Some idea that I’ve forgotten

Oh, the wondrous passages you would all be reading, dear readers, if only my memory could store an idea for more than a few seconds.

There’s a phrase, I’m sure you’ve heard it, “in one ear and out the other.” Well, “in one ear and out the other” could aptly describe the traverse of ideas for new posts I’ve had since last Wednesday.

(Incidentally, the very same phrase could have been employed to describe the journey of many spoonfuls of mashed pumpkin when my youngest brother was a baby and strapped into his highchair eating dinner.)

There is a distinct pattern emerging in my week since I’ve started trying to make a concerted effort to publish a post weekly. Writing is a creative activity, and creative activity staves off an existential crises, or so I find. Publishing is an outcome of that creative activity, so therefore, getting a post published at least once a week provides a huge, if temporary, reprieve from that endlessly niggling question, am I just totally wasting this minute/hour/day/life away? which, if not checked, is followed by the more insidious, what is my purpose in life?

(Publishing one post a week is a fairly unambitious goal for an entire life, sure, but it’s good to aim low and give yourself a reasonable chance of achieving your goal, or so I’ve always thought.)

So the pattern is that, once the post is published – lately this has been on a Wednesday – I sit back and relax. I can rest easy for at least 24 – 48 hours, only peering occasionally at my WordPress stats to see if anyone has actually read my latest post. (Where are you Mum??)*

Thus fortified with purpose, Thursday can come and go, bringing not the slightest niggle about wasting time. Next comes Friday, and I’m still pretty smug about having recently published a post. So much so that last week, I took a wild step and set some new writing-related goals for the day.

Never fear, I wasn’t overly ambitious. I only set more than one goal, because as each goal failed, I thought of a new and less challenging one.

Last Friday I first determined that, as I enjoy writing so much, I would find some freelance/contract work as a writer to supplement my part-time job. I scoured websites advertising writing work. Some were clearly scams looking for a sucker to exploit. Many were for temporary full-time contracts, which are no good for me, or for writing tenders, business contracts or real estate copy – things I’m not interested in.

What exactly was I hoping for, you may well be thinking at this point. To be honest, I think I was hoping that someone would be advertising for a creative writer with almost no publishing history apart from a personal blog, to write whatever they liked, in flexible hours to suit themselves, and offering a handsome sum for the work. The nearest thing to this was a job writing “content” for a bollard company. They need someone to work a few hours a week, writing the company newsletters, e-news, website content, flyers and any other digital and written materials.

As a side note, I must say that it came as a total surprise to me to find that the humble bollard generates so much interest that there are people subscribing to bollard company e-news in order to stay abreast of the latest advances in bollard technology. Sadly, however, the bollard company were looking for someone with formal qualifications in Marketing and PR, so my dreams of writing bollard-related content for a living have as much forward momentum as a car that has just been stopped short by a row of these bad boys:

Some particularly shiny bollards. Pic: Stephen McKay, sourced from Wikimedia Commons

A babble of (particularly shiny) bollards.

Pic: Stephen McKay, sourced from Wikimedia Commons

But back to my attempt to use my time productively: Friday afternoon was passing by and I hadn’t landed a highly paid job writing my own column for the New Yorker, (in fact they were not even advertising on writingjobs.com!) so fear of wasting time, and subsequently my life, was starting to play at the edges of my mind.

By about 2pm, I decided to throw in that search and take a different track. My new writing-related goal was to find a magazine or other outlet calling for submissions. It didn’t even need to be paid, just an opportunity to publish something. I started out hopefully, and spent probably an hour or so on this search. In the end, I earmarked one literary journal, although only half-heartedly. I don’t hold very high hopes for my chances with literary journals as I’m sure my writing – and no doubt my terrible sentence structure – not to mention my severe over-use of the dash – is not literary enough. (Also they’ve helpfully confirmed this by rejecting pieces previously).

I guess I was looking for something more along the lines of the bollard company newsletters, if only they had specified “looking for a creative writer who will write weekly columns of about 1000 words on any topic they like and include reference to a bollard.”

(Surely some forward-thinking bollard company should do just that? I may consider starting an entirely separate blog dedicated solely to bollards.)

Anyway, I digress. At about 4pm, desperation was setting in – another day totally wasted! – so abandoned the submission idea, and developed a third writing-related goal. This goal was unambitious, administrative, and there was no question that I was capable of achieving it, only whether I could be bothered to achieve it. That was, to sort out the writing I’ve saved on my computer.

As of 4pm on Friday, my “Writing” folder contained about 100 unsorted Word files, all pieces of writing, (obviously) ranging from entire essays/articles, through to documents containing one paragraph, or even just one line that I had apparently deemed worth saving for posterity. It seemed I hadn’t bothered to file any writing for that last 4 years.

So my ambitions boiled down to an hour on Friday afternoon spent on “writing administration”, ie, creating folders and moving all that debris around so that at least now, on the surface, it looks as though there is some kind of system behind my, um, thinking processes.

And among the 100-odd unsorted documents was one called some idea that I’ve forgotten. It was an attempt to capture an idea I’d had a few weeks before, but forgotten the specifics of within hours. The notes were like those of someone trying to recall a dream “…something about Millennials v Generation X but NOT making fun of Millennials….the benefit of being slower…maybe to do with cooking?….” I had hoped that the process of writing would trigger the entire memory. Alas, it did not, and I still haven’t remembered what that idea was.

