Best laid plans – the challenge of rethinking projects

I dream of a cupboard with patchwork quilts in neatly folded rainbows. There is the scent of lemon myrtle and bay leaves.

I have the beginning of this dream, it’s just that I haven’t made a contribution to the stack. What is there is because of the endeavours of my mum. (Thanks, madre!)

From time to time I have another go. I buy fabrics – gorgeous, colourful textiles. I buy quilting books and look at them on rainy afternoons. Sometimes I cut and start to piece quarters together.

I get caught up in the need for the piecing to be exact. It would help if I could relax my way into the sewing. I expect I would also need to be able to ‘spread and leave’ a sewing project while it was in progress.* It is literally a question of time and space.

Sometimes, when I contemplate another go I think back to the evening (sometime last century, so a while ago …) when I laid backing, batting and a top piece on the floor of the lounge room.

I stretched the sandwiched layers, pinned them into place and tacked them together. I got to the end and released all the pins but the pieces didn’t spring back to a relaxed state.

I had managed to stitch the whole lot into the weave of the carpet.

Putting the stitches in had taken a lot of the evening. I knew they were only to hold the layers in place and that they would be unpicked as soon as the quilting-proper was done. Even so, I had been neat and thorough. It was a work of beauty.

It took hours to unpick it all and weeks to start again.

Piecing it together

Why am I thinking about the delights of a patchwork blanket (preferably in a simple pattern like flying geese or tumbling blocks – I know my limitations, after all)? It isn’t just the present shift in the weather to rain.

I have a cupboard full of fabric for patchwork and quilting projects. I can’t remember the last time I opened it. At the moment, I don’t think I could even negotiate a path to it. There are books and a filing box of research notes in the way.

To be honest, the books have taken over a bit.

This was pointed out to me by one of my favourite young people yesterday who observed that I should not buy more books because (and these points were made quite clearly and purposefully)

  1. I already have more than a thousand books. (True, but I don’t think the number is excessive. Nor is the collection frivolous.)
  2. I haven’t read all the books I already have. (Also true, but I like to think of my library as aspirational. Also, tsundoku is a beautiful word. It is possibly one of my top five favourite words. In any case, I’m planning on reading them.)
  3. I have run out of shelf space and there are books in stacks of twenty on a table. (Not quite true, none of the stacks reaches to twenty. If I were a shade tetchy I might suggest that the young person should count again and revise the merits of their argument. Clearly, that is unnecessary.)

Many of the recent additions have come about as I’ve clarified the texts I want to use in my thesis.

Others have made their way to the stacks – and been graced with my current favourite bookplates – by virtue of simple desire. Or, they relate to past and planned projects.

Or, …

Does there really need to be a reason?

Adding books to my library
Some of April’s additions

Working out light and shade

Amid the flourishing crop of books and research articles I’ve been looking at my project plan as I try to rejig my approach to my thesis.

My most recent focus has been hagiography – specifically saints’ lives in Middle English, and more specifically female saints’ lives. This was always part of my plan. I’m pretty clear about the what of my research but as I’ve selected sources I’ve also been working on how the project as a whole fits together.

And I’m reminded of the quilts I’ve never made.

There’s the piecing of the squares to make the blocks and then the laying out of the blocks into the overall pattern. This happens before the (in my case, sometimes disastrous – as described above) sandwiching, strapping and quilting.

Before all of that, though, there’s the selection. The balancing of tones within a square before you move on to the blocks.

When I bought my first quilting book (sometime in the 90s) I dutifully made a shopping list on the basis of the ‘necessary items’ that the book listed. One item was a ‘ruby beholder’ and I would go into craft shops to ask if they had one only to be met with blank stares. A what?

When I eventually found one I misunderstood how to use it. It is a rectangle that features a square cut out. I thought that was so a quilter could determine which bit of fabric to feature in a block; the square was a frame. I was wrong.

