Wednesday, February 29

The Insidious Eliot Situation

It's that time of the year again!   I am currently sprinting out a marathon speech for a poetry unit seminar on Monday.  While flirting with the irrational but well-intentioned thought of presenting my seminar on the lovely Sarah Kay, my teacher was not convinced by my first draft.  There I was, flung back to the starting line of the race, with very little time to regain my position. 

So I stumbled about for a while with W. H. Auden.  But the potential of an untainted and unknown T. S. Eliot was so appealing that I veered from the sidelines and back into the peloton. 

I had never read any of Eliot's work before, and within the first stanza I knew I'd found the winning streak.  Here is the first stanza of Eliot's I ever read.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
T. S. Eliot (1915)

LET us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"

Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
Please think of me as I completely rustle up from scratch an A-standard seminar and entirely memorise a secen-minute speech in three days. 


Sunday, February 26

The Incredibly Close Aloneness

Yesterday I dared.  I stole my Saturday morning back from the slavering jaws of Revision and the murderous claws of Essay-writing and I went to the movies to see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  My sudden burst of determination, desperation, and deliberation put my tears on a hair trigger.  I knew it was dark in the theatre, I knew the movie was going to be sad, and I knew that I was alone.  So I cried and cried and cried. 

Maybe it was because I'd read the book.  Maybe it was because I knew the hurts and pain and grief that Oskar felt because I had been there with him through the pages of Jonathan's beautiful, beautiful book.  I was hurt all over again, and I sobbed for him.  It was horribly sad, but how good it was to cry and feel slightly better, save for the pounding of the pulse in my hot temples. 

It was very good, which was better than I had hoped.  Some things I thought would get lost in film, but they managed to find ways to save some little things.  I thank them for it. 

When the movie was over, everyone seemed to be in a rush to get out, but I sat behind after everyone was gone and felt so surprised to have such a huge public place all to myself.  And the aloneness, not the lonliness, gave me the oppertunity to empty out my last tears in the dark and gather my tattered feelings. 

Friday, February 24

Nicely Folded Thoughts

I was thinking of Peter Pan yesterday, and I thought what a lovely thing it would be to share with you my favourite passage from it.  I have made every member of my family succumb to my reading of this.  I am adamant that it is absolutely wonderful.  I hope that you enjoy it. 
Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children's minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can't) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.

Thursday, February 23

Might of my Feather Duster

Here is a little something, a 'vignette' as I like to call pieces of this nature, that I wrote a couple of days ago.  It was the first time writing in a beautiful brand new notebook I was given for my birthday.  With symmetrical, gilt, curling motifs and a leather red spine like the oldest of classics, it inspired in me this first writing. 

When I was given this book on the 11th of February at my birthday party, I was so excited to write in it that my life flashed before my eyes in a phantasmagoria of all the pens I'd ever owned.  It's such a beautiful book that to write in it with just any pen would be unfair, unkind... disrespectful.  It deserves a fountain pen, a feather quill - the sort of pen that has its own art.  I want to write every letter like it's a privilege, a joy.  But instead, I'm writing with a blue, fluffy ballpoint.  As I consider my next words, I dust off my chin with its powder-puff end and smile.  If the pen is mightier than the sword, I've brought a feather duster to a knife fight.  But this blue, fluffy pen is my favourite, and artistic and elegant or not, this book will have to learn to enjoy the simple femininity of a feather duster. 

Wednesday, February 22

Up Your Ass

Granted it's a bit late for it, but I thought you would appreciate to hear how the Lions Youth event went.  (I'm going to presume that you've already read the speech.)

During the day of the speeches, each of the participants had to sit an interview with the judges.  I awaited my interview in the cream-washed parlour of the funeral home (ironically enough), with an ice cold waterbottle dripping condensation on my knee.  When I went in, I was greated by three interesting characters.  One sported bright purple hair, one a button nose, and the last an uncanny resemblance to Seachange's Kevin. 

If you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it's an idiot, said Einstein, to which my dad added, you're a fish in a marathon and you will get gravel rubbed into your scales.  To which I responded wow, you are incredibly encouraging.  I was very aware that I wasn't going to get into the next round.  It was the wrong thing, the wrong crowd, the wrong person.  It was very political, very current affairs based...  I don't actually even know who my local council member is.  I'm not sure why I decided I would go for it, but knowing that I had absolutely nothing to lose, I was able to relax and enjoy the lack of pressure that ignorance allowed me.  In fact, we ended up having quite a nice discussion on books. 

Now the speeches and impromptu questions were held at the local community centre, which turned out to be absolutely tiny inside even though from the outside it looked like a warehouse.  It was beside the train line, so even at seven at night, whoever was talking would be rudely interrupted by a half-hourly passing train. 

