New word alert! It may delight or horrify David Astle, the word nerd featured in this wonderful interview on the joy of words: click click click

Is it a pre-xmas, not-enough-sleep , post-penguin-demount malaise? Who knows, but I’ve got it bad. I’d rather spend the month trying to grow a moustache for charity, but it seems that’s still a year or two in my future. No’vim’ber Antedote #1 was to trundle off to Brisbane last weekend to the opening of ‘Life is the heart of a rainbow’, the Yayoi Kusama survey exhibition at QAGAMA.

061 Dreams of the Girls Yayoi Kusama 2016

The exhibition publication states that now, at age 88, she paints every day in her Tokyo studio “completing a painting every few days for her epic series My Eternal Soul. Begun in 2009, this series now counts over 500 paintings…”

Let’s pause there—because I need a lie down at the thought—500 since 2009. 500.

I’d never seen her paintings up close, only the amazing polka dotted sculptures and mirrored installations. More than 20 paintings were hung in a stunning cheek-by-jowl salon hang that had us yelping with joy. The pic above, Dreams of the Girls, 2016, acrylic on canvas, hanging in a room of colour. Then the room next door all lines and solids in black and white, silkscreened on canvas.

Overnight at my friends house, I sleep beside another salon hang with a 2003 piece of mine and the latest series of works by friend’s daughter.

060 1993 Abstract and Edies drawings

Seeing that piece fed into what’s also been a tremendous wave of nostalgia washing around me all month. Missing my mum, seeing my 91 year old dad, chipper and fit that he is, thank Dog. Starting back to oil painting after an 8 month break, it’s impossible to avoid the circular—and definitely useless—thought-loop of what am I doing, will I ever do anything okay again. Such a waste of existential angst when I could be worrying about growing a moustache, and other associated ageing gifts. Aaaah, but how else would I start a new chunk of work but with this?

No’vim’ber Antedote #2 is to paint and paint and then paint some more. Then paint again. With a show ahead in mid April 2018 at Red Hill Gallery it feels like my usual process is too lengthy, too heavy, to meet the timeframes. How does Kusama make 6+ works per month?

062 Pumpkins and Mirrors YK.jpg

Sure, 7 decades of art practice has to help.  And a master’s grasp of pretty much everything. Ever. But there’s simplicity and repetition at play too.

This week the paper comes out, and I’ll go back to sketching in colour. Antidote #3. Drawing and painting little gouache pieces, especially outdoors, always makes me brim with vim. And as we lug boxes, and furniture, move chaos from one living location to another, I get to see the new landscapes near the new home in different ways. It always brings me back to what landscape is to me, why do I bother painting it. Knowing that, and feeling that pull is the ‘heart of a rainbow’.

In the radio podcast link up top, Astle talks about a UK study on the language of children. As examples he states that 30% of them could identify a magpie, and 90% could identify a Dalek. Okay, so I agree, that’s not a bad thing 😀 but because of ‘space’ in our modern life, the Junior Oxford Dictionary last year had to drop nectar, nettle and willow for words like meme, hashtag, chatroom and podcast. The dictionary just doesn’t have room for all the words and the squids need words added that are relevant to their life now.

Astle says that we are starting to lose words that connect with nature, and this sentence from him affected me greatly:

“The words that we shape in our mouths are the means of those notions affording purchase in our hearts, and if we stop using these words, or have less use for these words, then we start to drown in abstract space rather than natural space.”

Go, be in Kusamas abstract space, you can’t drown there, you can only be buoyed up.



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.


Wendy and Adrienne (not a book club).

When doves cry

“Where did that dove come from?”

That was one of my fellow thought-terrainer’s first questions as the lights came up in the Moncrieff cinema last night in Bundaberg, and the impacts of one of the final scenes in Bladerunner sat freshly planted in our non-replicant memory.

Not so much Purple Rain as acid rain washed over almost every scene of this cracker 1982 sci-fi classic, and as per WD’s blog today, yep, it was I who saw it in ’82—under the guise of study—in our Science Fiction in Literature and Film subject in first year at art college. Woot? I did not make that up! Who wouldn’t choose that subject? Quite honestly the best 6 months of the 3 years there.

