All posts by Wendy

Of spectral moonscapes, ochre dusks and many other things

Dear Richard

It’s us. The Slow Reading Appreciation Collective. Perhaps you thought we had forgotten you, popped you on the bedside table and not picked you up again, such has been our silence over the last 6 weeks or so? We apologise if you were worried about our reading, slow, fast or some pace in-between. Never fear. Not for you the remaindered piles of unread books that sit gathering dust in our respective houses (while mine anyway….I shall not speak for fellow Slow Reader and Thought Terrainer). We have been greedily consuming your fabulous book over the past weeks. We’ve just been on holidays so we haven’t been much bothered with doing things like fulfilling a self-imposed commitment to write to you about it.

You probably don’t recall that last time we wrote we had arrived at p. 81. Kif was just completing his deal with the publishers to write Heidl’s book because money. Collectively we have now read up to p. 197. Individually we both have finished, but we shall keep reading collectively because that is when the gorgeousness of your prose comes to life and makes us laugh, gasp in horror, giggle and, frequently, sigh in dismayed recognition.

Now we know you’re a busy fellow so we won’t bore you with a detailed reading of our 100 or so pages. We’ll just look at some of our FAVOURITE parts. Some of the bits that made us “stop, collaborate and listen” (with apologies to Vanilla Ice). And by that I mean, we stopped, we chatted, we re-read just so we could hear some of these phrases again for their stunning beauty, unexpected, perfect metaphors and often times the need to unravel exactly what was happening.

Question: on p. 87 when you write “Like madmen walking backwards” are you slyly referencing Yann Martel? Only one of us has read the latest book and it will probably stay that way.

p. 98. Here’s something we marked at the time and didn’t really realise it’s significance. Should you have written in “spoiler alert” in the footnotes here Richard when Kif is musing on the colour and quality of Heidl’s eyes? “They had the depthless calm of black water in fatal rivers. Later I noticed that on some days his eyes were like those of a wild dog, the pupils preternaturally dilated. At such times, he seemed to circle his prey like a wolf. Mostly though, his eyes had the glaze of road kill. Without hope, they both terrified and mesmerised me.” Looking back I had underlined “fatal” in pencil as well as “glaze of road kill”. Having read the end that is coming back to haunt me. Powerful much Richard! Especially when we really had no idea what was coming in the end.

Wait up! Here’s the wombat reference on p. 102 when you’re talking about Ray. “His eyes momentarily had the same dying wombat look as Heidl’s”. That wombat comes back. Clever. Didn’t realise that then either. How clever you are now we see, because Kif is writing this is in present tense but also in retrospect. So it allows you to drop these hints and clues into the text without us, the readers, realising what’s happening. We are the colour of impressed.

p. 105. core vs non-core. We haw-hawed in recognition of this. #politics

p. 113 “scried”. What a lovely verb. Looking for signs/future/predictions.

We continued to enjoy your writing about writing. Here’s a bit that got the underlining pencil treatment as you describe Heidl speaking “At such times, he talked simply, in the way the best writers write simply; his words nothing, the undertow of them everything,” (p. 123). Oh, but we could all write like that.

And then again on p, 124, Heidl and “his corpse eyes”. Foreshadowing again which we manage to underline but clever you, we perhaps did not see the full implications of these evocative descriptions. Blow us down if we don’t see that again on the very next page where you liken finishing a novel to murder. whoa.

I”ll tell you what made us laugh out loud was on p. 138 where Kif put together his writing schedule. This was the laugh out loud/sigh with recognition situation that we adored throughout the book. And here’s the best description of anything I’ve ever seen perhaps (overstatement obviously but you know) “panting cursor”! That’s what it does!!!

Other words caught our eyes and our imaginations “arabesques of nonsense” (p. 140). We were stopped in a tracks by this one on p. 155 of the west of Tasmania

“dying mining towns, spectral ruins in a moonscape of desolation, wounded blues and greens and bright bronze rock glistening in the forever rain and lonely yellow headlight trails, turning north past the last of the rusting, ripple iron shanties, seven stubbies down, maybe more, gunning it up the green-walled mountain passes”.

Blimmin Heck.

I for one would love to listen to someone sing a “song cycle of demand” (p. 161) or be able to see the “ochre cataclysm of dusk” (p. 185).

What about this though on p.188 “But the truth is that if I stopped for even a moment and thought about the things I’d done I’d have to kill myself. And maybe that was Heidl’s fear too”. Sheesh. Missed the true significance first time round but it’s even more fantastic on second reading.

So we have slowly made it to p. 197. Reading. Definitely Appreciating. Collectively. And now also, we both know what’s coming, just like your narrator Kif, so when we next meet to read again together we will have the inside knowledge on how it ends, and how reliable or otherwise Kif might be in his/your depiction of himself and of Heidl.