As it turns out, a ruby beholder is a device for working out ‘colour values’ in fabric. It tells you which fabric in a selection is light, medium … or dark. (Here’s a video that explains this, if you’re curious.)

I had set up this (I thought) brilliant plan of the structure of the thesis. I knew I shouldn’t become attached but that’s precisely what I did, despite my best intentions.

I’ve realised that my thesis is not unlike a quilt.

I need to work on building individual squares. Ultimately, though, the pieces might have to move around.

A ruby beholder for literary sources would be a bonus.

Stack of books
Raw materials

 

*This is based on familial observations which I like to think are expressed as endearments but could equally be epithets of despair.

 

 

 

Between the lines – taking a break to be able to read and write more

This has been a better week. Taking some time out last week was well worth it. I’ll admit to still being tired but not like I was last week. I was, to be frank, wiped out by the time the weekend came around.

This week has been slow but I’ve been more productive. I had a particularly good night of revising the draft of my introduction on Thursday. For a while in the mid to late afternoon I was worried I might not settle to the page and then, in a rush, I did. It was great.

I must get back to that page soon because there is still a (frightening) lot of work to do. However, in the spirit of recognising that I’ve been pushing too hard for too long, I took Friday night off to catch up with a friend and take in a movie.

We saw The Brand New Testament (Jaco Van Dormael, 2015) at Somerville. I enjoyed the movie. It featured a misanthropic God, his downtrodden wife and his daughter who dreams of a kinder world. It was irreverent, surreal and thoroughly enjoyable.

Somerville and tea

I suspect that I’ve mentioned the Somerville before. If you don’t know Perth (and as I’ve found out recently, even if you do) you might not have heard of the Somerville. It is an outdoor cinema at UWA. The Perth International Arts Festival presents a season of films there (and at the Pines at ECU) every summer.

Going to the Somerville is always lovely. Even on the nights when the films are not particularly to my taste.*

An outside movie on a balmy summer evening in the company of good friends goes a long way towards giving me joy. On evenings when I choose to go alone, I find it is a great place for reflection, getting some notes on the page and then having some time out. Because I know the time out is definitely coming I end up staying on-task pretty well.

The Somerville was packed, brimming with happy movie goers enjoying a picnic ahead of the screening. (And some who were not so happy because finding a seat – even on the grass – got to be a challenge.)

The resident kookaburras were also happy. The picnics made for a delightful smörgåsbord that they couldn’t resist. The murmur of hundreds of picnickers chatting over their dinners was punctuated by laughter and the occasional scream as morsels were snatched from forks. It seems that food being between plate and mouth makes for an easier target.

So long as you weren’t one of the ‘swooped’, the swooping made for some light entertainment. (I should note that this activity is not limited to the Somerville and the ‘burras make good use of the outside dining at other places on campus.)

Two kookaburras at the Somerville
Plotting the next heist
Kookaburra perched on lighting rig at Somerville
All he surveys

There has also been some pretty serious café writing with many pots of tea and the occasional LLB.

This weekend alone has featured Bread in Common, Natural Light Photography Gallery Café, Matilda Bay Tea Rooms (which may have changed name…) and Little Way. There was Tiamo as well as the UWA Club during the week … I don’t know what it is about writing in cafés but it really does work for me. A lot.

The promise of reading

Progress towards the revisions has meant that there wasn’t the reading that I had been doing last week. That aside, there was a moment when a colleague asked me about what I had been reading and I was excited to be able to reel of the titles of not one but two books-for-fun and have a quick chat in the tea room.

It had been too long since I’d been able to pull a couple of purely recreational titles out and talk about being a reader.

I also caught Spare Parts Puppet Theatre‘s version of Margaret Wild’s Miss Lily’s Fabulous Feather Boa. that gave me a chance to talk a picture books, reading AND puppets with some of my favourite young people. All of which was joyous.

