Friday, 24 April 2015

Time Out Track - get the mind right, the body will follow

It's Friday already? My week's centred around nursing a 14-year-old dog who's suddenly slowed right down physically and showing serious signs of dementia. My nights have been upset by her waking up, waking me up to go outside, resisting going back to bed, getting up and getting me up. She walks around the house aimlessly, often sitting and shaking facing a corner. We've still managed a morning shuffle but these days she looks more like a wombat than a Terrier, and I'm not sure that she's getting any joy from being out at all. Last night she started barking and crying at 2.30am and this morning she's exhausted. Me too a bit.

On Tuesday I had a distress call from my sister-in-law - her youngest (of four) had broken his arm (again) and my brother's away trekking Kokoda and could I pick the other children up after school and if need be stay the night? Of course. I took Pip the old girl who shook outside the primary school, shook when we got back to the house, with Bonnie the 12-week-old Hungarian Vizsla, and for the first time in all of this wouldn't eat her food.

It's not been a great week for the family, but because life can be kind there has been some hilarious relief.

Last week a new mind and body studio opened near my house and I took advantage of the 7-day all-classes-for-free pass. I've done lots of different types of yoga before and tend to prefer the slower forms so I loved the yin yoga at 5pm on an autumnal Sunday. I know it's not usually a time for giggling but I couldn't stop when we did the sleeping swan. I was in agony after the Class Pilates the day before and was definitely more dying swan than sleeping.
One of the lessons I learned when training for a marathon was to smile at pain - if you can still smile, and even better laugh, you know you're doing okay.

So the pilates class on Saturday was my first and for some reason I was expecting a big blue exercise ball and lots of stretching. But no. It was on a machine called a Reformer, with a foot bar and springs to adjust tension, and straps for your feet and hands. I trip over walking down the street and throw some pretty interesting shapes on the dance floor so didn't take too naturally to this, but it was a session where laughing wasn't out of place. At least I wasn't the only one laughing at myself.

It's strange the tangents your mind follows during exercise, and part way through the class I remembered that music video of choreographed treadmill moves, and got the giggles again. I couldn't walk after the class, but I'd had a good laugh and it carried on when I got home and watched 'Here It Goes Again' a few times.

I've only had one coffee this morning so can't try and explain the thread that led me to find 'Slow Dancer' a couple of days later, but his 'Took The Floor Out' is a more recent but equally classic video, including yoga on a pier and in a DVD shop, and as I'm enjoying both of these while procrastinating on a Friday morning, I thought they'd be good to share.

Pip's just hopped up and done a downward-facing-dog. She's looking at me like she wants her breakfast. Maybe we'll make it down the street for a coffee and the fresh air will straighten us both out and as we pass the studio where yoga flow is finishing and clear meditation is starting, maybe we'll both get our minds right, and our bodies will follow.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Sitting In - shorts@fortyfive downstairs

Monday night. Flinders Lane, bluestone walls and large leadlight windows. Basements and juliette  balconies. It might be Autumn and getting cool at night but it's still spritely in the city. Not knowing our $20 ticket included a glass of wine, and enjoying being in town on a school night, we sat outside by the parked cars and had a carafe of Beaujoulais from Cumulus, and watched as people arrived for the second shorts@45downstairs.
Program theme: Conflict & Identity
Paddy O'Reilly, Gregory Day, Elliot Perlman and Maxine Beneba Clarke
I've read some Paddy O'Reilly stories (and don't mind admitting I was pretty keen for her to like my submission to the Overland Story Wine Prize last year) and though I hadn't seen her live before I couldn't miss her arriving. I'm not sure if it was her blonde hair or the gorgeous ankle boots, but I interrupted my partner to say there's Paddy O'Reilly because I am embarrassingly like a writer groupie.
Which reminds me, if anyone knows Tony Birch please let him know that I apologise for staring at him a couple of times in Readings last Thursday. He really should be able to shop without a stranger listening to him asking one of the staff to show him where to find a book.

Eliot Perlman has been a writer hero since 'Three Dollars' came out (1998), and though I didn't see him arrive I spotted him in his seat inside straight away.

Maxine Beneba Clarke I've had the pleasure of seeing a few times, and as guest editor for Overland Audio II she accepted a poem of mine. I'd also volunteered at her 'Coping Techniques' Writers Victoria  workshop on Sunday, so I clocked her (and her deep green feather earrings) when she turned up.

Our fourth reader, I'm ashamed to say, I hadn't read and wouldn't have recognised. In fact when we went inside he was sitting right behind me but it was only when he was introduced and approached the stage that I realised that. I may not have known much about him before Monday night but I'll not be forgetting him now.

Day read from 'The Madeness' (new material, yet to be published) which is a layered collection of stories set in contemporary South West Victoria. The notes I made during his reading make little sense - I was clearly impressed with how he grounded us in the setting as I've jotted a couple of lines that include bark, melaleucas, ti-tree, wind and moonah bushes. For some reason garfish appeared amongst this, perhaps because I loved the specificity of the male protagonist announcing that he's going garfish fishing.