Which is why I so keenly wanted to see this film last night, and 5 minutes in I was so, so thrilled to be sitting there. It was going to be a flashback, a trip down memory lane, a reliving of part of a misspent youth. Conceptually it was all of those things but in reality it’s like I’d been beamed up to one of the off-world colonies and had my memory completely erased, and I was almost seeing the film for the first time.

And hey, that still works, because every scene is so beautifully designed and shot in all it’s smoky, grey, rainy, grainy, strobe-lit darkness, that left WD and I so hilariously animated in the seats when the house lights shone bright, that a friend approaching us thought we were signing to each other!

And half way through it was so clear as to why it had blown me away as an 18 year old. (Irrelevant fact: Prince was 24). Then add to that some gorgeous operatic twists on the terrifying high fashion of that year that had us increasing our shoulder pad proportions with popcorn and cigarette butts before we’d even left the cinema. We were dagging around in torn and knotted op-shop clothes in a confused mash of Bowie’s Thin White Duke and Madonna the million dollar vagabond. But hey, we were still aspirational!

rachels shoulder pads
Rachel does shoulder pads, cue the replicant owl background, right.
darrel hannah
Daryl Hannah does dollies and dark eyes.
rachel in coat
Rachel does assymetrics

And like Wendy, I was so transfixed by the images and colours on screen, by the warm greys and blacks pushed up against beautiful blue backgrounds. Our largest screen at home is a 23″ monitor but mostly we watch on line on a 17″ laptop, and it had been tooooo long since I’d sat in the dark of the cinema with a big screen filling my vision.

Maybe it makes sense to keep watching at home on a small screen. It makes the wonder of the big screen so very fun!

I had to consult Wiki to confirm which version of the film I’d seen, as such the International Cut, as opposed to the Directors Cut (1992) we saw last night – which by all reports is substantially better and truer to Ridly Scott’s intentions.

Let’s just pretend I knew that, yar, yar, of course, but it makes me want to see that first released ’82 version again. To be honest, I’d watch any version again at this point.

One of two comic moments came via Harrison Ford’s shirt design which you never really saw well until he was back in his grim apartment disrobing to wash. Everything else had been grey, brown, black, dark, wet, and this Mondrian-meets-The Models shirt was way too jaunty to resist a chortle, and I heard WD chortle up the row too.

HF in shirt
HF as Deckard, 5 years after Star Wars. More olives and greys against blue, teamed with swarthy.

And the second comic moment was the terrifically cliched appearance of the dove of peace, and it’s corny, slow-mo, film-clip style exit shortly after. But it was outweighed by the scene design and delivery as we watched the final replicant die… or did we. Oh how I’d even forgotten the ‘Deckard is also replicant’ debate explained here for Bladerunner nerds.

Oooooh what will they tell us in Bladerunner 2049, coming to the Moncrieff, not soon enough!

No spoilers please 😀

And it has literally taken me 24 hours to remember the other movie we studied which cemented a love of classic sci-fi: Metropolis by Fritz Lang in 1927. Did I study the script? It seems a Giorgio Moroder restoration came out in 1984. Maybe I am a replicant, making up new memories, but it could be time to pester our local cinema for a Sci Fi classics series?

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.


Stars, madeleines and movies

It all started with the carpet. But we know when we write something where we start is rarely where we also finish. I really really wanted to write about that kitschy, RSL-pokies room, starry carpet that covers the floor at the Moncrieff. And the dangly, glittering lights that gradually dim as the movies start. Although they’ve been renewed, this carpet and these lights are a powerful reminder childhood film-going experience.

I thought about the carpet for a while.

Stars. Lights. Dimming. Celebrities.

And the carpet faded. And the lights went out. Not literally obviously. In my writing mind.

Hey! Remember when we lined up past the bakery next to the theatre to see Robin Williams in Popeye? What about Herbie Goes Bananas in the Christmas holidays? We drove in especially from Mon Repos where we camping in our tents.

We all flocked to see Sigrid Thornton in The Man From Snowy River. The thundering hooves. You could have just remade that Baz Luhrmann. I’m pretty sure I was wearing an amazing pale pink tracksuit with thin stripes on the top in gold thread. Oh yeah. I knew fashion in primary school.

Remember the school excursion to see We of the Never Never? Actually I remember very little about this except walking from West State School. Or did we catch the bus? There were dusty hordes of cattle I think. Remember, going to see The Secret of My Success because we loved Michael J. Fox. The double feature that was the astonishing combination of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with Cocktail? Way down in Kokomo.

