More of a realist

I couldn’t help but share this post from favourite Seth Godin.

More of a realist


When did being called a ‘realist’ start to mean that one is a pessimist?

Sometimes, people with small goals call themselves realists, and dismiss those around them as merely dreamers. I think this is backwards.

I guess I’m more of a realist than you,

actually means,

I guess I’ve discovered that a positive attitude, a generous posture and a bit of persistence makes things better than most people expect.

Hope isn’t a strategy, but it is an awfully good tactic.


You can follow Seth’s blog here.


This post is dedicated to Tamlyn, whose birthday it is today !!


Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is considered to be a classic of English literature. Written in 1846, it was published in 1847 when Bronte was 29 years of age. It was her only novel and her premature death meant she never knew of the popularity and fame the work would bring her.

The novel is characterised by its dark gothic tones and was met with mixed reviews because of its depiction of mental and physical cruelty. It challenged strict Victorian ideals of the day, featuring religious hypocrisy, immorality, class and gender inequality.

But its enduring popularity demonstrates that it is the depth of love between the two protagonists, Cathy and Heathcliff, both profound and tragic that resonates with its readers.

wuthering heights 1

Heathcliff and Cathy’s love story is caught up in a complex web of class struggles and human vice. Heathcliff is abominably treated by his adoptive brother Hindley and later, crushed by Cathy’s rejection of him, to marry the more genteel Edgar. Cathy describes the choice before her:

It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.

Foolishly she believes she can use her marriage to better Heathcliff’s position in life and have him close. In fact, he departs and returns a wealthy man but remains tormented even after her early death.


Heathcliff is Byronesque, the archetype of the tortured romantic hero whose all-consuming passions destroy both him and those around him.

Lord Byron writing 30 years before Bronte, described his hero in The Corsair [1814]:

That man of loneliness and mystery,
Scarce seen to smile, and seldom heard to sigh— (I, VIII)


WH 1

He knew himself a villain—but he deem’d
The rest no better than the thing he seem’d;
And scorn’d the best as hypocrites who hid
Those deeds the bolder spirit plainly did.
He knew himself detested, but he knew
The hearts that loath’d him, crouch’d and dreaded too.
Lone, wild, and strange, he stood alike exempt
From all affection and from all contempt: (I, XI)

Doubtless, Bronte was influenced by such a character.

Interestingly, Emily herself was described by her Belgian teacher, Constantin Heger in heroic terms:

She should have been a man – a great navigator. Her powerful reason would have deduced new spheres of discovery from the knowledge of the old; and her strong imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty, never have given way but with life. She had a head for logic, and a capability of argument unusual in a man and rarer indeed in a woman… impairing this gift was her stubborn tenacity of will which rendered her obtuse to all reasoning where her own wishes, or her own sense of right, was concerned.

So Emily Bronte wrote a novel of a man, Heathcliff who is Byronesque in character; perhaps she wrote of herself, wild and free yet trapped by the world she inhabited? Or is it Cathy and the choices she faces that Emily presents as though her own?



Cathy’s choice has terrible consequences. The violence visited on Heathcliff by Hindley and others did not come close to the cruelty of Cathy’s actions.

When Heathcliff finds her dying in childbirth, he sobs:

You teach me now how cruel you’ve been — cruel and false! Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears: they’ll blight you — they’ll damn you. You loved me — then what right had you to leave me? What right — answer me — for the poor fancy you felt for

Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart — you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine. So much the worse for me, that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you——oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?

The novel is a figure of 8, completing one circle when, before Cathy dies, she is reunited briefly with Heathcliff. The second loop does not fully close until their children are fully grown and Heathcliff himself dies, finally reconciling him to Cathy in the graveyard.

The novel is a tragedy in all regards, except that shepherds report the ghosts of Cathy and Heathcliff haunt the moors. True love, thwarted by social class, race, hypocritical choices and hubris –  only finds peace beyond death.



The choice Cathy made is not unlike the primal choice of humans to their maker. Their decision to take knowledge of “good and evil” was perhaps thought at first to better themselves and still maintain a relationship with God. But instead they perished.

And God, when they lie dying – sobs:

how cruel you have been – cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart?…. you have killed yourself….. I have not broken your heart – you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.

While Heathcliff is left cruelly to live on alone, the other story tells of the lover that followed us into death, and restores relationship with us beyond death.

That’s a love story I love to read again and again and again.

SORT Creative Writing Workshop

For the last few weeks, I have been fortunate enough to facilitate a creative writing workshop for SORT Recycling work-for-the-dole program. At each class 6-8 men and women write creatively and share their work, giving feedback and encouragement to each other.

I have been enchanted by the creative expression of these men and women, each with very different backgrounds, interests and abilities. Their creations inspire long conversations, stories, laughter and questions.

This is the writing of Dan, a young man who has already lived more life than me. He also once ranked 28th place in the world Pokemon championships and has his own YouTube channel:


From womb to tomb we depend
A family name to represent
Minds think thoughts alone
Til’ the ocean takes us home
Emotions collide
Thoughts and feelings intertwine
Invincibility youth take to bed
While vulnerability leads ahead
Time we try to escape
Trying to find a better fate
But in the end there is dark
The flame of life without a spark.




This is the writing of Ben, a young man who grew up in remote North Queensland and Ireland who at first described himself as “uncreative”:


when the new sprout stands tall and strong in the ground? and giving is loving and loving is sharing but keeping is dwelling and depriving and past? itis now (our time moves forward) o, itis spring goodbye the pretty birds; the wind whispering to wings goodbye the little fish; the sea current silent to scale (so the mountains are dancing, dancing eternal)

SORT (2)


If the eyes are a window to the soul, one’s writing is a painting of the emotions, thoughts and memories within.

