(An attempt to re-collect the last week or so of non-blogging without the aid of cat photos.)
Return to work reluctantly. Stick up postcards and fridge magnets I bought at an artists' co-op in Kohukohu (anything else being too big and heavy to put in my panniers). Think how much I would just like to be cruising around looking at and taking photos of beautiful things. This thought's become particularly prominent not just because I've spent a good week in NZ doing that, but because I bought a new camera duty-free, a Canon EOS 400D. I had a number of qualms about doing this, but it was always going to happen, once I thought it was affordable. The camera is a semi-professional so I feel I have to spend time taking it seriously, reading the instruction manual properly (I'm not big on reading instruction manuals cover-to-cover). It's also a Canon -- aaargh! Straying at last from the Nikon fold. But it was cheaper and lighter than the comparable Nikon and has an automatic sensor cleaning system. The last feature really cast the deciding vote, what with the dust out here.
Become vaguely aware of the news in Alice again and how it's not good. More violence, more murders, etc. The lightness of sentencing for an anal rape charge is being disputed.
Everything is so hectic with enrolment period, it's becoming obvious I'm not going to be able to write my lecture notes for next week, even though they're a re-hash of something fairly watertight from last year. But I have to re-structure them and re-write them to get them into my head. It's clearly going to be a weekend job.
There's an AFL match in town...the Crows versus the West Coast Eagles. Would have made great blog post material. But I'm so disorganised, I run late and (a) miss my friends, (b) forget my camera. I watch about an hour of the match with some German tourists (don't know how this happened) then decide that the dust is really too much for me and go home. I need my own sensor cleaner.
I have a virus. I blame this on the plane, 'that flying cesspool of bacteria', as House calls it. I had one on the way out of Alice as well, but not once I got to NZ, thankfully. This calls for at least a day on the couch to recuperate -- no cleaning, no unpacking, no reading of instruction manual. Definitely no bike-riding and no lecture-writing. I borrow the first season of Extras from Blockbusters instead.
Heh. Extras is rather good. I've never seen it before tho I have seen The Office. I found The Office semi-funny; it reminded me of some of the people I used to work with in an office in Manchester actually. But Extras is genuinely funny -- why haven't I ever watched this before?
Hmm -- tip for cat-lovers: if you want to extort more love from the feline world, the best thing to do is to go away and leave the furries to their own devices for a while. Every time I sit down, I'm soon surrounded by three admiring, triangular faces (Jessie's not a part of the mainstream cat-thing at my place). I feel like the Christ-child in the Adoration of the Magi.
Ferk. I'm meant to have written the opening scenes of a screenplay to send to bod organising NT screenplay course tomorrow. I forgot all about it. This is something I really want to do as (a) the course has strong industry connections, (b) I have to teach scriptwriting amongst all the strange things I do and am always looking out for new ideas for teaching, and (c) I've always like to think that I could write a film-script and yes, even, make a film as I have a good ear and a good visual sense (or so I like to think).
Now my ego will be put to the test. It's actually a competitive process; I think I have a one-in-four chance of getting in, from what their info says. I kept on emailing the organising bod while I was away, saying I'd write something when I got back but couldn't while I was cycling round the Bay of Islands. But now -- hum, time to put Eastside Revisited to the test. Will they think I'm a total flake -- 'a romantic comedy about lesbians in Alice Springs loosely based on Brideshead Revisted'? How many people take iconic eighties drama seriously these days. But the NT bods already know I'm a flake. I hammer out an application and a synopsis easily enough -- I've never had problems with that kind of thing -- and then start on the script.
Mmm. It is tricky. One of the good things about scriptwriting -- from what I've gleaned from Linda Aronson's Scriptwriting Updated -- is that you can dispense with all the bumph (the descriptive stuff I find tedious after a certain point) and cut straight to the chase (the dialogue and the characterisation). So I enjoy that bit -- slashing any narrative prose I find myself writing. On the other hand, there also seems to be an awful lot to keep in your head -- like what it's actually going to look like on the screen and the whole question of time -- 'real time' versus 'screen time'. I.e. how do I get this scene to appear to be 'real time' without it being so (or it'll be too long). Then -- have I got too many short bits in a row -- will it be jerky, confusing, etc? The whole question of exactly what to show seems even more pointed than in prose, which makes it quite a good exercise. I also tried to write the opening scenes in chronological order. This wasn't perhaps the best idea: my mind keeps on jumping ahead, saying 'should this bit go there or should that happen then?', etc. It probably would have been better to 'brainstorm' and write notes for scenes on cards then try stringing them together.
