

There are a few in that list that are not my forte but I’d like to add a few of my own- to eat good chocolate, to read fun books, and books about the Holocaust, to sit in the garden, to walk up Maungakiekie as I did today, to write a blog that hardly anyone reads, knit a hat for a baby, appreciate a beautiful thing, go to a movie about an older woman buying a Dior dress in Paris, go to a gallery, and sing, “parsley, sage rosemary and thyme” in the plant barn herb section some day and be joined by a complete stranger to take up the refrain. I may have done that today…

Maungakiekie today, a pretty plate and a few flowers to appreciate.

Another secret joy for me is to nick along to the Bridgeway movie theatre alone at say, 11am on a Tuesday and watched a “nice” film. You just know it’s going to have a happy ending. Also you can legitimately have a chocolate-with-nuts ice cream because it’s a movie. This one is as lovely as it sounds, even if I can only really remember the nice frocks.

I’ve read a couple of books this week in addition to De Botton’s book. Firstly the sequel to The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. I enjoyed it much more than the first book as I found it more morally complex and nuanced.

Secondly, I am in the middle of commedian Chris Parker’s first book as above. It’s a fun and easy read and a great distraction from the news. He acknowledges very generously that his prime motivation in life is to provide people with a good time and presumably have a good time himself. He deprecatingly downplays his intellect and says, “Science is just something I know there is someone out there more qualified than me doing a better job of understanding it than I ever could. So why try?”

Me too Chris, how do you picture a billion trillion????

My favourite book of the last few weeks is called Lessons in Chemistry -The No. 1 Sunday Times bestseller and BBC Between the Covers Book Club pick. I bought it on Kindle and have now bought two more copies for various friends. (By the way, ethical question? Can I read a book and then wrap it up and give it away for Christmas? Especially if I’ve spilt kombucha on it? Only as a stocking filler…)

To end the blog, I am finishing with another artist from De Botton’s book, (can you tell I like it?) It’s by Ambrosius Benson, The Magdalen c 1520. If she can remain serene while Henry VIII severs ties with Rome and declares himself head of the English church and she is highly likely to catch the second wave of plague that killed 2.5 million mostly in France , I gather, and if not then then probably in childbirth or from septicaemia and I bet her husband had no idea where the clitoris was then, well, I guess I’ll struggle on.

Have a good week. FG

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