In a week that has spelled disappointment, grief and gloom for many of us, I’ve had a few small, personal glimmers of sunlight. Here’s one. A lovely review of my story Breathing, out in the recent Aurealis #95, from Kat Day over at Tangent online. She’s given it a “highly recommended” (squee!) Achievement unlocked.
A lovely piece of work, very thought-provoking and actually rather moving.
And here’s some Leonard Cohen for you. Because even though he’s gone now, that’s one life that is definitely worth celebrating.
Remember that broken crockery and the dismembered rocking horse?
Well, here is the happy ending to that story.
This treasure chest of beautiful brokenness went to artist Halie Rubenis who did remarkable things with not just the chipped, cracked and shattered contents of this “big box of abject clumsiness”, but the actual box itself and all the bits of plastic bag and bubble wrap that it was all nestled in. From all this she created the objects in The Surgeon (below left) and Warts and All (below centre and right). In The Surgeon the porcelain cup has been repurposed as a whetstone for the knife; the handle of the knife is made from the plastic bags all the bits were wrapped in. In Warts and All, those oozy, fungal growths are made from the styrafoam box.
Best of all, this isn’t even the end of this story. Check out Halie’s Instagram account to see what else she is doing with the contents of my box of broken china.
The Rocking Horse
My rocking horse was delivered into the hands of award-winning Sydney-based furniture designer, Liam Mugavin. I had no idea what to expect. It’s a very plain, utilitarian object; all natural wood. So I’d wondered if maybe the artist it went to might jazz it up a bit by painting it, perhaps.
Well, Liam jazzed it up. But…wow.
I was blown away by the artistry and intricacy of Liam’s work. What you can see beautifully in this photograph is the way Liam’s repair honours my grandfather’s original construction of the rocking horse by echoing his use of dowel in the joints of the horse (you can see how the end grain of the dowel is contrasted against the larger bits of wood in the horse’s eye, shoulder and belly). But Liam has taken that to a whole other level in repairing the horse’s neck. In some ways his repair is completely understated. You have to look quite closely to appreciate the beauty of the construction in the repair. It’s still all natural wood. Not a lick of paint in sight! And the entire rest of the rocking horse is untouched, down to the ratty mane, missing ears and odd crayon scribble bestowed here and there by one generation of kids or another.
But once you get up close and really look at what he’s done, it’s astonishing. All those obliquely-set inserts create an incredibly complex pattern in the wood. Crazy beautiful. And that punk-rock collar of protruding wooden and brass rods is pretty ostentatious. I took my sister to the opening of the Object Therapy exhibition at Hotel Hotel to see it and we spent about an hour talking about it afterwards over dinner.
So there you go. Happy endings. It’s worth heading over to the Object Therapy website to check out some of the other repair projects. My personal faves were Alison’s bag, Skye’s glass ring and Kristie’s Kenwood Mixer. That last one was hilarious.
Also, if you’re interested, Object Therapy has a Vimeo channel where they’ve collected some snippets of the “before” and “after” video interviews they did of each of the contributors. You can hear me waxing lyrical about the history of the rocking horse, the value of creative time and our throwaway culture.
A little while ago I found out about a fascinating community art project called Object Therapy being run by Canberra’s Fix and Make Workshop. In short, it invited members of the public to donate broken household objects for artists to transformatively repair. I submitted two “objects”, both of which were accepted. Interestingly, one was all about emotional connection, memory and sentimental value, and the other was all about raw beauty. They were…
A broken rocking horse.
My grandfather made this for me. I spent hours riding on it when I was a kid, and even as a teenager I treasured it and kept it in my bedroom. It’s not the most elegant or romantic version of a rocking horse you’ll ever see, but it was so much fun.
Add to that, it also doubled as a spaceship/racing car/motorbike if you turned it upside down and sat inside it.
And it wasn’t just me. My kids had a ball with this old thing. My daughter used to ride on it for hours at breakneck speed when she was tiny – barely two. There’s even a great story about how I lost the diamond out of the antique ring my partner gave me and she found it – embedded in the carpet under this rocking horse of all places.
It was well-loved and well-used for probably more than thirty years.
Perhaps that’s why the neck joint finally gave out and its head came off.
