Writing By Hand

I was rather bemused to see a large stationery chain advocating the benefits of writing by hand. With actual pens and paper. There was a mention of an Australian survey which confirmed that people who wrote in this way for 15-20 minutes a day reported various benefits including a greater sense of well-being and life satisfaction. My inner cynic wondered if this was just another way to sell more stationery.

But perhaps that is because I already do what is advocated by the survey. For years I have kept a brief diary with a line or two about each day. Looking back, I’m not sure what started it. I think it may have been a way to record subtle changes and events, and it has come in handy when I’ve wanted to see how I reacted to something months or years after the event. These record of the passing of days have been on Filofax diaries, and I have years of these scored with pens of varying colour, the pages heavy with the moments of a life. In recent months I have added three things I’m grateful for to the end of each day.

The twenty minutes of handwriting happens in my A5 journals. These are usually hard backed books with enough pages to capture three months or so worth of daily morning pages. These pages capture in more detail what is going on in my life and the world in general, along with snippets of news and updates on people I care about. Frustrations and victories are afforded equal billing, and I always feel better for having spent the time to write, even on days when I think there is absolutely nothing in my mind worth recording.

Occasionally I flick back through these pages, and I am usually rewarded with something to smile or laugh about, or reminded of something that seemed to dominate my life at a particular point. Until the next obsession came along. And there are snatches of dreams and story ideas which can be teased into something more substantial.  It has become a habit, and it is rare for me to miss a morning session. Occasionally I write at the end of the day, but I prefer to start the day with the rhythm and routine of the words on the page.

And I still write some creative work by hand. My notebooks are full of scratchings and thoughts, and as I write much slower than I type there is a different level of focus or energy about these writing sessions.

Do you write by hand?

[Photo: writing notebook scratchings]

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Wild Windy Weather

There seems to have been a resurgence of windy weather atop the Blue Mountains lately.

After one particularly windy spell, I was in a cafe when I heard one of the staff explain the wind phenomenon in the mountains. Well, her theory of it at least. The location of villages along the ridge of the mountain top – roughly along the original road and trails crossing the mountains – meant that the impact of gusty winds are stronger and more localised.

The past week has been peppered with days of high winds, which are trying enough, but then there are the wind gusts which literally knock you sideways. Walking around the main and side streets of Katoomba, there are funnels of wind that spin about, making it a challenge to walk down a steep incline due to the force of the gusts.

This weekend there has been a couple of days of reprieve – gorgeous spring weather full of sunshine, the scent of blossoms and the promise of warmer times ahead. I am trying not to dwell on the forecasted return of the winds later this week.

One of my memories of primary school involved the notorious winds of August and September in Sydney. There had been a huge wind storm and we were all gathered into the assembly hall to keep us safe from flying objects. This was exciting enough, then part of the roof blew off. For days afterwards there were stray bits of roofing, fences and other miscellany scattered around the suburb. I don’t recall anyone being injured, thankfully, but it was a big deal at the time.

High winds were pummeling the mountains on the day I moved in to my new home. I was moving incrementally, and had a fold-up bed, chairs and card table in my car, along with blankets and a kettle and enough bits to keep me going for a few days. My uncle had given me a box of firewood so I had the wood heater going which was lucky as the electricity went out overnight with trees falling across lines during the wind storm, and it was the warmth of the stove that kept my spirits up the next morning when I was without power in a strange place with wind buffeting the windows and doors, wondering just what I’d got myself in for this time.

As with other instances of wild weather, it makes me appreciate the relative calmness of the every day when it returns.

[Photo: plush toy spotted in the main street of Katoomba – not a wind related incident!]

Book Review: The Women in Black by Madeleine St John

This book had been on my peripheral since it had been re-released as part of the Text Classics collection. When I came across the title recently through my online library collection, I downloaded the audiobook to see what it was all about. The novel’s premise of a handful of women working in a department store in Sydney during the post-war period seemed somewhat light, but there was a wide selection of delights in store.

Covering a brief period from the end of the school year to the post Boxing Day sales (a significant retail event, even then), the novel follows the lives of several women working at the fictional F.G Goode department store.  The characters work in women’s fashion where there is a clear demarcation between the general women’s clothing and the high-end Model Gowns section.