The narrative wove through an afternoon where a father takes his daughter fishing and the wife/mother is home trying to write about Gunter Grass' second volume of his memoir. She'd found his writing 'too damn neat' and almost enjoyed the first volume of his memoir for finally showing the truth of him as a man, and not a very nice one. She stops frequently, focuses on key words and thinks about her association with them. I remember deciding in Year 10 that 'indelible' was my favourite word. I can't remember what I was reading when it appeared in my mind, but it's stayed with me ever since. Day's character arrives at 'insouciance' and ponders it. She remembers falling in love with it as a teenager and first associating it with Muriel Spark. It's such a simple trait yet reveals so much about character and Day's skill with subtlety like this kept impressing me.

A tension builds throughout the story as it gets late, and dark, and there's no sign of her husband and daughter, and we learn slowly of the daughter's intellectual disability and quickly feel the vulnerability. During a battle through the bushes to get to the fishing spot Day gives us the horrible sequence of thoughts that charge with fear - blame and anger, picturing worst-case scenarios and remembering different family members' responses to her daughter at birth. She's our eyes and insight and the downstairs room was filled with people barely breathing for the last few minutes of this story. You know it's powerful when everyone is still after the last word, needing an interval to breathe before their applause.

Continuing my groupie shamelessness, as Day returned to his seat I turned to say something, and not knowing quite what to say I said thank you, congratulations, that was so powerful. A gentleman, though he probably needed some breathing space himself didn't show it, he nodded and smiled at me and I turned back to the front.

As Mary Lou Jelbart (Director and Founder of fortyfive downstairs) told us we'd be taking a short break the word 'artless' appeared in my mind. My appreciation is 'artless'. I feel inept at handling my response to writing I admire, but hope that at the very least 'sincerity' is a word that is associated with me.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

What I Loved: The China Factory (Mary Costello)

Last Monday morning I suddenly had an opportunity to get away for a few solo days to write, read and walk along the beach. Leaving home felt, not momentous, but worthy of a small tribute and I chose 'Spring and Fall' by Paul Kelly to listen to. It's an album that tells a story, compiled like chapters that stand alone but played right through chart a cycle of falling in and out of love. I heard him play it live in London in 2013, sitting in a hall full of Australians listening to one of my favourite musical storytellers sing a new album in the first half of the show, and then so many of my life anthems to sing along to in the second.

He seemed like an ideal choice for the drive to the Mornington Peninsula where I planned to read Mary Costello's debut collection, 'The China Factory'. I think it was Paul McVeigh who recommended this to me, but there are plenty of enthusiastic reviews out there so I can't be sure where I heard about it. The cover lists comparisons to Thomas Hardy, John McGahern, William Trevor and Alice Munro - serious claims, that proved utterly warranted.

"This is a writer unafraid of the graveside, or the bedside, of filling the space of the story to the brim." (Anne Enright, Guardian)

I'm not someone who can recite passages from texts or remember character's names. Even favourite books I struggle to recall any details one or two books later, which is both a blessing and a problem. I'm certainly not someone for your trivia team. Fortunately when I look at the cover of a book I've read I can recall clearly how I felt about the book and have the luxury of re-reading books that I know upfront I'm going to enjoy.

I've resigned myself to this failing and so was surprised this morning when I looked at the table of contents in 'The China Factory' - I knew the stories. I knew details and emotions and remembered so many powerful endings. She reminded me of Anne Sexton, many of whose two or four line endings have been a benchmark for me for a long time. In Costello's title story the ending wasn't a twist or a shock or any sort of ploy that showed the writer's hand. But the phrasing, the idea and the expression of how the protagonist felt, was haunting. I was almost reluctant to read straight on but couldn't not.

And now, looking at the contents list I remember how I ached at the end of 'You Fill Up My Senses'. I remember sitting on a bar stool in the last shape of sunset, the loud conversation of almost-drunk tradesmen and their girlfriends barely registering as I read 'The Astral Plane', savouring the words and my one beer and looking out across the bay thinking about what I'd just read.
"She closed her eyes. She knew she could not be without him. She remembered his shoulder touching hers, his imploring eyes, and she felt herself again in his gaze - poised, silent, immaterial - and she knew she would die a thousand times at this memory, at this confluence of hearts. She leaned towards the screen and through it was not an endurance at all, this presence, this plane, and as the night came down and the rain fell on the city it came to her that what this was - this man, this moment - what this was, most of all, was the resurrection of hope."
I mean really, how fortunate I was to have a view of a day dying over water, a house with a reading chair by a window and a bottle of Coopers to go back to after that.

This is a collection that reinforces the power of short stories. At the end I felt as moved as if I'd read 12 novels - such a testament to how much can be conveyed in 20 pages at a time. In the right hands.

Just as the Paul Kelly album places me in Sloane Square, almost at the point where I'd make the big life-decision to return to Melbourne, the cover of 'The China Factory' will now set me in a couple of quiet days in Sorrento where I found a writer to add to my author-love list, and was even inspired to continue on my own writing quest.

What I Loved - work I have read and must share