The amazing benefits to be gained from having a plan! (*amazing benefits may be relative)

Warning: following is a post about a would-be writer’s attempts at writing and getting an article published. For more interesting reading, that doesn’t travel ground you’ve probably encountered before, you may prefer to read that letter from the Tax Department that you have not yet opened. 

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When there is a longer gap than usual on this blog, it often means I’ve had a burst of motivation about writing, and have therefore spent my time trying to focus on writing something for an outlet other than my own personal blog.

As it turns out, I don’t have enough spare time to manage to write two things within one week. Or rather, more accurately, what is lacking is not spare time, which I’m great at wasting, but determination, organisational skills, focus, and decisiveness. Indecisiveness is just as debilitating for a would-be writer as it is for an air traffic controller, although with less disastrous consequences. In my case, I waver indecisively, uncertain whether to write about subject x, or y, or z, or whether in fact I should stop writing and do some research – and if so, whether I should read about subject a, b, or c).

Thus, last week, in the time slot where I usually sit and write a post for this blog, instead I tried to attack my lack of organisation. I wrote out a plan that I thought was realistic, of what I aimed to try and achieve, writing-wise, in the next 3 months, and then, what the first steps would be towards achieving each of those goals.

(As a side note, it was an empowering exercise because I felt like I’d achieved something by creating a plan and defining some clear steps to take. Setting out what writing projects I should focus on also assists with overcoming my indecisiveness about what to focus on doing next, so by planning, I hope to kill two birds with one stone.)

It was important to try and keep this 3 month plan achievable so it’s modest: 3 projects. The first is to get published, a piece I’ve already written. The second is to write a creative non-fiction piece for a local literary journal, based on the theme they have set for their next issue. There was also a project number 3; but honestly, in the time it’s taken me to get from the start of this paragraph to this point, I’ve changed my mind and decided that it may not be realistic to also achieve that goal in the same timeframe. I am now feeling less confident, so I’m not going to make that one public. Maybe it will slip onto the next 3 month plan. I’ll stick to two goals this first time, because if I manage those two, I’ll be very happy.

Anyway, the day I wrote these goals, the adrenalin had kicked in. After writing up the plan, I moved swiftly onto phase two, which was the first steps required for project numbers 1 and 2. Yes, I started on both in the same day! For project #2, this required brainstorming ideas, and from those ideas, trying to come up with a reading list that I could start on, by way of research. This in itself was exciting, because it is a totally new approach for me. The most “research” I ever do for a piece of creative writing (i.e., the writing done on this blog) is to Google a few things to make sure I get dates or facts right, as I write about them. I hope that this new approach – starting with research before I have fully shaped an idea of what I’m going to write about – might shake things up a bit. At the very least, I hope that taking this project seriously and working at it, will result in a good piece writing even if I don’t achieve the goal of submitting it to the journal in question.

The task for project #1 was to approach a publication about publishing a piece of writing that I have ready to go. What is that piece of writing?, you may well ask. I see you are still assidiously avoiding that letter from the Tax Department.

Well, as it happens, there’s a letter from the Tax Department sitting unopened on my benchtop too, so I’m happy to tell you about that piece of writing and how it came about.

Every little while, I’m motivated to try and create a piece of writing that requires more than just my imagination and 60 minutes of my time. When this motivation hit last year, I did a short course on writing profiles, on the online training site, Skillshare. I then did some preparation for writing a profile of a friend of mine. I interviewed her and transcribed the interview, which took me about two months, because I let weeks go by in between doing any transcribing. We talked for about two hours, so I had two hours of recording to transcribe. It must have taken me about 20 hours of listening and typing and rewinding and listening again and typing some more! Anyway, once I got it all transcribed and was ready to start filtering and structuring and writing, I promptly lost interest in it and let it stagnate for months.

But the next time I got motivated to take writing seriously, a few months later, I had to come back to the profile project rather than waste all that work. So I started filtering, structuring and writing. That part wasn’t hard actually. I don’t know why I put it off for so long. But again, I took ages to do it. This was partly because it was so long.  I knew it was much longer than I, an almost-never-published writer, could expect to get published anywhere. Surprisingly enough, The Age Good Weekend does not publish unsolicited, 2500 word profiles from people whose publishing credits so far are a few unpaid pieces in arts/education publications and one 800 word paid article in a parenting magazine about 10 years ago. (Let it be noted that I’m also acutely aware that my writing is not up to the standard of a profile piece in the Good Weekend, lest that previous sentence should suggest otherwise.)