The mix of staff include long-term employees such as Patty, a dissatisfied married woman, the younger Fay who is in a perpetual search for a man who is interested in something more than short-term fun, and the exotic cultured Magda, who exudes sophistication and is regarded with suspicion. Magda’s dark background is gradually revealed, and her warmth and generosity challenges initial assumptions. Into the mix  comes a seasonal casual called Lisa, employed for the busy period leading into Christmas and the post-Christmas sales. The shy, clever Lisa is able to provide entry into this world, and one of the many delights of the novel is the transformation of Lisa from a reserved and bookish school girl into a young woman with a bright future.

The conversational tone is evident from the outset of the novel:

Mrs Williams was a little, thin, straw-coloured woman with a worn-out face and a stiff-looking permanent wave. Her husband Frank was a bastard, naturally. He had married her when she was only twenty-one and he a strapping twenty-six and why they had failed to produce any children was anyone’s guess, but it was ten years after the event and still she was working although the house was fully furnished, furnished within an inch of its life in fact, and there was no particular need for the money, which she was saving up in the Bank of New South Wales, not knowing what else to do with it, while Frank continued to give her the housekeeping money which as a point of honour she spent entire, buying a lot of rump steak where other people in her situation might have bought mince and sausages, because Frank did like steak. (pp 4-5)

The shifting character viewpoint provides opportunities for humour and insight which are peppered throughout the novel. Whilst the characters have different backgrounds and motivations, they are created with compassion and depth, making their interactions engaging.

Listening to this book was such a joy that I had to rewind a couple of times as I had been laughing and missed some of the lines. Some of the sharpest humour was in the dialogue between Patty’s sisters as they come to grips with the inexplicable – but not overly unwelcome – disappearance of Patty’s admittedly odd husband.

‘She said do you think he’s gone for good? And I said of course not Mum. Frank won’t get far. I had to say that to stop her worrying about Patty. But I don’t know. Frank’s a dark horse, I’ve always thought so.’

‘Oh God,’ said Joy, ‘Frank’s not a dark horse, Frank’s a drongo. Get far! He couldn’t get here to Manly without a guide. He’s just buggered off somewhere in a stew, he’ll be back, worse luck. Poor old Patty.’

‘That’s no way to talk now,’ said Dawn. ‘Frank’s all right, he’s just a bit -‘

‘Stupid,’ said Joy. ‘Dim.’

‘Quiet, I was going to say,’ said Dawn.

‘And he’s being even quieter at the moment,’ said Joy, cackling with laughter.

‘Joy,’ said Dawn, ‘you’re awful.’

That was Joy all over: awful. (pp 129-130)

The resolution of a number of situations by the end of the book in ways not entirely foreseen made this a very satisfying novel. It left an impression of wit and warmth, of insights into a lost time but with echoes that resonate. The overview of Madeleine’s life by one of her peers, Bruce Beresford, as an introduction to the novel provided some context and offered a glimpse into St Johns’ life. It was an absolute delight.

ISBN: 9781921922299

Audiobook: read by Deidre Rubenstein

[Photo: shop front in Katoomba]

A Little Bush Wander

Recently I had a short wander through a small section of the extensive Blue Mountains National Park. This park is part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, which covers nearly a million acres from the outskirts of western Sydney to the central tablelands, right through the upper edges of the Blue Mountains. The main park entrances are at Glenbrook, Wentworth Falls and Blackheath. My group wander started at the base of the mountains at Glenbrook.

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Canopy of gum trees

There are a myriad of tracks and avenues for exploration from this entrance, and the wander started from the Euroka campground, a popular camping and picnic spot. It is a lovely space with kangaroos, kookaburras and cockatoos in abundance and obviously at ease with the flocks of people who come and go.

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Grey gum scarred by sugar gliders

Appreciating some of the flora in this part of the park was the purpose of the wander. Whilst I can identify common plants and trees, the specifics of large plant groups such as eucalyptus trees largely elude me. To be fair, there are over 700 species. During the wander there were many grey gums, including some marked by sugar gliders as they sought access to the sap. One of the ways to differentiate between eucalyptus trees is by the shape of the gumnuts.

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Flowering wattle

Wattles also have a huge number of varieties, and their bright blooms make them easily identifiable. Close inspection revealed various insects living off the blossoms.

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Close up of casuarina tree

Yellow and red bloodwoods were scattered along the walk, as were blueberry ash and casuarinas. The casuarina, also known as she-oak, is a large and graceful tree, known for the gentle rustling sound of breeze through its leaves. There were many smaller plants and masses of ferns including thick patches of maidenhair fern.

