Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Looking for a word for new artworks

I’ve been coming back to creativity for a few weeks via back channels, initially combining some old photos from 2007 with a sonnet written in 2014 (and edited in 2020), the photos taken at Top Ryde, a place in the north of Sydney, at a time when I was struggling. In fact it was the beginnings of a mental breakdown the following year. 

The sonnet describes some of what that episode felt like, but while the images were taken when I was unwell the poem was written at times when my mental health was stable. It’s very difficult to write coherently when you’re in the middle of a crisis, the sense gets jumbled and you cannot express yourself with the force necessary to communicate with a reader, though because memory persists over time it’s possible to make something meaningful at a later date.

I got the Top Ryde photos printed at Pixel Perfect in Chippendale, they do good work and are not expensive. It’s far and away the best way to get a good result for a reasonable outlay. I got encouragement when I went to the Sydney World Film Festival over a few nights this month, it was also in Chippendale in the Central Park complex on Broadway. I’m able to get there by bus by catching the 309, which is handy, and I spoke one night with a woman who listened to my problem and made appropriate comments.

I then had another problem with nomenclature for the new assemblages I also started making (using words combined with images) as “montages”. This word has a specific meaning in the world of filmmaking that is different from what I’m doing, however, and so I set myself a goal of coming up with an alternative label. Initially I thought about “imards” and “compomages” but such portmanteau words are a bit pretentious, so when an old secondary school friend suggested “paramontages” I was delighted.

This word exactly captures what I want to do, which is to go beyond (“para” as a prefix can mean “beyond” whatever it is attached to) mere assemblages of photographs. As I’ve made more of these compositions I’ve come to understand the possibilities of the form, how you can vary the colour of the text, or of the background underneath the text. How you can move the text box around the composition, placing it near the bottom or on an edge. There are a wide variety of subtle changes that can help to lend meaning to the whole.

On Monday 16 May I went to Pixel Perfect Prolab and picked up one I’d made the week before, the thing came in a tube (I asked about reuse but was told I could bring it back the next time or not, they didn’t have a preference) which I carried home on the bus. I was very pleased with the result but regretted that I hadn’t used italics for some of the text (a word in Italian), placing the finished object on a bookshelf upstairs in the studio with four other items they’d made for me.

Saturday and Sunday were busy days, and even when I got back on Monday I made two more of the files (I use JPEG format) having become used to the manual labour involved to get the job done. Working like this is easy for me as for many years I did desktop publishing with a variety of software packages including graphics editors, and manipulating the interface took me back to those many years of happy toil when I was working in Japan for a manufacturing company. 

The object has changed but the skills are the same. 

I still find it hard to sit down and draw because of the many wasted years. I’d wanted to be an artist but dad’d wanted me to go to university to study and get a degree so being a dutiful son I complied with his wishes, which was disastrous for my health and wellbeing. Had I chosen to be more bolshie when I was 17 my life would’ve turned out very differently but going against the man’s wishes was for me impossible as I loved him and even if he was stubborn he was a good communicator.

While the lost time bothers me, by making paramontages I feel connected with both of my legacy skillsets, the design talent firmed up by years of doing layout, and the writing.

I started writing poetry in 2007 after I got some stability in my life, and wrote constantly also on the blog and professionally as a journalist over the years since 2009 (when I went freelance). Paramontages give me access to a broad range of capabilities in creating meaning, so I plan to make more of them in future. My current plans include matching more of my sonnets with photographs, including for one work where the photos haven’t yet been taken. Look forward to it.

The paramontage above is 'Syntax prescribes - II', which includes images taken on 2 June 2019 between 11.01am and 12.51pm and words written on 9 December 2020; 8, 9, 11, 20 March and 15, 26 September 2021. 

Friday, 13 May 2022

More hybrid works (paramontage)

The deskwork needed to make these works is onerous so I've been putting off getting stuck into the final two. I wish I could locate someone to do it for me. Yesterday I visited the print shop, Pixel Perfect Prolab, in Chippendale and picked up five large items they'd done for me, including two paramontages. I wonder if they have an editing service that I could use to get the assembly work done by someone other than me. Having worked in a publishing unit for many years I am competent to do the work but it's boring and difficult.

I've settled on the term "paramontage", it was suggested to me by an old school friend who himself writes poetry. I'd contemplated "montage" but this term is used in the cinema industry and has a specific meaning, though one close to what I envisage. "Paramontage" is a portmanteau word that encapsulates the complexity of my aim, but that veers off into new territory. Thanks Andrew.

The two new works that I'm still in the process of finalising are 'George Street shuffle - I' and 'George Street shuffle - II', the titles deriving from two sonnets I wrote over a period of several years. I won't include the text here (you'll have to wait) but they look at the modern world in a way that allows the photographs that accompany them to add to the signification of the whole. In a mechanised world made up of images and words it's difficult to embody the often overwhelming significance of stray moments, and my aim is to say something with these works that represents a world view. 

Comments welcome (the mockups below might be a bit small though: sorry).

Above: George Street shuffle - I

Images Canon PowerShot A530, 5 July 2008 12.22pm to 3.47pm  
Words20 and 21 September, 12, 25 and 26 November, 2020; 15 and 23 September 2021

Above: George Street shuffle - II

Images – Canon PowerShot A530, 26 June 2008 2.07pm to 4.10pm
Words –
25 and 26 November, and 11 and 26 December, 2020; 14 January and 20 September 2021; 13 May 2022

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Build ring train line to fully utilise Sydney living space

The Sydney Morning Herald as usual was spruiking development today (see pic below) as it turned its focus onto Parramatta where high-rise construction has been changing the aspect of the view for travellers on the M4 for the past 20 years. This is nothing new.

I've got nothing against development, we need more housing as people change their work habits and spend more time at home. As the borders fully open up and more people come to Australia to live the pressure on rents will continue to increase as well. But let's really talk about how to "transorm" the city, let's build a ring train line linking Botany Bay to Parramatta (see pic below), and open up more urban area to the possibility of high-rise development.

If you could get the residents of Vaucluse to participate they could cut down on the horrible commute that people who live out that way must tolerate at peak hours on the roads snaking along the harbour. Imagine if you could get from Watsons Bay to Bondi Junction in 20 minutes at 8.30am, instead of the protracted crawl it requires now?

There is scads of unused land within the existing boundaries of Sydney (Eora) right now, there's in fact no need to go further west to take up viable farmland, we can accommodate twice the number of people as we have now within the same urban and periurban footprint if we put in more public transport. The LNP government has done a stellar job, replacing the neglect of Labor with investment in infrastructure that's desperately needed, but we can do more. Not all train lines need to via Central Station.

Friday, 6 May 2022

Hybrid works in progress

Since moving over 15 months ago to this house I've been organising artworks. Many things that mum and dad had in their records, and that had been rolled up in cylinders, have been taken out and sent away to be straightened. I have a good conservator who specialises in paper objects and she's been flattening prints including some linocuts I made 40 years ago.

About 15 years ago, after I returned to live in Australia following a sojourn in Japan that took me to the edge of endurance, I snapped some photos in a number of different streets. Years later I wrote poems to chronicle my experiences, and now I've married those productions with my demonic approach to art by conceiving these "hybrid" objects that have photos and poems. I've bundled up the materials ready to go to the framer.

Above: Top Ryde, Sydney (Eora)

Above: Burwood Road, Sydney (Eora)

Above: Marlowe Street, Sydney (Eora)

Still to decide are construction elements, including the mat board colour and the type of frame. I'm thinking that a taupe board and a dark brown frame for 'Burwood Road', an olive green board and a pale green frame for 'Top Ryde'. I haven't though enough about 'Marlowe Street' yet to have a firm idea about what to use for it.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

Back from the wilderness …

.. to start the autumn with flying colours I finished my first book in six weeks, a collection of poetry and prose put out by Southerly. The review I wrote, finished this morning, is for inclusion on a literary review’s website but I felt something move inside me when I completed the article and sent it off by email to the editors. It’s been six weeks since I read a book, and what’s on my ledger next is something about marriage published 90 years back. 