Despite knowing all this, I wrote a long piece anyway, because I’m stubborn about doing things my own way. Because I lacked the confidence to do it the other way around, ie, pitch the idea first and then when it was taken up by an editor, sit down and pump out a brilliant piece of writing, my seemingly weird approach was my way of making sure I got all the information I found interesting into the piece, and could then pitch the idea, with the (perhaps misguided) plan to chop it down to fit whatever word length a specific publication required.

But as all you writers out there will be aware, you need to know what you are writing so you can pitch it accordingly. I was aware, even as I wrote, that the piece that was forming was not so much a profile of my friend, as a description some of the interesting aspects of a project she is doing. This is an important distinction to consider when hoping for publication.

The reason that I focussed more on the project is because to interest an editor in a profile piece, you really need either a well-known person as the subject, or a well-published writer as the author. I knew that getting an editor interested in a profile of someone unknown, written by someone with no track record, was going to be a hard sell from the start.

The project my friend is working on, however, has a few “hooks” that could generate interest from media – she’s producing, with a team of artists, a pictorial map of Melbourne. So potential readers are: people who are interested in Melbourne, people who are interested in illustrated maps, or people who are interested more broadly in illustration. There was potential for good photos – of Melbourne, or of illustrated maps. That this angle could have interest for Melbourne-focussed publications is, as they say, is a no-brainer.

So I wrote my article with that in mind, but unfortunately as I slogged along slowly, letting it sit for weeks at a time without going near it, my friend, working hard to promote her project, managed to get some media outlets interested, and they published her media release, or wrote their own short articles on her project. (No resentment from me, since she needed the PR, and by this time I’d taken about 4 months to produce nothing she could use. There had been no understanding between us that she’d wait for my piece to be written – I didn’t have the confidence in my abilities to undertake that kind of commitment! So I’m really happy that her project got all the publicity it has had to date!)

In terms of publication possibilities, this essentially meant those outlets had already covered it and so were no longer options for publication by the time I had a piece of writing that I felt ready to approach editors with.

So when it was ready, I selected some publications who had not yet covered the story, and pitched a short version of my article, focussing on the project. So far I’ve pitched to two of those, with one publication not responding at all, and the other giving me a polite refusal immediately. (they explained that all their articles must be about projects that are funded by their local council).

That was weeks ago now, but since my highly motivated session last week, I followed the steps in my own 3 month plan, and did more research on other publication possibilities. Accordingly, I pitched it again, last week, to a national publication, this time suggesting it as a profile piece. Since then I’ve been eagerly checking my inbox, but have so far only received a polite, standard response, saying they are inundated with emails about submissions, and may take a few weeks to respond.

Since that’s not an outright rejection, I’m choosing to feel positive about this opportunity so far.

So stay tuned. I’m off now, to do more research for my creative non-fiction piece. That is, after I go out and buy groceries, make lunch, and clean the shower and toilet, because like all unpaid hobbies that you do for enjoyment rather than for income, writing has to fit in around life.

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PS, in case you’re wondering, a reason why I kept my discussion here about my friend and her project pretty general is because if I can’t get the piece published anywhere else, you will get to read the whole thing on this blog. So it won’t be entirely wasted!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the Grays

via Daily Prompt: Gray

Grey. It’s a simple word, that describes the color of the sky on an overcast day.

But wait! Grey is not the WordPress Daily Prompt I’m responding to here. The prompt is Gray – a fact that is quite telling, because gray is a word which does not have meaning in the English language, outside of the United States of America. Which is where I live. Outside of the United States of America, that is – ie, in that place known as the rest of the world.

Before I go too far, let’s just double check that I’m not making things up here. Maybe there are, universally, differing opinions on whether the word is grey or gray?

According to the site grammarly.com:

By the twentieth century, “grey” had become the accepted spelling everywhere except in the United States.

Here’s what Dictionary.com says about the two spellings:

….gray is the more popular spelling in the US, while grey reigns supreme in the UK. For centuries, the one letter difference between gray and grey has left people wondering if the two have different meanings.

They don’t. It’s the same word, spelled differently. As Grammarly goes on to say:

Here’s a tip: Gray is more common in the United States, and grey is more common in the rest of the English-speaking world.

Okay then. Or maybe that should be okey, depending on where you live.

So this is an interesting prompt. Given that a one word prompt is supplied with no context, what is someone who is not from the U.S.A to make of this word? That it’s grey, spelled wrongly? What’s the best way to respond to this if it’s not actually your language?

Of course, the strange thing about my reaction to this “misspelling” is that there are lots of English words that are spelled differently between English speaking countries – usually, between the U.S. and other English-speaking countries. Take colour, for example, which is spelled color in the U.S. I accept that these are just variations of the same word. If WordPress had put color up as a prompt, it would not have occurred to me to comment on the spelling at all.

So what is it about grey v gray that got me seeing red?

