Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In The Midst Of A Silly Season

I planned today as an Unplanned Day; in other words, I am doing what I feel like, when I feel like it. For someone as action-oriented as me, this takes some discipline! Can I really do Nothing? And what does Doing Nothing look like? Even staring at the sun-filled back yard I notice my mind is chattering away about what to do and when. 

Anyway ...
I gave 86 pages of ms and 5 other short-but-related pieces to my Probable Almost Certain Coach, left it in an envelope on the back porch on Saturday 22 December as she was way over east - Scoresby? - that day. Having printed it and re-read it beforehand, I saw that now there is the "Scholastica story" to write. That is, the story of the development of my relationships with Africa and Africans, particularly my students.

And that's still first draft stuff. This memoir is going to take years, as I'm clear the pages I gave my coach are not all that well-written. Drama missing, narrative trajectory ... all that and more!

I helped dig up and move rocks on her property one Saturday,  to prepare the ground for new planting. The choir has sung its offerings at Aged Care hostels, an Indoor Carols By Candlelight, and the local host church. My brother has cleared my garden and paved areas and taken a huge stack of junk to the Tip (oh, I mean the Transfer Station: such an interesting euphemism for rubbish dump, reminiscent of the increasingly common term for dying - "passing" or "passing over").

We have eaten and drunk our fill, the whole family, and today I do whatever takes my fancy. I am aiming to print all my 2012 photos (which I've just filed under "For Printing") and complete the "Diary" Album for this year by 1st January.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Moments of Truth As An Artist

1956: I was about six years old. The Euchre Party was noisy. I sat at a desk in the other room and drew black cats. Round black cats with curly tails and two whiskers each side. I loved these black cats as I drew each one perfectly. Two circles filled in pure black and two ears, a tail. Perfection in black.

I loved drawing. I loved drawing to illustrate farming activities, nature study, poetry, the bible stories. I drew magical motels, and princesses on the back blank pages of text books. But in High School, the art assignments were less interesting than French and Geography. I forgot that I loved drawing.

January 1975: I am sitting in the sun on a balcony in Kathmandu. Mary says, "Try this. Colour in these Nepali designs. You can draw." I remember that I love drawing.

1976-78: In Zambia, my hands go crazy with the amount of leisure time and the emotional turmoil. I draw and colour in, draw and colour in. My Derwent pencils are my friend. I love Midnight Green.

(Note camera cord getting in the picture!)

I have exhibited, with other women, and sold ten drawings (all coloured). Wow! I have made money from my Art!!! 

 1979-80: I attend Life Drawing Classes in 1979. I draw the man I'm in love with,. I draw his pregnant cousin, my ex-house mate. I draw my brother's best friend. Later, Deborah Halpern looks over my work. I don't like what she says, but I remember it. "Your black and whites are better than your coloureds."

I write what is now known as Ekphrastic Poetry. My poem about Klytie Pate's banksia vase is chosen for one of six cards sold as a set in 1994. I cannot afford to go for the launching dinner at $50 per head.

I draw people and trees. That's what I love.

Like many people, I get grumpy about change. Today as I walked through an unfamiliar part of my town, I noticed this grumpiness rise, recede, rise, recede ... Eventually I took hold of it and put it to one side, and was then able to appreciate the story of our town as told by the variety of vintage of the housing through which I was walking. Houses with chimneys fascinate me. How old do you have to be (as a house) to have a chimney? Built before the 1970's at least, when gas and electric heating made chimneys redundant; making it a common sight to walk into a house with a covered-up fireplace, and a hearth as floor feature (modern art?)

I would love to get an aerial photo/map of even just that small part of town, down there on the flats, and see the pattern of 19th Century homes, and their lands transformed into 20th Century development. Even the Community Adult Learning Centre and a Dentist's premises in Main Street are chimneyed buildings. The extensions to the Learning Centre, however, sport air conditioning units, the new roof accessory of the late 20th and early 21st Century structures.

What struck me, too, was that no matter how old a house, it occurs either as a Home or as a Shelter. I felt attracted to some, and repelled by others. I also noticed my judgemental self: "They obviously don't care; probably renters; irresponsible etc"  all over the state of a garden that had wild grass rather than mown neatness. And yet, here I sit, experiencing the pleasure of being able to gaze upon a back yard completely given over to wild and random growth, of trees, grasses, succulents and creepers!! What a hypocrite.

