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I started another painting at work this week. The kids have been intrigued.
I remember being inspired by my own art teachers at school. Itís what got me into this line of work in the first place. Iíll never forget a painting of a field across the school fence by my Year 11 art teacher. All Iíd ever seen until that moment was an empty field. Thereafter I saw a wonderland of detail that had previously been hidden to me.
We never know what impact youíre having on kids until one of them grows up and tells us about it.
The degree to which this country is veering to the right is alarming. The new conservative government is set to introduce a swathe of budgetary reforms which, under the banner of making the future economic welfare of the country Ďsustainableí, is set to change the very essence of our social fabric. Retirement age is rising to 67. For people born after 1965 itís going up to 70. Medicare is set to be all but abolished. Most key services are to be scaled back or abolished. World heritage forests are to be de-listed.
And thatís just the tip of the iceberg . . .
I started work on a portrait today. Iíd been stalling because itís been ages since I attempted a painted one. I neednít have done so. In little over an hour I had the whole thing mapped out and, more importantly, Iíd managed to capture an exact likeness. Thatís always the acid test. Without that the rest is nothing more than window dressing. Portraiture is always a challenge and this painting is completely different to the other work Iím doing. Itís not as fun or free-flowing but thereís the satisfaction of creating something thatís going to be treasured by the recipients.
Iíve come to the conclusion that writing and painting in the same space doesnít necessarily work so Iíve decamped my writing area back down to the 2nd floor desk by the window where I first resumed the writing habit back in January. Having initiated the writing of a new book with my sister (which we are now both really into) itís become necessary to have a less cluttered space in which to think and dream. In London I used to go downstairs to the coffee shop. Here I donít need to. All I need to do is focus on writing.
Walking to work listening to David Grayís
New Dawn at Midnight
, my quintessential London soundtrack album. Cool crisp air; the squelch of wet leaves underfoot; a mottled grey sky punctuated by shafts of sunlight and patches of blue. I love this time of year with its echoes of late November and my former life in London. I turn a corner and stroll along a narrow laneway stacked with deciduous trees on either side. In London I would travel to work via the Underground and bus. In Melbourne I stroll through leaf-laden streets creating new memories while reminiscing about old ones.
A couple of weeks ago I embarked on a major project at work: to clear out all the junk accumulated by my predecessor during the 30 plus years she was in the job. It's something that Iíve been meaning to do ever since I arrived but the demands of building meant I didnít have the energy to tackle the task. And itís a mammoth task! I have three major art spaces plus a sizeable storage room with every shelf and drawer heaving with stuff, much of it useless. And Iím taking no prisoners! The whole damn lot has to go.
Listening to Bjorkís album Debut while walking home this afternoon I found myself re-living my life in Brixton in London in the early 90s and, more specifically, my time as Head of Art at Hayes School in Kent. I always played music in the art room and Debut was played to within an inch of its life, along with William Orbitís Strange Cargo. These days the latter sounds decidedly dated but to my ears Bjorkís Debut sounds as innovative and fresh as it ever did and in terms of raw energy and verve, few other dance albums ever matched it.
On the little plot of land next door where a modest two bedroom cottage currently stands a developer is planning to build 13 apartments which will tower almost 5 metres above our studio roof, casting our solar panels into shade until after midday. Needless to say weíre not impressed. In a little over a week we head to arbitration in an effort to get the development modified. Weíve employed the services of a solar expert who will argue our case. Whether or not weíll be successful remains to be seen but we certainly intend to give it our best shot.
Itís a good feeling to end the working week on a high. All things considered, Iím having a good term. Curriculum-wise, things have pretty much fallen into place and the girls are working well across the board. Iím striking a balance between teaching and fulfilling some of my own creative endeavours. Iím feeling excited about the new story and also about the paintings Iím doing. I sometimes think I should be doing more but then I remind myself that I do work full-time and in amongst all of that I have to have some downtime in order to remain energised.
We met them at the 30th birthday gathering for our neighbour. They must be in their mid to late 40s and they live in-house as carers for three teenaged lads who come from horrendous home situations and are often on the wrong side of the law. The demographic is all too familiar to me. Listening to them recount the trials and tribulations of living with their choices and commitments I couldnít help but feel a peculiar mixture of awe, respect and puzzlement. To offer themselves as 24/7 hour carers and guardians Ė that commands respect. I know I couldnít do it.
