relationship to work

“My Therapist Wants to Know about My Relationship to Work”

I hustle
I grasp.
I grind.
I control & panic. Poke
balloons in my chest,
always popping there,
always my thoughts thump,
thump. I snooze — wake & go
boom. All day, like this I short
my breath. I scroll & scroll.
I see what you wrote — I like.
I heart. My thumb, so tired.
My head bent down, but not
in prayer, heavy from the looking.
I see your face, your phone-lit
faces. I tap your food, two times
for more hearts. I retweet.
I email: yes & yes & yes.
Then I cry & need to say: no-no-no.
Why does it take so long to reply?
I FOMO & shout. I read. I never
enough. New book. New post.
New ping. A new tab, then another.
Papers on the floor, scattered & stacked.
So many journals, unbroken white spines,
waiting. Did you hear that new new?
I start to text back. Ellipsis, then I forget.
I balk. I lazy the bed. I wallow when I write.
I truth when I lie. I throw a book
when a poem undoes me. I underline
Clifton: today we are possible. I start
from image. I begin with Phillis Wheatley.
I begin with Phillis Wheatley. I begin
with Phillis Wheatley reaching for coal.
I start with a napkin, receipt, or my hand.
I muscle memory. I stutter the page. I fail.
Hit delete — scratch out one more line. I sonnet,
then break form. I make tea, use two bags.
Rooibos again. I bathe now. Epsom salt.
No books or phone. Just water & the sound
of water filling, glory — be my buoyant body,
bowl of me. Yes, lavender, more bubbles
& bath bomb, of course some candles too.
All alone with Coltrane. My favorite, “Naima,”
for his wife, now for me, inside my own womb.
Again, I child back. I float. I sing. I simple
& humble. Eyes close. I low my voice,
was it a psalm? Don’t know. But I stopped.

- Tiana Clark

playing the field | words from the week (vii)

Anni Spadafora via Maryanne Casasanta’s Evenings and Mornings Spent Feeling Less Vulnerable:

“When I was a kid I’d ask my mama to make me ‘toota’: one part mildly steeped orange pekoe tea, 3 parts 2% milk, and lots of sugar. Toota. It was my discovery of the mighty feeling that comes with something hot on the roof of my mouth. Though I’m not sure when I first imagined that this wet heat could will me to the needs of my day.

I keep an endless archive of those who similarly rely on this imagined will. I watch them pass through a place like this: A food scientist meeting his copywriter to expedite his cricket-protein pasta sauce invention, a new mom who hasn’t left the house in 48 hours, two women who meet every week at the same hour to hash out the emotional boulders that don’t seem to budge.

Losing someone, winning something, idle time—coffee is often paired, and it’s cheap. How you take it is as boring as which wrist you drape your watch on. But it’s as relieving as rain when air is muscle-thick. It’s also just something hot on the roof of your mouth.”

Shriya Samavai on simple nourishment for The Moon Lists:

“The other night I skipped a party and went out to dinner with a friend instead. We sat at the restaurant and talked for two or three hours, then went on a leisurely walk through the neighborhood. It felt very right. I went home and read poetry and slept well.”

Burning the Old Year from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye:

“Letters swallow themselves in seconds.   
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,   
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,   
lists of vegetables, partial poems.   
Orange swirling flame of days,   
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,   
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.   
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,   
only the things I didn’t do   
crackle after the blazing dies.”

melbourne symphony orchestra | french classics

The repertoire in store for you tonight is truly inspired, it dips and weaves beginning with one of the most important and influential orchestral works of all time, Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, before moving into Prokofiev’s third piano concerto – arguably his most famous – which while you may question how this piece appeared amongst the French-born composers, was written by the composer during his time in Brittany, on France’s coastline. Following the Prokofiev, we will return to Debussy, with some added help from our friend Brett Dean, who has masterfully orchestrated the Ariettes Oubliées (Forgotten Songs) for orchestra and mezzo soprano and we end the evening with a work that Stravinsky hailed as ‘one of most beautiful products in all of French music’, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, the second suite. So, now you know about the musical feast ahead of you, let’s dive in, beginning in 1880s Paris.

