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This month marks five years of writing for this site. There have been times when Iíve been at serious risk of defaulting on my commitment to see the project through but despite many such instances here I am, still getting my thoughts down on paper, at least figuratively speaking. I'm in a different place to when I first started both geographically and in terms of where I am in myself. Itís been an interesting journey and at times a challenging one and while Iím generally pleased with the direction life has taken there are times when Iím not entirely so.
It's becoming a bit of a pattern. I'm trundling along minding my own business when I receive some news that completely knocks the stuffing out of me. The details donít matter; suffice to say there are times when I seriously question the decisions and choices we've both made over the last couple of years. Yes, thereís much to feel good about but the elephant in the room remains all the uncertainty about what we're trying to achieve and today has been one of those days when my confidence in our ability to make all of this happen has been seriously shaken.
I need to adopt is an entirely new mindset. Until recently Iíve taken, if not a back seat, then at least a co-pilot role in this venture, partly because hard bargaining and numbers are not my strength and partly because until a couple of weeks ago I was the sole breadwinner. Now circumstances have changed and it's beholden upon me to step up to the mark and lead. To do that I have to change the negative self-talk that swamps me whenever things seem to be going against us and believe that where there's a will there's a way.
I agreed to meet him more as a matter of following due process than anything else. I certainly harboured no great expectations. I came away from the meeting feeling unexpectedly cheered. While we may not have resolved the problem of the cost blowout I do believe weíve addressed some of the key issues. In thinking outside of the box there emerges the possibility of moving closer towards our original budget without seriously compromising the integrity of what we are trying to build. Consequently I feel just a little less burdened and a little more optimistic that we can do this.
Funnily enough, of all the things I might have seen gazing into a crystal ball when I was younger, the one thing I would never have anticipated above all others would have been building a 15 metre high house in Melbourne. I was having another look at the plans last night when the scale of the project hit me anew. This morning I awoke ahead of the alarm and try as I may to hold it at bay a sense of absolute panic swept over me, robbing me of those precious remaining minutes of forgetfulness before crawling out of bed.
It was evening when your gift arrived, heralded by the ring tone. Being tired I didn't open it until later the next day. When I did so I was overwhelmed by its heartfelt simplicity and its resonating breadth of meaning. It was a photograph, beautifully framed, of a path we have walked along many times on our way down to Biddle Bay to build towers of balancing stones. Lined by trees and thick undergrowth on one side and open to the sun on the other, you accompanied this visual feast for the soul with three simple words, 'Thinking of you'.
It's the first time that we've talked since you died and in the dimly lit minutes between waking up and waking up again we found each other, or perhaps you found me. We talked about the state of things. I remarked that you had your health back again now that the drugs had worn off and you agreed. Is that what great age is, nothing but an unwelcome chemical assault robbing us of ourselves? We found each other inside but after a while we ventured out into the street where, holding hands, we joined the bustling throng of life outside.
She was sitting stony faced amongst a sea of smiling faces, her tears threatening to well up at any moment. We were drawing whirly twirly trees based on Klimt's
Tree of Life
but for some reason it just wasn't happening for her. I went over and sat with her and in a little while we were able to deduce that she could draw faces really well. So I suggested that instead of a whirly twirly tree she draw a face with whirly twirly hair, upon which suggestion her entire mood changed and the artist within the small child joyously re-emerged.
In all my years of teaching and making art I'd never made one of these before. I got the idea from a colleague in London and though I modified the technique I was more delighted with the outcome than I could ever anticipate. Once finished I rushed next door to proudly show a colleague what I'd done. She also couldn't believe something so effective could be achieved so simply. Now the girls have seen it and they all want to make one. It's one of the many things I love about this job; rediscovering the simple pleasure in making things.
After weeks of glorious autumnal weather itís turned decidedly wet and wintery over the last couple of days. As a rule I don't mind the cold weather. I enjoy watching the trees lose their leaves and the way the light changes as the canopy of green changes from yellow to red before letting loose and filling the streets with rustling carpets of brown. One of the nice things about living in this part of Australia is we get the full four seasons here and I find it much more agreeable rugging up against the cold than dealing with the heat.
