Circe’s Wise Words (Resisting the Song of the Sirens)
I heard a song on the radio recently as I was driving home. I didn’t catch its name, but I caught the name of the band.
Guided by Voices.
We’re all guided by something.
Sometimes it’s a grumble in our guts, the murmur of our hearts or lewd whispers emanating from somewhere much lower.
Occasionally conscience calls.
Mostly, though, we’re led on by the voices in our heads.
In Greek mythology a Siren is a creature – half bird, half woman – that lures sailors to their doom with its singing.
Odysseus encounters two such creatures as he sails home from Troy. Heeding Circe’s wise words, he has himself lashed to the mast so he can’t steer his ship on to the rocks.
Now, to resist the Sirens’ song, I too have tied myself down, although not to a boat but a bus – the Bridges Omnibus.
[Image from SPHS]
Caliban’s Rage (Seeing and Not Seeing My Face in a Mirror)
I’m fifty and I’ve still got a full head of hair. That’s a good thing, right?
Wrong. My locks, I tell you, have got me tied up in knots.
It’s those men and their amazing reflecting machines – mirrors, they call them.
Ostensibly aids in the trimming of hair, these dastardly devices serve a more sinister purpose: they cut characters like me down to size.
Which brings me to Shakespeare’s Tempest.
According to Oscar Wilde, Caliban is infuriated by seeing – and not seeing – his face in a glass. His rage, Oscar argues, accounts for the ‘nineteenth century dislike’ of realism and romanticism alike.
Call me Caliban.
What I see in a mirror is my face and yet it’s not; the reflection is real enough and yet it shatters my illusions.
It’s enough to drive a man mad – and to steer me clear of barbers’ scissors.
[Image from The Met]
Why I Write (And Why I Don’t Care that Nobody Cares)
Why do I write?
It’s a question no-one wants answered – no-one but me, that is.
And that’s the point.
I write for myself. Partly because I love piecing words together and solving puzzles; partly because I love the way words look in print, and how they sometimes shine with insight.
I do it, too, because I love learning.
In other words, I’m an amateur – and a proud one to boot.
See what I mean? For me, those two weird little words make this piece worthwhile.
Is that me, the writer, putting my foot down – or getting it stuck in my mouth?
One in a thousand wannabes make a living from writing; even fewer win fame and fortune. Writing for money is a gamble.
I can buy me a lottery ticket but I can’t buy me love. Love must be made.
Ghost Writing (Johnno, Dante and David Malouf)
I’m not normally a fan of horror stories and yet I’ve found David Malouf’s Johnno a fascinating read.
Ostensibly a book about two boys growing up and out of Brisbane in the days before it became a city, Johnno is actually about possession – about two opposing figures trying to win the other over.
Johnno’s the hero. He’s daring, disorderly and dangerous, a restless irresistible rebel.
The narrator, Dante, is the author’s alter ego. He haunts the story, refusing to declare himself, relentlessly evading capture – by his father, his birthplace and his friend.
‘I’ve spent years writing letters to you and you never answer, even when you write back,’ Johnno complains.
Johnno, the novel, is the author’s brutal belated reply.
When it appeared, in 1975, Johnno the man was long-dead and Dante had won, having taken possession of his friend as only a writer can.
All Ears (Me and My Podcast Pals)
I’m a good listener.
Be it a sign of curiosity, shyness or low self-esteem – it’s true.
I’m all ears.
It’s why I like asking questions so much and dogs that bark so little.
It’s why I have so many podcast pals.
Let me introduce them.
There’s David, Catherine and Matt from The Tennis Podcast, playful, penetrating and prolific.
Geoff and Annabel are Adrift, plumbing the depths of social awkwardness with insight and irreverence.
Andy and John have been Backlisted for years. Learned and lighthearted, these literary agents provocateurs are so far into old books they’re out of this world.
I Am the Eggpod – that’s Chris. He backtracks through the Beatles with erudition, daftness and fellow devotees.
