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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

21. Moments (2) Crevices in Time: meditation on the archaeology of a [moment]

This piece from my Journal dates back to September, 2008. It is a further exploration of the notion that we live in [moments]. Maybe the metaphor of time that dominates our thinking - of time flowing as a river flows - is an illusion. We impose on our experience this notion of continuity; we putty over the crevices and pretend that time has a smooth surface.
Reading over this piece, what strikes me are the sudden leaps, and the difficulty of the task. "Capturing" and "recording" the richness of any given [moment] is impossible. As David Ireland wrote: the more we look INTO a moment, the more we find it contains.

Whenever I dig down into the past and undertake the archaeological venture of examining past moments, I have my memory, I have my writing, I have other information : the memory of others, artefacts, photographs.

And each time I’m taken by how inadequate is the record. Even when I look into this moment, I realise how inadequately I perceive the fullness of the moment, the narrowness of attention, the delimitations on my attention span: limitations of depth, of width, of fullness, of inclusiveness.

Take this moment:
I am sitting in a lecture, and I am aware of much that is going on, much that is there to be experienced. Pam St Leger is delivering a lecture. Pam is an old friend from my days of teaching at Melbourne University’s Hawthorn Institute. For a short time I’ve regressed 10 or so years … I’m parking the car at the front of Hawthorn Institute … I’m picturing the hundreds of overseas students, mostly Japanese, who filled the Caf, picturing my fellow lecturers, recalling classes, moments …

And now I’m back. Room 329, Education Faculty, La Trobe. There room is full of students – 50 or more. I notice Ranu sitting opposite. She is Indian. She has jet black hair, a full face. I recall briefly that she was a member of another class I attended last year. Beside me is Rochelle. Orthodox Jew, a mother of ten boys, a member of the PhD group that I’m part of. I look at my research notes, glance over them, read a few lines.

I rummage quickly in my pocket. I stretch my leg to make access to the pocket easier. Just in time I pull out my handkerchief, bring it rapidly to my face. I sneeze, a loud disruptive, uncontrollable sneeze. A student across the room mouths ‘Bless You.’ I am aware of the tingling sensation that often accompanies a major sneeze; my whole body seems to be tingling.

The ceiling fans do not move. It is May; winter is setting in. No need of fans. Two people in the class are wearing beanies

(As I rewrite this material into my computer, I recall the conversation a week ago with Ncube, the tall Zimbabwean student; he wrote the word BEAN in his notebook, and corrected it when I told him it should be beanie. At the time I had old English slang running through my head: Old bean. Bean = head…)

I’m back from reverie …one woman in this class is wearing the traditional head dress of her culture – a large scarf covering her head and much of her face. The carpet is industrial carpet; it is brown, ugly, the kind you don’t normally notice. Rochelle is rubbing her arm. My foot is going to sleep. A man in a bear suit just walked through the room.

Further reflections

A grain of sand. A small piece of grit. If I walk on the kitchen tiles in bare feet, and that grain of sand is there, I will notice it immediately if I step on it. There will be a brief moment of discomfort – perhaps of very minor pain. (I have always found it hard to walk bare footed; my feet have always been sensitive to any unevenness, to any small stones. I would have done poorly in the Kalahari.)

A grain of sand. At Sandy Point, if you stand on the beach at the estuary into Shallow Inlet, and look back down along the beach to the west, away from the Promontory and toward Walkerville, you see maybe 15 kilometres of coast line, the arced sweep of Waratah Bay. The beach is wide, a hundred or more metres wide – more in places. A beach composed entire of sand, hectares of white, clean sand. And how far down, underground, does it stretch? I have no idea. But the dunes behind the beach are tall – quite a climb. They’d be 50 metres high I’d guess, maybe more.

All of that sand. Such a long, wide beach, and how deep the sand? Behind the dunes, in the Sandy Point settlement, people put down bores to access the sweet bore water, purer than rain water we were once told. In the late 1960s, when my then wife and I bought a block at Sandy Point and put up a beach house, we had a bore put down – or more exactly, arranged to have one put down. Ray Henderson and his brother came one day with their drill and installed the bore. They drilled down 20 or 30 feet to the water table, installed a pipe, and a pump, and gave us running water whenever we needed it – at least whenever the electricity was working.

That is a lot of sand.: 100 metres wide (and much more if you consider that the ‘soil’ across the whole of the settlement is sand), 15 kilometres long, and down to a depth of 10 metres (say).

Echoes of Briggs Elevator … each grain is uniquely shaped. Each grain is unique in its coloring. As I write of THIS particular grain of sand, memory pulls me back to another. In an instant I am in Miss Tout’s classroom. Year 10 English, Moreland High School. It must be 1958. We are studying William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence..

To see a world in a grain of sand

I recall the frission, the sudden electric moment (the uniqueness of that grain of time, on the kitchen floor of my education, and the ‘pain’ of sudden awareness), the sudden understanding that I felt then: that you COULD see a world in a grain of sand. That is that tiny particle of matter is, in truth, a world in its own right.

… the more you look into a moment, the more you find in it…

(I have written before of Ruby Tout. I have created a story of how I became literate, of how it was through A D Hope’s A Death of a Bird that I came to an understanding of what poetry can be. Now I realise that my debt to Ruby Tout is very great indeed – and to William Blake. That insight – that you could see a world in a grain of sand – changed my way of seeing, of thinking, of experiencing. I was awakened to something.)

And then I’m dragged into that other recognition, that other set of equivalences: Count the grains of sand on that 15 kilometre beach, that 100 metres wide beach, that huge volume that has depth too – 10 perhaps 20 metres of sand. And imagine each to be a star in the universe. Each grain of sand a star, a celestial body.

As Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) observed in The Galaxy Song:

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billions stars ...
And our galaxy is only one of millions and billions
in this amazing and expanding universe

The number is well short of grains on that beach is well short of infinity. But the number is very very large indeed. But there are more stars in the universe ... And that gives a sense, a point of comparison, for just how large the universe might be...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

20. "In my father's house are many mansions."

"In my father's house are many mansions."

Tenants abound in this tenement of clay:

A petulant child insists "I want!"

An adolescent son, now in his thirties,
Sees in his wife
his mother
Defies her in whatever she demands

An evangelist stands on a soap box
In a pulpit before any congregation, any crowd, any mob
To declare the sad sick state of affairs

A writer sits scribbling on a pad
Inventing lies and lives and truths

An aging father sits back in his chair
And wonders what his sons are all about

A singer caresses the microphone as he sings
Listens to his recorded voice
While the hand of Narcissus strokes the pond

A lover lies abed and speaks of Fleas

And there are plenty more
And room for others still
(The sign out the front still reads: Vacancies)

A guru who is sometimes wise enough to know
That vanity comes in a variety of sizes
And wears many disguises

So many tenants to keep the caretaker occupied
There's even a spare room down the hallway
Kept for a muse who sometimes visits.
Now and then you hear the singing
Echoing and rippling through the house.

19. Autobiography (7) Sketch: A Bit of Mischief

In the Coburg of my childhood, Pentridge dominated the landscape. Pentridge was Melbourne's jail. It housed convicted criminals - murderers, robbers, the riff raff of society. I went to school at Coburg State School; Pentridge was opposite. Its entrance was just off the main road - Sydney Road. One side ran along Gaffney Street for about a kilometre. Beside its back wall ran the Merri Creek. Its other side wall was set about one hundred metres back from Bell Street.

The wall was very high - maybe twenty feet - and it was built of huge blocks of bluestone, basalt clinkers excavated from the nearby area of the Coburg Lake. Pieces of jagged broken glass and barbed wire had been embedded in concrete along the top of the wall to deter escape.

When I was at Primary School, the back fence of our playground was just twenty yards from the forbidding grey Pentridge wall. I was in grade 4 or 5 when the notorious criminal, John O'Malley, made his escape from Pentridge.

The front half of Pentridge housed the prisoners; it was made up of cell blocks - large buildings full of small cells. The back half of Pentridge was not built on; rumour had it that it was farm land, used by the prisoners to grow vegetables.

We often went yabbying in the Merri Creek at the back of Pentridge. When I was in Secondary school, the school cross country run involved circling Pentridge. Its prominence was inescapable, and the myths that grew up about it were undeniable. It always held a fascination for the young boys of Coburg; and people from elsewhere wold often throw jibes at us: "Where do you go to school - Bluestone College?"

There was a large drain running under Pentridge. Outside the walls of Pentridge it was an open storm water drain, but it went underground just outside the walls of the jail near Bell Street and re-emerged at the back, its contents draining away into the Merri Creek.

One of the initiation ceremonies popular among the many gangs of boys that formed and reformed at Coburg State School 484 was the requirement to traverse this underground drain, from its entrance near Bell Street to its Merri Creek exit. The drain was maybe two metres wide - three or four boys could easily walk along it side by side. But it was quite low, so that you had to duck down to enter.

It was foul smelling, but its real danger lay in the fact that it took you under the jail.

