Wednesday, 30 January 2008
Many tomatoes are ripening on our vines, and once I have a good swag of them I'm going to make some tomato pasta sauce. I haven't gotten fed up with the zucchini yet, even though most growers seem to find the things take over and they can't get rid of them fast enough. Of course this might be because I've been picking them before they're very big, and we only have two plants.
Next to come: beans and mushrooms!
Thanks to Google and a random collection of search terms (chinese new year food toss chopsticks noodles) I found this, which describes it perfectly: Mana Makan - The Feast Crusade
I especially like this:
It’s a horrible carnage and I frankly detest the Lo Hei practice. There will always be some idiot who thinks he is the life of the party and will stand on his chair to pick up (badly) bits of vegetables and raw fish and drop it from that height on top of you. When you move to pummel the miscreant with your chopsticks, he will burst into loud Chinese New Year greetings at the top of his lungs in self defense. Whereupon you will pick up your chair to bash the tosser over the head.
I don't have any plans for Chinese New Year. Do you?
Staying put requires a lot more strength than running away. Attempting to deal with my problems, attempting to work through the blockages, attempting to grow despite of lack of nourishment - it all takes a lot of energy and a lot of perseverance. Sometimes I don't have either and that's when the tears start, the sleepless nights, the complete mental exhaustion, the inability to do anything but put one foot in front of the other.
And the swirl of busyness, the pressures of work, and the weight of obligation continue to pile up.
How on earth could you get through a life like that without God? I've heard it said many times that Christians use their faith as a crutch, but as I've replied many times "of course we do!" Well I do, anyway. How is it a defeat to admit that I need help? How is it a defeat to run into the arms of a loving God who knows and understands what I'm going through? How is it a defeat to admit that life often sucks and the only thing that makes it worth living is knowing that one day I'll be with God and all of this will fall away?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40: 28-31
Monday, 28 January 2008
It was iPods at dawn as we went round the room, sharing a track each and occasionally the story behind why we liked it. For posterity and because I am an obsessive list-maker, I kept note of all that we played.
We got a little sillier with our selections towards the end of the day. But it was a really interesting afternoon, and lots of fun hanging out with some of my favourite people. G cooked us a delicious dinner, we chatted about the upcoming writing website while Ben played Katamari Damacy, then called it a night. Luckily we managed to catch Mary on our way out!
And now, to bed. Who'd have thought you could get so tired just listening?
Here is the listening list in all its glory (most readers will probably just want to skip it, unless you have a particular interest in music):
- Karen: started off with Tank! from Cowboy Bebop, but then her MP3 player ran out of battery charge before the song was even done, so K was kind of restricted in what she could share with us.
- Guan: Katamari on the Rock by Yu Miyake, Masayuki Tanaka (from the PS2 game Katamari Damacy. Won't fail to cheer you up.)
- Karen: (she got another go because of the dodgy first attempt) Brestir og brak - Björk and Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar (crazy Icelandic jazz)
- Rebecca: Anchor Song - Björk (love the lush saxophones)
- Ben: Letter from home - Pat Metheny (introduced by Ben as "the world's best elevator music")
- G: Blue Lines - Massive Attack
- K: All my stars aligned - St Vincent
- R: Edible Flowers - Finn Brothers (a soaring, sublime chorus)
- B: I wanna know girls - Portastatic
- G: Dumb it down - Lupe Fiasco
- K: Faded - The Afghan Whigs
- R: Hot girl in the comic shop - Tripod
- B: Ha ha world - Larry Norman
- G: Chemical Calisthenics - Blackalicious
- K: Confessions of a broken heart - Lindsay Lohan (Guan gritted his teeth)
- R: Your ex-lover is dead - Stars
- B: Arcadia - Apparat
- G: A little lost - Jens Lekman
- K: Comfortably numb - Dar Williams and Ani diFranco
- R: I don't like Mondays - Tori Amos
- B: Test, don't tell - Ivy (er, I might have gotten that wrong)
- G: The last trumpet - Lyrics Born
- K: Karma police - the Bad Plus
- R: The hard road - Hilltop Hoods
- B: My man, my bomb - Team 9 (Feist/Young Pony Club mashup)
- G: Thieves in the night - Black Star
- K: Towards the waves, I'm ready, There's been an accident - Twilight Singers
- R: 'you really are quite good looking, Rebecca' - Kyle from South Park (it had to be done...he says I'm a fox!)
Waiting for my real life to begin - Colin Hay
- B: Gethsemane - John Farnham (from Jesus Christ Superstar)
- G: Release - Blackalicious
- K: Not the one in ruins - the Panics
- R: On behalf of all the geeks - Tripod
Daft Punk is playing at my house - LCD Soundsystem
- B: Lady - Stryper
If I were a rich man - Magnetic Fields
Home to you - the Peasall Sisters
'Spiderpig' from the Simpsons Movie
- K: No such thing - John Mayer
- R: Dat dere - Rickie Lee Jones
Of course it could just be that she knows I'm the Provider of Food and she's trying to stay on my good side.
Here is a picture of her being the boss of a paper bag.
Sunday, 27 January 2008
I took the day off and woke late. I think I should get a doctorate in pottering around, as I'm such an expert at it (a PoD perhaps?). Guan came round for lunch. I picked some more bounty from the garden, made a tomatoey tuna pasta with fried zucchini flowers on top, and we fuelled up for the day ahead.
We public-transported it to Olympic Park ("You don't catch trains much, do you?" G observed as I quietly freaked out about the cacophony of platform announcements. No, I don't. I've never lived anywhere that was on the train line). It was pretty easy to pick who was going to the BDO, and I guess we must have fit the bill too as people asked us which train stop we had to get off at. I guess the only difference between us and them was that we weren't downing as many bottles of booze as possible before arriving.