Debussy is in his 20s in the 1880s, playing as an accompanist for singing classes, having affairs with the singing students he was playing for, and composing, doing great amounts of composing. In the years prior, he had studied the form at the Conservatoire in Paris, where he’d been since the age of 10 – initially as an industrious piano student and excellent sight reader, but eventually, as a failed piano student but active composition major. Now, his exam failures had nothing to do with his talent, but more to do with the intermittent diligence he showed in his studies. Debussy’s interest in composition only continued to strengthen as his performance career took a backseat, which again, started well, but as his ideas got bigger and bolder and stopped fitting the mould the Conservatoire was happily operating within, his work began to garner faculty disapproval. His composition teacher in particular was upset that his promising student seemed incapable of following any of the orthodox compositional rules he had painstakingly laid out in front of him.  

But, experimentation pays off, and just a few years after he left his formal studies, he won France’s most significant music award, the Prix de Rome. He had chased his own artistic ideas, and it had paid off. There was no turning back for Debussy. On the music he was creating, the composer said “I am sure the Institute would not approve, for, naturally it regards the path which ordains as the only right one. But there is no help for it! I am too enamoured of my freedom, too fond of my own ideas!” And lucky we are that he did, for his own artistic ideas and the circles in which he ran in the heady time that was the 1880s and 90s in Paris – the beginnings of La Belle Époque and a vibrant time for artists, musicians and poets, bohemian’s and freethinkers – led him to discover the great impressionist fine artists and influential poets whose work would inspire the pieces we will hear later in the program, but also this first work, the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

Stéphane Mallarmé, the French symbolist poet and critic, was a bohemian in the truest sense – he worked as an English teacher, which afforded him no luxury, and he spent most of his adult life living in more or less poverty, but was incredibly well known around Paris for his salons – gathering groups of artists and intellectuals and people of general interest for long discussions on philosophy and life and art and poetry. The group gathered on Tuesdays, and become known as les Mardistes, welcoming significant figures not only from France but across Europe. It was at one of these events that Debussy first heard a reading of Mallarmé’s poem about that fateful faun. The poem itself is incredibly important in the history of French literature, and specifically, the development of symbolism in French poetry. It is a sensual piece of poetry full of evocative language and brilliant imagery, when reading it, you can see vivid colour, which I suppose gives away the thing that Debussy saw in the poem and drew him to create a symphonic reading of the text. He wasn’t the only one tugged by the words though; Ravel, Milhaud and Boulez all created pieces that drew on the faun and his dream.   

So, the music! Debussy has created a re-reading of the poem with symphonic colour. It sits somewhere between awake and dream and as you listen, you can almost feel yourself moving in between those two states. He is drawing out that moment that occurs just as you open your eyes after a deep sleep; are you fully awake? Not quite. But you still hold all the comings and goings of your fantasies in your mind. Here is a little of the beginning. Close your eyes, if you’d like and consider this quote from the composer himself as you listen:  “The music I desire must be supple enough to adapt itself to the lyrical effusions of the soul and the fantasy of dreams.” 

That recording was Daniel Barenboim and Orchestre de Paris. It’s a familiar opening, a dreamy opening that uses the orchestra in a beautifully clever way; there is an ebb and flow, a push and pull, perhaps to mirror sleeping and awake that means we listeners aren’t afforded a grasp on where Debussy is taking us. There are themes of course, and repeated harmonic ideas, but the swells are unpredictable and unrestrained. It is a meditation of the faun; we are utterly at his whim. It’s no surprise then that despite the short nature of the work, it’s only nine minutes and feels as if it’s over much before that time is up, that the symphonic poem is often referred to as a miracle of musical history.

But, for now, dreaming is over and a new verse is to be read. We stay in France, but move away from Paris to Brittany, the country’s northwesternmost region. It has a rugged coastline that extends out towards the Atlantic Ocean and one of its coastal villages is where the composer Sergei Prokofiev found himself for a great stretch during the Spring and Summer of 1921. Prokofiev had begun thinking about his third piano concerto a number of years previously, jotting down small scraps of musical ideas but not completing any until he arrived in France. Ever a resourceful writer, Prokofiev never threw any ideas aside – he always held onto them in case of a later project, which this particular concerto turned out to be. I must say, if this is the cobbling together of the composers scraps, then we are dealing with a most impressive artist! When he got to Brittany he spent time with other Russians who found themselves also Summer-ing along the coast at that time, one of whom was the symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont, whom Prokofiev had known in Russia. Balmont was one of the first people to hear the almost finished piano concerto and on hearing the work, he wrote a few lines to Prokofiev inspired by the music he heard. “Prokofiev!” he wrote, “Music and youth in bloom in you, the orchestra yearns for forgotten summer sounds.” These sweet words came several years after the pairs first collaboration and earned Balmont the work’s dedication. 