So there I was a long way from starry carpet. Thinking about movies. Thinking about my movie-watching history. Thinking about the movie history that had passed on the screen at the Moncrieff. Thinking about how it used to be roofless. That’s right people used to go to the movies underneath the stars. Watching stars. Star Wars. Luke I am your Father. Thinking about the first experimental magic films. When George Melies took a fantastical journey to the moon while the Lumiere’s startled everyone with the train arriving at the station. Fantasy and reality.

Fantasy continued when the roof closed in. Apparently there was a working fountain at the front of the stage that would bubble away before the film started. Imagine that! Bring it back. Epic sagas. Westerns. Newsreels. Romances. Comedies. Dramas. Melodramas. Musicals. They all had their place. They were all full of stars. They stay with us. In our shared memory. In our imagination. They can draw us together with a single line. A word. The humming of a theme. Proustian madeleines.  They bring the past immediately into the present and we remember. Where we were. Who we were with. What we were wearing (see above re pink tracksuit).

So the stars got a teensy look in after all in my text for the CRUSH festival Text as Art project but not after a lot of thinking, deleting, rewriting and remembering. Celebrate the shared experience that is going to the movies. Remember the past. Look forward to the future. Be in the present.

Text as Art 

Shadowy…black and white.. and silent… for a time.

 Unreal. Moving pictures. A fad surely.

 It won’t last.

 The lion roars. In Technicolour.

 Jaffas. Hurtling.

 News of wars fought far away in the age of Empire.

 Cowboys smoking in Monument Valley.

 The Red Sea parts. Eyes widen.

 A chariot races. On the edge of our seats.

 Quite frankly…..

 The hills. Covered in edelweiss. Alive.

 Help her Obi Wan Kenobi. You are her only hope.

 A boy and his alien cycle high into the night sky. Our hearts leap. Glowing.

 That’s not a knife. THIS is a knife.

 A bus….silver, shimmering, shimmying…singing…..

 Stars on screen….as real as CGI makes them.

 My preciousssssss…. and a thundering army of Orcs.

 Men of iron.

 The age of marvel.

 Such spectacle harks back to when Melies journeyed to the moon…

 It was magical then….

 and now….

 Darkness descends. Listen. A murmur of anticipation.



(The artist will be Michelle Pacey. Can’t wait to see what she does at the Moncrieff. Read more about Text as Art here. )

Epic fail. Wild success. And then this happened…

055 CH Whole Vault BRG DG LR

Meme-speak meets click-bait: cue picture of naked birds.

The Epic Fail: I failed at blogging this year. It’s been six months since I last blogged, and another 3 months to the previous. And I’ve quite missed doing it. The pause is a perfectly illustrated example of one of my blogging themes (oh do tell. snore). That is, talking about making art, and how to do that around the stuff of life. Stuff such as making a living (mostly separate to making art), keeping the tumbleweeds of dog hair from forming armies with the spider webs and completely consuming humans and house. Staying well. Keeping a sense of humour.

056 CH Klee quote Vault BRG DG LR

So nine months ago I went into the usual pre-exhibition hibernation cave. Friends and family a little neglected, spiders so very happy. But I turned up to ‘work work’ in a state mostly fit for the public, carried out duties, and turned down the dial on over-commitment. And I was so grateful for the ‘work work’ as this was the first exhibition I’d proposed where nothing was for sale. And it had been six exhibitions since I had simultaneously ‘work worked’ alongside preparing for a show.

So, yes, less important things lay broken, pushed to the side, occasional carrots limped their way around their own juices in the bottom of the fridge, and every single day for 9 months I was at least 3 weeks behind on my self-written, pretty generous, exhibition schedule. There was a tension around that, but I don’t think it was stressful. And every month I’d reassess, and change the exhibition content wish-list to suit the dwindling time. Let stuff go.

And I made it. To install. Without a meltdown and yelling at the studio walls. And it looks different to what I imagined, more realism crept in, but instead of yelling at that too, I just let it.

059 CH Megaherbs Vault BRAG DG LR

Now it’s time to ‘fess up – I did have a secret weapon. His name was Andy Wilson, an old friend, a musician, sound designer and composer.

