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For as long as I can remember Iíve been telling myself that Iím bad at remembering names. Itís the same with numbers. So itís hardly surprising that Iíve ended up believing it. This year, all that changes. Iím making a concerted effort to remember names while this morning I decided not to allow numbers defeat me when it comes to outwitting the bank. Itís become personal and Iím determined to have my ĎFuck You!í moment, albeit a few months down the track. Iíve come up with a mathematical solution that is rather elegant, and Iím feeling rather pleased with myself.
Iím not confrontational by nature. I tend to choose the path of least resistance. From a very early age, conflict used to freak me out. As a kid Iíd avoid fights at all costs, although on the odd occasion I couldnít I made sure I rose to the occasion in style. As Iíve gotten older Iíve found other ways to deal with conflict but itís still something I try to avoid. That said, there are times when you have to stand your ground. To do otherwise is to acquiesce, which is not the same thing as choosing to walk away.
Iím an optimist at heart. The glass is half full. The sun will come up tomorrow. The best is yet to come. That said, itís increasingly challenging to keep a growing sense of dread at bay.
I work with little people. Many of them will live to see the twenty-second century. I may not have children of my own but I work with children on a daily basis and I worry about what the future holds for them. A warming planet, rising sea levels, global pandemics, collapsing ecosystems, the threat of nuclear annihilation.
Itís hard to keep the faith sometimes . . .
The youngest children I teach are four years old. I can remember being that age. It was a very different world back then but I remember how fresh and vibrant the world felt.
When I work with these wonderful little people Iím able to plug into their energy and openness to the world. Itís such a privilege!
When I lived in London I worked with some of the most damaged children imaginable and that too was a privilege.
To work with children is to be a part of something so much bigger than oneself.
Itís a calling, pure and simple.
I received a message from a friend today while clearing out some cupboards at work informing me that Annette Bezor was dead. An extraordinary woman and a superb artist, I shared an artistsí studio with Annette back in the 80s. She was larger than life and a huge inspiration at a critical time in my life. I was deeply shocked and saddened by the news. Then, not ten minutes later, I discovered an invitation to one of her exhibitions from 2012 with a handwritten note from the very same friend who had messaged me, suggesting that we attend the show . . .
When I was a teenager and well into my twenties and early thirties, I would regularly rearrange the furniture. I used to enjoy changing things around; seeing the same space in a new way. Sometimes Iíd even change the function of certain rooms. A bedroom would become the lounge, and vice versa. In recent years Iíve tended to leave things as they are. Itís partly a function of living with someone else. The space is not entirely my own. What was previously a spontaneous act would now involve negotiation and agreement with someone else.
Funny how things change. Or donít.
Over the last couple of days Iíve been completely reconfiguring the layout of my school art room. Iíve tried a few different things over the years but this time Iíve come up with something genuinely new. In the process Iíve discovered a renewed enthusiasm for overhauling a space thatís become a bit tired and seeing it with new eyes. The response from the kids has been encouraging. Itís as though one of their favourite places in the school just got more interesting. As for me, thereís that delicious illusion of being somewhere new and all the potentiality that that implies.
There are a lot of things I used to do that I donít do anymore, or rarely. Itís hard to know whether thatís because I share my life with someone else or simply because Iíve changed. Thatís the thing about long-term relationships. When you have companionship 24/7 thereís a tendency to settle into behaviour patterns which can become unchallenged over time, often referred to as comfort zones. A lot of things I used to do were motivated by the desire for companionship. I used to have a wide social network. These days, less so. And that can a mixed blessing.
Itís rare that I find myself with nothing to do. When I do I generally go looking for something to do. I live very centrally so thereís never any shortage of distractions outside the front door. Then thereís TV, books, my painting studio, podcasts, the internet, apple music, planning stuff for school, and thatís before I even begin on all the domestic demands of keeping a four-storey house in shape.
I can remember days as a teenager when Iíd lie on my bed, bored, for want of something better to do.
I canít even remember what bored feels like anymore.
There are some worthwhile exhibitions on in Melbourne right now. Thereís a major Haring and Basquiat retrospective, a major KAWS exhibition and many others. Yet for some reason Iím not making the time to go and see them. Life gets busy. Other things take priority. Iíll go when Iíve got more time. So many excuses! Given that Iím an artist and art teacher, youíd think Iíd be down there all the time. When I do make the effort to see an exhibition, Iím usually stimulated even if not always impressed. Itís just that it never seems to make the time.