This has been happening more frequently lately, so the title of that document seemed to symbolise my life at the moment. An idea starts to formulate in my mind, I think I’ve got hold of it enough to remember it – and then rapidly forget it. I don’t know if it’s happening more often because I’m trying to develop ideas for posts more frequently, or because I’m getting older, and my memory is disintegrating.  I should learn to write ideas down, I know, but they don’t always occur in circumstances conducive to doing so – especially now that I can’t write anything without putting on my reading glasses.

To illustrate: after Friday comes Saturday. By Saturday, I usually start, in the back of my mind at least, to try and formulate an idea for my next post. Since publishing a post on the Wednesday, at least 3 or four ideas will probably have occurred, and sometimes they may have been very quickly followed by a catchy opening sentence. When I’m on a roll, I’ll think through an entire first paragraph. But the results of these moments of lucidity rarely make it to the blog. (as I’m sure you can tell.)

I wrote virtually a whole opening paragraph to a potential new post in my head on Saturday evening, as I was rushing to get dressed to go out. As I pulled on and then discarded various tops, trying to find something to team with a pair of wide-legged pants that wouldn’t make me look like a pavlova, I was distractedly thinking of an idea, and sentence after sentence came to me. I even chuckled, no doubt impressed at my own wit.

Alas, I had no time to stop and write anything down, because when I’m going out, I usually allow about 15 minutes to get ready, and fail to allocate time for capturing ethereal concepts that will melt away into the air if not grasped and made concrete as soon as they are thought of.

So whatever Saturday’s chuckle-inducing idea was, it went down the gurgler and you ended up, instead, with this. Sorry about that.

*

*Mum doesn’t have a computer, let alone know what a blog is.

Weight(less)

When we headed off in December to Airey’s Inlet, a little beach-side town in Victoria, Australia, about 1.5 hrs from Melbourne, our car was jammed with stuff.

This stuff included: a suitcase full of sheets, bath towels, pillowcases, beach towels, books, phone chargers, bluetooth speaker, magazines, crossword puzzle books. Bags packed with clothes, underwear, shoes, thongs, bathers, sunblock, shampoo, soap. An eski full of perishable food that would be wasted if we left it behind. A laptop, our mobile phones, and our three human bodies, filled up the rest of the small Ford Focus hatchback.  There was probably just enough space left for the oxygen required for three people to breathe for 1.5 hours.

As always, I had underestimated how much we would take. As is also the norm, I also underestimated how long we would take to pack it all.

I should have remembered that we’ve are not the sort of people who, when going away for a week, pack everything the night before, set alarms for 4.30am, hit the road at 5am with a thermos of coffee, and then drive until we break for breakfast in some charming little country bakery at 7.30am.

We are very much like the type of people who set an alarm for 7.30 in the morning, but when it goes off, hit the snooze button a few times because we’re on holiday. We’ll reluctantly rise at 8, have a leisurely breakfast, and then finish our packing, since, the night before, we went to the effort of getting the bags out, which counts as starting the packing.

While packing we’ll also intermittently spend time watering the garden and the indoor plants, paying a few bills, and texting a friend to see if they can collect the mail. When we are close to being packed we realise it’s almost lunchtime, and it seems silly to leave right when we need to eat, so then we stop and and have lunch. Then we spend time cleaning up the kitchen after lunch, at which point we decide we must really get a wriggle on. 1-2 hours after lunch, with luck, we are usually ready to run back into the house one more time to check that the upstairs window is really locked, and then off we go, almost always no later than about 2.30pm.

 

IMG_3802

Sunset, (no filters!) from Airey’s Inlet beach, looking towards Lorne, 30/12/15 (fire still burning)

Given the amount of time we took to pack for 1 week, and the volume of stuff we brought with us, when I was down at Airey’s Inlet, I thought of the people living or holidaying a few kilometres further down the Great Ocean Road, who did not have 6 hours to plan their departure and think about what to take, when the police knocked on their door on Christmas Day. According to reports, people had only minutes when they got the evacuation warning, or smelled the smoke from the approaching bushfire just as they sat down to their Christmas lunch.

On Christmas Day 2015, in the towns of Wye River, Kennett River, Separation Creek, and Lorne, people fled, with their kids, with their pets, with their passports, with their mobile phones. They didn’t take much else.

On that day, the Lorne – Jamieson Track bushfire that had been burning for over a week destroyed 116 houses in two tiny towns. Some loved animals on country properties were not saved; talking to reporters later on, the owners broke down in tears. They had to make decisions in an instant, and grab the things dearest to them. In many cases, they now have nothing but the clothes on their backs, their pet, their passport and their phone.

I look around me as I write this now, a month or so later, in my room at home. What I see everywhere are possessions: a bed, a chest, a pile of clothes, an old mannequin draped in a scarf and handbag, a CD rack, a stereo system, CDs, pictures, a chest of drawers. A chair, a bedside table, a pile of books, right in front of me is my laptop, and next to me, lying carelessly on the bed, my phone, my purse, and my glasses case. The room is filled with things that function to provide comfort, to entertain me, and to facilitate my activities and hobbies.

I try to imagine how I would react in an evacuation, whether I would make rational decisions, and what I would take, and I kid myself that I am imagining it accurately, but I have never been in that situation so of course, I can’t know the palpable fear that you must surely feel when you can smell the smoke of a bushfire, see the sky darkening, and the police have just told you that if you don’t leave within the next 5 minutes emergency services will be unable to help you.

Then I try to imagine something different – the aftershock. How it would feel to have all of this taken away in a day, after having 5 minutes to salvage whatever I could. I can remember how it feels to be in shock, and I guess it would feel like that – surreal, as if I was walking around in a dream; too difficult for the brain to make any sense of.

