REPORT A PROBLEM
Who are we really?
We inhabit many selves during the course of a lifetime. Iím not the boy I once was, nor the adolescent or young man. Iím the current culmination of those people but I also know that who I am today will be a distant memory to me many years hence.
Like Christian Boltanskiís lost children, the people we once were may live on in our memories and in the memories of others but those people are no more. They no longer exist in any realm other than the realm of memory.
And memories eventually fade and disappear.
Thereís nothing quite like an old song to jettison me back to an earlier time and place. Fragrance can elicit a similar response but for me itís an altogether more abstract, if no less intense experience. With music Iím able to reinhabit the headspace of my younger self and gain access to feelings and emotions I relinquished long ago. I find myself not merely remembering but re-experiencing the naÔve intensity that identifying strongly with a particular song at a particular age can evoke. In doing so I can experience a profound sense of connectedness with the person I once was.
Iíve been really dragging my feet at work over the last few weeks. Iíve done everything essential and a few additional tasks but Iíve not been firing at full capacity.
I canít afford to do the same again next term.
After tomorrow Iíll have three weeks off, save for two days of teaching in the third week. Thereís a lot to do over that period but nothing compared to my efforts over Christmas and New Year. Iím really, really tired. I havenít had a proper break since London and that wasnít really a restful break.
Hopefully this one will be.
It doesnít happen often but Iím not immune to it.
Life can be filled with so much distraction that itís easy to become seduced by one's subconscious denial but every so often itís there, lurking around the perimeter, just out of view. Itís easy enough to acknowledge in a purely intellectual way but to let it in at a deep, visceral level can be overwhelming.
I remember feeling it as a very young child. Why it was so accessible then Iím not sure. Maybe weíre closer to it at an early age because weíre relative newcomers to lifeís grand illusion.
I was busy painting away in the studio when a thought occurred to me: who still really matters? Given that Iíve been out of circulation for so long and given that it feels like Iíve lost the connection with so many people I once held dear, who still really matters? So I spent the next three hours on the phone talking to three people who do Ė three hours of animated conversation with so much to talk about and so much more to share. It was a wonderfully confirming experience and the warm glow felt by all is precious beyond words.
My sister and I have decided to write another book together. The last one we wrote kept us occupied for well over a year. What we ended up with was something that neither of us could have achieved on our own. We entertained various fantasies about seeing it in print and who knows, maybe one day we still will. The main motive for embarking on a new project however is nothing more than the pure pleasure of invention and the opportunity to have a common project providing us with a focus for communicating with each other on a regular basis.
I received a phone call today from the builderís wife enquiring whether weíd like to enter the house for the 2014 Master Builders Award. I told her that while it was a nice idea weíve really had enough drama with the house as it is and the idea of people coming through to inspect it with a fine toothcomb would be an added invasion of privacy we could well do without. I donít think it was the response she was after. The truth of the matter is we simply want nothing more to do with the builder or his wife.
Weíre paranoid about rain.
When our first builder went broke shortly after weíd demolished our half-house we were left to deal with the exposed party wall and compromised roof of our neighbours. When the new builder commenced, they were flooded no less than seven times.
With the new house Ďcompletedí weíve had no less than six leaks and numerous attempts to fix it. Now weíve had the rear courtyard concreted ready for paving only to discover the drainage level against the rear bedroom sliding door is flush with the floor inside. The installer promises thereís nothing to worry about.
Iím as happy as the proverbial pig when Iím upstairs painting in my studio. I can call it a studio now. My paints are there. Iíve several canvases on the go. I have music. Itís brilliant! I can play the music as loud as I want without disturbing anyone or I can work in silence, serenaded by the sounds of the street drifting up from below. Itís a space where I can leave what Iím working on without having to pack it all away and come back later and pick up where I left off.
In a word, itís heaven.
Itís been raining without any letup for three days now and Iím relieved to say weíve neither leaked through the roof nor flooded from the courtyard. Itís not been especially heavy; rather, a misty drizzle that blankets and permeates everything. I rather enjoy it, especially early in the season when the novelty of it is still fresh and before the long months of winter test such appreciation to the limit. After such an extended dry spell itís good to know the ground is getting a good soaking and that any remnants of the summer burn off will soon be gone.
Finally, it's happening. Iím not merely moving towards it, Iím actually in it and the crucial thing now is to appreciate it; each and every moment of it.
