A week of bookshops, mooching and poetry – my readerly-writerly idea of bliss

It’s been a busy week. There has been oodles to do with family, work and study. I may not have been productive as far as outside-of-work writing goes, but I’ve been busy. It’s been good.

I’ve taken a break from the scrawl. Also, I’m nearly done with the jottings I can find in notebooks. This is not to say more notebooks aren’t lurking. My study is chaotic and I suspect that not all the notebooks were in there in the first place. That said, there’s only so much backwards looking I can do in one hit.

Note to self: it might be good to read some of the books on dealing with clutter that are taking up space on the book shelf.

Despite not much to show for it, I’ve been showing up at the page a bit. When I’ve done so, I’ve made a conscious effort to keep the writing on loose leaves. That way I can avoid adding to the scrawl I’ve been working so hard on clearing.

While there’s nothing substantially ‘useful’ in these latest pages, a few lines here and there look as though they might be worth mining for later. I’m happy with that.

Late in the week I found myself writing in cafe. I got so caught up I lost track of the time and was nearly late for a conference/seminar.

I have to admit it’s been a while since I was immersed to that degree.

Photo of poured tea on a metal tray in a city coffee shop
I managed to find time for some cafe writing

Mooching around bookshops

Saturday was a cracker. I made it to not one but two bookshops: New Edition Bookshop (Freo) and Bookcaffe (Swanbourne). I was tempted to make it three when I went to go to the library –  the Coop (UWA) – but I figured I had some work to do.* I kept myself to just the two.

I’m excited that NEB is back. There’s been a bit of an hiatus while they’ve been moving premises. I don’t know what the full story is but I’ve missed them while they’ve been away. I know ‘they’ are a different ‘them’ but I’m sure you get my point.

I like mooching about Freo. I love mooching about Freo going from bookshop to bookshop. That’s been a tad tricky in recent times. The Freo bookshop count is generally in decline, NEB hasn’t been around and my mooching opportunities are decidedly outside working hours.

Swanbourne isn’t too far from Freo. I zipped up the coast to catch up with a friend on my way to uni. Books, chatting, hot chocolate, sitting by the window. It was lovely.

One of the books that made its way home with me is My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak. It is a beautiful, meditative riddle. I don’t feel as though I’ve managed to nut-it-out and I need to spend more time with it. I’m not sure when that will be.

Poetry night

Monday was great because it was, as we say in my family, ‘poetry night’. Yes, I made it to Voicebox again. This is starting to be a habit.

There are worse habits.

Again, I enjoyed all three guest poets. I’m afraid the titles have escaped me but Dick Alderson’s poem about almonds, Dennis Haskell’s about oranges and Kylie Stevenson’s about Deep Water Point all stuck me at the time as beautiful explorations of imagery and emotion and they’ve stayed with me for the week. Rose van Son’s ‘Meatworks, Caversham’ is one of the poems from the open mic readers that keeps coming back to me.

I’ve been thinking not just about the poems that were read, but the usefulness of poetry for narrative . The distillation of words and ideas carries an emotive power for telling story that I find visceral. A bit further along from these thoughts is how much I enjoy the poetic within prose.

That’s led me on to reflecting on novels that I read as poetic. Yesterday I picked up a spare copy of David Malouf’s Fly Away Peter so I could dip into it on the train ride home for precisely that reason.

In the end the train station was a shade too hectic for the way I wanted to read the novel. Instead, I started the copy of Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist that I picked up from the same sale shelf.

A stack of books
The outcome of bookshop mooching

I now find myself with two copies of Fly Away Peter. Possibly not the best outcome for book-case space crisis of 2014 (which is very much like the book-case space crises of 2013, 2012, 2001…1975 – when I was given my first bookcase for my birthday…) but that particular thread of thinking – the poetic in prose – is always tantalising. I hope I can hold onto it in the face of a week which, I already know, is going to allow very little time for musing as such.