It’s also a book about a place I am familiar with, Sydney Harbour, where I grew up half a lifetime ago. 

Like many of my friends I mucked about with boats and I have boats in artworks in the new hang I made for my living room (see below). A big item is being worked on at the framer’s currently, a valedictory flag my uncle Elmer received at his place of work when he quit, which I’m having mounted and readied to hang so that it will last decades.

Like the 1988 painting of a stranded yacht shown above. Mum had it on her apartment wall in Maroochydore when we lived there, and I’d had it up in one of the bedrooms but brought it down to feature more prominently because I thought it deserved attention. My nautical theme continues in other works shown, and additionally I include family snapshots (brother, father, uncle) plus a cartoon an artist in Hawaii made one time we visited the archipelago. 

In Waikiki the water’s always fine, it’s getting too cold in Sydney for swimming.

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Apologies for interruption ..

 .. I will be back, I just need time. With a rough start to the year punctuated by excessive violence in Europe, as well as troubles on a personal front, I've taken a break from reading novels and books of history. Please be patient, this break is temporary and I'm already planning a return. Just not right now.

This photo was taken this morning just before writing the post you're reading. Proof of existence at least!

Thursday, 3 March 2022

Take two: The Seven Good Years, Etgar Keret (2015)

I bought this book at Elizabeth’s in Newtown when I was there to see ‘Dune’, the movie directed by Denis Villeneuve. I had 20 minutes to kill before my friend arrived and wanted something to read while I waited in the cinema vestibule.

I chose a Rob McHaffie drawing to go in the background of this photo with the cover of ‘The Seven Good Years’. McHaffie is Australian and chooses quirky subjects for his works, which I think complements Keret’s book nicely. Full review on Patreon. 

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Take two: The Green Man, Kingsley Amis (1969)

I am not sure where I bought this book but it must’ve been second-hand (probably at the 2MBS FM Book and CD Bazaar) because there’s a “$4” sticker inside the front left there by some retail clerk. It’s a good price for an entertaining read. The cover illustration is a touch misleading, though there’s ghosts in the story, which is about a pub with the name that appears in the title.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this novel, which appeared to me – though it falls into the later opus of the novelist’s work, which I read about not long before in a biography – as it compares well to the work of his son, Martin. In fact, I venture to say that Kingsley is the better writer. Full review on Patreon. 

As a background in this photo I chose a small painting by Renata Pari-Lewis, ‘Untitled III’. It’s an interior but it also has strong abstract tendencies, unlike Amis, who spurned high modernism though he borrowed ideas from it. A truly contrary personality, but in many ways an attractive one. Perhaps I’m showing my age.

Friday, 18 February 2022

Take two: Splitting, Fay Weldon (1995)

I bought this book at a stall outside the recent council election polling place. It cost a dollar or something like that, and so was excellent value for money.

The picture in the background was bought from a woman in the south of Sydney via Facebook Marketplace. It’s a strange 90s painting of a woman in outdated dress, so it suits this stylised novel of madness and solidarity for women. Read full review on Patreon. 

Monday, 14 February 2022

Take two: Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio (2012)

This was bought at a bookstore in Leichhardt, a suburb of Sydney. It was bought new but I’ve had it in my collection for a decade without reading it. The confusing publication data says the book was published first in 1862 but a website contains more reliable information. I can’t account for the neglect of this excellent book other than by saying that the Oscar it won for the movie probably put me off: I like to browse in the shadows.

For the background I chose a flag in my collection. I’ve actually got two flags, one of which at the time of reading the book was at the framers’ waiting to be mounted. For a full review, read my Patreon. 

Thursday, 10 February 2022

Take two: Boxing with Shadows: Travels in China, Brian Johnston (1996)

I bought this book at Vinnies for three dollars. It’s a Melbourne University Press publication and was originally sold for $22.95. This is an edition that came out in 2006, by which time China’d changed remarkably compared to how it features in Johnston’s narrative.

I took this photo in front of a linocut I made after my trip to Japan in 1982. The structure in the print resembles the building on the cover of the book, especially the twisted roofs. Full review on Patreon. 

Monday, 7 February 2022

Take two: Marcel Proust: A Life, Edmund White (1999)

I don’t know when this was bought but it was at some point after 2009, when this edition appeared in print. The book was bought used but there is no sticker on any part of it to indicate where this occurred. 

Pairing the cover with a photo of my maternal grandparents on their wedding day was intentional. This picture – blown up by my mother and framed when we lived in SE Queensland – sits on xthe staircase among drawings my daughter made when she was small. Some of the drawings were also framed by mum, who enjoyed going to the shop to choose something fitting, this creative activity adding diversion to her mostly utilitarian days. Full review on Patreon. 

Friday, 4 February 2022

Take two: The Circle, Dave Eggers (2013)

I don’t know when this was bought but it must’ve been in 2017 as that was when this edition was published. The sticker on the back says it was bought at Dymocks. Now, there’s a Dymocks on George Street in the CBD and because I used to go for walks from my apartment in Pyrmont it could’ve been bought there but I have no recollection of the event. I suspect that this was what happened, however, as such a solution makes most sense.

I’ve taken this photo of the book’s cover in front of a mid-century painting by a deceased family friend. An old family friend. I chose Pixie’s painting as ‘The Circle’ contains new money from IT and one of the founders likes the mid-century aesthetic. In fact ‘The Circle’ is about a large company like Meta or Alphabet and Eamon Bailey, the art connoisseur, has flair and panache. Full review here.

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Take two: The Dry, Jane Harper (2016)

I got this for a dollar at a stall at the recent municipal elections. A bargain and well worth the pocket change. I finished the book in just over a day’s time.

The photo shows a drawing of a grevillea by a friend. For a full review, see my Patreon

Monday, 31 January 2022

Movie review: Seaspiracy, dir Ali Tabrizi (2021)

An ambitious Millennial goes on the search of Truth. At least, as it relates to the sea. 

That’s a lot of ground to cover in 100 minutes, and the result is relatively breathless, fraught with a sense of the filmmaker’s own drama. 

It’s actually about five separate movies in one. Or else it could’ve been done as a series. Yet a film like this, for all its faults, is clearly necessary. Opponents would call it virtue signalling. Not me, it’s just a shame that it’s such a raw and undercooked production. 

The lesson with regards to commercial fishing is important and needs to be spoken. Having written a number of stories about fishing myself I knew a lot of the details the film retails in but still I learned new things, though I wonder at all of the graphs Tabrizi uses to illustrate the extent of the damage humanity’s made to the oceans’ fishing stocks. Where do they get the numbers from? 

Tabrizi doesn’t explain. For most people the lack of such clarifying information might pass unnoticed but I’ve written stories for magazines that have the same sense of discovery as Tabrizi’s film contains, so I know where he’s coming from. Like world population figures, Tabrizi’s fish stock numbers have to be taken as a given, as though God himself had written them down on tablets of stone. 

I would’ve liked more information but the lack of this crucial data is all of a piece with the film’s amateurish approach to its subject. A more mature editor might’ve underscored the importance of transparency. As it is, Tabrizi’s film seems destined for oblivion, yet the film is edited efficiently and the viewer’s interest never flags, Tabrizi covering a lot of ground in a short time. But, like his tendency to credit those whose ideas consone with his own, this is a weakness. He starts out looking at plastic in the oceans then skips to dolphins and their killing, and before long he’s concentrating his efforts of trawlers. If you stop and think you can see the downside in this magpie-like strategy. Jumping like a rock skipped across the surface of a calm body of water Tabrizi allows his youthful charm – look at this, do you see what I see?! – to beguile the watcher, but a more educated or discerning mind must pause and ask questions. 