"My dad reckons a few years back some prisoners dug down and broke into the drain and escaped. They hid in the farm at the back and got into the drain at night," one boy said. Romantic myths about the drain were legion, and those of us with vivid imaginations could picture scenes of unspeakable violence: desperate and ruthless prisoners, hiding in the drain, waiting for night to fall so they could make their escape, who would have no compunction in slitting the throat of anyone who came along in the pitch black darkness of the drain …

I had suffered from Rheumatic fever as a boy, and spent a month in bed as a result. I was an only child. And my parents lived in fear of the polio epidemic which claimed the lives and the good health of so many youngsters in the thirties. Polio, they assured me, was caught in gutters. Those three factors, along with an overactive imagination, meant that I was very wary of places such as the Pentridge drain. So when it was my turn to prove my manhood by entering into that dark, dark place, I reneged.

18. Leftovers: 9 thoughts


Things once wanted or needed, even valued, that are now cast off, unwanted, thrown out, unloved.
Preloved clothes, hand-me-downs.
Wall flowers: girls at a dance who sit waiting, but who are never invited by a partner.
Spinsters and bachelors: (Archaic usage) leftovers from the mating rituals of our society; unclaimed persons.


My mother used to say to me,
when I left food upon my plate:
“Think of all the starving children in Asia.”
I didn’t, of course.
All I could think of was:
I don’t like peas; I won’t eat Brussels sprouts.


In 1996, as the Crown casino was readied for its grand opening, the staff rehearsed for the great event. The chefs prepared a thousand gourmet meals – a dry run, a trial, a practice… They dished up the food. Waiters carried the plates to the tables, which were lavishly laid out with silver service and laundered table cloths, and set them down before invisible guests. Later, the waiters returned, took up the plates, scraped the untouched food , now leftovers, into garbage bags, and dumped them in giant industrial waste bins. No one, it seems – not the chefs, nor the waiters, nor the cleaning staff, nor the owners – gave a thought to the hunger of the homeless men and women and young people who slept on park benches or under bridges or in squats or in refuges within a stone’s throw of Victoria’s glittering Crown. Or if they did, no one acted upon it.


Op Shops trade in leftovers. One person’s leftover is another’s treasure.


Like Beauty, the notion of ‘leftover’ is in the eye of the beholder.
A joke:
A bloke goes into a bar and sees an aboriginal wearing one thong.
“He Jacky? You lose a thong?” he asks.
“No, mate – found one!”


Every year, during Health week, out in Suburbia we place our leftovers on the front nature strip: the detritus of consumptionism, our sacrifices to god of new fashion, our victims of the demon called obsolescence. We drive past other people’s piles of junk, and sometimes stop and take something home.


In the suburbs, in the inner city, the spirit of the hunter gatherer lives on.


Back in the late 1970s, down at our beach shack. With my farmer mate from Kerang, a bloke called John Girdwood. We went to the local tip, him and me, a pit in the sandy dunes, well back from the beach, created by the local Council. I took a trailer load of junk: broken appliances, old furniture, and a pile of jumpers – full of holes, most of them, and fraying. JG took nothing, but took back with him my pile of old jumpers.
Before I could cast off my unwanted jumpers, John G. grabbed them.
“I’ll wear these on the tractor,” he told me, “when I’m ploughing at night.”
And he did, two or three of them at a time, in the black of night, in early Spring, when the temperature was down around zero, for many seasons.

That which remains.

17. 2003 Let me have men about me that are ...

I wrote this poem in 2003, as the world still reeled in the after shocks of the September 11 bombing of the Twin Towers. Suddam Hussein was being tarred and feathered, and accused of developing weapons of mass destruction. Finding none in Iraq, GB decided to export his own WMD, along with tens of thousands of American troops, and England and Australia fell into line and marched to the steady beat of the drums of war.

2003 Let me have men about me that are ...

Let me have men about me that are fat …
Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look
He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar.

Mostly I detest all stereotypes:
The Estate agent with the gold capped tooth
The tattoed bikie with the heart of gold
But when it comes to height - aye, there's the rub ...

Wise Will, you might have written – with good cause
"Let me have men about me who are tall ...
Or men about me of a middle height..."

Yon George and John are short and full of guile
Perhaps they both resent their lesser stature
Their childhood dreams were of heroic deeds
But they fell short of the heights to which they aspired

But stop a moment, look at those two now
See how they strut and pose on our world’s stage
Turning their 97 pounded puniness
Into these images of Hercules.

‘Twas Cassius, a thin, ignoble man
That conned the noble Brutus to his cause
And so the mighty Caesar was brought down
Knives in his back, blood on the Senate floor.
As Will observed: "Such men ARE dangerous!"

This George and John would rush us into battle
Would send our nation’s children, one by one
And sacrifice them on the altar of Pride -
Of Pride and Vindication and Revenge

Beware smug pipsqueaks with their overblown dreams
Who in their blind obsession wish to make
Goliaths of themselves and corpses of our young.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

16. Autobiography (7) Sketch: Barry 3 months

I've been looking through family photographs a lot lately. Like most of the things in my life, my photographs are not well ordered. I vaguely recalled that there was a photo of my father, dressed in his Sunday best, holding a baby. Last night I discovered that I had two copies of the photo.

I'd never before checked the back of the photo; it had sat in its place in one of those adhesive-backed albums with the plastic cover sheet. I peeled the photo off, to scan it. That's when I noticed the inscription. It's in my mother's hand, I think:

Barry 3 months

My father looks happy.

It's quite probably the first photograph of me as a child, and I have the strong feeling that it was taken on the day Mum and Dad and my Uncle Ken and cousin Thelma drove to North Fitzroy, to The Haven, the Salvation Army Home for Unmarried Mothers, to 'collect' me and take me home.

That was in late September or early October, 1943. In which case, my mother's inscription is technically incorrect. She was being a little premature. At the time of the photo, I was still legally Richard Charles Bertram. I did not become Barry William Carozzi until October 11, 1943, when the court proceedings were finalised, and my adoption was complete.

Monday, March 15, 2010

15. The Writing Life (6) Experimental Fiction 2 Constraint V Freedom

On the one hand: Freedom; on the other: Constraint

In my last blog I explored the FREE FALL approach to writing fiction. This article deals with what seems to be its opposite: writing within tight constraints.

5. Free Flow V OuLiPo

is writing without constraint. It is allowing ideas to flow, with critical judgement held in abeyance, anaesthetised, put out to pasture for a very long time. It means being open to whatever rise up out of our unconscious minds. As the commentator writes: it’s a method which may have the pay off that you develop or find a voice.

is at the other end of the spectrum of approaches. OuLiPO is an acronym. The approach was developed in the 1950s by a group of French Writers who called it: OUvroir de LIttérature Potentielle. Translated this means, roughly, Workshop of Potential Literature. Which means that OuLiPo should really be called WoPoLi.

The group of French persons who developed OuLiPo consisted of writers and mathematicians who invented, reinvented and experimented with different types of formal constraints.

Here are some examples of OuLiPo writing, experiment I tried recently: You may be able to spot what’s going on – the nature of the constraint I have imposed on myself.

A. Mary had a little lamb

Mary has a smallish lambkin
Wool as pallid as a cloud
To all compass points trots Mary
All among the schooling crowd

“No lambs. No lambs!’ proclaims a tutor
‘Lambs may not go in this hall.’
But loudly laugh his tiny scholars
Laugh out loud and down do fall.

If you own a smallish lambkin
Allow him not to go for schooling
Bind your lambkin to a post
That is this institution’s ruling

‘Woolly lambs,’ a tutor says
‘Do not follow our instruction.
Bring such animals not within
Our walls, avoid lamb-introduction.

Laughing young do much disrupt
Apt induction to our knowing
Bring a lamb within our walls
And too much laughing is a-growing

Sad looks all should now display
School’s not for such joy or laughing
Stand in rows with sullen looks
No smiling for our photographing

Baa baa black lamb, any wool?
Any wool within that sack
Bring us woolly cardigans
A woolly scarf is what our youngun’s lack.

B Jack & Jill

John with Jill did mount the hill
To fill their bucket with H2O
John fell down upon his crown
Jill too fell down, they told me so

John stood up, his drinking cup
Empty like this mind of mine
He needs some dressing on his scone
Otherwise he’s doing fine

Poor old John is feeling crook
Jill’s is joyous like some dog
Ruff ruff ruffing in its kennel
Chewing some delicious bone

In the A example, a rewrite of Mary had a Little Lamb, I have avoided using the letter E. In the second, I’ve avoided the letter A.

George Perec, one of the leading lights of the OuLiPO school, once wrote a 40000 word novel which contained not a single E.

6. Why impose such constraints? Is the imposition of constraint liberating?

The theory goes something like this. Our heads are full of clichés. Think fear, and we immediately think: shaking like a leaf, the hairs on the back on my head standing up. Our heads are full of clichéd ways of saying things, collected over the years and stored, ready for use, in our cells and synapses. So, when we ‘free flow’ we are simply giving free rein to our accumulated language habits.