But I'm running out of time and these are meta-level questions that I probably don't need to concentrate on just yet. I prop myself up and write the first six opening scenes of Eastside. I could have written more, really, but yes, I'm running out of time so that's enough for now. I wrote with Brideshead on one side of the computer and Scriptwriting Updated (the latter is fabulous, btw -- pretty well the only useful 'how to' book on writing I've ever read.) I didn't plan to; it just happened that way. I hardly referred to Brideshead at all -- I'm not following it slavishly, just using the basic story (people have done Cinderella to death, after all). I have 'translated' a few well-known lines into the script, however: embarrassingly, I know the text so well I only have to hunt for one of these to remind myself once and then I did it by Google.
Actually what is fucking tricky about scriptwriting is the formatting -- just about each new line seems to need formatting in a different way. I should have left the formatting till last.
I go into work, print out Eastside, read it over, then email the damn thing off, then write two days' worth of lecture notes. All with a virus. What a martyr! Then it's back home for another evening on the couch with Ricky Gervais and the cats.
The students tramp into the classroom: 'hi doll!'; 'how are ya, bub?'
What more could you want than students who call you 'doll' and 'bub'?
I announce that we're going to do a brief overview of some of the traditions and conventions behind western poetry, that we'll be looking at some examples of well-known forms and 'writing to form' ourselves, then looking at how some Abl poets have used these. (This is all in the syllabus, believe it or not.)
One of the students says, 'I hate poetry. And I hate writing to form.' (She's very straight-speaking in general; I like this about her.)
Another says that her teacher at school taught her to 'write from feeling' and that I'll have problems with her if I want her to 'write to form' She also warns that, unlike Wordsworth, she doesn't re-collect her emotions 'in tranquillity.'
Good. I would have hated it if we didn't have anything to talk about this week.
Everything is being taken up dauntingly by administrivia -- as usual. I know that everyone has to do some, in these days of multi-skilling and economic rationalisation, but what gets me is how mind-numbingly inefficient and absurd a lot of the administrative processes seem to be in Abl organisations. I've ranted about this before in this blog, so I won't bore you again, but unfortunately, the bureaucracy is the dominant organising metaphor in most Abl people's lives today in a rather Borgesian way and some of them have internalised this to a large degree.
I wouldn't mind so much if there was a point to some of the admin we have to do, but a lot of the time there isn't, like always having to get three people from different parts of Australia to sign things. One or two would have been enough, I would have thought, preferably in teh same area. For me, the consequence of this is, amongst other things, putting in some twelve hour days, as it's only in the evenings that I finally get onto writing my lecture notes.
I see the Weekend Australian spread on Louis Nowra's book on violence in Indigenous communities in our School's library. He seems like rather an odd choice to be writing such a book -- then that's kinda often how things are. Either people are too petrified to write on Indigenous issues at all or just any old person will rock up and start writing on these themes overnight.
But okay -- he says he's writing it on the basis of spending some time in Alice Springs hospital and knowing lots of Abl artistes. Okay, that's some connection, I guess.
There's a lot of stuff here about traditional violence in Abl culture: some of these sources are contentious, as I understand the situation. What's interesting nowadays I think is the way that 'customary law' is invoked as an excuse for all manner of things: indeed, even in central Australia people seem to be making up things that aren't customary law because the connections have been lost.
I don't feel I can really pass judgement on the Nowra thing without reading the book in its entirety, so I guess I'll have to read it now. But there's all the usual caveats at the end of the piece in the WA: Aboriginal people need to get off the grog. Welfare dependency is a big problem. Elders need to restore order in their communities (but what if they're perpetrators themselves?)
Oh god. How fucking original. I can't say how tired I am of hearing any discussion of Aboriginal affairs or culture being couched in terms of a litany of vices. This is what happens when you break the back of the national Aboriginal leadership. When Noel Pearson first imported the 'responsibility' discourse as he did from Third Wayism (none of his thought is original, only the application of it; his substance abuse stuff is also an import from a Scandinavian academic); at least he did so in the context of a supplement to the 'rights' discourse. The idea was to create a 'third space', as I understood it. But now that's all gone. It's all just about 'those poor people' and getting rid of vice. Of which there is much, but it's just so reductive to talk about things in this way. Like, sure you need to get people off the grog probably before you do anything else. But that doesn't mean that people are going to find jobs -- and housing leases -- automatically.
The other thing is: the self-determination discourse was never simply about 'land and culture'. It was about more than that. It was about becoming self-governing (which doesn't mean creating a separate nation -- not going there in this post), which relates to all aspects of life. 'Responsibility' is a very diminished term. It lacks the breadth of earlier concepts like self-determination, self-government and autonomy. What do I want here -- for violence to stop in Abl communities or to reinstate the dying swansong of the Left? But are the two really that incompatible?