I've been waking frequently during the might of late. I have a periodic back problem that only seems to surface after I've had one of those fate-inviting conversations with someone about how I've not had a back problem for ages. During the day itís little bother but at night it becomes acute. I've also been getting to bed earlier than usual so the constant waking hasn't been a major issue. Indeed, there's something rather nice about waking from a dream, albeit due to discomfort, checking the clock and discovering you have another three hours before you have to get up.
Given the generally organised state of my two art rooms and the fact that for once I seem to be up to date with my paperwork, I decided to stroll to the tram stop this morning rather than gallop. I'm glad that I did. Walking beside the river I found myself luxuriating in luminous shades of pink and blue that transformed the buildings and the usually brown Yarra into something glistening, almost pristine. Soon it will be dark at this time of the morning but today the river, the city, the parklands Ė everything seemed more beautiful than I can remember when.
There are dreams I awaken from that I intuitively know are trying to tell me something, or at least help me work through something. There are other dreams that elude my attempts at recall despite their intensity only moments before waking. There are there are the 70mm technicolor widescreen dreams with a cast of thousands that seem to have no other purpose than to leave me feeling exhausted upon awakening. Then there are the dreams like last nightís which seem to come from left of field and leave me scratching my head wondering what the hell was that all about?
A few weeks ago we approached our next door neighbour about renting his house while we demolish and rebuild. Given that he was the only person to lodge an objection during our application for council approval to build we were pleased to find him so agreeable. Itís in his best interests of course to have tenants who wonít be threatening to move out because of the noisy neighbours building a house next door, so it's clearly a win-win situation. Heíll have tenants for the duration of the build and we get to keep an eye on the whole process.
I have moved house more than 30 times in my life. Agreed, sometimes it was from one temporary accommodation situation to another. Nonetheless, moving home is something with which I am well acquainted and very soon now we will be moving once again, this time into the house next door to where we intend to build. Less than a year after arriving back in the country another new chapter will begin. I've always enjoyed moving and while the actual day of shifting everything can be a hassle, the novelty of living somewhere else always creates a bit of a buzz.
Given we'll be moving next door to our existing home it's not as though we'll be somewhere entirely new. We had four years living there prior to moving to London so we know the area really well, although it's changed somewhat during the intervening years, acquiring a distinctly bohemian feel with the opening of so many cosy bars and cafes where once there were mainly charity shops and second-hand furniture outlets. Then there's the Prahran Pool, my favourite swimming pool in the whole world. It may not be our own place but it will at least be our own neighbourhood.
Most of the time I'm happy to push my memories of London to the back of my mind while I focus on living in the here and now but when I realised youíd arrived there after all your weeks of counting down the days I couldn't help wishing I was still there to share some of it with you. I often used to imagine you coming to visit and now there you are, embarking on the first leg of an adventure you will never forget and one which will allow you to grow in ways you canít imagine right now.
The days are getting shorter now, though not as short as they do in London. On the list of things I don't miss about living in London, the onset of winter darkness is perhaps highest. We easily get an extra two hours of winter daylight here in Melbourne, enough to keep the winter blues at bay despite the fact that winter here feels colder due to the general lack of what I would consider effective heating in so many Australian homes. And while can always put on an extra jumper, there's really no effective remedy for a lack of daylight.
We're in a strange kind of limbo at the moment with regard to the building project. We're having to completely re-think every aspect of what's been designed and at the moment it's all in the hands of our architect who is trying to bring the whole project back into budget. In the meantime all we can do is go about our daily business and trust that he will deliver. This is something I am finding easier to do than my partner. Even so, I'm finding it hard to recall a time when this whole business wasn't uppermost in our minds.
Iím sitting on a crowded tram early in the morning, tapping away on my iPod screen feeling just a little self conscious of the guy standing behind me and wondering whether he might be looking over my shoulder and reading these words as Iím writing them. Most people use their iPods to listen to music or play games. I use it for those things too but it's also become my tool of choice when writing my 100 words a day. I've become surprisingly adept at using the virtual keyboard and the more I use it the more fluent I become.
I have three iPods in total Ė one for the classroom, one for the bedroom and my more recent iPod Touch which travels wherever I travel. The first two are earlier model classic iPods, 60GB and 80GB respectively that are little more than music players. Despite the early claims that these would mysteriously die after one year they have both faithfully served me for six years now and despite their heavy usage show no signs of giving up yet. But it's the iPod Touch that has completely won me over and since I purchased it back in January we have become inseparable.
