six tales of two cities

A lot has changed over the past few weeks, so I thought I’d try to explain it all with six short pieces…

moving

New house

pink flowers
The flowering tree in our little courtyard

We’ve been living here for less than two weeks and everything still feels giddy. There’s a small tree in our courtyard that has burst into pink blossoms in the past week as if in enthusiastic welcome. We’re right in the middle of a group of attached townhouses, and we’re slowly getting used to the sounds of our neighbours moving about their homes – the way their muted voices drift through our open windows on warm evenings.

Everything might be new, but the top stair still creaks reassuringly when we come upstairs at night, just like the last place we lived.

I’m slowly cataloguing the thousands of little noises that come along with this new place; still finding places for all my Sydney things and my Sydney memories.

Soon, when we both get new jobs and begin to forge new routines, this will stop feeling like a holiday – but I’m secretly hoping that this transitory moment lingers as long as possible.

train window
Sunset, as seen through the door of a Sydney train

Train announcement, Upfield line, 9.30pm, 11/3/2015

“Our next stop is Melbourne Zoo. The zookeeper’s just radioed through to let me know that a few of the lions have just escaped. They’re all out looking for them, but if you’re in the area, please take care…”

It was a practical joke intended for a group of primary school kids on a nocturnal excursion to the zoo. Someone in my carriage audibly groaned, but it amused me.

 

No place like (nearly) home

It’s not such a big deal, moving to Melbourne. I’m originally from Melbourne.

Our temporary dinner table. One diner at a time, please.
Our temporary dinner table. One diner at a time, please.

(Actually, that’s technically not true. I grew up in a small country town an hour out of the city. But Melbourne has always felt like home to me.)

Moving back wasn’t a snap decision, although the way everything came together so quickly makes me feel like it was. It was something we’d been talking about for years. In the last months of 2014, the decision was made – and now, here I am, a thousand kilometres south of the city in which I spent the past eleven years, feeling a little like what Dorothy must have felt when she landed in Oz.

At least Dorothy got to take her house with her.

We sold a lot of our furniture to make the move cheaper. Including my giant bookshelf. Now all my books are piled up against the walls again, the way they were when I started this blog. It feels like things have come full circle.

Piles of books against the walls, again
Piles of books against the walls, again

My struggle (with nostalgia)

We spent a week and a bit in my hometown, staying with my parents while we were looking for somewhere to live. I packed a ridiculous number of books for the time we spent away, but I only ended up reading one – A Death in the Family, the first book in Knausgaard’s My Struggle series.

Sunset in Blacktown, just down the road from our old place
Sunset in Blacktown, just down the road from our old place

I’ve been thinking about nostalgia (in literature, but also in myself) a lot lately. Knausgaard’s relentlessly introspective look at his childhood and impossibly awkward teenage years brought back floods of memories of my own.

There’s really no better place to read Knausgaard than in the home in which you grew up. The combination of words and place set my memory whirring.

To tell the truth, I’m a little bit in love. If I didn’t have an embarrassingly large pile of books on my desk waiting to be reviewed, I’d have already started the next book in the series. Maybe soon.

#thanksdad

While staying with my parents, my Dad asked me about hashtags, so I tried to explain and ended up handing over my phone and showing him Twitter.

“But what’s Twitter actually for?” he asked me.

“Well, you send out a message using fewer than 140 characters and people who follow you on Twitter can read it and respond” I responded.

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Um – because you want to tell people about something you’ve done, or a thought you’ve had – or talk about a book you’ve enjoyed. Other people follow your tweets and see all the things you talk about”

“How many people follow your tweets?”

I told him.

“What? Why?

My phone is full of pictures of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. I lived in Sydney for eleven years and I had to take a picture every time I went past.
My phone is full of pictures of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. I lived in Sydney for eleven years and I had to take a picture every time I went past.

Things I’m sad to leave behind (or: yes, even more nostalgia)

The Blue Mountains in the distance through my study window

Flowering Jacaranda trees (or perhaps specifically the one outside my former workplace?)

The jacaranda tree outside my old workplace
Jacarandas in bloom

Reading on the train to work

Dressing up to go to the Opera House

Our favourite Chinese restaurant

Going to Gleebooks after a long day at work

Wednesday night expeditions to the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Glen, my Big Issue guy

A burger with the lot from the milk bar near my work for lunch on Fridays

My glasses fogging up instantly as I walked down the stairs into Town Hall station into a wall of humidity

People-watching in Newtown

Predictable weather

Saying hello to Christina Stead every time I’d walk past her plaque at Circular Quay

The 343 through Redfern, even though it never ran on time

Getting to know my fellow commuters over the years without ever exchanging a word

Old wallpaper preserved behind clear perspex on the walls of the New South Wales Writers’ Centre

Lewisham, the home of Sydney’s friendliest cats (and people)

(Talking of people, there are far too many of you to name individually, but you know who you are)

Driving to our favourite beach for the day

Getting lost in The Rocks (and thinking of Playing Beattie Bow every single time)

Hot chocolate from Central station on the way to work in winter

The many places I never managed to find time to explore

greenclocksmaller

It’s sad to be gone. It’s good to be back. Things are happening all at once. I’m unpacking boxes. I’m looking for a new job for the first time in nine years. I’m making plans. I’m writing.