Thanks for the deliciousness Richard.

Sincerely

Us.

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I am, like, a really stable, great showman

Slight spoilers ahead sweeties.

The line for The Greatest Showman was long and we’d been burned once before with the rare phenomenon of sold out sessions. Still, we lined up, got our choc tops and got a good seat in the small theatre. We even kindly made room by moving up our row so two people could fit in. We’re good people.

We suffered through the insufferably long advertisements, preview, advertisements, preview show during which time I dropped chocolate on my dress three times. Not that I was counting or anything. Man, that Liam Neeson film looks like Garbage. The Commuter. Jeez.

FINALLY it started. Now, I’ll just mention that everyone I have spoken to about this film has flipping raved about how much they loved it, how great it was, how great Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron are, etc etc blah blah *insert emoji face with love hearts for eyes here*. And in my humble film watching experience this is frequently a sign that I am going to be disappointed. Even when Margaret and David would give something four to five stars, expectations were immediately set right up there and nothing lived up to the hype.

The Greatest Showman was no exception. Bloody hell. Can this film be any more contrived and stagey? Why do all the songs sound exactly the same and I can’t remember one of them 3 minutes after leaving the cinema? Why on earth if they’re making a musical set in the 19th century would they not use music appropriate to the time instead of these freaking awful stomping power rock, hip hop, pop shite? I know that’s trendy. Hamilton I’m looking at you. But it was awful. That thing they wrote for the character of Swedish nightingale Jenny Lind to sing was so dreadful I wondered if it was meant to be a terrible joke. I really expected the audience in the film to burst into laughter. It could not have been less subtle. It was the opposite of subtle. It was almost crude in its beltingness.

If Hugh’s performance had been any more twinkly-eyed and twinkly-toed he would have exploded into his own constellation. Settle down man. You’re not in the Boy from Oz now. Listen carefully. Sometimes it’s okay to dial down the charm. Stop it with the charisma. Overloaded. You’re in danger of tipping over the edge into Tom Cruise-territory and we know that leads nowhere good. Zac Efron – your best performance was and always will be in Hairspray. I lurved you in that. Because you got the joke. You were in on it. Here you are a little bit of the joke. You can dance and sing and everything but that revoltingly saccharine thing you had twirl around to about stars or summink with Zendaya was embarrassing. I was quietly cringing in my seat. How did you keep a straight face? The director showed admirable restraint in not having her give you the kiss of life while you were dying of smoke on the stretcher after the big fire. It would not have been out of place here. Anyhow hey ho you survived to dance the finale. Good job. Michelle Williams had little to do except wear a lovely blonde wig and support Hugh in his never-ending quest for acceptance. She did this quite gracefully even when she had to be standing in the breeze waiting for him to come and see her at the seaside in one of the concluding scenes.

I know what you might be thinking. Wendy. Stop being such a grinch. It’s just good old fashioned entertainment. Well old-fashioned certainly. Good? Nope. Instantly forgettable? Pretty much. One-dimensional? Indeed. Absolutely cardboard-cut-outty? For sure. A waste of talented cast? Definitely.

As I sat through it musing, three thoughts came to mind.

  1. PT Barnum = Donald Trump. I am the greatest showman. I am very stable genius and really smart. Does saying it really make it so? Was PT Barnum the originator of “alternative facts”, hoodwinking and hoaxing his public? Does someone want to trace that line back? I don’t. I’m too lazy. Is this the film musical we deserve in this time? I think it might be. Depthless. Surface. Spectacle. Guy Debord was and is still relevant.
  2. Seinfeld 1992. As always, Kramer said it plainly and clearly.  People want to watch freaks. Because that’s as thoughtful as The Greatest Showman gets about its circus acts as well. What would have been interesting would have been less Hugh Jackman and more about the stories and lives of the (and I hesitate to use the word) “freaks” in Barnum’s act, perhaps actually addressing the issue of exploitation in some kind of nuanced way.
  3. In fact, there’s probably an amazing documentary or biographical film to be made about PT Barnum. This isn’t it. And maybe we can say that’s because it’s a light and fluffy musical. But musicals don’t have to be light and fluffy and I think this one is really disappointing because it chose that path.

Now I know that I’m doing that terrible thing where I’m criticising a film for not being what I wanted it to be, rather than on its own merits. And it does have some merits in a talented cast and what I imagine was a huge amount of money spent on costume, design etc etc. It’s bling from start to finish. That’s not a compliment.

Ultimately thought, I think that we, the film going public deserve better. More effort to make a film where we engage with the characters. Where they are actually engaging – where the actors are given material to work with that they can use to engage us that doesn’t entail anachronistic white teeth and really shiny hair. Yes. Even in a musical. I direct you to Strictly Ballroom and Chicago to name but two.

Come on now.

Please.

NB. The Last Jedi was still worse. Much much much worse.

