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They say it takes 21 days to establish a habit. 21 days it is then. It's not so much a New Year's resolution as a timely decision. I've had enough false starts. It's time to pick up where I left off. Writing is a habit I've let slip. There were compelling reasons for doing so but those reasons are in the past now. Anything else in the way of excuses would simply come down to laziness, or a lack of organisation, or both, since one tends to feed the other. So there we have it. A new chapter has begun.
There is no way I could have anticipated just what an enormous task building a house, or more specifically, this house would turn out to be. No episode of Grand Designs; no anecdotal advice from those who have build their home before us: nothing. It has been singularly the most demanding, challenging and exhausting endeavour I have ever been involved with. It has completely dominated every other activity and social involvement other than work since before we left London and I'm still spending all my spare time painting the place. I'm so completely over it now. I really, really am.
For a long time now I've been telling myself that once everything is finished, life will get back to normal and I'll be able to get back into all the things I don't have the time for at the moment. There will be time to paint and, better still, I'll have the space to do it. I'll have time to begin writing again and time to go out and meet up with friends. I'll have time to start doing yoga again and time to go to art galleries and bookshops. I'll have time for everything in fact.
Soon. Very soon.
All I've been doing for the last three weeks or more is paint: door frames, window frames, skirting boards, walls, etc. I've listened to so much music and radio that in the last couple of days I've opted to paint in silence. It's a curiously meditative experience. Today for example I spent much of the afternoon reminiscing about my time as KS3 manager at Newhaven PRU in London and all the characters I engaged with on a daily basis. My life is so different now, both my working life and home life. Itís like another lifetime ago; it really is.
I've just been to see the second installment of The Hobbit. I saw the first one the other day. I enjoyed them both so much more than I'd anticipated I would. I always enjoyed The Hobbit more than The Lord of the Rings. It was so much lighter and more fun. While I had reservations about stretching it out over three movies but I have to admit I can't wait for the third installment due later this year. It was a delight to be so completely immersed in such a fantastic recreation of what was a totally immersive, magical book.
It came out of seemingly nowhere. One minute I was painting and listening to Streisand; then I paused to go online and check Facebook. I read a response from a friend and former colleague in London whose son was blown to bits in Syria while working for the Red Crescent. I've been monitoring her grief-stricken entries for weeks but today a wave of utter, wretched pain and loss swept over me, reducing me to heaving, sobbing spasms. It lasted for about five minutes and then just as swiftly it was gone and I went back to Streisand and to painting.
What becomes of the people we once were? I was thinking today about people and friends I knew 30 or 40 years ago. In my mindís eye theyíre still the people they were. I carry the memories of them even though those who are still alive today bear little resemblance to their former selves. This in turn made me think about the young people I know now and the as-yet unimagined people they will one day become. There are many chapters in life and each one leaves us changes in various ways. Thatís the beauty and, sometimes, sadness of life.
For the first time since I can remember I have a dedicated space in my house to write. Itís not a space used for surfing the net or drawing or painting pictures. Itís a space to sit and write. Itís on the second floor in a small alcove by a window with a view. From the window I can see the car park across the road and, when itís light, the beautiful domed corner of Pran Central. I have a little desk lamp, a couple of other items and my note book (the non-electronic variety) and I love writing here.
Lulu was born a year ago today. She is this ginger bundle of toy poodle who has become something of a central focus in the household. I canít imagine not having her around. She defines in many ways the sequence of events each day and I wouldnít have it any other way. Itís fascinating the way humans and dogs establish symbiotic relationships. During the past month when Iíve been at home painting so much she has been my constant companion. The one day when she was away having her fur trimmed the house felt oddly empty and out of sorts.
Over the past few weeks Iíve become an avid podcast subscriber. With so much time to listen while I paint I've discovered a veritable treasure trove of amazing radio programs, all readily available at the click of a mouse or, in the case of my touch screen devices, the tap of a finger. Studio 360, The New Yorker, Unfictional, Radio National Ė the list goes on and on. Add to this my recently purchased UE Boom Bluetooth speaker and what I have is the world at my fingertips. Itís made the process of painting the house a whole lot more enjoyable.
By the time I finish the painting of the house I will have explored every square inch of the building. It would have been nice to just move in and have the whole thing finished but thereís something emerging, an unforeseen dividend, from having taken on the job myself. Quite apart from having shaved $40K from the cost of the build there is the satisfaction of having had such enormous input into the physicality of the place. Iíll be able to look at each room and think, I did that! Ironically, I might even miss the daily routine of painting.