I’m still working out what happens next.

in medias res – thoughts on not writing

The answer fluttered from the branches above and fell into my mind and it was lighter than a flower – yes. Perhaps that’s enough.

This is my favourite time of year to be here in Sydney. Overnight, every jacaranda tree simultaneously explodes into flower and the city is spattered with an electric riot of blazing purple. Every morning, on the express train to the city, I look up from the book I’m reading and I catch glimpses of purple all over the horizon.

There’s a jacaranda tree just outside the driveway that leads into my work. The people who drive to the office leave at the end of the day to find their cars peeking out at them from beneath a blanket of purple flowers.

Someone told me once that a jacaranda flower falling on your head is meant to being good luck. As I walk into work every day, and when I leave in the evening, I slow down as I pass beneath the tree, hopeful, looking up at the blue sky, grey branches, purple flowers.

Words flow from me as slowly as starlight. By the time you read this, everything will have changed. In the immense space between my thoughts and my fingers on the keyboard, all my words lose their shine.

I’m not sure when writing became so difficult. When I sit down to write, my sentences falter and fall apart, leaving me grasping at nothing. I find myself deleting words, sentences, paragraphs…entire posts.

I stopped writing.

Quite a few weeks ago, I went to the Emerging Writers’ Festival Roadshow at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre. It was an amazing day, spent in the company of truly brilliant people. I always look forward to visiting the New South Wales Writers’ Centre. It’s a beautiful old building, surrounded by towering old jacaranda trees.

It wasn’t just the outlandish orange cardigan I was wearing that made me feel out of place at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. Every panel I attended, there was one theme that ran through each session – the drive to write. So many writers spoke of their essential need to write, the external force that draws them to the page and keeps them there.

I shuffled uncomfortably in my seat. I have to force myself to sit down and concentrate on my writing. I have to bribe myself like a child – one more paragraph and you can get up; just finish editing this draft and you can go to bed. I use an app to cut myself off from the internet so I don’t end up ricocheting between Facebook and Twitter.

Sitting under the purple flowers (which were falling to the ground all around me) in my absurd orange cardigan, I started to think about why I write…

The question caught in my thoughts, a lump in the throat.

It’s so much easier to write what someone tells you to write. I work as a copywriter. At work, there’s no time for questioning, no time for agonising over every word. I just write. I have a purpose.

The thing with throwing yourself into something is the risk of finding yourself stranded there, in that strange place. The feeling of being needed becomes an addiction. How do you even begin to claw your own life back?

If you’d like to know where I’ve been for the past few months, there is your answer.

The flowers in front of my house have started to bloom too

I’ve feel like I’ve walked underneath that jacaranda tree – the one in front of my work – hundreds of times in the past few months. The mornings and evenings have blurred into one.

As I was walking to the bus last week, I passed beneath the jacaranda tree, and inspiration fell lightly upon my head.

I want to write. And I know exactly why I write. I write to assuage the guilt of not having written. I write because I started a project and I’m too stubborn to just walk away.

Sure, my reasons for writing might not be the noblest…but they’re enough for me.

~~

So – I am writing again. Slowly, my inspiration and motivation are creeping back to me. I’m beginning from the middle, blogging in medias res.

To my surprise, I’ve really missed this blog. I still have so much to say, and the year is not yet over. I hope you’ll join me as I finish this thing I started.

 

2011 – animal people ~ charlotte wood

Sometimes, dear reader, this whole book reviewing thing is more complicated than I could ever have imagined.

For me, reading Charlotte Wood’s Animal People was an incredibly personal experience. The task of writing about this novel has led to much soul-searching.

Every time I’ve sat down at my desk to review Animal People, I’ve found myself sliding out from behind the keyboard, distracted, uncomfortable, searching for something else to do.

I’ve been putting off writing this review, not because I didn’t like the novel, but because Animal People broke my heart. And, to be completely honest, I’m still trying to put all the pieces back together.

Continue reading “2011 – animal people ~ charlotte wood”

1948 – the harp in the south ~ ruth park

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

I was about halfway through Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky when I realised what that little nagging voice in the back of my thoughts had been trying to tell me all week:

I was reading the wrong book.

The Sheltering Sky was published in 1949. I should have been reading Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South, published in 1948. Oops?

Continue reading “1948 – the harp in the south ~ ruth park”