And by "you", I mean "me". Where the hell has me been? It's been a long time twixt posts.
Well, thanks for your concern.
As it happens, while most of you probably believe that I was born fully-formed around a month ago when this blog started, and think of me as a small and womanly but flat and two-dimensional sprite in the manner of a Cottingley fairy,* I am in truth old lady age of nearly 40, and have real-life events in the "proper" world.
So anyway, I have had one recently — a real-life event, that is — a sad one for both Wilcox and moi, and so we've just been laying low and dealing with that. Srsly, I have been going a bit potty — for example if someone who knew me had to point me out to someone who didn't know me, they'd probably say, "That's her in the corner. That's her in the spot. light. loo-zing her religion." My doctor, trying to stem the dam of tears that busted in her office, prescribed Valium.
"Isn't Valium rather old-fashioned?" I said.
"It's old, but it's not old-fashioned," she said.
"I'm pretty cut up." I said, peering over the table as she wrote the script. "Are you sure that's enough?"
"Quite enough," she said, cunningly, because she knows I have addiction issues. She knows about my addiction issues because I'd just finished telling her all about them through tears and hiccups, and because she was in part prescribing me the Valium to stop me from guzzling various cocktails of over-the-counter drugs, Heath Ledger-style. (Except not to that degree, obviously.)
Please note that it's probably best not to read the below if you are related to me.
I used to buy Valium when I lived in Wales years ago. On the street, I mean. This was a period when I took drugs. We used to call them Aunties, as in Aunty Val. Perhaps everyone calls them Auntys — I dunno. We did.
When I said I used to buy them, actually my flatmate would buy them and I would buy them off him. All through my drug taking history I was the least cool purchaser of drugs imaginable. I fumbled, I let the corners of folded notes peak out between my fingers, I pulled off the whole look-like-we're-shaking-hands-but-really-we're-swapping-money-for-drugs thing beautifully, then immediately drop the bag of white powder on the footpath between the dealer and me, usually just before the sudden, coincidental appearance of a wandering police officer. I sniffed very obviously after snorting drugs and I nodded off too conspicuously. I always forgot the street names for drugs and would ask for clarification then say, "Oh, I remember, it's COCAINE, isn't it?" I was tall and conspicuous and posh and nerdy. I once had a dealer who refused to sell to me because he was so worried my Keystone Cops routine would get him caught. True. A friend of mine had to buy the drugs for me.
So, I started this blog as an anonymous type so I could write about very personal stuff, and in talking about my drug history that's clearly exactly what I'm doing. But, as it happens, while I can do the drug stories, I am not ready to write about the aforementioned personal event that has prevented me from posting these past weeks. That I need to sit with a bit longer.
The point is, I have been away. But now I return, like your dad after a business trip, feeling a bit guilty that I shagged a colleague in the bathroom of my hotel room after a drunken company dinner, feeling a bit confused because I don't actually work with any women, but now happy to see you and maybe get outside and kick a footy around together. In other words, I hope we can resume our blogger/reader relationship and I'm sorry it took a while.
* Do you know about the Cottingley fairies? British readers will, no doubt. Australians may not. It's a good story. Please to be sitting down.
Two young cousins — Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths. Elsie was sixteen and very pretty, as you can see. She was the grown-up one — little Frances was only ten. Frances said later that Elsie made the whole thing real for her. It seems like she was always a bit confused about whether what they said happened really happened.
In 1917, Elsie and Francis took Elsie's father camera to Cottingley Beck, behind the back of Elsie's house. I don't exactly know what a beck is, but it seems to involve a small waterfall and a little stream. When the photos were developed, they were of the girls playing with fairies.
Elsie's father did not believe the fairies were real. But — incredibly — everyone else did. In 1919, the spiritualists got hold of it, and turned the photos into a cause célèbre. Spirits and such were very fashionable at the time. I can't remember the name of it, but when I was about 20 I read Rebecca West's autobiography and her commitment to spiritual matters astounded me. She had an affair with H G Wells, of course. Anyway, the biggest celebrity supporter of the Elsie and Frances and the Cottingley fairies was Arthur Conan Doyle, who bought it hook, line and sinker, despite the fact that, to our eyes, the deception seems, well, elementary.
Incredibly, the girls insisted the fairies were real until 1981, when Frances admitted: "I never even thought of it as being a fraud — it was just Elsie and I having a bit of fun and I can't understand to this day why they were taken in — they wanted to be taken in."
Ain't it always the way.
24 May 2008
And by "you", I mean "me". Where the hell has me been? It's been a long time twixt posts.
20 May 2008
Mostly, I've left Tim Winton to other chaps. I read Cloudstreet a few thousand years ago, because everyone else was, but it didn't quite fly with the Oxbridge/Albionesque/ and-did-these-hills-in-ancient-times/Elliot/Thackery/Waugh/Greene phase I was going through at the time. About three years ago I read The Riders, and loved it — adored it even! was transfixed by it! — then forgot about it, and him, completely.