I felt monochromatic and ungainly in my grey top, shorts and blundstones, but I figured that it was the most comfortable attire, and if I wore my boots at least my toes wouldn't get trodden on. If I'd worn my Cons I probably would have been much more fashionable, but didn't want soggy feet in the event of rain. Actually, more than anything, planning all that practical stuff (what to take? what to wear?) was what made me feel old and boring - not like the young'uns whose biggest concern seemed to be where to stick the Australian flag temporary tattoos. But in the end, I was comfortable all day, didn't spend an inordinate amount of money on snacking and beverages, and didn't get sunburned. Yay. I rock.
It started raining as we sped towards Homebush, but had pretty much stopped by the time we arrived. We passed through the security checkpoints and the bag searches without any problems, though witnessed the hordes of police marshalling the perimeter and tackling potential fence-jumpers. There were also a few people looking worse for wear (and it was only 3pm), including a girl who was sprawled out on the concrete, disoriented and distressed. Made me glad we weren't drinking, but also a little sad that the majority of people who were there could only enjoy it if they were completely off their heads (I liked one of the safety tips on the BDO website that said "Don't turn up drunk or out of it as you may be refused entry or will probably pass out before you see any of the bands you paid to see" - sadly, I think that went unheeded for the most part).
Neither of us had a map, so we just kind of bumbled around, looking for signs to tell us where to go. Our first port of call was the Boiler Room for UK hip-hop dude Dizzee Rascal. I'd never heard of him before, but enjoyed his set. It was hard to get close at all, so we settled for standing under one of the big speaker stacks and feeling the beats reverberate in our sternums. Love it. Couldn't really work out what the lyrics were for the most part, but as G's friend Siv said later on, "all you really need to know is that he was rapping about booty".
I really liked the staging in the Boiler Room - 24 lit up panels along the back of the stage that alternated between projecting images and coloured light, with lights staggered throughout up to the roof.
We didn't stay til the end of the set, but navigated our way through the slippery crowd and down to the Green Stage for Spoon. Unfortunately they were having some technical issues, and the sound wasn't terribly good. The band didn't seem to be enjoying themselves much either, though I could be wrong.
I think the question that I mentioned in a previous post, about whether or not it's important to know an artist's back catalogue before seeing them live becomes more important in a festival context. If I hadn't already been familiar with Spoon's stuff I probably wouldn't have gotten much out of seeing them at BDO (whereas seeing one band, in a context-appropriate venue (eg, The National) allows you to soak up a lot more than when you're trying to hear them through a bad setup and amidst a crowd who spends the whole time talking). Still, I'm glad we caught them.
We managed to meet up with G's best friend from school, Siv and his girlfriend, and we all stuck around for a decent, if slightly amusing set from The Nightwatchman (aka Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, who were headlining later that night). He played political folk music (is there such a thing as a-political folk music?) with a guitar and a pointless harmonica. He kept asking the crowd to shout and jump around and whatever, but the music just didn't seem to warrant that, so it came off (to me) a little bit try-hardy. But I have to say, he is obviously passionate about the causes he champions, and his covers of AC/DC's Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (lyrics altered to be a rant about George W Bush) and Midnight Oil's Beds Are Burning were excellent, and got the crowd enthused.
Neither of us felt much like listening to Augie March who were up next, so we headed off to find some dinner. The food options at festivals (much like the Easter show) are along the lines of fried, random meat, fried random meat, or questionable sausage-inna-bun. Luckily we had spotted a Nandos stall earlier on, and figuring that at least we'd know what we were getting, we got our dinner from there ($24 for two burgers, one serve of chips and one drink...sheesh!). We found a quiet-ish spot in a marquee and sat down for a while to eat and chat.
It was good going to a festival with someone who knew my health limitations (and who has a fairly sensible approach to his own). G apologised if I felt like he was patronising me by asking if I needed to rest, etc, but honestly it was nice to have someone who asked! Normally when I go out with a bunch of people to things like this, everyone is focused on having A Good Time, and they don't want to think about the need for rest or food or quiet or time out from the crowd. I'm usually okay at calibrating it for myself, but it helps to have someone who is keeping an eye out for when I start to look vague. Well, vaguer than usual.
After our recharge, we headed back down to the Green Stage for Battles. This is one of G's favourite bands, and I'd only heard a few of their songs but liked what I had heard. They're referred to as 'math rockers', which was initially puzzling and a little offputting for me (I have a built-in aversion to all things mathematical), but seeing them live was fairly mindblowing. Each of the four members sets up some sort of intricate riff or pattern, and gradually the music shifts and changes, but none of them falter for a second. They keep pushing and pushing each other, layering and weaving and meshing each of their lines together to create this unbelievable sound. It's very impressive.
G braved the crowd to find his friend Colin, who apparently had a good vantage point. I found a railing quite close to the stage, so climbed up and watched from there. It was a great position, actually, as I was above the crowd, but could still see and hear everything perfectly. I got to watch some funky dancing on the sidelines, too, from this guy with gorgeous long dreadlocks, who moved and whirled with complete abandon. Also I thought this couple with their homemade BDO t-shirts were cute:
After Battles, I probably would have been trying to get a good spot to see Bjork at the main stages. But of course she wasn't on. Although I was quite happy to take in the BDO without her, it definitely didn't feel as exciting knowing that there wasn't going to be a major, 'big bang' type experience to end the day. I'm not much of a Rage Against the Machine fan (they were the other big drawcard), so seeing them probably wouldn't have added much to my day.
As the sun set we went and sat up in the stadium to watch Arcade Fire, who were playing in Bjork's slot - I say watch, because at that distance the sound wasn't fantastic. I know they're a band I would probably love, but I haven't had a chance to get into them yet, so just appreciated the scope and size of the show, but not so much the music. The crowd was absolutely overwhelming, a total seething mass of people, surging and swirling. From our seats high above I was kind of glad I wasn't down there - I know it would have been an amazing experience, but at the end of the day of running around I don't think I would have had the energy to be in there.
But I heard enough to know I want to check Arcade Fire out properly.