 

 

 

tiny writing

Well that was flipping frightening. In the end it was best to do it like a band-aid a la the advice of Jerry Seinfeld “One move! Right Off!. It was that or dither about for another week, fiddle faddling with verbs, tenses, synonyms and the like.

Let’s go back a few steps. 2017 was the first year in more than I would care to imagine that my job has not involved writing of some form or other. There’s been everything from a thesis to copy for a 30 second radio ad and all forms in-between. But last year…nothing….unless you count report card comments, which I don’t. And strangely, I felt dulled by about October and I couldn’t work out why. It took some time and reflection and chattering with another thought terrainer about the entire kit and caboodle as to what the heckfire might be happening. Ding dong! No writing in life ya big doofus. (that’s me. the big doofus).

I had also arrived at an interesting point where I was feeling the need for something that I would make, create and put out into the world without fear or favour AND in the process try to not worry about other people think. If you know me well you’ll know worrying about what people think of me is one of my special powers. I have it down to a fine art. I’m an expert. I guess now if you don’t know me well you’ll know this too now. #confessions

So it seemed time, and timely (given I had 6 or so weeks of the school holidays that they give to good for nothing school teachers like myself) that I give this all some thought, throw it in a saucepan, stir it about and see what came out. What came out were all sorts of things some of which I may eventually do. I thought BIG! which was great and exciting….and then I lay on the brown lounge for a few weeks and thought about time management and changed a few things. For one, I thought I was going to make every edition Winifred Bell Tiny Writing by hand, and send individual copies out in the post. Romanticised much? Yes. Would I still like to do this? Yes. Is 2018 the year that will happen. Sadly no. Because reality.

What I did manage to do was take some inspiration from my ordinary days and my memories about summer, write two poems and three pieces of prose, find a free flip book maker, use canva to make my pages including a front and back cover and get it online. I set up a FB group. I have just now with much trepidation sent it out into the ether on the social media. That’s actually a little achievement for me. Especially the last part of sending it out into the world. Because instead of being the endless armchair critic I have publicly put my feet in the creative waters (that’s a little bit Kath and Kim eh!) and said, “me too”.

I also committed to doing it 9 more times this year. It was frightening and scary but I did it anyway.

Here it is

 

 

 

I’m down…

The Beck Song Reader project continued today with the second song in the album: “I’m down and this town is a nuisance”.

The direction on the sheet music was “Shuffle”. I spent some time googlerising this and looking at the different between shuffle and swing. Subtle differences but basically don’t play the quavers evenly….swingish them. See how made a verb there. What I really liked about this one was not just the cute lyrics (look em up I’m not retyping them here….but also the fact that there are two verses, two bridges and no real chorus.

I interpreted it as a slow country kind of ballad. And then I added the initial vocal and I was going to leave it at that….but then I remembered the challenge set out by Beck in the album notes. Make it your own. So I added one harmony line. And then I added another harmony line. And then, before I turned into a one-women version of the Bee Gees I stopped. The harmony is a bit rough and ready in places (understatement) but I decided to resist my classically trained impulse to seek perfection and leave in the off bits….recorded live…straight into Garage Band on my IPad Pro. Yes, I know. It’s not quite sound studio we all dream of but it does me.

As always I’m hyper-critical of my untrained, ornery singing but I remind myself that the point of this little hobby-project is not to sing like a professional. It’s to discover the music that Beck has written, play and sing it and make it real. For me. So here it is:

And as always, once I had done my thing, I searched for Beck’s version. Here’s a nice live one. A bit rockier, rockabilly, or summink. I love it.

Anyone. Even you.

Let’s get something established right from the get go. I’m a Beck fan. Is he a Scientologist? I don’t care. He can write songs. It’s perhaps no surprise that I have eventually come to his 2012 Song Reader. It perhaps is a surprise that it has taken me until 2017. Or perhaps it isn’t.

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The Song Reader is an album….of sheet music.  Unrecorded sheet music on release. This was exciting I remember thinking at the time. It immediately caught my imagination but I wasn’t going to send to the USA to get it and living in little old Bundaberg it wasn’t easily available, so it sat “out there” (gestures to far horizon beyond my mind) for some time until just over a year ago I stumbled upon it on the specials table in the QAGOMA store. Bargains!! I snapped it up, brought it home and immediately put it to one side.

Until today. I was vaguely aware the songs had been recorded in the intervening years. I had somehow, studiously avoided them, while purchasing other Beck music in the meantime. Strange?

Maybe you came to Beck as I did when Triple J flogged “Loser” to pieces in the early 1990s.

Slacker, grunge (proto-hipster) Beck was in danger of being a one-trick pony, a one hit wonder. In fact for a while he was.

