Vinculum

maths

Today I learnt what was a vinculum.

It is the kind of thing you might learn when you help an eleven year old with his maths prior to a test. Yes I remembered what was a denominator and even a numerator but I had no idea the line that separated them was called a vinculum.

To spellcheck the word does not exist.

To google it is a tendon before it is something in mathematics.

Lately I have learnt how to do factor trees. It is something brand new to me. Not quite as much fun as learning that leaves transpire water from their surface just the same way we breathe. But. It’s maths. Quite fun really, but something I feel I have never done before. Did factor trees exist in the 1970’s? Where were factor trees when I was in grade seven? Between the rise of the white board and the demise of the blackboard did the triumphant factor tree emerge? Surely maths doesn’t change. Then, between straw-sucks of a liquid cereal breakfast, he tells me two negatives multiplied make a positive number. Are you sure? This rings a bell. I will have to check since I don’t do negative numbers. Pass me the iPad again. How is it that two negatives multiplied make a positive? Please don’t ask me why. My mind is spinning. It is only 7.30am. I wonder why negative numbers exist. You can’t have minus three apples any more than you can have minus six.

Then there is the school tie. If you want to wear a jumper – and it is cold outside – you need to wear a tie. But it looks ridiculous. No it doesn’t. Everyone will look ridiculous. It feels wrong. You’ll get used to it. Scream. Scream.

Under my breath and not under my breath – God save me. Save me from myself and my pettiness. Just wear the tie, so you can wear the jumper. Please.

If a submarine is 160 metres below the surface and then rises 90 metres and then submerges again by 170 metres how far is it below the surface? In my underlining you can see my purpose. I want it in cement. I want it drummed in. If I rub hard enough, underline often enough, say it louder it works, right? It makes me hate myself.

He trudges across the oval with the heaviest of chiropractor approved school bags. Must weigh ten kilos. He has the legs of a stick insect. There is dew on the oval. I call out looking good and a smirk creeps out. Don’t let her see it. Turn your body in case. Your morning track across the oval, like a giant snail trail.

I so wish the vinculum was just a tendon.

The Need

Image

somethings just need

there is an ache

there is a want to write without punctuation, without capitals. No stops. No starts.

just on and on

like drawing without lifting the pen

without an eraser

the dog just sleeps. endlessly

so capable of filling his time with breath

yoga of the most perfect type

i have an exercise physiologist now – a branch of physiotherapy – she tells me I need to breathe whilst doing the exercises she has given me to strengthen my already strong arms so I use my neck less. apparently i have taken to doing this and there are only so many joint hours left. use them wisely. learn to breathe.

I think of the snake bite dog and its paralysed respiratory muscles. A diaphragm no longer capable of action. It died in a flurry of spit and froth. The tube helped a bit. Its heart remained strong. Pounding its beat. Asking us to believe in it. But the breath. Gone. the gums the colour of concrete.

Control your breath. control your life

in front of me sits a book open for study. its text is turgid. it has tables and diagrams. i write instead in a journal. i make it pretty to help me. I bring out coloured pencils and draw images of brains and neural pathways. i hope it means it is making its own pathway. walk and a path will form. read and a track will open up.

from “The Faraway Nearby” by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit

“Sometimes the key arrives long before the lock. Sometimes a story falls in your lap. Once about a hundred pounds of apricots fell into mine. They came in three big boxes, and to keep them from crushing one another under their weight or from rotting in close quarters, I spread them out on a sheet on the plank floor of my bedroom. There they presided for some days, a story waiting to be told, a riddle to be solved, and a harvest to be processed. They were an impressive sight, a mountain of apricots in every stage from hard and green to soft and browning, though most of them were that range of shades we call apricot: pale orange with blushes of rose and yellow-golds zones, upholstered in a fine velvet, not as fuzzy as peaches, not as smooth as plums. The ripe ones had the faint sweet perfume particular to that fruit.

I had expected them to look like abundance itself and they looked instead like anxiety, because every time I came back there was another rotten one or two or three or dozen to cull, and so I fell to inspecting the pile every time I passed by instead of admiring it. The reasons why I came to have a heap of apricots on my bedroom floor are complicated. They came from my mother’s tree, from the home she no longer lived in, in the summer when a new round of trouble began.”

 

Rebecca Solnit writes an anti-memoir about her mother’s decline into Alzheimer’s. I love that it is called an anti-memoir. Who knew that was a genre? That’s the genre I would like to end up in. A dark corner of the bookshop where maudlin people hang. Maybe what makes it an anti-memoir is its refusal tell a story chronologically, or to tell a story at all. Sometimes it feels like reading a literary thesis as she rambles on about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Reading this book you fall into the maze of the writer’s mind.