But place a constraint – like you can’t use the letter E – and all of our ready-to-mind phrases become useless. We can’t respond ‘automatically’. That’s the trouble with automatic writing: it’s all automatic. Put up a barrier, the OuLiPo-crowd say, and you have to jump, you have to do something different.

With the letter E, so many words are no longer available – so you have to find new words:

Mary had a little lamb becomes Mary has a smallish lambkin
Its fleece as white as snow Wool as pallid as a cloud
And everywhere that Mary went To all compass points trots Mary
The lamb was sure to go All among the schooling crowd

Herein lies the major point of difference – the deeper significance – of the OuLiPo School’s project.

7. What kinds of constraints might a writer impose?


Constraints involving the avoidance of particular letters are a common OuLiPo strategy.
Rewrite Mary had a Little Lamb:
First, without A; then without O; then without E; then without I.

Choose a particular well know piece of literature. For example, the Shakespeare piece:

What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason
How infinite in faculties
In form and moving
How express and admirable
In action how like an angel
In apprehension how like a god
The beauty of the world
The paragon of animals

Use the piece as the basis of a piece of acrostic writing. For example:

Whenever hardy albatrosses take a position in Eden, careless evangelists
often forget what original reasons, key ideas, salacious meanings and noble happenings ossify. Wait! No orphans believe lies. Even in Nottingham. Recent eccentric artists savage our nation.

As far as possible, using words starting with a particular letter in a series of sentences. For example:
What a piece of work is man
Sentence One: W
Sentence Two: H
Sentence Three: A
Sentence Four: T
And so on.

We work, wearily, waiting and worrying. Horrific and hair-raising hopes are hardly heeded. An atom always attenuates an art. Then, tomorrow, terrible times triumph. Aggravated and annoyed, artists attempt to ask, to aspire, to attune art to any attainable aim. People preoccupied and precious, preach popular prophecies, and pontificate in pompous pulpits. I’m injured, intuitively, in my inner intensity.
Every Eden exhibits erogenous egos.


Again, drawing on the same excerpt, the Oulipos might require that 3 words from the ‘What a piece of work is man’ quote appear in succeeding sentences.

For example:

For what possible reason would a man take a piece of literature, a literary work, and interfere with it thus? Is man no more than a filter through which language is passed, and how can it be counted noble to so exploit him? In Reason’s name, how can this infinite play achieve any serious end, in university faculties or in the world? In my own thought patterns – and I speak honestly here – I’ve considered moving a motion of no confidence. But how and I to express this, and do so in an admirable fashion?

My ‘original’ text has been fashioned using words from Shakespeare as the starting point, or as a major component. The ‘constraint’ – the requirement that I use the words from What a piece of work is man in the precise order in which they appeared in the original – sets some limits on what I can write.

As with the [re]versions of Mary , Mary quite contrary, this practice is a particular form of what the postmodernists have called intertextuality: the way in which any ‘new’ text draws upon previously existing texts.
This concept of intertextuality was carried to its logical conclusion by Perec, in an experiment that involved drawing whole sentences from a wide range of novels, and welding them into a new text.Perec composed the novel A Man Asleep using words and sentences he had drawn from other texts. His biographer writes:

[It] is probably the first collage novel that can be read in complete ingnornace of the originals, or even of the fact that there are originals. Moby Dick, Bartleby, The Trial, The Inferno and Ulysses provide many of the sentences of Perec’s book …

He concludes:
Perec is not responsible for (most of) the words of A Man Asleep, only for the way they are put together.

There are numerous ways in which a writer might contrive to create a ‘constrained text’, and in so doing explore the ‘potentialities’ implicit within language. Another involves stipulating, from the beginning, the length of sentences. You could stipulate that every sentence in a piece be 12 or 15 or 17 words in length. You could begin with very short sentences, increase their size, and them, decrease them again.

First light.
Morning has broken.
A new day begins.
I am awake at last.
I try to remember my dreams.
Images of red goldfish swimming in ponds.
Worms writhing to escape the early morning magpies.
It’s the early bird that catches the late worm.
The dew on the grass begins evaporating in morning heat.


In many ways, the OuLiPo movement has its antecedents in poetry and verse. Structures such as the villanelle, the sestina, the ottavo rima, the sonnet – even the limerick – are very much like the principles that govern OuLiPo. Certainly the various metres of poetry – the iambic pentameter and its kith and kin represent powerful constraints that the writer must work within when creating text.

Here is an experiment based on the rhythm of language. In each stanza, I establish a recurrent pattern of sound-structures.:

Here in the dark
Alone in my bed.
My youngest daughter’s sleeping on the couch.

Hush and you’ll hear
The sounds of the night
The even breathing of my sleeping child.

Dogs on their chains
Barking at ghosts
My eyes are burning. How I long for sleep.

Here is a much longer passage, in which I have attempted to sustain particular rhythms. I begin with iambic pentameters. In the fifth paragraph, the rhythm shifts to an anapaest, then a adctyl, and so on.

We stand upon the shore and watch the waves, the way they form and rise and fall again. The way they form, grow larger, and rise up, defying, so it may seem, gravity. But then, their weight too great, they crash and rush in tumbling, broiling foam onto the shore. Each wave the same, yet each so different. And yet their forming is so regular.

The motion of the waves is like a pulse. The heart beats in a pattern of its own, and forces blood to course within our veins.

Behind the music, too, there lies a beat. It may be slow, as in a funeral march, or rapid and insistent – bit it’s there. The melody enmeshes with the beat.

And language, too, has rhythms of its own. They are as regular as day and night, as regular as waves upon the sand, just like the gentle beating of the heart. In writing, we can trace them as we read, much as we do when listening to speech,. And even in the clumsiest of prose, when words hang, limp as lettuce on a plate, or in a very poorly written piece. We nonetheless can hear the ebb and flow, the pulsing of the rhythm of the words.

And if we’re very careful as we listen to the gabbling, the incessant conversation of the people in the street, we can hear behind their voices, as insistent as a hammer, the extraordinary rhythms that indwell within our words. And there’s rhythm in the sayings of the wise and ancient writers who were speaking of a future that they knew they would not share. But the rhythm here is different from the one that came before it, for the first was quite iambic, whereas here – for your enjoyment – and I trust you will enjoy it, I’ve established in my sentences what experts in the field would call a stunning anapaest.

Try, if you can, to imagine a future – a world in which poets were given such praise, that they thought of themselves as a gift to the nation, a strong grateful nation that heard every phrase. Each sentence and lyric, each song and each rhythm, impressed in their ears and impressed on their minds, that they’d stare in amazement at what lay before them and raise up their voices in tribute to God.
You’ve read six paragraphs of prose. Did anything stand out for you? Did anything seem odd to you? How have your ears processed the sound?
And did you notice anything peculiar? Like: were the sentences sweet to your ear?

Of course I have been playing games with you. And if I’m honest, I would have to say:

The game began and still the game goes on.
I’m writing down these lines to show the way the rhythms operate.
Perhaps yours ears pick up the way the rhythms of these words I write are following a ‘beaten path’ - a pattern that I’ve fixed upon. And if you have remained alert, and listened very carefully, the patterns will reverberate. A drum beats softly in your head. A set of waves breaks on the shore, the mental shores of consciousness.

And so I ask you: Ask yourself. Does all of this seem too contrived? Do all these patterns I have formed seem too insistent in your mind. Too regular, too well laid out for you to take too seriously.

Read the whole passage once again. Go right back to the very start, and try - by reading out aloud – to single out (identify) the places where the rhythms change. Then , with your pencil mark the spot. There is music in the language of the speaker and the writer, we can hear them as we listen, we can hear them as we read. And the language of the gutter, and the voices of all people make an ever present music that engulfs us as we read. We are swimming in an ocean, and the ocean is of language. There are waves that are a-forming, growing larger, growing higher, and they’re crashing down upon us as we’re sitting here and listening. But like you, I’m feeling hopeful that we’ll – all of us – survive.

8. So what? What are we to make of the OuLiPo movement?

There has been, and continues to be, a general tendency to classify the members of the Oulipo as tricksters. The implication being that their work does not qualify as serious literature.

By September 2006, the OuLiPo group had conducted over 550 monthly meetings since its inauguration. The movement has certainly encouraged all kinds of experimentation in writing. No every experiment has proved successful. But then, that is the nature of experiments: they don’t always work.

By temperament, I’m drawn to the intensively expressive and personal writing that free writing and free fall writing encourage. As a novice writer, my focus was on writing that enabled me to access the truth of my experience. Much of my ‘serious’ writing explored autobiographical themes; it was, in essence, therapeutic. I needed to understand what made me tick. Writing was thinking about experience, making sense of my life.

However, there is an attraction in the OuLiPO project. As one observer commented:

Even if it fails to always produce vaunted “works” of literature, writing under constraint aspires to amuse and amaze simultaneously. In this respect, constrained writing clarifies and tests our categories of literature, but not without also feeding our sense of humor.