I knew that the soundscape Andy was making was going to be superb. Heck, I possibly could have stuck an inkjet photo of a penguin on the wall and it would still be amazing. I visited him in Sydney months earlier, and we sat and talked about what it could be, what I had experienced on the beaches of Macquarie Island.

He played one long note on a keyboard in his studio, and it’s all I needed to hear. And it’s all I did hear, until close to installation. And I loved that process. He’s an artist, let him do his thang. And we’d never worked together before. But I just knew it would be superb and sublime.

057 Me and Andy at Install 2007

Andy flew up for installation—of player, amplifier, 6 speakers—and ‘boom’ I flew instantly back to those beaches in the middle of the Southern Ocean with his mix of penguin sounds and haunting tones, watery trickles and stormy surges. It IS a wild success when the only tears I leak on exhibition prep are when you’re overwhelmed with something so beautiful… made by someone else (though Nearest may well have been weeping each time he reached into the vegetable crisper across this year).

It is surround-sound in a tiny space, and without it the show is just drawings on a wall. With it, it is transporting. The kicker is, it’s not just me riding the teleporter. ‘Work work’ is also the gallery where the show hangs, and almost daily I get to see people hanging out in the space, laying on the bean bags with tail flippers, sitting on the gallery bench, spending time. It’s a really accessible show, it’s easy.

What I know now, that I didn’t now before, is that even small woodcuts take many hours to carve but it is one of the few things I can do at night under lights. I know that I can no longer get recycled bean bag fill, and that filling a bean bag on your own is a slapstick affair worthy of an animated feature film.

I know that working on the 2.7m long pieces of arches paper was the most art fun I’d had in a long time. I would dance around the big flat sheets for a few hours—tidying studio, sketching elsewhere—and then put down a double act of carefully placed water and wildly dropped ink. Then wait for it to dry – sometimes hours or overnight if there were large pools.

And I know that not being the solo act in an exhibition is a really valuable experience. You can be immeasurably raised up by the work of others.

I’m excited by it.

AW17_CH_BRG Megaherbalicious E

Megaherbalicious Woodblock print and ink wash on Arches paper book, 38cm x 110cm 

(All exhibition photos by David Graham. Thanks Dave 😀 )

Take breaths

It’s time to take stock.

Making : a mess in the house by discarding the day’s jewellery and shoes wherever I happen to stop first when I walk in the door. Picture kitchen counter tops strewn with earrings and shoes piling up at the foot of lounge chairs.
Cooking : so much evening chai. SO MUCH. It’s flavoured with honey and decaffeinated and delicious.
Drinking : see above re Cooking. Also tea. Mostly black tea. Sometimes with a splash of milk. Yorkshire tea at work. Twinning tea at home. And the most delicious tea on Friday morning at Water St Kitchen.
Reading: my phone. This has become a problem. Again. I haven’t read a book before going to sleep for at least 6 weeks. I just read articles on my phone. Yes I know about the dreadful light, sleep pattern disruption etc. I’m also taking great joy in reading the Aldi catalogue. For the weird bargains.
Trawling: ebay for bargain label clothes. Maiochhi, boom shankar, akira, etc. Yet to find anything too awesome for summer.
Wanting: the sun to start rising just a little bit earlier in the mornings. Just a little bit. So I actually feel the need to get out of bed.
Looking: at the sunburn on my left leg. I have not been sunburned for years. I think it takes a certain amount of real stupidity to manage to get burned on just one leg.
Deciding: Whether I should seriously start practising for my Violin LMus exam or whether this is unrealistic. Really weighing this up. Thoughts very welcome on this one.
Wishing: I’d taken more breaths in the last month. Chilled more. Worried less. Stopped. Reflected. Enjoyed more moments.
Enjoying: hearing the birds outside in the later afternoon.
Waiting: for my Baccurelli Princess Leia brooch to arrive. It’s only been for-flipping ever.
Liking: Silence.
Wondering: Why I am so untidy.
Loving: My new hair. I spent two years growing out the layers only to get it layered almost immediately. Haha. Good on me.
Pondering: How to be braver. How to take more risks.
Listening: to podcasts podcasts always podcasts. And a little bit of ABC Classic FM lately.
Considering: Whether I should get into gardening again in my front yard. Or is the rental property aesthetic working for me?
Buying: A new linen shift dress to replace the one I have worn to actual pieces over the last 6 months. Brooches. Always #broochesforlyfe
Watching: Ken Burns’ The Civil War documentary on Netflix. Perhaps the best TV doco I have seen. I cannot hear The Ashokan Farewell too many times. Here it is for you. 
Hoping: One day I can play the Barber violin concerto. Just for myself because beautiful. Just the first movement. Here it is for you. Close your eyes and let the sound wash into your earholes. I’ve loved this piece for over 20 years. And with that sentence I feel very old.
Marvelling: Nope. I did not Marvel. In two trips to Brisbane the queues at GOMA were too long for the window of time I had. Much Disappoint.
Cringing: at the USA. At Trump. At Australian politics.
Needing: to keep my exercise mojo going.
Questioning: how people can deny climate change science.
Smelling: the roses every morning at school. Literal roses.
Wearing: My Each to Own rabbit brooch. The first one I ever bought. It has flowers on it.
Noticing: How much more I’m needing to switch to reading glasses lately.
Knowing: I’ll never watch Game of Thrones.
Trouble-shooting: my iron levels. Note to self: remember to take tablet every day.
Thinking: about how much I loved the music in the 1990s.
Admiring: My amazing friends.
Getting: a little bit hungry.
Bookmarking: endless articles about teacher librarianship.
Opening: books to read- The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Teenage Brain, The Underground Railroad
Closing: books unread – The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Teenage Brain, The Underground Railroad.
Feeling: a little bit blergh about myself to be quite honest with youse. Sometimes sad.
Dreaming: of travelling
Hearing: my friend Kate talk to me on the phone as I type this.
Celebrating: the end of winter. My students’ piano exam results.
Pretending: to be impressed with Ed Sheeran.
Embracing: new challenges. Seeking them out if I can.

