ALL THINGS MUST PASS

I’m sitting on the verandah railing of a rambling wooden guest house in hilly Warburton. Rich smells from the surrounding bush push against a pervading odour of serene decay. Once a retreat for Melbourne’s genteel, now ghosts whisper along the wooden balconies and sigh like puffs of dust when morose teenagers throw themselves onto faded sofas.

One of those teenagers is me. Despite the chill in the air, I prefer the verandah to the communal lounge. The dim light and musty carpets of the interior depress me but more importantly, I stand a greater chance of glimpsing Kirsten by lurking on this semi-sheltered thoroughfare. Not that I’ll speak to her if she wanders past. For starters, she’ll be with one or more girls and thus surrounded by an impenetrable field of femaleness that my wistful glances simply fade from like breath on glass.

It is day three of this Year 10 German camp. The time has passed slowly, and quickly. Soon we’ll be packing and taking a bus back to school. And I haven’t managed a single interaction with Kirsten in either Deutsch or English. No wonder I’m morose. No wonder I’m sitting, shivering just a little in the damp Winter air, hoping for one more chance to not talk to a girl who probably hasn’t even noticed my intense, meaningful glances. 

I did try. Yesterday morning I ordered Speck und Spiegelei in a voice loud enough to carry to her end of the table. There was a titter, but I don’t know who. This morning, in an act of heart-tingling bravery, I approach her group and looking more-or-less straight at her, or at least her toast, I said Kafee? with an upward inflection that surely demonstrated my passion. Surely.

Back against the solid verandah upright, one leg is crooked nonchalantly on the ledge while the other dangles over the garden, I’m gazing poetically into the middle distance and wondering how long I can stay in this position. Sounds of my room-mate packing are a reminder of time passing, of opportunities fading. He smuggled in a small transistor and has turned it up a bit louder this morning, reasoning that he can scarcely be sent home early at this stage of proceedings. I reach down into the garden and pluck a daisy. The radio starts playing George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, the strummed guitar and plaintive melody fills me with something, but I don’t know what. I really want to see you, really want to be with you. Frowning, I pluck a petal. It takes so long, my Lord. Another petal flutters onto the weathered boards. She loves me, she loves me not. She loves me, she loves me not. Yeah, yeah, yeah. A tiny snowstorm of teardrop shaped petals. Kirsten appears at the end of the verandah, walks the uneven boards to her door, three before mine. She fumbles with the handle, but doesn’t look up. 

Really want to see you, really want to see you.

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The music theme of this post continues at Vinyl Connection

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EVE

There’s an orange pumpkin-shaped bucket next to the front door, full of sweets to bribe wide-eyed children in pointy hats and surly teens daubed in fake blood to go away without hurting us. The candy is individually wrapped. Halloween OH&S Department won’t allow any touching of naked treats. Must protect the junior ghouls from germs.

I usually feel angry about the ritual. Take this American crap away from us, it’s not ours! More commercialism, more meaningless expenditure. Don’t think, don’t reflect, just buy the sugar.

Yesterday I had blood taken for the annual tests. My pathology collector was very efficient and if I’d remembered it was almost Halloween I’d have tried a vampire joke. Instead I went to buy croissants as a reward for fasting overnight. What deprivation. Yet I deemed the delay of breakfast a suitable excuse for indulging. How soft we’ve become. 

The supermarket had a front line of seasonal lollies and other Halloween paraphernalia fully five yards long. I wondered if they had the individually wrapped eyeballs. I like those. Many cyclopses died in their creation. A young mum with two kids in tow stopped in front of me, a look of dismay on her face. Running the sugar gauntlet to get bread and milk. I left her to it.

It’s another appropriation of a pagan festival, of course. This time Celtic New Year, once the first of November. In this country it was taken over by a horse race, first Tuesday in November, but I don’t join in the holiday. I’ll be working, powered by the leftover sweets from the pumpkin bucket. Maybe the candy eye-balls will give me extra insight.

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GOING FOR GOALS

I like lists. They help you get all the “should do” clutter out of your head and on to a bit of paper. I usually use the back of an envelope from one of those utilities that seem to send bills twice as often as they used to. One of them sent me a fifty dollar bill the other day, but the lady in the Milk Bar said that I couldn’t buy twenty Choc Wedges and ten dollars of mixed lollies with it because it was made of cardboard not plastic and anyway it was too big. So when I got home with a packet of Minties (all I could afford) I made a list for the afternoon. It went something like this:

  • Have great idea for a film
  • Write best-selling screenplay
  • Get rich
  • Buy box of Chock Wedges
  • Relax

A few minutes later I added a couple more items to the list:

  • Stop eating chewy sweets
  • Make appointment with dentist

When my partner got home she said it was a very impressive list but maybe a bit demanding for one afternoon. I could see what she meant, as the only thing on the list I actually did was ring the dentist. But as I told my partner (who’d spent the day achieving amazing feats in the business world) I had actually done some extra things not on the list. I wrote them at the bottom:

Buy painkillers

Have lie down

It was a great feeling when I drew big black lines through those last two but I could see my partner’s point when she said that maybe I could learn a bit more about goal setting. Her workplace hired this corporate “coach” and it has really helped her get crystal clear about lots of things, so I rang him as soon as I’d written “Ring Coach Chappy” on my list. We arranged to meet the next day right after my dental appointment.

