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ďYou turn a corner and things change . . .Ē
How true. For so long now itís felt as though weíve been riding some old, dilapidated roller coaster or swimming in a sea of uncertainty, madly treading water in the desperate hope of being able to feel something resembling land beneath our feet. Literally, everything has been in flux.
Now, with almost breathtaking speed, things have changed. So much that stood before so formidably before us is now behind us. Weíve turned a corner and behold, the view from here is looking very different.
Itís going to take a little getting used to.
It was surreal watching the old house come down. So many memories were imprinted within its walls: spaces filled with laughter, tears; our wildest dreams and our deepest fears. So much has come and gone over the years and that house was one of the few constants; always there, often in need of repair and never far below the surface of our awareness. But now, within a few short days, what once stood there stands no longer. I have no doubt that what replaces it will more than compensate for the loss, but thatís what it is, a loss nonetheless.
For the first time in a very long while Iím beginning to feel like myself again. Amidst so much uncertainty and change I began to wonder if Iíd ever really reconnect. I donít mean to imply Iíve been lost to myself or that the past 18 months have been regrettable in any way. Itís just that with so much energy being expended on simply putting one foot in front of the other it feels good to finally have some semblance of normality and to be in a position where many of the challenges are now behind rather than before us.
Sometimes we make the most monumental of decisions without anyone else being any the wiser and thatís precisely what I did today. I chose to take action on an issue which has preoccupied me for many years, one that involves just me and me alone. In doing so itís as though my life has been given back to me. By me! The ensuing release of energy from having made this decision is nothing less than intoxicating. I have understood something which has always eluded my grasp and with understanding has come a renewed sense of enthusiasm and thirst for life.
I like where we live. I always have done. Nonetheless, itís taken me a while to feel like Iím actually reconnecting with it, but itís happening. As I walk the streets and observe the people, photograph the streets and soak up the ambiance of this part of town I start to feel grounded in a way I havenít felt since I was in London. Itís a relationship, and relationships take time. Itís not the first time Iíve called this place home but I'm beginning to realise that Iím going to be calling it home for a long time to come.
After all this time, here I am once again sitting with my pen in hand and my notebook open, the sunlight etching sharp, Bentwood chair shadows on the sidewalk outside the window while Diana Krall sings about departure lounges in the background. No longer so enamoured with the word processing feature of my iPod (no disrespect to Steve Jobs, may he rest in peace), I am once again pausing between sentences while soaking up the ambiance of this charming Chapel Street cafť. Iíve missed this. For a while the writing muse eluded me. Now, thankfully, it seems to have returned.
Iím still getting used to the empty plot outside the kitchen window where our house used to be. With the party wall still in place I can see our old fireplace and the picture hook above the pelmet where the clock used to hang. Before long the empty plot will be filled with the structure of our new home. The torn, ragged roofline that currently frames the open wound of what once was will be covered and hidden with what is to be, yet buried there within the new structure will be the remnants of the house that once was.
The longer we know people the more we bear witness to their lifeís journey and they ours. And when many are gathered together with whom we share a common familial history, the more fascinating and sometimes surprising the interwoven nature of so many individual journeys can become. I cannot begin to explain what I am talking about here in such a short space but what I will say is that I never anticipated or expected to see some of the interactions (or perhaps more accurately interactions avoided) that I saw today. That said, congratulations are in order for the newlyweds.
I spent a couple of inspired hours today in the company of some of my favourite artists at the Vienna Exhibition at the NGV; people such as Klimt, Schiele and Kokoshka, alongside some new acquaintances, most notably Otto Wagner and Josef Hoffmann. Itís been a while since I immersed myself in an exhibition, the most recent (and equally engaging) being the von Guerard exhibition a couple of months ago. It reminds me of my time in London where, sadly, I tended to take the presence of so much brilliant artwork and visual culture for granted. Ah well, such is life.
I hadnít been onsite more than a minute when the Principal came bounding over to me. ďI have some excellent news,Ē she said. ďEllen has informed me that sheís resigning.Ē It was the news I have waited all year to hear, made all the sweeter by the obvious delight in the principalís voice. So there we have it. Having later confirmed the news to the whole staff at morning briefing there can be no going back now. The job is mine, and although I was offered a permanent position some weeks ago, this is the position I wanted all along.
