Monday, 29 March 2010

Magpie 7 Jaundiced Nightmare

Willow apologised for past prompts saying feedback said that they had been too hard.
They're all hard. This one took me by surprise, not the least because Willow intimated that it was going to be an easier Magpie. Not for me. Frustrated I decided to go down a new track. I began with word association - first phrases that came into my head. Then a bit of editing. This is where I got to.
For more responses from writers across the globe click HERE

Jaundiced Nightmare

i am flying over fields of sunshine
rippling glowing dazzling
splash me
blind me

i turn turtle
belly towards the blue sky
then hurtling
towards a jaundiced horizon.

golden glow heralds
vacant days stretching
into black nights

I am done with hope and
knowledge and optimism.
I yearn for dark recesses
to rest my uncomfortable quest.

there could be meaning
in splashes of red or green
but glorious sunfilled fields
hold nothing but mirages
of false gods and seductive impossibilities

still these fucking daffodils
keep me from sleep
final sleep
they are my siren.
I am in a yellow hell.

Let's hear it for the hand made

While many of my writing friends may not be into knitting, I suspect many will be into art and in this case the art of knitting.
I had the privilidge last Friday to launch Loani Prior's second book aimed at the eccentric knitters market. Really Wild Tea Cosies takes up where Wild Tea Cosies left off.
How does a non-knitting bloke launch a knit one purl one book to an audience of youngish women (age range 30 up) many of whom are sitting in the audience watching, waiting and, yes, knitting. I was feeling a bit initmidated but they were very forgiving.

I won them over by establishing my knitting credentials through my late mother whose eccentric jumper I draped around my shoulders in solidarity and reverence. 10 years ago she knitted me an oversize multicoloured jumper which I had chosen from a pattern book she had unwisely offered me. It nearly killed her.

I was on a roll when I did a reading from Loani's book - as you do at book launches - and read out half a page of knitting instructions. When I was able to translate sl st to slip stitch - there were nods of approval and a wave of spontaneous applause. I was home.

So what does this re-emergence of the 'old' crafts mean. Perhaps these women are reaching an age when they can see value in their mother's ability to create things of beauty from simple materials.
Perhaps they are bored with reality TV and chatting on-line and yearn for direct human contact. Perhaps they are sick of being sold a materialist, consumer oriented message at every turn.
What about the blokes? Well the phenomenon of 'Men's Sheds' is sweeping Australia - where local councils or community organisations set up shared spaces with shared equipment for blokes to make things. It's part of the move to reduce isolation in older men and to reduce depression. They're joining in droves.
Women have always been much more social and know the value of sitting and chatting or stitching and bitching as one of my friends describes it. They learn from each other and even from the women next door who are also making things by hand but don't need large machines and 3 phase power to do it.
I hope that this means a return , not to old fashion values, but to the valuing of the personal and the human in creating a meaningful life.
That's why I write. And garden. And join a book club. And .....

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Backyard bloom

I'm aching in unexpected places this week. I've been digging and planting.
It's been raining for almost two weeks straight here in SE Queensland. It's been wonderful. The dams, which 18 months ago were down to 14% capacity, are now 97% full. An unprecedented level.

The western desert areas of the state are overflowing with record flood heights - 14 metres of water flowing through what were, a month ago, dry creek beds.
When the floods subside the land will bloom again. Desert will become pasture, cotton farmers will have their irrigation supplies replenished.

Cubby Station, 93 000 hectares of farmland, which captures the equivalent of Sydney Harbour in its man made catchment system will be in business again. Cubby station, a miracle of design? Some would argue a disaster of design - intervention in the natural system on a massive scale to the detriment of the larger environment. In this case preventing huge waterflows from arriving at downstream wetland destinations. Luckily this time there are multiple Sydney Harbours on offer.
This ocean of water will now travel its long journey to the Southern Ocean finally reaching its destination in three months. The mighty Murray River, part of Australia's largest river system, will receive water it has been denied over the past decade and will flow to the ocean again. This is the system which gave rise to the belief that Australia had a huge inland sea because many of these rivers appeared to flow west, away from the ocean. Early explorers didn't have the benefit of Google Earth and aerial photography.

Back in my backyard things are going wild. I gave myself a simple task. Plant the kaffir lime tree given to me for my bithday over a month ago. Being a distractable person i turned this 20 minute exercise into four hours of pruning, climbing, digging, planting, poisoning and inspecting. I used tools which thought they'd been retired permanently to the tool room, forgot to have lunch and finally collapsed having created a new list of things to do way longer than the original.

And a day later I'm aching in places .......

Looking back. The view the kaffir lime tree has of me.

Magpie Tales 6 - The girl with the sun in her eyes

Number six in the Magpie Tales series. Visit Magpie Tales to read the many responses to this prompt. Hosted by Willow of Willow Manor.