But then there was One Foot in the Grave with it’s astonishing stripped back, folk-pop-vibe of wonderful songs and the stunning clip (which I can’t find) of Beck with Willie Nelson. Recorded before Mellow Gold but released after it. It’s a favourite. They’re all favourites!

Prolific is Beck. The Grammy award winning Odelay has every song an immediate hit and classic. Dance grooves like you’ve never heard them. Perfect songs. I bought my CD copy in Hervey Bay’s last independent record store the day after it swept up the Grammy awards. I listened to it for what seemed like forever. How about Where It’s At.  Go on…. click on the link. You won’t regret it.

Mutations. Midnite Vultures. Guero. Morning Phase. Sea Change. Modern Guilt.

I may have missed some. All different yet all quintessentially Beck in their variation and willingness to delve into different musical styles and genres and, in doing so, create his very own Beck-ness. I’m about to get to the most recent release Colours.

Hiding in there though was the Song Reader. Until today I didn’t know what any of the songs sounded like. That was the point. For me, the “reader”, to discover it in my own way and in my own time. Just like music used to be published and discovered. Sheet music. Around the piano. At home. In the living room. The parlour. The lounge. So I guess you could say that it’s publication in 2012 by McSweeney’s meant it wasn’t the most accessible “album” of Beck’s in that you have to make the sound yourself. That seems like an effort in our age of instant gratification and immediacy. That seems like it might take time. Like there’s a danger that we might not “get it” the first time. Or if we do, it might be different the second time. Or the third. Or the numbers that come after that.

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That’s how popular music used to be distributed. Yeah. Sheet music. Single song sheet music. And in doing so, there wasn’t just one version of a song. There was less of the authoritative version. There were many more individual versions. Interpretations. Made by people just like you and me. So what a gift is the Song Reader. We’re actually meant to participate in the music-making and listening process. Beck is asking us to! What a guy.

Indeed he says as much in the Preface that is included in the album.

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“not so long ago, a song was only a piece of paper until it was played by someone. Anyone. Even you.”

Beck is even keen for us to get a little bit creative with our interpretations. He says as much. What’s this change the lyrics and the chords? Will it still be his song? Of course it will. That’s just what happens in the “in-between” with sheet music when the songwriter launches it into the universe and the amateurs take it up and do there best.

 

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And so today I did. I am the “Anyone. Even you” Beck is talking to in his Preface. I can play the piano. I can sing in a thin, reedy, not very attractive manner. This song came to life for me in the very playing. I recorded it lo-fi style (cheers Beck!) using Garage Band on my IPad. You can hear the back ground noise and the crunchiness at the end as I moved the device to stop recording. That’s okay. That’s normal. Music isn’t meant to be all auto-tuned perfection. We’ve come to think that’s normal. There was musical life before that.

The first song in the Song Reader is “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard”. Beautiful cover art and a snippet of a song on the back (also written by Beck) just like old-time sheet music used to have as the publishers advertised their other songs. What I loved about this one was its reference to Tin Pan Alley and it’s sweet easy melody and simple chord progression. If it was a recorded album it’d be a cracker first track to get the people in.

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I deliberately didn’t listen to any other version until after I sang and recorded it. Because once you’ve heard a song you’re covering it….you’re not interpreting what you found on the paper. Beck would probably find my version fairly pedestrian. Here’s him singing it. Heck even I find my version pedestrian. He takes a snappier tempo and welcomes in the mouth organ and guitar.

I may get a little more adventurous as I continue through the album.

So for your listening interest:

The Faustian deal

Hello Richard

We meet again. All of us. You, Kif, Us – the Slow Reading Appreciation Collective. Well we met again. On Monday evening. You might not have realised because you weren’t there in actual real time but I’ll tell you what. You certainly provoked some of the old discussion there. In fact I think it’s fairly safe to say that we discussed more than we read. Because of you. And Kif.

This fortnight we started at p. 63 and got up to p. 78 for anyone who might happen to be following along at home. You certainly placed Kif in a creative and ethical pickle. Should he take the ghost-writing offer or should he plug away at his novel. Can he do both? Certainly, it seems like the novel is hard yakka what with his awful Council job. He needs money. We understand. Money is a problem for those who seek a creative life. We felt for Kif as he worried he would ‘somehow be tainted, not simply publicly, but in my heart, having abandoned some sacred trust for a Faustian deal involving money’. (p. 63). Gosh how giggled (one of us a little forlornly in sad recognition) at Kif’s publication history up to this point. His book on Tasmanian modernism, his short stories. His commitment to “literature”, his desire to stay a “real writer…who had not really written anything real” (p. 64).

As always, Richard you delight us with your wordsmithery “gobbets of work”. Gobbets! Perfect.

