Amongst the books at home

Hard to choose one. Nobody home but me. Everyone usually sits amongst them. They are the walls. My dad had a study similar, and I used to play in there, building things out of books and pretending to read, which was as good as actually reading because I still made things, changed reality, added to it, made it from one colour to ninety shades of six colours, easily. Then had to go and feed the hens or something.

My children shot up, grew and left, weaving in and out of bookshelves, resisting the harping but absorbing the actual books.

Now I’m home alone and looking at the books. Hard to chose one. Thomas the Tank is on the floor again, split into a thousand small annoying paperbacks that take too long to read out loud and carry plots I can’t understand.

Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car, still kind, still has a river in it. My grandsons like the bit with the fighting.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with a gun on page 12.

My Terry Pratchett paperbacks are in an Ikea cabinet with a glass door, implying value, but they are pressed to the glass, squashed and irreverent, falling out, not in order, contemptuous.

Nothing is in order. It was once, but I moved the shelves and T ended up next to B, and S landed next to the Margaret Atwoods, who quelled the unease by turning sideways. I can’t find anything. Therefore, I am reduced to what wants me. Not a lot, but tonight, I notice things. Books have fallen out, or are used to ramp matchbox cars, or for a yoga head boost. There is a history of Sand: Journey through Science and the Imagination. Maybe. The Making of Australia by David Hill, but will there be any women in it, probably not, and then Wandering Through Vietnamese Culture by Huu Ngoc, where the hell did you come from? But it’s red and gold, 1123 pages, the pages creamy and silky, supple, and solid with weight, so that’s the one. It starts out, ‘Visitors who want a glimpse of Viet Nam’s traditional culture will find no better opportunity than a cruise along the Red River. A few well-chosen stopovers in this river delta dotted with sleepy thousand year old villages will provide the most curious tourist with a……and on it goes taking me to yet another place, aching with travel.

Hard to choose one. Still manage it.

It is good to know

Natacha Einat (2)

Last night there was a slice of light balanced on the horizon just before the sun set. Max said, ‘Is that the morning?’

It is good to know things.

A little girl in the shop, who darts into the shop after school and stands silently staring at the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, leaves without saying anything. I don’t know anything about her except that she reads. This, by default, makes her enormous. Which books, and why? She looks at art books, kneels next to, handles, frowns at those glossy slabs; the pages of the art books. She sits on her knees, a book laid flat on the carpet, bends over it, hands on the floor, looking and looking. Seeing…what?

It’s not just the page we see.

 

Artwork by Natacha Einat 

How to be stung

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Words have shapes. The word naked has a spike in the middle. This causes my three year old grandsons to freeze and lighthouse my face. They have heard the word and have become uncertain. I say naked. Naked? I plant the k firmly in the ground because it is important, and they rock about, filling their mouths with two year old laughter, powerful with innocence.
Cereal. Difficult because the r wants more attention that it needs. Ce-re-ral. Difficult because it is uttered so early in the morning, hungry, and hoping for exciting ce-re-ral, the stuff I buy because my mother never allowed me to have it.
I can’t write Australia without an error amongst the vowels.
I can’t type possibly because the y won’t appear.
I can’t say minimalist without losing a shoe and having to go back.
Bum. This is a satisfying word, like a stone thrown into a deep pond. Ripples. Causes hilarity for three year olds.

Mine. Powerful and causes consternation. Different powers according to where it is uttered. And who hears it.
The word freezing is nice to say. The grandsons linger amongst the long sounds and stretch the word, reining in sympathy and attention. Squirted is hilarious but tricky, the t softening into a d, and parents lurking in the car park, saying ‘Are you being rude?’
Bursted. Many things are bursted. A powerful and rich word that describes the world of the three year old more than what it is actually applied to. ‘What happened to the snail? It bursted.’
Sour is puzzling because it is a bit abstract. But is easily learned because of the accompanying flair of lips away from teeth. Three year olds are quick to utilize these performances. Anything can be sour, including vegetables, the sun or a library book.
Biscuit is buttery, baked, soft with kindness, and breaks up in the teeth amongst the actual sentence. Biscuit can stop a runner making for the back of the orchard with a toy truck they have taken from someone else.
Broken has authority. My three year old grandsons use it to blame, condemn, weep, console, manipulate and explain.
Spicy is abstract and unusual, but useful if you have accidentally tasted a chilli. It is immensely satisfying to linger twice amongst the tender skin of the ssss sounds, remembering the burn.