I get to the end of each day and itís late and Iím tired. My contact with the outside world at the moment is minimal, although I resumed my Sunday walks with a good friend and regular walking partner this morning after a few weeks break. It was refreshing to walk around the perimeter of the Botanical Gardens and chat. Iíve not done a lot of that of late. Iíve been spending a lot of time on my own, alone with my own thoughts. I have a sense of emerging from a cocoon, shedding my former self and re-emerging anew.
There will come a time when I look back on this period of my life and ache to be this young again working on such an enormous building project with so much of life still ahead of me and with the prospect of the highest quality of life Iíve yet enjoyed. Thatís how life is. We tend to forget that itís the being in the thick of things that generates the kind of memories that matter most, those whose potency are such that we find ourselves mourning for a time that once was and the person we used to be.
After a very mild start to the summer the hot weather has finally come crashing in with a vengeance and daytime temperatures are tipped to remain at or above 40 degrees until Friday evening. Thankfully we have air-conditioning but itís disappointing to discover that the new house doesnít perform as well as weíd expected, with the top sunroom reaching 37 degrees today. So much for all the research! Needless to say I wasnít quite as productive today as Iíd hoped, although I did paint a couple of doors and finish the second layer of undercoat to the home office ceiling.
Heat, combined with the stress of having different trades here at various intervals dealing with or assessing the final rectifications and aggravated by the pressure of completing so much painting in order to facilitate the caulking of the building tomorrow (all of which was undermined by a total lack of incentive or will to do very much) and you get a fairly accurate picture of the day Iíve had today. I know it all points to a time very soon when we can close the door on our builder once and for all but it certainly becomes testing at times.
It was an act of pure willpower. With temperatures upstairs well into the high 30s even in the evening, I had to finish painting the walls around the stairs (two flights, 19 stairs each) in order that all three flights can be caulked tomorrow. Itís been typical of the way things have panned out throughout the whole build. So many things have tested us to the limit and so it was to be expected that the last week of rectifications should fall in the week when we have had record high temperatures here in Melbourne. But finish them I did!
The cool change arrived early this evening. A welcome breeze swept over the city bringing relief to the gruelling record heat of the last few days. To mark the event I laid out on the turf of the roof garden and gazed up at the sky. The moon drifted in and out of clouds, the stars twinkled faintly in the urban glow whilst on the horizon lighting flashed intermittently. A faint smell of smoke from the 65 bushfires burning across the state hung in the air along with the laughter and chatter from the pedestrians down on the street below.
I bought two books today, one by Pat Barker and one by Ann Enquist. Itís been such a long time since I read a book. I read on Suzyís blog that she read over 80 books last year. 83 I think it was. I was impressed but also somewhat shamed. Iím traditionally a reader. Now that Iím getting my life back I hope to be one again. One of the rooms in the new house is a library. It seemed important to have one. Now I have the pleasure of filling it.
And sitting in it.
And reading books again.
Taking our dog Lulu for a walk invariably involves having some kind of encounter with a stranger. As soon as she sees someone she likes, thatís it. Sheís tugging and pulling for all sheís worth, standing up on her back legs and waving her little paws in the air as she tries to throw herself at them. Itís a difficult performance to ignore and more often than not she wins them over. Then there are the people who approach her full of oohs and aahs, unable to resist the allure of such a delightful and effervescent bundle of doggy joy
Iíve no doubt that our builder is geering up for a dispute. Weíre supposed to pay the remaining $20K by the end of this month, marking the six month period since we moved in and during which all defects should have been identified and rectified. Weíve had no difficulty identifying them. Having all of them rectified has been another matter. Certainly, some have been done but I know heís going to try and wriggle out of those he erroneously assumes he doesnít need to fix.
Wriggle he may, squirm even, but heís not getting his money until theyíre all done.
Itís day 21 and the habit is established. Itís been such a long time since Iíve managed to sustain writing on a regular basis. I make no pretence about there being any literary aspirations in what Iím doing. Thatís not the reason Iím writing. Rather, itís to hear my own voice. For such a long time I would sit down to write and my mind simply wouldnít cooperate. It was all I could do just to get through the day. Now, I feel a sense of renewal. More, having completed my first 21 days, I feel a sense of accomplishment.
