Monday, 28 September 2009

Defining narrative

Many people have written, often nostalgically and full of some kind of longing for a kinder, gentler agrarian past, of how living in the country tunes your senses to the natural world. Maybe it is true of a farmer although I suspect that many may work to rule or calendar, the same as many others.

I do know that as I live longer surrounded by a natural world that insists on imposing attention on me, that times of year are defined by their point in a cycle. If I sat down and wrote it down, I couldn't say when the jacarandas flowered or the silky oak bloomed. I wouldn't be able to pinpoint when the grass stops growing and starts browning and I begin to worry about grass fires. I couldn't point to a calendar and say "here is spring and here is summer and this is when we get these kinds of clouds or those kinds of winds."

For me it is simply that I notice them. I look out the kitchen window and all of a sudden there is purple haze in the trees behind the water tanks. I look out the living room windows and the silky oak is lit up with golden candles. I hear the snake slithering and think "Oh yeah, it must be spring." Instead of my alarm pulling me out of darkness, patterns of light down the hallway wake me earlier and earlier.

And when I notice them, they slot neatly into what has become the right pattern for me. I think human beings are about making patterns and trying to make some sort of sense or order in their lives. My pattern has evolved slowly from an urban model to one more focused on the natural world. It simply surrounds me and forces me to pay attention to it in the same way that traffic and fire-engines, street lights and noises from neighbours punctuated my previous life.

I read an article in the weekend paper recently suggesting that narrative is dead because people don't live lives of patterns but disjointed, chaotic fragments. The writer couldn't understand the enduring popularity of narrative over post-modern writing and urged readers to forgo their naive attachment to story and timeline. For me it is all about making patterns. We want to know if A then B and whether that equals C or something else. And that is the definition of narrative.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Why I don't vacuum

Well actually I have no excuse other than laziness and disinclination to do housework when there are so many more interesting and compelling things to do. But if I was a better housekeeper, today's dust would be driving me to panic. As far as I can tell from the news the dust storm spreads across all of NSW, the ACT and southern Queensland. The dust that is coating us today comes from South Australia. At 11am we had lights on in the house and the windows glowed an eerie orange.

According to reports, air particle levels of 200 or higher are dangerous. The ABC says that in north-west Sydney levels are 919, south-west 1,718 and in Bathurst, 2,665. Asthmatics are urged to stay inside and keep medication and a telephone close.

Our mouths taste dusty, our hair is coated, the smell of dust hangs in the air. The wind makes the animals and children restless. Horses stand in the fields in clumps, rumps to the wind. It is not a day to extoll the glories of Queensland weather.

However, all is not lost when such as this exists to cheer up my day.

Monday, 21 September 2009

This doesn't compute

I've have been having all sorts of problems with blogger but I can't blame the platform for my woes. You may have noticed weird symbols in the posts. I haven't because the layout looks just fine in Firefox on my trusty Mac. But some people have let me know that things are Not Up To Scratch. I haven't actually worked out what the problem is, but I have worked out how to work around it. And that will have to do for the moment. Of course, please let me know if things aren't working and I will urge you to enter the light and buy a Mac or at the very least, run something other than IE.

I had a lovely quiet afternoon yesterday down at the Historical Society. I was doing my duty and getting out of a family event and getting some time to sit and think. It was all good. I've even come up with a list of subjects about which to blog. Hopefully between the list and a few extra days at home due to the school holidays will revitalise Two Tree Hill.

I'm hoping for a bit of revitalisation myself. Theoretically I am meant to be doing some work at home but on Day One I have already realised that that is not a likely scenario. I honestly think the only way to work at home is to have a dedicated sound-proofed space and a dedicated childminder -- now it's sounding like my father and his neatly isolated studies in every house we ever lived in. The appeal is tremendous.

I haven't yet had the headspace to think about what to do about
Outwanderers. The Jaeckels have been left sitting on the jetty in Brisbane for too many months now. They're probably getting bored and wandered off to who knows where. Maybe Anna is flirting with the local boys and Carl is getting into mischief on the wharves.

I haven't heard anything from the publisher so it seems as if my baby has been rejected. I plan to do something about it as soon as I work out what. And when that occurs, I will of course let you know too. I don't want this baby to wander homeless in the world.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The scent of home

I read the other day that University of Queensland researchers have isolated and identified the substances in cut grass. Apparently these chemicals promote a sense of well-being and relieve stress. They have been packaged as a room spray and are being marketed as Serenascent.

