Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Label it and it exists

According to this weekend’s New York Times, Slow Blogging (caps are essential in this) is in fashion. It is defined as a purposeful movement akin to Slow Food where writers attempt to be thoughtful and reflective rather than simply firing off the first thing on their mind.

It must be so because the article is in the fashion and style section, not the technology section. Like all phenomena, it assumes reality by being named. If you google “slow blogging” you will see an amazing number of posts linking to the article or mentioning it. Interestingly for an article about slow, thoughtful commentary, many of the googled responses are Twitter updates alerting people to its existence. Proof of something perhaps?

I am by practice, if not necessarily by philosophy, a Slow Blogger though not the slowest of slow. Apparently two to three posts a week is considered slow, but some bloggers post only once a month or less. I wonder though, if like many things philosophical, or things identified by trendsetters in the media, if it is not simply a reflection of people’s lives. Many people whose blogs I read are wonderful, intelligent, thoughtful people whose blogging is not central to their daily lives. They have jobs, families, wide-ranging interests -- things that contribute to them having something to say that also keep them busy and not firing off posts multiple times per day.

The NYT acknowledges a technological component to this movement. People interested in immediacy and drawing attention to the thoughts of others have shifted to Twitter, Flickr and Facebook because traditional blogs are “glacial” in pace to use. Yet if there were not thoughtful pieces of actual content on the web, what would these people tweet? You only have to listen to people on their mobile phones in public to get the answer to that. No thoughtful content or background is truly needed for people to fill the air with nothing.

Monday, 24 November 2008

We interrupt our broadcast…

I’m not keeping a careful tally, but I assumed a few months ago that I would easily reach a total of 300 posts on my blog before Christmas. That goal has clearly fallen by the wayside as blogging has slipped a little lower on my agenda. When I set out to write today, I realised that I have a number of unfinished pieces begging to be published. So I do promise that I will try to draw together some fragment of intelligent thought to finish writing about:
- living without electricity in the Rosewood Scrub;
- the huge storm of last week that sent water washing through Marburg, brought down telephones and took off rooves, but somehow left us dry and with uninterrupted broadband (not that it helped my blogging). NB: perhaps even with pictures;
- the ever-lovely jacaranda, our purple snow of spring, that would not have been flowering in the hills and valleys when the Jaeckels arrived in Moreton Bay in the 1870s (and why);
- small-town-itus in a good incarnation;
- progress on the great house saga;
- progress on the less-great, but still interesting novel;
- anything else that comes to mind over the next week.

Stay tuned, or at least, check in occasionally.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


I wish I could tell you that I have been silent because I’ve been off doing great things or in the grip of some serious illness, but I have been silenced by a common cold. Literally in this case, as I entirely lost my voice over the weekend and have been squeaking and croaking since it returned. I feel really knocked for six by it, which surprises me. I haven’t felt like writing, or working on the house or doing anything other than lying down. Sadly that’s not been an option.

It’s been raining heavily the last few days which is wonderful for our water supply, but not for the spirits or the cold. Perhaps it’s just the influence of the illness, but I am convinced that the rain has come down more heavily whenever I have needed to go out, run errands or fetch the children from school. Where is the “Sunshine State” when you need it? I mean, I actually have that on my license plate so I should be entitled to it. Mr Blithe refused the other license plate option offered by the authorities “Queensland: the smart state”, pointing out that he had seen evidence of the sunshine. And you wonder why some people look at us askance. Or perhaps you don’t wonder.

Anyway…hopefully back to normal operation in the next few days. One of the few things I have been doing is typing up my manuscript and I am up to 20,000 words. So far I am managing to translate my scribbles in my notebook complete with arrows and stars indicating comments. I’ve used the wide-ruled margins on almost every page to write amendments, notes to myself, and plot directions. It’s been a lot of fun going back to the beginning and seeing the story develop. I do think a writing programme for the computer would be a useful way of tracking characters and developments. I’ve had to edit earlier bits so that they fit in with later plot developments. For example, one of my characters had a baby that was subsequently written out of the plot as it didn’t fit. The power of the pen is lovely. Especially when you feel so out of control in the rest of your life.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The blame n’ shame game

I blame it entirely on my friend Vivi. She had the gall to write in her blog about the recent Wordstock Festival 2008 in Portland, Oregon. Even worse, she mentioned an impressive New Zealand author, Rachael King. So of course, I had to go look her up. After all I have to support half of my ancestral heritage. King has a website which is about her books and writing and a page of links to sites that she likes. And then I was sucked into the vortex of time-wasting that is the internet. I wandered through a few sites before becoming mired on goodreads.