Itís been a lazy Sunday Ė blue skies, warm weather, relaxed atmosphere. I managed to complete the next stage of a painting Iím working on. I could consider it finished as it is but Iíd like push it further. I could be doing more but I keep getting distracted by other things. That said, Iíve also worked some more work on the portrait Iím doing and yesterday was house tasks day and given that I work full time I suppose Iím doing okay. Itís just that I tend to imagine getting more creative things done on the weekend than I do.
Thereís something decidedly therapeutic, even liberating, about having a major clean-out. There was a time when I had a reputation for being a hoarder, squirreling things away for a rainy day. No more. The older I get the less scruples I have about throwing things out. As I continue my mission of thinning out the cupboards, shelves and storage areas at work I find myself feeling more and more energised. It mirrors whatís been going on in my home as we gradually eliminate all signs of the building process, revealing in its wake a life altogether more orderly and enjoyable.
ďI want to be in the classroom teaching kids, not having to deal with all of this other stuff,Ē she said half-jokingly. I know how she feels. I can remember days when all I seemed to do was push paper, answer emails, talk to people on the phone, take care of other peopleís business. Those days are behind me now and Iím happy to leave the past in the past. I feel for her though. Itís no easy job and Iím sure sheís a great teacher. Still, she obviously wants to get ahead and she has a lot to offer.
Sheís Filipino but sheís lived in Japan for 25 years, is married to a Japanese national, has two adult Japanese children and holds down two jobs. Her daughterís visa which was applied for online in Japan came through in one day. Her visa which was applied for here in Australia by her brother, my partner, has taken over six weeks to process and still hasnít been issued. She is booked to fly here in 6 days. Our local federal MP's office has proven useless in speeding things up. Needless to say we are all highly stressed out by the situation.
The visa has been granted. It was issued at 4:50 this afternoon. Needless to say there is enormous relief all round. Nonetheless itís incredibly annoying that those issuing the visa resorted to silly game playing just to make a point. Two points actually. One, to drive home the message that one shouldnít buy a plane ticket before a visa is granted and two, the notion that because she is Filipino she is somehow more likely to abscond. Iím sure these things happen all over the world. Iím sure in many countries itís much worse. I just wish Australia was different.
Weíve been contacted by yet another disgruntled tradesperson who worked on our house. Apparently the builder still owes him over $20,000 for the work that he did and he was curious to know what our experience of the builder was. We told him in no uncertain terms. We have also given him the contact details of all the other trades who have had similar grievances Ė all of them, basically. This one intends to take the builder to court. Weíve suggested he get the others to join him in a class action. Nothing would give me greater pleasure. What goes round . . .
My sister and brother-in-law arrived from South Australia yesterday. Their son, my nephew and good friend, booked us in at a Greek taverna about ten minutes away. We had an enormous feast consisting almost exclusively of meat washed down with three bottles of wine and some Greek rocket fuel, the name of which escapes me. I canít remember when I last ate so much meat! Towards the end of the evening we were entertained by a belly dancer who had perhaps seen better days but who had us all clapping along, after which we waddled home feeling bloated but happy.
When life gets busy and the demands on my time are many I find myself pining for a lazy day. When I finally get the chance to have a lazy day I find myself worrying that I'm not spending my time productively.
Example: today I kept thinking about the painting I could be working on; the next part of the story I could be writing; the preparation for VCAT I could be doing; the plants I could be re-potting Ė anything other than just relaxing and allowing myself to enjoy some down time.
Seriously, I really need to learn to chill!
Whenever I need to throw a sickie at work, which is rarely, I go into method acting mode the day before in order to make the whole thing more convincing. Trouble is, I end up feeling as crap as I'm pretending to be. Today was no exception. I need to take tomorrow off in order to fight our corner at VCAT with the developer who wants to build 13 apartments next door. I've rescheduled my classes 'just in case' so no one misses out and they don't need to pay someone to take my classes but now I'm feeling crap.
A large chunk of today was spent in a small hearing room at the Victorian Court Arbitration Tribunal locked in dispute with the developer who wants to build a 6 story block of apartments bang up against our own building which will cast our solar panels into shade until well over midday. I believe we put up a strong case, as did Stonnington Council who are also opposed to the development. I fear however that the developer's spokesman was more persuasive. We will know soon enough. It's not that we oppose the development in principle, merely its height.
I had a headache for most of the day, a hangover from the awful thumper I developed while sitting in the VCAT hearing yesterday. I took some Nurofen but it did little more than dampen it. Nonetheless I had a good day at work, albeit a little less productive than usual. This evening was somewhat more laborious as I started getting things ready for our guests who arrive late tomorrow evening. Owning a four story house can be a lot of fun. Cleaning a four story house can be testing. Fortunately for me, my efforts were a labour of love.