Iím currently mentoring a Year 12 student who is working on an extended essay for her International Baccalaureate. Sheís exploring the extent to which Chinese culture influences the art practice of Chinese artists living in Australia with a focus on two particular artists. For the last ten years Iíve been teaching primary school students but my previous teaching experience was with senior and tertiary students. I have no desire to return to my former role but, much as I love teaching young children, itís stimulating to engage in a little intellectual rigour with an older one once in a while.
I recently listened to a two-part Studio 360 podcast focused solely on Stanley Kubrickís seminal work,
2001: A Space Odyssey
. I first saw the film as an eight-year-old kid when it was first released and to say it blew my brain is something of an understatement. The podcast focused on many aspects about the film including its realistic portrayal of space, but one thing that it didnít reference was the fact that it was the first film to highlight the silence of space. As a kid, this was a revelation to me and one which has remained potent ever since.
In his recent book,
The Boy Behind the Curtain
, Australian writer Tim Winton writes about the impact of seeing
2001: A Space Odyssey
as a young boy. Being a contemporary by age of Winton, itís something I can relate to. Arriving shortly before the moon landing, the film stretched my imagination in ways I can only marvel at today. And it wasnít the mind-blowing conclusion that stuck with me but rather the sense that space is vast beyond imagining while people are small beyond reckoning. The vastness of space and its terrifying silence: that was the defining realisation for me.
2001: A Space Odyssey
and the very first
Planet of the Apes
movie were both released within a week of each other. Both had a significant impact on me. Looking back, Iím a little intrigued that my parents thought it appropriate to take their eight-year-old son along to see either of these films but Iím glad that they did. Until that moment my only experience of science fiction had been
Lost in Space
on television, both of which I loved, but these two films opened my eyes to a broader conceptual sense of universal intrigue and wonder.
I recently posted ten albums on Facebook that greatly influenced my musical taste, one album per day, with no explanations, no reviews, just covers. I initially thought it would be an easy task but the more I thought about it the harder it got. There are so many albums that Iíve loved over the years and choosing just ten that have greatly influenced my musical taste required some deep consideration and heavy culling. In the end I posted eleven. I really enjoyed the process and the feedback I got from friends, some of whom I hadnít heard from in ages.
There was a time when a sunny day was a sunny day. I wasnít worrying about whether it was unusually warm for a particular time of the year or what that might mean. Iíd enjoy the warmth of the sun on my skin without worrying about UV damage or skin cancer. Iíd watch a bee gathering pollen without worrying about beehive collapse.
These days it seems to be getting harder and harder to enjoy the day without worrying about whatís happening to the planet; harder and harder to simply live in the moment.
Perhaps I need to start meditating again.
Today was meant to be settlement day for the purchase of our new apartment in the city. Itís been a rollercoaster ride organising finance but it came through late on Friday evening, so today saw me at the bank transferring a very large sum of money from our account to that of the vendor. Everything went ahead as planned but there was a last-minute hiccup (not of our creating) that means settlement will be delayed until tomorrow. No matter. The bottom line is, from tomorrow the property will be ours Ė along with the sizeable bank loan thatís financing it, sigh!
Well, itís finally been settled. Weíre now the proud owners of a riverside city apartment in the hub of Melbourneís arts precinct. The long-term plan is to sell our current house and move in but in the meantime weíre still enjoying our current abode. When we do move weíll have to do some serious downsizing Ė weíve accumulated so much since weíve been here Ė but I wonít mind getting rid of it all. I actually prefer living a simpler, less cluttered life. But until then, weíll enjoy what we have and lease the apartment back to the hotel chain itís currently leased to.
Iím taking a break from painting. After three or more years of a highly disciplined work program Iím realising I need to step back and focus on other things. To do otherwise is to merely replicate what Iíve been doing and the motivation for that has waned. Iím pleased with the three paintings I completed last month. Theyíre hanging on the wall where I can see them every day. They are a reminder of what Iím capable of but I feel a deeper need to focus my energies elsewhere. Iím not sure how long I need but time will tell.