The matter of numbers is one but there are others, too, not least the fleets of such developing economies as China. Tabrizi doesn’t talk enough about the mechanisms used to police compliance with regulations relating to the oceans. He stops short in covering the issue of slavery. He misses out on a lot of “angles”. He could spend his whole life making movies about how we treat the sea and still not tell the whole story. This film could’ve easily been made into a whole series of shorter episodes and I hope Tabrizi one day goes further.

Sunday, 30 January 2022

Take two: The Cantos of Ezra Pound (1934)

I cannot say for sure how long this volume has been in my collection but there’s no sticker on it so it might’ve been bought from Amazon. The page edges are not all clean so it’s been a while, but the US price printed on the back cover is US$25.95, which means the purchase is fairly recent.

To go with the book cover I’ve chosen photos of my maternal grandfather, who was a Communist. Harry died of skin cancer in the 50s, so was probably born at about the same time as his more famous coeval. I know nothing about Pound beyond a short sketch in Wikipedia and some faint memories that’ve been gathering dust in the attic of my mind like old clothes. Before I put them on they’ll need to be repaired, so I will try to find a biography of this interesting author. Here's my review.

Saturday, 29 January 2022

Movie review: Say Yes Again, dir Harry Shui (2021)

This curious Taiwanese homage to ‘Groundhog Day’ (1993) has a distinct feel, the sentimental romance of Cai (Guo Shu Yao) and Luke (Kent Tsai) giving it a bright lustre that the comedic original lacked. Every morning Luke wakes up and goes through the motions of asking Cai to marry him and every time he does this he collapses in a faint and goes unconscious. When he doesn’t repeat the steps the day of his marriage proposal has mapped out for him he’s delivered a message that knocks him out anyway and so the cycle continues unabated. 

How he counters this tendency is where the drama fits in, but how real is it all? This concept movie forces you to stretch the boundaries of logic as you try to make sense of the plot, but it’s also topical in that the drama is centred on a failure of Luke to be adequately responsive to his girlfriend’s needs. I was deeply impressed and really enjoyed everything about the movie even Luke’s tendency to ham it up. To offset this distracting aspect of the main character, Cai is understated and austere. Cai’s friend Yao’s delicate beauty offers a contrast to Tsai’s conventional appeal.

This film was part of last year’s SciFi Film Festival.

Friday, 28 January 2022

Take two: Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power, David McKnight (2012)

I bought this book a long time ago – almost ten years! – but for some reason never got around to reading it until now. It was probably bought at Books of Buderim. It’s from Allen & Unwin and cost $33 – the recommended retail price (I assume) – which is a fact because there’s a sticker on the back cover. At the time of reading I hadn’t bought a new hardcopy book for a period of months.

I chose for this photo to take the picture in front of a painting by Darren Munce bought from a little gallery in Thirroul. I like the abstract tendency of the work of art and the black it uses to convey meaning chimes with the same colour on the book’s cover. Red and black two colours that, for me, have special significance. If you want to read the full review, you’ll have to subscribe with Patreon. If you do, you’ll be able to understand why I gave this book a rating other than “positive”. 

Thursday, 27 January 2022

Movie review: Bordertown: Mural Murders (2021)

At the beginning of this wonderful sequel Kari (Ville Vertannen) is in a mental institution that reminded me – with its faded glamour, a relic of a forgotten past resuscitated in the modern day – of the hospital in Tokyo I was put into in 2000 for a similar reason. Kari’s out of the force and is dishevelled with a raggedy beard and uncut hair, but Heikkinen (Johan Storgård) brings him onto the case of a murderer who’s been dubbed the “Judge” because he or she kills people listed on social media as unnecessary. The way the crowd cancels people these days on account of their actions or even their words enters the frame of ‘Bordertown’ with its dark glamour.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by Kari’s post-crisis docility. In movies and TV shows madness is often portrayed like this, or else it’s a kind of mania. A more realistic representation of mental illness might be harder to find as it’d require specialised knowledge in the scriptwriting stage. Most writers for cinema and TV won’t have the necessary knowledge that’d allow them to understand what something as obscure as delusion looks like, or would look like if you were trying to depict it on film.

Real life behaviour and acting being necessarily different. Kari’s quiet moroseness seems likely but it’s somehow distant from my lived experience. Whereas a person really suffering from this type of debility might be difficult to deal with and irrational at times of stress, Kari seems, when he’s inside the dilapidated hospital with his high ceilings and moulded doors, to be quite comfortable. He’s unfazed by the gruesomeness of the murder that Heikkinen brings to his attention, whereas in real life it would be traumatic for him to be confronted again by scenes – in a photo or relayed via words in a conversation – that would quickly bring back the trauma that’s led to his retirement from the force.

But this is fiction and it doesn’t really matter if it’s not true-to-life. Or does it? A show like ‘Bordertown’ stakes its reputation on its ability to both capture the viewer’s imagination and to offer a type of verisimilitude that daytime soaps, for example, long ago left behind in their quest for ratings. ‘Bordertown’ captured some of the gravitas of soapies in the three seasons that came before the feature-length movie currently being reviewed, and it furthermore trades upon the sense of history that that involved, Kari becoming for the filmmakers a kind of legend, and his sidekick Lena providing a grisly counterpoint to his slow intelligence. Nobody solves crimes like Kari and no-one gets the truth out of a witness or a perpetrator like Lena.

The trick for the filmmakers in this additional feature is to make something both novel and identifiable. I think they’ve one a good job with ‘Mural Murders’ but I wonder if more instalments will get made. It might be time to retire the animal.

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Take two: The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, F Scott Fitzgerald (1958)

The publication date shown above is for the Bodleigh Head collection, and isn’t the original publication date for these stories, which all came out originally in the 20s and 30s. I’m not sure when this Penguin book came into my possession but it has “$8” written in pencil on the first page. On the same page is a signature with the year “1972” written in the same hand, so that’s when the original owner got it.

I took this photo in the living room and in the background are a number of items. The painting was given to me and the linocut above it was framed when I lived in Maroochydore. It shows a boat and is one I did when I was about 20 years old. The ceramic camera on the entertainment cabinet is by Alan Constable. 

A camera is a curious device as the name derives from the Latin word for “room”. A camera uses a closed-off space in order to function. Fitzgerald’s ultimate demise puts him, to a degree, in a closed space. A casket is closed, and since I don’t believe in the soul once you’re dead it means you have no way to communicate with the living. Unless you’re a writer. This book offers the reader some puzzles, which I talk about in my Patreon review. Subscribe if you want to learn more. 

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

TV review: Bordertown, seasons 2 and 3, Netflix (2018-20)

The bodies keep piling up but what gets me with this show is how people are allowed to have feelings. It’d probably be nice if the filmmakers showed in more detail how victims of crime and their families deal with all the murders, but even without that focus there are lots of slow shots with people just being themselves, plain and unadorned. Having awkward conversations. I think back to ‘Doc Martin’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory’ to find other examples of shows with neurologically atypical protagonists, people whose unique ways of seeing the world animate the shows and make them engaging. I think about my own character, and reflect back on my personal history to find traces there of strangeness. What is “usual”? What is normal? Who’s to say that I’m not? 

In ‘Bordertown’ atmospheric aerial scenes capture columns of cars angling through the Finnish countryside and are skilfully mixed with shots of the interior of police headquarters and people’s bedrooms. At the same time a secondary story involving Kari’s (Ville Virtanen) wife Pauliina (Matleena Kuusniemi) evolves to emphasise the human side of the show. It’s striking how important such things become for the viewer, and you get a sense of what the producers are trying to do as they slow down the action so that a look or a glance can take on epic proportions. In a way that reminded me of daytime soaps.

As in the first season the Russian angle is prominent in the first two episodes, which involve an historical crime Lena (Anu Sinisalo) has a connection to. Her daughter Katia (Lenita Susi) plays a part in this plot, which inducts a retired special forces soldier from across the border into the life of Lappeenranta. 

