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I often wish I'd stuck at the piano. Listening to a gentle solo, I often imagine myself actually playing the piece itself. I imagine losing myself in the playing with no particular audience in mind, simply playing for the pleasure of doing so. Writing can be like that. Sometimes, the thought of the unseen reader can hinder the flow of thoughts and words, but there are other times when, like musical notes, the words come tumbling out onto the page like some sweet melody, easily, effortlessly and with such a sense of release that the world somehow seems right again.
I'm sure there are seasons of the heart, much like there are seasons in a year. Or maybe I'm just sensitive to the actual seasons themselves. Having had quite a prolonged season of being out there in the world I now find myself withdrawing inwards again. I may be mistaken. It may just be that I've been unwell and am now simply regaining my sense of equilibrium and well-being. What I do know is I feel in a very different place this week to last and the many preceding that one. It's not a bad place either, simply different.
Looking in the mirror I begin to wonder about the person staring back at me. As the years begin to slip by I am increasingly confronted by, if not a stranger, then certainly someone I find harder to recognise. Mum used to describe her sense of shock of looking in the mirror because in her mind's eye she was always so much younger than the old woman staring back at her. I don't have an old man staring back at me yet, and I'm constantly told I look younger than my years, but I fear that day is creeping closer.
For the past few weeks I have been immersing myself in 1980. That's the year of the diary I'm currently transcribing. Some of the key players are long dead; others lost in the pre-email days and can no longer be traced. One or two have remained friends throughout the years and I find myself musing over how the years have changed us. Another, Gary, I managed to track down in Adelaide just a couple of months ago during my trip Downunder. My life was so intensely lived back then. It's an intensity I no longer seem to indulge in nowadays.
We left the cozy warmth of the flat and stepped out into the crisp, blue cool of an autumnal London afternoon. The House of Fraser was playing the first Christmas music of the season. Emerging from Tower Bridge Station we strolled around the Tower of London, walked across Tower Bridge and took the lift to the top of City Hall where we drank in the panoramic views of the river and city spread 360 degrees around us. We bought hotdogs and ate them by the river, enjoying the delicate sunlight as it washed over the city we've come to love.
It's already dark when I leave the building, the last one to finish up for the day. It's one of those crisp, cool evenings when the air refreshes the cheeks. I'm feeling particularly pleased with the day. Everyone achieved something. Some even excelled themselves. Jay did his first real piece of work for weeks. Tommy finished his Van Gogh painting feeling like a millions bucks. Charlotte rose to the challenge, continuing her Basquiat painting and moving into and beyond the expectation set for her. It's days like these that make me feel I have the best job in the world.
There are so may cranes on the London skyline. The physical landscape of the city is in a constant state of flux. I've had a fascination for the process of urban renewal for many years. I remember how the building boom of the late 70s and 80s transformed Adelaide. I remember Melbourne when it looked very different to what it does today. Irrespective of architectural merit, the process of physical change and visual transformation that cities undergo (one can only wonder at such cities as Berlin or Beijing!) has always been, and remains, a constant source of fascination for me.
I have a particular fondness for still, grey days when the air is cool, chilly even, but not actually cold. Much as I love a sunny day, there is something poetic and contemplative about the way buildings recede into the soft, muted haze of a foggy morning, or the way trees become silhouetted against a pale, colourless sky. At this time of year, before the heavy damp of winter has set in and the promise of the festive season still beckons, there is a certain pleasure to be derived from the retreat of the long, warm, sticky days of summer.
I miss Donna. I miss our Friday nights: the cheap but tasty curry from across the road, the bottle or three of red wine, the enthusiastic exchange of musical discoveries; films seen and recommended; books read, etc. I miss the warm hugs, the cheery greetings after not seeing each other for a couple of weeks; the exchange of stories about work, or families, or the multitude of things significant or otherwise that good friends talk about. Now it's emails, CD's with music and TV shows from half way around the world, and the odd telephone call to keep in touch.
I've said it before but I consider it a real achievement to get to my age and still be as passionate as I am about my job. Yes, I've had my moments. There have been times when all has not seemed so rosy. Nonetheless, there are days like today when I'm walking back to the station positively overflowing with a particular sense of satisfaction that only comes from working with young people who, despite all the dramas and tragedies that some of them have to burden — bereavement, neglect, abuse — seem to flourish once they walk through our doors each morning.
