Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Caught // 270107

Sometimes I feel so
powerless to resist these
dark desires, acting

in ways that would shock
those who know me and it is
just so hard to stand.

(By Ali Sufian bin Ali Katib)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I'm back. After twenty-two days, I'm back. Teaching has really been exhausting, and I've had barely enough time to even go online, let alone blog. It's been mostly e-mail and a little on Akouo these past three weeks.

Today Pn Darlilah returned, so I've been relieved of my duties as relief Biology and Science teacher. I have nonetheless been reincarnated as a Maths teacher, taking over Mr Rizaki's Form 1 and Form 4 classes; he's recently transferred to SMK Damansara Utama.

* * * * *

This is an entry I wanted to write and put up as the final entry of 2006; I think the earthquake in Taiwan had something to do with my failure to do so. I can't quite remember now.

At any rate, it is a significant milestone as this entry is my 500th on ThirtyOne. Indeed if you calculate, 500 entries between the Decembers of 2004 and 2006 means an average of 250 a year: more than one in two days, but also less than one a day.

So yes, it's been three weeks since my last entry. Is it worth the wait? Is it worth waiting three weeks for a post which means so much to me? Is it worth waiting for some great things in life, knowing, or somehow guessing, that when they come, the wait would have been worth it?

* * * * *

Two things defined 2006 for me: poetry and photography.

Of course, there was the Poetry Speaks calendar. There was also much reflection on, and quoting from, the songs of U2, which are pretty poetic; typically Irish! And Evanescent Shadows, my magnum opus of 2006, is really a poem written in prose.

As for photography, one word (well, three actually) sums it up: SLR (Single-Lens Reflex). I also learnt how to adjust details like brightness, contrast and saturation, and flirted from time to time with black & white photography and long exposure.

It has also dawned upon me that good cameras are hard to handle. SLRs generally don't have anti-shake functions and all those nifty mechanisms with which most digital cameras seem to come bundled these days. But then the quality of SLR shots makes it all worth it, and the camera is truly a tool for art, not a gadget for a consumerist market.

* * * * *

Hence, this entry features a set of poems matched to pictures. These poems are among the best from the Poetry Speaks calendar towards the end of the year, and I thought of taking pictures during the three-day d'NA Seremban trip to go with them. I just asked God to help me keep my eyes open for interesting shots, but really, it is by his grace that these shots were taken and chosen.

I had originally planned certain shots for certain poems, but then as I was editing the photos, others suggested themselves as having better potential for visual accompaniment. All seven photos below represent my progress as a photographer thus far, and I've employed almost all the skills (both in photography and editing) I know to produce them.

But before that, a few words from William Blake; I was literally thrilled to find this poem in the Poetry Speaks calendar sometime in December!

To See a World in a Grain of Sand
By William Blake

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

* * * * *

Two thoughts after d'NA Graduation 2006:

d'NA has not changed, but we have. even the younger ones are now already older ones.

Our lives are marked by surprises. I realised that the petal shower episode marked the second, and last, d'NA camp (2004) without a graduation ceremony; from 2005 onwards, every year would end with a graduation.

* * * * *

I've decided not to comment on the poems or the pictures; they shall speak for themselves. Perhaps someday I will explain in detail how each piece was created, and why I chose them. But not today.

Faded Photograph
Aging together

(1/20, F4.5, 18mm)

from "You Are Old, Father William"
(A parody of Robert Southey's didactic poem, "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them," 1799)
By Lewis Carroll

"You are old, father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head--
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," father William replied to his son,
"I feared it would injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

Moon Scar
Hurting together

(1/40, F5.6, 55mm)

By Walter de la Mare

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the wild breasts (sic) peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws and a silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

The Mosque is a Mirror
Learning together

(1/10, F4.5, 22mm)

"True poetry has no great interest in improving or idealizing the world, which does well enough. It only wants to realize the world, to see it better."

--John Crowe Ransom

Psychedelic Vodka
Rejoicing together

(1/15, F3.8, 23mm)

from an Essay on Criticism
By Alexander Pope

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring;
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind;
But more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!

Lomographic Spin
Experimenting together

(1/2, F8, 22mm)

Delight in Disorder
By Robert Herrick

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness.
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthralls the crimson stomacher,
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly;
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoestring, in whose tie
I see a wild civility;
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.