And poor Kif. You really have emphasised his family dilemma with the twins on the way, and Suzy, his long suffering partner. How Kif manages be so confused about her unconditional love for him that is not based on his success or failure as writer is all too poignant. He was so determined to stuff things up. Amazing really. So angry, so self-pitying, and so frightening. Kif is a writer in the middle of a personal and professional crisis.

And then he loses his job – his only reliable source of income – at the Council, where the garish Jen Birmingham finally gives him the sack.

And then, only then, when Kif is at his lowest, he gets the call. The offer from Gene Paley to write Heidl’s memoir. Before he knows it, the deal is on. He proves himself to be hopeless at bargaining for expenses and yet here he is now on a six week deadline.

So while we didn’t read very much in terms of pages, Kif’s artistic dilemma – of principles, achievement or lack thereof, of self-belief or lack thereof, of money or lack thereof certainly got us thinking….about our own principles, achievements, self-belief, financial situations, work-life balances, successes and failures, life, the universe and our places in it. It was a welcome and reflective parallel discussion to Kif’s story. We saw ourselves in Kif’s struggle to see himself as a writer who really hasn’t written anything much yet. Is it self-indulgent to live a life marked by creative interests and pursuits? Is it selfish? Is it necessary? Perhaps it is all of those things….more or less. What happens when creativity in any form goes missing in our lives. What happens to our equilibriums? Is this why we can feel out of whack? How much pursuit of creativity can one fit into a life while also paying the bills and buying the groceries? Is it possible to do both? How? Should we?

Perhaps there are not concrete answers to any of these questions. Perhaps a creative life is a continual questioning? And that’s okay?

Richard?

Are you there?

See you in two weeks.

Slow Reading Appreciation Collective.

Moderation

What she said.

Read that first before you continue reading this because really that’s what I want to say and I’ve been mulling over something like it for a while now.

Do you follow me on Twitter? Perhaps you’ve noticed I’m not tweeting much this year. Sure there’s been a few retweets every so often. A few faves just for kicks. But not much else. My twitter feed is chockas with opinion makers and advertising and I can’t see the good people from nearly a decade ago when we used to chitter chatter there for the cool gang all clamouring to write the wittiest political joke in 140+ characters. You know what Twitter…. I used to love you so much. But now you’re boring me. The only time you’re useful is when there’s an emergency or something breaks in the news. Then you come into your own. The rest of time is lots of scrolling for little reward. Except wasted time. Is that a reward. I guess not.

And now for good old Facey. Facebook. The Facebook.

Phew I’m getting tired of this. (and yes I do realise that if you’re reading this it’s because it automatically shared on FB. I’m not an IDIOT. I understand IRONY. sometimes. Sometimes I understand irony. Other times I go all a bit Alanis Morrisette. Perhaps this is one of these times?). Soon it’ll just be using FB to see what I did on this day last year, which will be seeing what I did on that day the year before, which will be the same as I remembered the year before that. And then I’ll disappear into my own belly button. As will all of us.

Insty. Insta. Instagram. Yes I still have time for you. Because photos. But the ads are totes annoying me. I started blocking every single one but they overpowered me and I gave up. I use you the most.

There’s an Ello account out there in the wildspace of the inter webs. Jeepers only knows what it’s for but occasionally I get some notifications via email.

What’s App. Newish user. Annoying ping. Facebook messenger. Why do I need this AND texts AND What’s App. Why?

And texts. And emails. Just four accounts thanks. Two that I check regularly plus work. Oops make that five. I forgot about my second little used gmail.

I guess what I’m saying here (not very clearly) is that there are lots of ways to communicate with me. And for me to communicate with others. Using words. Using emojis. Using acronyms. Using video. Using images. And in the last 6 months or so I feel like I’m less connected people than I’ve ever been before.

Because ….and I’m just putting it out there…we might have become a little bit lazy. A little bit complacent. Sure! Yes! We’re in touch! We’re friends on FB. I follow them in Instagram. I had a text the other day. Or was it last week?

What the hellfire happened to picking up the phone (antiquated styling) and actually speaking to someone? What happened to ….now sit yourself down….talking face to face? I email people at the next desk to mine.

That. Is. Absurd.

No really. Think about it. It’s surreal and ridiculous and has to stop. Because for all the communicating we’re doing we’re not actually nurturing our connections with each other. We’re not building or feeding them. What we’re actually doing (some of the time anyway) is feeding our own egos. Woooooo look at all the likes and comments. Look at the faves. Look at the little red hearts. They like me! They really really like me!

No. I don’t think that’s what it means at all. Not all the time anyhow. Sometimes it means they want to be seen to be liking you. To be associated with you and through that association they build their own social media presence. Which is just that…. a presence. It’s not actually the whole of them. It’s just a little bitty part of them. Now it’s okay to have this little bitty part. Sheesh there have plenty of joyous social media moments that have made me guffaw. But we could live without it.

We really could.