A significant amount of time later: dishes and children unwashed; unfolded laundry piled high on my bed; wet swimsuits still lying on the laundry floor; school lunches unmade; manuscript not typed; trim unpainted; I was creating an account and setting up my bookshelves. Then I went surfing amongst other’s shelves and investigating who else in my neighbourhood has fallen into the trap. It was great.

All I can say is “Don’t go there.” But if you do, be sure to ask to be my friend. I’m there in my Blithe persona and it turns out that I read a lot of science and speculative fiction which is odd considering that I write historical fiction. My shelves are still a work in progress but I’m trying to get just a few other things done so please be patient.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Good pain

While I’m not a subscriber to the no-pain-no-gain school of thought, there are some pains that are more bearable than others. My left hand is aching from typing up the manuscript and my right hand is aching from painting. However, both pains are indicative of things actually getting done so I don’t regret them.

I had forgotten that my left little “pinkie” hurts after a lot of typing. I guess it really has been a long time since little other than words were my stock in trade. And my painting arm has never been professionally inclined. Mr Blithe was surprised the other day when I mentioned that I have never worked as physically hard before as I have on this house project. Having grown up in an urban environment, physical labour wasn’t much on the agenda. Mr Blithe grew up on farms and orchards where most days were full of hard physical work. Even the children worked on the farm when they weren’t at school. In many ways his upbringing was much more useful, or at least more practical than mine.

Owing to the aching muscles and joints, I’ll keep this brief, other than to say that there is actually an air of excitement on Blithe Hill. Things are getting done which is good because deadlines are also drawing near. A deadline is always a good motivator though!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Scattering thoughts

Every Saturday I draw a breath and think back on the previous crazy week. I don’t know what normal is any more. The good thing is that many projects are coming to a head. The bad thing is that many projects are coming to a head. There is constant pressure to be doing something as there are so many things that need immediate attention. I guess it’s all part of being grown-up (something that I have resisted for a long time).

Last night the children were at a disco at the school followed by a sleepover here with a friend followed by an overnight scout camp today. This was after a week full of regular activities. I am actually against over-scheduling for my children and I. Imagine if I wasn’t.

The house is at the point where people can see that it is a house and not a barn. Sleepover guest last night exclaimed “Your house is so big and you have so many books.” For some reason that vindicated all the months of pain. Not that I hold a large house as a value in itself, but we have lived on top of each other for a long time and it is marvellous to finally have places in the house where you can’t hear everything else going on. The girls slept out on air mattresses in what will be Mr Blithe’s and my new bedroom. We are now some of the few people who haven’t slept out there.

In answer to those who have pointed out the spots of paint on my knees, elbows, hands, glasses… I have been painting all week. It’s been a joy transforming our living room with into a white and daffodil yellow space floating above the valley.

When I haven’t been painting or ferrying people around or any of a myriad of other activities, I’ve been trying to finish up my book. The Jaeckels are at Moreton Bay and I’m trying to work out where to finish the first book. Do I get them here then start the next book with their new life? Do I get them to Marburg first? One option would be to keep telling the story then try to break it up into the separate books later.