A major innovation in season 2 is Kari’s hallucinations. These strange scenes aren’t introduced by any special effects – for flashbacks you get a washed out palette, by contrast – so you segue seamlessly from a segment that carries the story forward (as usual, at a fast pace) to a dreamy conversation between Kari and someone from his chequered past. As a narrative device, this tactic adds drama while avoiding the trap of taking the viewer too far from the main plotline.

‘Bordertown’ switches to winter mode in season 3 but it’s always creative, and the way it helps the filmmakers interrogate humanity keeps you grounded because it avoids facile voyeurism. The importance of overarching themes – such as loyalty, power, or wealth – thus remains central. I watched in wonderment as Kari’s daughter Janina (Olivia Ainali) went off the rails, but these scenes were only possible because of how Kari’s family is involved effortlessly into the crimes rendered in dark tones. 

Colours full of night and love. It’s hard to see how you could get further from a stereotypical Hollywood variation on a well-trod map. Do we really need more police procedurals? If they’re as good as this one, I think they’re definitely warranted. Some people are addicted to the suspense, to the undertones of sin, to the strange symbiosis of prison and its colleague – a kind of populated freedom.

Although ‘Bordertown’ almost jumps the shark in season 2 eps 9 and 10 (‘Without a Shadow’), as each episode is unfolded – with quick shifts of focus from office to apartment building forecourt, from bedroom to crime scene – it’s almost impossible to work out the pattern and you wonder how the filmmakers are going to get it back in its envelope. The design is large and their vision is expansive: this ambitious show wants it all, even our memories.

Monday, 24 January 2022

Take two: Worm: The First Digital World War, Mark Bowden (2011)

I bought this book at QBD (Queensland Book Depository) in or after February 2013. At the time I was living in the Sunshine Coast and there was a QBD store down at Sunshine Plaza where I’d drop by to pick up things from their sale tables when I had a few minutes free and when I was down that way. The book cost me $7.99.

In the background in this photo are two engineers in my life. On the bottom is my father, Peter. On the top is my brother Peter. Brother Peter is a computer programmer and dad was a sales engineer for Honeywell. I’m not sure what brother Peter would make of this book (I’ll have to ask him next time was talk) but dad would’ve enjoyed it as it’s quite easy of access, and includes a short history of the origins of the Internet (yes, it’s capitalised in the book). Full review on Patreon. 

Sunday, 23 January 2022

A year in review: Creativity, part two

This memorial contains almost a month’s worth of parts – though not all of ‘em are about art! – and the post you’re reading is the thirtieth (final instalment) in the series. 

On 12 August my friend Ming came over (she’d moved out by this time) and spent the day in her studio on the first floor, painting. She made me help her move the desk away from the wall – she’s always concerned about feng shui, and this small change (which we accomplished without any trouble) meant she’d be sitting in the centre of the room with the windows to her left and a blank wall in front of her. I didn’t ask her why she’d wanted to change the arrangement of the furniture, but imagined, when I thought about it afterward, that it was preferable to have the wall more distant from her head, giving her more room to think. I took her home in the car just after 5pm and left her outside her apartment building; her boyfriend Omer was to arrive shortly but I called him as I was driving back to check that he’d met up with her.

Ming’d called me at about 11am the next day to ask me to come and pick her up. When I arrived at her flat she had some rice paper sheets in plastic sleeves that she wanted to bring over, and she gave me these to put in a bag then changed her mind when she suspected that doing so might cause them to be creased – she had books also she wanted to put in the black tote she’d handed me to carry. Before getting back to my house we stopped at Botany and I found a parking spot so she could go into a Chinese restaurant and buy prepared food, which she ate when we got to my place. For most of the afternoon I was downstairs reading a book while she plied her brushes, her water, and her black ink.

The next day she came over even earlier and stayed in her studio painting all day, so that it wasn’t until about 5pm that I took her in my car back to her building. She got me to walk with her down to Botany Road at one point late in the afternoon so that she could buy some fried food at the fish and chip shop. I used my gate key to get back inside then operated the digital lock to open the front door so that we could stroll indoors. On this day she made paintings on Styrofoam that had been covered with pasted sheets of rice paper, one painting being of a river and the other of a house with a tree standing outside it.


On 20 August another request for illustrations by Adelaide came through, again from a UK outfit. I passed the email to Ada’s Gmail address but she was very busy with other work and just asked me to find out the scope of work. I emailed the sender who replied and I passed this to Adelaide who said she’d reply in a week, and the guy, whose name is Jon, when appraised of the situation, was willing to wait, averring that there was no hurry and that they could hold their horses while Ada sorted her workload. 

The other English company that had commissioned work from Adelaide was Universal Music, and because they have Japanese staff most of their communication was done in Japanese. I did help with some emails however, making sure Ada understood what they contained, and crafting replies on her behalf. I didn’t make a note of when the money was paid but it did come through to my account. I got back to Jon on 7 September and asked him if he could set up an online meeting where the job could be discussed. He didn’t reply however, probably because Ada’d delayed more than the promised week before telling me she wanted to know more. I slated this failure down to a learning experience for my daughter as it’s tricky to do business across cultural boundaries and what might seem inconsequential (being late after a promise) to a Japanese person (who might be more willing to come to understand that there had been extenuating circumstances) might be unpardonable for an Englishman. I mused ruefully and a mite sagely that international business can be complex.


On 10 September I got another request from Fevers of the Mind literary review to do a book review. I’d done some for David O’Nan in July and in September he sent me two more books, one as an ebook. I had a response from Sadie Maskery, whose book ‘Push’ I reviewed at this time, a delightful chapbook containing suggestive and evocative poems that describe a world of pain and pleasure. Sadie thanked me on Twitter and even said she’d post her book in a hard copy, but I declined as it’s 8km to my PO box and we were in lockdown when I learned of her offer. 

The day before I’d spoken to my psychiatrist for the first time about my dreams of being an artist, and how my father’d crushed them when I was 17 years old – old enough to have a sense of responsibility that would prompt you to ask this person for permission to drop a subject at school, but young enough so that his decision could ruin your entire life. My psychiatrist understood with words and nods of his head how my feelings of resentment would now prevent me from making art. I felt heard for the first time and remembered what friends’d said when I talked in this way, how they’d just pressed me to begin regardless of what the past contained. 

I made a mental note to return to this subject the next time I met Dr Ouzas but in the meanwhile went back to those painful memories as part of a new project that could – given enough time and reflection – possibly help me to overcome it. I had asked an old university friend who lives in her native Poland if she wanted to do a series of blogposts with me about works in my collection. The idea was to single out one piece and get my correspondent to ask five questions that I’d then answer with the result then published on the blog. However, Basia wasn’t free to do this because she was making her own videos about her art practice and was also working full time as a curator. So I asked Roger, an old secondary school friend who lives in northern New South Wales, and we started with the first post, about Joash Tuinstra’s ‘Bondi’, a painting in my living room, on 7 October.

When I got tracks put up in October, increasing the amount of wall space this type of fitting makes available for pictures, which hang off the rails on cords (also called “drops”), I was reminded of mum in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. In the staircase I’d promised myself to hang drawings made by my daughter when she was small, and once Ollie had gone home on the day the work was done I set about putting things up. Four colourful crayon drawings of the family – me, my ex-wife, Adelaide and her brother Vivian – found space to display their naïve charm. The pictures’d been framed many years previously when mum and dad had received them in the mail from Japan, where I lived at the time with my family. There’s still a sticker from the framers’ in Maroochydore on the back of each picture showing where the work was done. Mum and dad used a fake bamboo-effect frame and had them sitting in alcoves on a wall in their apartment overlooking the estuary.