I think it’s because it’s only four letters long, so the variation in the spelling seems more significant. As noted above, Dictionary.com says the one letter difference between gray and grey has left people wondering if the two have different meanings. 

I think that’s quite reasonable. After all, one letter can make a big difference: try mixing up pray and prey.

So no, grey and gray don’t have different meanings. I understand that in principle, but I’m attached to grey being the correct spelling of the colour that’s half way between black and white. I don’t like replacing it with gray, because that just feels like bad spelling. But the prompt was gray. So I will write about gray.

Here in Australia, gray can be a name, and I do know of a few Grays.

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Gray was the name of the family Doctor I used to visit when I was sick as a child.

Imagination and memory crash together as one gets older, so I am not sure now if it’s because of his name that I picture this gentleman with a neat grey beard. Perhaps his beard was actually dark brown, or black. In any case, I’m 99% sure that he did, at least, have a beard, whereas I’m also 99% sure that he didn’t wear the black top hat that, for some reason, insists on popping itself on his head in my mental image of him. Apparently in my mental image of this doctor from my childhood, a frock-coat and a hansom cab would not be out of place. It seems that I picture Dr Gray looking as if he had stepped out of a Dickens novel.

Is this all conjured up in my faulty memory because his name was Gray? Who can say?

What I can tell you is that the doctor’s offices were in a little double-fronted Victorian cottage, and that he kept dingoes as pets. When the breeze blew the right way, we could hear them howling in the evenings. The doctor’s surgery was only a block or so from our house, which was convenient for my mother, since she couldn’t drive, and whenever one of her six children was sick, this unfortunate news would most often be uncovered around 8am when they woke up, and Dad, the only person in the family who could drive, would have left for work at 6am.

Therefore, no matter how sick we were, if we were certain that we were too sick for school, we’d have to get up and walk to the doctor’s surgery.

No wonder I never take sick days.

I can also tell you that in Dr Gray’s waiting room was the most interesting thing I’d ever seen in a house up to that point. It was a huge aquarium, at least 3 feet long and about the same in height, that hummed and bubbled, pumping air for fishes of various sizes and colours that flurried around in the water. I was too young to have any interest in the women’s magazines on offer, but my time in the waiting room was amply filled in by simply staring at the fish.

When you have a bunch of brothers, as I do, there are always other stories on the peripheries of your memory, stories you were told second or third hand, sometimes years later, tales of the things that your brothers got up to, that you never saw and so have only ever pictured in your imagination. I feel as if there is a funny story that involved my brothers and Dr. Gray’s car, or his sons, or his dingoes, or his surgery, or a combination of all the above, but I can’t recall any more than that.

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The other Gray I know of is an Australian Artist from the post-war period, Gray Smith. The only reason I recall the existence of Gray Smith is not because of his art, however, but because he was married to Joy Hester, an Australian modernist artist who is reasonably well-known within Australia.*

In an unusual gender reversal, which probably serves as an indication of their relative status as artists, there is not even a Wikipedia page for Gray Smith, while there is a brief entry for Joy Hester.  Hester’s body of work is unusual in that she worked mostly in brush and ink on paper, a medium that was not valued as highly as oils, and may be one reason why her work was not as well known as that of some of her male contemporaries such as Albert Tucker (her previous husband).

Many of the images she depicted were of women, or were about relationships between men and women, another reason why her work could have been viewed by some, particular given the period, as merely the frivolous doodlings of a lady artist.

Joy Hester, Lovers [II] 1956

Image: National Gallery of Australia

As for Gray Smith, I can’t tell you anything more about him, except that he fathered some children with Hester. Unusually, Smith suffers the fate that so many women throughout history were subjected to – to be remembered by the history books mostly because he was married to someone more famous.

*

So that’s it I guess. All the Grays I know of.

 Gray

The Notebook

A while back, I wrote a post about the pile of books next to my bed, and where they sat on the continuum of not having been opened/being partly read/being almost completely read/will probably never be read. But did I mention the notebooks that were also in that pile of books? There’s about 5 of them. (Honestly, the pile of books next to my bed is the saddest pile of books anywhere, in as much as it’s an indication of a wanna-be writer who never does anything more than write a post on her blog.)

Anyway, after looking through one of them, today’s post is this:

All the Ideas listed in one Yellow Spirax Notebook. (2007 – 2011)

I first used this very ordinary, spiral bound notebook to take notes in when I started a new job back in 2007. It opens, therefore, with some uninteresting notes: which printer prints in color, procedures for locking up, file paths to certain files – information I no doubt quickly came to know by heart, as I spent the next seven years working in that same organisation.