There is a kind of weightlessness, almost, in that state, as if you are floating: because you’ve heard the worst thing imaginable, nothing else can hurt you now.

In the hypothetical situation where I had lost my home and everything in it, naturally I would be upset about the loss of all the physical items – clothes, books, CDs and furniture, but I’d be most devastated about the loss of my memories. I am a hoarder of memories, and they are stored chaotically, all over the place: in boxes of photo albums that chart my life from the age of about 12 until about 10 years ago when we finally got a digital camera; on the computer, laptop and portable hard drives that hold all the photos we’ve taken since then, and, only occasionally in frames scattered in the living room. There are copies of the few articles I’ve ever had published, and all the writing I’ve drafted and never had published or never finished. There are boxes stored in the ceiling, filled with the diaries I kept continuously from Grade 6 until about 10 years ago; and other boxes full of old letters, birthday cards, and drawings my daughter did when she was little; and there’s the folder I put together after my brother died, filled with mementos of him.

Together, all those material possessions and all those mementos of the past accumulate into a very large volume of stuff that I feel is a part of my life.

So it’s easy to imagine that it must feel quite unreal when you come back to your former home after a bushfire, and discover that everything you thought was solid and stable – your house, and all your material items, and all of your memories, have all just blown away in a puff of smoke. Weightless.

 

Airey's Inlet beach, looking towards Lorne, morning, 31/12/15

Airey’s Inlet beach, looking towards Lorne, morning, 31/12/15, fire still burning (and this was another high risk day)

 

*At time of first drafting this post in early January, the fire was still burning in the Otways and still not under control. It had, at that point, burned 45km or 2500 hectares. 

*PS, this post was pretty much drafted in full a few weeks ago, in response to a Daily Post photo challenge with the theme of weightless, but then David Bowie died and I decided to write about the lyrics of his that the theme of weightless brought to mind. Then I forgot I had a drafted post ready to go!

Who knew that First Aid involved so much clingwrap?

There’s been a car accident. You’re the first person at the site. The driver of the car is upright, in a seated position in the car, experiencing pain in the ribs and difficulty breathing. What do you do?

My friends, let’s hope that I am never the first person at an accident site. Having done a first aid course last week, where I was confronted with a massive amount of things that, as a holder of a level 1 First Aid certificate, I’m expected to remember and, what’s more, calmly triage before attending to, it’s possible that from here on, if I witness any kind of accident happening in the distance I’ll select answer D, below:

a. Call an ambulance

b. wrap Gladwrap around the casualty

c. run cold water over the injured area

d. turn and run the other way, preferably without knocking anyone over and requiring that they need First Aid too.

This was a beginner’s First Aid course. I attended for my workplace. We work in a low risk environment, but the company is a National Disability Enterprise, with employees and clients/workshop participants who have disabilities and sometimes other complicating health issues, so we have a duty of care to make sure that as many staff as possible are equipped to attend to an incident if needed.

For this course – Level 1 First Aid – you have to do “pre-reading” at home the day before, and sit an online test at the end of it. The test was given in the form of multiple choice questions with 4 possible answers. Together, the reading and test took me about 1.5 hours, and covered everything from running a burnt finger under cool water for 20 minutes, through to what to do if someone’s internal organs are protruding from their stomach.

Now, I admire the optimism here, but as a Level 1 First Aider, what I will do, if ever confronted by the sight of someone’s internal organs protruding from their stomach is answer D, below.

a.gag

b. dry retch

c. faint.

d. All of the above, although not necessarily in that order.

This answer was not available to me in the test however, so I probably selected whatever I felt was the correct procedure. Whatever that was, I have now forgotten, so please, if you ever find your internal organs hanging out, don’t come to me.

While sitting the online test, I was frequently tempted to select the “trick answer”: C. Call for an ambulance and then leave the site of the accident; however, annoying, when I attended the onsite course the next day this was never an option for a First Aider.

Each time we were presented with a scenario, we had to work through the DRSABC steps devised by St John’s Ambulance:

assess for Danger, check for a Response, Send for help, check the Airway, check for Breathing, start CPR, use Defibrillation,

This course was a challenge for me in many ways.

First and foremost, like most people who don’t voluntarily go into the medical professions or choose to work as paramedics, the idea of having to deal with serious blood loss, burns, internal organs spilling out, or someone with a sharp object embedded in their eyeball, creates anxiety for me. On the other hand it’s also too surreal for me to contemplate. I never want to encounter such a thing and I fear that a one-day course will not help me to remain calm if I ever do.

Secondly, it’s difficult to memorise all the correct procedures, but the main challenge is that in a real situation, ideally your understanding has gone beyond rote learning, so that you can also apply common sense, something I fear I am lacking in when it comes to First Aid (if not in all areas of life.)

Common sense is needed in order to triage – ie, work out what needs to be addressed first and which of the standard “procedures” might not apply because of another factor. For example, by the time I ended the day, I was confused about when you should move a suspected spinal injury and when you shouldn’t. Common sense tells me that you would move them if they were in danger – eg near a car that was likely to blow up – or if you needed to move them into the CPR position, and would not move them in any other circumstance, but I feel as if I was told something different during the day.

Common sense is a tool – to be able to use it, you must have a good understanding of the basic principles behind what you’re doing – something that is hard to learn in one day of training.

The third way in which a course like this is challenging is all the acting and “pretending” that is involved, for someone as self-conscious as myself.