I never thought about the bamboo until I considered another picture that mum had framed – this one done much later, once dad was in a nursing home and mum and I were living close to each other in Cotton Tree. It’s a photo of her aunt when Madge lived in Japan on account of the Commonwealth occupation. Madge was teaching the children of servicemen and their wives and was in Japan for about five years living in military establishments. Mum had a photo showing Madge playfully pretending to eat out of a hot pot, though it’s clear from looking at her fingers that she’s not holding the chopsticks properly; given the way the implements sit in her fingers, nothing could be picked up and transported to her mouth. Mum had the photo cropped so that a Japanese woman who’d been in the original was missing from the framed version, and mum also used a fake bamboo-effect frame for this item. In fact the manufacture of the frame is the same as it was for the children’s drawings apart from a different colour being used to paint it: for the photo of Madge the frame is black whereas for Adelaide’s drawings the frame is silver. I find it curious that mum chose an stereotypically “Asian” design for these pictures in a way that would never have suited my taste. I’d have thought such a choice, if it had occurred to me and were it were my commission, gauche and insensitive. But perhaps there were things about my mother that she never talked about, things that slept inside her because they were things of which to be ashamed. “Oh, it’s nothing so strange,” you might think if you saw the five articles hanging on my walls, “your mother wasn’t racist.” But I’m not so sure. Mum never said anything to me about ethnicity being something she regretted in my choice of a wife, but my moving to Japan to live was unquestionably something that dad regretted. There were also recriminations when I left my family home and eventually the four portraits Adelaide’d made were taken down from their spot in their wall unit up north and mum didn’t put them her walls when she moved to a ground-floor apartment later on.


I got a new Patreon subscriber on 23 October after I did a book review on the blog. I normally don’t put book reviews on the blog anymore, preferring to make reading of them chargeable, but on this occasion a Facebook friend had promoted a new book of poetry on Messenger. I’d bought the book as a Mobi file and read it on my Kindle and it was very good so I made a positive review. The man whose poems make up the majority of the book said that he appreciated the favour, and took the time to commit a dollar a month to my Patreon. The next day, inspired by this small victory, I added some text to a blogpost containing a review of a TV show. The text went:

Wait a minute! If you’ve enjoyed this review you can read more at my Patreon – but you’d have to subscribe. It’s a small cost for regular book reviews that are as incisive and elegant as what you’ve just sampled. Your support is appreciated.

It contained a link to my Patreon site so people could just click through and make a pledge. Patreon works by charging a set amount – in my case I don’t specify how much the monthly charge is – and giving credit card or PayPal details so a deduction can be made. With the new subscriber I was getting $2 a month for my writing, which might seem like a pittance and which (in the event) would be almost totally eaten up by processing charges. 

On 14 November I posted on Twitter:

Did laundry y'day, then sold some books, went out to enquire abt art school, came home and salvaged a chest of drawers w a friend's help... Busy day.

The same morning I repeated myself, this time on Facebook:

Did laundry y'day, the weather held all afternoon and it only started to spit a bit quite late. Sold some books in the morning to a guy who'd bought some before and had this time seen the photo of media books I'd put up, and who took three of 'em ($5 each). Then I went by bus and taxi to enquire abt art school, which included a chat w the head of postgraduate studies who recommended me doing the bachelor's degree. I still haven't decided what to do and it's a bit weird as my portfolio is 40 years old. With two friends I came home at around 4.30pm and two of us salvaged a chest of drawers that had been left on the street in Botany just up the road ... Busy day.

Ming, Omer and I had stood in Building 11 talking with a master’s student who was on staff just for Open Day and who explained many aspects of student life for my benefit. She was standing with an older man from the academic staff. The woman introduced me to some of the parameters of the postgraduate program, including how you have to do more academic writing in order to pass, and how you need to have a plan of study for a major body of work, which also involves writing an exegesis. The man’s recommendation struck me as more plausible.

Even so after a few days I was disinclined to enrol. I gave the two of them a run-down of my story and while the man’s observation as to my fitness for advanced study seemed correct on reflection even then it seemed impossible for me to make this type of passionate commitment. The woman said I might be able to gain advance standing on account of the two years of Fine Arts I’d done in the 1980s, but since applications for the masters closed on 30 November (applications for the bachelors close on 6 January) and I’d need to make some new work before applying, in my heart of hearts I knew even the man was wrong and that I’d never apply. 

It might seem defeatist to admit defeat in this way but when looked at objectively it would be a miracle if I managed to get into even the bachelor’s course. In any case fees for either course are over $14,000 per year. For the moment ignoring the implications of such a high financial cost, I went to apply at the UAC website and got this message when I clicked on the relevant link: “Our application is unavailable between midnight and 7.30am (Sydney time) each day.” 

It was 7.20am. I’d been saved by my habit of rising early. The curse of my father would endure. A father’s curse is the worst sort because mothers generally do what their husbands advise. My own mother had never in my hearing even suggested to dad that preventing me from fulfilling my destiny and allowing me to drop French would be the best course to follow. In the first place the school betrayed me by putting the two subjects on the same day at the same time – confirmation if any was ever needed that the institution didn’t regard creative subjects as of equal importance as such subjects as maths or economics – and dad allowed their ban to apply. The evil was compounded when there was no discussion at home about dad’s decision to enforce compliance with his priorities – borrowing evil, in his turn, from the school – and ignoring mine. What I wanted was of no account. What the school thought was a suitable course of study was more important than what my innate talents dictated.

My happiness! Evil laid down upon evil in a close procession that led, like a conga line, to a party of disasters that overtook me with their rough credit when I was 39 years old. 

It took 32 years for this drama to play out, but once it had finished and once I was receiving the dozens of postcards and letters that dad’d prompted when he told family familiars that I was inside Jikei Idai Hospital, I truly felt on my shoulders the full weight of his oppression. His tyranny had, like an ouroboros, come full circle to eat its tail and now the man in his adversity was coping with the fallout of his own depravity and guile. To betray a child! The feeling of helplessness I experienced at that time would revisit me often over the years and would eventually turn into panic attacks that made it impossible for me to drive on some roads. I would struggle to even get to the house of a friend who lived on the other side of the airport so even local roads sometimes defeated me. I ended up taking three different medications in order to combat the conditions I laboured under as a result of a sense of duty.


On 6 December I finally moved the files for two sequences – ‘Winter Nouns’ and ‘Before Dawn’ – out of the “2021 poems” folder where they’d been stored since the middle of the year, this put a mark on them (or, at least, a date stamp) but it also gave them a substance – a meaning and significance –that before they’d lacked. Here’s the ‘Sequences’ folder at this time with nine subfolders sitting like princes on their thrones (the green tick means that the backup is current for the contents of the relevant files):

I hadn’t thought about which letters of the alphabet the two new sequences began with, but it occurred to me, once the shift had been completed, how there’s a pattern.

The day before I’d spent hours working on ‘Winter Nouns’, revising the whole of it twice in order to make sure expression was clear and that the selection of words ideal. Doing so therapeutic, giving me a way to focus on something meaningful apart from daily troubles, in a way much like reading a novel for enjoyment. Words are like anchors in the storms of life and they help me to pass the time when the demands of existence, troublesome and pressing, fix upon me like a boulder. Writing and reading alleviates the pain I feel when things don’t go my way. Some people might take the dog for a walk, play a computer game, listen to favourite music, or go shopping, but my best therapy is literary.

Saturday, 22 January 2022

A year in review: Creativity, part one

This memorial contains almost a month’s worth of parts – though not all of ‘em are about art! – and the post you’re reading is the twenty-ninth in the series. 

I didn’t do much writing in January with the exception of changes to some sonnets in ‘The Words to Say’, a sequence I put together the previous year. If you don’t remember, in 2020 it was assembled using bits and pieces written over the previous decade and added to in order to form something ambitious and verging on coherence. I kept my hopes alive.

Coherent, at least in my mind, though another reader might take a different position, and might instead see it as less than fantastical, possibly going so far as to say that it lacks unity. I respectfully refer such individuals to consult bees fanning wildflowers that I saw in the Wollongong Botanic Garden on 1 January.