I walked wearing a drizabone and carrying my 101 Dalmatians umbrella, and just had to stop in at the St Vincents' Op Shop. It is an Aladdin's Cave, that place. So many treasures! I came home with a hat, a watch, a newer Macquarie Dictionary than we already have here, a beautiful edition of Banjo Paterson's poetry, two lengths of purple lace ... My daughter quite properly asked what the lace was for. I had to admit, sheepishly, that I might put it up on the day I celebrate my 63rd birthday in the back yard.

With my daughter, too, I really got straight about the incident of the letter and choir. Here's what it is: I pretend I'm a champion of all people having a voice and a say. What really goes on is that I won't say something if I think it will rock the boat or I won't be liked. The impact of that is that I lose my connectedness with who and what I love. So from nothing right now I'm inventing the possibility of being an immovable unmessable-with stand for all people's self-expression. My love returns! My heart sings! My voice carries!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

One more thing - My friend who travelled to the Poetry Slam with me accepted my request to be a coach for me in writing my memoir. Last weekend I began readying the manuscript for her to read. I sat in her chair and eliminated stuff I could then see was only back-story, or my prelude notes, and began to see the real story emerging, carved out from the stone of a writing storm! (Such a mixed metaphor!!!) Anyway, from the middle of the coming week I should be able to give her at least 50 pages.
The Poem-A-Day prompts from Poetic Asides having failed to satisfy, I began my own prompts and did not complete the month of writing daily. I found myself more often out in the garden taking photographs of Spring's changes, or picking fruit and herbs for food-swapping day, 2nd December. Sitting at my writer's desk, I would look up to delight in the play of wind or sunlight on the greenery, and feel my heart quicken at the sight of honeyeaters dashing from flowerets to seedheads.

I await my brother's arrival for the opportunity to make some minor repairs to structures and adjustments to, for example, the way the grapevine is NOT climbing where it's meant to.

Today is somewhat chilly with an erratic wind. The counterpoint calls of pigeons carry across from another roof top and seem to be a series of communications on what can be seen from that higher vantage point.

I was galled by my own lack of courage at our last choir practice on Wednesday. Our leader read the letter from the Hamer Hall "Raising the Roof" organiser and hammed it up because he used so many superlatives, creating agreement for what an idiot the guy was, instead of letting us "get" his appreciation and allow ourselves to be acknowledged. At the time I was outraged but afraid of my speaking being righteous, rather than feeling able to enrol everyone in another point of view. When they'd finished jeering and sneering, I quietly asked if I could have the letter, "for my scrapbook". I have not yet spoken to the choir leader or anyone else except my mother about it, and see how this impacts my relationship now to the choir. Bored with it, wanting to have singing equate to quality time, possibly applying for a grant to set up a different kind of choir. What's been missing this entire time is a stand and creativity. I'm inventing the possibility of moving on, and this is a victory over the past because I have been so attached to not rocking the boat, and to being liked.

Many things to share, not much time to write.

On the 1st December, I woke up with butterflies in the stomach. Not common for me, but when I arrived at Lerderderg library I confided in the librarian and creator of Bacch Chat that I was uncommonly nervous. By the time we'd set up my power point and displays and the ten participants had seated themselves, I was over the heeby jeebies, and launched into my sharing with verve. I very quickly realised my story was very inspiring for my audience and confidently encouraged them to try out writing on the spot for another. 

I had them work in groups to support each other. Two very dear arty friends were in tears, moved by each other's self-expression, and another woman who refused to read her first piece had a breakthrough and read her second poem to the small group, and left declaring this was the best Bacch Chat she had attended. Like many people with my training I was able to create experience that altered a point of view. She had said, when invited to read her first piece, that "it was a miracle she'd passed English at school at all, she NEVER read out loud, and couldn't write". What she meant was "write fluently", for she definitely penned 4 lines about something she loved.

What was enlivening for me was what opportunities opened up out of the presentation. I was asked how much I'd charge to perform at the Ballan Harvest Festival, would I also launch the arts group's forthcoming exhibition, could I possibly work with school children throughout the Shire, and what about putting up the Murray Map somewhere in the library? This latter idea has turned into my next project; at first I anticipated being funded by the Shire, but then realised that I might not need much money. My first step is to make a budget and then find other sources of funding or patronage.

In the meantime, I've received funding guidelines from the Council, and may submit an application anyway for a winter project (next application round closes Feb 28, 2013, and money available in May).

Another opening for action that came out of that event is that I've been invited to participate in a training night for creating an Artists' Atlas in the Shire this coming Friday. The person leading the session is someone we want to come to Bacch Chat in March to speak about the connections between art practice and health/wellbeing, so this will also be a good opportunity to create that event with her.