This week

By Vita Forest

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This week I have been

WRITING Overheard… in the classroom

READING

  • Piano Lessons by Anna Goldsworthy
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak with my nephew (looking for “Mas”, the moon and the “sdars”).

DRAWING in sunglasses in the Royal Botanical Gardens with a lovely group of people and picnicking afterwards.

EATING mussels with Saskia mmm!  Then recreating the recipe with my kids.

CONTINUING to walk in socks or bare feet on the new carpet (so soft!)

MEETING up with some old pals at Book club.

ATTENDING a meeting about costumes for Lucy’s musical – great excitement!

WATCHING the last few episodes of Season 6 Game of Thrones.  I know I am late on this but Episode 9 – OMG!  Nearly had a heart attack!

PRACTISING and practising and practising for the K – 2 Performance Night next week…

 

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?

This week

By Vita Forest

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This week I have been

  • READING
    • Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante (a compelling but disturbing book).
    • The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (the second of the Neopolitan novels).
  • WRITING
  • MAKING glamorous costume jewellery for our dance group costumes out of bits and pieces of last year’s costumes.
  • EATING a picnic of veggies, flatbread and houmous by the water of Sydney Harbour.
  • WATCHING Season 5 of Game of Thrones (I know – I am behind).
  • RESTING after feeling a bit poorly.

This week

By Vita Forest

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

This week I have been

Sydney Opera House from the Sydney Harbour Bridge

 

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.

 

This week

By Vita Forest

By the Lane Cove River

By the Lane Cove River

This week I have been

  • READING The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  • WRITING Here and now
  • WATCHING The Good Wife Season 5.  I think its the best season don’t you?
  • WALKING with a big gang of people through some bush on the North Shore of Sydney including along the Lane Cove River.
  • MEETING up with a lot of rellies I haven’t seen for years.
  • TRYING a Zumba class.  What fun!
  • COOLING off in the sea.

Here and now

By Vita Forest

Collaroy Rockpool

Collaroy Rockpool

Last week was fairly typical February weather in Sydney – the kind of weather that drains me of energy.  High temperatures and high humidity, what my mother calls “stinking hot!”

After such a week, it was tempting to stay home and do not much.  But on Sunday Max and I ventured out with Briony on an expedition to the Northern Beaches of Sydney to get us some surf.  We ended up at Long Reef (Briony’s favourite).  But after we had parked the car, picked our way down the road, and walked over the reddish sand hills, we arrived to find a sign planted squarely in the sand saying “Beach closed”.

The water sparkled and the day was hot, but there was no safe spot to swim, the waves were big and dumpy and there were dangerous currents – so we were told by the lifeguard.  Perhaps they would open the beach in half an hour or so.  Or not.  The surf would be rough all over.  Cyclone Winston from Fiji you know?  (The butterfly effect of it being felt on Australia’s East coast as big seas and rough surf).  But maybe Collaroy might be better, though it could be weedy.  And it did have a rockpool.

We decided to chance Collaroy rather than standing in the sun, staring longingly at water which may or may not be safe in thirty minutes.  So we trekked back to the car over the hot, heat-hazed sand and drove north.

It certainly was weedy at Collaroy – the breakers rolled beach-ward green and prickly with the stuff.

But there was a rockpool…

The pool was divided up with lane ropes, the central section home to the local swimming club, while each side was free for more leisurely swimming.  We walked past the swimming club’s sausage sizzle, and leapt out of the way of a swell of water rising so high, it carried an esky out from under the serving table.  Swimmers bobbed breast stroke  up and down the lanes, trying to swim straight, as the water rolled through, showing who was really in control.

As Max and I waded in, a thuggish 4 year old wearing goggles and a floaty on his back, tried to cut off my progress, but I would not be thwarted.  The relief of the cool water!

Collaroy rockpool

Collaroy rockpool – later than our swim with a higher tide and comparatively calm water.

We moved over to the far side of the pool closer to the sea.  There was a row of kids clinging onto the chain link loops of the fence on the side of the pool.  This was in order to catch the waves that were rushing in, smashing on the rocks, then crashing over into the pool.  There was surf in the pool, its forced diluted somewhat by the rocky headland, but still strong enough to knock a grown man into the pool.  (He emerged unharmed, cap still wedged on his head.)

Max and I sat on the ledge while Briony watched from the safety of the water.  We would follow the heave of a wave from out at sea, then wait as the crest rose over the headland and smashed, bubbling foam over the concrete barrier, carrying us forward with it.  We yelled and laughed as we surrendered to the power of the water – the danger of it, the lack of control.

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Look at those waves!

It’s times like this that I am happy I am still agile, still fit, still able to heave myself up out of a pool and into the way of a churning wave, into the path of a roaring sea dragon.  It reminds me I am alive.  It cleans out the cobwebs, all the tiredness, stiffness and lethargy of the last week gone.  Everything  brought  back to the here and now, sitting beside my son on a concrete barrier and waiting for the water to carry us away.