All day long we had to work with partners (who were total strangers at the start of the day), and pretend either that we were injured, or that we were attending an injured person and talking them through what we were doing. This was difficult in itself. Since there we were “pretending,” I was always hopeful that we could just pretend at step 1 (assess the Danger) that it was dangerous to approach the casualty, and then sit that one out. Unfortunately, despite the fantasy element, everything remained pretty scripted, and every scenario seemed to take place in the pretend-but-real environment of a safe, small, carpeted, corporate training room in King St Melbourne, where due to some unaccountable disaster, half the class were lying all over the floor, having just almost drowned, broken their legs, accidentally injected themselves with someone else’s insulin, or spilled bleach all over themselves.

Similarly, it was no use hoping that as I worked through DRSABCD, that my partner, pretending to be the casualty, would decide to mix it up by acting as if she was responsive, breathing and able to sit up – she never chose to take that arguably more creative route, so I was left trying to remember which way to turn her to clean out her airway and what the next step was. Was it…

a. sit the casualty upright and tilt her head back

b. do nothing because you don’t have the casualty’s permission

c.lie the casualty on her back with her head and legs slightly elevated

d. wrap the casualty’s abdomen in Gladwrap

(*none of the above are correct, unless there are other complications)

When we had a scenario thrown at us with no pre-preparation, my “casualty” said she’d just been in a car accident, was still strapped into the car, had pain in the ribs and was having trouble breathing. I pretended to call an ambulance, started working through DRSABC and then panicked, as I couldn’t work out which of her pretend symptoms (sore ribs, breathing difficulties) was the main thing to address. She was still responsive and breathing so clearly there was no point doing CPR, I was fairly clear on that point (also, she reminded me). It was apparent that I was unable to move beyond rote learning and work out what steps to take. I felt as if the symptoms were clues I should be following. What if her “difficulty breathing” turns into “stops breathing”?! Should I get her out of the car in case I need to do CPR? But she probably has broken ribs – I don’t know if I should move her.

I think I was overthinking it.

At the same time, my triage skills were affected by the fact that – we were acting, right, and I’m no good at that, as I’ve acknowledged.

Maybe in the heat of a real scenario, I might have decided to move the casualty from the car, but honestly, in this scenario, she looked like she was fine, and pretend-moving her was going to be more trouble than it was worth.

So my options were:

a. ramp up the acting, move casualty from the car, put her into the recovery position

b. slightly less acting required, leave casualty in the car, monitor her breathing

c. give up altogether, run out of the training course, go home early, and tell my workplace tomorrow that I passed the course with flying colors

d. wrap the casualty in Gladwrap

I was very tempted by c, but ended up choosing an answer that was very like b, although regrettably, I didn’t choose it for the right reasons but because I was frozen stiff with indecision. The good news is that she survived.

I’m not criticising the idea of a First Aid course, and I certainly did come away with a little more knowledge about first aid. If ever faced with heavy bleeding now – assuming I’m able to retain consciousness (my own) – I know to put pressure on it, ideally with gauze, then bandage it, and, if the blood comes through, to put another bandage over the first – and never change the first bandage. I know bites from the most creepy creatures – Funnel Web Spiders and snakes – should be treated by immobilising the casualty to stop any muscle movement.

That information stuck in my mind because in the class, the person who volunteered to be the “snakebite victim” had the most dramatic role, as he ended up literally lying on the floor with his arms tied to his body and his legs tied together with bandages, to ensure he could not move. Since he was lying in the middle of a carpeted training room with 15 other people looking on, all it needed was some blood slowly seeping from his ear and it would have been just like something out of a Coen Brothers film.

Of course, in a real snake-bite situation, common sense and a calm temperament would still be needed, in order to decide whether it was better to go for help and leave someone lying alone and tied up, or to stay with them.

I’d definitely need a multiple choice questionnaire to work that one out.

*

**Disclaimer – none of the content above is intended to educate on correct First Aid procedures. If you are searching for a First Aid procedure I’d recommend you try here instead: St John’s Ambulance NZ 

*Wrapping the casualty in Gladwrap was actually a First Aid procedure, I think it may have been for the protruding internal organs. Again, best not to test me on that for real.

The stars look very different today

I had a drafted post all set to publish, on the Daily Post photo challenge theme of Weight(less).

Then David Bowie died, and his lyrics have been flowing through all my social media feeds, filling up cyberspace, and pushing themselves into the forefront of my mind, because they are so poetic, and because some of his most memorable lyrics seem to lend themselves to the theme at hand.

It would be hypocritical of me to pretend I was a big Bowie fan – I like all I’ve heard of his many and varied musical outputs, but personally, I’ve never purchased a David Bowie album. We have most of his albums in the very large collection of music in this house, but they my partner’s.

So I am far less qualified that many who are now writing posts about David Bowie – the artist, or the influence of his songs on their lives – and I can’t pretend to write about him with any of the authority of a music journalist or even a devoted life-long fan. But the sense of some link between his lyrics and the idea of weightlessness kept bugging me so I thought I’d have a go at tying them together.

Fortunately for people like me – who were still largely ignorant about just how much of a creative genuis the man was – the touring David Bowie exhibition came to Melbourne in 2015. I went, and was quite astonished at the wide scope of his creative pursuits, as well as the breadth of his artistic and literary influences.

One of the things I was most fascinated to learn about was his interest in the Dadaist technique of “Cut Up” poetry. Dada was a movement of artists and writers that occurred in Europe around the time of the First World War – my knowledge of it was gleaned from my studies as a visual artist. I was aware of the Cut Up technique they developed, and that it was more famously used by Beat writer William Burroughs in the 1960s.

