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.

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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.

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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 na├»ve 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.

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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.

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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.

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