Now I hope I don’t sound pious or preachy. I do it too. Often. I’m just saying that perhaps…just maybe… we need to think about how we interact with and on social media a little more. If social media is boring the pants of you 80% of the time, or making you feel down, perhaps you need to change it up.

 

Don’t mistake social media presences for the glorious messy reality of each us. I am not my Facebook profile or my Instagram account. We might need to put down our devices occasionally and look at each other. And speak. With our actual voices. And be happy with that.

And every so often we have to be able to live with silence, without filling every waking minute with notifications and updates.

Everything in moderation.

 

Clinging to the earth like lunatics

Dear Richard

The Slow Reading Appreciation Collective (note: name is a work in progress and may change) met again last Monday evening to continue First Person. We’d had such fun (“such fun”!) the first time that unanimously and unequivocally decided we should keep going. Perhaps unanimously and unequivocally are the same thing? You would know. You’re quite the wordsmith. We are a Collective of two who had a fabulous time reading your prose out loud. Yes. OUT LOUD.

I wonder if when we do that, because the book is written in first person (and is also questioning the whole idea of writing in first person in terms of authorship, narratorial reliability, truth, beauty and a picture of you….whoops I fell into a song lyric there) that as we read it OUT LOUD – do we start to not only express the character but inhabit him as well. Do we become Kif in the act of not just reading, but speaking. OUT LOUD?

Ok I’ll stop with the all caps now because it’s annoying even to me. But I think this a legitimate and sort of interesting question and if anyone can shed any light on it thanks in advance. Well it’s interesting to me. Because it seems like your narrator (who may be and may not be you) is starting to wrestle with becoming the person he is “first personing” (verbed something there)…..and then if we’re also becoming Kif/you are we also going to be tainted with Heidl-ness?

We’ve now got up to p. 60. That’s a lovely even number. We’ve got further in our individual reading but you would be bloody well amazed at how much more comes out of the book when it’s read out loud in comparison to when we read it to ourselves separately. Bloody amazed Richard. Bloody. Amazed.

I’ll tell you something for nothing. It was fantastic to get some background and context on Ray. But before I get to that, we really felt your pain as you tried to get Kif to put something together on Heidl. Is this not the perfect way to explain all creative processes: “The goat story was great…But when I wrote it up…it didn’t work” (p. 34). How often has that happened to all of us? The performer, the artist, the writer, the dancer, the singer, the musician…..

And then you wrote this on the same topic of creating…..and I think the Collective may have collectively and silently gasped in recognition. “I have been missing since I was born……It read like something but what that something was wasn’t clear. It felt like a voice in the desert. Lacking anything else, I resolved to follow it. I felt it move something within me, or, more precisely, I heard the line and that line, that sentence, led me to start hearing other sentences, at first one or two, then more, and finally so many that head began to crowd with them” (pp. 37-38). The Collective returned to this and read it over, aloud, again, and looked in wonderment at your insight…and your capacity to express it so succinctly.

The Collective was also struck with some special verbs that you peppered throughout the story.

Gurned…..(p. 35). Super evocative verb Richard. We’d never encountered it before. Would you be pleased to know we actually looked up what it meant rather than just whooshing over it (as I normally do when I’m reading). “His face gurned like a junkyard dog’s straining at the end of its chain”. There’s some simile action right there. Watch and learn everyone.

Slimed ….(p. 43). “Chagall’s early genius slimed over time into a cheerful high kitsch”. What?! The perfect word that nobody would have ever used before or since, we’ll wager, to write about Chagall. Slimed.

Continue reading Clinging to the earth like lunatics

all about the book

Dear Richard

Here at Thought Terrain, we’ve started reading your latest book, First Person.

So far, so great and wonderful. However, before I start gushing about the actual book, I think I’ll just make a few things clear. We’re not a book club. We don’t drink wine, waste time talking about our days, our work gripes, our families, the hilarious exploits of our children, the latest bargains at Aldi (ok maybe we did have a brief chat about the latest catalogue but it didn’t go on for very long and it was essential). We don’t prepare a gourmet meal to show off to our fellow club members what domestic goddesses we are. We are real people who like reading, We wanted to talk to another person about the actual book. Yes. I know. As far as we can tell, most book clubs are less about the book and more about the socialising.

We are all about the book.

Anyhoo on with the show. We thought it might be an idea to keep you updated with our reading adventures, our thoughts, our ideas, our sometimes confusion, and our questions. It will also help keep us updated with how we are going. You know. With the book.

So far, so many pages. We got up to p. 31. Why, you might wonder did we not get any further? Happy to tell you Richard. We read the book out loud. That’s right. Every word up until then. How was it, you ask? Fan-Bloody-tastic. That’s right. We’ve decided it’s the only way to read this book. It’s the best way. It made us giggle and laugh at the funny parts, exclaim over the beautiful parts and ponder at length the poignant, sad, profound bits.