For some writers, the OuLiPo strategies provide a circuit breaker; they enable even the most blocked writer to produce material.
OuLiPo has been around for a considerable time – almost 50 years.
In contrast to the many avant-garde groups it has long outlived, the Oulipo does not purport to change the world through poetry alone, but rather aims to transform the way change itself is perceived. If potential literature is a possible literature — undoubtedly one of the meanings we may ascribe to the group’s use of po — the Oulipo undertakes the task of explicitly determining what is yet possible for literature, and then demonstrates how those possibilities may be realized in writing. In this sense, Oulipians imagine uncharted waters for literature and then proceed to map that imaginary space.

9. Towards a synthesis
I have attempted to present the view that among the more radical experimental strategies available to writers, Free Fall and OuLiPo stand at either end of the continuum.

At one end is Free fall. Free fall is unrestrained, unconstrained outpouring. I keep picturing the writer referred to in the Free Fall section, with his 75 folders of free fall writing, perhaps the raw material for a novel – or of several novels.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, the French existentialist writer Albert Camus. Camus writes of Sisyphus:

‘The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.’

For Camus, the writer is Sisyphus. Each morning, when I sit before my computer, I am struck by the image of Sisyphus. I contemplate my day: Today, as my hands roll over the keyboard, I will be embarking once more of a task of Sisyphian absurdity. Camus goes on to point out that Sisyphus was a wise man. Indeed, he had been scornful of the gods, and had even imprisoned Death. Sisyphus had spent time in the underworld, as all writers must do. And his punishment was the absurdity of a life carrying a heavy rock to the very top of the mountain, only to see it roll down the other side, so that the next day he must repeat the self same task.

If Sisyphus is at one end, of the continuum The Man from OuLiPo is at the other, attempting to write while wearing a strait jacket – a set of constraints that are intended to stop the easy flow of words, to force the writer to constantly make conscious choices of which word, which phrase.

They are Chalk and Cheese, this pair: Sisyphus and the Man from OuLiPo. And yet …

In the end, each strategy results in the production of a wealth of material. Words pour onto the page using either method.

Seventy five folders of free writing. Seventy five folders of OuLiPo-‘inspired’ work.

If writing is rewriting, as many believe, then perhaps there is no necessity ofr a choice to be made. It’s not a case of either/or, but rather this/and. Perhaps we each need to become the Freefalling [wo]man from OuLipo. Perhaps wave and particle are one and the same. Perhaps all roads lead to Rome.

14. The Writing Life (5) Experimental Fiction 1 Free writing and writing in Free Fall

The OuLiPo School and Free Fall

The look like two extremes. One is the way of excess - pour it out, hold nothing back, write till your hand cramps with pain, then write some more. The other is the way of restraint - write within these strict constraints, following these unchangeable rules.

1. One more step and I'll ...

Back in the late 1990s I used to run a part time course in Professional Writing and Editing at Sunraysia TAFE. I’d spend one weekend a month in Mildura, and teach all day Saturday and Sunday. I’d catch a plane out of Melbourne on Friday evenings and fly back on Sunday night.

M. was a member of my class there. She was a feisty 60 something, who wrote bush ballads and short stories with equal ease. She was a free thinker, an atheist who could not stand god-botherers, so much so that she’d placed a sign on her gate warning hawkers, salespeople and ‘religious’ types to stay away. A couple of Mormons ignored the sign and entered her property, a suburban house block not far from Mildura’s centre. When there was no answer at the front door, they made their way down the side way, Mormon bibles in hand, only to be confronted by M. She had been out the back, gardening. She was wearing shorts, and a ti shirt with a bra underneath.

Now M. was a woman who – to use the terminology of Pete and Dud – was endowed with large amounts of ‘busty substances’. M. looked the Mormons in the eyes, pulled up the front of her ti shirt, and shouted:
‘Take one more step forward, and I’ll scream RAPE!’
Needless to say the aghast evangelicals beat a hasty retreat.

We were doing Short Story 1 that year, and I was trying to broaden the tastes of the group, who were most at home with The Loaded Dog and The Drover’s Wife and Edgar Allan Poe, and with the rollicking verse of Banjo Patterson. So I introduced them to some postmodernists: Barthelme and that lot, and asked them to write a review.

M.’s review was succinct. In just 7 words she did to Barthelme what Truman Capote famously did to Jack Kerouak. (Capote’s review of On the Road was very brief, and utterly damning: This isn’t writing, it’s typing, he wrote.)

Of Barthelme, M. wrote: ‘If I could write like this, I wouldn’t.’

2. Not everybody's cup of tea

Experimental Fiction isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Many readers, especially those reared on the traditional short story with its six phase structure, often find experimental writing hard work. Edgar Allan Poe analysed the structure of short story – indeed of all narrative – back in the mid 1800s. (He wasn’t the first, of course; no one ever is. Aristotle had done the job a few thousand years earlier. But for our purposes, Poe will be the starting point.)

Poe wrote of narrative structure, defining the stages in the telling of the story.

First, you SET the SCENE
Once upon a time there was a little girl called Little Red Riding Hood …

In the year of 18__, in a certain town in Germany, there lived a doctor ….

The function of this section of the narrative is to create a sense of the ‘ordinary world’ – the world in which the action is to take place – and to introduce the main character(s) and the atmosphere or mood.

Next, you introduce a COMPLICATION or a PROBLEM – in film writing it is sometimes referred to as the INCITING INCIDENT. This is the thing that gets the story going.

One day, Little Red Riding Hood’s mother asked her to take a basket of cakes and fruit to grandma’s house, on the other side of the woods…

The third section Poe referred to as the RISING ACTION. This is the part of the story where most of the action takes place. Red Riding goes into the woods, meets the wolf, and has a conversation. We learn that the wolf has a dastardly plan. He runs off and dresses as Grandma, and so on … This goes on until you reach the CRISIS.

This fourth element is the point at which the major tension or problem of the story is coming to a head. Little Red Riding Hood realises that the person in he nightie is in fact a wolf, and she now faces imminent destruction.

The fifth section is the RESOLUTION. The crisis is resolved: the girl is devoured or the girl is saved.

The final section is described by the delicious French word: DENOUMENTE. In some stories the denoumente can consist of no more than: … and they lived happily ever after. In other stories, it can be longer. It refers to the tying up of loose ends. In some detective fiction - on television and in text – this often involves a summary re-telling of the story, in which the relationships among the intricate pattern of clues laid during the story is revealed.

Some experimental fiction has gone down the path of subverting the various structural elements, and exploring what happens to story if you, say, don’t have a plot, or if there’s no characters, or there’s no structural unfolding of the story.

3. Free Writing

During the 1990s, Peter Elbow – an American teacher of writing - wrote about what he called Free Writing. It has become a major strategy, indeed almost part of the ‘New Orthodoxy’, used by many writers as a means of getting the words flowing. Julia Cameron’s notion of ‘Morning Pages’ comes from the same thinking base.

Elbow said of Free Writing:

Freewriting enables the writer to get past the conventional frame of work because it allows ideas to flow from the mind to the pen. In freewriting there are no walls or boundaries to cast a grammatical shadow on the writer. Freewriting is fast. It should be written that way. It is also important that the writer keep writing even if ideas that seem completely unrelated begin to materialize on the page.

In Free writing, you just write. The ‘instructions’ for free writing are as easy – and as difficult – as the steps suggest:

1. Clear your mind. Relax. Forget all of the rules concerning grammar, correctness and so on. You can also relax about spelling and punctuation. This is the most important part of the exercise.

2. Set a time limit for yourself. If you are a beginning writer try a ten-minute limit. If you are a more experienced writer, try fifteen to twenty minute sessions. In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends a daily routine she calls “Morning Writer”. She recommends that writers set the goal of writing three pages of ‘stuff’ as a start to the day.

3. After you've set a time limit, WRITE. Don't stop. If you spell words wrong, don't go back to edit. If the idea fades KEEP WRITING. This is crucial to the exercise. Even if you have nothing on your mind, write ‘I HAVE NOTHING ON MY MIND, I HAVE NOTHING ON MY MIND, I HAVE NOTHING ON MY MIND.’ You can keep writing this over and over because it is okay. What you are doing is freeing your mind, and eventually something will surface even if you have to do multiple sessions of free writing.
If you follow these instructions, you can produce pages of ‘stuff’. The ‘act of faith’ is that this ‘stuff’ will actually be of some value. This approach emerged in the 1980s and 1990s as a reaction to more traditional approaches to writing that emphasised detailed pre-planning and careful attention to the details of grammar, punctuation and spelling during the writing phase.

Instead of weighing each phrase, each word, each sentence as you go, to ensure that the second sentence builds on the first, and the structure is right, you simply throw yourself into the current of your stream of consciousness, and allow the undercurrents to pick you up and carry you to … who knows where.