These are the instructions for making a Dadaist poem, as written by the original Dadaists:

Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are—an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

(source: The Modernism Lab)

At the David Bowie exhibition, I learned that as a songwriter, Bowie was so interested in this technique, he had a computer program devised that would take a text and cut it up and put it back together for him. We may have seen this clip of Bowie talking about the cut up method – I can’t remember if that was included in the exhibition – but I do know that we saw a simulation of the computer program, “cutting” and reconfiguring his lyrics into new, nonsensical sentences. This stuck with me as an example of his willingness to look at history, and absorb the influence of avant-garde artists, and experiment with techniques that had, to that point at least, very little commercial or mainstream appeal.

At this particular time, of course, it’s inevitable that we all think of the songwriter’s lyrics, and it’s hard to resist imposing new meanings and symbolism onto them. I am not sure which albums Bowie wrote using the Cut Up technique but I doubt it was the ones whose lyrics have been most frequently quoted in my social media feeds in the past few days, as those are songs with a very clear narrative to them. The reason people are quoting those particular lyrics now is because they are excerpts from the story of a person, a loner, who has physically gone beyond the world and is looking back at it. Either that or he is not of this world, but would like to join it. There’s the Starman, waiting in the sky;  there’s Major Tom, floating in a tin can, high above the Moon. They are both floating, untethered; weightless.

Free they may be, but they are not entirely happy. Each of these figures is very emphatically alone, a tiny biped, isolated in the huge emptiness of the universe, looking back down at the planet with, it seems, a sense of longing to join it again.

Even with reference to only these two songs, it’s easy to conclude that Bowie used the metaphor of an astronaut out in space to explore the very human condition of feeling alone, lonely, abandoned, and simultaneously like a curiosity that everyone ogles at but no-one else understands.

I remember as a child, the first time I registered the lyrics to A Space Oddity and I remember almost feeling his sense of overwhelming isolation myself, when the forward drive in the music suddenly changes pace and slows right down, and over the slowed-down instrumentation, you hear the slightly nasal wail of the astronaut, resigning himself to floating around alone forever in the universe until he dies.  Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows.

As a child, I felt the weight of that as if it was a Shakespearian tragedy. I couldn’t quite believe that the song ended and left him still out there. I found the fading-away ending to the song to be as heart-breaking as Bowie could have hoped anyone would.

It occurs to me now that Bowie skilfully captured a feeling of space, and air, and weightlessness in those songs, and he managed to convey that, although weightlessness is a synonym for words that are poetic and beautiful – like lightness, floating, ethereality, airiness – those concepts are not inherently positive.

For example, as I’m sure Bowie was aware, if your sense of floating above the earth is because you are high, then that feeling of weightlessness might also bring a sense of detachment, which in turn might further enhance your feeling of being alienated from the rest of the world. Another condition that can cause that state of detachment is shock. I recall, when I was told that my brother died, feeling removed, and almost looking down on myself. If I felt weightless, it was not because I felt free, but because in my shock I believed that I’d heard the worst thing imaginable, so nothing else could have any effect on me.

There’s a final way that Bowie’s songs are weightless, but in this I could say the same of any legendary songwriter.

That is, that even after the songwriter has died, they live on, in the heads of those who loved their music and will continue to hum the tune and sing the words they wrote, for days, weeks, months, years and even decades afterwards. Lyrics to songs are more memorable than the text of a novel or play, more popular than a poem, because they are set to music. It’s in song that words reach, and speak to, the greatest number of people. In that sense, those who have written songs that will be sung, and lyrics that will be quoted for a long, long time after their creator has exited this life, have achieved a kind of weightlessness.

Here am I floating in my tin can

Far above the Moon

Planet Earth is blue 

and there’s nothing I can do

 

2013-04-15 11.sky in Lyon

 

 

 

Should auld aquaintance be forgot

New Year’s Eve, 2009.

I remember a pretty country cottage sitting nestled in amongst tall gum trees, bushes and herbs.

To access it, you drove about 2 hours from Melbourne, into country that is increasingly greener and more undulating, although unfortunately on roads that are increasingly narrower, and more in a state of disrepair, until finally you are dodging cracks and huge potholes as you round the bends at 80kmph.

Finally, you turned right, off an asphalt road onto a loose gravel road, drove a slow, bumpy, dusty half kilometre or so along that track, and then turned in, where someone had to jump out and open a gate, and close it again, and jump back in, before you drove slowly down the long driveway, flanked on either side by the huge gum trees that were all over the property, the house still hidden from view until you were over the first few bumps.

I remember my brothers arrived separately, having taken a different route for the last part of the trip and approached the gate from the other direction. F. reversed his huge old circa 1980 Holden sedan (no power steering!) to park close to the house, and drove straight over a pot plant, smashing the terracotta pot.

I remember that I entered the house and immediately loved the cool, dark interior of the cottage, the deep warm brown of the wooden floorboards and the timber bench tops, the potbelly stove, and the cosy, homely furnishings.

I remember inspecting the second bathroom, complete with an old claw-foot bath that sat brazenly in full view of a window overlooking the garden, and the veranda encircling the entire house and facing straight out into bush that began only a few feet away, and thinking that this house was just perfect. Except for one thing, which is that in Australia, to be in a house that is literally only feet away from dense bush so dry it crackles when you walk through it, in the height of summer, is a slightly scary proposition, especially for city slickers. I don’t know why I mention that, since it’s of no significance in this memory, since there were no fires while we were there.