Good enough is not good enough


Let me share with you the 24 hours that were the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s A Day with the Orchestra. I went with Kate (of Kate and Wendy fame) to Brisbane on Friday. We left early. Much earlier than I like to get out of bed anyway which if you know me probably is a normal time for you.

We went to Villanova where Kate became Miss Kate and conducted St Patrick’s Senior Strings to a Gold. I helped tune a lot of small violins that have a tendency to go outrageously out of tune really quickly after being tuned within an inch of their lives. Miss Kate was very patient. I played the piano accompaniments for the group while they performed.

Then we skedaddled out of there. It was after 3 and we had to make a flying, unplanned visit to the string shop (new set of strings for me and a beautiful new lightweight case for Miss Kate who now turned back into Kate). And then it was off to South Brisbane to book into our motel with my Mum.

We had to be at the ABC Studio at Southbank by 6 for a 6:30 rehearsal start. Were we excited? Yes we were. Were we a little bit nervous? I think we both were. Well I was. Had we practised our parts enough. We blinking hoped so. As Kate so articulately put it as we walked through the bougainvillea arbour with our instruments “Shit’s about to get real”.

What is A Day in the Orchestra? It’s one of QSO’s community programs. Normal peeps like us (that is non-professional players) apply to take part in rehearsals and a public performance alongside QSO musicians. We’d spent a month learning a program of music and there was 24 hours to get it all together.

First rehearsal Friday night was everyone together. Read through. With Richard Davis stepping into the breach as conductor as Alondra de la Parra was unable to be there at the last minute. We met our desk partners from QSO. Good. Nice. Helpful. Hopefully understanding of the fact that it had been years since I’d had the opportunity to play in a group of this size. Time flew! We’d survived and we’d survived intact.

Weary though, we stopped off for chai and churros before heading upstairs to bed. Where both of us proceeded to toss and turn all night as fragments of the scores danced relentlessly through our heads.

No time for naps though. Saturday morning we headed in to the Studio for 9:30 sectional rehearsals. This was great. Details. Articulation. Accents. Geography of the bow. Fingering options. All discussed. I liked our discussion of the various “gathering points” for my section. That is, if all else fails, get to THIS BAR and get back together. The difference between orchestral and solo/small group playing was discussed. Survival is key. Do everything (and anything) you can to survive. This is a philosophy of playing I can get on board with 🙂

Then a break and back together from 2pm on Saturday for another full orchestra rehearsal. This time we went for details. And key sections. And details. What’s more, it was fun! Really playing. Feeling confident.