A few pages later, it’s become a writer’s notebook. Perhaps there was nothing more I needed to write in a notebook in the course of my day-to-day job. In any case, the diversion to a writer’s notebook is intentional, because I’ve used it for an exercise from The Memoir Book, (Patti Miller, 2007, Allen and Unwin) called Brainstorm Circles. The instructions in this exercise are to start by drawing a circle in the middle of a page, and writing in it a topic you want to write about. Then, creating a visual kind of “flow-chart”, you write the first word that comes to mind from that one, and then, the first word that comes to mind from the second word, etc. Importantly, the author notes, you are free-associating each time from the previous word, NOT from the original word. When you reach the edge of the page, or run out of ideas, go back to the middle and start again. Spend about 20 minutes – this will give you an idea of how rich your idea is.

Writing exercise from The Memoir Book, by Patti Miller (Allen & Unwin, 2007)

(I like this exercise and employ it every now and then. As it happens, from this very first exercise, I developed a piece of writing that I liked and have sent to a few literary magazines in the past ten years, but so far no-one else has liked it enough to publish it.)

The next few pages contain my ambitious ideas for books (never started) and more versions of the same writing exercise, using different topics. Book ideas under consideration were: a book about an organisation I was volunteering for at the time, a book on people from regional areas now living in the city, or a book about careers in the arts. Next are pages of research for an article I was writing about the value of arts education in schools. (That article was published, at least!)

Abruptly, this train of research is interrupted with a note scribbled down when I received a phone call from ANZ bank in 2008. Some of my siblings were travelling overseas, and the bank called me out of the blue to say that my brother’s credit card had been the subject of fraud and had been stopped. I’ve scribbled instructions about calling the bank using a reverse charge number, and below that, credit card cancelled.

That innocuous little memo signifies drama for others, although that mostly played out in Berlin. My part was done with after I passed on the message.

Underneath this, there are notes to myself on possible chapter ideas for a non-fiction book on arts education (never written). Then some research on funding opportunities for the organisation I was volunteering with.

Turn another page, and there’s another sudden shift in the function of the notebook. We were moving houses, (dating this to late 2008) and my use of the notebook has become purely pragmatic. Instead of writing, or even thinking about writing, my spare time, as well as the notebook, were used to keep track of what needed to be done. The evidence: an extensive, hand-written, checklist of all the companies (phone, electricity, etc) I’d need to inform of our change of address when we moved. Judging by a few boxes left unchecked at the end of the list from seven years ago, it appears that the local library and Dinosaur Designs may still have my old address. Woops!

In the chaos of packing and moving house it must have been the only paper we had at hand. That’s the conclusion I come to when I turn the next few pages, which contain lists of words written by my daughter, who was about 8 years old at the time – apparently spelling tests, corrected by me.

Seems pretty good for a grade 3 speller!

Next: a scribbled quote from Budget Truck Hire, on the cost of hiring a truck with a hydraulic lift. The truck was to be driven by my younger brother John. Back then, John was the go-to every time one of his siblings moved houses, as he had a licence to drive trucks and was always only too willing to give up his time and help out. It would have been his instruction to make sure the truck had a hydraulic lift, as I would barely know the difference between a hydraulic lift and a hydroponic tomato. Following on this theme, next comes a list of items to be put into storage.

Perhaps the notebook went into storage too, because on the next page, it’s apparent that at least a year has gone by. It’s now a writer’s notebook again, and I’m drafting ideas for a blog post about Beckett. This signals that it’s now late 2009. We were settled in our new house by then, I started this blog around October that year, and one of my first posts was about Beckett. Following this are more notes, on a book called The Lost Art of Sleep, by Michael McGirr (2009, Picador, Pan McMillen Australia), perhaps thinking I may refer to them in a blog post, or maybe just because I had a strong personal interest in the topic, as I was still, at that time, a constant insomniac. It’s a memoir of sorts, and passages I copied down include this lovely paragraph:

We fall into bed. We fall asleep. We rise in the morning. That’s what we do. Over and over. Falling and rising. Rising and falling. We fall in love. We rise in it too. The rising takes longer. (p248)

After this, the notebook must have been misplaced or left aside again for 2 years, as the next turn of the page reveals a list of scribbled descriptions of photos of my brother John. I guess that, once again, I grabbed the first bit of paper that was at hand, and this particular notebook seems to have been in the right place at the right time whenever that was required. On this page I’ve written headings, indicating different photo albums, and under each, a description of each photo of John taken out of the album. This means it’s September 2011, because I took those photos out of those albums to compile them for my brother’s funeral when he died suddenly on 11th of that month.

At the time, I scribbled that list with the intention of putting the photos back in each album after his funeral, but then after his funeral, it didn’t really seem important to bother putting them back. I think those photos of him remain together in a folder with other papers related to his life.