So goodness me but I was rather surprised to find myself listening to Tim Winton talk about his new novel Breath at the Anatheum Theatre in Melbourne the other night. My mate took me — got freebies, you see, she said, tapping the side of her nose with one of those pencils with a rubber on the end of it. And I loved it, I loved him, I bought his book and now I'm loving the book. He began very breathy himself. Nervous and hesitant, in fact talking about being nervous, but apparently happy to give it a crack one more time. He's been doing these author appearances for a long time, but he seems to pretty much hate them. He was badly dressed and a bit fat and of course he still has his horrible hair. He shouldn't be an attractive man, but then there's talent and charisma and all that stuff. He has that. He looked out of place, in a building.
What was interestingest was the way in which he concealed this learned lyricism behind his fish 'n chips mateyness. He'd be talking about keeping good surf breaks secret or the trauma of middle-order kids, then suddenly string together seven words that, individually, I'd probably have to look up in a dictionary, but in sequence and with context and his own economical poetry transmitted some amazing insight that made the audience gasp and mummer. He doesn't look clever, but he's very clever. Very nice too. He seemed like a very nice man.
He had some lovely insights on writing: "Living day by day, pulling stuff out your arse." Later: "I have to. I need to earn money. There is no Plan B. There has never been a Plan B." (Later, ruminating on this lack of a Plan B, he mentions his son, something about seeing his sins revisited. It made me think, someday the son will be the father's age, and he'll say, "My father saw in me the thing that drove and tormented him.")
Before he started working on Breath, he was working on another novel that he could not make work, and it turned him "in hate with the world, in anguish, getting myself in to hell's own tizz".
His favourite writers are Mark Twain and Faulkner and another I can't remember.
He says: "The day you finish a book is simply the day you decide to finish. For everybody's sake."
So, anyway, I'm reading it now. Breath, I mean. Tell you about it when I'm done.
17 May 2008
From 1976 to 1978, George Plemper was a teacher at Riverside School in Thamesmead in London. "I was a chemistry teacher, but not a very good one." Burdened with writing so incomprehensible the kids couldn't understand his blackboard scribblings, he started taking photos of the kids instead. They had to invent the internet before the rest of us could appreciate them.I've been trying to work out why these photographs are so arresting. Mostly, the kids aren't smiling. I wonder how he stopped them — kids get so posey around that age, always mugging for the camera. They don't look curious either, which perhaps reflects that happy era before digital cameras, before the "show me, show me, argh, delete it, no, print it out!" rigmarole that succeeds photograph-taking these days. The product of the snapping must have seemed so theoretical.
Then there's that remarkable contrast between the crispness of the lines and the soft frankness of her gaze and hair.
Plus, there's something about the way she's locked in the 70s. We all know what's in store for you, missy moo. We know what you'll be listening to when you're eighteen (Blondie — The Tide is High), how you'll bury your face into your pillow at twenty-one, crying with the sheer floaty loveliness of Lady Di's Emmanuelle wedding dress, how you'll get your hair cut when you're twenty-five (short, bouffy, tousled), how you'll always love Gary even though he can be a right bastard sometimes...
Or perhaps something else entirely.
Riverside School, Thamesmead, England. Portrait #10 1976, originally uploaded by Mak'm.
"His name is Sam Uba. He was a Biafran refugee and therefore a relatively new arrival, stuck on this remote housing complex. There was something about the photograph of this schoolboy from a war-torn country — something shone through."
Mr Plemper's abortion of a teaching career reminds me of those Armstrong & Miller sketches about losers becoming teachers, you know, like this:
13 May 2008
I had a literary earworm* yesterday — a sentence that rattled around in my head like dice in a dicebox for hours and hours and hours.
"There are only three topics of conversation: you, me, and us."
It knew it was advice about flirting with boys, advanced by a young and socially successful woman to her gauche, naive cousin. I was certain it was F Scott Fitzgerald, and I was fairly sure it was in the short story "Bernice Bobs Her Hair". So I went in hunt. I don't own a copy of F Scott Fitzgerald short stories — although I am always on the lookout for one, because I particularly love the stories based on his precocious, privileged and melancholic boyhood. Instead, I looked on the internets.