What is stopping you from writing ?


Empathy, neurochemistry and the dramatic arc. 


Paul Zak, professor of economics, psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University in California, is one the founding pioneers of neuroeconomics, an emerging scientific field that traces the biology of decision-making processes and the human brain’s reaction to incentives.

In this animated exploration of one of his most illuminating experiments, Zak discusses the surprisingly calculable effects that the classic dramatic arc (exposition/rising action/climax/falling action/denouement) has on our brain chemistry and, ultimately, on our decisions and actions.

Monitoring the brain activity of hundreds of study subjects watching a video with a simple narrative, Zak found increases in the levels of the neurochemicals oxytocin and cortisol, which are associated with empathic responses.

Most remarkable, however, was the discovery that this response also resulted in study subjects taking action, in this case through donating money they had just earned to a charitable cause related to the story they watched and even to fellow subjects.

Zak’s conclusion that there could be a universal story structure that functions to connect us to each other might not be surprising to storytellers, but seeing it supported by neuroscience is a tale worth repeating.

Empathy, Neurochemistry, and the Dramatic Arc originated as a speech by Zak at the inaugural Future of StoryTelling summit in New York in 2012.

You can see the original post at AEON here.

The Ring of Gyges

Herodotus tells the story of Gyges, King of Lydia in the 8th century BC. He was the founder of the third Mermnad dynasty of kings of Lydia descendents of the gods, Zeus and Hercules [Herakles] and forefather of Croeseus.

Croeseus was a king of unsurpassed wealth and power, but the last of his line and the one who succumbed to the Persian Empire.

In Herodotus’ tale, Gyges was bodyguard to the king Candaules, who suffered “uxoriousness” or extreme love of his wife, believing her to be the most beautiful woman on earth. The king persuaded Gyges to hide in his bedchamber to observe his wife disrobing, that he too may appreciate her unsurpassed beauty.

Gyges protested but the king insisted.

ring of gyges 2

The Queen discerned she had been observed when Gyges left the room later that night. She did not say a word to her husband but she summoned Gyges and gave him the ultimatum, that he may suffer execution for what he had seen, or kill her husband and take the throne and herself to wife.

Gyges agreed to assasinate the king and take the throne. With the Queen’s help he succeeded and managed to quash the resultant civil war and hold the thone by sending tribute to the Oracle at Delphi in Greece.

With rich tribute to the oracle he inquired if he were the rightful king of Lydia, to which the Oracle replied he was, but his dynasty would only last for five generations.

By the 6th century, the King Croesue went to battle against the Persian army, believing himself to be invincible but was overpowered. Thus Herodotus accounts for the fall of the Lydian kingdom and accounts for the rise of the Persian Empire and her later assaults on Greece.

ring of gyges 5

Plato, writing in the 5th century,  recounts the myth of Gyges with a different emphasis. He tells of a conversation between Glaucon and Socrates in which Glaucon poses a moral dilemma.

Glaucon tells the story of Gyges, a mere shepherd in the service of the ruler, Candaules of Lydia. After an earthquake, Gyges discovers a cave in a mountainside near where he was feeding his flock. He enters the cave and discovers that it was in fact a tomb with a bronze horse and the armour of a giant. The giant’s corpse wears a golden ring, which Gyges pockets.

Soon discovering that the ring gives him the power to become invisible, Gyges then arranges to be chosen as one of the messengers who report to the king on the status of the flocks. Arriving at the palace, he uses his new power of invisibility to seduce the queen, and with her help he murders the king, and becomes king of Lydia himself.

ring of gyges 4

In Republic, Glaucon asks whether any man can be so virtuous that he could resist the temptation of being able to perform any act without being known or discovered. Glaucon suggests that morality is only a social construction, the source of which is the desire to maintain one’s reputation for virtue and justice.

Hence, if that sanction were removed, one’s moral character would evaporate.

Glaucon posits:

Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men.
Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust.
For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.
— Plato’s Republic, 360b–d. 

Though his answer to Glaucon’s challenge is delayed, Socrates ultimately argues that justice does not derive from this social construct: the man who abused the power of the Ring of Gyges has in fact enslaved himself to his appetites, while the man who chose not to use it remains rationally in control of himself and is therefore happy. (Republic 10:612b)

ring of gyges 3

Glaucon’s story show interesting parallels with Tokein’s epic narrative “Lord of the Rings” taken from Norse and Scandinavian myths. Both accounts pose the question of morality in the presence or posession of great power.

Though Tolkein’s epic shows that humble creatures such as Hobbits can partially resist the seductive powers of the ring, ultimately the ring holds an intractable force that will corrupt any living creature.


myth of gyges

In Herodotus’ history, the rise of the Persian Empire and the fall of the Lydian kingdom was due in part to the foolishness of Candaules and the lust of Gyges centuries prior. Though a good king, Gyges usurped the throne immorally, sowing the seeds of the demise of his own Empire generations later.

Moreover, the dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon, questions whether justice is a social construct and whether humanity can resist enslavement to their appetites and retain a moral compass, Glaucon and Tolkein both disagree.

What do you think? If not, what indeed is the hope for humanity?


Tolkein’s narrative closes with Frodo unable to destroy the ring which he has carried into Mordor. Its corrosive powers had consumed him to the point where he no longer posessed his own powers of reason.

It was only another, more lustful than he, so obsessed by the ring that it was willing to throw itself into the flames to possess it, that finally brings about its destruction.

And allow peace and reason to reign again.


There is another story, one I’m fond of retelling, in which a humble man holds ultimate power in a small vessel – himself. It is only destruction of this power, by those more lustful and obsessed by having it, and the destruction of the vessel and so the man himself, that peace and reason are permitted to reign again.