The music itself is virtuosic but not simply for the sake of showing off. It’s full of expression, which holds court, regardless of the soloistic fireworks. In three movements, which is usual for a concerto but also relatively unusual for a Prokofiev concerto, this piano work is famously difficult and requires dexterity and stamina of its soloist. Interestingly, I think, for a piece that has become an absolute staple of the concerti diet, if you will, this concerto wasn’t super well received when it was premiered by the composer in the United States. He played it twice in its year of composition – once in Chicago and then again in New York, and neither time did the audience get into it. Prokofiev famously said that the American public “did not quite understand the work”. Luckily, we the Australian public, absolutely do.

Now, rather than play you the concerto itself, I’d like to play you the first of Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives – a series of short piano pieces written a little earlier than the full concerto, but around the exact time the composer began sketching tonight’s work. Prokofiev played these works for Balmont and the poet composed a sonnet on the spot called “a magnificent improvisation”. The name of the collected works, Visions Fugitives, came from this line in Balmont’s sonnet – “In every fleeting vision I see worlds, Filled with the fickle play of rainbows”. This is Maria Raspopova playing Lentamente from Prokofiev’s Visions.

The theme of tonight must be poetry, because we now move back to glorious Debussy, but this time with the poetry of Paul Verlaine, who led an incredibly interesting life. His behaviour was scandalous and caused all sorts of problems with the public and with the literary set. He was a nightmare child, prone to fits of rage that pointed to his behaviour and his poetry as an adult. Verlaine was interested only in poetry and dreams, and like Debussy, as a young person struggled against expectations and institutionalised creativity, following his own path and interests doggedly. Inspired significantly by Charles Baudelaire, his early work was a way of finding peace from a world he wasn’t comfortable in, favouring his dream worlds and ideals of love, symbolism and decadence over real life. He met Debussy through his mother in law, who became the composer’s teacher when he was starting out at the Paris Conservatoire as a tiny eight-year-old. He grew up, more or less then, with Verlaine’s influence, and when he travelled to Rome following his major prize win that I touched on earlier, he packed in his bag the poet’s collection Songs Without Words, which, coincidentally included the poem Ariettes oubliées. Interesting to note the title of the collection, Songs Without Words, and Verlaine’s evident interest in rhythm, tone and timbre. Of course, you can’t have a poem without words, but the feeling of the poem, the maturity of its structure and its broader significance aside from each placement show a heightened understanding of the voice and its emotion.

They lent themselves, these poems, to composition, to orchestration and to the voice. Each piece is a masterclass in capturing and distilling feeling, in its original form, for voice and piano, and tonight, for voice and orchestra. The six songs are tiny stories that work entirely appropriately on their own but together, show a complicated protagonist trying to understand parts of the world and the human condition. We start in ecstasy, the first poem describing the beauty of love and the joy of nature – trees rustle, the breeze moves gently and the grass waves but this contentment does not last – immediately any feeling of happiness turns to sorrow for two songs – there is weeping in our protagonist’s heart that is mirrored by the rain outside. The rain may stop in the third, but the hurting doesn’t – the shadows of trees move like smoke in the river and the doves cry sadly, taking up our poet’s mourning. Finally, we feel we are allowed a moment of relief in the fourth song, with a merry-go-round overrun with children at the centre, but of course with great excitement at games that throw you around, you inevitably have to pack up and go home, a little headachy and overwhelmed. The final two songs are reflections of colours, of feelings. In the fifth, our poet offers presents to their love, anything they can think: fruit, flowers, leaves, trinkets, and their heart, which they beg not to be destroyed. Finally, our poet is tired of all the colours and the presents and the natural things they once loved. All they want is the love from that one special, but elusive person.