After three and a half weeks it was a pleasure to be with the kids again. When Iím away from the classroom I often find it hard to remember how I manage to do it. Teaching is such a performance. Oneís job is to not merely teach but to inspire and impart a love of the process of learning. When Iím doing that I feel as though I have it running out of the ends of my fingertips but after a period away it takes those first few classes to remember how itís done and, more importantly, to trust it.
I have a dozen or so pressing matters I need to attend to but the sun is shining outside and the sky is that wonderful shade of blue that cuts across my need to be focused and keeps trying to entice me away from my list of tasks into the fresh spring air outside. I try to resist. I try to shut it out and feign interest in all of the planning and documentation needed for the term ahead, but try as I may my brain is scrambled and my attention is divided and in the end I simply surrender.
Thereís been a revolution in the way art teachers communicate and share good practise and ideas. Itís called blogging. A few months ago I decided to check out a couple of art teaching blogs. I was blown away by what I discovered. Perhaps more than any other subject, blogging is an ideal platform for art teachers to share ideas and find inspiration for exciting and dynamic art projects. After so many years during which I would sit alone scratching my head trying to think of new things to teach, I now have an endless supply of ideas at my fingertips.
Iíd intended to get away early from work today. Instead I stayed late rearranging my main art room. Now I know Iím staying on in the job, potentially until I retire (maybe, maybe not), I can finally take ownership of my role which, amongst other things, means completely rethinking the two rooms in which I work. Iíve already done so in many respects but beyond a certain point it still wasnít my place to do so. Thatís no longer the case. They're my rooms now and if people like what theyíve seen so far, well! They havenít seen anything yet!
Itís a relatively recent phenomenon but Iím discovering Iíve got a lot more time on my hands which, given how much I have to get done at work right now, is strange. Headspace might be a better term. After such an extended period of time during which Iíve felt as though my only mission in life was to keep multiple plates spinning, itís like Iíve got these spaces in my head which are actually idle again. Iíd almost forgotten what it was like. Quite what I want to do about it, Iíve not yet decided.
But Iíll think of something.
I changed a bike tyre today for the first time since I was a teenager. What's more, I remembered how to do it. For the last couple of months I've been getting around by pedal power. It's been refreshing and a whole lot more interesting than public transport. Inclement weather aside, a bike is like a mini freedom machine. True, it's not as much fun as a motorbike but the day I sold my motorbike after three near-fatal misses in a week I swore I'd never get back on one again and since then I've been true to my word.
With the benefit of hindsight Iíve been able to value upwards the work I was doing in London. For a while I was down on the whole experience. I tended to focus in the difficulties and challenges rather than the successes and more to the point, the remarkable relationships that were forged in what was very much a pressure cooker environment. A quick email from an old colleague the other day filled me with a real sense of warmth and fondness for what was an extraordinary period in my professional life, a time when I really did make a difference.
This makes a change, sitting in Bridie OíReillyís on Chapel Street, a pint of Bulmers Cider at hand, John Mayer playing over the sound system, a scattering of people chatting merrily around me and a golden flood of sunlight washing across the table where Iím writing. Iíd come out to have a coffee and put pen to paper while I did so, but the warm weather and the desire to be spontaneous led me here instead. Living amongst so many fine cafes and bars, itís nice to explore some of them as I seek out a quiet place to write.
With each passing day I can feel an epiphanous shift taking place within me which I believe is marking a transition from all thatís been to all thatís to come. Itís attitudinal, behavioural, emotional and, dare I say it, spiritual in nature. I have an overwhelming sense of coming into my own in a way Iíve never known before, along with a sense of all that has happened to date leading up to something truly momentous, if not dramatic. Whether or not others notice any of this is of no consequence. I know itís happening and thatís all that matters.
Itís noisy where we live. At five in the morning the garbage removal truck lurches into the car park behind us making a cacophonous racket as it heave the metal bins high into the air and shakes them free of rubbish. An hour later the street cleaner comes whooshing down the street, engine roaring and orange lights blazing. Shortly afterwards the street cleaners come with their air-pressured blowers. It sounds dreadful but the longer we live here the more it simply becomes the soundtrack to this curiously diverse area we live in, another part of the music of the street.
With each passing year, and distance notwithstanding, my appreciation of our friendship increases exponentially. Since Mum passed away you have become the central matriarch in my life with whom I converse on a weekly basis. This isnít to imply youíre a mother figure: to do so would make a mockery of the fact that we were once lovers. Rather, it is that in her later years Mum became my friend, transcending the biologically determined role without foregoing it. It was she who first loved me unconditionally but it was you who led me to understand its meaning, value and worth.