I remember that we played the Spics and Specs board game, and F. did a great rendition of the tune to Sweet Child of Mine, using text from some silly book to replace the lyrics. I remember just after sitting down for dinner, that I felt dizzy for no reason, and then felt fine again.

We were in that house for a week, and I remember that on New Year’s Eve, the five of us drove right down to the Promontory, into the National Park, to the point where you can’t take a car any further, ate our sandwiches in the camp ground, and then caught the bus to a lookout point we’d picked out of the tourist information back at the house, which described a scenic walk in that area. We jumped off the bus and took in the views from the lookout point. While some of us peered at the sparse tourist information supplied there and discussed whether to go for the walk which, we only now realised, was up the side of a mountain, my brother J. made his own decision, headed up the track and disappeared.

None of us could get coverage on our phones in this relatively remote area, so, as we were unable to call J, he basically made our decision for us. We started up the track, expecting we’d catch him at some point on the way, or at the top. There were no signposts anywhere, to indicate how long the walk up the mountain was, so we began optimistically, but our hopes didn’t take long to be diminished as the heat grew more intense, and large, biting “March” flies kept flying into our faces or landing on our shoulders, arms and legs, while there were no signs to give us any clues about how long the walk might take.

What the information we’d consulted had not explained was that the walk should have been categorised as “intermediate” at least – it was on a rough track up a steep mountain side, requiring hardy walking shoes and, on a day which was about 35 degrees, water supplies and sun protection! Not having planned such a hardy walk, most of us were wearing thongs, or Birkenstocks, on our feet, and we had half a bottle of water left between us. The day had been forecast to be in the high 20s but actually turned out to be in the low to mid 30s, quite a different proposition for taking  a mountainous bush walk.

I started to worry about the heat, and the lack of sunburn protection, on my daughter more so than myself, and contemplated that this unplanned mountain hike was probably quite foolhardy. It was not surprising when, after about 15 minutes of this, my 11-year-old daughter voiced her desire to stop a number of times. Her dad was all too happy to oblige, so they headed back down to wait at the bottom. My brother F and I persevered for maybe another half an hour, slowly trudging upwards, hoping each time we slowly rounded a bend, that we’d find ourselves close to the top, or find J. sitting and waiting for us at some half-way point. There were still no signposts anywhere, to indicate how far away you were from the top, and the winding track and dense bush made it impossible to see further ahead. We reached another designated look out point – but there was no sign of J.

At last, hot, bothered, and annoyed at not having any clue about how far we still had to go, we too gave up, and walked back down again.

At the bottom, all five of us sat in the afternoon heat, wondering how long it would take for J. to decide we weren’t coming, and then, to walk back down again. There was no tap to fill up water bottles, nothing but the ground to sit on, and barely even any shade. The bus back to the campground came only every 30 or 40 minutes or so, so as you can imagine, we desperately hoped he’d arrive before the next bus did.

It was not to be, so when the next bus arrived, my partner and daughter got on – at least back at the campground they could sit down, fill up their water bottle at a tap, locate a bathroom, find some shade, or buy an icypole at the kiosk. At this stage, all of those things sounded like heaven, but someone had to wait for J, so F and I continued to wait, and wait.

Now, you rarely ever got annoyed at J, because he was always very thoughtful, so it probably took until about this time for us to start directing any resentment towards him. Even then, we didn’t see his quick disappearance up the hill as an indication of thoughtlessness or disregard for us. We were more annoyed at the situation imposed by the lack of telecommunication signals in the area and the poor-to-non-existent signage for tourists that could have informed J. and ourselves about how long the walk upwards would take.

I don’t remember how long F and I waited. Maybe another bus came and went while we sat talking and waiting. What I remember is that we reached the end of our tether, and formulated a plan to scratch a message to J. in the gravel, to say that we had gone back to the camp ground, and after doing so, get on the next bus. We were reduced to employing the kind of desperate, pre-historic tactics one had to employ in the not-so-long ago days before mobile phones! Fortunately, there were so few other people coming and going by this point, that we were fairly confident our message would not be immediately walked through and rendered illegible.

I remember that I found a rock, and scratched out a message in the loose gravel: “J – got bus back to camp.”  Soon after, the bus arrived, as timetabled. Of course, just as it pulled in, J. emerged into view, sauntering down the mountain track towards us. If you are trying to picture this, you should probably imagine him smiling serenely, because that’s probably accurate. I also picture that he had an ever-present cigarette in his hand, but to be honest, I can’t really recall that detail so you can leave that out if you like.

The three of us boarded the bus – at least two of us gasping with relief – and travelled back to the campground, and from there, drove back to the holiday house. F. and I felt like sailors who had been stranded at sea for days, finally setting foot back on land.

That was a significant New Year’s Eve for many reasons, not least because the events of that day didn’t even end there, if you can believe it. A whole other story could be made from the remainder of the day but I’ll cut it short. I’m including this part to illustrate what an inauspicious start I had to that year.

After arriving home, I began to prepare dinner for ourselves and friends who were joining us to see in the New Year, but very suddenly –  and then very rapidly – began to feel more and more unwell. I finally ended up retiring from the party shortly after my guests arrived, and all I was able to do for the remainder of the evening was lie on the bed, with the room spinning and my stomach churning, until some time around 12.30am, when I violently threw up. After vomiting so violently, I immediately felt recovered. Of course, my guests had gone home long before, and all I had the strength to do at that point was to go back to bed.

What an ominous start to 2010.

Now, I’m not normally superstitious, but I remember wondering if that turbulent New Year’s Eve was a sign that 2010 was going to be an awful year.