I found "Bernice Bobs Her Hair". The girl with the advice is the fairylike Marjorie Harvey, "justly celebrated for having turned five cart-wheels in succession during the last pump-and-slipper dance at New Haven," and her gauche cousin in Bernice, pretty and with what Fitzgerald calls "high colour" — rosy cheeks, I've usually assumed — but boring as batshit. I located what appears to be the relevant passage:
As Bernice took down her hair she passed the evening before her in review. She had followed instructions exactly. Even when Charley Paulson cut in for the eighth time she had simulated delight and had apparently been both interested and flattered. She had not talked about the weather or Eau Claire or automobiles or her school, but had confined her conversation to me, you, and us.It's just that it's not right, it's not my earworm. Somewhere in my memory Marjorie gives Bernice the advice; in the story, the advice is only found in Bernice's reflections. I'm so convinced that's not how it happened I keep thinking I must have read another, earlier version of the story. Or perhaps a page of the manuscript was lost in the last couple of years and I'm the only person who has noticed it. Or isn't there a school of thought that says the whole universe dissolves every second and magical goblins are constantly rebuilding it, and when you lose your keys but later they turn up somewhere you're sure you've already looked at, that's when the goblins forgot for a minute? Well maybe that happened to a paragraph in a F Scott Fitzgerald story.
But I guess it's really just that when I first read the story it was so real to me that I heard Marjorie's flirting advice, and I've never forgotten it.
And there my story ends. Having written it, I now realise it wasn't really quite interesting enough to blog about. Oh well, you've read it now.
Meanwhile, moving on, I was just wikipediating a few interesting facts about The Bill** recently, when I came across this little nugget:
In November 2006, thieves stole editing machines and master tapes from the shows studios in Merton, South West London. Posing as a worker and wearing a high-visibility jacket, one of the thieves followed a real worker into the studios and took the equipment, walked out with it and was driven off in a getaway van. This caused continuity problems for all storylines between 2007 and the end of time.Well, let's face it, The Bill will run until the end of time.
* Next time you get a musical earworm, relief is at hand.
** Yeah, like your life's so amazing.
12 May 2008
This blog has now had four titles — Only connect, The prose and the passion, The beast and the monk, and The whole of her sermon. All come from the same short passage you'll find at the bottom of this page. I suppose it's a bit wanky, but it meant a lot to me for a long time, and besides I don't care about being a bit wanky, I was at a dinner party recently and was chatting with the host about David Marr's piece about Patrick White in The Monthly, and PW in general, and someone else suggested that talking about PW was a bit wanky (so you can imagine what this person might think of abbreviating Patrick White to PW as a sign of familiarity because how wanky is that??), and I just think that's complete bullshit. I hate the way you can't talk about anything more highbrow than Andrew Denton in this country without people thinking you're a total tosser.
Anyway, I've settled on The whole of her sermon now because it goes with the actual address, and seems quite apropos for a blog, which is a kind of a sermon in a really superficial, not-really-at-all way, and especially one written by a her.
Meanwhile, to add to the wankery I thought I might call my partner Wilcox, just like Miss Schlegel's boyfriend.
Me (talking about the titles of this blog): Do you know where they all come from?
Wilcox: I dunno. They come from books and shit.
Just then he was on the phone making an appointment with his doctor, who is also my doctor, so I whisper, "I'll make an appointment after you", but he just hangs up, then says to me, "Sorry, but I just thought it would confuse them. One phone call, one appointment. That's how it works."
11 May 2008
08 May 2008
Clever people are so clevery.
The Paris Review, as you all no doubt know, has a Q & A or two with some genius writer in each edition. (This quarter, it features my particular favourite gent Kazuo Ishiguro — excitement!) These interviews are lengthy and often gently earth-shattering — I read one with Joan Didion which has helped me immeasurably as I've muddled through my own piece of shit book*.
In 1958, the Paris Review interview featured the syphilitic American writer Constance Eakins, author of the Saposcat, America, The Rude Violence of the Poor, inter alia. Eakins — lover of Rita Hayworth, turner-down of the Pulitzer Prize, adventurer — was declared dead in 2001, thirty years after simply wandering off, in Italy.
Except none of that happened. Constance Eakins is a character in Nathaniel Rich's novel The Mayor's Tongue.
Except that it all kind of did happen. Nathaniel went to such great lengths to create Eakins, to make him real, that covers from his old paperbacks have started popping up around the internet. See the author's site. See the Eakins covers pool at Flikr. These two are designed by Joanna Neborsky, but there are many others. Really, really excellent others.
A writer that doesn't exist. A man's name that sounds like a girl. A spontaneous art project. A book cover that perfectly replicates the aesthetic of Penguin in the 1960s. It's everything that's rocks, isn't it? I gotta get to a bookstore.
* Sorry. Bit depressed at the moment. The editor is suggesting changes, thereby shattering the illusion that it was perfect.
07 May 2008
What do you reckon was the best Booker Prize winner? You can vote here. And you should, because Life of Pi is currently winning. Sweet book and everything, but it wasn't the Booker of Bookers.
I voted for The Remains of the Day, but I was torn by that and Vernon God Little.