Prahran, where I live, is continually revealing itself to me. Unlike London with its immensity and overwhelming choice of venues, here you have to wander slowly and pay attention to detail. Blink and youíll miss a cosy little cafť tucked unobtrusively between a couple of shops which themselves invite further inspection. Thereís an easy bohemian flavour to the way people dress, conduct themselves and go about their business here. Coming back has been a little like sliding into a warm bath. It feels familiar, friendly and for all its bustle and noise, surprisingly calming and a good place to be.
Given I now walk and/or cycle to work Iíve lost the time I traditionally used to read. I now have to make a conscious effort to pick up a book and make the time. This may sound strange to an avid reader but the truth is Iím actually a lazy reader. The older I get the harder I find it to focus for any extended period of time on a book, which is a little sad given I do enjoy reading. Today however I sat down with a new Geraldine Brooks novel and immersed myself in another time and place.
The next few weeks are going to be busy ones at work. With reports to write, forward planning to be completed, hundreds of pieces of student work to photograph and assess, Iíve certainly got my work cut out for me. The good news is I donít resent the pressure one bit. Now that Iím secure in the job my level of commitment to it has increased even further. For the first time in a very long time Iím in a position where my working and creative lives are merging, something which holds a great deal of promise for the future.
It's been one of those days when I have to stop and pinch myself and in all seriousness say, "And they
me to do this?" A couple of months ago I put my hand up to take a group of Year 4 children to the south coast for three days. Little did I realise then that Iíd find myself in one of the most stunningly beautiful natural locations imaginable. Tucked away in well facilitated accommodation behind a line of sand dunes we are a mere stoneís throw away from some of the most stunning coastal scenery Iíve ever seen.
I may be here with 29 school children and three other staff members but this afternoon when I went down to the beach not another living soul was around. It was just me, the sea, the sand dunes, the sun and the clouds overhead in the biggest sky I've seen since I can remember. To be so totally alone in such a stunning landscape borders on privilege. In the month that saw the world's population top 7 billion it really hits home how precious experiences such as these really are.
There's absolutely no question: I need to get out more.
Returning home from paradise I was quite alarmed to see the deterioration that has occurred to the protection of next doorís building which the builder was supposed to have attended to. He hasnít. Iím beginning to suspect heís had his nose put out of joint because of the way we drove such a hard bargain during the tendering process and this is his way of making a statement. He would be wise to remember that this whole project is being filmed for TV and should he neglect to meet his responsibilities it will be us who have the last laugh.
The architect gave us our first glimpse of the coloured glazing to be applied to the exterior of the new house today. We were impressed. While the actual construction wonít begin until the New Year, the foundations will be laid before Christmas and once construction begins it should go up pretty quickly since the shell of the building will be manufactured offsite and then assembled onsite. What excites us most is after having compromised on so many decorative elements of the building, what weíre going to end up with is going to be even better that what weíd originally imagined.
I always feel odd when you leave, strangely out of sorts and ill at ease with my own company. It passes. I settle into a different pattern, rediscover my own rhythms and pass the time well enough, sometimes productively, sometimes less so. I think about you sitting there in midflight, wondering what you might be watching, or reading, or eating or simply thinking about. Neither of us are strangers to this. You might even say itís been a hallmark of our relationship. Nonetheless, it still feels odd, unsettling even, to contemplate how accustomed we become to the presence of another.
I think Iíve found the perfect place to write. Itís an open air cafť at the top end of Chapel Street, one street down from the station. Known as The Tyranny of Distance, it serves a small but satisfying array of Spanish food. With bare concrete floors, a tattered and motley collection of non-matching tables and chairs, corrugated roof and clear plastic windows, it has the right balance of funk and grunge to make me feel totally at home as I sip my coffee, gaze at the odd assortment of plants, listen some low groove music and feel quietly inspired.
Well, I made it. A three month breather is allowable. Sometimes you reach a point where thereís nothing much to say, so I stopped, but picking up the pen again has felt good, although I have to admit my commitment flagged a little towards the end of the month. Nothing new about that though.
Why do we write? Primarily to hear our own voices I suppose; to try and make sense of the world. How successful Iíve been with the latter over these past few years is debatable, but I guess now Iíve started again I might as well continue.
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