Our last band for the day was back in the Boiler Room, where we started off. LCD Soundsystem also had a couple of technical difficulties (they blew the bass amp up after the second song), but once they got going they were fantastic. Energetic, tight, wry, stompy and fun. I danced around and really enjoyed it.
We slipped out and made a break for the train, talking about what parts we'd play if we had a band (G would do everything, except in the background. I think I'd sing and play piano, if necessary. Gothic Cupcake, unite!). The whole public transport aspect of going to gigs is horrible because the music seeps away in the fluorescent light of the train or bus, and you have to listen to the prattle of drunkards and idiots. But by the time we got to Central, we had managed to connect with Joe and Carly, who we'd been trying to find all day, so the boys got to debrief about what they thought the best/worst bits of the day were, and Carly and I stared dreamily off into the distance.
One by one they got off the bus, and I made the last bit of my journey home alone. I walked down the darkened street, my ears buzzing, my feet sore, my mind racing with all I had seen that day. I got home in one piece, but it was a while before my brain slowed down enough to go to sleep.
Thursday, 24 January 2008
And what does she do? She goes and gets sick. I must have jinxed it last night when Joe asked me who I was keen to see at BDO and I said "I don't care as long as I get to see Bjork." Rats.
On the upside, I ate my first harvested tomato today, and cooked zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and dipped in tempura batter for dinner (the flowers were also the first ones harvested from my garden). Hooray for garden therapy and growing one's own food; very, very satisfying.
But I think there is something to be said for the reverse. I had listened to The National's Boxer a few times before last night's show but usually in the background while I was working or something, so I hadn't paid very close attention to it. I heard enough of it to know I liked it, but it didn't grip me and refuse to let go.
Yet having seen their live show, now I'm listening to the album again and it's resonating on many more levels than it did before. I pick out a line, or a word, or a musical phrase and remember how cool it was live, how raw, how blistering and it hooks me deeper into the music.
Looking for somewhere to stand and stay
I leaned on the wall and the wall leaned away
You know I dreamed about you
for twenty-nine years before I saw you
Let's not try to figure out everything at once
It’s hard to keep track of you falling through the sky
We expected something, something better than before,
we expected something more.
You were always weird but I never had to hold you by the edges like I do now.
(Start a war)
Also, forget this writing malarkey, I want to sing. In a band. Just putting that out there.
* obligatory Simpsons' quote...
Professor Frink [showing a preschool class a toy]: N'hey hey! Ahem, n'hey.... So the compression and expansion of the longitudinal waves cause the erratic oscillation -- you can see it there -- of the neighbouring particles. Yes, what is it? What? What is it?
Little Girl: Can I play with it?
Frink: No, you can't play with it; you won't enjoy it on as many levels as I do...Mm-hai bw-ha whoa-hoa. The colours, children! Mwa-ha-lee!
Work was okay, better than yesterday because I actually got a couple of tasks crossed off my list. I'm already starting to feel a bit overwhelmed with all the work that needs doing so I'm trying to have systems in place to keep me on an even keel and productive. So far they seem to be working okay.
I felt so gross by the end of the day that I rushed home, had a shower, blow-dried my hair, put makeup on and got dressed in my Nobue green dress - all in 45 minutes. I really just wanted to lie down and have a nap but there wasn't time. I thought that since I've been feeling so revolting it was worth making an extra effort to look nice because even if I wasn't feeling nice I didn't have to compound it by thinking I looked like a heap of rags to boot (note for future reference, when I wear makeup I'm either feeling fantastic and showing off, or at an extremely low point and trying to camouflage it).
Mum had had a crappy day so I went into the city earlier than I had planned to have coffee with her. I do so like being in the city with mum, whether it's shopping or drinking coffee or whatever. She left to catch the bus home and I went up to Kinokuniya for a little while to browse. I have no money, so it was probably an unwise thing to do, but I managed to restrain myself from buying anything, and went down to Town Hall to meet Guan, Mary, Joe, Carly and Alex.
We ate dinner at a great little Japanese restaurant on York St (whose name I forgot to take note of). I shared gyoza with Guan and for mains I had teriyaki chicken, both of which were delicious and just what I felt like.
The gig was at the City Recital Hall at Angel Place, which is one of my favourite venues even though I haven't been there that many times. It's just such a lovely building, tucked away in a laneway, with clean minimalist interiors and excellent acoustics in the hall itself.
The first act was Clogs, who primarily play intricate instrumental pieces, although tonight they were also doing a couple of songs with vocals. I didn't think they worked as well as the other stuff. But the other stuff was great - they added an eclectic mix of instruments to the guitars, violin, bassoon and percussion (not often enough you hear a celeste or a steel drum these days!), and created really dreamlike, luscious soundscapes.
It didn't do much to alleviate my melancholy though. Even as I revelled in the music, it made me feel very sad. At interval I just went and stood up the back for a while, and was just glad I was with friends who understood.
Then The National. I wasn't going to take notes during the concert this time, like I did at Sufjan, but about halfway through I decided I had to write some things down because I couldn't keep it all in my head. Guan chuckled at me and Carly seemed intrigued but, well, I'm a writer. I write things.
Except now that it's 12.30am, I'm unable to turn my notes into anything more coherent, so I'll just write them up (with occasional embellishment) and they may seem completely disjointed but...oh well.
Matthew Berninger has a voice like molasses, dark and rich and seductive. A voice to get lost in.
Drumming with mallets, urgent and compelling and so infectious.
Exquisite stops, every song is like heartbreak, and is bittersweetly unresolved.
The sound reverberates through the wooden floor and fills me up.
I want to eat the sound.
None of us can sit still in our row, our legs keeping time, our hands twitching. The boys all lean forward, like they want to leap up and run into it.
A restlessness. Couldn't get further away from Sufjan and Andrew Bird. Where they were all colour and whimsy, this is blackness and boldness. A black curtain hangs behind the stage, the band members (except for Padma Newsome) are all in black. They're manly men. There are women who come on to play for a few songs, but they don't diminish the testosterone.