As it turned out, it meant nothing, because 2010 passed without any major incident.  It was in 2011 that J died in his sleep one night. Yet I recall no omens occurring on that New Year’s Eve to suggest that 2011 would be a terrible year.  I can’t even tell you where I was at midnight when 2011 reared its head.

*

Those of us who have had someone we love die will forever have a distinct break in the timeline of our lives when we look back – there is the time before they died, and then there is the time after.

New Year’s Eve 2009 fell in my before time, so in my memory, the day has attained the rosy, soft-focus glow of an idyllic holiday, despite the less-than-ideal events of that day. Because of course, given the choice, I’d choose to be back there, stuck at that lookout point in the heat, waiting for J. to come down, or lying on the bed feeling violently ill, if someone could guarantee that those were the worst things that would ever happen.

 

 

 

Days Of Our Lives, or, SEO for beginners

If you are a blogger, raise your hand. Now raise the other one. Now turn around once and jump to the left. Then sit down and take a few deep breaths, because if you’re a blogger, that’s probably more exercise than you’ve had all week. Oh, and you can put your hands down now.

All of that activity leads me to paragraph 2, and if you’re still here at this point, that means that your curiosity was raised by the title of this post, so I surmise that you feel as if you should read about techniques for gaining more readers, even though secretly, you know that you prefer to read silly stories.

But don’t be discouraged, dear blogger with less-than-adequate understanding of technical terms! Speaking for myself, I sometimes feel as if I could, and should, be doing more to maximise readership of my blog (this thought usually only occurs when I’m really happy with a post I’ve just published, ie, only occasionally) but if I attempt to read a guide to increasing readership, my eyes immediately start to glaze over and I find myself wondering if it’s too soon to put the kettle on for another coffee, or whether I really should clean the shower after all.

Until now, the trouble with all those posts full of tips for gaining more readers is twofold. 1: they are instructional, and 2. they utilise technical terminology. I mean, what even is SEO, right? Right!

So in order to help myself and any other bloggers who is unable to read and follow a list of instructions, I’ve turned the relevant terms into characters from a daytime TV soap opera.

Behold:

*

Sitemap: Sitemap is the town where our soap opera unfolds. It’s just an ordinary little every-town that you’d find in any Westernised country, with a quiet, suburban, middle-class feel to it. There’s not much to make it stand out, apart from an unnaturally high amount of organised crime, supernatural incidents, and the large number of multi-national corporations run by corrupt bosses that are headquartered in it.

SEO: SEO is the patriarch of the family at the heart of our story. His nickname, SEO, (pronounced to rhyme with Theo) is derived from the fact that he is the Senior Executive Officer at some shady business that is never described in more than the vaguest terms as some kind of import/export business. Like the Godfather, you don’t mess with SEO, and if you do, you may find yourself in the river with a brick tied to your person. However, don’t feel despondent – there’s always a chance that if you were popular with viewers, you will make a comeback when it’s  discovered that it wasn’t really you who was thrown in the river after all, but your previously-never-heard-of twin brother.

SEO, the patriarch at the head of all the drama set in Sitemap.

SEO, the patriarch at the head of all the drama set in Sitemap.

Site Rankings a swarthy hero in a black leather bikie jacket, Site is a bit of a dark horse, and in season 1, we just can’t tell if he’s a tough guy with no feelings, or whether there’s a heart of gold  beating underneath all that black leather.

Page Rankings Fiery and pretty, Page Ranking’s true identity as Site’s younger sister is only revealed in Season 4, at which point a series of flashbacks helpfully remind the viewer, and the troubled Site, of scenes from Seasons 1, 2 and 3, when the two found themselves forced together in compromising situations. For example, they first meet in Season 1, when they are the sole survivors of a shipwreck, and are forced to live together for weeks on a tiny desert island, in a small cabin with nothing but a small bar fridge and one large four-poster bed.

Webmaster:  A mysterious bearded gentleman in a long robe, rumoured to have come from “the East.” True to the genre of Western daytime soap operas, his exact origins are never made any clearer than that, and his dark skin and mysterious unnamed place of origin serve to make the character seem exotic and slightly “other-worldly” within the insular world our characters inhabit. To enhance this image, the Webmaster lives in a little hut in the forest a few miles out of town, keeps owls, and takes an interest in all sorts of mysterious practices, including Pilates and astrology. Thus his appearances in the storyline occur when it’s necessary to save a character who can’t be taken to a conventional hospital for some complicated reason, or to give the viewer a hint of some disaster that is about to befall one of the characters.

Webmaster tools the crystal ball used by the Webmaster as an aid to fortelling the future. Other tools include astrological charts, the weather report, Yahoo Answers, and Siri.

 

A crystal ball - one of the Webmaster's tools for predicting the future

A crystal ball – one of the Webmaster’s tools for predicting the future

Algorithms: Algorithms is the chilled-out bar where the main characters frequently hang out, grab a few drinks, and hatch their plans. Algorithms has been the site of a number of significant moments in the show, for example, the engagement party for Site and Page, where Site’s third cousin-once-removed, Hierarchical Link, drank one too many Bacardi and Cokes and tells Site that she is not really Page’s mother, as everyone has believed to that point, leaving Site to work out for himself who Page’s mother really is, an investigation that is the main focus for the next 2 seasons of high-rating episodes. One of the most popular storylines so far was in Season 2, when Site and Page Rankings were holed up in the Algorithms bar for a month, living on nothing but peanuts and ouzo, while a gang of bikies held the bar under seige. (see below.)