Eastern Rosellas

Eastern Rosellas near their nest

Above and around us were many birds, from the bossy strut of sulphur crested cockatoos at one of the picnic sites, to the blue flash of kookaburras flying past. A pair of eastern rosellas were spotted nesting in a gum tree, and a pair of Australian wood ducks were perched on a tree branch. A family of wood ducks were seen on the way out with seven fluffy ducklings – a fitting end to a lovely wander through the bush.

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A family of Australian wood ducks

When was the last time you were able to go for a bush wander?

[Photo: one of the kangaroos resting near the camping ground]

What My Mind Gets Up To When I’m Busy

Recently I’ve been going through a period when it seems like work and other hefty matters have been dominating my time. This used to generate a restless sense of frustrated creativity, but this time it isn’t the case. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that whilst my mind has been occupied with logical matters, my senses have continued to gather stimuli, with and without my mind’s conscious engagement.

Here are some of the ways in which my senses have been working overtime lately.

Sight

  • Marvelling at the unfolding of spring in the mountains. So many beautiful blooms to enjoy as daylight minutes start to flex and stretch with the promise of longer days to follow.

Taste

  • The crisp tang of melons, pineapple and other fruits of the warmer months beginning to appear in fresh food stores.

Hear

  • Bright and buoyant bird calls, a welcome soundtrack to morning walks and a fitting way to mark the passing of another day.

Touch

  • This time of year I find it impossible not to potter about in the garden, even if I’m mainly picking up sticks and bark that has been scattered about by the August winds. There is something so elemental about having time in the garden.

Smell

  • It is hard to go past any tree or shrub in blossom as spring approaches. A particular delight is the heady fragrance of blooming trees of a night – their scent is all the more surprising and seems somehow stronger then.

Is your mind busy absorbing the world around you, even while you are caught up with other matters?

[Photo: spring blossoms]

 

 

Corridor of Oaks, Faulconbridge

In a pocket of land alongside the Great Western Highway at Faulconbridge there is a slowly expanding collection of oaks, planted in honour of Australian Prime Ministers. It is modestly signposted but easy to find, and on the Sunday afternoon when I visited recently, it was relatively quiet despite the nearby traffic and train line.

Whilst I’ve visited the Corridor of Oaks before, it was still quite a surprise to see the extensive planting of oak trees in honour of Prime Ministers. There have been 29 Prime Ministers to date since 1901. Several have served multiple terms such as Andrew Fisher, Billy Hughes (from 1915 to 1923 but under three separate parties) and Kevin Rudd.

Caretaker Prime Ministers are represented as well, even if their time in office was relatively fleeting, covering the period from the resignation or death of the previous office holder until the election of the next Prime Minister.

The most recent planting was by Julia Gillard on 27 July 2017, the 27th tree to be added to the Corridor. Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull are yet to plant their trees: by tradition the trees are planted by the Prime Minister or a close family member.

The Corridor is on land donated by Joseph Jackson, a member of the NSW Parliament from 1922 until 1956. Jackson owned the former home of Sir Henry Parkes, known as the Father of Federation, at Faulconbridge at the time of the bequest. Jackson had a vision of the growing avenue as a living memorial to Parkes and his role in bringing the states together into a federation. When he began the memorial in 1934, there had only been nine Prime Ministers.

The Corridor of Oaks is a fitting tribute to our country’s leaders, and is a lovely place to visit.

[Photo: Corridor of Oaks, Faulconbridge]

 

Writing Prompt: I Only Turned Away For A Moment

I only turned away for a moment. Read any women’s magazine promising true life stories and you will know that’s about as long as it usually takes for disaster to strike. The difference was, I was hoping he’d disappear. Not for me the fear of loss, that distraction which draws you in whilst something happens to those you cherish. I had started to seek these opportunities, the wrinkles in time.

When I turned back he was still beside me, one grubby finger poked up a nostril. I muttered something, pushed his hand away and absently plumbed the depths of my handbag for something to wipe his face with. No matter how I tried, his face was always smeared with something, even if we left the house in a pristine state.

We’d rarely eat out. It was too much, too exhausting to make sure he didn’t throw his food around like he did at home. I’d seen the blank horror on the faces of the staff in enough cafes to know that all I could hope for over the next few years was for us to eat in McDonald’s where poor nutrition cultivated poor behaviour, or al fresco in parks. Parks without other people, that is.

And so I’d started to daydream of losing him, of accidentally leaving him behind. But he always found me, was always returned to me in more or less the same state. He was like a homing pigeon, wired to remain within my orbit. Even when I didn’t want him nearby.