My own parents had a similar tree in their yard. Like Rebecca’s mother apricot. Except a mandarin. From the kitchen window it could be seen. My father hung his little pots of honeyed poison from it to catch the fruit fly that threatened it. A visit to their house at ripening season meant leaving with a shopping bag of freshly picked mandarins. Wanted or not. They were small and not very juicy. Their skin was fiercely adherent and difficult to peel. They often had discoloured patches that quickly turned brown and soft. Most of them ended up in the bin. But how my mother loved the fecundity of the tree. She loved that she had something for free that she had previously paid good money for. She loved that she could give containers of fruit to the neighbours or anyone who came visiting. A visit to June meant leaving with a dozen or so mandarins, a few of which were already on the turn.

Graham gave me the Rebecca Solnit book after reading the opening scene about the apricots. He knew it would remind me of my mother. A pang. Apricots. Mandarins. The fruit tree you harvest as its crop becomes plentiful but there is always too many to eat. The tree bursts forth all at once. Too many to give away. Instead they become binned. Others just fall and sink into the ground around the tree and become dirt.

 

from “This is How You Lose Her” by Junot Diaz

In his new collection of stories Junot Diaz writes,

“If this was another kind of story, I’d tell you about the sea. What it looks like after it’s been forced into the sky through a blowhole. How when I’m driving in from the airport and see it like this, like shredded silver, I know I am back for real. I’d tell you how many poor motherfuckers there are. More albinos, more cross-eyed niggers, more tigueres than you’ll ever see. And I’d tell you about the traffic : the entire history of late-twentieth-century automobiles swarming across every flat stretch of ground, a cosmology of battered cars, battered motorcycles, battered trucks, and battered buses, and an equal number of repair shops, run by any fool with a wrench. I’d tell you about the shanties and our no-running-water faucets and the sambos on the billboards and the fact that my family house comes equipped with an ever-reliable latrine. I’d tell you about my abeulo and his campo hands, and I tell you about the street I was born, Calle XXI, how it hasn’t decided yet if it wants to be a slum or not and how it’s been in this state of indecision for years.

But that would make it another kind of story, and I‘m having enough trouble with this one as it is. You’ll have to take my word for it. Santo Domingo is Santo Domingo. Let’s pretend we all know what goes on there.”

 

I love this.

I love that in telling us, the readers, what he would tell us if this were another kind of story, he tells us anyway. I guess it’s an artifice. A clever technique. Maybe he feels the character wouldn’t talk to us in this way but Junot, well, he really wants us to know this stuff. And I’m glad he does.

Tally Ho

 

We are on our way to the airport discussing the derivation of the word tally ho. We all thought it meant a flourishing, extravagant Goodbye, said with an English accent and a grandiose waving of the hand. Graham is reading from the iPhone – to teach us that it is what is shouted when a fox is spotted on the hunt. It is also an expression that was used during the Second World War when enemy aircraft were sighted by fighter pilots. These days it might be used by pilots as a response to air traffic controllers letting them know about air traffic in their vicinity.

I am delivering my men to the airport to set them on their journey to New Caledonia. There, they will sail with two others; another man and his son. I do not know what it will be like. I have hopes for fine weather and smooth seas. I am already wondering if Jasper has enough socks and whether his father packed any singlets.

I took no part in the packing. I didn’t want to be the one to forget something. Hence I am sure they have left something behind.

But they are not travelling to the end of the world.

Socks, I am guessing, can be bought world-wide.

The drive to the airport via Leach Highway is mind-numbingly depressing. It is about the worst possible view of suburbia. Full of semi-industrial warehouses and garage-like shops. Full of mechanics for high performance vehicles and fork-lift operators. Sidewalks unused, the slabs lifting. Delis selling Chico rolls. Past broken down houses with washing lines strung with FIFO fluorescent work shirts. It was out here somewhere that Dad spent a week in a transitional facility on his way to the nursing home. It held the demented and therefore had a series of high security hoops one needed to jump through to get in there, and to get out again. It had that Cuckoo’s Nest feel about it and the smell of boiled broccoli. Dad hated it and was perpetually packing and trying to figure out how to order a taxi to take him home.

At the bag drop a couple have opened a bulging pink suitcase to take out stuff from it and jam it into another. To close it again the boyfriend must kneel on the lid while the girl fiddles with the zipper. At every counter someone is trying to waggle their bags through despite their extra kilos. But this is a budget airline and if your bags are over-weight they will make you pay.

I say good bye here, before the security, because otherwise I will need a pat down. The boy, who never hugs, seems sad to be leaving me. He puts his arms about me, more than is usual for him. He even lets me plant a kiss on his neck, which is now where my lips come up to. I watch him as he makes the metal detector ping. Back through and take your belt off young man. He wears his Lamonts yellow beanie, rescued from the recycling bin, before it went out on the verge. Lucky. It is the vision I will carry of him through the next two weeks. Smiling back at me. Bye Mum.