Ok. Here’s how it unfolded. We ate a quick dinner. Instant Aldi pasta with some broccoli, tomato and parmesan. Then a cuppa was made, accompanied by dark chocolate and some raspberries. Then, we started.

We liked the prologue quote thing that you popped in first. It set the scene noicely. Immediately, we cottoned on to the fact that this was a book about books, writing, novels and the attraction of crimes, misdemeanours and those that are involved in that kind of palaver. Indeed, we’re picking up on the notion that the publishing industry might be filled with crooks and cranks  – a sort “history of highwaymen” (Flanagan). Robbing the rich to make themselves richer perhaps? Perhaps I’m reading too much into that. Maybe once we get past p. 31 I’ll know more.

Then you got cracking for reals. You didn’t muck around. Straight to the point with your first person narrator (who we think swings between being a character and being YOU). “Of course”, you write, “he didn’t want a memoir written….But I only realised this later, much later, when I came to fear that the beginning of that book was also the end of me” (p. 1).  Dramatic much? We thought so. And that was just the end of the first paragraph.

We laughed as we read your description of “literature”. Too often have we ourselves been baffled by books that feature “the tropes of time dancing” (p. 1). Perhaps we haven’t described it so eloquently, but we were happy that you did. And oh, those sentences that are longer than two lines. Ha. We hear you loud and clear. Such concentration is needed to read and inwardly digest.

By the end of our first 31 pages we had a pretty good sense of publisher Gene Paley. Yep. That’s right. Already. And Siegfried Heidl. Characters both. We can’t wait to see how they unfold further.

We read on. We lingered on this for a while “It may be someone else’s blood soaking into the dust, he wrote, but I am that dust”. (p. 5). Memories, pasts, inventing the self, renewing, fiction, non-fiction, unreliability of the authorial voice. Something. We returned to this and read it out loud a few more times, letting it soak into our brains, making an impression that was lasting.

And then we revelled in your depiction of the publishing office and the industry and its gradual decline, reminding ourselves that you were writing about the early 1990s in Australia. The recession we had to have. “Granular analytics” (p. 6). We writhed inwardly, having each sat through one too many meetings, in various sectors, where such phrases were bandied about as if that had some actual meaning. You repeated phrases like “the trade” and “the numbers” and in doing so showed us how empty they are/were, yet how they are wielded as a way of holding on to power.

“Hokey teak veneer” (p. 7). That made me smile. We’ve all seen that. And Jez Dempster. Firstly, great name for a blockbuster airport novelist. Secondly, his “cinder block tomes blinged” with his name are all too real and a little bit scary. I mean really, who wants their name in giant gold lettering on the cover of a book? Jez Dempster that’s who.

It just got more delicious the more we read. The “shoddy bombast” of the publishing company with its “faux Edwardian Laminex desk”. (p. 8). We were seeing it in our minds’ eyes as we read it aloud.

Is there a reason you don’t indicate direct and indirect speech with punctuation Richard? We found it a little bit confusing at first. What was being said and what was being thought? Perhaps though we decided, this was part of the joy of what you were doing. Confusing while building the confusion of your characters? Maybe I’m making that up. Reading too much into it. Just like Kif might have to do to understand and write about Ziggy Heidl. Wait, is that Ziggy infecting us now –  with his obsession with the toxo?

“the torso of a daschund topped with the head of a cockatiel”. This delighted us and helped us see Gene Paley just that little bit more clearly. Thanks!

And then there was the line. My favourite line so far.

“The day smelled of damp stone”. (p. 16). Now, as far as I can remember, I’ve never knowingly sniffed damp stone, but immediately I knew what the day smelled like. You’re very good Richard. No wonder you won that Booker Prize.

We’re wondering who Ray is by now too. When are you going to give us a little bit more. We’re guessing he’s important because you casually drop into the conversation on p. 19 that he’s dead. At least we think that’s what you mean. We can’t wait to find out. But just a minute, we had to pick up our phones to Google the Melville quote from Moby Dick. “The unbodied air, wrote Melville” (p. 19). What is unbodied air? Is it empty of people? Just space? We haven’t got time to read all of Moby Dick. Thanks for assuming that we might have read it already. We’re flattered.

And that was the end of section 1. With glee we kept going, even though it was a school night and we probably should have stopped. But WE COULDN’T because in the telling of the story we found ourselves wanting more. Your bloody beautiful prose and your kicking characters had in 19 pages, got us hooked. It was beaut to read it and hear it come alive – out of thin air!

So we powered on and suddenly you’re bloody well quoting Othello and Heidl is Iago, the manipulator and we’re all over it now. Because we’ve just seen Othello on a recent trip to Melbourne and isn’t that a huge coincidence. Or serendipity. Or something. Clearly, your book was meant to be.