Blue light on his shoulders is the only colour. Everything stands out in sharp relief.
The gobos in the automated lights are simple but effective; like rolling lighting, and then like a massive pair of angels' wings hovering behind him.
People suck: they keep getting up and going out and coming back in. One guy pushes open the door and says loudly "Let's go get drunk!"
Padma Newsome is like some sort of grungy Puck to Berninger's Oberon. He weaves around the stage with his fiddle, then plays the piano, then grabs the violin again and dances around, delighting in the sound. Berninger wrenches sound out from himself and twists and screams, while Newsome flits in and out and sings with a sublime falsetto over the top.
A shimmering clash and clamour of sound heralds the end of the show and one by one they all wander off the stage, leaving the blackness and the ringing in our ears.
So there you go. And now, to bed.
Tuesday, 22 January 2008
I've been trying to 'fix' myself, even though I don't feel like it. I listened to positive music. I chatted to friends. I went to the gym. I even went to Peter's of Kensington to spend my farewell-from-church gift voucher, and I just wandered around feeling miserable, even though I was buying lovely things (and it wasn't costing me a cent).
And yet there is still this hot prickling behind my eyes, a mildly panicky feeling in my throat, a bone-weariness that makes me feel like the only thing I want to do is to curl up in my bed and cry. And yet I can't cry. There's nothing to cry about.
Buh. It sucketh.
Well, here are the wonderful things I bought from PofK.
Do you remember that ad for pens (was it Parker, or Papermate, or...what's the one with the little hearts on the clip?) where the old guy is looking for the perfect gift for his daughter who he hasn't seen for ages, and he goes to all this trouble to get a pen and it's perfect and in a box and she loves it and it's all shot with that kind of gauzy, sentimental effect? No? Hmm. Well, trust me, it was an ad ages ago. And when I saw it I always thought what a sucky present a pen would be. I mean, it's not exactly exciting, is it? You use pens every day and they're things you lose and chew the ends of and so it comes in a fancy box, big deal.
Well I think I am finally old enough to appreciate that a good pen is indeed a magnificent thing. And obviously, it's a fitting present for a writer and something that presumably will remind the giftee of the giver whenever she uses it.
So the first thing on the shopping list was a Fisher Space Pen. They had them in purple, my favourite colour, which delighted me greatly. This is going to be my Pen (with a capital P) that I use to write all the great and wonderful things I write in my Moleskine. Hopefully I won't lose it, won't chew the end of it, and it will remind me of my dear friends at St Martin's when I use it.
Then the next category is long-coveted items of no great need. Exhibit A: Bodum Pavina double wall thermal glasses. Mum refused to pour the coffee in them without me doing it first because she was scared they would break, but they're designed for hot drinks and they look gorgeous (that's obviously not coffee in the picture, it's ginger beer).
Exhibit B: a Furi East/West scalloped knife, to go in the empty slot in my Furi knife block. My chef's knife has a nick in it, which annoys me too, so it's nice to have a new knife (I loooove my Furi knives. Well...maybe love is too strong a word for an inanimate object. I greatly esteem them).
Exhibit C and beyond: lots of little things such as cupcake holders with feet (! a present for my godmother); a red melamine spoon that is extremely satisfying to hold and only cost $3.50; a Microplane grater which turns the hardest cheese to a beautiful fluffy snow-like substance; and a black polka dotted shower cap, made out of a pleasingly thick PVC that has that yummy new-plastic smell.
And I still have change to go back and spend another day!
So...actually...now having had dinner (with vegies from the garden!!!) and looking back over my little stash, and being comfortable here in my track pants, with my insane cat doing laps of the house and my mother in the other room...life could be a lot worse.
And this blah, this nothingness, this stupid mood...this too shall pass.
*we're wondering whether Scout's insanity and my flat mood and mum's frustrated mood are a result of the full moon. Don't know enough about that stuff to make a call either way, but suffice it to say, we're all a little weird in this house tonight.
Sunday, 20 January 2008
Towards the end of the sermon, it started pouring rain. By the time we were halfway through the prayers, two of the windows started cascading with water and it was like an interior water feature. Gary remarked to Kurt afterwards, "Well I guess God doesn't want you to preach that sermon again..."
The highlight was: "You swear...your son didn't start swearing until you swore at me! You swear at me and your son thinks he can talk to me like that!" pause, then, "I don't give a shit about the neighbours! We're happier when you're not here!"
There were just several loud bangs, like doors slamming. I really hope nobody is hurt. We know from past experience with other neighbours that the cops don't come for domestic disturbances...so what do you do? It is so awful.
Okay now he's gone absolutely mental and is screaming his head off. I want to call the cops but mum really doesn't want me to. I know it's not my business but it is! It should be, shouldn't it? Shouldn't someone intervene?
Who lives like this?!
Saturday, 19 January 2008
Wednesday, 16 January 2008
Well, sort of.
I've already written about the lovely Victor who lives to the right of us. There is an Asian family to the left, who seem friendly enough, though we haven't had much to do with them and they do that insane ranting in Cantonese that sounds like a fight but is actually joking around. I'm used to that sound, so it doesn't bother me, though it can get noisy at times.
What does bother me is the sound of our back neighbours.
It is a family, mum, dad, a boy of about three and a toddler girl. And they hate each other. Most mornings, I wake up to the sound of the mother screaming at the little boy. Literally screaming at him; she opens her mouth and the most awful sounds just come pouring out. The child inevitably starts wailing at an unbelievable volume, and if the father is home he will often chip in with a few expletives or mock the child's crying (either mimicking him or saying things like "you sound like a stupid girl").
Most afternoons it continues. I'll often be out in the garden doing some weeding and have to go inside because the sound of them hollering in hatred at one another is an assault on the senses, and it wrenches my heart.