Then there’s Bob, the mind and mouth behind Music History Monday. Professorial, opinionated and occasionally puerile, he’s the Pied Piper of the musical past.
Ah, it’s easy listening.
My Rightful Ranking (An On-Court Reminder)
We’ve all got something that keeps our ego in check. Some of us have social media, others have mirrors or a mother. Me, I’ve got tennis.
I’d been feeling good about myself. Writing and work were going well and I was starting to believe I was somebody.
Then, on the weekend, the bubble burst.
It wasn’t a big event – just a dozen middle-aged boys vying for glory and some sports socks. Yet it was a tournament nonetheless.
And, for someone like me, someone who sub-consciously equates self-worth with success, competition is the best reality check of them all.
Reader, I lost to them.
Having performed poorly I now feel more like myself – like a nobody, that is.
Which is fine. The truth hurts but, as a masochist, I embrace the ache.
It’s a timely reminder of my rightful ranking – in tennis and in life.
Cooking the Books (From First Draft to a Feast for the Senses)
Writing a novel is a lot like making stone soup.
Remember that story?
A hungry wayfarer meets a tramp who offers to make stone soup. Into the pot goes a stone and, while the water is warming, the tramp idly mentions that an onion might help. Tempted, the wayfarer takes one from his pack. ‘A carrot,’ the wily tramp says. ‘If only…’ And out comes a carrot.
This goes on until a rich minestrone has been made from the purloined provisions. The wayfarer is amazed. ‘This,’ he asks, ‘is stone soup?’
The first draft of a novel is a pot of stone soup: the seed of an idea swimming in a sea of words. Only by convincing ourselves that our book-to-be is a delicacy can we make it minestrone, adding ingredients until we too end up asking the wayfarer’s question.
This is stone soup?
Sound Remains (Communing With the Dead)
Last night, in a tiny community hall in Hobart, a séance was held.
I was there, along with a few dozen others.
As we sat in a semi-circle, candles were lit. The lights were extinguished and, swathed in black, the medium swept in.
She took her place in silence. Eyes closed, she raised her arms and – voila! – contact was made.
For the next forty minutes I sat spellbound as the spirit of a man long-dead spoke to me from the past.
That man was Johann Sebastian Bach, musician and much-loved composer.
The medium, too, was musical. A fine violinist, she played Bach’s Second Partita from memory. It was an eerie, expressive performance.
In his day, Bach knew several languages, none of them mine. Last night, he spoke using the universal tongue: music. He bared his soul in sound and, wondrously, we heard every word.
Seize the Hour (Wake Up to Yourself)
Who do you wake up with in the morning? Someone you love or someone you loathe?
I don’t mean to pry but rather to posit a proposition: that the company you keep in your first waking hour sets your self for the rest of the day.
And I’m not talking about your bed buddy here – I’m referring to the version of yourself you choose to wake up with.
Stop looking at me like that!
Say you want to be a writer. Be your writing self in your first hour of wakefulness and you’ll feel like a writer for the rest of the day – that’s my assertion.
It’s nothing new. Back in 1886, the English preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote: ‘Begin as you mean to go on.’
I’ve been doing so for weeks and it works.
So why not wake up to yourself and seize the hour?
Writing is Hard (But That’s Okay)
It’s happened to anyone who’s ever had a blog.
You get an idea for a post. The phrases are flowing and you’ve got time on your hands, so you decide to dash it off in one go. What, you tell yourself, can possibly go wrong? You’ll just whack out the words then polish, publish and preen.
So you sit down to get the job done.
You’re still at it days later, of course, your idea now a literary iceberg whose hidden depths keep surfacing.
What went wrong?
Nothing, actually. Writing is almost always a grind, even if we like to think otherwise. None of us is a lesser writer for finding it hard.
As Thomas Mann famously (and fortunately) observed: ‘A writer is a person who finds it particularly difficult to write!’
That’s me all over. I thought I’d finish this post hours ago.