I go back to work tomorrow. Iíve been off since December 11 and during that time Iíve had just one day off from painting the house, which means Iíve not had much of a holiday. Iím disappointed not to have finished the job. Iíve made huge progress, thereís no doubt about that but I guess I'd imagined heading back to work with the satisfaction of having all of the house painting behind me. That said, Iím really looking forward to getting back into a work routine of a different nature and one where I get to be with other people.
I go back to work tomorrow. Iíve been off since 11th December and during that time Iíve had just one day off from painting the house, which means Iíve not had much of a holiday. Iím disappointed not to have finished the job. Iíve made huge progress, thereís no doubt about that but I guess I'd imagined heading back to work with the satisfaction of having all of the house painting behind me. That said, Iím really looking forward to getting back into a work routine of a different nature and one where I get to be with other people.
The Perils of Cut & Paste.
I write my daily 100 words by hand, type them up and then cut and paste them into the uploading feature of this site. Annoyingly, Iíve inadvertently managed to paste the same entry twice. I shot a couple of emails off to Roy Bachelor asking if he could delete the second one but sadly to no avail. Consequently, Iíve decided to include this entry in order to explain myself and contextualise the second entry in order to get the rest uploaded before the cut-off date.
Apologies for stepping outside of time to do so.
I harbour a very pronounced dislike for our builder. I hesitate to use the word hate because Iíve never thought of myself as being capable of hate, save perhaps for one Ron Kennedy who tried to seduce me when I was 15. In the last 12 months or so however, Iíve skated very close to it. As we approach the date for the final payment there are a number of rectifications still not done. Our emails seem to go unheeded and I strongly suspect we have a showdown ahead, during which Iím determined to be assertive, difficult and completely intractable.
Iíve learned a great deal about endurance over the last three or four years. Sometimes we choose a path in life. Sometimes life deals us a hand and thereís no turning back. The only way is forward. There have been times when all Iíve wanted to do is quit but quitting hasnít been an option. Perhaps if Iíd been on my own things might have been different but this has been a joint endeavour and teamwork necessitates commitment and, more specifically, grit: the grit to stick things out and see them through to the end. And thatís what weíve done.
While I started back at work last Thursday, the Australia Day long weekend has provided an extension of sorts to the school break. Iíve done a lot of painting over the past three days but tomorrow marks the start of the actual school year and the many demands that will now be placed on my time. In many ways Iíve been waiting for the year to kick in. Having been so preoccupied with the painting Iíve only given fleeting thought to what this year might potentially be about. That said, Iíd like to think it will be a good one.
I feel blessed to teach at such an amazing school. Quite apart from being a centre of excellence (we topped the entire state with our Year 12 results last year and came fifth this year) itís also a place where I get to work with like-minded professionals for whom I have great respect and with children who have restored my faith in childhood. Today we got to know our new Head of Junior School, an interesting woman by the name of Josephine. Her manner and obvious expertise combined with her warm, humourous nature disarmed and readily won us all over.
I taught two point perspective drawing to a Year 8 class today. Iím covering the first two weeks of architectural drawing for a colleague currently away on carerís leave. Itís the first time Iíve taught it in years. I was a little unsure about how to demonstrate how elegantly simple the technique is especially given the way the Year 7s struggled with one point perspective last year. I neednít have worried. Every one of them nailed it. I took in the drawings of the our house to personalise the lesson and the strategy worked. The lesson was a resounding success.
A cool breeze wafts through the window as I sit two flights up. The desk lamp sheds soft light onto the page as Iím writing while my blurred reflection gazes back at me from the double-glazed window pane. The hum from the air conditioning unit on the roof of the hotel across the road penetrates the evening air as it dominates the other more muted sounds of the cars, trams and occasional snippets of conversation from the street below. Today was warm and tomorrow will be warmer but for now the gentle breeze calms and refreshes me as I write.
I did it. I completed the month. The habit has been re-established. It doesnít matter whether it makes for interesting reading or not. What matters is Iíve succeeded in my commitment. Itís about breaking the inertia and generating the momentum. I can see myself completing the next month and the month after that, and so on. I still have to type it all up. Iíve chosen to write these words in the traditional manner, with pen and paper. It feels more satisfying; more in tune with how Iíve traditionally written in the past. And yes, I feel pleased with myself.
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