Iíve made an excellent start to the new school year. My efforts to reimagine my art room is paying dividends. The student response has been overwhelmingly positive and Iím enjoying the sense of organised calm that has emerged. Iíve designed some new projects to augment the regular ones and thereís a genuine buzz around each class that reminds me why I enjoy teaching so much. While thereís still a handful of Chinese girls in self-imposed isolation, most of them have now returned and Iíve been able to modify each project to enable them to make up for any lost time.
Having a disciplined approach to painting has served me well by providing a framework for productivity that has resulted in the creation of a body of work that wouldnít otherwise exist. Allowing myself to relinquish that disciplined approach inevitably raises some questions. What if I let things slide for too long? What if my best efforts are behind me? What if the creativity dries up? These sorts of questions are not unusual in and of themselves but they can be unsettling nonetheless because they lead to an even more fundamental question, which is, why paint at all? Why even bother?
I havenít engaged in any serious drawing for years. I draw to think visually, especially when working digitally. I can spend a lot of time sketching a refining ideas for a painting but the drawing eventually becomes absorbed into the painting itself and ceases to exist.
There was a time when drawing was my thing. Iíd go outside and draw the world around me. Iíd visit museums and draw the exhibits. Iíd drive out into the country and draw hills and trees. Iíd draw my friends or walk the streets and draw buildings.
Please note: this should have been the last sentence of yesterday's entry:
Drawing. Maybe I need to rediscover drawing.
Today's entry starts here:
I have quite a collection of sketchbooks. Some are big and handsomely bound. Whenever I think about using them I hesitate, anxious that what I draw may not do justice to the quality of the book itself. Some are small. Whenever I think about using those, I tell myself theyíre not big enough. The rest are in a drawer upstairs or languishing down in the studio. Iím not quite sure why I donít use them. Maybe Iím just out of practise. Like so many things in life, I like the idea of drawing but thatís as far as it gets.
Being the news junkie that I am itís pretty hard not to feel concerned about the unfolding drama in China, and now South Korea and Japan, with regard to the coronavirus. Whilst we still only have a small handful of cases here in Australia, itís hard not to think about what might happen if it gets a foothold. We live in such an interconnected world. To date, all of the cases involve people returning from overseas, but with an incubation period of up to 14 days, it doesnít bear thinking about what threats could be lurking just around the corner.
Things are getting serious. It's spreading, and it's hard not to think it's only a matter of time until it gets a foothold here, and there, and there, and there too. I usually buy my ticket to the UK around this time of the year but I'm thinking that's not such a good idea right now. Who knows what things might be like by then. I can imagine being stranded over there, unable to fly home again. I know that sounds pretty extreme, but you only have to look at what's going on in China to see what might eventuate.
It's hard to get one's head around what it must be like to be in Wuhan Province right now. It has a population the size of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane combined, and the entire population is in lockdown. It beggars belief. How are people supposed to function under such conditions?
80,000 people have been infected. Nearly 3,000 people have died. It may only be a small percentage of the total population but itís growing. Where does it end? South Korea, Japan, Iran and a host of other countries aside, no pun intended. Itís no longer a contained epidemic. Itís spreading.
Things at school are going well at the moment. The kids are really involved in what theyíre doing an Iím up to date with all of my planning.
That said, Iím not getting very much else done. The painting has fallen away, as has the reading and piano practise. Iím taking time out, allowing myself to operate on cruise control for a while, and thatís okay. Iím allowed to. I actually
to. Itís all part of the ebb and flow, which is something I tend to forget sometimes.
I donít have to be Superman. I can just be me.
Itís a little sad to think I wonít be going back to the UK this year. Itís become something of a pilgrimage in recent years, especially the time spent on the Isle of Wight. Iím glad I took Mumís ashes back last year. Itís now a full decade since she passed and to have left it any longer would have felt disrespectful. I very nearly did leave it until this year, thinking that ten was a nice round number, but recent world events would have well and truly scuttled those plans.
Ten years. Just writing that makes me feel sad . . .
There is a surreal sense of things sliding into some kind of abyss. It began as something remote and far enough away not to be of local concern, but within a few short weeks or even days, the whole world seems to be teetering on the brink of something huge. The implications and ramifications are steadily beginning to reverberate around the world. Put simply, the novel coronavirus threatens to disrupt and change everything. Everything! Every day the news feeds become ever more alarming. The fallout from all of this almost doesnít bear thinking about.
But think about it we must.
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