"I'm NOT in the mood for you today! I'M NOT IN THE MOOD! Get out! Get out!" The mother will yell. So the kid goes outside, plays with his sister, ends up hitting her or pushing her, the mother comes storming out, "Did you hit her?" *whack!* "Get lost! I'm not in the mood for you!"
Yeah sure the kid sounds like a pain in the neck, but honestly, what model has he had to go on? A pair of parents who can't stand one another, who routinely scream and swear and yell at one another (and then demand to know why the child is screaming, swearing or yelling). It's not like one person is more aggressive than the other; they are both nightmares. One of the worst fights I (unintentionally) overheard was late one night between the parents over money, and I honestly couldn't tell whether I needed to call the cops. I don't think anyone was being hit, but if someone was I didn't know whether it was him or her who needed help.
There's no love. No affection. No tenderness. The mother seems to speak to the baby girl in kinder tones, but I can't imagine that will last beyond the kid starting to talk. They either have no idea how audible they are, or they don't care. When they went on holidays between Christmas and New Year, there was untold peace and harmony in the neighbourhood. As soon as they returned, the battle resumed.
I know it's not my business, but it is just an awful thing to be near. I pray for them, but it's hard to know how, or what to pray for. It's a misery, and I'll bet neither of them thought that this was what their lives would become when they got married. So good relationships are to be treasured, even when they're hard; when there's love and trust and respect and commitment at the heart of it, you know that you can weather the minor bumps. When you don't have those things, the minor bumps become fractures and breaks until the thing is so damaged it can never be repaired.
I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
I've been trying to teach myself how to install and use the blogging/content management system ExpressionEngine. This is not a completely arbitrary endeavour; there is a good chance we'll be using it for our not-really-top-secret-whiz-bang writing website (read Karen's dreams for it here) and there is also a chance I will be developing a new site for my mum's work and I'd like to use a CMS to do that. It seems like a really cool thing to know how to do, and I agree with Karen that if you're going to use a tool (for example, if you publish a blog) you should get to know the basic principles of how it works, even if someone else does all the heavy lifting, so to speak.
But it frustrates the life out of me because I can't know it all straight away. I want to learn the way they learn in The Matrix, where they just get plugged into a tutorial and less than five seconds later can open their eyes and say, "I know jujitsu!"
I'm not good with learning curves of any sort. I get annoyed and impatient, and the sense that any second someone is going to call me out as a fraud increases with each hamfisted attempt I make at getting anything working. Now I know to many people, thinking about how websites work at even their most basic level is too complicated, so the fact that I can even attempt to teach myself this stuff is reasonably advanced. I'm very blessed in that I have an inquisitive mind and I like to find out how things work. But when it takes me time to learn something and work it out, there is this irrational fear that somehow all the other people who are so much more brilliant than me will pass me by (and laugh), or people will find out that I've been faking it all along, or they'll look at my poor, stumbling attempts and snigger behind their hands, saying "she thinks she's so good, but she's such an amateur."
Why is amateurism in the learning stages anything to be ashamed of? I don't think anyone would actually do those above things - most of my friends are very encouraging and supportive - but that slimy voice of self-doubt keeps chattering away nonetheless.
I know of Certain Friends who are also this way, and not just in the realms of IT. We have so many good gifts - we can play instruments, we can write, we can speak in public without falling down, we can create beautiful things, we can digest complicated pieces of information, we can organise incredible events, we can cook delicious food, we can make people laugh, we can make people think, we can do so much. And yet if we don't do it all absolutely perfectly we either feel that we've failed or we give up entirely.
The other aspect of this is that we don't think we're doing enough either. Whereas most would be content to just be able to write a good short story, or play a great song on the piano, we don't think we're doing enough if we don't know how to do everything (and do it brilliantly of course). The ability to multitask is certainly a blessing, but it's also a curse, and those of us who are good at multitasking usually find it hard to relinquish responsibility to someone else, even while wishing someone else would take it on.
I'm not sure what the answer is, I'm just musing on't. Perhaps we need a discussion in the comments between all of us highly-talented, overachieving, overcommitted, low self-esteemers...
Sunday, 13 January 2008
It was so hot and humid in the afternoon, I just ended up blobbing around at home. I was most excited to see that my zucchini plants have started to flower, and pruned back the insane tomato vines. I haven't really blogged much about the garden (which is probably just as well, as I'm likely to get interminably boring about it) but I'm finding it exciting. Especially since things are actually growing and producing and not shrivelling up as I expected them to.
Mary, Guan and Ben B came round for dinner at 6. Mum was worried because we were eating essentially the same thing that we had the last time they came round for dinner (cold roast chicken, salad, etc), but it really wasn't a problem and was very yummy, especially the salad with fresh mango in it. We drove into the city, parked at mum's office in York St and walked down to the State Theatre, which was already crawling with indie music types and Sydney Festival types. And people like us, who of course are far too cool to be lumped into such narrow stereotypes...
I think I'm destined to run into old friends at these sorts of gigs. Maybe if I got out more I'd run into people more often and it wouldn't seem like such a momentous thing. But anyway, as I walked into the State Theatre foyer, who should wave at me but the lovely N? N always makes me smile and gives lovely big hugs and is always excited about things, especially things like Sufjan Stevens, or Jeffery Smart (I also ran into him at a Jeffery Smart exhibition once). As I was listening to the music later on, I realised that Sufjan's music reminds me of N, and I hadn't consciously recognised it until that night. I'm not sure why - perhaps the whimsy and gentleness of it? So it was only fitting that I should see N at a Sufjan gig.
The support act was My Brightest Diamond, fronted by the punky and energetic Shara Worden. She came out in a white three-piece suit with her hair gelled up into a Roy Orbison-inspired coif and just...rocked out. She squirmed and swayed and stomped around the stage, hollering and crooning and wailing over a really meaty sounding band. Her recorded stuff is a lot less in-your-face than the live act, and I like both. In fact, it was one of the best support acts I've ever seen, probably assisted by the fact that she is actually in Sufjan's band as well, so her music kind of complements his, even though it's not especially similar. Her voice has an almost Bjorkian quality at times, but where Bjork is floaty and magical, Worden is almost primal and rooted in the earth. And very cute.