The girl with the sun in her eyes

She'd left George and gone to bed, him listening to his beloved Beatles. She read herself to sleep to the lyrics of Fixing a Hole ....... where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering. George's obsession was deeper than nostalgia. He was a collector of musical ideas. The idea that all modern popular music began with Sergeant Pepper was an article of faith. For him everything that came after 1967 was somehow contained in that album - strings, orchestras, synthesizers, sampling. Creative genius and experimentation was evident in every track.

Louise left for work early next morning before sunrise. She worked in the city, a two hour journey from their idyll in the mountains; first by car down the narrow twisting mist shrouded mountain access road, then a forty minute dash across the plains to rendezvous with the 6:15 express to the central office district.

It was a great way to start the day. An hour of solitude; an hour to catch up on her reading and mentally prepare herself for the battering she had come to expect as the outsider in the hospital system. Doctors ruled. Her recruitment as the director of teaching had been an anomaly. She was well qualified but unprepared for the animosity to her fresh ideas.

She rang him at 9am from her office as was her habit. He didn't answer. Not that unusual really. George’d be up but avoiding sitting down at his computer to write the next article commissioned by his magazine editor - breathing down his neck for another daily contribution on 'surviving the change'. Louise, at 48, used to joke that it should have been about her hormones rather than living in the country.

After another two phone calls she had an uneasy sense. Her skin prickled. She became distracted in the early afternoon briefing with her director. As a supervisor he was an odd man - at one level sympathetic and sensitive to nuances of mood; at the another he could be extremely cold and almost cruel when he was under pressure. She had occasionally received calls from him at 2am on a Sunday morning. He'd just read one of her emails questioning the direction of the teaching program and he could not resist the impulse to respond.

Recently he'd been pretty supportive. He understood her pain. He had seen loss, and while not having experienced such devastating grief as hers he was able to make a connection.
He sensed her distraction. Are you alright Louise? He was genuinely interested. These last few months had built a new closeness in their working relationship. I can't raise George. It came out as a question which, strangely, seemed to be directed at the furniture. It's not like him.

She was on the 2:15 train and approached the main gate to the old farmhouse by mid afternoon. The day was still warm. another perfect blue day. As she bumped her way down the rough cow track she tried not to let her mind race ahead. He would be okay. Probably just one of his quiet withdrawn days.

She crested the rise and stopped. The large pond before ger lay perfectly still. Water hyacinth clung to the perimeter of the irregular circle marking out the man made dam which supplied their fruit orchard with permanent water. The new fence still looked out of place. It was ironic this fence, like trying to fence in the rain. They'd come here to escape the changes in their old neighborhood. To avoid the high walls springing up around them creating gated enclaves; neighbours paranoid about nothing but their own fear. Louise and George wanted no fences, only open spaces. How could they have possibly have foreseen the unlikely scenario. Their daughter was sixteen for heaven's sake. Not a child. Why shouldn't parents treat themselves to a weekend at the coast once in a while. At sixteen Julia was a young adult, mature enough to spend two days in the company of her close mates.

The Coroner had not been able to say definitively what the cause had been. Death by misadventure was so enormously unsatisfactory an explanation. She put the car in low and through her misted vision bumped her way towards the house.

She could hear Lucy in the Sky playing as she climbed the stairs. George used to say it was written for Julia. It was what he needed to stay connected. Underneath the chorus, 'ko koo ka chu', she detected a series of arrhythmic sounds - like someone tapping at the door, but she was the only visitor on the doorstep. The tapping stopped and began again. Then silence.

She caught sight of the foot of the aluminium ladder straddling the doorway to Julia's room.

'Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she's gone'

Monday, 15 March 2010

Magpie 5 - Only Human

Number five in the Magpie Tales series. Visit Magpie Tales to read the many responses to this prompt. Hosted by Willow of Willow Manor.

Only human hands
can cradle the infant
and sooth the cries of separation

Only human hands
can comfort the child
with grazed and bloodied knees
Only human hands
can experience
the tender touch of first love

Only human hands
can cup the swollen breasts
and smooth the rounded belly of a pregnant woman
Only human hands
can plant the seeds
of gardens for children and their play

Only human hands
can hold the final moments
of life's long days

Only human hands
pull the trigger
design the weapons
press the buttons
sign ther papers
take the salute
violate the weak
strap on the body bomb

Only human.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

A Tale of Two Books - Birth and Death

Two things bookish have emerged in the last week for me.

First an imminent birth.

My mate Loani - she of the bestselling 'Wild Tea Cosies' fame is launching the sequel, 'Really Wild Tea Cosies', in Brisbane at our local book shop Avid Reader on Friday March 26. Wild Tea Cosies was Avid Reader's biggest seller in 2008 and the publishers went on to launch it in Britain and the USA where it also sold like hotcakes.