I’m not sure what I’m going to read this week. With the Perth Writers’ Festival – and its attendant flurry of book purchases – on the horizon I expect I should prioritise one of last year’s purchases that I haven’t quite made it to yet. Due to my appalling lack of control in such bookshopping situations, I have a fair selection from which to choose.

I’m deliberately scheduling some reading-for-fun as part of my conscious carving up of time. (It ties into one of those beautiful planning sheets I am so fond of.)

There is also some more Keats to read this week. I’ve been dipping in and out of his work since watching Bright Star. I haven’t quite fallen in love with him yet. Perhaps that will come. I’ll let you know next time we meet.

There is also a book about sorting through clutter. For now, I’m going to head to my (blissfully air-conditioned) desk at uni and the delights of connecting Derrida and Foucault, et al with medieval fashion and gender studies. I am loving this part of the work but I need to get it done and move on soon.

OWC Poetical Works of John Keats and Banish Clutter Forever by Sheila Chandra
On my list for this week

*I found Zentropa (Lars von Trier, 1991) harrowing, for example, but it was still a great night. A Mongolian Tale (Fei Xie, 1996) and Departures (Yôjirô Takita, 2008) are among my all time favourites.

 

A moment in the sun – reading and writing when the sun is shining

Yesterday, I took some time out.

When I packed up my laptop and headed out the door in the morning, my plan was find somewhere to write. It was a beautiful day and I thought it would be good to be in the fresh air.

I can’t begin to describe how much I like fresh air. Or, at the very least, air to be moving across my face. I think of a walk in a bracing wind is one of life’s pleasures. I need a fan on my desk while I work.

There was no bracing wind in Perth yesterday. Well, not the parts of Perth I was in. It’s a sprawling city. It could well be that there was a bracing wind somewhere in the area but I didn’t come across it.

What I did find was sunshine. Beautiful, spring-time sunshine. In a few months the searing heat will make asphalt melt, but this was a gentle warmth that was just right for basking. The sunshine in Perth at this time of the year is delightful, the stuff of rhapsody and odes.

I burn easily, so I wasn’t in the sun for long but I did take the time to sit and feel its warmth on my skin. I enjoyed how different the day was from last weekend’s storm. I watched the gentle movement of the flowers in the garden outside a shopping complex. I sat and was still.

Random flowers from a sunny morning
A moment in the sun

Just thinking

I didn’t end up writing very much. Some days are like that. Yesterday, I was in a reflective mode.

Even when I was looking at the shelves at New Edition I was thinking about other books. There were titles I was looking out for but I couldn’t see, authors who reminded me of other authors. It was one of those free-wheeling episodes that bookshops offer up. I found it really hard to work out what I wanted to buy.

I was trying a new approach to book buying and reading: select one book and commit to reading that book over the week to come.

I was on my way to an appointment and only had half an hour or so to spare. That in mind, I’d parked in a fifteen minute bay. As I tried to find a book … the book … I became aware that I must have been in the shop longer than the fifteen minutes. Perhaps not. I find bookshops are places where time can be particularly elastic.

I thought the ‘one book experiment’  would be helpful.  Just the one book on the, frankly overwhelming, to be read pile has its enticements. I was backing up last week’s successful enterprise of reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog.* Repeating the experiment seemed a good idea.

It turned out to be quite pressuring.

I eventually settled on A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro because I’d been thinking about how much I like Never Let Me Go in the light of my previous ‘top ten’. Faced with all the possible choices it made sense to settle on an author whose work I’ve previously enjoyed.

Later, when I went to enter my purchase into my Goodreads list I found out I already had a copy. The annoying thing about it was that I had been flicking through Goodreads while I was scanning the shelves. Clearly, I hadn’t been paying attention. There had also been the over-time in the parking bay issue to consider.

I walked back to Henry Street to exchange the duplicate copy. I still had plenty of time to spare in my new parking bay. Staying with my initial decision seemed the best (and most time-efficient) option so I picked up an alternative Ishiguro. This time it was When We Were Orphans. I haven’t started it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans and stamping material
Accessioned and ready to read

In the meantime, I can’t find the copy of A Pale View of Hills that I gather I should have on my book shelves. Perhaps it is lurking somewhere unexpected – waiting to ambush me? A sentinel gone AWOL?