The beautiful settee of Bay-zhing
So this shits me. Beijing, which is the capital of China, and they're having Olympics there soon, is not pronounced Bay-zhing. Or Bay-shing. It is pronounced Bay-jing. The jing is pronounced as in jingle.
I'm right, aren't I? Cireena, if you see this, perhaps you could:
- confirm, or
Nugget and Crow Boy
Bloggers from the Sunshine Daily News. Deadset legends. Ok, so it's all a bit yesterday now, but check out their take on the 2020 Summit. They thought Warnie should have had a say.
05 May 2008
Every week, Melvyn Bragg sends me* an email to let me know how his BBC Radio 4 show In Our Time went. The last one contained this delicious coda:
PPS: Something that was too late to get into last week’s newsletter but I thought worth a mention. Last Thursday I went to one of the best parties I’ve been to. The fiftieth anniversary of the launch of the Monitor programme under Huw Wheldon. It was lovely to see people like Nancy Thomas, Ann James, David Jones, Humphrey Burton and, of course, Ken Russell. Those years in the early 60s were probably the happiest of my life in every possible way. I have deeply gone off literary parties and any sort of 6.30 parties in London but this was an exceptionally happy event, full of people whose lives have been devoted to making TV programmes about the arts that brought the arts to as many people television could reach.Being Orstraylyan and all, I have no idea who those people are — aside from Ken Russell, who I always imagine in a comedy wig. Oh, ok, and Jonathan Miller, but only because of that Pete and Dud biopic. Despite/because of this, Melvyn's PPS fills me with envy and despair. I want to be making telly about art at the BBC in the early 60s. How depressing that I wasn't even born in the early 60s. I want to be in Melvyn's gang smoking fags outside Broadcasting House in spectacles and scratchy woolen overcoats, being serious and funny and feeling just as locked out of all goings on in Carnaby Street as the citizens of Reading (see Gervais below), but not caring because we know we are the sparks of a different and far more thrilling cultural explosion, firing away in in folders and cameras and fountain pens.
After the party we piled down to a nearby restaurant where conversation was free and easy until the last hour, when Jonathan Miller held forth in his inimitably brilliant manner about materialism and his view that consciousness would never be “cracked”. There was no way it was sufficiently observable for us to understand what it was and yet he declared himself a total materialist. And so the day ended as it had begun.
It's the same London A S Byatt's Fredrika came to live in, in the 60s, in one of those books... um... Babel Tower. She's escaped her awful marriage and rents a tiny basement flat with her son and lands (oh so easily) a job hosting an arts show on TV. That was in the olden days, when youthful, alarmingly clever but not-really-that-attractive girls could get jobs in broadcasting, in the days before THE BABY BOOMERS TOOK OVER THE WORLD and no one could get any jobs at all any more, except hotties. Meanwhile, Fredrika's friend Alexander the playwrite is part of group that's deciding whether the government should abolish grammar in schools. Which is frustrating, because in the novel they're all wondering what the consequences might be, and we all no da end of dat stry, hay?
I want to live in that world and don't care that it's so seductively nostalgic mostly because it's basically imaginary.
But what's a "6.30 party", I wonder. Anyone?
I got the same overwhelming feeling of urgent envy when I saw this picture of Daphne du Maurier the other day. I don't know why. She hated being a mum, apparently, and had to get rid of those kids to write anything.
Look at that shard of face under Daphne's arm. The daughter. Already obscured by the shadow of a glamourous mother who looks desperate to escape.
*DAMN. THIS PHOTO SEEMS TO HAVE EVAPORATED. I'M SEARCHING THE INTERWEBS HIGH AND LOW TO REINSTATE IT.*
* I think other people get it to, so, you know, whatever.
04 May 2008
Just got my first report card. (If it's too small, click on it for a larger view.)
I'd just like to thank my friends, family and agent for making this blog such a huge success. Big smooches! Thank you all! You make me great!
*points to and grins spastically at a couple of random people in audience before being led away from the podium by some bemused So You Think You Can Dance runner up*
I've just heard from one of the main characters in the fictionalised non-fiction book I've just written. She's just read the draft, and she's got some iss-yous. Happy too, but I think that's just politeness. I'm not sure what her iss-yous are yet, but I feel rotten — deflated, disappointed, disappointing. I have to tell the publisher.
For that reason, my favourite of Vonnegut's basics is number seven. Because I wasn't trying to fuck the world. I just want to make the dead person the whole story is about happy.
So here they are. From the preface to Vonnegut’s short story collection Bagombo Snuff Box.
Maybe I should have paid more attention to number six. I wonder if it's too late to kill her off earlier in the piece. Say in the foreword. Nothing violent or nothing, just a disease or something, jeez, that seems harmless enough.
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
- Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Hey, snaps for me on number five. I did in fact start close to the end. Woo-hoo!