This account is reminiscent of Annie Dillard’s metaphor of the writing process in her essay, The Writing Life. She likens writing to the behaviour of the inch worm.
Few sights are so absurd as that of an inchworm leading its dimwit life… It waers out its days in constant panic… the wretched inchworm hangs from … a grassblade and throws its head around from side to side, seeming to wail, What! No further? … it searches everywhere in the wide world for the rest of the grass, which is right under its nose. But dumb luck it touches the grass. Its front legs hang on; it lifts and buckles, … its body makes a loop, a bight …the blind and frantic numbskull makes it off one grassblade and onto another one, which it will climb in virtual hysteria for several hours. Every step brings it to the universe’s rim…

In just the same way, the writer writes. Elbow puts it thus:

Writing always begins with the first word. Once the first word is laid onto the page the work has the potential to become a poem, a fiction, a letter, a memo, a report on renaissance artists, or even a dissertation on the biological workings of insect digestive tracts. It all starts with the first word.

Freewriting and Morning Pages and similar approaches are built on the premise our unconscious is like a spring, always capable of flowing. And certainly the experience of many writers is that free writing works. To use a gold mining metaphor: with luck, you hit a ‘mother lode’, a rich source of gold ore. Or to use Csikszentmihalyi’s evocative term, you get into flow.

In her excellent book, Writing in Flow, Susan Perry describes flow as follows:

Flow is a relatively new term for an essential and universal human experience. You know you’ve been in flow when time seems to have disappeared. when you’re in flow you become so deeply immersed in your writing , or whatever activity you are doing, that you forget your surroundings… Writing in flow , you’re often certain you’re tapping into some creative part of yourself – or of the universe – that you don’t have easy access to when you’re not in this altered state. Sports figures call this desired condition being ‘in the zone’.

These days I seem to be able to get into flow fairly regularly. I recall one of the first times it happened. It was 1982, my years of living ‘the writer’s life’ full time. I’d received a Commonweealth Literary Grant – enough to support me for a year writing full time. My writing day began at 8 or so, once the kids had gone off to school. I’d write for 3 or 4 hours, take a break for lunch, then write for another 3 – 4 hours. And if things were going really well, I’d continue after tea. Sometimes.
I always had 4 or 5 major projects ‘on the go’, There was my ‘Great Australian Novel’, my semi autobiographical first novel. Then there was ‘No Love For Anna’, a romance novel that I hoped would bring in some dollars to help support my habit. Thirdly, there was ‘Piers Dragonslayer’, an children’s novel. In addition there were several short stories I was working on.

I got up one day, and started a ‘limbering up’ exercise. I’d thought: I’ll just do this to get the words flowing. ‘This’ was to be a page or three about the house I grew up in; it started with the title: My Mother’s House. I’d work on it for an hour, I thought. Three days and sixteen thousand words later, I finished the draft. I’d hit what the American gold diggers called pay dirt.

4. Free Fall or Automatic writing or Mitchell’s Messy Method

There’s no such thing as a new idea. Every idea has its antecedents. Turns out that free writing had been around for half a century. A Canadian named W.O.Mitchell had developed a method of freewriting when teaching creative writing at the Banff School of Fine Arts in the Rocky Mountains. He called it Mitchell's Messy Method, or sometimes free-fall. A commentator described the approach:

It is also known as automatic writing.
Students were expected to stay in their rooms all day and night, except for meals, writing non stop, whatever came to mind, without any preconceived purpose. They listened to themselves, or to the walls, ignoring the herds of magnificent and, during the rutting season, dangerous elk grazing outside their windows, and they WROTE. At the end of several weeks they were supposed to have uncovered the topics and scenes and memories and obsessions that could tell them what they ought to be writing about, and possibly how. They may also, along the way, have developed or found a voice.

Some in universities sneered at this approach. I was tempted to become a sneerer myself for a while, when one of Mitchell's students came to my workshop with a wooden apple crate filled with 75 folders, each containing a different day's crop of free-fall.
Mitchell's messy method helped me find my material, he said.
Now you're going to help me turn them all into stories I can publish!

It seems that Free fall is to writing what a Vipassana retreat is to meditation. The same thing, but much, much more intensive.

How to do free fall writing

Set aside a SUBSTANTIAL amount of time. It should be a minimum of two hours, but it could be a whole day - or more than one day.


Write whatever comes into your head. Do not censor, just write...

REMEMBER : This is private writing. You will not be asked to show this to anybody.

If you want to find out more, here are some web links about the Free Fall method

A final word on free fall. If there are a few people who like to give it a try, we could organise a weekend – or even a week long Free Fall writing experience.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

13. Autobiography (6) Herbert Garrie Carozzi - A Brief Biography

For the first 66 years of my life, I believed that Herbert (Herbie) Garibaldi (Garrie) Carozzi was my father. In July 2009 I discovered that he was is fact my adoptive father. My adoption papers, which I obtained in late August 2009 , indicate that Linda and Garrie Carozzi adopted me on October 11, 1943. According to the court documents, they were unable to 'produce issue'.
They kept secret of real details of my birth all their lives and took the truth to the grave with them. Dad died in 1989 and Mum in 1991. The facts of my birth might still be a secret but for an aunt's slip of the tongue at an unguarded moment - in 2007. The secret remained in tact for another two years until I was finally told. But that is another story ...

My dad was "Garrie" to my Mum, but my boys - his grandchildren - called him "Herbie". He had little education, having left school at the age of 14 unable to read or write, and still in Grade 5. He worked in a series of unskilled labourers jobs throughout his working life. He was an ordinary man with simple needs. He loved fishing and camping.

As I write this, I can picture him now, sitting his Jason recliner rocking chair, in the lounge of our working man's cottage at 82 Reynard Street, Coburg. He lived there from 1936 almost until he died. In his final years he would often sit in his chair all day, watching TV; but every day, so Mum told me, he would turn off the tele, and slip the cassette of the Barrow Creek Boys into the cassette player, and listen to the Australian songs I had written and recorded with Phil McGuire, and he would hum along.

Herbert Garibaldi Carozzi was born in Coburg in 1905, the son of Annibale Carozzi, an Italian jeweller, wine merchant and interpreter, and an Australian born woman, Caterina Mazza. He was the fifth of seven children born to the couple between 1894 and 1908. Annibale died in 1912, at the age of 52, but Caterina lived into the 1960s, and was 94 when she died.

So Garrie - as he was known - was only seven when his father died, and was raised by his mother and older siblings. He was never outstanding in his schoolwork, and was kept down at primary school, finally leaving at the age of 14, whilst still in grade 5 at St Fedelis Catholic School, in Coburg. Up until grade three, he had attended Coburg State School 484. His departure from the state school was the subject of much family lore. According to Garrie Carozzi, his illiteracy stemmed from having been taken from the state school and enrolled at St Fidelis, a Catholic Church. According to Garrie, the classes were very large, and the Catholic school was more interested in the saving of souls than it was in the education of minds. "It was prayers, prayers, prayers and more prayers … and when it wasn't prayers, it was the catechism."

At 14, Garrie was ill-prepared for the world of work. He could neither read nor write, and he wasn't too hot on his tables, either. But the war was over, and there was work to be had. His first job involved the making of patty pans, for small cakes. He lasted at the job for three days; his departure was prompted by his punching the boss' son! He spent the next decade in a range of unskilled labouring jobs: in a factory making travelling cases, in brick yards, as an errand boy for a scientific instruments company.

Then in the late 1920s, he took on an apprenticeship as a boot maker. It was a good trade, and he enjoyed the work, but the Great Depression, beginning in the late '20s put an end to his apprenticeship.

He was on susso for most of the next six years. He was involved in various work-for -the-dole schemes, one of which extracting bluestone clinkers from the basalt deposits around what became the Coburg Lake. Garrie was no longer a young man. He had no job and few prospects; like most working class men, he lacked skills - and unskilled labourers are inevitably the most at risk in times of depression.

He met Linda Kipping at a dance in Coburg around 1935. He was thirty. Linda was 28. She'd left her home town, Hamilton, in the late '20s, and by this time was working as a domestic servant for Coburg's leading dentist : Victor French. The two married in 1936.

As the economic situation improved, Garrie began to find more work. He worked for a time at the brick company, Davis and Coop; he worked for the local woodman, Bob Davies, working at Bob's wood yard, loading wood on to the old tray truck, ready for delivery around the local area. In the early 1940s he worked in Macauley in a rabbit factory, skinning and gutting rabbits.

The newly weds lived in a single room flat for a time, sharing a bathroom with Jack Kynock and his wife, in Brunswick. Then in 1936 or 1937 they began renting a house in Coburg: 82 Reynard Street. They were to live in this house until just before their deaths, over 50 years later. By then they owned the house, having decided to buy it from its owner, Mr. Scott, in the late fifties.