There is a substantial pile of books waiting for a new bookcase. I guess it must be in there – buried deep in the middle.

Paying attention

Although there wasn’t any actual writing done I did make some progress. I walked away from the day – and the week – with more fodder for the (recently disciplined scrawl of notebooks. I’m not a fan of lifting people and their habits or situations from their daily lives and dumping them into stories. I’ve never been able to work like that.

That said, I do find it useful to pay attention. I’m happy to make a note of tiny things that catch my eye and might be useful, ideas especially from images and phrases. They can sometimes be assembled at a later point. Mostly, however, I springboard from a note into something that has no obvious relation to the original observation.

I like how that works for me in my writing.

There are images that stay with me for ages before I work out how to use them.

I’m not ready to do anything with yesterday’s but I have been thinking about one from quite some time ago: as I reversed out of my driveway I looked out of the window – to check for traffic. I remember the morning was already hot and my eye was caught by a crow. He was black and glossy. In his beak he carried three coloured chocolate balls (the type with the glossy sugar crust on the outside…the logo was still clear on one). There was a blue, a red and a yellow. They were vibrant against the blackness of his beak.

This happened years ago and I think that – finally – I might have a way to use it. I’m still not sure whether it will be whole image or just a shadow. I hope I’ll be able to resolve it soon, though. Perhaps I’ll be ready to share the ‘final’ (things are never really final) product next time I post.

Patience

I can be impatient for the weekend to come. The two days loom as opportunities to do everything that I didn’t get done in the week. Sometimes I try to schedule too much in. I always have high hopes of getting a good amount of reading and writing done.

The promise of sunshine and fresh air lured me out of my study and I didn’t quite do what I planned but that’s ok. It is probably more than ok.

Instead of the planned writing, I

  • solved a problem (well, worked out how to use an idea that wasn’t really troubling me, but … let’s go with the concept of a problem solved)
  • thought about my response to The Elegance of the Hedgehog (not that I’ve decided whether I like it or I don’t – I have some issues with the penultimate chapter and I’ve been thinking about that, and how my attitude fits in with my own approaches to structuring stories – since I finished it last weekend)
  • felt the sun at my back and a gentle breeze in my hair.

Not a bad day to end the week at all. Looking at the day ahead of me now, I have plenty to be going on with.

Here’s to a fruitful week of reading, writing, thinking and mooching.

 

*I’m not sure I would have finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog if it hadn’t been my book for the week.

Playing favourites – the trouble with settling on favourite books

I love alarm-free mornings. I drift into awareness that I’m ready to be awake and I don’t have anywhere that I need to be in the next few hours. They are golden.

Today was a case in point.

I listened to the rain. I skipped about the internet on my tablet. I wandered out to the kitchen and ate a bowl of cereal.

No rushing. No fretting. A pleasant change of pace.

This week I’ve been thinking about reading

This week I found myself at the Millpoint Caffe Bookshop. I used to go there a lot and it was lovely to walk back through those doors.

It got me thinking about reading – especially about how my reading habits have had to change over the years.

Black and white bird searching for crumbs
A bookshop companion

I’ll be honest. It can be hard to get to my reading pile. I’ll be honest, again; there’s more than one.

There are pillars of books that threaten to topple. There are books that have been shelved without being read. They wait. I think of them as hidden sentinels. They lurk.

I take comfort in knowing I’m not alone.

Well not as far as the multiple reading piles go. I suspect others might be reluctant to admit to allowing a degree of anthropomorphism to their libraries.

Then again, books are companions. They function as tokens – in the sense of standing in for something bigger or less permanent. I run my fingers along the spines of books on my shelves and I remember where I was when I bought them or read them.

I remember who was with me. I remember conversations. I remember if I laughed or cried.