Then after a break where the PA played Edith Piaf and I had a nice chat with Mary about various things, Sufjan Stevens and his 9-piece band came on.
The first song was Seven Swans, and it was almost dreamlike, Sufjan's whispery voice, a backdrop of melting, coalescing stars and this otherworldly sound - especially following MBD's thumpy sound. Then they launched into the rowdy, brass-filled hyperbole of his Illinois stuff and we were away on a rollercoaster of a gig.
He looked like a cross between Pee Wee Herman and a bicycle courier, in white pants, a reflective vest and a funny looking cap, not much like the Sufjan from his promo photos (like the above). The rest of the band wore a uniform of sorts, white pants and grey vests, with the two women (Annie Clark from St Vincent and Shara Worden) in almost doll like girly dresses. As the night wore on, the outfits gradually stripped away to become more colourful, until they were all dressed in multi colours, almost like a sort of plumage.
It struck me, almost immediately, that although I was looking at 10 people onstage, it was really like looking into one person's mind. The rich, polyphonic sound; the costumes; the ever-changing backdrop of abstract patterns or home movie footage; the easy camaraderie and effortless communication between all the band members. It felt like you were just looking inside Sufjan's mind, and everything you saw or heard made sense in the context of that. It's hard to explain - obviously all the band members were doing their own thing, but it was just so cohesive, so enmeshed, so perfectly flowing that it was a truly joyous thing to behold.
Of course the whimsy was there, like when Elaine 'the hooper' came on to hula hoop through one of the songs, and it seemed perfectly natural. Or when, in the last song before encore, the stage hands appeared with sets of wings which they fitted to each band member's back, so that suddenly we were watching a stage full of gorgeous birds creating this shimmering sound. He looked around at one point, laughed and said, "It's like a circus...a really bad circus...from an eastern European country..."
And amidst all the hoopla and nuttiness, he could still play songs like To Be Alone With You (the first Sufjan song I heard and fell in love with), and That Dress Looks Nice on You, which were heartbreaking in their simplicity. He could still sing loudly and joyously about God. He could laugh at himself and the absurdity and then ratchet it up a notch. No matter whether they were big, rambunctious numbers or quiet, intimate pieces, each song was a story, like a window onto a moment in time and space.
A truly perfect gig, and a pleasure to have seen inside such a person's mind for one night. How lucky I was to be able to go! (and with such exemplary company!)
On Friday, Karen came over after work for dinner, piano and Miyazaki.
We had Thai home delivery - the chicken kee mao noodles were very hot! To cool down, we had some mango sorbet which I had made the previous night from mangoes the Barrys brought over on Wednesday. Then Karen and I retreated to my room and belted out a few tunes - we sang Les Mis sweetly, Miss Saigon as cheesily as we could manage, Karen played a few pieces from the Pride and Prejudice score, and I blundered my way through a few Tori Amos songs. But, as always, I stopped in the tricky bits and fumbled my way through the easier bits. I realised it's been so long since I've played anything at all other than church music, so I was very rusty!
Karen plays beautifully, and her instinctive fingering patterns show that she must have been much more diligent than I was at her technical work when she was learning piano. I hated scales and arpeggios and although I knew that there was a good reason for having to do them, I just wasn't disciplined enough to do them. Not without much wailing and thumping of the keyboard, anyway.
It was great fun to sing with someone new. Singing in a group, or at church, or in public is one thing. But singing in a room with someone, just the two of you, sitting side by side on a piano stool, is quite an intimate experience. Well it is for me! There's no distance or other voices or musicians to cover your voice or augment it. You're sharing a particular mode of expression one-to-one with another person, a mode of expression that can't help but be emotive and can't help but expose something of yourself. So singing for the first time with someone new, when they've never heard your voice, or how good/bad you are, can be quite a daunting experience!
But of course, our voices sounded lovely together, it was lots of fun and I enjoyed it a lot. I am just so lucky to be able to make music with other people; it is one of the most enjoyable experiences in my opinion, particularly when you hit that sweet spot when everything is in sync and in harmony, and it's almost like riding the crest of a wave. But it's wonderful even when you make lots of mistakes and just have to laugh about it.
Then we adjourned to the lounge room to watch Whisper of the Heart, a delightful Studio Ghibli film written by Hayao Miyazaki. It's Karen's favourite Studio Ghibli film, and she wanted to watch with me. Just like Spirited Away, it was thoroughly enjoyable, perfectly observed, whimsical and constantly made me giggle. The films are just beautifully drawn, and the nuances of the characters are just so amazing - compared to most Western animations, they are just so much more visually appealing and layered, and have so much more in them. Thematically they are also a lot more complex than most Western animated films, especially ones whose protagonists are children. In Whisper of the Heart, we follow 14 year-old Shizuku as she learns more about herself, falls in love and decides she is going to be a writer. These are serious things and treated with respect, while still retaining all the clumsy sweetness and humour of being an adolescent in that situation.
So yes, I'm a new fan. I guess when people give me recommendations they're usually worthwhile! (I have a habit of avoiding things that people try and hype up for me, but perhaps with certain friends I just have to trust that they know me well enough to recommend things I'd like...)
I moved my desk and stuck up new postcards and brought in a plant. It feels good to have a different perspective and a new outlook in the office.
The Barry family came round for a BBQ on Wednesday night (which was lots of fun, even though we were all kind of tired and pretty much just sat back and watched the kids chase Scout around), and I mentioned how I'd long wanted to have some sort of display system in the office which would help us to do the layout of Salt Magazine. Mark came back to work on Thursday and we decided to go on an excursion to Bunnings (with a diversion to Krispy Kreme on the way back!) to buy supplies for our new design wall.