Following that is a scrawled first draft of the eulogy I wrote with my sister and youngest brother.

Incredibly, straight after the eulogy – surely the most significant and heartbreaking thing I’ve ever had to write – the remaining pages full of mundane notes are a testament that the small details of life relentlessly carry on even after someone dies, and require attention.

These final, trivial notes include log-in details for a student portal, reminding me that I was actually studying part time at RMIT when my brother died. Then, prices of various options for holiday accommodation follow, because I had a strong desire to go away over the New Year break that would fall only a few months after my brother’s death and would also overlap with his birthday.

The rest of the notebook – only a few more pages – is taken up with similarly utilitarian notes: a confirmation number from a bill paid, a quote from a telephone company.

In my pile of notebooks, I’ve got writerly-looking notebooks, with luxurious, leather-bound covers, or floral designs and beautiful soft writing paper inside them. This one is the notebook you get out of your office stationery cupboard. It’s cheap and functional and not made to look like a writer’s notebook. It begins and ends with practical, trivial, and mundane memorandum – but it’s inadvertently also a missive that demonstrates how, in between the mundane, and in the course of four years, lives were irrevocably changed.

 

Don’t judge a book by its cover

 

 

Lay lady lay

I realise that some will see this as a sacrilegious thing to say on Good Friday, but I have admitted it on this blog before, so I’ll say it again regardless of the day: I’m not a huge Dylan fan.

Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. For this sin, I expect to have a few less followers by tomorrow afternoon (when the Northern Hemisphere catches up). The reason it will only be a few is because most followers don’t actually read the blog, as far as I can gather.

But back to Dylan.

Why is it that I never really took a liking for his music? Maybe his particular brand of folk-country-rock music is a taste I still have to acquire. I do like some folk music, and a lot of rock music, but truth be told, I’m not much for country, unless it’s a little bit alt. Then again, maybe it’s the nasal quality of the younger Dylan’s singing voice that I’ve never really liked, although that has now developed into a gravelly deep voice that I have no objection to.

But maybe, and most likely, it’s because I have traced the annoying, recurring misuse of the word lay in everyday conversation back to his 1969 song Lay Lady Lay. It seems clear that Dylan is to blame for the constant and blatant misuse of the word lay that I encounter in my day-to-day life.

The situation is getting so out of hand that I have started to wonder if I’m the only person left in the English-speaking world who still believes that there is a sentence structure where the word lie is correct and where lay sounds wrong – and also ignorant, or silly.

It does make me fear for the future of the human race. From giving up on lay and lie, it’s a slippery downward slope. The next thing you know, no-one is bothering to use an indicator when they change lanes, and it’s all because they just don’t care any more. They don’t care about good grammar, and they don’t care about the risk of causing an accident, writing off their car and/or yours, and causing injury to themselves and others. From there, it’s a small step to organised crime or party politics.

Now, I realise that the English language is a constantly evolving thing, and I applaud that. As it has become so ubiquitous, I can’t say when, in the evolution of the language, the change from lie to lay took place. Was there a memo about it that I missed? Not according to the Cambridge dictionary online, which says that lay means

to put something in a flat or horizontal position, usually carefully or for a particular purpose

to prepare a plan or method of doing something

and goes on to say that the verb lay must have an object.

Thus: Lay your work out on the desk; try to lay the baby down in the cot as quietly as you can; I am laying out the clothes I plan to wear tomorrow but I can’t find any clean socks because no-one in this house has put away any laundry for about 3 weeks.*

(While researching this topic, you may be interested to know that my research team came up with a quote from another blog – but promptly forgot what blog they found it on! – suggesting that, if used correctly, in a sentence that’s in the present tense, you should be able to replace the word lay with the word put. (Use the phrases above to try it at home for free!) According to this theory, if put doesn’t work then you should use lie.

Let’s try that test now.

Put lady put,

put across my big brass bed

Hmmm. It’s actually worse than lay, isn’t it. Definitely wrong. Which tells us that lie would be grammatically correct, although I can accept that it would not have sounded quite as catchy, and would have presented some difficult obstacles for the songwriter to get over.

Lie doesn’t rhyme with stay, for a start, a word that is tripping over itself in its eagerness to be utilised in the next verse. What word could Dylan have used in verse two, if he’d used lie in verse 1? Sky? Pie? Die? You can see that there is much more at stake in writing a song, than merely grammar. Had he stuck with correct grammar in verse one, the lady in the song may well have had to be killed off in verse 2, possibly by eating a poisoned pie, leaving the protagonist singing mournfully to the empty sky.