My vision was, equally, both focused and scattershot, but made use of careful framing. I endeavour to render, in verse, the entirety of human civilisation from the most ancient Eurasian peoples to the boundaries of space exploration, from Greek warriors of antiquity to modern-day politicians. No-one could accuse me of laziness. If ambition is bad then I’m very bad indeed but in January I wasn’t thinking only about writing, I was also plotting out the linocuts I’d make once my studio/study was set up. A table was coming (said Joe, the builder/owner – he had one to give away as he’d sold his house) and I’d soon have a twelfth bookshelf. About twenty boxes – some containing books – sat on the floor of the studio waiting for someone to take their contents and place them in a more permanent and accessible situation. 

That would be me again, who paid a retailer for a bed to go on the wooden floor in the back bedroom on the first floor – the spare room, as I’d come to think of it – where, in cupboards that entirely line one wall, I’d resolved to stow photographs inherited when mum and her brother died, along with family records that’d similarly come down to me. 

A spare room had served this purpose in my old home in Pyrmont. In the new house space would be freer as guests couldn’t possibly own too many things, I mused, aware that, whatever I did a circumstance would change to block my assumptions or contradict inclination. In the event the photos didn’t go in this room until much later in the year, and in the interim remained for many months in the studio stored in boxes.  


What about art? I proposed an image segmented by lines made away from parallel. Three sections, each of which would contain a different design. A policeman, a flower, and something else (I hadn’t decided yet) in the bottom left corner. To get the design oriented the right way I’d have to scan the drawing or collage and flip it in GIMP, then print it out in reverse. The reverse image’d make the design for the cutting, from which prints’d be created with ink and paper. I liked my idea of combinations of various images: one moment settled against the next like friends in a suburban café. This one says one thing but that one says another and together they cause a dialogue to form. 

From a concert, after all, you get more meaning than from tuning instruments. Again that basic need for meaning to defeat the confusion of lived minutes, hours, days, weeks – though it’s hard to imagine life beyond the span of a week – two weeks an eternity in human terms since we dwell in tiny segments of time like ocean birds perched on a rock waiting for our cue to take flight so that we can dive for the best and biggest fish. Often the call never comes and we sit, frozen to the spot, intent on our own eventual destruction through the mechanisms of time roaring forward and breaking over us in silent waves. In silence, years beforehand, we watch this all happen in slow motion as, trapped in the everlasting present of meagre, manifold dreams, we cling to the gaps that pull with the wash of our beating hearts.


In the first full week of January I spoke on Facebook Messenger with my daughter Ada because another expression of interest in her illustrating work had come via the email address I’d set up. This was the second such email and the first from South Africa. We nutted out a reply and I sent an email to the gentleman whose company had a new project with the team coordinating it recommending Ada because they liked her drawings. This job however fell through because they wanted too many drawings too quickly, and Ada didn’t have the bandwidth to cope with their pace.

In the middle of February I offered a magazine posting on Twitter – it might’ve been on the timeline of the #poetry hashtag – a sonnet written in 2010 that had initially been published seven years earlier in Southerly, the literary magazine of Sydney University. The Twitter user had asked for published works to republish, and ‘On the Way to New England’ seemed like the perfect choice. When they accepted it (the link went up on 11 February) I was more than pleased.

Though not ecstatic. I had so many sonnets written – hundreds in fact – so then made a next step and on the morning of 13 February, I resuscitated my Patreon poetry page. I’d done so because I received an email from the company the day before in which management asked me about unclaimed funds. To address the issue I requested a reset for my password – in 2017 I’d stopped using the site because of problems logging in I’d tried, unsuccessfully by email, to resolve – and an enabling email now came through. 

There was also me now deciding to move book reviews off my blog and onto Patreon. In 2013 I’d first mooted getting subscribers to pay for reviews – not on Patreon, but rather on the blog. To enable the change in my tactic – the strategy was still the same (to be a professional reviewer, or at least a writer of some kind) – I set up an alternate Patreon account. I used Twitter to advertise the link and, on the 15th, pinned a promotional tweet. I also used LinkedIn to promote my Patreon page, and using Twitter DMs singly contacted select individuals asking, as a favour, if they could tweet to their followers the promotional link. 


Ming moved in on 18 February, making a mess of the downstairs area. Her boyfriend stayed over one night to help her settle in, but even with this help it was clear that it’d take a good deal of time for this process to complete. The two of them returned to Wollongong and on the morning of the 21st I drove down to help bring back more stuff that she’d not had the ability to include with the first load of belongings delivered by the removalists who’d come three days before.

By 7 March she’d been in the house long enough to complete one week of art school, and on that day in the morning – before her boyfriend woke up – we went for a walk through the streets talking about art. It was a still autumn day and boys and parents were setting up for a cricket match in the park as we spoke of styles, representation, and relevance. Jeff Koons impelled our conversation, and bypassing Pop art we made our way via Aboriginal art to Oriental art and the importance of white space. The previous evening I’d voiced disappointment with my own progress. I told her how, in recent days, using my Amazon Prime account, I’d accessed such composers as Beethoven, Schubert, and Bach. Their renditions of works in the Western tradition contained for me more pain than anything else, and I vocalised calmly in front of my two friends how I felt as though time had been stolen from me.

The pain was real and my realisation would only increase with time. I could feel something in my chest: a dull, persistent ache, like a severe case of influenza of the mortal soul but, in my case, it wasn’t a matter of staying in bed for a few days and reading some volumes of light prose. I had a case of a rare disease that afflicts only children of good households where the memory of deprivation is still alive. I’d entered a book that I’d read in childhood, and was, now, walking on streets I’d once dreamed of. I was my own dramatic plot, the denouement yet to be realised but promising oceans of anguish like what I’d already experienced so many times in the course of my long and eventful life. 

I’d needed to continue to be patient. To be kind to myself. Time might not do the trick, however when, in April, I bought tools for making linocuts I felt no urge to use and they sat in a paper bag on the floor of my studio. On the 24th I rearranged furniture, shifting the room’s unpacked cartons to sit under a desk or to stand beside the stairway where they’d be out of the way. I was making things ready – in my own time. It was as though I were eyeing the prize out of the corner of my eye and heading in a different direction from the one which’d allow me to seize it. 

Crab-walking my way through remembered torment. Why had I not been able to do what I most wanted to do? It struck me at times like this that artists who manage to get through the noise and past the obstacles obstructing their progress are mainly of a certain, dogged, determined type, society running interference on creativity which results in the survival of only a particularly extreme form of practice that negates tradition and the collective and, in order to valorise its own journey, deprecates care and the nurturing bias that a healthy relationship with the unknown should foster. Artists reject their creative forebears with the same lack of sympathy with which they reject the stultifying and – for the most part – rebarbative and antagonistic culture that daily surrounds them as they grow up, equating a love of artistic tradition with a love of the bourgeois culture that sustains their ideological enemies. So they reject everything lock, stock and barrel. A mistake. As for me, I’d come out the other side of the gauntlet naked and bleeding from still-fresh wounds, though others – people with thicker skins and more contrary ideas – emerge relatively unscathed but prompt to launch retrospective barbs at the those who – from whatever lack of empathy they’d themselves been brought up to prise – had rained down blows on the soft surfaces of their bent, shivering backs. 

With what, now, was my pain to be compared? It was no less real, what made me different being the fact that I’d come away without the artistic tools – in a visual sense – with which to insult my oppressors. I’d been pushed toward writing but had never had the talent for it that would enable me to support myself from practice. Which of them would ever be able or inclined to read this memorial? Only family and friends, I guessed. People who are like them will not venture to come forward either. My message will not get through, and so the thoughts of a compliant son and diligent brother will be ignored by yet another generation. 

All I wanted was a chance. I would’ve been the most deserving of servants. But it was not to be. Meanwhile, we accelerate on a shared trajectory toward nihilism and the Absolute from which it gains its winking glamour. 

Half measures are needed for the survival of the species, not totalising solutions. I still consented to feelings sustained by such thoughts six weeks later, on 28 May, when I came back to read them. 