Life at this time was a struggle, but at least Garrie's family was close: Garrie's sister, Vonny, lived a few hundred yards away; his brother Arthur and wife Dulcie lived around the corner in Loch Street; his mother, Caterina, lived less than a mile away, in Beckwith
Street, Coburg, and with her lived Garrie's sister, Rita. His eldest brother, Roy, lived in inner city Kensington, and his youngest sister, Ina, lived with her husband, Allan Robinson, down in Brunswick. Only his sister Thelma had left Coburg; she lived in Sydney. Most of Linda's family was still living in Hamilton, where her father, Bill Kipping, and mother, Edith Kipping (nee Davis) also lived.

Times were tough, but with the war, more opportunities became available. At 35, and with flat feet, Garrie was both too old and physically unfit for army service.

The version of events that I was told throughout my childhood went something like this:
In 1941, they were delighted to discover Linda was pregnant, but the child - a boy - was stillborn. Two years later, in June 1943, Linda gave birth to Barry William. In 1945, Linda again fell pregnant. Again, she went full term, but again she lost the child at the last moment; the baby girl lived for only a few hours. It is hard to assess the effect these events had upon them; certainly their sole surviving son became the focus of their attention and love, and they sheltered, and - in the view of the rest of the family - spoiled their one precious child.

In fact, my parents adopted me. I'd been born at The Haven in North Fitzroy on June 8, 1943. My adoption was arranged three to four months later. There were forms to be signed, a court process to be gone through. In early October, 1943, my parents drove to The Haven to collect me. My cousin Thelma, who was 6 at the time, still vividly remembers the day. Her father - my Uncle Ken - drove my father's car to the 'hospital'; apparently Herbie was too agitated to drive himself.

There is a photo of my father holding a baby. My father is dressed in a suit and the baby is wrapped in a bunny rug. You can see his Italian heritage - in his face, is hair, his dress. He looks very happy.

In 1945, after working in dozens of jobs over the previous three decades, Garrie went to work for the MMBW - the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works - and her worked there until he retired twenty years later. For ten years, Garrie worked in the sewerage section of the MMBW. It was hard, dangerous, and dirty work; each day he would dress in gum boots, thick rubber pants and jacket, and rubber hat, and descend into the sewers around Caulfield; his job was to clear blockages. He would often find valuables: money, jewellery, scrap metal; he would also find quite bizarre things: false teeth, dead animals, articles of clothing; and of course, there were rats.

During the fifties, Garrie left the sewers, and started work at a Depot. These depots were responsible for dealing with minor maintenance work. He was based in Pascoe Vale, and later in Broadmeadows. The work was very poorly paid, and back-breakingly hard. Often, if he was "on duty", he would be called out in the middle of the night, and would have to drive to he depot, where he would collect his bike, a crow bar and a shovel, and ride to the problem site. He would have to dig up the road until he found the leak, mend it, and then fill the hole in. There were no mechanical aids in those days - no bob cats or bull dozers; it was all manual labour, back breaking manual labour.

In 1967 while Garrie was working in a deep hole at two in the morning, he was almost killed when a car drove into his work hole. He suffered relatively minor injuries, considering that the accident was potentially fatal.

Years of smoking and working in the wet and cold had made him susceptible to bronchial troubles. He would cough and hawk over the gulley trap each morning, spitting great globs of green/brown phlegm down into the drain.

He retired in 1969, at the age of 62. Part of him wanted to keep working, but the accident robbed him of confidence, and the doctors strongly recommended that he retire; they also told him that he must give up smoking before it gave him up.

In retirement, he and Linda travelled to New Zealand for a six week holiday. There they met the Utz family, Mervyn and Margaret ? , a couple from Queensland who owned units on the Gold Coast. The friendship continued past the trip, and for the next decade or more, Garrie and Linda made an annual pilgrimage north, and stayed - free of charge - in the Utz's Gold Coast unit. It was a welcome escape from Melbourne's cold winter. They would leave in June and return in September or October.

Garrie's seventies were spent in slow decline. His bronchial problems and emphysema were a constant worry. He was slowing down. His legs began to lose strength, and by 80 he required a walking frame. He'd had few interests in his life beyond his job, and in old age, the few remaining interests became increasingly difficult to pursue. He'd always loved fishing, and in his during his 50s and 60s he'd often driven up to Maffra to one of his nieces' farm, and would spend days fishing in the Thompson or Macallister Rivers. But with failing strength, that became less possible. His final fishing trip, at the age of 81, was to a fish farm at Buxton, where he caught a bag full of trout.

In his old age he took great joy in his grandchildren, and would look forward to their regular visits. In 1986 he and Linda celebrated their fiftieth year of marriage; it coincided with the fiftieth years of their residence at 82 Reynard Street. Soon after, however, their failing health required them to shift to a hostel - they could no longer care for themselves. They were in and out of Mount Royal hospital.

At the age of 83, having moved into a hostel for the aged, he had a fall and broke his hip. His emphysema made normal anaesthesia too dangerous, and an epidural was planned. After a week in hospital he died. It was February 28, 1989.

12. Autobiography (5) Sketch: Wash as far as Possible

Every night, Mummy says to me: "Wash as far as possible, and then wash possible."
I always feel the redness in my cheeks. I have to stand in the concrete trough in the wash house. Mummy puts soap on a flannel and rubs my face, my arms, my back, my legs. Sometimes the water's too hot; sometimes the flannel scratches.

There are lots of chooks in our chook pen. Dad lets me help him collect the eggs. Sometimes the chooks sit on the eggs in their hutches, and when I try to take the eggs, they flap their wings. Daddy says not to drop the eggs. I hold them with both hands. Sometimes they are warm to hold.

One day my daddy killed a chook. He chopped the head off and the blood sprayed all over the chopping block, and some went on my mother's sheets that hung on the clothesline, and the chook ran backwards around the yard till it fell down dead. Then dad ran boiling water over it for ages so he could pluck it. When the feathers came out, the skin was all like goosebumps.

Our toilet is out the back, beside the sleep-out where the 'men' live. The men are Mr Pearson and Mr Pitfield. They work at the Lincoln Mill, and they live with us. Mum cooks and washes for them, and they eat tea with us at night. They sleep in the bungalow.

The toilet is old and made of wood. When dad goes to the toilet he leaves the door open, and smokes while he's sitting there. There's a hedge in front of the toilet, and the leaves are green and yellow. The seat of the toilet is made of wood. Dad cut a telephone book in half, and it hangs by a string, on a nail. When I go to the toilet to do grunts, I have to wipe my bottom with a piece of paper from the telephone book on the wall there. One day, when I was little, I fell back through the seat and got stuck and dad had to come and pull me out.

At night there's a pot behind the door in mum and dad's room. We all use the pot at night; it's too dark and cold to go outside to the toilet. I have to kneel down so I don't miss the pot and wee on the floor. Or I can sit on the pot. If I have to do grunts, I have to sit on the pot. I don't like sitting, because mum and dad wee in the pot too, and when I do grunts, it splashes me. And it smells. I wet the bed sometimes. Mum said the doctor says that I'm highly strung and that's why I wet the bed.

The Fitzes live next door. Mrs. Fitz is my mum's friend. Mum and Mrs. Fitz went on a holiday to Sydney when I started school, so Dad had to take me the first few days. I like Mrs Fitz, but Mr. Fitz frightens me. Mum says Mr. Fitz drinks, and that's why he's so angry and why he shouts. Mum says that Mr. Fitz drinks because he went to the war. My dad didn't go to the war because he had flat feet, and he was too old.

Mr. Fitz goes to the pub every night. So does Mr. Coventry. He lives in the house next door - on the other side - up Reynards Street. Mrs. Coventry plays the piano, and sometimes I can hear her playing on the other side of the wall. Mrs. Coventry tells my mum that sometimes she can hear me singing, through the wall, and that she likes to hear me singing, and that I must be a happy boy to sing so much. Mr. Coventry has a red nose, and a red face.

When men leave the pub some come into our laneway and wee on to the wall. Mum says that that is a naughty thing to do. But sometimes, when I'm coming home from Sunday school, up the back lane, I have to have a wee, so I wee in the laneway.

On trams, boys must stand up and give their seat to a lady. Mum takes me to the city on the tram. The trams are green. Coburg trams are number 19 and number 20. One day there is a lady on the tram who talks to herself all the time about God and Jesus and sin. Mum says I mustn't stare at the lady, that it is rude to stare. Mum says that the lady is a 'religious maniac', and that she reads the Bible too much. I want mum to tell me more, because I don't understand, but mum says that children should be seen and not heard.

When I go to Sunday school, Jimmy Campbell sometimes meets me and walks me home. Mum says that Jimmy is a nice boy, but he is a bit simple. He's much older than me. Sometimes he wants me to have a wee in the lane, and he keeps asking me if I want to have a wee, and tells me that I should have a wee.

At Sunday school we sing songs. We sing:

Hear the pennies dropping, listen while they fall
Every one for Jesus, he shall have them all
Dropping, dropping, dropping, dropping
Hear the pennies fall
Every one for Jesus - he shall have them all.