Bob Dylan (in a harlequin costume) tries correct grammar in the early stages of writing Lay Lady Lay.

 

The other thing Dylan achieves by using lay, is to very efficiently create an image using only two words.

Instead of speedily conjuring a scene of a woman draped languidly across a bed, opening the song with the words “lie lady lie”might cause the listener to initially suppose the song was about a woman who had deceived the singer, a misconstrued notion which would take until line 2 to be cleared up. Song lyrics need to be economical, you can’t waste a whole line having the listener set out down a conceptually wrong path, just for the sake of getting the grammar right. (Although in this case, if he had used lie, as previously covered, he would now have to rhyme lie with pie and die, so I suppose he could have solved this dilemma by turning the song into a ballad about his lying female associate who ends up getting what was coming to her via a few drops of arsenic in a beef and mushroom pie.)

So of course I’m not seriously criticising Dylan for using incorrect grammar in a song. I’m a firm believer in poetic licence in song writing (and poetry!), where other things are more important than grammar. We can wonder all afternoon about how the song would have unfolded if he’d used lie instead of lay, but the point is, poetic licence does not apply in every day speech, where one’s primary aim is to communicate clearly, not to set a rhythm, create a rhyme, or evoke an image using only 2 words.

So far, we’ve talked about how lay and lie are two separate verbs with different usage, but, just to prove how confusing English can be, even to native speakers, get this: lay is also the past tense of lie! Therefore, if speaking in the past tense, you can use lay without an object. Eg, I lay back on the daybed and imagined I was holidaying in the French Riviera.

But the reason I am frothing at the mouth, and have finally succumbed to ranting about it here, is because I don’t recall ever learning these lessons in grammar – indeed, I am quite sure I never learned any rules of grammar at school beyond nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, and perhaps tenses. I don’t know what it means to conjugate a verb, as some good grammar-focussed blogs do when explaining the different uses for lie and lay. But despite the lack of formal training, I must have developed an ear for what is correct and what is not, and I am forever cringing at hearing lay used in the present tense, to replace the word lie. For example

I’ll get you all to start by laying on your mats (a yoga teacher)

She’s not feeling well so I told her to lay down (a colleague at work)

All I want to do is have a day off and lay around reading a book (overheard in a bookshop) (I find it hard to believe this person can actually read.)

I’m disheartened every time I hear this kind of misuse of the word lay, but I don’t correct people. To counteract the frustration I feel when I hear these misplaced phrases, I cheer myself up by quipping a witty response like Should we lay an egg on our yoga mat? Or should we lay some bricks? Of course, I don’t say this out loud, but only in my own head. And after I’ve chuckled, and congratulated myself on my wit, I make my own small protest, by lying on my yoga mat instead.

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*a true story

**Fans of Dylan probably stopped reading after the second line of this post, but fans of yoga mats keen to read more about the yoga mat that starred in this post, should click on the tag, yoga mat, (below) to be taken to more scintillating yoga mat-related stories. 

 

Panic on the dance floor

It’s time to solicit some crucial advice from the combined wisdom of readers.

The question is – should I go to my 30 year school reunion?

Yes, 30 years! Apparently that’s how long it’s been since I was lying around languidly in an asphalt courtyard at lunchtimes, discussing boys, or INXS, (specifically Michael Hutchence) or teachers, or who was at the nightclub last Saturday night and who’s going this Saturday.

When the time came for the 10 year reunion, I didn’t go – not through any deliberate desire to avoid it, but because I had an exhibition opening the same evening, if you don’t mind. Why yes, those were the days when I was a twenty-something artist.

When the next one (20 years) came around, I didn’t go because, well, I hadn’t been to the 10 year reunion, and by the 20 year mark I’d basically fallen out of contact with every single person I’d been friends with at high school. I’ve written about this before, but it seems that I haven’t tended to retain friends for a lifetime as some people do. Instead it seems that by mutual agreement in some cases, or not in others, I lose contact with people and move on and make new friends so that I end up having a past series of friends who are associated with specific periods of my life. This has worked ok so far, but I do hope I’ll start retaining friends for longer, because I can see that opportunities to make new friends become less as you get older.

Anyway, when the 20-year reunion came along, I was a 30-something, working in the arts. Working in the arts sounds less glamorous than being an artist, but in the end it suits me better to be doing practical tasks that contribute towards the creation of art (theatre) by a company, and for that reason, I feel satisfied. Sure I’m creative, and, oh boy, do I love ideas! – why, I can ramble on about them for hours, as this blog proves! – but it turns out I’m not very good at self promotion, or at staying focussed and motivated when left to drive myself along to develop abstract concepts into physical works of art. I’m easily overwhelmed by broad, undefined goals.  “Continue to develop a body of ideas and work that may end up being exhibited, or may simply be research and development towards your whole oeuvre” was a little too vague to help me decide what to do from day to day as I attempted to produce work in my studio.