One weekend, at the start of my first teaching job, I sat down to read all the books that had been assigned my classes. I was stepping into someone else’s reading plan and the assigned texts were all new to me. All five books left me in tears. Two of them escape me just now but I distinctly remember finishing first Bridge to Terabithia then The Chrysalids and, straight after that, I Heard the Owl Call my Name. I wept my way through all of them.

I haven’t read them for years but I know I’ll go back to them. Even taking them off the shelves today brought back memories. There was the frangipani by my window, the brilliant stars when I went outside at midnight to force a break in the reading and its impact.

Picking favourites

A friend asked me for my ‘top 10 books’ during the week. – It was one of those ‘you’ve been tagged in a post’ things…

As I hit post to share the list I felt that regret that I knew I would have as soon as I started to pick and choose.

The list I put up was:

  1. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader – Anne Fadiman
  2. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  3. Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter
  4. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  5. L’Etranger – Albert Camus
  6. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
  7. The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers – Delia Falconer
  8. The Patron Saint of Eels – Gregory Day
  9. Shipwrecks – Akira Yoshimura
  10. Pearl – Jane Draycott

As soon as I read back over the list I realised that I’d missed including The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Instant remorse. I know I had specifically meant to include it because it was the reason Jane Eyre made it onto the list. (The only reason Jane Eyre was in question was because I’d set myself a rule about not including books I’ve taught. L’Etranger made it because I cheated with that rule a smidge…I haven’t taught it in French…)

Then – and I back to the anthropomorphic potential of books – I spun the chair in my study and looked straight into the spine of Fly Away Peter by David Malouf. If books could glower…

Even with the (broken) rule about not including books I’ve taught I knew it was a book I probably wanted to have on the list.

It would be cheating to have a top 10 in point five increments, I suppose.

What I’m reading now

For the past few months my posts have focused on writing (and not writing) and buying books. It occurs to me that I haven’t dwelt on reading.

At least, not in any great detail.

Perhaps I should review my posts to check this is correct but I know I don’t really need to.

I never seem to have the time I’d like for reading. By that I mean the sort of reading where I kick back and read a novel just for the pleasure of the ride.

I’ve been re-reading Silk by Alessandro Baricco. It is such a slim volume I could have ripped through it in a flash. Instead I’ve been making myself take my time. Just a chapter at a time, spaced out over days. The measuring out of the reading has been a great way to engage with Baricco’s story.

When I picked up Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer a few weeks ago I planned to save it for the Christmas break. I’ve been dipping into it but I think it does need more space than I’ve been able to give it so far. I suspect I need to be more focused and reflective than I’ve been able to be just lately.

When I found myself in a bookstore last weekend I decided it was time to buy a book that I wanted to just read. With that in mind, I made myself settle on just one book as THE ONE that I would commit to for the week. I chose Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (as translated by Alison Anderson).

It won’t just be the book I remember, but the people I met up with and  the bird that pecked at crumbs by our table. I’ll also remember that we were sitting a table where I’ve sat with those and other people over the years. People who are no longer with us and people who I’ll meet up with at other times.

It’s made for a rare and wonderful day. I had been dipping into the novel on and off for a couple of days. Today I’ve been able to concentrate on reading for decent chunks of time. I took it with me when I went to run the usual Saturday errands.

Cafe table with novel and refreshments
A lovely spot for reading

I don’t tend to read before bed. I find that, rather than helping me unwind, late night reading leaves me wanting to read until the end of the story – and perhaps the end of another.

It’s not a school night, though, is it? It’s  late but I only have a hundred or so pages to go…

I think I’ll make sure tomorrow is another day that begins with the alarm clock staying silent.

Book addict ahead – the joy of book shopping

It is a beautiful morning. There is a fair bit of cloud but, at the moment, the sun is streaming in through the window. When it gets too bright, I find myself typing  with my eyes shut. (Thank you, dad, for making me do that touch typing course during my honours year!)