I give Jesus a penny every Sunday. We sing other songs too:

Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light
Like a little candle, glowing in the night
In this world of darkness, we must shine
You in your small corner, and I in mine

I like this chorus, especially the last line … You in your small corner, and I in mine…
When we have finished, we sing:

Now Sunday school is over, and we are going home
Goodbye, goodbye, we will be kind and true
Goodbye, goodbye, we will be kind and true

At bed time Mum gives me big cuddles and I nuzzle my head and my nose into her. I like being cuddled by my mother; she has a soft, warm bosom. Aunty Rita has big bosoms, and she kisses me on the cheeks all the time. Her bosom smells of lavender powder. I don't like it when Mum powders herself in the bath, because when it is my turn to have a bath, the powder floats on the surface.

I don't like it when I wet the bed, because sometimes the bed goes cold, and I wake up shivering. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, the bed is wet and I don't know why. I hate it when I have to get up in the night to do grunts, because it smells. Some people say 'poo' instead of grunts, but mum says poo is a naughty word and I shouldn't say it, so I say grunts.

Mum says I'm her good little boy, but she says sometimes I can be a little sod.

11. Autobiography (4) Sketch: My Dad, the Sewer Man

My father worked for the Board of Works - in the Sewerage section. It was his job to descend into the area where the jobbies of others were transported to the treatment plant, at Werribee, there to be rendered sanitised and made germless, odourless, colourless, clean. If your ever drove down Geelong Road, past Werribee, back in the sixties or seventies, you will recall having to drive with windows firmly closed - they did poorly on the odourless critireon.

My father's job was to make the journey of the waste matter as easy as possible - to remove any impediments that might otherwise slow or halt the flow. He was a Blockage Removalist. Each day, in preparation for his work, he would dress in long gum boots, thick rubber pants, thick rubber coat, gloves and a rubber sou'wester, clamber through a manhole. Once suitable attired, he would climb down a vertical ladder that took him into the intricate system of concrete drains that formed the veins of the city's sewerage system. There, with a hooked pole, rather like a shepherd's crook, he would break up the blockages and remove any obstructive material.

It was amazing what he found down there: dead animals - cats, dogs, and the like; live rats; articles of clothing; bottles; jewellery; watches; money. And, of course, turds, in various stages of decomposition, slowly dissolving into the mix of urine, storm water, dishwater, and god knows what else that formed the nutrient rich soup that helped turn Werribee into an agricultural paradise.

It was a lowly job, but somebody had to do it. It did mean that dad received a little additional money - a gesture to compensate for the unhygeinic and unpleasant nature of the work.

My father had few pleasures in his life, few indulgences. Unlike virtually all of my uncles, my father was not a drinker, although he smoked like a chimney. He occasionally drank a shandy - a weak mix of beer and lemonade; it was the only alcohol dad drank; he certainly didn't touch wine or whisky - he called them 'plonk'.

In my whole life, my father hit me perhaps four times. Others in my extended family were used to physical punishment, usually at the hands of their fathers, usually when those man had had a bit too much to drink. No - the smacking in our family was my mother's domain.

Dad's virtual tee-totalism cut him off from other men. Though working class through and through, and born and bred and schooled in Coburg, he was not like other blokes. He didn't join the congregation around the bar at the Post Office Hotel at the corner of Reynard Street and Sydney Road each day for the hour of drinking that preceded what was then called the 6 o'clock swill. In those days - the forties, fifties and sixties, hotels were required to cease serving alcohol at 6 o'clock. As a consequence, the seasoned and crafty drinkers would order several drinks at five minutes to six, and line them up on the bar so that they could consume them in the next ten to fifteen minutes. At six or so the barman would call "Time, gentlemen, please." And that call signalled the end of the sale of beer for the day; no more could be sold, but it could still be drunk. The gentlemen around the bar would pour their last pints down their throats in that hectic final ten minutes before they were required to vacate the premises. It was "gentlemen" because women were not allowed in public bars.

The drinkers would then stagger out of the pub. They would be a rowdy lot, and would often slur their words when they spoke. They frightened me when I was a little boy. Sometimes they would stagger into a back lane, or worse - into our sideway - a narrow entrance way into our house - and relieve themselves against a wall. Thankfully, that sort of behaviour was not my father's way.

He was far from perfect, and had a number of habits I found unpleasant. He smoked heavily, and as a result suffered from all kinds of respiratory tract infections: bronchitis, catarhh, and the like. Each morning, I would wake to the sound of his cough and spluttering - my bedroom window was just above the outside gulley trap into which my father would spit brown green phlegm that he had hawked up each morning.

He took me camping, took me rabbiting with him, taught me how to weave rabbit nets, and showed me how to catch fish and how to gut rabbits. When I was about 9 or 10, and started to tell him jokes and riddles, he would listen politely, and then invariably say: "I fell out of the cradle laughing at one."

And every Christmas, as Mum prepared the pudding, and needed coins - thrupences and sixpenses to poke into the pudding - Dad would bring out his jar of coins, the ones he had salvaged from the sewers, and say, "Here you Linda. You can use these."
And Mum would shrink back in a pretence of horror, and say, "Oh Garrie - don't be so disgusting."

And Dad and I would laugh ourselves silly.

10. Autobiography (3) Sketch: My Early Life as a Reader

My father could neither read nor write, and I have no recollection of my mother reading to me. My earliest memories are of the Bible stories told at Sunday School, but even those are vague: Jonah being swallowed by the whale, Jesus walking on the water, Peter sinking because he lacked faith, Jesus saying: "Suffer the little children to come unto me." Suffering, I knew even then, was something painful; why would the children be suffered to go to him, I wondered. It didn't make sense.

I recall a book called Brave Brian, about a boy lost in a wood at night, where the trees and vines would grab hold of him. I think it was a fox that rescued him.

My favorite childhood stories came from radio: Little Toot, the tug boat who was laughed at by the other bigger tugboats but who saved the day; The Happy Prince, read - I think - by Bing Crosby - brought me to tears each time I heard it. There were others. One concerned a Christmas tree; another was Peter and the Wolf, with its stirring background music; and of course Peter Rabbit, who went into Farmer McGregor's garden without permission.

My mother played 'This little piggie went to market' with me. There was always that mix of anticipation when the smallest toe was about to be tickled. There were jokes, too, told by my father; his favorite was about the little boy in school, asked to put the words depot, delight and defender into a sentence: "De light was out, de pot was full, so I did it in de fender."

Family events were also times for stories. I remember being taken by the stories and riddles my Uncle Ivan would tell: "A man rode up the hill on Friday, stayed for a week and rode down the hill on the same Friday. How is that possible?"

I had a few books as a young child. Little Golden books were available in the shops, but we owned only a very few. I did have a book that featured little boys and girls with very chubby faces, but I recall little of the stories.

By the time I was 10 my aunts and uncles and neighbours were giving me books for my birthday - either a book from the Biggles series, by Captain W/E Johns, or one of the Billabong books by Mary Grant Bruce. I had virtually the full set of each series, but I didn't read them. I was a painfully slow reader. Indeed, by the age of 16 I had read only one book cover to cover, independently. At 12, I had persisted with reading Biggles Flies North for a mont, by which stage I had read 70 pages - so I gave up. When I first went to University, my reading was still painfully slow. I used to time myself: I averaged 4 to 5 minutes per page with a normal paperback, and I subvocalised all the time.

I loved listening to stories. I recall in grade 6 Miss Corrie read us the Australian classic, The Little Black Princess. I enjoyed being read to, or hearing tales told round the fire. And, ironically perhaps, I always loved writing stories.

It was Steinbeck who first fired my enthusiasm for reading. Of Mice and Men was my first book, and I was so taken by Steinbeck's style that I tried to copy it when I wrote. I loved the story, and afterwards tried to read Grapes of Wrath. It was hard going, but it moved me enormously. It took me two years, but I completed it. I recall, too, sitting in the dunes at Barwon Heads reading The Canterbury Tales in preparation for Year 12. I was camping there with mates from school

I struggled through the reading demands of University, slowly increasing my reading speed, but when I left university I had read fewer than thirty books in my lifetime. Over the Christmas break between completing Matriculation and going to University, I began a program of self improvement. I set out to broaden my reading, beginning with Nevil Shute's On the Beach.

The experience of Literature as she is taught at University all but destroyed the embryonic love of books that Steinbeck had brought to life. In English 1 and 2, we lay the cadavers of poems and novels on the examination room table, and dissected them. All around me were knowledgeable specialists and brilliant young men and women who spoke about literature in a language I could not understand. For me, it was a painful, lifeless pursuit and I spent virtually the whole time feeling incompetent. When I left university, I didn't want to read any more.

There is a system for helping poor readers to read; it is called the Delecarto method, and involves retracing the course of the child's development of perceptual and motor skills, to rebuild the brain's links. I went through a similar process. I didn't get down on the floor and learn to crawl again; I simply started again, with children's books.