*I didn’t go into the library either to be honest. I sat in the sunshine while I looked for useful articles online. Being able to work remotely is such a bonus.


On a rainy day – the comforts of weather and writing

My day has begun with – what I consider to be – one of life’s pleasures: listening to rain fall against a window.

Being snuggled in bed with no immediate call on my time helped. Following it up with tea in my favourite mug and some vegemite toast that the dog was happy to share made it better. Now I’m watching clouds scud past the neighbours’ palm trees.

I’ll be honest, I don’t fully understand the love affair Perth has had with palm trees.

Jacarandas? Yes. Cape myrtles? Ok. Palm trees? Why?!

I know it’s probably just me.

I know I digress.

So, a rainy day in Perth at the end of a  busy, rainy week. The city continues to experience the below-average rainfall that we obsess about but there have still been  plenty of opportunities to listen to falling rain and run to cars through showers. There is more rain forecast for the week ahead.

My (purported) excess of umbrellas has been vindicated.

Progress with the scrawl

All in all, my project of working through the scrawl is coming along nicely. I’ve been fitting it in around various commitments and projects: the day-job …  a Cert IV I’m working towards … family.

This week I turned my attention to what my family refers to as Jo’s dead head, a gift from my sister for my 25th birthday. A bit tattered after nearly twenty years of abuse, the dead head has come in and out of my writing process. Using it in fits and and starts is no doubt what has helped it survive. I do not always treat it kindly.

Cloth covered journal
My ‘dead-head’ journal

There were notes in there from conferences in 2009 and a master class in 2013. I’ve typed and filed them at last. Scraps of ideas and lines of poetry have been sorted and culled as seemed necessary late into the night earlier this week. The recipes for Pineapple Chicken (yum) and Mrs Allen’s Chow Mein (not sure about that one) are still where they were. So are the reading lists I’ve been building up. At least the book is no longer bulging. It could take another refill.

After the clean-out, I have a couple of pieces that I think are worth working on. It is more likely that they will be worked on as I add them to the other bits and pieces that I’m pulling together as I work my way through the scrawl. Getting them out of the relative safety of the dead head means I can put them side by side with other remnants of the scrawl.

What to do with material liberated from the scrawl?

It is taking a while to work through everything. As well as dealing with the notebooks there are also far too many files that have needed to be cleared out. My shredder has come in handy.

My notes from a grad dip I didn’t finish (from 1992-1994)? Gone. My notes from staff meetings? Gone. I can almost see where I’ve been. My undergrad essays – desperately naive as they pretty much all are – all managed to make it back to their shelf. I expect their day will come.

If I had been more methodical, more systematic as I went along then I wouldn’t have this accumulation of writing debris. Perhaps. I could possibly still find myself needing to review and cull. I am sure that is the case.

Liberating material is necessary for a number of reasons. Here are four:

1. Space. There simply isn’t enough and I need to make some room. Imposing order and excavating material is part of establishing space.

2. Projects. I am working towards signing up for a PhD. I have a topic at hand, the forms are in … I’m just waiting for the next step. Sorting my environment is essential before I immerse myself in a six-year project.

3. Process. Working through the scrawl has been a part of my writing practice since … forever. Certainly around 1990 but I think I used to do this (on a smaller scale) when I was still in high school. I have a memory of a stenographer’s notepad from when I was in Year 9.  I called it a graffiti pad. It was angst-ridden and I loved it.

4. Retreat. Once it is all ‘done’ –  when I have pulled together the last bit from the scrawl and the files – I think a weekend of just the words pulled out from where they’ve been hiding and some fresh pages will do nicely as a treat. I’ve always ‘stockpiled’ notes and then written when I could pull together a reasonable chunk of time. Those chunks have been variously regular and scattered. A retreat is a chance to start afresh.

In the meantime, I’ve been making pretty good progress. I must nearly be there. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to listen to the rain as it falls while I work … and venture outside to splash in a puddle or two during breaks.

It sounds like bliss to me.

Two puddles on footpath in park
Puddles are a joy



A familiar dance – processing time is not always procrastination

My desk is tidy. Well, when I say ‘tidy’ I mean the half of the L-shape that is devoted to ‘technology’ is organised. I’ve washed and dried my hair. I’ve made my fingernails look a little less ragged. I’m about to finish my third mug of tea for the morning.

This is a dance I do. It would be quicker if, like the dog, I could just turn three circles, sit myself down and settle into the business of the day. For the dog that business is dozing. For me it is a to-do list.

This weekend’s general list includes emails, start week one of a mooc – before week two arrives, read articles for a research project, draft some notes for a talk I said I would give, complete essential chores, ignore non-essential chores, spend some time with family and friends, go for a walk  – preferably by the river where I’m confident there will be pelicans and I’m hopeful there will be dolphins.

Striking through

I do like crossing off items as they are done. It works for chores, projects, ideas that are acted on. I’ve been able to pull a couple of cards from my projects list in the past few weeks. They were among the smaller projects but it still feels good to have moved them to the ‘done pile’.

I also like to cross through titles in lists, verses in stanzas and paragraphs in prose. I can end up making a fair mess of any given page. For the most part, I’m comfortable with some untidiness on the page. There comes a point, though when too much mess becomes too fraught.

Making space

My mini-project of revising old notebooks – the scrawl I mentioned a couple of weeks ago – is in full swing. Putting sentiment to one side, some of the scrawl must give way. Space is at a premium.

The focus of today’s attention was made of recycled paper bound with string in a corrugated card cover. I liked the book when it came to me, but it has its quirks. The threading on the spine makes it hard to keep open. The texture of the leaves entices. It promises more than struck-through notes and drafts. I’ve always been aware that I didn’t choose as wisely as I may have liked when I started out with it as a place for early workings.

One draft is dated ’98, so this book has been hanging about for a while. All but one of the notes in this particular notebook have been acted on. Most of the worked on pages have been folded to show they are finished. On balance, I have to admit not that many pages have been used. I’d like to start over with it. I think the remaining leaves can be repurposed.

Old notebook made of recycled paper with corrugated cover
Step 1: Initiate
struck through pages
Step 2: Check
ready for reuse
Step 3: Repurpose

Repurposing and renewing

My habit of making lists and roughing out brainstorms of ideas is a useful strategy. It makes for wonderfully productive days. This was especially the case when I worked as a teacher. I had a holiday routine that involved reviewing the lists and notes I’d made during term. If pieces of writing weren’t finished I’d work on drafts and commit to finishing things off. Not all holidays allowed for the routine to be evenly productive but there was certainly a rhythm to the process that helped it along.

I’ve had to modify the way I approach lists. Sometimes there is too much time between the note of the idea and the point of writing. Well, too much time in being up to pick up with the reason for making the note. Sometimes they just have to be repurposed. At at other times, the note is as vivid as when first written.

Looking through a poetry file today, I saw a poem I finished in 2001. It’s ok but not for sharing here. The point about the poem (‘Faithless’) is I first noted the opening line in my first year teaching. That was 1992. In the years between the note and the poem there was little shift in the intent of the idea I hoped to explore.

Other ideas and images need to sit for a while – steeping like tea – before they are ready for use. There’s nothing worse than tea left for so long it becomes bitter and unpalatable. That said, even stewed tea is good for the roses.*

A rueful acknowledgement

I can be quite precious about notebooks. I let them kick around for decades, long enough to end up looking tatty and disreputable. I don’t often attack them with scissors. This poor stablemate was doomed from day one. Happily, I think it has a promising future now it is free of its binding.

I’m sure the next notebook taken from the scrawl for review will fare better. In fact, I doubt many of the notebooks in the scrawl would do as well if I attempted to repurpose them.

*Ooh. There’s a poem there. What luck!