I am on my own.

I have no partner, no son;  no one to cook for, to pick up from school, to wash and to clean for. I have no schedule to keep other than my own. I can keep writing all through dinner time. I have no mother, no father. No mother to care for. No mother to visit, to sit with, to look through gossip mags.

Before she died, my mother had been frightened of the idea of Graham and Jasper going off sailing. I don’t like to think of them out on the ocean, she would say. She didn’t like risk. I can’t bare to think of an ocean with waves and swell and them upon it. If she was still alive I would visit her now to tell her they got off okay and then again tell her each and every day that they were still okay. Whether I knew it or not. She would ring me for news. I would ring her back. But the phone will not ring, and if it does, I will not need to answer it.

I have a dog whose nails are clicking on the floorboards as he senses it is about school pick-up time. He is ready to go get Jasper from the Arts Centre. It is his routine and he knows it in his cells. He comes into the study and looks at me. He wags his tail, brown eyes saying let’s go already. He stands by the desk and shakes his body. He stretches. But I do not have to go. I can keep writing despite the dog’s misgivings. I do not have to get up in the morning. I could, if I wanted, spend all day in bed. I could start drinking after lunch. Murphy, baffled by my not leaving my desk, wanders back out. Back in. Back out.

Graham has left the dying roses on the table, with an instruction not to move them. They are from my mother’s funeral. Later they may become a picture. One day it may hang in a gallery or on someone’s wall. For now they are dropping their leaves, slowly one by one, and their pink rose petals turning brown. I wanted to ditch them when he left but he has said to leave them, if I could bare it, for another two weeks, till he returns. What state will the water be in then? Already it is swamp. I wanted to get rid of them to spartan the table and perhaps make space for felt-making. But I will leave the roses till he gets home…

 

 

 

Writing advice from Ray Bradbury…

In Ray Bradbury’s introduction to the 50th Anniversary Edition of his book Fahrenheit 451 he says;

” The novel was a surprise then and is still a surprise to me.

I’ve always written at the top of my lungs and from some secret motives within. I have followed the advice of my good friend Federico Fellini who, when asked about his work, said, ‘Don’t tell me what I’m doing. I don’t want to know.’

The grand thing is to plunge ahead and see what your passion can reveal.”

 

To me this is the essence of how many creative people work and the advice I too have received from Australian author, Sue Woolfe, in a workshop she gave to writers. She told the assembled bunch of awkward story-tellers that they “need not to know and need not to care” where their tale was going. Write and find it as you write it. Let it reveal itself to you.

Now on a yellowing piece of card I have this advice above my writing desk.

Even though it was writing advice maybe it is just plain good sense; PLUNGE AHEAD with life…

Junot Diaz on the writing process

When talking about creating fiction Junot Diaz says “if you are not lost you are in a place that someone else has already found… what’s the use of being in mapped territory…. the new requires that you be completely lost.”

F Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “List of Troubles” (from his Notebooks)—

List of troubles

  • Heart burn
  • Eczema
  • Piles
  • Flu
  • Night sweats
  • Alcoholism
  • Infected Nose
  • Insomnia
  • Ruined Nerves
  • Chronic Cough
  • Aching teeth
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Falling Hair
  • Cramps in Feet
  • Tingling Feet
  • Constipation
  • Cirocis of the liver
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Depression and Melancholia

This list was from a blog I follow called biblioklept

Karen Russell on what makes fiction work

What, in your opinion, makes a piece of fiction work?

I think that different pleasures work for different readers—a friend of mine won’t read anything that’s not a cardiovascular sort of page-turner. I tend to care less about plot, but I’m a sucker for humor and strangeness. I love weird or funny or beautiful sentences; Joy Williams could write a microwave-oven manual and I’m sure I’d love it, because the sentences would be tuned up like music. And I do think that great fiction, even when it’s comedic, has an urgency or an inevitability to it, a sense that the writer absolutely had to write this particular story in this way.

Check out the full interview in the New Yorker

from “The Courage to Write” by Ralph Keyes

“There are reason for the appeal of bold writing that go beyond fascination of watching authors in danger of breaking their literary necks. Good writing is honest, alive. The more honest and alive our writing, the more we show ourselves. The more we show ourselves, the greater danger we’re in. The greater danger we’re in the more scared we are. Hence fear is a marker on the path towards good writing. “When you stiffen,” said Toni Morrison of anxious moments while writing a novel, ” you know that whatever you stiffen about is very important. The stuff is important, the fear itself is information.”