There is a certain irony in the fact that the first book I'm reading on my 21st century iPod is a 19th century novel written by Elizabeth Sewell who used to own and live in the house in which I was born and spent my childhood on the Isle of Wight. I stumbled across it while searching online at the Gutenberg Project. It was only uploaded a couple of weeks ago. I was looking for something to test drive on my iPod to see if I could allay my scepticism with regard to ebooks. And guess what? I have done!
She waves her freshly completed painting in front of me, full of eager anticipation about what I might think. I take a long hard look, employing my most disappointed expression, after which I say, "I don't think it's very good." I pause for a moment while she stands crestfallen beside me. A couple of the other girls gasp in astonishment: this is not the kind of comment they are used to hearing from Mr. Abraham.
Then, "I think it's brilliant!"
Her relief is immediate and palpable. She bursts into laughter, as do the girls around her.
I love my job.
When we move there will be a spare room, which means there will be room to set up a table or an easel and paint. Actually, I'm not one to paint at an easel. The kind of work I do requires a flat surface. It's been ages since I painted something that wasn't a teaching exemplar or a wall. I know there are going to be ongoing demands on my time and attention while the house is being built but having the luxury of a space to work where I don't have to pack things away each day Ė ah, what bliss!
Why do we write? What is it that drives some of us to keep hammering away at getting our thoughts down on paper, however mundane they may be or however unlikely it is that anyone will ever read them save for the occasional fellow scriber who shares the same compulsion? I suppose it comes down to hearing one's own voice, of marking the passing of time and with it, life. Like casting a bottled message into the waves, we never know who or if anyone will ever read them.
Maybe it's the act of casting one's bottle that matters most.
Why is it that whenever I tell someone I haven't had a back problem for ages I almost invariably develop a back problem? You'd think I would have learned my lesson by now. As a teenager and into my 20s I used to suffer from chronic back pain. Ironically, the older I got the less of a problem it became. In recent years I've had periodic episodes but it always seems to fix itself without the need for physiotherapy. Lately however I've been getting nocturnal back pain which, although manageable at the moment, is a real pain in the back!
"It seems like everywhere I turn in the school at the moment I'm surrounded by beautiful art work," she says. I'm standing in her office looking for some spare wall space to hang some more of it. "I was also having a talk with the Year 1 mothers the other day and they were telling me how impressed they were with the way you've been able to connect with the children." They're the kind of comments one likes to hear, especially from the Head. Nonetheless, it's not as though I'm doing anything out of the ordinary, simply doing my job.
If I allow myself to think too much about what has to be achieved over the next few weeks I'd panic and that would serve no good purpose. Anyway, I'm so used to it now I know it's simply a matter of being organised, ensuring I get enough sleep and enjoying the ride. It occurred to me the other day that this is a time in my life I'll look back on and probably wish I could live all over again. I couldn't quite see that when we first embarked on this adventure. Still, at least I know I'm alive.
There is something really invigorating about waking up, looking out of the window and seeing the gleaming towers across the river silhouetted against the barely illuminated, crisp blue sky. Itís the promise of a full day of sunshine so late in the season that puts a spring in the step and gets me out into the day with a smile on my face. Itís something Melbournians are especially sensitive to. Living in a city with such unpredictable weather makes one appreciative of a sunny day, which in late autumn is a little less common here than elsewhere in the country.
Iíve become rather slack in my efforts to maintain contact with friends over the past year or so. At work I'm constantly interacting with people but at home really I need my down time. Perhaps I'm just getting older or maybe it's the expense of going out that keeps me from catching up with people. Here in Melbourne catching up usually implies going out somewhere whereas I prefer casual home visits. Or maybe it just that I'm not as proactive in making the time for friends as I used to be Ė which is strange, given my how I used to be.
Once again the last day of the month has crept up from behind and taken me by surprise. We thought weíd be knocking down the old house by now. Instead, our architect is this week sending out the revised drawings in a valiant effort to bring the whole project back within our budget again. Meanwhile, in less than three weeks weíll be moving into the house next door, the same week that I have to finish writing 300+ end of semester school reports. So with all that and more to look forward to it's going to be an interesting month!
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