“I CAME THROUGH AND I SHALL RETURN”

Sometimes inspiration flags, sometimes life gets in the way of writing. Blogs go into a state of suspended animation. 

Here are a dozen opening lines to be avoided when returning after a hiatus.

I’ve been away.

No-one noticed.

Did you miss me?

Nup.

It’s been ages since I’ve sat down at the keyboard.

And…?

Such a very busy time…

Naturally no-one else in the entire blogging world is busy.

So much has happened, I don’t know where to start.

Come back when you’ve worked it out.

Thank you to all my loyal readers who’ve waited patiently.

You hope.

I promised to post regularly and I haven’t.

Self-abasement is charming.

I feel terrible about not posting these last six weeks/months/decades.

Ditto grovelling.

I’m so grateful for the support of my readers.

Such authenticity. Anyway, they’re not yours.

I’ve missed you all.

But mostly I’ve missed having my ego stroked.

Most sincere apologies for the silence.

Enough breast-beating, already. Who’s actually upset?

It is so good to be back!

Translation: I’m shit-scared no-one will even remember my blog.

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Above all, only publish when you actually have something worthwhile to offer.

Now, what was I going to write about…

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Title quote: Doug MacArthur, Adelaide, South Australia, 1942.

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

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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CHRISTMAS EVE

It’s early on Christmas Eve, just after seven. Still and overcast outside; mild but it will warm up later. Not too much though, the high thirties days are promised for later in the week. This year we get a temperate Christmas.

The house is quiet. Lulled by the low cloud, birds have slept in; their morning chatter drifts through open windows. Inside it’s silent. The boy is still abed and Cal has gone shopping for Christmas supplies. I’m going early, she said, it’ll be nuts by nine o’clock.

Silhouetted against the window is the tree, dark against the grey-blue sky. Even in the semi-dark I can see the drooping fronds. If there was more light I could see the tree’s sagging shoulders and wilted waist.

Cal ordered an Oxfam Christmas tree. It’s well covered with decorations and tinsel, but they don’t hide the desiccated limbs and browning pine needles. The tree arrived on a stinker of a day—a hundred degrees in the old currency—and never recovered. Always striving for perfection, Cal wanted to buy another one and start again but I couldn’t face the dismantle-rebuild, the floor covered with scented hypodermics, so I said no. As each day has passed I’ve felt more mean.

In the afternoons when the summer sun slams through the window she looks sadly at our dying tree but it’s too late to do anything now. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the boy transitioning to adolescence. He’s holding tenaciously onto ‘believing’ and we’re going along because we’re no more ready to surrender the innocence of childhood than he is. A part of me, a hard-nosed bit, wants to announce to all and sundry that this will be the last year of  Santa. Never liked the materialistic old bastard anyway. But I won’t, and even as I write I’m working out how to stop the boy reading this, because he is entitled to his naivety, to his participation in this December ritual. Shit, his Daddy has even played Father Christmas and got paid for it!

Decorating the tree is a Mother and child thing in our house. My contribution is to hang a couple of Christmas LP covers on the wall and a string of lights in the front window.

When I hung the lights this year, there was the usual awkwardness of tangled wires and the nervous tinkle of the glass globes knocking together. As I hooked them around the edge of the frame, they tapped against the glass, a rhythm evoking memories. We used to be on your family Christmas tree, they whisper. A spindly fake pine made magic by the deep, vivid colour of the decorative candlelights. These lights are as old as I am, still intact and still willing to cast their fifties glow into a different suburban street.

When I turned them on this year, they flickered then went dark. I carefully went around the perimeter, pinching the globes into their sockets. After all, they’ve been sitting in an old suitcase in the garage all year. Touching each candle seems a way of re-connecting with them, bringing them to life. When I get to the last globe, a red one (they are the best—deep scarlet with a glowing heart) it breaks into my hand. I’ve squeezed too hard and the glass, a half-century old and more, has fractured. Oh. There’s some anguish in my voice. Cal comes in to check I’m all right.

It’s OK, I say, but there’s a tightness in my throat. She hears it and says nothing. I hold out my hand with the crimson shards. The family Christmas lights, I just broke one. She nods. You OK? I nod back. We’re both thinking of my mother’s death, in April but so long ago. That’s quite all right in one way, but the death of the lights somehow hurts.

I scrabble around in the box, so old it is a collection of bits of cardboard rather than a container, and find a couple of loose globes from another, long defunct set. I screw one into the string and flick the power point. The lights burst into life, except for the odd one. It remains dark, but completes the circuit.

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