I finished my first painting yesterday. Itís only a Pop Art-style image of Mickey Mouseís face but itís big, itís bright and it makes me smile. Mission accomplished!
And I have so many new works in my head . . .
Iíve also taken on a couple of commissions.
And Iím writing fiction again, too!
This is what itís all been about. Itís where I wanted to be and itís where I now find myself.
I started a new painting today. Unlike the last one Iíve no idea where this oneís going or what it will end up looking like. Itís a process Iíve explored in the most recent work I did before grinding to a halt while living next door. Itís intuitive and I allow myself to make decisions as the need presents itself. Opening up to various possibilities and immersing myself in the process is incredibly satisfying. Itís equivalent to going on a journey. Having long ago freed myself of any illusions of artistic grandeur Iím now free to do whatever I choose.
We went to a nursery and bought plants today. Plants! Weíve reached another milestone. With the paving to the rear courtyard underway and due for completion this week (including the repositioned drainage grates which have now been lowered) we can focus on creating the green areas. Weíve bought four different flowering climbers for the back fence, a miniature weeping maple and some hydrangeas. Itís a modest start but psychologically itís huge. For all that weíre on a small block we have a courtyard, light court, entry area, four balconies and a roof garden to fill. And fill them we will!
Fingers crossed, tomorrow should mark the end of the invasive work still to be done on the house. With no rear access and no front yard, pouring concrete and laying bluestone pavers in the rear courtyard has been a logistical challenge. Weíve had to vacate our bedroom and sleep upstairs. The ground floor has been covered with plastic, cardboard, old carpet, wooden battens on the door frames and a considerable layer of concrete dust over everything. A weekís interruption to works due to rain didnít cheer us either. Nonetheless, itís all about to draw to a close. Finito, at last!
I thought the guy was going to have a heart attack.
The paving work was almost finished today but they need to come back next week and do some additional work. The company owner suggested he give me a $100 note to prove heíd be back and that I pay the $5,800 (inc GST) heíd quoted for the job. When I said Iíd pay him next week when the job was done, he went into meltdown. Given that heís an old guy I took pity on him and paid the full amount.
Building a house has made me a cynic.
Now well into her eighties, Yayoi Kusama is as prolific as she has ever been. If sheíd been on my radar in 2011 when she had a major exhibition in Brisbane I would have flown up just for the occasion. As it was I only became aware of her most recent work while watching a review of her Tate modern exhibition on TV. So inspired was I that I made her the focus artist at school with every child from Prep to Year 6 creating their own Yayoi Kusama painting while singing her name to the tune of Waltzing Matilda.
At the back of our new four storey house is the old laundry room that belonged to the modest two bedroom cottage we previously had on the site. With the paving to the rear courtyard finally complete itís a room we can now make use of, (though not as a laundry: the location for that is on the fourth floor, much to the annoyance of the guys who delivered the washer and dryer). Itís a detached, redbrick structure with peeling white paint and a tin roof standing as a quaint and poetic marker to the past and what once was.
I was talking on the phone to an artist friend the other day about getting older and she was saying that, at 70, she hopes to have a good ten or fifteen productive years ahead. ďAs long as Iím still able to lift my canvases and move them around the studio I should be okay,Ē she said. It got me thinking about all the paintings I have in my head and the number of productive years that I have. Women tend to stay healthier and live longer than men. Thatís one reason why most of my role models are women.
For the first time in a long while I have a story going around in my head. Iíve only written the first few pages, along with some written input from my sister with whom Iím going to write it, but itís an exciting and delicious sensation. When we wrote our last book we literally carried the characters around in our heads. It felt like an unfurling of a narrative that was partly creative but largely organic. Things fell into place without prompting, characters took on a life of their own and we ended up feeling more like facilitators than writers.
More than at any other time since coming back to Australia, I love being at home. For so many years weíve compromised on space. Not that thatís been an issue; Iím the kind of person who can adapt to most settings be they large or small. What weíve created here however is a large space and, in a relatively short period of time, weíve managed to occupy every corner of it. Since we moved in itís taken many months to get it painted and have all the rectifications attended to but weíre just about there now and it feels sublime.