When I was thinking about what to write today my first thought was my haul from the Save the Children Book Sale that has just finished at UWA. I posted a  picture on Sunday to Facebook with the comment ‘A picture of restraint’.

Secondhand books on coffee table
Last Sunday’s effort

Books v shoes

Have I mentioned before that I live in the midst of a bookshelf crisis? There are worse things. Much worse.

That said, I am aware that I need to deal with the books I have before adding too much more. My ambition for the day was to be restrained.

So, I walked into the sale at the Undercroft of Winthrop Hall with a plan. I was going to be restrained. I was going to just look out for something special.

I had limited time: I was parked in a 30 minute bay, I was meeting a friend for a writing date in 45 minutes.

I didn’t bring a carry bag and I promised myself I would only purchase what I could carry comfortably in one trip back to the car.

I set a budget. A modest one.

It was nominal.

Who knew what I might find and whether such a bargain would mean that the budget would need… NEED…to be revised?

It is lucky I don’t enjoy shopping for shoes. Imagine how that could play out. That said, I often wander around in the morning thinking I’d like to have more/different shoes. I just don’t want to go shopping for them.

And where would I put them?

Accessioning

It is only a couple of weeks since I posted a different picture of books picked up on a whim.

The thing is, they don’t just need to be housed. They need to be accessioned. They are lined up and waiting.

Stack of books with bookplates ready for labelling
Books stacked, ready for the next step

Perhaps I should have been a librarian. It was tempting. That whole must-be-quiet and must-share-books-with-anyone was a concern.

I’m not the only person who checks  with a friend – a friend, not a stranger – that they will take care of the volume they are about to take into their custody, am I?

I don’t know about how other people handle their home-libraries. I have a spread sheet that I try to maintain. I use an online service that helps me to not double up on purchases when mooching turns serious.

Helps, but doesn’t always prevent…

At the moment, the spread sheet and the book list don’t match up. There’s a discrepancy of probably about a 100 books between them at the moment. The only way to know where the problem is would be to do a full stocktake.

That won’t be happening this weekend, or next.

To be honest, it’s the sort of dusty chore that I like to take care of over the summer holidays with fans cranked to high and the promise of a swim at the end of the day’s work. Bring on the summer break!

Moderate, and not

As I welcomed the latest additions into the family by adding them to the spread sheet and the online service I discovered that I had doubled up on a volume, the 2006 edition of Best Australian Essays. My first copy is one of those books that hadn’t made it into the online list. Not to worry, I think I have a friend who will like the spare copy.

I already knew that I had a copy of The Faerie Queene. The copy already on my shelf is battered and does need replacing. Well, not replacing as such. It has my notes as an undergrad. Along with someone else’s. I can’t jettison those. The scruffy and much-better-looked-after will need to reside companionably on the shelf. Once I figure out how to fit them in.

There are a couple of books that I brought home that I have been looking for for ages. Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer is one of those. I am looking forward to reading that!

Some of the others I picked up specifically for friends and family. I can’t wait to see the reaction to the edition of Shakespeare’s Love Sonnets illustrated by Caitlin Keegan when I hand it over.

I must hand it over.

I must.

Perhaps I should write that out a hundred times…

Bibliophilia and logophilia

So here I am, loving books and words. I’ve thought about this a bit over the years. I even started to sketch out a play called Logos years ago. (I was living in the Pilbara. The days were long and, often, hot…)

There is the material aspect of the books. The layout and design. The bookplates and stamps that I use for labelling. There is the flow of words through the pen or keyboard, under the eye, on the tongue.

Any time spent with them is a joy. Even when they don’t come easily. Even when they threaten to cascade over the desk and knock teacups to the floor.

I have to go out for the usual Saturday things-to-be-done reasons.

It is a bit of a wrench today. I look forward to coming back to my desk to finish this latest round of accessioning and working on the scrawl.

Of course, I’ll probably add to both while I’m out and about.