After a busy day at work I spent the evening finishing off getting the house ready for the arrival of my partner's relatives who flew in from Sydney just before midnight. Once here the house was filled with a magical mix of Japanese, Tagalog and English, both competent and broken. For my part I was reminded again of my woeful lack of knowledge of other languages. As it turns out I won't have much of an opportunity to spend with them all because on Saturday I fly to New Zealand for the bi-annual Australasian Association of Girls' Schools in Wellington.
Sleep. I don't seem to have had very much of it these past few days. Today was no exception, but I couldn't let it slow me down with my busy teaching schedule, the need to prepare and leave detailed lesson plans for the teacher covering my lessons next week and the even more pressing need to buy some respectable clothing to wear at the upcoming conference in Wellington. As luck would have it I managed to find a stunning, heavily discounted jacket which I secured a further discount on plus some groovy new trousers to match. Who's a happy boy!
With very little sleep to support me I crawled out of bed this morning and took the bus to my colleague's place in the city from where we hailed a taxi to the airport. The flight to Wellington was smooth enough but the descent and landing challenged the nerves of us all as the plane swung and shook wildly just metres above a raging sea in the worst turbulence I've ever experienced. This evening saw us with a friend and former colleague at a funky little restaurant enjoying good food and wine and trading stories and anecdotes with warm joviality.
Sunday morning waiting for my very late breakfast to arrive at Joe's Garage in Wellington after the longest night's sleep I can remember having in years. I could have happily slept through until evening but that would be to waste the opportunity to explore some of the city before the conference opens this afternoon at government house. Laying almost zombie-like in the bath this morning it occurred to me how rarely I have the chance to simply stop and catch my breath. Just to be somewhere else and on my own Ė what bliss! I really should do this more often.
If I was a tad nervous that the conference would be tedious, I needn't have been. There hasn't been a dull moment. The speakers have been variously humorous, provocative, challenging and engaging. I've also enjoyed the company of my colleague, the person for whom I owe a great debt of gratitude for her role in securing my position with our school. Some of the other people attending have been a little less inspiring, predominantly school principals whose eyes tend to glaze over when they discover I'm a mere head of junior art but no matter. I'm not here to impress.
Tuesday night in Wellington at Joe's Garage. The conference is over but I 'm staying here until tomorrow afternoon.
Today is a very special day. It was twenty years ago this evening that I set out on that fateful evening for the London nightclub where at three in the morning cruising happily on an e I met my future partner. Finally, after so many years of turning up and hoping, I hit the jackpot. How our lives would have turned out had we not met, who can know? What I do know is I wouldn't change a minute of it.
Itís good to be home. I enjoy going away for a few days but the novelty of doing so is not as alluring or potent as it once was. There was a time when being somewhere else implied possibility. It still does I guess. Itís just that Iím less in need of random possibilities. Whether thatís a good thing or not Iím not sure. Itís simply a fact. More to the point, it was good to come home and go and celebrate our twentieth anniversary at a little cafť around the corner. Yes, thatís why itís good to be home.
I got a lot of sleep while I was away in Wellington yet today at work I felt decidedly lacklustre like I was trying, without very much success, to crank myself into action. I drew up a list yesterday of all the things that need to be achieved by the end of the school term and it feels decidedly like trying to squeeze five pints into a quart. Not that that is unusual. I think whatís happened is Iíve had a major rest midway through the term but I really need to hit the ground running now that Iím back.
I was on lunchtime duty at school. All around me children were running around, gathering under trees and lounging out on the grass. The sky was cloudless, impossibly blue, while the gardens and trees glistened with the warm colours of late autumn. And I thought to myself, these are the kind of days we look back on and remember with that special kind of fondness and longing that magical memories are made of; the kind of magic that resides in the mindfulness of the here and now and which contributes towards a sense of having had a life well lived.
I'm feeling tired today. Really tired. I feel as though I could sleep for hours. I know I could climb into bed but I keep talking myself out if it. Funny that. I seem to have an odd relationship with sleep. I know people who have no problem whatsoever with taking themselves off to bed during the day. I also know that when I do, which is rare, I never regret it. Nonetheless, whenever I'm tired I tend to muddle through and trust that I'll perk up. That said, today I think I might just succumb and go to bed.
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