Dust to Dust
Worshipping together

(1/8, F4.5, 31mm)

Gratitude -- is not the mention
By Emily Dickinson

Gratitude -- is not the mention
Of a Tenderness,
But its still appreciation
Out of Plumb of Speech.

When the Sea return no Answer
By the Line and Lead
Proves it there's no Sea, or rather
A remoter Bed?

Salam Saudara
Living together

(1/13, F5, 31mm)

"Poetry gives the griever not release from grief but companionship in grief. Poetry embodies the complexities of feeling at their most intense and entangled, and therefore offers (over centuries, or over no time at all) the company of tears."

--Donald Hall

* * * * *

I am especially proud of the final picture. It was very difficult to shoot, and I don't suppose it's too difficult to guess why. ;-)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ruminations on Biology and the Creation

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

--Genesis 1:1 (NIV)

It is good to start the year (or anything for that matter) at the beginning.

While holidaying in Port Dickson, I read E.O. Wilson's latest book, The Creation. In it, he implores the Christian community to join forces with the scientific community in an effort to save the natural world--to save creation. Wilson himself is an atheist and one of the world's most eminent biologists.

Indeed the book is worth the RM80 I paid for it (using the vouchers courtesy of MPH), but I was deeply saddened to know that yet another great biologist had turned his back on God, thus joining the ranks of Charles Darwin, James Watson, Francis Crick, etc. How can people whose life is built upon life itself, miss out entirely on the Author of life?

Consider this picture:

Would I ever be able to convince you that a pen magically arose from the table and drew it on my left arm? I don't even think I'd be able to convince you that an earthworm or fern did it. At a glance, it is evidently the work of a human being (or else a robot; but a robot is man-made, thus the drawing is indirectly also the work of a person).

Note that the picture above is that of a sunrise/sunset. Yet legions of intelligent scientists claim that a complete accident produced the real thing:

Just because they cannot see God, they disbelieve His existence. But although we may have never met or seen any evidence of Willaim Shakespeare's existence, we can believe he wrote Macbeth, Hamlet and all the other great plays attributed to him. Evolutionary science always wants an explanation that can describe the creation without any reference to a Creator.

But we don't need to know how God made the world any more than we need to know how Shakespeare wrote without a dictionary or thesaurus (Sui-Jon pointed this out to me some years ago; indeed, such indispensable volumes were absent in Shakespeare's time). The creation itself testifies, just as The Last Supper testifies to Leonardo da Vinci and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to Michelangelo.

Of all the pictures I took (quite few by my standards; 200+ over four days), I like this one best:

While I was reading on the balcony on the last morning, a whole flock ('swarm' would be a better word) of swallows swooped past me. Only after they did it a second time did I decide to bring my camera out to catch them if, by some great fortune, they did so a third. I waited, camera on my lap and ready at a moment's notice, to see if God would bring them by again.

Many swallows flew this way and that, but not in a large group. Then out of nowhere, they appeared again in formation, flying across the hotel. I'd attached my telephoto zoom lens and set it at maximum zoom of 200mm to get the shot. Then just as I snapped, they disappeared over the opposite roof.

Is there any sense in thinking that the camera which took the picture (my Nikon D50) is a marvel of human brilliance and precision in technology and manufacturing, while the birds themselves are chance accidents of evolutionary history?

It struck me just now that, in the picture above, the swallows look like scraps of debris rather than birds. And I was reminded of this verse:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

--Jesus, in Matthew 10:29-30

The issue isn't about how old the earth is or why dinosaurs aren't mentioned in the Bible, etc. Rather, all of creation echoes in only one question: will we follow the Creator? The one to fear, the one whose majesty is above all and whose splendour is displayed in the creation... God is God.

* * * * *

Substituting Pn Darlilah, I begin teaching Form 5 Biology and Form 3 Science in the VI tomorrow. Li-Shia will be taking over Pn Asrima's Form 1 and Form 3 Science classes.

Lord, have mercy. May we learn as much (if not more) from the students as they will from us, and may we truly grow in this experience.

Biology has always been one of my greatest passions. But I never knew I'd be teaching it so soon. Well, at least here's a biologist who will count for God's camp!