It seems to be a particularly fertile time for contemporary music at the moment. I've asked myself whether it's just that I'm listening to a lot more lately, and Napster has certainly opened up whole new musical vistas for me, but I think it's more than that. Difficult times tend to produce more interesting music. At a time when so much that's going on in the world gives so much cause for concern, it's as though people are challenged to think more and not take so much for granted. Perhaps that in turn spurs one on to be more creative.
I've been getting a lot of ideas lately about some projects I want to initiate. I keep saying to myself I need to make a start on some creative venture but then allow myself to get sidetracked into other things. However, I have some specific ideas I'd like to get up and running and I've decided that this coming week is the one where I launch into some of them. I know once I get started it'll pick up and create its own momentum. All I need to do is make a start. The rest will take care of itself.
I'm tired today. Sitting here on the train to work, the string of late nights that I've allowed myself over the past week are catching up with me. No matter. I've no doubt that I'll perk up once I get to work. The past week has been a good one. I've skipped sleep a lot more than I usually do and I've enjoyed the accompanying adrenalin rushes that tend to follow, but I think it's now time to have a few early nights. I've done a lot of thinking of late and I've come to a few conclusions about things.
It's easy to forget how scary and downright frightening being young can be. It's easy, too, to take one's own experience and ensuing confidence for granted. Carol is always telling me how trusting and open I am to everyone. It hasn't always been so. There was a time when real trust was a desperate desire and self-confidence a distant dream. For all the difficulties and obstacles of my earlier years, mine is a fortunate existence. To be very young now, with so much exposure to so much that is dark, nasty and downright unsavoury would be a daunting prospect indeed.
It's important to remind myself sometimes: I've chosen all of this. It's easy to slide into a negative rap when feeling overstretched or strung out. More often than not it's due to not getting enough sleep or not being organised or some other reason, which if I'm honest, is ultimately self-imposed. How I feel on any given day, despite the temptation to look around for someone or something else to blame, really comes down to choices I've made earlier. And it's not necessarily about good and bad choices either, but rather wearing the consequences more gracefully and with less drama.
I've had another one of those days when the plight of one of my students has rocked me. The details don't matter. Suffice to say I have a lot of telephone calls to make tomorrow to try and provide some respite for the young person in question. And the crazy thing is, you'd never guess from just looking. A nicer, more amiable young person you couldn't wish to meet. Ostensibly with the Centre to help deal with bereavement, there is a great deal more going on. Honestly, there are days when this job is enough to break the strongest heart.
No, I won't wear that. It doesn't fit. You can't lay it on me. I don't accept it. Yes, I'm flawed. Yes I get things wrong. Yes I can get things wrong. But I'm not going to wear that. Not this time. Not in this instance. I can accept some part of it and have done so already, but not in its entirety. No way. I have said nothing disrespectful and my point still stands. I will not be manipulated. I will stand my ground. If that proves troublesome, then so be it. But I'm not wearing it. No way.
Mid autumn in London. Walking through Hyde Park today I found myself smiling for no other reason that the fact that the sky was blue and the leaves on the trees were brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange. Another week or two and all the branches will be bare, but today there was little or no wind to send the leaves scattering through the air. For as far as the eye could see across the park the stunning colours of autumn served to lift my otherwise subdued spirits. It's difficult to be downhearted with nature singing all around you.
I'm retiring early to bed tonight. Yes, there are lots of things to keep me awake if I so choose, but the lure of the quilt is stronger than that of the TV, the computer or even the new painting I've started. I need to be unconscious for a while. I need to go to that other place where I feel so at home; that internal world where I find myself connected to myself in a way that's different to my waking hours. I don't want to read or listen to music. I just want to roll over and sleep.
I'm on the morning train listening to the two new fathers sitting in front of me trading baby-related stories and photos on their mobile phones, and I find it interesting to note that I really have few regrets about not having been a dad. When I say that to people they're often surprised. But you're so good with kids, they tell me. It's true; I am. But there's a big difference between being good with kids and having your own. I probably couldn't do what I do if I was a father. I wouldn't have as much to give.