And then a quick dinner of rice paper rolls before a final rehearsal at 6 and then a concert in the Studio at 7.

Well that’s all very interesting Wendy but what did you learn? What were you reminded of?

Here’s a list in no particular order:

  1. Keep your expectations high. Of others. Of myself.

2.  Always always try harder than you think you can. You will surprise yourself.

3. Never get complacent. That way leads to boredom and frustration.

4. Enjoy the process as well as the performance.

5. There are many ways to solve a musical problem. Find the one that’s right for you. It might not be the same as the person next to you.

6. Turn up to every rehearsal prepared. Practise at home. There is no time for note learning in a rehearsal. In fact that is not a rehearsal.

7. Love the music. It’s all about the music.

8. Remember a pencil. You will always need it.

9.  Good enough is not good enough. Strive each time.

10. Help whoever you can. Smile. Be encouraged and be encouraging.

11. Be grateful for the family and friends who support you. They are indeed rare gems of people.

Here is one of the great pieces that we played…..from the Youtubes. It’s a new favourite.

Augusts with Wendy

A few years ago, Tuesdays became my least favourite day of the week. It was all accidental obviously, but there was a year when Tuesdays always seemed to go pear-shaped. Bad news would arrive. I’d have a headache. Little irritations that just took the glow off Tuesday. I became a little obsessed with the stupidness of Tuesday. And then it went away.

These days it’s a month. August. Over the last few years August has not covered itself in glory. In fact, it’s been a bore, a pain in the rear, a month of boring Sundays that never seem to end while we wait for the first sniff of Spring. It’s been like that again this year, except, this year, 2017, I’m fighting back.

On the weekend I did a violin exam. This was a self-imposed challenge I set myself about 7 weeks ago, which isn’t actually very long to get organised for a music exam. But I was becoming unhappy with my violin-ing. (That’s not a technical term for playing the violin but it is my term). I’d put in lots of hours in 2014 and 2015 relearning and learning technical skills, bringing my playing to a standard where I was able to pass my Associate diploma exam. That was also a self-imposed challenge. It was a now or never, early mid-life crisis kind of moment. Either pick the violin back up again – fix myself up – and do it properly – or resign myself to never ever playing something like “well”. It was immensely rewarding. Then I preceded to get myself a lovely new instrument and faffle around without much consistent practice at all, thereby losing some of the work I’d done in the previous two years. Silly billy much?

So it was time. Stretch myself again. Set myself a goal. Am I goal oriented? Indeedy I am. Without something to work towards nothing happens. As soon as I put the entry in June, things started happening. In my impulsiveness to do something for myself I forgot it would be happening in August. The horrible month. The month I just try to survive. I struggled with a lack of motivation, but the deadline sitting out there on 12 August eventually got me moving. And then I managed to get myself involved in the CRUSH Festival’s Text as Art exhibition. As a writer. I applied for this. October is when it happens so I hadn’t considered the fact that I would need to write something in August. That’s now. Another deadline is looming. Damn you August, making me think about stuff. And then, I managed to successfully apply for QSO’s A Day in the Orchestra which is coming up this weekend. That’s right. A weekend in August. Suddenly I had HEAPS of music to practice and not much time to do it in. And I had something to write too.

These things are all challenges I zeroed in on and set for myself. I’m thinking now that these things – the exam, the QSO, the Text as Art – might all have been ways that I am making myself cope with August. Yeah that’s right. The old subconscious has been at work. August might be my least favourite month in the year after February. August can still be cool. The sun isn’t up early and I have trouble motivating myself in the morning to GET OUT OF BED. However, I am forcing my self to do stuff. To not give in to August’s Augustiness. Its lethargy. I will beat you August. You will not get me down. Yes I might be lying in bed until the last possible moment every morning, necessitating that I eat breakfast at work, but I will be busy, active and doing new things whether I like it or not.

Without realising it I had filled August to the brim with experiences that are asking me to move out of my comfort zone. What does my comfort zone look like? Basically it’s a brown sofa with lots of throw pillows and an Apple TV remote close at hand. Just right for the usual, dull August. I’ve spent a lot of the last few months sitting there watching reruns of Will and Grace. Clearly, I’m telling myself this needs to stop. September is just around the corner and I need to be prepared. So this year I’m thankful for August. Perhaps I’ve broken its nasty spell at last…….