And a question – like all writers, I enjoy having new readers. My alter ego, the stylishly named MDRA, posts on the myMarburg blog . Do you think I should add Two Tree Hill as a link or as a blog that is being followed? Do I want to extend my current elite group of readers (yes I mean you)? Will I actually get any more readers or will I just have to write more tactfully and carefully on this blog (no more rundowns on local committee meetings or commentary on local issues)? Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The burden of being good

Quite a few people are now aware that Marburg won the 2008 Friendliest Town in Queensland award. There is a billboard on the Warrego Highway proclaiming this fact, a sign on the community hall and now a banner stretching across the main street of town which ironically is only visible if you are leaving town. Another irony is that the image selected for the banner is that of an emu (which looks ready to peck out an unwary visitor’s eyes) when the emu farm is one of the more controversial zoning issues in town.

All this lays quite a burden of expectation on us residents as well as having a distinct whiff of hubris. Are we offending the rules if we honk an irritating motorist? Do we have to say hello to people? Is one compelled to smile and wave at people even if the car is so full of arguing children that one’s head is about to explode? Are there extra expectations of friendliness if you are an office-bearer of a community organisation?

My dilemma was compounded on Sunday. Driving my family to church, I followed a singularly irritating driver over Tallegalla. I don’t have any problems with people who drive slowly through the hills. The views are spectacular and there are some sweeping curves. I do have a problem when people who aren’t even doing 60 kph (on an 80kph road) brake for these curves. To make things worse, the car then gave way on a corner on which they have right of way. And gave way for an extended period of time.

Mumbling apologies to all gods: tourism, community and otherwise, I honked and was glared at in return by the motorist who subsequently pulled to the side of the road. I’m sure that it is especially bad karma to be rude to people on Sunday when actually driving to church. But at least I wasn’t in Marburg.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Curiosity never killed this cat

Sitting quietly (for me) through the AGM of the historical society yesterday, I kept thinking of Studs Terkel. I don’t know what other people were thinking about. The local councillor sitting next to me was jiggling his leg so vigorously that the historical floor was shaking. My often chatty neighbour was looking out the door. Some people were looking at the photos that blanket the walls while others might even have been paying attention. AGMs are not the most exciting of occasions and this one didn’t even have a whiff of contention to enliven things. The executive was returned unchallenged, even myself as a lacklustre and often tardy (when I remember the meetings) vice-president. Thank goodness for the efficient, competent president, treasurer and secretary.

Anyway, the local councillor as patron of the society likes to raise ideas at this meeting about projects for the coming year. It’s worthwhile to pay attention to these ideas because they are a good indication on what council would consider spending money. This year he talked about researching the official boundaries of the Rosewood Scrub and doing up a map to be posted outside our building. He also talked about continuing an on again off again oral history project to tie in with the Cobb and Co. historical route from Ipswich to Toowoomba.

I’m not particularly interested in the Cobb and Co. route, which tends to be of the historical plaque school of history. But it is fascinating that oral history is now considered such a standard, ordinary thing that even local government in Queensland sees it as “good history.” Which by a circuitous route brings me back to Studs Terkel who died October 31 aged 96. Though criticised by some as simplistic and maudlin, Terkel was famous for believing that “The average American has an indigenous intelligence, a native wit. It’s only a question of piquing that intelligence.” He was curious, he listened and he wrote. His work gave credibility to history that drew on the lives of everyday people.

My favourite story that he tells is one that I heard him telling on National Public Radio in Minnesota. He was talking about how he likes being old because he can speak to people at bus stops and they don’t brush him off. He recounted how he asks women if they are feminists. When they (usually young women) vigorously disclaim it, he asks them if they have their own bank account, if they work, if they are able to choose whom they marry or divorce or if they use contraceptives – all things gifted to them by feminism. Though the thought of a sprightly old man accosting young women with this question is amusing, it highlights his point that people don’t know how they have got to where they are, that they live in ignorance of the lives of people in the past and they don’t appreciate what they have. I think the desire to fight against this is ingrained in every historian.

In his obituary in the New York Times, he summarises his own method as being “So I think the gentlest question is the best one, and the gentlest is, ‘And what happened then?’” It’s a good reminder for me as I think about how a local historical society can “do history” and also as I start a new research project in my other (non-writing) life. Terkel’s great skill was breaking down walls by listening to people and asking the right questions. He was eternally curious and he wanted his epitaph to be “Curiosity never killed this cat.” It’s a good motto.