In recent years there seems to have been a surge of interest in the crafts our grandmothers' plied and Loani is surfing the craze. Young and old are rediscovering the old skills of hand crafted objects, clothes and giftmaking. Even in my job working with young people I have been amazed to find teenagers using cut and past techniques, handwritten and typewriter written stories and handdrawn illustrations to make their zines. They just love the hands on experience of making their own publications from go to whoa. At our resource centre we are in the process of setting up a retro-technology room to allow young people to generate these projects.
So back to Loani. She has an eccentric knitting website which links with fellow eccentrics across the globe. They are intent on reinventing the old craft. So successful has this been that Loani currently has an exhibition of her tea cosies at the prestigious Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Who would have thought that the humble tea cosy would sit alongside engineering displays, intergalactic photography and socially insightful exhibitions about Indigenous storytelling. Museums have certainly transformed themselves in recent years.

And here's the surprise. Loani has asked me to launch the book. The pressure is on. I'm hoping I can contribute to a really wild night.

And a death.

I edited a book 15 years ago, 'Challenging the Centre', which documented two decades of political theatre in Queensland. Unlike Loani's book it was not a best seller but ended up on university library bookshelves, as reading for Drama courses etc. It has probably sold 1000 copies over that period. In my mind it was an important book because it challenged the notion that only Melbourne and Sydney produced anything original or politically significant and it gave official standing to the often neglected work of small poilitical and progressive theatre companies who get swamped by the mainstream state theatre companies. There is an assumption that real theatre happens in real theatres while many of these small companies are touring companies or, as with the company I worked for, based in warehouse or factory spaces.

Anyway it has been remaindered and I am the proud owner of 523 copies of this beaut book. I now have the challenge of distributing copies to the many participants who worked for these companies over 20 years and the remainder? Perhaps there is an online market at discount prices for the last 200 copies.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Magpie Tales 4 - F.U.L.L.


You're kidding. Another pair of shoes?
Yes I know we can afford them.
Yes I know it supports the local economy.
But we are full.
We're already at the baggage limit.
No you can't. We've paid for those drumming logs, so no there's no point in taking them back.
And after last night, they are now used drums.
Well you liked them when we were speeding through that village in the bimo yesterday.
What's not to like about them now?
No. They will NOT go out of tune after a high altitude flight.
Besides, they are packed at the very bottom of that bag and the slot is stuffed with six bead necklaces, four wrap around skirts, eleven silk scarves and two sets of hand carved salad servers.
Read my lips. Those shoes can't come.
Rubbish, Lauren's a size 6. They are not for her. They're for you.
Why on earth did you buy size nines then?
Yes I agree Lauren is a dear friend.
I wouldn't have a clue what's in the other bag or who's getting what.
You should have kept a list.
As for that ugly cross between an albino crocodile and a platypus.
What on earth possessed you?
For us!
What! On the sideboard alongside the carvings we brought back from Ayers Rock?
As I recall, you did not choose them I did.
Darling, those are sacred objects. This is a trinket. A rodent with a pinnochio nose.
Since when did we spend my precious long service leave scouring the planet for cute objects.
It belongs back on the stall beside the stubby holders and handcarved letter openers.
Oh for god's sake where is that bloody thing?
I am being careful.
It is NOT beautiful. I'd rather you kept the shoes if ....
Yes I'm serious.
Only if you wear them and dump those awful floral sneakers.
I love you too.
I'm sure she'd love the platydile - what ever that creature is.
Yes I can hide 'Made in China'.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Magpie Tales A Reflection

The Magpie Tales series continues. Each week an image is offered as a jumping off point for writers of fiction, poetry, fantasy, commentary, crime. You name the possible destination, it takes the 40 odd writers there each week. It all emanates from Willow of Willow Manor. Her site is worth a visit and her subsite Magpie Tales is the engine behind these stories.

For me this exercise has brought me into the midst of an instant community of writers (none of whom I have or probably ever will meet); it has become a discipline and a challenge to keep thinking about writing; and it has brought many potential readers to my writing. (A writer needs an audience). This group is not only audience but also offers support, critique (gentle thankfully) and a sense of magic - the affirmation of life via a network of strangers all seeking to put their creative contributions front and centre.

So this is the next image. As usual I am flummoxed.

The last image, the 1KG weight had me stumped. I get stuck on the concrete image and have to wait and wait until the deadline forces me beyond the obvious and into another mode. Last week it was my days as a teacher which emerged; the week before the Victorian bushfires. This week. Oh gawd here we go again.

I'm sure every contributor is having the same experience. last week the 1KG was everything from a doorstop in a house of ghostly memories, a talisman in a fantasy, a story with a pun on Weighting for Godot etc etc.......... and it was also the trigger for a beautiful poem about the soul which was offered by Willow who herself is the high priestess of this writer's site. Here it is:

Dead Weight

What separates the living
from the dead?

I've heard it said
a few grams
of something

leaves the body
at the point
of death.

A minuscule weight.
Heavier than air.
More than
that last breath.

What's there?
Where does it go?
When does it start?

Can human scales
detect the absence
of a soul?

Is the sum
of our parts
less than the whole?

willow, 2010