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

My wife, Roz

Alexander Millar

‘My wife, Roz.’

The man speaking was visiting my shop again, and when he said ‘Roz’, he went still and looked upwards.

‘She paints.’

He had come back to give me a gift – a copy of Trollope’s The Way we Live Now from his own collection. We had talked about this book a few days ago. We had leaned toward each other, acknowledging Trollope and Barchester Towers. So funny, all about people, all about people right now. 

He asked, ‘Why is it, do you thank, that nothing changes…?’

‘It’s delightful. Delightful.’ I watched him judge humanity.

He held his cap under one arm to talk about the free bench seats at concerts in the Adelaide Town Hall when he sat when he was a boy.

‘I didn’t like Elvis, I really tried though. I really did. But I was poor. Did you know that at school, I joined the cadets to get a free uniform. Then I wore that to the concerts. The music. That music. Because…’

‘There, then, on those seats, the orchestra, something happened. To me.’

He, my customer, having given me my book, the gift, edged toward the door, but then came back. I noticed these things:

He would often look upwards, at something that would not allow itself to be shelled easily in sounds.

He would change his cap from hand to hand.

He would apologise in case he was boring me. He wasn’t.

He said: ‘Why is it that.’

‘Of course, Thackeray.’

‘And Charlie Dickens, well look at him…’

‘And of course we must consider…’

‘Books.’

‘Music.’ He continued on, sliding through one joy to the next.

‘Rudyard Kipling. Beethoven. The lights in those places at night, from outside, in winter. Oh, the concerts. But I didn’t mind. I had to sell all my things. My tools, I was a tradesman, I didn’t mind. But when it came to the books, I went and stood next to the auctioneer. It was awful. It was severe.’ To see them go like that.’

He shifted his cap and returned to me.

‘My wife, Roz. She paints’. You should see – metallic oxide on glaze – the glaze becomes mobile and the oxides sink. It’s difficult, you need to see it.’

He shifted his cap again; the cap was in the way. He gazed forward at his wife who was not there. His head bent slightly, it too, in the way. ‘My wife, she paints.’

‘I must go. Please do enjoy your book.’

 

Do dogs eat water?

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When the cousins talk about Finn, they always say he is too something. The cousins are three, Finn is one. He doesn’t have much authority yet.

‘He’s too small.’

‘He can’t talk.’

‘Finn can’t come because he’s at home in she’s cot because he’s not big.’

‘He’s not strong.’

‘Finn’s lost him’s shoes.’

‘Do him want to come with us?’

‘He’s too loud.’

‘He’s in she’s highchair.’

At the table, Finn eats steadily, bangs a spoon and watches the roof. Noah and Max look on, thinking about it.

They ask me, ‘Is that bread dead?’ Do dogs eat water? Where’s Pa?’

They eat broadly, expansively, and watch each other swallow. They have not finished but they are finished.

‘Can we play trucks now? Not Finn.’ Finn, hearing his name, makes eye contact, unhurried and joyful enough to make them pause.

And say, ‘Look at Finny, he’s looking at us… him can have the train.’

Noah sighs, ‘Yeah.’

‘Yeah.’

…beyond the cold clouds flinging…

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“Shall I not see that to live is to have relinquished
beauty to the sequestration of the dark,
and yet that the spirit of man, benighted, vanquished,
has folded wings, and shall use them as the lark

into the sun beyond the cold clouds flinging
her desperate hope, not reaching where she has striven
but soaring for ever beyond herself, and singing
high above earth as she is low in heaven?

Shall I not confess that mine own evil humour
and not man’s failure forged this black despair,
and while I wept, high up the golden rumour
of a lark ascending fringed the quiet air?”

Humbert Wolfe, Uncelestial City

Sculpture by Rex Homan

Wrong shop mate!

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I don’t expect the motorbike people to come into the shop. They usually park across the road and walk to the bakery and then back to the group. But today, one man came up and shouted through the door, ‘Hey mate, have you got Winter’s Tale yet?’

I didn’t.

‘It’s by Mark somebody. Mate, it’s good, it’s good. Remember we talked about it. You ort to read it.’ He came in and stood leaning back, hands on hips, boots on the earth and read all the titles in Science Fiction and Fantasy. His book was not there, yet he remained cheerful. ‘Mate, if only I had the time to read all these. Not to worry.’

His enthusiasm made an impression on me.

Then he opened the door to leave, and a friend suddenly bloomed on the footpath outside and shouted, ‘Wrong shop mate, what the hell are you doing?’

He answered, ‘No way, it’s a good little place, a good little place. Have you got my gloves?’