Yellow is simply too difficult. There is too much information thrown by the experience of yellow to waste time forcing the tongue. So, lello fills in, like a relief worker paid a lot but not really part of the plan. Lollies is always managed with skill, precision and desperation.
Buttons is exciting and authoritative and causes things to happen, such as the reprimand, ‘Did you press that?’
Max tried out Mr Archimedes, remembering the story, the bath, the wombat, the spilt hot water, the mop. He managed Mr Medes. It will do. He climbs over the words and continues with the story, ‘The water went all on the floor.’
I said monumental to someone in a thin fussy tone. Noah said, ‘Yeah,’ in hot agreement, the three year old taking part in family affairs, already reading politics with alarming accuracy.
Chippies is flinty and nice, salty and comforting, and rectangular, ‘We went to the shop and got some chippies with mummy.’ Devastation that at the time of the memory, there are no chippies anywhere.
Sting. This is rich and alarming. The s is loud and sharp, a warning. It is freighted with memories of stings. Toys are put down. Little boys gather to talk. ‘Did Noah get stinged? Where did the bee go? Once I got stinged on my thumb.’ The speaker holds up his foot as he says ‘thumb’. They stare at each other, concerned.

They keep on playing, talking, arguing, shouting –  squeezing and pushing at bits of language, every word a biscuit, a rich drench, a sting.

This has happened to me twice

The Smile by Philippe Vlgnal

This has happened to me twice now.

Somebody has asked me for a book which I don’t have. Then somehow, somewhere, I find their book, and I ring them to let them know. They are pleased; they thank me. And then we say goodbye. But they do not hang up in time. They keep talking, not realizing that we are all still there! 

This is very funny.  I hear them exclaim, shout, roar, scream. One lady laughed, deeply, loudly, raucously. She screamed as she drove:
‘Ah. Ah. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha OH YEEEEEE HA….’
Today, a man said, ‘Oh mate, I can’t believe it, thank you.’ And he did not hang up in time. I heard:
‘BEAUTIFUL. Fuck me. She got it. She found one. Fuck me!’

Painting The Smile by Philippe Vlgnal

Constantly shocked and constantly happy

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Today is so cold that it seems funny. And our Flinders Rangers has had snow. Customers come in shivering and happy. There is rain.  The cold enters my shop under the door, sliding constantly and silently like a slice of cold glass as long as the day.

Marion comes in with screwed up eyes and very happy. ‘Can you feel that?’

A couple browse and leave reluctantly, holding the door open for a while before dropping off the jetty into the freezing lake, holding hands.

Robert is hilarious with anticipation. He orders more books. Someone has backed into his car recently. Actually about six people have. The size of the car parks is criminal. We criticize the council in comfortable tones. We talk about yoga. A young woman, looking through women’s classics, asks if yoga will help her with a sore neck. She and Robert exchange news in joyful symptoms.

A man passes the shop outside wearing shorts and a t shirt. He has muddy boots and is eating something hot from a paper bag. The food must be too hot because he stops suddenly with a pained expression and sucks in air to cool the system. He raises his shoulders and closes his eyes. He is wearing the most beautiful sky blue and moss green striped soft beanie that I wish were mine.

A customer adds more titles to her already impossible library, a library that is now growing according to its own laws, and within which she has become the explorer, constantly shocked and constantly happy.

A couple visit to see if I know about the snow in the Flinders.

A crowd of students pass the windows, loud, puffing white breath. One says, ‘Well, fuck him then.’ She has her arm around a friend. Is walking and leaning in kindly. The friend is snuffling, she looks cold and loved.

A lady crosses the silent frozen road wearing gold corduroy trousers, a soft jumper, a scarf, and good solid thongs. She watches her feet as they tread gently through the water. I wonder if she knows about the snow in the Flinders.

 

 

Why read?

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I am looking at too much news. Every day there is more, and it’s loud – data and facts mostly, and many, many images.