“I am not what I am, I said”. Indeed you are not Ziggy Heidl. And can the same be said for Kif, your narrator? We will see what happens to him.

Who is Papa Doc we wondered (p. 30). We’re aware of Pinochet and Walt Disney. This seemed profound “The achievement invents the life it needs in way of explanation”. (p. 31). Suddenly that seemed very true.

We meet again in a fortnight Richard so we’ll catch you then and let you know how we’re going.

Cheers

Wendy and Adrienne (not a book club).

Unicorn dream

It’s been a movie kind of fortnight culminating in seeing Bladerunner (original not 2049) at the Moncrieff with Thought Terrain partner in crime (AW).

We’d both seen in previously. One of us on its release in 1982 or so (that wasn’t me) and one of us at various points during our academic career (and I use the word “career” with some hesitation but whatever).

So of course I thought I remembered it and I had. And then I hadn’t. So for a film that is partly about memories this was ironic in a sort of Alanis Morrisette kind of way. Or maybe it was actually ironic. Who really understands irony? A topic for another blog post.

To poorly reference another scifi film from the same era “This was not the Bladerunner I had seen before”. Never mind though because it was superb! (And I use the word “superb” with no hesitation whatsoever).

Why superb I hear you wonder as you shake your head in confusion, perhaps remembering Bladerunner as a dark film with lots of rain and not much dialogue?

Well let me tell ya.

The vast world of Los Angeles in 2019 needs to be seen on the big screen. Don’t watch it on your telly or another smaller device. You need to see the monstrous ziggurat of the Tyrell corporation in all its glory. You need to see the giant coke advertisements and the Japanese woman hovering over the city. You need to see the noir-ish interiors of Tyrell’s open plan, Egyptian-decor office with his replicant owl and replicant Rachael. You need to feel claustrophobic in Deckard’s apartment as leans mournfully on the piano and looks at printed photographs wondering about the past, while tracking down the four escaped replicants. You need to see the Rutger Hauer’s penetrating eyes and blonde hair on a huge scale as he reaches out to save Deckard from tumbling from the top of the building and then says his heart-breaking final words about his all too short life while the rain drizzles down.

The expansiveness of Vangelis’ soundtrack would also seem stupidly constrained on a smaller scale. But here, on the film screen it was a thing of beauty (if we choose to ignore the slight misstep of the obligatory 80s saxophone denoting romance). I know. It’s synthesisers but it was perfect. It soared through the city-scape, whether it was adding to the tension and bustle of the street scenes, the violence of the replicant retirements executed by Deckard and Rachael, or the flying cars seeking the orangey light that peeped from behind the brooding signs of capitalism (afore-mentioned Tyrell corporation, high-rises, advertising, gigantic neon signage for our favourite 80s brands – Atari, TDK etc).

There is plenty more to enjoy about Bladerunner as we revisit it in 2017. It’s vision of the future is believable even though we sat in the movie theatre with our iPhones in our bags. The printed photographs, the antique video telephone call, the dystopian vision of Asian capitalism, the bio-engineering, the off-world colonies and of course the FLYING CARS. Where is my flying car? Perhaps we are getting our own version soon with self-driving cars. The rain. It rains all the time.

Here’s what else I enjoyed about the film.

I didn’t look at my phone once to check the time.

This is the ultimate test of a film for me. Last week when I watched four films as part of the Travelling Film Festival I was totally bored in 1 to the point of considering leaving (Czech dark comedy – don’t go there), mildly entertained in one (checked phone twice – “groundbreaking Muslim Australian romantic comedy – not that funny, not that romantic, “gently paced”), engaged mostly in one (checked phone maybe once – biopic of Maude Lewis) and enjoyed one (the documentary on US writer James Baldwin – telling much?). Watching Bladerunner, which alternated between glacial narrative pacing interspersed with moments of action and violence, I was glued to the screen. I didn’t care about the time. I wasn’t restless. It wasn’t a test of endurance. Because it was beautiful to look at as well as fascinating to think about. Humanity anyone? What other theme is there really? Once we start thinking about what it is to be human we’re into the big issues.

Of course there was that moment that I didn’t remember when Deckard dreamed about a unicorn gallivanting through a forest. What the heck? But in the end it didn’t matter. It was part of the world of the film. I had to take it with the rest of it or reject the whole thing. And I’m sure others do that. Hate it. Think it’s pretentious or boring. There was also the moment that I remembered where Deckard and Rachael escape into the countryside. This was not in the version that was shown last night but perhaps in the original cinematic release. Interesting fact: Wikipedia told me that some of that scenery was filmed by Stanley Kubrick for The Shining and not used. What? Save that up for a trivia night. You’re welcome. Thankfully, this was the version without the awkward voiceovers, which I also forgot and then remembered halfway through. I was glad they weren’t there.

Thank you Ridley Scott.