I had arrived at Glenroy Technical School, a 22 year old teacher, with a BA and Dip.Ed, there to teach English and Social Studies, and a list of 'Books Read' that barely filled a page. As a teacher of junior English, I had to read books to the students. Someone introduced me to the C S Lewis Narnia series. I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and I was hooked. I read all seven in the series, and moved on to Lloyd Alexander's Prrydian series : The High King, Taran Wanderer, and so on, tales with a strong base in Celtic mythology. Next came The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings - still among my favorite books, I think - followed by Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast series. By my mid twenties, I was finally an avid reader; by my late twenties I was an avid reader and a published writer.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

9. The Writing Life (4) Meanderings ... going where the currents take me

Five domains of the writer's mind
intimate private public real imagined

The Intimate Space: In which the project is conceived
The Private Space: The physical place , the processes
The Public Space: The reader in the writer’s mind
The Real Space: The real world from which material comes
The Imagined Space: The world created in the writing

intimate private public real imagined
Seeking a metaphor ...
Nigel Krauth, the writer and academic, proposed that there are five “spaces” or “domains” that are at play – at interplay – as a writer writes. If this were geometry, they'd be planes of the mind. Were it geology, strata of the mind; but strata that tilt and cut across each other. They are the faces of Rubic's cube. They are prime colours, endlessly mixing and re-mixing.

Private Space
It is Sunday morning. I’m feeling in good nick. Ideas flow and weave through my mind as I eat breakfast. I’m thinking about voices- line with the thoughts I’ve been having about the archetypes. Earlier I completed my reading of Lauren Richardson’s article on research as writing – or is it writing as research. I’m sitting at my computer. It’s 9.40 am. I’m typing, not dictating.

Intimate Space
The ‘project’? What does Krauth mean by the project? Does he mean my PhD, or the piece I’m conceiving as I write?
I had a good idea earlier, but it has swirled away, as ideas do unless I take a firm hold of them. I am a bear in the river, and the salmon are swimming past. It’s no easy job to grab them: they are fast, strong and above all slippery. I need to get my claws in, or they slither out of my grasp.

(Returning to this paragraph, I find that I like the bear and salmon image. Salmon-thoughts returning from the great ocean, swimming upstream – against the normal flow … The normal flow is downstream - the line of least resistance. These deeper thoughts – these attempts to impose rationality in the irrational flow of sensory experience, the minutiae of daily life… )

The metaphor has returned:

Years ago, at Sandy Point where I holidayed 10 to 12 weeks every year, during school breaks, one of my favourite pastimes was spear fishing at night. We would head out into the surf once darkness had fallen, with a small 6 volt battery pack, a bag to hold our catch, and a three pronged spear.

The best time was just after the tide turned. Moonless nights were best. Ideally, the surf wasn’t rolling, nor the sand roiling. Moonless, calm, windless nights, with a gently incoming tide lapping: they were the best nights.
Flounder were relatively easy to catch - once you had mastered the trick of recognition. Flounder are bottom feeders. They swim along the bottom. They take frequent rests, and just ‘sit’ on the sea floor. Often they will flutter their ‘wings’ as they settle, so that sand covers most of their bodies.
You have to learn to spot them – to see the vague outline of their shape, and most importantly, their protruding eyes. Once you spot a flounder, you can usually spear it without difficulty. Even if the flounder senses danger, its escape strategy is predictable: it will swim off for 4 or 5 metres or so, then make a sharp veer – at an angle of 150 degrees – for another metre. It’s escape strategy forms the shape of a 7.

Mullet don’t so much swim as drift in with the incoming tide. Like flounder, mullet are scavengers. The trick with mullet is to keep them at the edge of the light; you don’t shine the light directly into their eyes, or they will swim off. Even if they do swim off, there is some chance that you can spear one, as they are not fast fish. Rabbits are dazzled by spotlights, and often sit, in a panic of immobility; mullet are spooked by bright light in their eyes.

The spearing itself is tricky because of the refraction of light. Unless you are directly above your quarry, refraction affects your aim. Your spear gives the illusion of being bent, so you must allow for that.

There are many ways, the saying goes, to skin a cat. There are even more ways to catch fish with spears. Garfish swim in schools along the surface of the water. The strategy with garfish is to use the spear as a club, and stun the garfish with a thump behind the head.

Salmon trout used to spawn in Shallow Inlet – maybe they still do – and were a very popular fish with rod-and-reel anglers. Once hooked, they would put up quite a fight, swimming rapidly this way and that, attempting to free themselves of the hook. Salmon trout were the most difficult of all fish to spear. They are fast swimmers and unpredictable. Unlike mullet, who drift and laze in the shallows, salmon swim in schools, and make rapid forays into the shallows, riding in on incoming waves, in search of food in the shallows, then just as rapidly dart back out into deeper water. I have speared salmon, but on most occasions, it was pure luck, and not skill that landed me the fish.

Flathead were a prized fish among we spear-and-light hunter-gatherers. Flathead, like flounder, are scavengers, who lie of the sea bed a filter the water through their mouths and gills to extract food scraps.

Here is the strategy for catching flathead. You catch a glimpse of a flathead at the very edge of your circle of light. You must immediately work out how to get behind the fish; flathead are easily spooked by light and approaching danger, and swim off into deep water immediately they sense danger. As you circle behind the fish, you must keep your quarry at the very edge of the light circle; its shape will be just visible. Ideally, you need at least two people to stalk a flathead: one to keep the fish at the edge of the light’s reach, the other to stealthily approach and spear the fish.

Flathead are very strong fish. If it’s a large flathead – say 2 or 3 kilos – spearing the fish isn’t the end of it. They writhe their powerful bodies attempting to escape your barbs; if you once let the fish raise itself off the seabed, it can pull the spear out of your hands – such is its strength.

Writing-thinking is sometimes like spearing flathead. If you make to direct an approach, your fish-thought will escape into the deep waters, into the murky depth of your unconscious. You have to creep up on some ideas, with cunning and hidden purposes your main weapons.

8. Music (1) My love affair with the humblest of instruments

It was during the late 70s / early 80s that I came across the ukulele. I loved it from the start, mainly because it was such an easy instrument to learn – much easier than guitar. (I’d learned to play guitar in the early 70s). The basic requirements are the same: you have to position your fingers to form chords, and strum with a regular rhythm. I taught myself how to play the basic chords in an hour or so. At the time, though, I was playing rhythm guitar in a band, so I put the uke aside – for a decade or more.

I came back to the uke in the late 90s, and - like many people – found it a good instrument to play when composing songs. I began using the uke in song writing workshops with kids and adults. Both seemed to like the instrument. And that got me thinking.

The piano and the keyboard are intimidating instruments. They’re so big, and they demand a lot of you. You need to learn to play with both hands. Guitars are less intimidating, but they still require a lot of effort and commitment to get to the point of playing competently. The thing I like about the ukulele is that it is so UNintimidating.

There’s a lot to be said for the uke:
Firstly, it is portable and easily transportable; the guitar is cumbersome, by comparison.

Secondly, it is a simple instrument to learn. Which is one of the reasons it gets such a bad press, I think. Dr Percy Scholes, the editor of the prestigious Oxford Companion to Music, has no time at all for the uke: he is dismissive, even contemptuous:

About the end of the first quarter of the twentieth century it became very popular in the United States amongst people whose desire to perform was stronger than their willingness to acquire any difficult technique or their desire to make intimate acquaintance with any very elaborate music.

Academics and musicologists may scoff, and choose to see the ukulele as little more than a child’s toy. The ukulele has certainly been linked with gimmickry and ‘novelty songs’. Think George Formby: I’m leaning on the lamppost at the corner of the street in case a certain little lady comes by, and When I’m cleaning windows. Think Tiny Tim. His Tiptoes Through the Tulips may have put the ukulele back on the map, but it also invited a wave of anti-uke snobbery.

Helen Garner wrote about this in her article, Against Embarrassment. She wrote about how she was, for most of her life, ‘a passive consumer’. And she’s not alone. In a few schools – mainly elite private schools and a few fortunate state schools – there are still music programs. But the old requirement of teachers, that they at least learn to play an instrument, and that they use that instrument in their work with children.

Helen speaks of a modest longing in us all – ‘the longing to rejoice, to mourn, or merely to pass the time pleasantly, every once in a while, in song.’

You can spend a few hundred dollars and buy an iPod; it gives you thousands of tracks at the touch of a button. Depending on your tastes, you could become intimately acquainted with very elaborate music – something that Sir Percy obviously regards as important. But your intimate acquaintance would be as a voyeur, a spectator, a ‘passive consumer’.

The ukulele is friendly; it’s a democratic instrument, available to everyone. We could – most of us – learn it, if we wanted to. Helen laments ‘what we’ve lost, in our lifetime, in the second half of the twentieth century … as recorded music took over our world…’ – the capacity to make our own music, to make our own fun.

Spend $25 or so dollars and buy a ukulele. Learn some songs. Practice the different strums. Master the techniques and make intimate acquaintance with enjoyment.

Sir Percy may squirm in his grave when I write this but: where’s the harm in people starting with the ukulele. Who knows, they might move on to other instruments. Where music is concerned, give me active creators any day in preference to passive consumers.