I am curious as to their efficacy. As someone to whom cut grass usually merely provokes vigorous sneezing and sniffling, I’m not keen to spray the scent around my house. On the other hand, one of my favourite smells in the world is the smell of long dry grass that has baked in the sun all day slowly cooling in the evening. And I am feeling stressed.
Coming home on Friday night after a long week, I had all the windows in the car open. It’s spring so we’re having warm days and cool nights. It was a strange experience. I felt like I was dipping in and out of a river. One moment the air was cold and smelt clean and damp. The next, it was warm and oozing the essence of dried grass. My shoulders relaxed, my eyebrows went down, my lungs expanded. The first stars came out, the hills breathed with me. I remembered the word “gloaming” which is the time between sunset and darkness.* I rolled the word around my mouth. Gloaming…it just sounded right. That’s the smell I would bottle: dry grass, cool night, first starlight, gloaming. 

* Middle English (Scots) gloming, from Old English glōming, from glōm twilight; akin to Old English glōwan to glow. Date: before 12th century. Thanks Merriam-Webster online.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Fragments of current life

Driving two or three times a week to Logan and points south.
Negatives: a lot of time in the car, overdoses of exhaust from crawling along in first gear on the motorway, sore neck, creaky knees, having to go to Logan.
Positives: overcoming my fear of driving to unknown places. A handful of hours a week on several of the busiest roads in SE Queensland followed by weaving around the backstreets of Logan and surrounds cured that; getting to catch up on lots of music.

Hanging out in places that have:
a) red leatherette sofas in the waiting room.
b) restroom walls entirely covered in graffiti or complicated lifestyle choice information.
c) staff behind locked glass screens.
d) signs on aforementioned sofas informing me that “any person found in the act of graffiti or defacing property…will be charged with wilful damage.”

Discovering that:
a) signs regarding defacing sofas and stern instructions to “wash hands properly” make me want to do the opposite and I’m not even a troubled “youf.”
b) there are actually some nice parts of Logan though mainly bits they inherited from other places (like Beenleigh).
c) there are parts of Logan that do look like downtown LA. You know that concreted-in LA River in The Terminator? I parked next to its twin last week. I felt the urge to go motorcycle riding.
d) after driving 100km or so roundtrips, dropping off or picking up the kids and doing the errands, I have no desire to write or in fact, even stir off the sofa once I sit down at night.

Remembering that this is only a short project and life will return to something approaching normal eventually, if I remember what that is.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Things in the night

I woke the other night with heart racing. Half past midnight on a dark country night, a couple of kilometres from the nearest streetlight and someone had walked up our back stairs. I lay there undecided. Do I get up to see what they want? Do I wait for the doors to rattle? Why would anyone go to the back door? Did they need help? Thank goodness Mr. Blithe had spent a weekend fixing ill-fitting doors.

The steps receded and were followed by thumps, scratching and banging. Okay, probably not a person, but big. They don’t have bears here do they? Mr Blithe looked out the study window. Nothing. I looked out the front. Nothing. He positioned himself by a window with a torch while I turned on the outside front light.

There. And…there! Two dogs trying to dig their way into the garage after something tasty. Foolish perhaps because it is open at the front, more of a car port than a garage. Without a sound they circled off behind the shed. Turning on the back light sent them silently off over the fields, one leaping high in short absurd bounces to see its way over the tall grass.

Back to bed, every sound keeping me awake. Lying there in the dark I understood a little perhaps of the fear of someone new to a place. I have doors, locks, windows with glass, solid walls. What if I were in a bark hut or some sort of shelter made from twigs and grass and I heard things in the night? Things that made sounds I had never heard before. Things that I had never seen or imagined.

I think that you’d have to learn to control your imagination. To only deal with real things as they happened. To react and act on a daily basis and not think too much about the future. To become in some ways a short-term thinker. And then how would you get out of that mentality? How would you shift from a mode of danger and living day to day to a more settled mode? Would you ever learn to think in a more strategic, less reactionary way? Would you be able to plan for the future? How many generations would it take to change modes of thinking and what impact would it have on society in general?

These, and adrenalin, are the thoughts that keep me awake at half past midnight on a dark country night.