A box of broken crockery
I’m kind of a hoarder.
All these bits and pieces were just so beautiful, I couldn’t bear to think of them as just rubbish, so I put them in this huge old styrafoam box that once held seafood, and kept them for years. I think I was thinking one day I’d maybe make a mosaic or something out of them. In submitting them to Object Therapy, I was thinking maybe someone else could use this raw material to make something new and wonderful.
Fast forward a few months, and yesterday I got to be reunited with my objects! Just last week I got a little sneak peek of what happened to my crockery. It went to artist Halie Rubenis and I’m kind of in awe of the innovative approach she took to transforming the objects. I’ve only seen three of them (there are apparently a few more), but…wow. You can get your own preview on Halie’s instagram site. What blew my mind a bit was how she not only used the broken crockery in the artwork she produced, but also the styrafoam box and even the old plastic bags the bits of crockery were wrapped in.
I think the plate in this photo is my favourite. I love the contrast between the formal, almost prissy design of the old plate, and the organic jumble of coral-like growths (former styrafoam box!) now oozing out of the crack.
In addition to giving me the heady rush of contributing to the creation of new art, this project has also been extremely thought-provoking. In the reuniting interview, I got asked a lot of questions about how this project made me think about waste and recycling/reusing/repurposing, and also about whether how I valued the objects had changed. That value question is so hard to answer. It’s easy to look at a finished piece of art and value it for the materials gone into making it. The time and sheer human creativity and ingenuity that have gone into it are much harder to quantify. What do you count? The time working on the actual object? The time brainstorming (and weighing up, and discarding) ideas? The answer is, all of this counts, of course. But it can be hard to justify.
Which brings me to this thought-provoking video I saw at a conference earlier this year in a presentation all about valuing creativity.
And what about the rocking horse?
(It’s beautiful. It’s mended and whole and just stunning. And I’ll tell you all about it after the exhibition on 14 October at Hotel Hotel in Canberra.)
I haven’t had a whole lot of writing news to share lately, so here’s some stuff I did last weekend. Last Friday was my son’s primary school’s annual trivia night, and our table always goes pretty hard on the dress-up theme. This year the theme of the night was the Silver Screen, and our table chose to dress up as characters from the Wizard of Oz. We won best dressed table!
So what did I decide to go as? Dorothy?
The Talking Tree!
Also: my sewing machine blew up while I was making this. No, really. There were sparks and great gouts of stinky smoke and everything.
I am not a sporty person. Never was, never will be. I will not bore you with the humiliations galore I suffered through in PE as a kid. Suffice to say that all the leisure activities I have really enjoyed throughout my life have involved cosiness and curling up somewhere with a cup of tea. However, I recognise that exercise plays an important part in keeping our bodies healthy, so I do make an effort. I ride my bike to my day job most days and in the last year or so, I’ve taken up running. Again, I’m not going to bore you with the details of this. But, for some reason, I’ve found that my attempts at improving my fitness through moderately energetic exercise have had a positive impact on my writing – both my creativity and the way I think about the challenges it poses me.
Getting the creative juices flowing
It is a very tried and tested piece of writing advice: if the Muse is stubbornly avoiding you, get away from your keyboard/notepad/dictaphone/etc. Get out of the house and get moving. Walk or run, either works. I often have great ideas or come up with great solutions to tricky plot problems while I’m running. It’s weird, coz it doesn’t happen so often when I’m on my bike. Perhaps because when I’m on my bike I’m either going to or coming from work, so my brain might be more focussed on work issues. But I run in my spare time, when my brain is almost exclusively consumed with writing stuff; maybe that’s why. But it works for me.
Oh the epiphanies I have experienced.
Never when I have a pen.
This stuff ain’t meant to be easy
A thing running has taught me is that it doesn’t get easy. Which is not to say it doesn’t get easier. But easy? Nope. It’s always hard to drag myself off the couch, to get out there into the winter chill, or the summer heat, or the still-dark, early morning streets. Guess what else doesn’t get easy? Setting aside the time and dragging my arse to the chair in the study to do the story work and pound out the wordage. In both cases I have to battle that sense of exhaustion that comes even before you start – just from contemplating the task ahead. In both cases, though, if I push myself, if I make the effort, I always find I can do the thing.