On that day I also received a welcome boost for my ego when a person I know subscribed to my Patreon. Earlier in the month I’d by chance picked up a poetry anthology from the shelf in my studio – a place where I should’ve been, by this time, making art – and had read it eagerly as poetry is not something that often comes into my orbit. It just happened that the woman who pays me for reviews at Mascara Literary Review had some poems in that anthology, and I was impressed by them, in fact hers were among the pieces I singled out for praise. Then, a week or so later, I went to a poetry reading in Glebe where this same woman was reading her work. I stayed there for an hour or so then the next morning put up an account of the proceedings, and tweeted so that she would see it. It was then because I’d linked to my Patreon review of the anthology in my blog post that she subscribed.

Partly, I have no doubt, out of a sense of curiosity, but also partly, no doubt, out of solidarity – which is what had drawn me to the pub on that cold evening in autumn when I found a parking spot in a quiet street and on foot dodged traffic on Bay Street. There weren’t many people in the small room upstairs but those who’d gathered were of one mind and it was this sense of belonging – finally seeing and hearing things that consoned with their view of the world – that made them venture out in the middle of the working week to spend an hour hearing others’ thoughts expressed in a styled, considered and enduring form.

On 9 July I submitted two poems from a new sequence titled ‘Winter Nouns’ to Fevers of the Mind, using an email address posted on Twitter. This sequence uses a free form and is largely biographical. The poems submitted were ‘Ballad of Elmer Johansen’ and ‘Lavish soil sports a rich humus for fruit trees’. The folder the poems are stored in was made on 18 June, which indicates how much time’d been spent making them. By the morning of the 12th the editor still hadn’t replied to my email but on the 14th he published it on the blog.

Mostly I was writing in the early mornings, my days on the couch largely spent reading books of nonfiction or novels that I would review on Patreon. The poetry mostly took the form of sequences of linked sonnets, but ‘Winter Nouns’ allowed me to branch out in new directions. I also, at the end of July, started a sequence of shorter free-form poems titled ‘Before Dawn’. While ‘Winter Nouns’ is made up of poems (largely) in three parts – each part separated into two sections – ‘Before Dawn’ is made up of short lines in sets of three, with a split in the middle bisecting the poem. I don’t know why sectioning is so necessary for me to concentrate, but it might have something to do with the importance, in writing sonnets, of the 140-syllable structure. I seem to need structure in order to organise my thoughts. 
Perhaps I need to practice more. By this time I’d begun or finished a number of different sequences, the ones I was still working on being the ones listed below.
  • Winter Nouns (free-form, long)
  • Before Dawn (free form, short)
  • Salve (sonnets, miscellaneous)
  • Beaconsfield (sonnets, biographical)
  • Water Creature (sonnets, subject being the environment)
  • The Words to Say (sonnets, subject being the history of the world)
There are other sequences, but these are not ones I was working on, one aspect being, finally, after eight years, on 10 August bringing a poem about a paperbark out of ‘Salve’ – where it had unhappily (I now saw) sat among poems to do with the city, a locality to which I didn’t return until 2015 – and putting it into ‘Water Creature’, a sequence that mainly catalogues reactions to a tropical storm that came in over the continent in the Northern Territory and migrated slowly down the Queensland coast to finally end up petering out in central New South Wales. Rehousing this poem put punctation to a process started almost a decade before, and that, as well as removal and insertion, meant rewriting parts of the poem so it parsed better. 

For sonnets I make a note of when changes were made. In some years this wasn’t always my practice and I sometimes regret being lazy. The date can be important as with poetry often it’s biographical. In fact this is usually the case, and for my reviews I class poetry as nonfiction.

Friday, 21 January 2022

A year in review: Garden, part two

This memorial contains almost a month’s worth of parts – though not all of ‘em are about my garden! – and the post you’re reading is the twenty-eighth in the series. 

On the final day of October I went with Omer and Ming to Sylvania Waters to pick up three large pots found on Facebook Marketplace. The woman selling them was waiting at the end of a cul-de-sac in a white ute. Omer and I put $99 worth of pots upside down in the back of the RAV4 and drove back north, stopping at Wolli Creek to drop Ming off at her house. While there Omer and I visited a building on Gertrude Street to meet a man who took us down into the garage of his building where he had two pots for sale. He agreed to take $40 each for them – though together they’d been advertised at $90 – when I asked if he’d be willing to lower the price. Omer and I carried the heavy things, which came with ceramic stands, heading up in the lift to the street where I put mine down and went back to get the car from where I’d parked it in another street. Back at my place we put the pots in the garage next to the ones bought earlier in the day.

On 3 November I found someone in Abbotsford selling 12 ceramic stands for $20 so agreed to come out on the ferry the next day to collect them. Early on the morning of 4 November I read through a comment on Facebook left by Anthony Crellin, who I’d gone to school with 45 years before, and because his answer to my question was long I did so carefully. He suggested that different plants like different soil types and different pot sizes, so I did some research with Google then bought two books on Amazon: ‘Simple Container Gardening: Growing Vegetables and Herbs in Small Spaces’ by Arianne LeBeau and ‘Costa's World: Gardening for the soil, the soul and the suburbs’ by Costa Georgiadis. I’d met this local celebrity a decade before at an Armidale conference I’d attended with mum (getting there from southeast Queensland in the Aurion) when driving on country roads was still an option for me (see ‘Health and wellbeing’ part of this memorial). One book is specially for pot plants and I hoped it would answer some of the many questions I had, for example I’d posted on Facebook:

I put up a photo recently showing new Fb Mktplace pot purchases, so want some advice abt how to go about filling 'em. I see a lot of free soil on Fb Mktplace and wondered if it's possible to get some of this and mix it with potting mix, or if I shd just use all potting mix. Do you layer what you put in pots? What about drainage (one guy said to put a piece of flyscreen in the bottom to stop soil leaking out of the pot). All advice welcome. My grandfather was a gardener and dad had a large garden but with this house I'm confronting the miracle and mystery of gardening for the first time in my adult life.

The woman selling the pot stands drove over to meet me in her little grey car. I’d asked her to come to the ferry wharf because I had a big bag of books I was selling further up the river and I didn’t want to traipse around Abbotsford getting tired and miserable in the rain. Once I’d dropped off the books in Parramatta my rucksack was much lighter as the pot stands aren’t heavy and I dropped the little singlet bag containing them into one of the pots once I was back in the garage at home. 

The next day it also rained with the weather forecast saying it’d do so for another week. A negative Indian Ocean Dipole was delivering on its promise and while it rained the next day early in the morning, when I went to Camperdown in the car to pick up another ceramic pot it was just cloudy. The woman who was selling at this place told me before I left home that she’d be at home at about 12pm and I arrived ten minutes early. She then messaged saying she’d be 10 minutes late so I hung around outside her building until I saw a silver SUV entering the garage. I messaged a question about exactly how long she’d be delayed and then she got back to me with a short message that just contained the unit number, so I rang at the front door. On level six she was waiting with her door open and I paid her with the banknotes I’d prepared while telling her how happy I was to get the pot, went down in the lift, and returned to the car. At home I put the pot in the garage with the rest of them.

I read ‘Costa’s World’, finishing on 13 November. At over 200 pages it’s quite bulky though because the text is set in columns that are about the width of a newspaper column it’s easy to read and there’re lots of pictures breaking up the text. Instead of doing the obvious and giving advice straight off the bat – about what to grow where – Costa starts by outlining such fundamental issues as how to embrace regenerative farming, how to cater for pollinators, and – something impossible for me due to the size of my garden – how to keep chickens! 

