Tag Archives: life

And so my friends, I finished it.

It’s Good Friday. Or as I so hilariously quipped on the twitters this morning when the water was turned off in the street while I was in the shower – Just Ok Friday. Adding to the just okayness was the blossoming of the UK Man Flu which my father thoughtfully brought back from his holiday and shared firstly with my mother, then my sister and lastly, me. It was turning out to be a day of headaches, boredom, thirstiness and remembering not to flush the toilet.

For those who have put up with my continued worrying about my inability to read fiction and enjoy it (slow reading appreciation collective aside) we may worry no longer. Also, thank you for your patience. For now I feel I may say that it wasn’t me! I wasn’t the problem! It was the books!! They were rubbish. Boring. Dull. Not interesting. All of the above. A better book was I all needed.

I thought I had found it a couple of weeks ago when on the recommendation of a friend I whipped through Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett in under a week. Unheard of pace for me especially given I was reading it at night which is usually “read to fall asleep” time. But there was still a niggling concern. Sure, I’d managed to read an entire book without giving up on it. I’d felt compelled to finish it. All positive reading signs. But it was a memoir. Did that count? I love memoirs, biographies, autobiographies. They’re my go to for recreational reading. I still hadn’t read a novel by myself since last year. (All the Light We Cannot See – recommend). A new novel. And read it without falling asleep before finishing the first chapter never to return to it again.

Then came this:


It’s been sitting on my coffee table for some months after an impulsive purchase in town. And there it remained while I bought a version on my Kindle late last night. (Yes, I know. Stupid. You don’t like reading on a screen. Wendy, you already had a perfectly good copy in the next room. I know all those things. Shush.)

And I knew that this was the one. From the first pages. (Ok, just pipe down “real book” pedants. I know the Kindle doesn’t technically have pages but come along with me). I had to force myself to put it down and go to sleep. And today, being double Sunday/ Just OK Friday meant I had time to read. I tentatively started back into it this morning wondering whether I had been mistaken last night. Whether suddenly it would all go wrong and I’d (as usual) put it down and never pick it up again. Whether it would be one of the many novels on my Kindle that I have started and left glowing in the night, never to return to them. (Jasper Jones, the one about the lighthouse that is also the Worst Movie in the World, the Marion Keyes, the list goes on and on and on).

Fear not! This book had me On Board. From the Start to the Finish. It was haunting (literally and metaphorically) and I Could Not put it Down. And so my friends, I finished it and wondered whether I would ever read another novel again that swept me up so completely with such exhilaration.

(Meanwhile, Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut languishes on the same coffee table….started about 10 days ago….and not particularly inclined to pick it up again. If I wanted to read about toxic masculinity….wait….no….I don’t).



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.



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?


Are you there?

See you in two weeks.

Slow Reading Appreciation Collective.


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

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.


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…….

a timeless, shining song became home

Reading this post earlier in the week* transported me back to the time when I returned home after a term at university. Long ago. Before the time of constant contact enabled by technology like the my smartphone, which is never more than a few feet away from me, and social media which is my continual companion.

Then, leaving home meant lining up at the pay phone with spare change to call home once or twice a week. Outside in the cold of Toowoomba, standing in a queue with the other first years, wondering what the heck we had got ourselves into. Thinking on it now, it’s a miracle I survived. I was neither particularly independent, intrepid or ready for the world.

Naive would be perhaps be a kind description. Homesick could have been another.

But adjust I did and quickly. That first year away, studying music was one of discovery – of Brahms’ symphonies, new violin concertos, piano repertoire, REM, Nirvana, Triple J with Helen and Mikey (when it was good), hyper colour t-shirts (never owned one), Levis, making new friends and starting on the journey to being an adult.

It was a puzzling jolt to come home and catch up with school friends who I used to spend every day with and realise that we no longer had anything in common.

Scene: the Bundaberg Pizza Hut Restaurant in 1991, with my peers. (Yes it existed and yes it did have the “salad bar” with the bacon bits).

“What was the best thing about uni and living on campus?”

“It’s great how I don’t have to eat pumpkin if I don’t want to”.

I’ll just clarify this was not my answer but it was significant.

Our paths had diverged.

Pumpkin Schumpkin. I could care less. I wanted to know about other stuff.

What about the learning? What do you think about the world? What makes you laugh, cry,  get angry or have some other kind of emotional response to the universe now? What films have you seen, books read, new music found and heard, TV discovered? These were the conversations I’d been having at uni. My school friends were also at uni. Why were we talking about pumpkin?

I remember nothing else about the great 1991 Pizza Hut get together. Not even the pizza. It didn’t happen again. Perhaps she eats pumpkin now, perhaps she doesn’t. And the Pizza Hut Restaurant is now Officeworks.

At the end of 1991 I was home for the holidays. I was uptown Christmas shopping and for the first time ever I heard Here Comes the Sun playing over the muzak. It shimmered.

So we continue to return home. We’re not who we were. Home still welcomes us. And points of resonance emerge in unlikely places.

That Christmas in 1991 I received the Abbey Road CD.

I hadn’t asked for it.

The timeless, shining song became home.



*thanks Theo.