As we walked into the shop, Mark said "Okay, we are keeping each other accountable here and not getting anything we don't need!" I think we did pretty well, really. Didn't buy a circular saw or anything. Though I always find, in Bunnings, that I wander around looking at random bits and pieces and wondering "what could I do with that?" - the DIY-show effect, perhaps.
In the end, after getting vague and wandering around the cavernous space, we asked a helpful assistant and found some metal strips that were just right. We had our doughnut diversion, then we went back to the office, measured it all up and screwed the strips into the wall, and ta dah! We now have quite a cool little space where we can see the whole layout of the magazine at a glance, complete with funky homemade magnets from the Barrys.
Now, to knuckle down and get the magazine actually rolling for the year! It's going to be on the topic of 'mission' and I realise how little research and thinking I've done in preparation. I'm not happy about that, but thankfully we have some great people writing for us this issue, covering all sorts of aspects of mission, so hopefully it will be as thought-provoking and encouraging as ever for the readers. Our challenge is to make it as much of a 'must-read' issue as the last one was, but it's pretty hard to top 'sex' as a topic to get people talking!
Tuesday, 8 January 2008
The Regents Court residency commenced in October 2005 and is our way of helping to create a space to make projects happen.
We offer a ground floor studio apartment for artists and writers who wish to find a sanctuary in Sydney to work on a specific project. In exchange for 3 - 5 weeks accommodation, we ask the residents to help maintain our rooftop garden and be available to welcome late arriving guests and answer the night phone occasionally. This initiative is unfunded and doesn't necessarily suit everyone. So if you are handy with a watering can, have a great project you wish to dedicate some time to, please email to Mel Flanagan the details of the work, excellent references, any support material, and preferred dates. Green thumbs are not essential.
How cool is that?! I mean, obviously there's no guarantee you'd get the residency but there should be more places doing supportive and creative things like this.
Monday, 7 January 2008
I did bitsy things like vacuuming the house, going and having my eyes checked, doing the groceries. I had a cup of tea with Jake, Jackie and mum. I got dressed in my black pinspotted dress, which always makes me feel elegantly summery, and drove into the city to meet Ben and Karen for dinner and Andrew Bird.
I meander from York Street to Hyde Park, taking my time and marvelling at how beautiful the city can be on a warm summer's evening, wandering beneath the massive Hyde Park fig trees. As I pass the Spiegeltent, I see Karen, so I give her a big hug and we walk down to Bill and Toni's together.
Ben and Karen have never been to Bill and Toni's before. It's kind of hard to describe to newbies why it has such great appeal for me. It's down at heel, it's basic, people always seem a little bemused when the bowl of iceberg lettuce and the huge jug of cordial is placed on the table, but when I cut into the schnitzel with cheese or a mouthful of spaghetti bolognese, it just takes me back to similar balmy summer evenings of my adolescence. I don't know if it translates, but it just reminds me of good friends, lots of laughs and happy times.
We amble back up the hill to Hyde Park, while Ben describes the highlights of the Festival First Nights to me, then we head into the Spiegeltent. I hadn't been to this venue last year, but I am greatly impressed. It's a lovely space, all coloured glass and mirrored panels and dark wooden booths, with a stage set up in front of a starlit backdrop. We're all packed in like sardines, but the atmosphere is chilled and pleasant so it doesn't matter. We take some silly photos and soak up the ambience.
And then Andrew Bird comes on. A skinny, unassuming chap with messy hair and wearing a striped tie (why is indie musician hair always so bad?). Swaying with his eyes closed, playing the most luscious sounds on his violin, which loop and then loop and then loop over one another. He holds each loop in his head and improvises over the top, then opens his mouth and sings. The bottom drops out of my stomach. His voice is just so clean, so soaring and sad and joyful all at once. He kicks his shoes off to reveal brightly coloured stripey socks and he lurches and tiptoes all over the stage as he whistles and grabs his guitar and plays another loop on his violin. (Although the photo below is horribly blurred, it does give kind of an accurate impression of what it was like to watch him)
His band join him to add more texture to the mix, quirky bass and guitar effects, shimmering cymbals. They play my favourite song of his, A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left and I am grinning the whole time. Even when he messes up the lyrics or presses the wrong button and the wrong loop comes on, he is charming. His mistakes are charming. But after only an hour and a bit, no amount of cheering can bring him back onstage (when he picked up his shoes after the second encore, I knew it was over) and we are forced to shuffle out.
Standing in the twilight, we check out his merchandise and I feel like a teenager again when I couldn't afford to buy any of the merch after a show. Karen buys something and gets Andrew Bird to sign it. While we are standing around, I am kissed on the cheek by an old uni friend, one of those friends who you think fondly of, but you realise you're not actually especially close to. "What have you been up to? What's news?"
"Um...well...nothing." I know that's not strictly true, but what else can you say? "I'm finishing my first novel...although I've been doing that for the last year."
He grins. "But you feel good about it?"
He is distracted by another friend and moves off.
While we are standing in the queue to get Karen's things signed, a couple kisses a long-lost hello in front of me, and I suddenly realise they are two old friends from my high school - A was my best friend until, one day, she wasn't; R is as gorgeous as he ever was when I had a huge crush on him. "Hi!" we all exclaim, and share kisses, I introduce them to Karen, we all mutter something about how cool Andrew Bird was and then they both turn and head back to their friends without any further conversation. I suppose it's better that way, nothing much to say after all, but it feels odd. I wonder if I look funny, different - they look the same, if not more attractive than they used to; maybe that expression of surprise on A's face was "Goodness, look how fat she's got". No. I shouldn't think that. What a way to think about yourself! Maybe they were thinking "she looks the same, if not more attractive than she used to". And why does it matter to me anyway?
Yet I look at them from a distance and feel sad, wish that I had something to talk to them about, wish I was cooler, wish I was better at this social stuff and could muster up something witty to keep them tantalised. So that they would want to know me. A bubbly girl who is with R tries to push in front of us in the queue, and then, just at my shoulder, I hear his voice with a hint of a charming smile, saying to her "You can't push in front of her, I went to school with her." Maybe it's not so bad after all.