The impromptu questions came first, and we all had to stand outside and go in one by one, so as not to get an unfair advantage by hearing the questions beforehand.  While we waited, we joked about the hopelessness of our interviews, and laughed that our answer, should the question mercifully be "who is the greatest leader in history?", shall be "Boudicca, Ancient Romano-British warrior princess". 

No such luck however.  The question were, "Is the print newspaper still relevant in today's society?" and "If you could change one thing about Australia, what would it be?"  To which I answered in that order, "yes" and "reopen the bookshops".  It was almost painfully obvious that I was quite a gravelly fish, but yet a proudly quaint one.  

I know that my speech went well.  I cried, but I was able to talk and carry on and allow the emotion to unlock a connection.  I had no notes.  I used no lecturn.  Through glistening eyes my dad and my brother smiled and shook their heads.  The George R.R. Martin quote, central to the speech, was given me by a dear friend, and to thank him, I locked eyes with him as I spoke it.  He looked down, and I felt so disappointed that he did, but I was told as soon as I finished, that he had been crying too.  That moment of realising was so perfect. 

I felt like that speech should be a snapshot of what I want my life to be always.  My ability to be authentic, to connect with people, to learn through books and live with empathy.  I wish everyone I know could have even a clue that it took place, because now only a handful of people know what I really think.  For me, it taught me that I'm growing, that I can engage people, that I can say something that others can connect with on their own deep level.  A number of other people's aunts and grandmothers, and next door neighbours came to me afterwards and told me "I felt what you were saying.  Thankyou."  

No, thankyou.  I don't care so much that the judges critised me for using too much drama.  Shove my tears up your ass if you thought that what I did was drama.  Every person I talked to afterwards knew, and felt themselves, the sincerity.   

Sunday, February 19

The Nip of Realisation

I've been reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin for a while now.  It started as a recommendation which led to a reality which in turn led to a really enjoyable read. 

I feel like it is about time that I make my confession.  A while back, I recall being somewhat indignant on the topic of modern literature.  I proudly stuck to my classics for so long, but for a time now, I've been sneaking out of my shell, almost without realising, and getting a taste of fresh air.  I'm not sure what sort of reader I am anymore.  Maybe in a month's time, I'll have organised my thoughts, but right this moment, it seems that I'm reading a lot more stuff that doesn't fit into my old categories, or tick boxes that I thought were at least significant in some way. 

Douglas Adams turned my world upside down, and Jonathan Safran Foer kicked it nicely in the stomach.  And George R.R. Martin... well I'm not sure how long my trip with him will last, but so far, it's been a wonderful detour. 

The friend who recommended it to me, actually, told me to keep in mind that Martin is notorious for killing off any and all characters unexpectedly.  Now that I am painfully aware of this, I have also become painfully paranoid.  Whenever a character, regardless of whether I like them or not, goes anywhere near a ledge or walks through I shadow, my insides reel with a siren, screaming "No, someone will push you over, or stab you in the dark!  Just don't die!  Please!"

So far, however, only one character has died and it didn't hurt too badly.  What did hurt me, however, was the infuriatingly unexpected betrayal that took place shortly afterwards.  I get quite physical when I get excited by a book.  I had been hunched over it like a child minutely inspecting a hermit crab in its shell when all of a sudden it all started happening and I got lost and freaked out and I flinched every inch of myself away from it as though the hermit crab had lunged for a nip and scared me.  Then with hands in the air as it held me hostage, I sat for minutes with my mouth hanging open, gargling unintelligibly. 

I love it when a book does that to you.  I suppose, as long as I'm reading something that I'm enjoying, it doesn't matter so much if it's new or old.  I think that has been an important realisation for me to arrive at. 

Saturday, February 18

You're My Cup of Tea

I had my birthday party last Saturday evening, and I've been excited to tell you about it, but I've been waiting on my friend for the photos.  Here they are at last! 
Firstly, the most decadent chocolate mud cake on the face of the planet.

Puppy Birthday Cake

And secondly a beautiful birthday surprise! It seems only yesterday I was remarking to my friend that the only person who can do things perfectly for you... is you, and already I have been proved horribly wrong!  I am not the only one who knows me, and I am definitely not the only one who knows how to do beautiful things for me. 