What a productive Easter weekend! Weíve laid turf and pebbles in the light court and graced it with a Japanese maple. Weíve emptied the old laundry and thoroughly cleaned it so that itís now an integrated part of the rear courtyard. Weíve re-potted all the plants and planted creepers along the back fence. Weíve laid white pebbles next to the front path and re-potted the large whatever-it-is that we salvaged from the original house. In short, weíve finished the exterior areas and they look amazing. Weíve even hung the painting of Mickey! Slowly but surely, it all keeps coming together.
We were fully committed to withholding a chunk of the final payment, partly because weíre still dissatisfied with various inadequacies with the build and partly because some of the rectifications have not been as successful as they should have been. What has transpired is something a little more amicable. Our builder has had the foresight to employ a new manager with whom we've been able to do business. He is very up front about the builderís past failings and has made a genuine effort to address our concerns. So weíve reached an agreement that suits us all. Progress, at last!
School resumed today. Itís the first time in a long while since Iíve gone back feeling refreshed. I actually got to relax during the school break. More than that, I got to paint pictures instead of walls! Iíd like to have done more than I did but what matters is Iíve established the habit and I have a number of projects underway. I started writing again too. In short, I feel like Iíve got my life back again. Consequently, I feel very upbeat about going back to work and genuinely excited about the new projects Iíve planned for my classes.
Iíve never understood why laptop screens are shiny. The whole purpose of a laptop is mobility, yet when I open mine in any well-lit area I am confronted with multiple reflections which inevitably distract me from what I am trying to do. Worse, when running a laptop on battery power the screen dims which makes the reflections even more intense. My beloved old Powerbook never had this problem nor my old HP laptops which have now long passed their use by date. I know people have a fascination for the new and the shiny but honestly, even on laptop screens?
There are times when I miss the mischief I used to get up to. I used to think nothing of blowing a joint with some friends or dropping an e and dancing into the early hours on a thumping London dance floor. At 54 Iím under no illusions that such days are well behind me but that doesnít prevent me having my moments of hankering. Iím sure there are those who would argue otherwise but their arguments would be more well-meaning than anything else. I have no regrets about the past nor for what has passed but sometimes, just sometimes . . .
If stroking an animal is good for the heart then Iím guessing mine is going to kick on for years. As she gets older the symbiotic relationship between our toy poodle and I becomes ever stronger. Even as I write she is perched fast asleep on my lap. When she was younger she was small enough to fit on my knees. These days I have to place a cushion on my lap first and she clambers on afterwards. When I pause to reflect on what to write I absently stroke her while she sleeps. I could stroke her for hours . . .
I spent the afternoon painting the final bedroom and while doing so I listened to Annie Lennoxís Diva. Few albums evoke a time and place as potently as this one. Fewer still have provided such an essential soundtrack to a chapter of life which, though painful and ultimately self-defeating, remains perversely tender in an ironically poetic way. Every time I listen to it I find myself reconnecting with a part of me I long ago cut loose and relinquished. That said, I sometimes find myself hankering after an earlier time in my life when love was unpredictable, messy and raw.
For all that I highlight the many pleasures of my job and downplay the negatives (not that there are many of those) the issue of time management is pivotal to ensuring I donít find myself sliding into a stress hole. So much of what I do involves doing things other than face to face teaching. Thereís a great deal of ongoing organisational work, especially the ordering and management of art materials, the maintenance of two art spaces and the management of hundreds of pieces of work, both 2D and 3D which, if I let things slip, can rapidly become unruly.
I met an interesting woman called Corralee today. Sheís teaching with us for a month. Sheís returned from working overseas and has to update her qualifications. As it is sheís got three degrees and has been teaching for fifty years. Sheís 77 years old. What an inspiration! Certainly no doddering old lady, she is intelligent, articulate and looks years younger than her age. I love meeting people like Corralee. To be so open to life and have the expectation of many more working years ahead of her is precisely the kind of role model that our students (and staff) need.
The days are getting colder. When I take the dog for a walk early in the morning or late at night I need to don a coat. I like it when it begins to get cooler. Walking to work becomes fresher. I can carry my rucksack on my back without breaking out into a sweat.
The autumn colours have appeared, too. Leaves are turning from green to yellow and from red to brown. The rain makes the ground reflective and shiny. Rainwater pools and gathers in cracks and holes and leaves pile up around drain holes.
Yes, winter is coming.
The Tip Jar