Costa’s idea of a garden is broad and his plans involve baseline ideas about what a garden should be, not just how to plant and whether a particular species likes full sun or not. If you want to grow natives, indigenous plants, or endemic plants, then you’ll find a certain amount of guidance in Costa’s book but I missed reading information about soil types. I specifically wanted this because, having bought so many pots, I was now ready to start planning further purchases: in this case bags of potting mix from Bunnings. Before venturing out however I wanted to know what type of potting mix I should buy. I’d already got information from social media that using – free – soil available via Facebook Marketplace wouldn’t (according to some people) suit my needs, but because gardening is such a big subject – Costa’s intense focus on basics being only part of a bigger puzzle – I assumed that there’d be a range of soil types available on the retailer’s shelves. I also wanted to know if I should put potting mix right down to the bottom of each pot or if the bottoms of the pots should be filled with a different type of material. 

Costa did give me some ideas about what plants to buy, at one point I thought that a fig tree might do well on the deck next to the pool. Herbs and flowers could go out front on the path where I planned to situate pots, but first things first: I needed a medium in which to house growing organisms. One person who’d commented on a Facebook post had warned me about choosing potting mix but by the time I got to the end of Costa’s book I was none the wiser. This is all the more surprising as he’d given a lot of information about fertilisers and other additives when, in 2010, I watched the TV host demonstrate in a New England park how to make a plot out of straw. 

Hoping to get more detailed advice I opened a second book I’d bought from Amazon, ‘Simple Container Gardening’ by Arianne Lebeau, but it turned out to be completely useless as it’s exclusively for a northern-hemisphere (and, more particularly, an American) audience. It did say to put closed water bottles in the bottoms of pots but all measurements are in empirical notation and south-facing in her case means full sun! Disappointed with Amazon on account of being allowed to buy such an unsuitable book, I resolved to be more careful in future and planned a tip out to Gleebooks where I might be able to find local offerings. 

Lebeau learned by trial and error how to garden in containers, and it looked like I was going to have to do the same. 

On 15 November I was at Redfern to drop off some books with a buyer who’d said she’d take ‘em if I toted ‘em to her workplace and while in the area I walked through Chippendale to Glebe in order to visit the bookshop, where I found three local gardening books which I bought for $110. The next day someone responded to my Nextdoor post about ‘Costa’s World’ – in which I’d lamented the difficulty of finding local books about gardening (the bookseller in Gleebooks’d commented that the Australian market is very small, and this was the reason, in his opinion) – telling me about a gardening book by Indira Naidoo. It was in fact two people directing me, one mentioning how it’d been a Special Broadcasting Corporation host who’d written the book and another who just said, “Indira”. Putting one and two together in the evening I went online at the AbeBooks website and found a copy in Britain that I proceeded to order. A few days later a friend remarked that I should subscribe to an Australian gardening page on Facebook, so I did. I’d told her that I’m almost entirely text-oriented and so need specific instructions, and this was her solution to the impasse I found myself in having made purchases of hardware but without the certain knowledge I would need to successfully grow things. 

When I left a post several people replied with advice, including to check the Gardening Australia website for articles about potting mix. I asked for more specific instructions, or links to individual articles, but none were forthcoming (“there is a whole segment on potting mixes,” said Barbara, “Search on the site”, while Gail said “they have great all round advice”) so despite the goodwill shown by some individuals I assumed that a bit of trial and error’d be required in order to achieve my aims.  Some of the advice was contradictory. For example, Jan told me that potting mix isn’t necessary:
with some very large pots I have used broken up polystyrene to fill out the lower part of the pot, then covered it with shade cloth or weed mat and put the soil on top of that. It means the pots are lighter, so easier to move, and it means you use less soil. It also gives very good drainage. You don't have to only use potting mix. commercial potting mixes are only recent innovations and growing plants in pots goes back centuries. You can make your own mixes, and would generally aim at good drainage, as well as incorporating sufficient nutrients. compost, sand, charcoal, ordinary soil – all can be mixed appropriately to make a good potting mix.
This advice was mirrored by Lisa:
With my raised beds I did a lasagne garden method and layered all sorts of different matter, garden waste, lawn clippings, cardboard etc and topped up the top half with good soil, you can do similar with large pots
But Gail said that choice of potting mix is “very important”:
For big pots get a terracotta and planter mix that has water crystals and slow release fertilizer. It needs to be free draining but not with so much bark or vegetable matter that it becomes hydrophobic. There is no need to put crocks or charcoal in the bottom with commercial potting mix. For short term small pots a regular potting mix is ok.
Tony authoritatively and helpfully added a good deal of additional information in his considered reply:
Here is what i use to grow pretty much all my fruit and veggies with excellent results.
I start with cheap tomato and veg potting mix from Bunnings, I use a 50/50 mix of that and my compost but you can do this with just the potting mix. Add into that a handful of dynamic lifter pellets, a handful of blood and bone, a handful of sulphate of potash, a teaspoon of Epsom salts, half a teaspoon of trace elements, half a handful of garden lime. I would add a teaspoon of water crystals as well if using pots.
Mix all of that through the soil before filling pots,
This will give the soil and plants enough of a wide variety of nutrients to grow very well for a couple of years with just regular water, no need to fertilise.
Pro tip... rain water is a crapload better for plants than town water.
Lizzy even wanted me to spray paint the pots to make them all the same colour!
Just a tip. With different coloured pots it can look a bit mismatched so I bought spray paint in cans from Bunnings and sprayed mine all the same colour. With the bigger pots if you’ve got any polystyrene you can pop that in the lower section of the larger pots. I’ve also crushed up cardboard in the bottom of some as well.

Tony’s comment came on 21 November, though the day before I’d promised myself to go to Bunnings to buy potting mix. Friends had to go there for something else so I took them in the car but once inside the store the crowds of people were too thick and the number of staff too low for me to bother delaying leaving and I went home with nothing purchased. The traffic arriving had been horrendous, though on the way home it was quicker and I took a route along the narrow street past Mascot Station (I sometimes take the longer route that bypasses the busy street outside it) with my heart obeying the dictates of my will instead of something else. 

Joe’s gardener did some work on the terraces, including clipping the nature strip, and I paid a total of $15 (on 2 December and 6 December) as my part toward the cost of keeping the complex tidy. Joe had to message residents twice in order to get people to fork out. I’d gone outside on the Friday and clipped my own lawn, using the hedge clippers also to edge it where it comes up next to the pavement. Joe took his own clippers to the hedge – and I wasn’t convinced after he’d finished that it was a good idea to pare it down so low, but I decided not to say anything and to let him have his way since he was doing the work himself and there was no charge attached to it – and when he’d finished I saw that it was level with the fence. 

The dragon trees out the back started to droop (see pic above). I asked the Facebook group Australian Garden Enthusiasts for help, posting this photo with some words, and someone asked me if the pot had drainage holes in it. If so, Pat said, I should remove the water. “Otherwise move to sheltered spot away from rain for a while. That’s what I would do.” The pots are so big and heavy and they’re filled right to the bottom with soil so it’s hard to tip them up to look underneath, and moving them without emptying them is virtually impossible. 

I went to Messenger and sent a question to the guy who’d bought my dragon trees in March (I hadn’t had word from him since the 17th of that month) and Cooper responded saying, “Yes they do have drainage, you can cut the leaves.” He also asked to see a photo, then he said, “Yeah they look a bit water logged but that’s okay they will still survive.” I resolved to wait until the weather turned and hoped the leaves would run straight again without any intervention on my part. 

On 10 December – a day of fierce rain when I was out having lunch with a friend – I picked up Indira Naidoo’s ‘The Edible Balcony’ from my PO box. In it in addition to tips on growing veges there are, oddly, recipes for food. I ignored the recipes and enjoyed reading the parts about gardening and around the same time I also started to read two books bought at Gleebooks, including one about how to grow veges from kitchen waste. 

Around the middle of November therefore I bought five gardening books but I still hadn’t, seven weeks later when I spoke about the garden with my friend Basia (she advised going to a municipal library to ask for help), visited Bunnings to buy potting mix. My ignorance was a block I had to grope my way past but finding the will to enable me to make the move was, in the event, turning out to be more than a little problematic. Unlike the rain, motivation was in short supply and I made a mental note to try again in the new year.