Even though I knew it was futile, I persisted with the fantasy. I got so deep into the daydream this time that when I bumped into someone waiting at the traffic lights I ricocheted back, lost my footing and tumbled down, a swift yet slow collapse to the ground. All the shopping bags clattered, a tin of alphabet spaghetti bounced and hit me in the forehead. I closed my eyes as noise and people swirled around me. Someone helped me sit up, a woman’s voice calmly told me everything was all right. I could hear things being gathered, the crackle of plastic bags. I wanted to leave my eyes closed, for someone else to sort and fix everything for a change.

But the woman must have brushed something off my face, the touch was gentle and reassuring. I opened my eyes, expecting to see a kind stranger’s face. But it was Billy, using my handkerchief to wipe away the tears that had started to roll down my cheeks.

Inspired by a writing group prompt.

[Photo: writing journal collection]

Blue Mountain Sunsets (Words by Henry Lawson)

Now in the west the colours change,

The blue with crimson blending;

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Sunset viewed from Mount Victoria looking over the Hartley Valley

Behind the far Dividing Range,

The sun is fast descending.

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Sunset viewed from Mitchell’s Lookout, Mount Victoria

And mellowed day comes o’er the place,

And softens ragged edges;

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Sunset in the Hartley Valley

The rising moon’s great placid face

Looks gravely o’er the ledges.

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Sunset in Main Street, Lithgow

Excerpt from The Blue Mountains by Henry Lawson

[Photo: backyard sunset]

In Anticipation of Creative Endeavours

Earlier this week I wrote about anticipating spring, and how this shows itself in a myriad of ways from early blossoms to the proliferation of buds. It reminded me of the importance of having something to look forward to, that intoxicating sense of anticipation.

This has resulted in a quick assessment of where I am at the moment in a creative sense. In my working life I am task oriented and love crossing items off my to-do list. Occasionally I think that if I applied the same approach in my creative life, I’d get a lot more done. This is probably true, but my creative side seems to resist any attempt to contain it in such a structured format. I know I could, but I don’t want to. Somehow it seems too important to have the flexibility to go where my creativity leads, rather than corralling it with constraints.

So what am I looking forward to, creatively speaking? I have a few ideas tucked into the pages of my writing notebooks for future projects, and these will continue to germinate as I go about my daily routines. I have two stories on the go at the moment, one of them triggered by a vivid dream. Both are longer than my usual outings and that in itself creates a sense of delight. Usually with a short story I have a fair idea of what I’m working towards, but both of these stories are taking their own sweet time to reveal the end and that makes the process quite intriguing.

Recently I have started reading a book of ten short stories with accompanying essays by the writers revealing insights into their craft and the genesis of their particular story. I have dipped in and read a couple so far and have been invigorated but have resisted the urge to read them too quickly. Some things are better digested slowly and savoured.

Another source of creative anticipation is something about me but not something that I have created. By chance I came across some interesting drawings on Instagram by an artist called Carly Zandstra. A few weeks back she posted a drawing of her head in a phrenological kind of way. There is a link to the post here which will make more sense. I was so impressed that I made contact and Carly is creating something similar for me, based on things that matter to me. I am really looking forward to what Carly has come up with – another version of my creative self.

So right now there are still stories to write, different worlds to ponder, stories to be read and a head full of ideas to fuel my sense of creative anticipation.

What are you looking forward to, creatively speaking?

[Photo: phrenology head spotted at a market]

In Anticipation of Spring

There are signs of spring throughout the Blue Mountains, even in the upper mountains which is usually a bit late to the party. Bright swathes of wattle provide flashes of yellow to draw the eye, and there are bulbs erupting in masses of colour.

A particular favourite of mine are the flowering trees. Some of the ornamental fruit trees have started to flower in my neighbourhood, bristling with pink flowers that are heavenly to walk by. There is a large magnolia tree adorned with buds, some already starting to reveal the creamy flowers contained within.

Wandering around my garden I can spot bulbs that are thickening and preparing to put on a display of colour and scent. Daisy shrubs and roses are showing spurts of growth, and rhododendron shrubs and trees are suddenly heavy with buds.

One of my favourite springtime experiences is a cherry tree that I can see from my kitchen window. In early autumn I watched the leaves as they curled and fell, and now the bare branches are beginning to be tickled by buds, bright fluffs of green that over the next couple of months will morph into delicate white and pink flowers which have a beautiful scent. It is a glorious explosion to delight the senses, and it has come to epitomise some of the joys of spring for me each year.

I await these gradual changes with a keen sense of anticipation.

What seasonal changes are you looking forward to in your garden?

[Photo: buds on the cherry tree]