The importance of stretch goals
This is a really interesting thing running has taught me: Set stretch goals. Then (this is the important bit), don’t just sit there looking at them; give them a go.
Because I’m so unathletic, when I decided to try to get into running, I decided to get into it gradually, alternating intervals of running and walking. Going from running in 90 second stretches to a whole 3 minutes was pretty daunting. Then going from 3 minutes to 5 minutes to 8 minutes… Every time I level up, I always wonder if I can actually do it. But every time I actually can, and every time it feels awesome to have challenged myself and found myself up to it.
And I’ve found this applies to writing goals.
There’s something to be said for applying for something like a residency or a competitive grant or a selection-based professional development course even if you’re not sure you’re ready, because if you get in, someone else clearly thought you were. If you only ever apply for this sort of thing when you know you’re good and ready, you’re not pushing yourself. You might be moving forward one step at a time (and setting one-step-at-a-time goals is also very important), but you’re denying yourself the exhilaration and gratification of taking a flying leap forwards. That sense of achievement you get when you’ve really challenged yourself and risen to it. (Note: when I say “you”, feel free to imagine me giving a stern pep talk to myself.)
Measuring your progress
One thing I learned after I had my first story accepted for publication back in 2011 was that I had just stepped onto the bottom rung of a ladder that just goes up and up and up and up. Every time you climb to the next rung, you look up hoping to see the top, or at least hoping you’ve reached the point where you can poke your head through the thick layer of cloud obscuring your vision of the top. It’s hard to feel like you’re getting anywhere when there always seems to be so far to go.
With my running, I find I’m much less about “Will I ever run a marathon?” (perhaps because I can answer that question straight off: No. Zero interest.) My fantasy goal is more about being able to run for a whole half an hour without stopping for walking breaks, and being able to do it every day without feeling like I’ve broken something. But I also find myself able to stop and look back down the ladder at what I’ve achieved so far. A few months ago I thought running for a whole 3 minutes was a challenge. A few weeks ago I ran for 20 minutes without stopping for a break – probably for the first time since I finished high school.
So there’s my last lesson. Stop and look back down the ladder. Admire the view from where you’re at. Bask in the sunshine of your successes.
Here’s a picture of duckies enjoying running. You’re welcome.
Here’s me over at the Radford College blog talking about one of my very earliest efforts at writing words for public consumption: the Radford College school hymn! I went to high school there, and being interviewed about this particular school assignment and favourite high school moments really got the memories flowing. I would have been about fifteen at the time. Wow.
I get that America is as diverse in its makeup and opinions as anywhere else – possibly even more so. I know that all the Americans of my acquaintance are as horrified at this ongoing insanity as I am.
But when will I cease to be dismayed by America’s collective continued inability to respond in a coherent fashion to its gun crisis?
I’m just an Australian. I can’t do anything more than express my horror and offer my consolations. I have no power to do anything else. This post by John Scalzi made me weep with helplessness. What compounds my sense of horror and hopelessness is the knowledge that when this shit went down here in 1996, our government acted immediately and decisively. To be clear: I am not blaming ANYONE for the legal and policy framework that allows this travesty to continue in the US other than the people who are squarely and unequivocally at fault: The US Government.
So my message to them is: Pull your fucking finger out. Stomp on some fucking toes. Offend some people. Lose a shitload of donations to your coward-arse parties. Lose some fucking seats. You don’t fucking deserve them.
Guns are not the only issue an Australian government has acted on decisively, BTW. In the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic was gearing up, the New South Wales and Australian governments decided to focus on the key issue of simply stopping the spread of the disease by any means. Scruples about promoting promiscuity or prostitution or intravenous drug use or – quelle horreur! – being seen to condone gay sex were unceremoniously sidelined in their bid to simply get those people most at risk to start taking measures to keep themselves safe. As a result we have the safest blood supply in the world and the epidemic never happened here in the way it did almost everywhere else.
Moral of the story: the risk of people dying in large numbers as the result of your policy fuck up is the worst fucking risk you can fucking face as a government. America, you fucking failed. Now get the fuck back up, sideline all your other shit and get this job done.