It is like entering an art gallery and being told very quickly, loudly, and with huge authority, which pieces of art are red, which are small, which are thick, and which are useless. And then, which pieces contain wool, which ones are cold, and most importantly, which ones are bad, and may have possibly broken the law. I get 15 seconds with each piece, my face on the painting, grazed, my eyes hopeful. Then leaving with these deafening crashes of information and baffling images still sounding and still hurting. This is the news.

At the moment journalists seem to mostly locate, circle, and then humiliate. There is no context and no perspective, and therefore no understanding or compassion. I learn nothing. I remain fixed. But I have definitely honed my skills in blaming and allocating disgrace. I do this all the time. It is easy because (obviously) I am not like them.

Them:

Politicians getting it wrong, government employees doing nothing, stupid women shopping at Bunnings, idiots sneaking across borders, fools not wearing masks, not obeying, not staying home, not getting it right, not saying the right things, not avoiding the wrong things, believing silly things, buying too much, keeping too much, standing too close, driving too fast, being mean, being ugly, being critical, careless, violent, dishonest, selfish: them.

I can’t really see the problems, but I can clearly see who is to blame. I don’t understand the situations. I am distracted from solutions. I am never sure what is going on. But shaming is the most satisfying solution – because I can then forget all about. This leaves me with no clear perspective of humanity, except that it’s all someone else’s fault. Soon I will scroll my news feed for more satisfaction.

But when I read, I must return to an acute and clean discomfort – that “them” is “me”. And that there is not a single situation where I would or could be other than “them”. Literature tells me that human nature has not changed and that there is always, always more to everything. I am the same as anyone when lacerated by fear; we do what we do. What’s different is how we express it, if we get caught, and if our badness is of quick value to someone else.

But the news makers themselves – the ones who chase and choose the news, presenting these facts and those awful images, keeping us informed. What is their story? What awful deadlines and expectations do these individuals face that they must hurl so much gravel, so quickly and so powerfully.

I would like to be able to step back and understand more, consider the larger, diabolically more complex stories behind what is happening. To acknowledge my own deep and fearful place in it all. How else do I gain a consoling perspective? How else to grow compassion?

Of all the inanimate objects, of all man’s creations, books are the nearest to us, for they contain our very thoughts, our ambitions, our indignations, our illusions, our fidelity to truth, and our persistent leaning towards error. But most of all they resemble us in their precarious hold on life.

Joseph Conrad

Notes on life and letters 1921

 

The word (blue) itself has another colour.

Rosemary Pierce sculpture (2)

An unforgettable description of “colour” from American novelist, William H. Gass:

“The word (blue) itself has another colour. It’s not a word with any resonance, although the e was once pronounced. There is only the bump now between b and l, the relief at the end, the whew. It hasn’t the sly turn which crimson takes halfway through, yellow’s deceptive jelly, or the rolled-down sound in brown. It hasn’t violet’s rapid sexual shudder or like a rough road the irregularity of ultramarine, the low puddle in mauve like a pancake covered in cream, the disapproving purse to pink, the assertive brevity of red, the whine of green.”

William Gass (1924-2017)
Sculpture by Rosemary Pierce

When people go past and don’t come in

Literary Roost A Fool's Errand Camille Engel (2)

It’s a rich world out there. The world that passes the windows of my shop. Not rich in money but rich in movement, intentions, and Woolies bags. And conversation; ribbons of it whip backwards:

‘Can’t believe he keeps going, the dickhead.’

‘Just say no.’

‘Another day, ok? Another day. When we get home, we’ll ask mum. Give me that fruit box.’

A lady screamed, ‘No, no, no,’ at an approaching dog. The owners were offended. ‘Nothing wrong with OUR dog,’ they said darkly, looking at her dog, a chocolate coloured beauty, rubbery with joy and not being obedient. ‘Allowed to have an opinion’, they were told.

I watched them trail to the bakery, wishing they’d been quicker on the retort.

But the other day, someone said, ‘Amazing these little places.’

They meant me.

‘Amazing these little places, aren’t they…’

An unseen listener  must have answered something.

‘Amazing these little places, aren’t they. That just keep going. Do they even get customers? Hope they do.’

Oh well, no need to worry – we do, we do, and we do, and even the passers by are valuable, so cheers to you all!

Painting A Literary Roost by Camille Engel