Let me tell you it was a revelation. He gave me more tips than a hairdressers’ convention and all of it was useful. One of the first things he told me about was setting realistic goals. I caught on immediately. Of course I couldn’t write a whole story in one afternoon. A realistic goal soon came to me and I got two pieces of paper. On one I wrote:

  • Think up title for film

and on the other I wrote:

“Going for goals” 

A screenplay by Bruce Jenkins

Then I put a big tick next to the sentence on the first sheet. (That was another tip: tick things off just like the teacher occasionally did in primary school). It felt fantastic! I even came up with an improvement and went out to the toy store and bought my very own elephant stamp. I put a stamp next to the tick and felt even better. Then, because my mouth was still a bit sore from the dental work in the morning, I went back to my goals list and wrote “Have a rest”. I was pretty sure I’d be getting another elephant stamp in an hour or two.

The coach said that breaks are important, so after dinner, some tele and the video of last night’s home improvement program, I settled down to my next planning task: making a “to do” list for the next day. The coach said that many people find it helpful doing this before bed as it enables them to clear their minds and relax. That made sense to me and I concentrated hard on setting achievable goals. 

It made me realise what an amazing number of tasks there are each day just to get ready for work or whatever. I was still fine-tuning my teeth-brushing sub-list (left hand lower molars, right hand lower molars paying special attention to new filling…) when my partner told me in crystal clear terms to turn out the light. I did, of course, but I slept very badly due to the worry of not completing my list, let alone allocating A, B or C priorities to each item. Are upper molars more important than lower? I started leaving messages for the coach about dawn.

Feeling rather tired and anxious, I spent a few hours picking bits of Minty out of the telephone receiver, which might be why it took a while before the coach got through. He thanked me for the amazing detail I left with his paging service and said he now had a good grasp on the problem and what I needed was a goal ladder. Goal at the top and steps to reach it. Sounded good to me and I got right on to it. 

When my partner rang at lunchtime I told her what I had been working on and asked what sort of replacement light fittings she wanted in the dining room. She quite understood that the sort of ladder you need for lofty goals like mine is a bit unwieldy and had some great suggestions for where I might find some new antique vases for the dresser.

So now I’m working on a new strategy for getting things done. It comes from this really amazing web site called the Yellow Pages On-line. You just tap in the service you want and pick someone from the list that magically appears. Ring up and explain your problem and someone comes and does the job for you. Brilliant.

Right now I’m looking up Screen Writers, but after my nap (tick!) I’m going to ring the coach and tell him what I’ve learned. And I’d be happy to be a consultant at his next corporate training to share my knowledge – and maybe the elephant stamp.

 

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IN SEARCH OF SPACE

Space. The initial frontier.

Have you sometimes lost sight of your writing? There were times during the past three months when I simply forgot the existence of Lonely Keyboards. Yet as I sit here now I clearly recall the joy of beginning this second blog-that’s-not-always-about-music, and the thrill of engaging with a new audience. As it turned out the audience was not always new; some friends travelled across from Vinyl Connection, revealing different aspects of themselves from the world of music blogging. Often what was shared was more visible, more vulnerable, more human. I cherished those moments. It’s one thing to high-five when someone’s taste in music confirms your own good judgement, but it is quite another to breath deeply into another’s confusion, or struggles with creativity, or experience of grief and loss. 

Not that there has been an absence of writing: the weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) posts at Vinyl Connection keep me tapping away and spinning records most days. My fondness for connected series—currently the birth of progressive music—means I regularly feel impelled by a sense of completion to push out another missive. Sometimes that internal pressure squeezes the enjoyment a little, but I do it anyway. It has become a habit. And habits take up space.

A new writing gig began recently. Paid work. Writing album reviews for an on-line retailer. Someone said, ‘Bruce, that’s your dream job!’. Maybe it is; still too early to tell. But one thing is certain, adding another track of music writing onto the weekly playlist of activities has led to an increase in output. And a corresponding decrease in space.

Little time for reflection, then. 

Reflection. The the space where creativity swirls and ideas puff into existence.

What brought this into focus was happening across a newspaper column by a writer I knew, years ago. I enjoyed the piece (which was about celebrating the moment) and looked her up on social media. In no time an electronic connection snapped ‘on’, we’d exchanged email addresses and I had located her blog. Wondered whether she would find my blog. What’s that about? Establishing credentials? Sending a selfie? Found myself reflecting that Vinyl Connection is mostly straight music writing these days. The river of memoir-music stories may not have run dry, but it has slowed to a trickle. I kind of shrugged to myself. ‘It is what it is’. Then I remembered Lonely Keyboards, recalled the intoxicating (but scary) high after Goodbye Piper was picked up; the steady, inevitable decline of interest as I steadfastly avoided most return-follows, the settling in with a small but engaged readership who seemed interested in the inner experiences of writing and life… 

We reveal different personas in different settings. Both blogs are ‘me’, and neither.

Sometimes if you put yourself into a certain context, that will close a circuit inside you. Lenny Kaye once said, ‘Pick up a guitar and see who you become’. Maybe writers could say, ‘Start a blog and see who you are’. Who you are today, at least. Conduct an assay of your inner mineral deposits via qwerty. Test the quality of the interior air with a canary keyboard. Could be methane, could be gold.

But first you have to make the space, and be in the moment. Maybe even turn off the music for a bit, and listen.

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