Literally a Bouquet of Sharpened Pencils
Isn't this the most thoughtful and beautiful thing?  She literally gave me a bouquet of sharpened pencils, and I burst into tears when I realised what she'd done.  By now, the flowers have died, but the pencils live on in a bouquet tied with light blue satin ribbon on my book shelf.  It's amazing, though, that when Tom Hanks, Joe Fox, says those lines: I love New York in the fall.  It makes me want to buy school supplies.  If I knew your address, I would send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils, the idea in itself is so picturesque and whimsical.  But in real life, it's almost more so.  My bouquet of sharpened pencils is so fresh and woody and full of crisp suggestion that every time I look at them all, with their different levelled points bared like the swords to which J. M. Barrie compared them, I feel beautifully in love with writing and reading and being alive.  They are just so perfect, and the gesture in itself was perfect too.  Like something out of a chick flick. 

It turns out that my friends have been paying a lot more attention to me than I realised.  Almost all of them gifted me with some sort of reference to an inside joke, some sort of little token that they have indeed been listening and loving me.  Packets of mini-Oreos, tissues, highlighter pens, notebooks, and a beautiful tea cup with a Paris motif.  Not to mention a box of Melbourne Breakfast tea leaves that seduces you with vanilla aromas, and a card written all in Elven.  (Yes, wasn't it just the most perfect day?)  And funnily enough, two people  gave me a card with the same sweet message: You're My Cup of Tea.  No, you're my cup of tea.

Sunday, February 12

What Will Your Legacy Be?

My birthday party was yesterday and I have some beautiful things to tell you about, once my friend sends me the important photos.  It might take a couple of days, so hold on! 

I have, however, finally finished my speech for the Lions Youth competition, and in good time, as well, as it is tomorrow that I'll have to present it!  Here it is, with several extra paragraphs added since the previous draft I shared.  I hope that you like it.

The greatest pain that I have ever felt was not physical, but the grief of goodbye. It was at the end of my favourite book, All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot. James Herriot told me chapter by chapter the true story of his life as a country vet in Wales, the tragic, the infuriating, the hilarious, and all with a gentle, humorous and loving voice. It was the voice that I fell asleep each night listening to. His tales were witty and oven-roastedly authentic. I was in love with him and his gum boots, his midnight emergency calls, the gossips and the inside-jokes in which I shared a slice of paradise.

But I took it for granted that World War One raged in the background. And soon enough, my James Herriot was enlisted and I was faced with his departure and the horror of Change. I become the wives and lovers of all the troops. My boys were facing danger and I had to face being left behind, alone. I tearfully waved my handkerchief out the window as he left and then the book was over. That was the greatest pain that I have ever felt. Sitting in my room, alone, with the closed book on my knee, sobbing hysterically.

George R. R. Martin said that “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” Through the thousands of lives I have already lived in books, I’ve travelled the world. What I have experienced and learnt has made me so much older, and younger at the same time. I have learnt from mistakes before I make them myself. I have been handed the gift of empathy and since then a million opportunities to gift others with understanding. I have been reminded of my humanity; urged to discover what I am. I have an inkling that in the end, I’m still growing, and in thirty years, I can read the same books again and discover them anew. . More so than the experience, though, I have valued the people. The characters have become, as Martin Tupper said “the best of friends, the same today and forever.”

Anne of Green Gables. One of the most beautiful people I have ever met. With her I went through the entire colourwheel of hurts and joys, and grew up and graduated and fulfilled my dreams. With Julia Child, I laughed and ate and drank and discovered every inch of my love for Paris. With Doctor Doolittle, I learnt the secrets of the ocean from the mouth of a fish and saved mens’ lives by following the Jabizri beetle. Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee. We wrung out every bloody strip of failure to mend our doubts and continue.

The reading that I have done has added to me as a person. It has given me experiences, and close, lifelong friendships with beautiful people. These stories have become my own and grown into my legacy. It’s a legacy that I desperately want to share. I want to share my friendship with Anne Shirley of Green Gables, with Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, with Julia Child and Doctor Doolittle, with Frodo and Sam, all 101 dalmations, and James Herriot. I have already lived a thousand lives and my legacy is full of best friends and glorious journeys. What will your legacy be?

Thursday, February 9

Ain't it Great to be a Nerd!

I have been wanting to share this exciting and fun information on Bouquets for a long time, but the enormity of explaining it and refinding the sites bored me to the point of procrastination.  I have, however, been roused to action by having to give the information to a good friend of mine, and thus, it made perfect sense to take the oppertunity...  the oppertunity to teach you how to write in the Elven script from The Lord of the Rings.

To be specific, it's Quenya, a form of Tengwar. There are other forms, obviously, but this is used throughout the book and is fairly simple to learn. Actually, don't be surprised if after a couple of hours practice you can fluently write it, if not read it. It's really not that hard.