Crawlers: a gang of bikies who have connections with some unsavoury characters living in Sitemap. They hold a grudge against SEO and the entire Rankings family, for reasons yet to be revealed, and feature in some of the most popular story lines, for example in Season 3, when they kidnap Page Rankings and keep her locked in an old deserted schoolhouse for weeks, while Site Rankings and the local police chief follow false leads in their attempt to rescue her, and in Season 2, when they take over Algorithms and hold Page and Site hostage inside it for more than a month. (see above.)

*

Well dear readers, that is where our lesson in SEO for beginners ends for today. I hope this will help next time you come across any of the terms above. Hopefully now, you will be able to read with more interest, rather than tuning out, because as you read, you will be wondering, who really is Page Rankings mother, and what is real secret behind the grudge the Crawlers hold against the Rankings family?

To find out all of this and more you will have to stay tuned until Season 17.

 

Pics:

Al Capone: Pinterest

Crystal ball: Phoenix Orion

 

The (pop-eyed) Lady with the Ermine

This post is inspired by the Daily Post weekly photography challenge: Eye Spy

The Mona Lisa, taken while shopping in downtown Florence, 2013

The Lady With The Ermine, spotted shopping in downtown Florence, 2013

 

She was so bummed out. For years, centuries in fact, she’d done nothing but hang on the walls of the  Czartoryski Museum,  and seen nothing but the people that would take tours through the museum, stopping to gape at her as they went by.  A bunch of sycophants, they were, ogling and taking photos, sometimes even leaving the flash on their camera on, despite the warning signs written in Polish, French and English. A girl had no privacy, being gawked at 24/7.

She felt trapped by the smallness of her surroundings. She was bored with her company, all of whom were early Renaissance characters like herself, trapped in paintings on the walls around her. There were also a few statues from the same period, and some ceramic vases, but that was not enough to keep things interesting after all this time. She wanted to get out to the wider world, travel, see other places, meet other people, do what normal people of her age do. At the very least, it would be a thrill to get to the next room, which held the allure of modernity because of the Rembrandts that resided there. She was intensely curious to see if those guys were as cool as she’d heard.

To top it all off, she’d always felt a bit homesick in Poland. She’d been created in Italy, by none other than Leonardo da Vinci himself, and the status of her lofty provenance did not escape her attention. She felt that it was below her station to be stuck in Krakow, where the gallery attendants and curators spoke a language that sounded harsh to her ears. She longed to once again see the cobble-stoned streets of Florence, hear the bells ring in the tower of the Duomo, and hear the people around her speaking in her beloved Italian.

So when a whisper went around the gallery about a new product on the blackmarket that a painting could use to teleport themselves out of the Museum, she was one of the first to sign up for it. There were a lot of risks involved, she heard – the product was still in the Beta testing stage, and it was a one-use-only device, so wherever you landed you’d be staying – but she was not one to let caution get in the way. This might be her only chance, and hesitation could sentence her to another couple of hundred years stuck on the walls in Krakow.

When her teleporter arrived, she had no hesitation. Take me to Florence, she demanded of the voice-controlled device.

Well, it did indeed teleport her straight to Florence, to an outdoor setting with a view of a street market – but it was not the Florence she had been imagining. It looked alien to her. Women were walking freely in the streets, unaccompanied by men, their heads uncovered, and wearing garb somewhat like the hosiery worn by men in her memory. Both men and women wore the same kind of pantaloons, which were plain and drab, cut straight with no adornment, and mostly made of a thick, blue material that she could not identify. Some women even walked about the street with their hair cut short and no wig to disguise it! There were no horses on the streets, but some frightening compartments that carried one or two people, sometimes more, and moved past on wheels, making a loud noise.

She noticed that everywhere they went, men, women and even children all carried little devices with them, which they frequently consulted, stared into, or talked into. She could not place what these devices were but surmised that perhaps they were a variety of teleporter, that the users were staring into, in the hopes of getting away from this place.

People spoke mostly Italian, but their use of Italian was vastly different to the language as she was familiar with it. When she caught snippets of conversation from passers-by, many of the words made no sense to her at all – she could not contexualise the strange use of words like spread-sheet, search engine optimisation, twenty four seven, or brand loyalty.

She had gained her longed-for freedom, but she found that it was not all what she had expected. Being hung on an outdoor wall in a street meant that she was just part of the incidental scenery, not something people came on tours to see. People took less notice of her, indeed many took no notice of her at all, which afforded her more privacy, but caused a dent in her self-esteem. She started to feel isolated in quite a different way, and found herself questioning the value of her existence in the world as an artwork. As an artwork, she was created to be looked at, admired and pondered over, and if no-one was looking at her, then she performed no function at all. Her life began to feel meaningless.

All in all, she was more miserable with the surroundings that she found herself in now. What version of Florence this was, she did not know, but if she ever got the chance to get another teleporter, she would leave this place quick smart.

She mused over this desire frequently, and was musing over it again one afternoon when a group of young people came right up to her, laughing and joking amongst themselves, and jostling one another around. They were carrying equipment that she could not identify, and suddenly one of them – she could not tell whether male or female – glued two orange circles on the glass panel right over where her eyes were. They all laughed heartily at this, and stood back to admire her persecutor’s handywork, and then they all went merrily on their way.

Now on top of everything else, she couldn’t see anything except at the peripheries of her vision.

She thought about her previous view, a clear view, from a position high on the walls of the museum, over the adoring crowds below her. She even thought fondly of the little signs everywhere, warning visitors not to touch the art. Tears welled in her eyes, but they were hidden from view by the orange circles. No-one was looking at her anyway.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,554 other followers

%d bloggers like this: