This week

By Vita Forest

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Reclining Figure: Angles 1980, by Henry Moore

This week I have been

WRITING

READING

  • The Comfort of Saturdays by Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith

VISITING

  • The Art Gallery of New South Wales for some sketching
  • The Sydney Opera House with our fabulous performance group (they were wonderful!  The end of nearly a year-long project…)

WATCHING more Scandi-Noir The Killing…

CELEBRATING World Teachers’ Day with a slap-up lunch from the P and C – including fresh prawns and macaroons.

SEWING up the last few costumes for Lucy’s play.

CATCHING up on sleep after a couple of late nights.

SIPPING tea in the dark on the balcony after a long day, looking up at the stars.

Possessed by who?

By Vita Forest

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Earlier in the week I finished rereading Possession by A.S. Byatt, a book I first discovered over twenty years ago.  I don’t know when it was I last read it, but I can kind of date it by which character I related to at the time. I love it when this happens – when you read the same book at varying points of your life and it has completely different meanings; new events, distinct characters, alternate lines just jump out at you, depending on what is going on in your own life.  (I have written about this before with Tim Winton’s Dirt Music as the book in focus).

In my last reading, it was the early Roland Michell I related to.  Roland, an “Ash scholar” (Randolph Ash being a fictional Victorian poet), finds a tantalising scrap of letter from Ash to an unknown lady poet, thus beginning this literary mystery that moves between the 1860s and 1980s, using poems, fairy tales, letters and prose.  Despite the high level of Roland’s education, he survives on small grants and piecemeal work handed out by those with more power.  At the start of the novel, he is spending his time examining another’s work and living unhappily with his unhappy and disappointed girlfriend Val, who supports them financially through her own disappointing work.  They are a couple that should not be together but are bound by guilt, emotional dependency and fear.  (In fact, I think I can quite clearly date when I last read this book…)

But by the end of the novel, a new life beckons to Roland, full of optimism, independence and opportunity, a new relationship (that works) and his own words.  Unlike Blackadder, his old boss in the “Ash Factory” (as Val dismissively calls the Ash scholars working in the British Museum), for whom the study of Ash had effectively crushed any ambition to find his own creative voice, Roland discovers that he has things to say and the desire to say them.  At this reading, I related to this second Roland, discovering the joy of writing, of his own ideas, unbound or unconnected to someone else’s work – the Optimistic Roland.

And then there are the women.  This time, the ideas of Christabel La Motte, the independent, determined 19th Century poet (again created by Byatt), who shunned conventions in order to live an independent artistic life, also resonated.  She is fiercely protective of her artistic space, of having the time and focus for her own creativity.  Maud Bailey, a La Motte scholar in the 1980s section (to whom Roland turns to discover if there is a connection between the two poets), has similar concerns.  In fact, Roland and Maud both crave solitude and autonomy, even within a relationship, a space for themselves, without being “devoured” or “possessed”.  I see this in myself and in many of my friends. Yes, the fairy tale romance would be lovely, but equally important is the space (both physical and mental) for our own endeavours, for the very things that make us unique.  This is to be fiercely guarded and cherished, as Christabel La Motte well knew.

Which fictional characters do you relate to?  Has it changed with new readings of the same book?

U is for… Unconscious

By Vita Forest

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How much of what Nicola did was unconscious?  Was it an unconscious decision to apply for that job?  In that other world she thought she lived in, Nicola didn’t have to do that.  It had not been part of her plan.  They had more than enough money for a comfortable life and she had time for contributing to her children’s life, to her family’s life, to the community.  But somewhere down deep, a tiny hand had tugged at her shirt tail and told her to put in the effort and apply for that job.  Told her that even though she didn’t have to, she should.  Called back to her from the future that it was an absolute necessity.

And she got the job.  Started building her career again.  It was good to feel useful, to be good at something, because she was unconsciously beginning to get the message that she wasn’t good at being what Joe wanted anymore.  That little hand again, tapping at her side, pointing out the way he winced as she spoke (shrill), the way he sneered at her achievements (small), the way he stayed out more and more (Important meetings).

Was the swimming unconscious too?  Was the building up of her strength and stamina just something that she happened upon?  Afterwards, she would charge up and down the pool, screaming into the water, as her fingers clawed and her feet thrashed and her whole body beat out her frustration.  Up and back, up and down, back and forth, following the black line on the base of the pool, hypnotised by that thick black line, her world reduced to getting to the end, then slapping the side and doing it again.  Turning herself into a warrior.  Strong.  Flexible.  Resilient.  And smelling a little of chlorine.  But it gave her a place to go.  It gave her something to do.  Something regular.  Something calming.  Something slightly more wholesome than turning to the drinks cabinet (which was also tempting).

Nicola liked the way swimming made her lungs burn, her arms ache, her temples beat in time with the blood pounding around her body.  She liked the way the water blanketed and obscured the noise of everything outside the pool.  She was a fish, a dolphin, a stingray, communicating through clicks and squeals.  There was no language.  No words.  No betrayal, just survival.  And that was unconscious too.  Nicola could go through the motions, let herself be carried by the water, by her body, by her routine, until the time came to emerge from the pool and get back on land.  Among the living.  In that new life that she had had no inkling of, except in her deepest unconscious.

That place that seemed to know everything.

 

A to Z Challenge – Ready, Set…

By Vita Forest

A2Z-BADGE [2016]

A to Z challenge April 2016

A few days ago, I signed up to the Blogging from A to Z April  2016 Challenge which certainly sounds challenging.  Basically, participants have to do a post a day for the whole of April, with Sundays off for a bit of a breather.  The first post should be about something beginning with A, the second B, and so on, until we reach Z at the end of April…

I have thought of a few topics and plan to write a mixture of Travel-type observation posts, but with the bulk of them being intensive flash-fiction sessions to build my creative writing muscles.  I will give myself a time limit and a topic and produce… something.  There are  few topics for longer works that I might start exploring too.

Apparently, some bloggers have written all their posts already and will just post them in the coming month, but not me I’m afraid.  I have made some rather nice pictures containing the letters of the alphabet, but that is as far as my preparation has gone.  So good luck everybody!  Looking forward to seeing some fine work and discovering new blogs.

It’s really going to be a challenge.  Come along for the ride!

 

Accentuate the positive

By Vita Forest

Two ways of looking

Two ways of looking

The problem with being involved with any high profile activity is that there are dramas.  As Max said to me, “Whenever you are involved with a drama there is drama.”

Yes, this is even true in the smaller microcosm of a school.  All parties are emotionally invested and this sometimes leads to conflict.  Even with eleven year olds.

So, my colleague and friend Minna and I, have started rehearsals for one of the senior dance groups.  The one that the kids had to audition for.  The one that may be part of a big public performance on an iconic stage.  The one with the prestige.

It’s a sought after gig, but attracts children and parents (and teachers!) with strong ideas.

After coming up with a concept that fits the designated theme, building a story line, starting on some choreography, costume ideas and characters, we have had two rehearsals for our dance-theatre piece.  We were feeling very positive, we thought it was going well.   While a boy with a relatively small part became a scene-stealer, with his risk-taking, enthusiasm and playfulness, a more seasoned performer (she was in it last year) withdrew into herself, and simply went through the motions.  We didn’t think much of it, until yesterday, when the girl’s mother rang the principal of the school to complain…

Apparently there have been tears – there has not been enough dancing – she doesn’t like it!  (This is Week 2 people…)  Luckily our principal supported us, we are lucky that way.  Of course, this has sapped our energy and made us throw up our hands in outrage.  (How dare she be so entitled?  How dare her mother let her be such a diva?  Doesn’t she know about teamwork, patience, resilience?)  This comes after last year drama when a mother tried to redesign my costumes to meet her ten year old son’s fashion needs…  (I said thanks, but no thanks.  He ended up leaving the group and we went on without him).

But after having an internal hissy fit, and a few choice words with Minna, I took a deep breath and thought of some other things…  our satisfaction and excitement about our story, our characters, our music choice.  And remembered the enthusiasm and delight of most of the dancers in the group.  I remembered the many unsolicited “Thank yous” from a lot of the kids, how a bunch of them helped us by getting out equipment unprompted.  I thought of the smiles on their faces, the energy that they have put into these very early rehearsals when it can be so easy to be inhibited and stand-offish.

And I choose to think of that scene-stealing boy, who after Monday’s rehearsal, told his class teacher that it was the funnest thing he had ever done.

That’s what I’m thinking about.

Why is it so easy for the negative to obliterate the positive?

When should you stop reading?

By Vita Forest

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So, for a few weeks now I have been reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.

The Luminaries… winner of the 2013 Booker Prize,

The Luminaries… set in the goldfields of New Zealand in the 1860s,

The Luminaries… over seven hundred pages long,

The Luminaries… which I am now about halfway through and which I am going to stop reading.

When do you give up on a book?  I used to struggle through, grinding my teeth if I found it excruciating.  Reading on til the bitter end.  Sometimes I still do.  If the book is two hundred pages long.  But this is a brick of a book.  I think if it hasn’t grabbed me yet, it is not going to.  And I’ve given it a goodly chance.  I’ve given it a few weeks of my life, as a pile of books I want to read sit unread on my shelf…

It’s not the length.  (Although that is not helping).  I relish spending as long as possible in certain books.  And sometimes do it again and again (Possession by A.S. Byatt, or WolfHall by Hilary Mantel, The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta).  But the story and the characters have not grabbed me beyond a very limp handshake.  I can let go without feeling loss.  I don’t really care what happens…

I am supposed to be reading it for a bookish meeting you see.  This is the good and bad thing about book clubs.  The good thing – you read books you wouldn’t normally read and discover wonderful authors you may not have come across before – Wallace Stegner, Diane Setterfield, Hilary Mantel.  The bad thing is – you read books you wouldn’t normally read and discover authors you never want to read again (not naming names, but

  • there was a certain book about a certain time travelling stone that involved a lot of very badly written caveman sex…  Yes, there is such a thing.  The girl who suggested it left the country soon after, we like to think it was due to the shame of having picked such a book.
  • And the very bad vampire romance with the main characters with the hilarious names with very bad spelling.  (Actually some of the club loved this one and went on to read the series, peopled with more vampires with mothers who couldn’t spell).

So I guess I will be one of those people who go to a book club without reading the book.  Someone who can add something to the conversation about the book, just not a whole lot.

Not that having read the book always matters.  We had a very spirited and funny book club meeting last night (another book club – you can never belong to too many), where a good portion of the attendees hadn’t read the book (All the Light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr – now make sure you read that one!)

How long do you give a book?

I’m letting this one go.

 

Mum’s masterclass

By Vita Forest

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Last Saturday, my mother held a master class in how to cook her special Florentine biscuits.  In attendance were Saskia, my sister Briony, and I.  My father drifted in and out for taste tests as a break from his current carpentry project.  It was just like old times.

Florentines are a toffee-like biscuit made with slivered almonds and orange peel and coated on the back with a thin layer of chocolate… Is your mouth watering yet?  My mother and her friend Jenny, used to sell them to a number of shops including a swanky boutique, whose owner used to serve them as elegant treats at her regular fashion parades.  They were packaged in glistening cellophane bags which were sealed with a length of ribbon, ringletted into curls with the blade of a scissor, and finished with a hand-made paper rose inserted through the knot.  Very fancy.  Let’s just say they are something of an institution.

There have been numerous experiments over the years, leading to adaptations and alterations of the original recipe (its page in the old recipe book is now covered with updated ingredient quantities, tips and conversions for making larger batches.  Oh and splatters of butter and chocolate.  It is a messy operation), and the technique has been honed and perfected.

Mum marshaled the troops, ordering us about, as is her wont.  It was a regular production line, one apprentice placing blobs of the mixture onto one tray, while another tray cooked (carefully monitored to reach just the right golden brown), another minion peeled cooled, cooked discs off baking paper, while another picked these up and applied a thin coating of warm dark chocolate, before setting them down on another tray to be packed.  Quite an operation.

I took time out from apprentice duty to type out the recipe on the laptop, adding in all the special tips.  These included – if the cooked Florentines harden before you get to adjust the spilled edges to form perfect circles, pop the tray back into the oven to soften again, and – coat the back, not the front with chocolate – it’s smoother.  Saskia and Briony reviewed the document and added their own observations.

We chatted as we cooked, and remembered how after a session of Florentine-making, Dad would often find smears of chocolate on the underside of the kitchen bench where Jenny had wiped her fingers.  About how we were (and mostly still are) a family that needs to have some project on the go, even while watching T.V. – be it knitting, quilting, cross-stitching, leather or woodwork.

During the cooking, I dropped the chocolate knife on the floor, leading to another story of how I once spilled silk paint on the very table we were using, leaving a permanent stain.  Oops.   Apparently I am a rusher.

I gave out small packets of the finished product to some of my work colleagues today.  One of my friends, who is trying not to eat sugar, just rang to tell me how she and her kids have devoured the whole lot already. Her conversation was punctuated with quite a few “Oh my Gods!”  I might have to go an eat one myself.