Karen, Ben and Malcolm are heading off for a cup of tea and a chat, so I wander back through the streets alone. I get in my car and listen to Andrew Bird as I drive. I come home and look in the mirror and realise I look quite nice in my black pinspotted dress. My mother and my flatmate confirm it, apropos of nothing. So I needn't have worried.
Why on earth do I worry about things like that?
Andrew Bird was wonderful. I want to hang onto the lusciousness of his music, the beauty of the polyphony, the bittersweet tingle of that sound. I want that to be my memory of tonight.
Saturday, 5 January 2008
Went to the new gym at Maroubra today and it was great. It felt really good to get the blood pumping again, and it's a much nicer gym than the one at Randwick, which really needs a good clean and spruce up. Mum and I then wandered around Westfield Bondi Junction for a while. I was considering going in to the free Festival First Night thing in the city tonight, but actually I feel much more like just veging out at home I think. Besides which, I've got all the exciting Sydney Festival live music coming up that we booked in November - Andrew Bird on Monday, Sufjan Stevens next Saturday, and lots of other stuff at the end of the month.
I also took down the Christmas tree and all the decorations last night. It always takes a little while to get used to the house being undecorated again; everything seems bare and a little forlorn. But I had heaps of help from Scout, who is as good at dismantling Christmas trees as she is at dismembering cockroaches (and she is very good at that).
- I taught them Bohnanza (and won)
- We played Scrabble twice (and I won - even got a bingo, that rarest of rarities)
- We listened to a bunch of music, including my playlist of new stuff, much of it stuff that I've been collecting on Guan and Karen's recommendations (and it was very well received - actually, it's a great playlist, remind me to post it sometime)
- We watched Spirited Away and I LOVED it (thanks K)
- I finished reading a book
- I wrote and wrote and wrote
- We walked on the beach
- We ate lots of great food, including a delicious pumpkin soup made by Jackie's grandmother with pumpkins from her garden
- We braved Tuggerah Westfield, missed out on the movie we were going to see, but ended up buying shoes
- I got up at 5am to take photos of the sunrise, and am glad I did
Here's some photos of the beach and the sunrise for your enjoyment.
Friday, 4 January 2008
I helped Karen order the copious amounts of delicious Thai food we had for dinner, and then braved the room full of people. I shouldn't be nervous about things like that - after all, even if we don't know one another we are linked by the fact that we're writers, Christians, and most of us know Karen (only one woman was there who had never met any of us before, but she seemed to cope quite well!). But I do always find those sorts of social situations difficult, especially when (as in this case) the majority of people in the room already know each other.
But of course, I needn't have worried as I fell into easy and funny conversations with Ben May, Ben B, Dave and Kel Phillips, and actually quite enjoyed myself. I didn't get to know the others so well, but at least we'd now be able to recognise one another in the street (and not just from each others' blogs).
We had dinner, introduced ourselves, then I read Psalm 139 aloud because Karen suddenly remembered that we ought to have a Bible reading and was feeling a bit pressured about having to do everything on the night. I liked that psalm because we had read it at church the week before, and I'd marvelled at it then, and it seemed appropriate in a roomful of Christian writers to remember that "before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD."
We went around the room, reading pieces we had written or brought. Karen read the story she had written during our city day earlier that week, and it was all about coffee and why she doesn't like it and what led her to that point - more about relationships than coffee. In fact many of the pieces were about relationship, whether with parents and the disappointments that can entail, or with spouses or fiancees and the wonder of that kind of love. I liked Dave's pieces about technology and toys (one of them is here). And I read my story about the pineapple tarts, a good old standby that I feel everyone has read but in actual fact it hasn't been published anywhere so the only people who've read it are those I've intentionally given it to.
It's an autobiographical story about me making pineapple tarts with my grandmother in Malaysia one Chinese New Year. It annoyed me for so long because I thought it was trite and uninteresting, but my mum always talked about how much she loved it and how real it was in terms of describing that cross cultural gap between my Chinese family and me. I suppose it was really the springboard for my thesis and, later, my novel, extending those ideas into a semi-fictional, semi-autobiographical thing. So I read it at the Big Read (and did the voices and all) and it seemed to go down really well. Haoran said he was "right there" throughout the story, and Little said it made her want to try a pineapple tart, both of which I take as good signs.
After the readings we played some fun writing games, and then it was all over. Some people had to leave straight away, but some of us stayed a little longer for dessert. Then, remembering I had to play piano at church the next morning, I left. But it was a great evening - thanks for organising it Karen, you did a brilliant job!
Tuesday, 1 January 2008
It's a strange sort of night, still and silent and worlds away from the raucous debauchery she can see reflected in the sky, just over there, beneath those clouds. It's not as though she begrudges anyone their celebrations; people need a focus to feel happy, they need something to reflect on, an excuse. She has been the same, in times past. She just wonders why they pour so much money and effort into a happiness that lasts as long as that one explosion in the sky, that drink in the hand, that pill on the lips. People are so happy to settle for less.
She thinks. She thinks about the year and the struggles and the smothering feeling of being underwater, the effort it was to breathe at times, to think clearly. She is relieved that those things are behind her, and even though she knows there will be more of those lightning-sand-bog-of-eternal-stench type obstacles in her future, she knows there will always be a way through. And she is glad.
There is champagne and cheese and quince paste and good conversation. Those things are all worthwhile, especially when lying on a couch in comfortable clothes, listening to beautiful music. The Fireworks Suite, eh? That Handel was a clever chap, wasn't he?
She thinks. She thinks about the year ahead and she knows it will be much like the years past - oh, different things will happen, but for her there will still be the same goal, the same striving, the same purpose. She prays and gives thanks and confides her hopes, knowing she has been heard, knowing that she is loved. And she is glad.