When I think about all this, I feel tired and burdened. I just want to go back to the world of beautiful images. Take a spin through the countryside with my new camera maybe.
The students have been writing to form -- heh! It's not as bad as they thought, in fact, easier for many a non-poet to tackle. We've ended up talking a lot about how there are traces of various poetic traditions and conventions in all sorts of writing, esp popular song. The students were aware that language could be racist, of course, but I think they were a little shocked to realise just how subtly overcoded things could be. The prisonhouse of language.
One of them (the straight-shooting one) suggests that 'voice' is perhaps the site of resistance for Abl writers -- developing your own voice, like introducing the Abl vernacular into things. There are other ways, but it's a really good point.
Back on Sunday night (forgot this bit), I told my mother that I would only be teaching a small class, but that it was a good thing, because I'd be able to get round to everyone and make sure that they understood things like iambic pentameter. She was silent on the other end of the phone. I sensed slight disapproval: what was the point of teaching those poor people iambic pentameter? Shouldn't we be helping them get off the grog, maintain rental leases, find jobs, end violence, etc?
Fiddling while Rome burns? Indeed, administrivia aside, I think one of the good things about this course is that it gives the students a break from all those things. Difficult as it often is for them to leave their families for a week or more, they get to come to a separate space and explore things they might not be able to otherwise.
I had some romantic idea that I might be able to get away from work by midday and go for a drive in the country, tit for tat for all the extra hours I've done this week. But no such luck. I don't get away till three, but that's not so bad.
I'm getting over my fears about the Beast -- the name for my new camera. I've started reading the instruction manual and mastered the basic autofocus functions. But the pictures I've taken so far have been very 'blue', in contrast to the Nikon. After consultation with the man in the camera shop, I learn that I can change the camera's saturation levels of colour -- or that maybe I've been using the polarising filter too much. Maybe, as I've been trying to photograph things in the early evening. It still seems very bright then, but maybe the polarising photo is overkill.
I drive out to Emily Gap, take some photos there, then head over to Flynn's Grave. I run into Sebastiene on her mountainbike -- she's about to ride up Mt Gillen, but only half-way. I wouldn't have been surprised if she'd said that she was going to ride all the way, but even she would probably have struggled with the clifftop at the end.
'You've got a tan!' she says, taking off her sunglasses and peering closer.
'This isn't a tan; it's skin damage,' I say. A mud of joined up freckles.
I catch up later with 'the grrrls' at the Lane. The grrrls and Jez. It's meant to be a ladies night, but he's allowed, as an honorary lady (he crossdresses, after all). I try to impress with my tales of the Northland circuit. We go up to the rooftop of the Lane to hear a band (but in my case, really to try and connect with the Alice-sphere once again). The Lane does these things once in a while: it's good. For a moment you feel as tho you might have been transported to a rooftop bar in Fitzroy.
The band doesn't make much impression on me. It merges into the bandness of all bands. I see L. We fall into an intense conversation about the Louis Nowra thing. Charlene comes over: 'What are you talking about?' We tell her and she's disgusted: 'I can't believe you're talking about that now.' You see, I have problems with overearnestness myself, despite what I saw in this blog.
<Phone photos: R: Jez's jaw in foreground (the phone was too slow to catch him); L: Paddy & Charlene at the Lane>
I confide in Charlene that I'm worried that Lulu is ousting Leonard from the centre of my affections. I dunno; everything that cat does is adorable, right down to the way her plump thighs sashay across the room.
But apart from having 'That Face', acc to Charlene, Lulu is 'cute and affectionate', whereas as 'Leonard is pompous'.
She's right; Leonard is pompous. But better not play favourites: I'm worried the introduction of Lulu into the household has aged him. And I don't want to make further traumatic inroads into his psyche, now in his dotage.
Starlight dinner at the Olive Pink Garden. You'd think I'd have plenty to say about this one but I'm running out of steam. I can't think of anything more important tho, than celebrating our very own patron saint in central Australia (i.e. of all secular nuns out here) on St Patrick's Day. I wear the green, all the same, to celebrate my Irish ancestry.
Volver and the opening of the arthouse cinema scene. A good movie; surely Pedro Almovodor has to be a huge gayboy, to be writing all these intergenerational women's story things. Like the man behind Desparate Housewives.
I got in, I got in -- to the screenplay course (tho I do wonder if it's because of the 'big fish in a small pond' thing). Hah -- opportunity beckons once again in central Australia.