Firstly, here's a site that can help you get the actual alphabet and process of writing down-pat. It's simplistic in comparison to some of the fully frustrating omplicated sites. I would definitely recommend that you read all the information, and write down the alphabet and word combinations plus any simple rules for using them on a piece of paper or something so that if you're practicing, you have a quick reference point.

You will probably find, the more that you read on this topic, that there can sometimes be different ways of doing things, especially writing the vowels, as some people are very flexible with the whole "vowel sits on top of a stem" concept. Really all I can say to help you out of confusion is that you might like to just decide to write it your way and be done with it. If you're confused by what I just said, don't worry about it. If you come across this, you'll know what I mean.

This second link is to a page that gives you the punctuation. You might like to scroll down to the subheading DOT MARKS and read only from there to LATIN SCRIPT PUNCTUATION. Everything before and after this point is not relevant and is seriously confusing. This isn't scary, really - just basically your full stops, commas, questions marks, and end of stanza marks.

Alright, having read all that, my greatest recommendation is that you summarise the information on a sheet with your alphabet and start practising. I practised by translating the first chapter of Watership Down by Richard Adams... yeah I know... into Quenya in my notebook. I just kept my alphabet and rules sheet beside me and after about a page, I didn't need it any more, and after three pages, I am now officially a fluent writer of Elven Script!

I really hope that you don't find all this information daunting, because once you've summarised it onto a sheet you can realise how simple it is. It won't take you too long and then you will be able to code everything in the single most tasteful and cool way ever. It is awesome.

Tuesday, February 7

The First Draft of my Speech

I was just printing out the draft of my speech for the Lions Youth event and checking blogger updates, so I think this is the perfect oppertunity to share with you a couple of paragraphs that are providing the meat, though as yet, no real bones, to my speech.  By the way, my speech is supposed to be five minutes long and about whatever I like.  Imagine the possibilities!

The greatest pain that I have ever felt was not at death, but at goodbye.    It was at the end of my favourite book, All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot.  James Herriot told me chapter by chapter the true story of his life as a country vet in Wales, the tragic, the infuriating, the hilarious, and all with a gentle, humorous and loving voice.  It was the voice that I fell asleep each night listening to.   His tales were witty and over-roastedly authentic.  I was in love with him and his gum boots, his midnight emergency calls, the gossips and the inside-jokes in which I shared a slice of paradise. 

But I took it for granted that World War One raged in the background.  And soon enough, my James Herriot was enlisted and I was faced with his departure and the horror of Change.  I become the wives and lovers of all the troops.  My boys were facing danger and I had to face being left behind, alone.  I tearfully waved my handkerchief out the window as he left and then the book was over.  That was the greatest pain that I have ever felt.  Sitting in my room, alone, with the closed book on my knee, sobbing hysterically. 

George R. R. Martin said that “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.  The man who never reads lives only one.” 

The reading that I have done has added to me as a person.  It has given me experiences, made me close and lifelong friendships with beautiful people.  These stories have become my own and grown into my legacy.  It’s a legacy that I desperately want to share.  I want to share my friendship with Anne Shirley of Green Gables, with Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, with Julia Child and Doctor Doolittle, with Frodo and Sam, all 101 dalmations, and James Herriot.  I have already lived a thousand lives and my legacy is full of best friends and glorious journeys.  What will your legacy be? 

Yes, so I have a beginning, and end, and a quote.  There will be a couple of minutes worth or middle too, by the time I'm done with it.  But as readers yourselves, what do you think so far?  Is there something that you feel needs to be added or changed?  I would appreciate your input knowing you are more or less on the same page as me on this topic. 

Sunday, February 5

Commitment Phobia

Modern day fantasy authors seem to always do this Thing that I find immensely frustrating.  (Mind you, I am only basing my observation on works of Brandon Sanderson and George R. R. Martin, so it's not at all an inexhaustibly researched hypothesis.) 

The Thing is that they spend one chapter with one character, the next with another, the next with another, the next with another, the next with another, and it takes about seven chapters to get back to the first character again.  This is particularly annoying for me because I get absorbed in one character's story and it is such a pain to tear away from that character knowing it might be several hundreds of pages before I see them again.  Have you experienced this?  Why is this only a fantasy writer's Thing? 

Something that I really respect from writers, and I imagine I've probably mentioned this before in the past, is their ability to keep their chapters short.  Leo Tolstoy, despite the immense bulk of Anna Karenina, is easy to read from because his chapters are at most four pages long, every time.  When the chapters are short, you just feel like popping onto the next one, and maybe the one after than, because each chapter is not an hour long commitment.  And so you end up tricking yourself into reading a lot more than you would have otherwise, and feeling better about it.  This is just my observation.  I know people who hate short chapters, but I like them.  What do you prefer? 