But back to the looming 30-year reunion. This is happening in the near future, a time when I’m a 40-something, still working in the arts. (At least there has been some consolidation on the career front then.) I am still not in touch with anyone from school apart from two people that I am now Facebook Friends with. Of those two, I’ve caught up once, in person, with one of those people.

So basically, attending the reunion means attending an event where I don’t know anyone very well, but sort of know everyone just a little bit. In my opinion, for a shy, introverted extrovert (that is a self-diagnosis), this is far worse than attending an event where everyone is a complete stranger. And finally, even worse again, some are people I used to be close friends with, who dropped out of contact about 20 years ago.

Now, if you are not a massive extrovert, it’s actually hard to socialise with people you know just a little bit. An event full of strangers is preferable. If everyone is a stranger, you can wander around on your own, making it obvious that you are alone and don’t know anyone, and hope that some of those strangers will notice your plight, and converse with you out of courtesy, or pity. (As they are strangers, it doesn’t really matter which.) And, if they don’t, you can cut your losses and leave without any real loss of dignity or hurt to your feelings.

At an event where everyone knows who you are, but you are not close chums with anyone, you sidle around the outskirts of chatting groups of people, smiling and hoping someone you’ve met before will take pity on you and make eye contact so that you feel welcome to edge your way into their little group, and pretend to take an immediate and passionate interest in whatever topic they are discussing, even if it’s the renovation they are doing to the ensuite in their holiday house.

And if no-one makes any attempt to give you an opening, then you’ll probably slink away early and – YEAH YOU BET your feelings will be hurt and your dignity will sink to a new low!

(As a self-diagnosed “introverted extrovert,” by the way, I’m not a totally hopeless case socially. My self esteem in general is quite ok – certainly a hundred times healthier than when I was a high school student – and I LIKE socialising with friends – but it’s easily trampled on in a situation like this.)

Ok, it’s pretty obvious that I’m wavering on the side of not going.

But let’s get down to the real issue here. Surely the only question that matters is – will the music be good?

Because I do love dancing, as I think we’ve covered in previous posts.

So much so that, despite fear of not being able to make small-talk, and the possible humiliation of scuttling around the edges of the function room on my own all night, the possibility of dancing could, in itself, be a temptation to go! In the unlikely event that the music was good, if it turned out to be the worst case scenario where I was milling around with no-one to talk to –  I could just join the dance floor!

(That is, of course, only if at least 12 other people were already dancing, as I am too self-conscious to jump up alone, or when there are only two extraverts doing the bumpsy-daisy together out there.) But if there’s enough people dancing for me to blend somewhere into the middle of the crowd, then I can lose that self-consciousness and dance the night away, or at least until Working Class Man* comes on.

But sadly, it seems unlikely that the music would be good. I say this because my generation’s musical taste has forever, and quite erroneously, been labelled as Seventies disco in some kind of timewarp that wasn’t accurate. Although we were indeed alive in days of 1970s disco, we were in nappies, and then pre-school, and then the early years of primary school for most of that decade and were therefore more interested in what was playing on the Looney Tunes cartoon hour on TV than what was playing at Studio 54. I have never even seen Saturday Night Fever. Maybe this explains a lot about me, but to put it bluntly, I have no emotional connection with Seventies disco, which was the music most frequently played at school fundraising events I attended as a parent at my daughter’s school.

At an event where a selection of music is to be played for my personal entertainment, ideally I would request a good dose of music from the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s (or whatever the current era is known as). Anyone taking notes at home may include music from the Seventies too, by all means, but please make it punk, or folk, or rock, or Motown, just not that over-played Seventies disco.

Despite the stereotyped notion of parents as a particular breed of adults whose musical taste stays rooted in the nostalgic past, I have always enjoyed discovering new music. That includes discovering music from the past that I hadn’t listened to at the time. But official events of any sort usually opt for safe choices with music, on the premise of pleasing the majority, and safe, for my generation, seems to be to play the music that was playing on the dance floors when we were learning our multiplication tables and how to write in cursive.

Of course we all think our own musical taste is superior to everyone else’s, don’t we?**

In the end, I should thank you for your input, dear readers, because as I’ve been writing this post, I’ve come to the only conclusion that seems obvious, and will avoid the need to make small talk AND ensure the music will be good.

I won’t attend my school’s 30-year reunion unless I can DJ.