There are days when nothing much happens. I wake up around 6:20 am, go through the routine of getting up and out into the world, spend some 80 minutes on public transport, do my bit at work, spend another 80 minutes or so getting back home again, watch a bit of TV, go on the net, potter around with some writing or, more recently painting, procrastinate about when to go to bed and usually retire an hour or so later than I had intended to. It doesn't always make for inspired writing but then life is often mundane and routine.
The truth is, it's my job that receives the greatest input of energy and enthusiasm. I've often wished it was something else, like painting or writing, but that's probably got more to do with the illusion or fantasy of a life with more excitement or more passion: a life that's more exotic, more fascinating or simply more interesting. And it's not that I'm not satisfied with my lot; I am. It's just that I get seduced by the notion of a life more fully lived than the one I lead now: me and most of other I know, that is.
There's something about listening to the music of one's youth. I was caught on an Underground train the other day between St. James's Park and Victoria Station. Realising that we weren't going to be moving anytime soon I took out my iPod and listened to, of all things, John Denver's 'Spirit' album and found myself transported back to when I was 17 and discovering the Flinders Ranges while on a school Art camp. Instead of feeling annoyed or anxious, I felt re-connected with an earlier self. By the time we were moving again, I felt surprisingly relaxed and stress free.
I'm painting again, and it feels good. The output is not prodigious but it's happening and that's the main thing. I'm working on an image by Picasso, reinterpreting it into something more graphic, almost Haring-like. It's a technique Picasso indulged in himself, especially with Velasquez. No, I'm not comparing myself to Picasso; it's simply something that interests me and at this stage it's about finding a way back in. What matters is that I'm pleased with the results so far and I'm enjoying the process. It's engaging me. Meanwhile, other ideas are percolating away on the back boiler as well.
It's working. Slowly but surely, I'm bringing something forth that didn't exist this time last week. It's not taking an inordinate amount of time to accomplish, either. I can even see a series of paintings emerging after this one. The important thing is to maintain the momentum. If I ensure I paint for a minimum of one hour a day then at least I can see progress. And of course, one hour will often turn into two. More on the weekends. And that's the thing. When you work long hours and have limited energy left over, small steps really matter.
I need to keep a notebook in which I jot things down. Why? Because throughout any given day there are lots of things that I think about which, when I sit to gather my thoughts of an evening, desert me completely. Take tonight for instance. I'm sitting in front of my computer trying to retrieve some gem of an idea I had last night after I'd already written my 100 words. That's okay I thought, I'll write about it tomorrow. But can I remember what it was? Can I heck! So tomorrow I begin keeping my gems and jottings notebook.
It's complicated. There's something about being Australian that distinguishes me from other people here in London. Yet at the same time there is something about being English that distinguishes me in a different kind of way when I'm back in Australia. Watching Love My Way for the first time on TV tonight I found myself tapping into an innate Australian-ness that had me hooting over my glass of red and yearning for the forthright, no-nonsense culture that has shaped me. Yet over there I am just as equally shaped and influenced by my British roots. Like I said, it's complicated.
For once procrastination hasn't got the better of me. I had to get a bunch of school reports done this weekend. Usually I would be starting them about now, well into the evening, but I sat myself down this afternoon and simply got started. Writing reports is not the arduous task it used to be when I was teaching in mainstream education. The days of having to knock out 500 or more on a weekend are long gone. And given the nature of the kids I now teach, I've taken my time over what I've written. And now, they're done!
There's something about the winter months that facilitates the creative process. Maybe it's the lack of temptation to go out so much. I'm finding myself in a creative zone again, both in terms of writing and painting, and it feels very satisfying. I don't feel like I'm missing out: quite the opposite in fact. And typing up some of my journal jottings from 1984; painting in the little room this evening, listening to The Roches and Rickie Lee Jones, while Teddy sorts through bills and things before heading off to the Philippines tomorrow - these are simple pleasures; the best kind.
I went to see Coram Boy at the National Theatre tonight, courtesy of Donna who gave me the ticket before she left to go back home. It was a good production but I was so tired I left at interval time. Wandering back along the Thames, the evening unseasonably mild, I felt almost bewitched by the lights of London glistening on the water while listening to Jarvis Cocker. As I strolled I found myself thinking of Joni Mitchell's Mingus album and then, realising I had it on my iPod, I walked across Rutherforld bridge singing God Must Be a Boogieman.
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