Saturday, February 4

About Time

A funny thing happened to me a couple of days ago.  I was at the library with my dad and my little sister.  Dad went to look at the shelf where the holds are kept and came back to me with a book that had been reserved for me.  It was A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (the author of the quote along the top of the page, yes). 

I completely could not remember ever ordering this book.  I was holding it thinking What on earth is this doing here?  How on earth did it get here?  Why is it in my name?  What on earth?  What the heck?  It was evidently very confusing for me. 

A crazy thought fled across my mind that my friend had somehow hijacked my library card or memorised my card number and so ordered it in my name, which also made no sense.  And then it clicked. 

My friend has recommended this book to me a long time ago.  It was so popular at the time due to the HBO series adaptation that has recently started playing, and the amount of holds placed on the one copy had been in the hundreds.  So I, having calculated that it would take about half a year to finally get to me if each person read it quickly and returned it before it was due, also placed a hold on it.  It was more in jest than anything else. 

Now, months and months later, the hold arrives and I have it in my hands and I'm thinking finally Oh my goodness.  It actually came. 

Thursday, February 2

The Happiness Habit

I've started a new habit.  A good habit.  Maybe it's something that should have had a place on my New Year's resolutions.  Either way, it is already giving me plenty of joy and fun, and anything that gives one a generous helping of pure and healthy happiness even when one is beginning to notice the stress from assignments creeping up, is definitely worthwhile. 

I've never been terribly fond of the library.  It has horrible operating hours, has hardly anything in its catalogue, and holds take forever to come in.  It started with my impromptu trip during the holidays which saw me the proud hirer or 30-Second Theories, (a book that has empowered me by explaining relativity, quantum mechanics, choas, Shrodinger, Hawkings, Darwin, Einstein, and so much more to me). 

From there I've been randomly going down and selecting a pile of books, and even CDs that catch my eye.  I find that I'm constantly being surprised by what interests me, and even what doesn't anymore.  The CDs especially have been a fun experience.  Completely without prior knowledge or prejudice I select a stack of albums that stand out to me.  I love how it "expands my cultural consciousness".  That's a phrase I've been using a lot to explain my new habit, but really, I'm finding new ways to learn and have fun. 

So far, I've had out:
  • Joni Mitchell
  • Billy Joel
  • Where the Wild Things Are Soundtrack
  • Weekend Songs
  • Don Giovani
  • The Greatest Italian American Singers Of All Times
  • Video Hits: The Number Ones
  • The Biggest Soundtrack Hits
  • Aztecs
  • Ron Sexsmith
  • Birds of Tokoyo
  • Skyhooks
  • Hermans Hermits
  • Nirvana
  • KT Tunstall
  • Neon
  • Nora Jones
  • Bob Dylan
  • The Scissor Sisters
  • Housework Songs
  • Elvis Presley: 50 Australian Top Ten Hits
Some of these names obviously weren't completely blindly chosen.  However, I was surprised that I didn't particularly enjoy either Joni Mitchell or Billy Joel, even though I thought that I would.  With Skyhooks, Nirvana, Birds of Tokyo and Neon, I had no clue what I was in for, so when I didn't find them particularly interesting, there was no let down.  There were no surprises with Nora Jones, a favourite of my family's,  KT Tunstall, or The Scissor Sisters, who are just...  Not quite sure.  They're something, and I like that. 

I did however, find two new favourites out of all this, and listening over and over to these albums has made my afternoons so furiously enjoyable.  They are:

Hermans Hermits and Elvis Presley. 

It's great to find new favourites, especially when they include toe tapping old school rock.  It's proven to me the point of going out of my way to do things differently. 

Wednesday, February 1

Before and After

I was lent a copy of Sarah Winman's When God Was a Rabbit, and last night, after work and dinner, I struggled into bed and nestled down to begin.  I wasn't quite, and in fact, still am not, finished The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, but the anticipation was too great for me to sleep.  So at ten o'clock, when I should have been drifting into my unconscious subconscious, I was flipping through the title pages.  I read the first sentence.  Laughed and read it again:

I divide my life into two parts, not really a Before and After, more as if they are bookends, holding together flaccid years of empty musings, years of the late adolescent or the twentysomething whose coat of adulthood simply does not fit. 

This sentence was enough to get me engaged, and I read chapter after chapter until my eyes began to twitch.  Already, I feel as if I get what the gist of this book is.  It doesn't seem to have the volume, depth, or pointiness of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close but rather a simplicity slightly obscured at the corners with a fog of meaning.  This will certainly be an experience, anyhow.