*

 

*Working Class Man is a song by well known Australian Band Cold Chisel. I’m clearly a bit of a snobby purist when it comes to what music I am willing to dance to, and it’s my personal opinion that this song should never come anywhere near a dance floor, but when I was growing up in the country, the djs were less picky, and it usually did come on at about 3am, signalling to me that it was cattle-call time at the meat market, and a good time to go home.

**(Or is that just me?)

***Update: thanks to those who said I must go and then write about it here. I didn’t see you offering to accompany me and pretend to be someone everyone else had forgotten. If only I’d thought of that earlier. Airline tickets could have been arranged.

Anyway, the reunion happened, I didn’t attend, and I don’t think there was ANY music at all. It was a daytime tour of the school that so many of us were thrilled to leave at the time, and then a luncheon. How alarmingly sedate. And how demanding of small talk!! I think I made the right choice, so I thank you all again.

These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You

My little brother died in 2011, but I think of him every day.

One of the reasons for that is because a strange, and, sometimes, seemingly random range of commonplace items can remind me of him, out of the blue. Here are some of them:

A pair of boots I own – because he was with me when I purchased them. He had stayed at our house overnight, it was a Saturday morning, and I had planned to buy some boots. In his typical easy-going fashion, John accompanied me by bus into town, and to go shoe shopping. He hung around patiently while I deliberated over boots, probably had a cigarette out the front of the shop, and even bought himself a cheap pair of black sneakers (trainers – his signature shoe) for work while he was waiting for me.

We hear that men are not big on shopping, and even less keen on accompanying a woman when she shops for clothing. Surely there are not too many guys who voluntarily go clothes shopping with their sister, but I also have a skirt that was purchased while shopping with John on a separate occasion, so it seems his good-natured personality allowed him to be unfussed about roaming with interest around a shop and then amusing himself as he waited outside and watched the world go by.

An old, dark green couch, that was ours, now given away to my youngest brother. This was a gift from my parents many years ago, and the purchase was organised by John, who held his first job, in a furniture shop, at the time. He was probably about 19 when I visited him at the shop and poured over the fabric samples, before selecting one for our couch.

A receipt, found amongst old papers, for removal truck hire – John drove it for us. From the time he held a licence until he died, I don’t think any member of our family ever moved houses without enlisting his help, usually to drive a truck for them, since he had a licence to do so, and was always so happy to help out.

The storage facility on a main road near our house. John drove our stuff to, and from, this facility, and helped us stack and unstack items into and out of it at the appropriate times. Perhaps because of his early career in a furniture shop, he seemed to be particularly skilled at judging spaces and shapes and knowing exactly how to manouvre a piece of furniture through a door or into a tight space without any mishaps.

My new nephew and niece.* That’s because, of all my siblings, John was the one who spent the most time hanging out with my daughter, his niece. His first job at the furniture shop had come to an end when the owner, an elderly man, had passed away and the business closed, and after that, there was a period where he found it hard to get any long-term employment, so he went from one short-term contract to another, working on jobs ranging from telephone linesman to doing maintenance on railway lines. This might not have seemed like an ideal situation for him then, but in hindsight, there was an upside for us, which was, that in between contracts he often spent time staying with us for a few nights at a time, and hanging out with his god-daughter.

A particular hoodie jacket I have, with holes in the sleeve, because John notoriously wore the same brown hoodie everywhere despite the state that the well-worn sleeves were in.

Other things that make me think of John:

Turning on the air-conditioning in the car – because I remember he had some theory about how to maximise the efficiency by opening the car windows first.

Hedgehog slice (he ate a lot of it)

Pear cake (he was so impressed with my pear cake that he learned how to make it – the sincerest form of flattery)

Satay chicken (his signature dish)

Sonic Youth (his favourite band)

Massive Attack (a band we both liked and should have seen together but fate intervened and I had to give my ticket away.)

Certain men, usually younger than me, both in real life and in films, can at times remind me of him.

and

My other brothers, for obvious reasons.*

 

*

*not commonplace items.

 

With or Without you (Ode to a thumb)

A fully functional thumb is a thing of beauty, said some really mediocre poet.

 

See the liner smudged on my eyes

See the zip undone on my side

I’ll wait for you

 

Slip of hand and twist of waist

on a picnic rug, fell all my weight

Now I wait, without you

 

With or without you

With or without you

 

Through the storm we reach the shore

Washing my hair is not easy any more

And I’m waiting for you

 

With or without you

With or without you

I can’t live, with or without you

 

And you give yourself away

And you got bent the wrong way

And you’re bandaged like a lump of clay

And you shouldn’t really look that way

 

My hand is tied, my thumb is bruised

You left me with a bandaged wrist

and not much I can do

 

And you give yourself away

And you’re kind of the wrong shape

And I don’t know what else to say

And typing this has taken all day

 

 

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