I would like to play you just a little of one song, the second, which I find particularly heart-breaking. Il pleure dans mon coeur, it goes, the tears are falling in my heart the way the rain falls on the city; what is this languorous dart that pierces through my heart? The arrangements of these songs that you will hear tonight are by the incomparable Brett Dean, who takes Debussy’s sparkling piano part and turns it into an absolute feast for the entire orchestra. You will be blown away by the stunning settings, but for now, here it is as it was written. Il pleure dans mon Coeur for piano and soprano:  

We’re lucky now that after all that heartbreak we come to a story that, while there are moments of terror and of almost despair, gives us a well-deserved happy ending. Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé came to the stage as a commission Sergei Diaghilev’s then new company, the Ballets Russes. The company choreographer had adapted the story from a romance by the Greek writer Longus – the two title characters are beautiful and innocent and very much in love, and they scramble through a series of conundrums, including kidnapping, before the god Pan steps in and assists them to find one another again. The entire ballet took Ravel a number of years to complete; he was a particularly painstaking composer and constructed the piece as a “choreographic symphony” that covers an enormous amount of musical material and uses a large orchestral palette in a similar way to Debussy’s Afternoon.

The composer used the works of eighteenth century French artists to inspire his mental picture of Greece and creates sounds throughout the orchestra to depict how he imagined the soundscape. Woodwinds become the birds, the flute portrays the nymph Syrinx and strings removing their mutes allows us to picture the sun rising getting warmer and higher in the sky. The ballet itself caused Ravel frustration; working with competing artistic collaborators forced him to set out on his own and he created two suites for orchestral performance, the second one we will hear tonight. It looks at the last scene of the ballet, when our two lovers are reunited, and it is, as Stravinsky said, some of the more beautiful music, French or otherwise, of all time. Here is a moment of Lever du jour, or Daybreak:

If you’re not familiar with the ballet let me tell you where we pick things up in the story in the second suite. Daphnis is sleeping, and so is not aware that his love, Chloé has been found. The day breaks, as we heard, and seeing Chloé, shepherds wake Daphnis and the lovers are reunited as the sun rises. Everything in the orchestra rises and becomes warm. The two dance together honouring Pan, the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks who assisted their reunion, until the Pan himself appears and plays his flute for Chloé to dance to. Finally, all nymphs and shepherds join together to dance in joy; the perfect way to end our French feast this evening. Now, in the score you might hear things that sound a little like Stravinsky, perhaps some Rimsky-Korsakov and even Debussy in that gorgeous wordless chorus that ends the work, but the heart of this piece is so very Ravel. The end is an absolute celebration of love and life and nature and you will hear all of this in the orchestration that is still an incredibly important piece of work that continues to inspire orchestral composers today.

So, we’ve come a long way from the dreamscape that we began with. We’ve battled heartbreak and sorrow, we’ve read poetry and understood virtuosity. I have nothing left to leave you with, except for just one more verse by the poet we met earlier, Paul Verlaine. This one was not set by Debussy, but says everything we need it to say about music:

Let music be, more of it and always!
Let your verse be the thing in motion
Which one feels who flees from an altering soul,
Towards other skies to other loves.

Let your verse be the happy occurrence,
Somehow within the restless morning wind, 
Which goes about smelling of mint and thyme...
And all the rest is literature.

playing the field | words from the week (vi)

Poem by Hanif Abdurraqib in the May edition of Poetry Magazine:

For the Dogs Who Barked at Me on the Sidewalks in Connecticut

Darlings, if your owners say you are / not usually like this / then I must take them / at their word / I am like you / not crazy about that which towers before me / particularly the buildings here / and the people inside / who look at my name / and make noises / that seem like growling / my small and eager darlings / what it must be like / to have the sound for love / and the sound for fear / be a matter of pitch / I am afraid to touch / anyone who might stay / long enough to make leaving / an echo / there is a difference / between burying a thing you love / for the sake of returning / and leaving a fresh absence / in a city’s dirt / looking for a mercy / left by someone / who came before you / I am saying that I / too / am at a loss for language / can’t beg myself / a doorway / out of anyone / I am not usually like this either / I must apologize again for how adulthood has rendered me / us, really 
/ I know you all forget the touch / of someone who loves you / in two minutes / and I arrive to you / a constellation of shadows / once hands / listen darlings / there is a sky / to be pulled down / into our bowls / there is a sweetness for us / to push our faces into / I promise / I will not beg for you to stay this time / I will leave you to your wild galloping / I am sorry / to hold you again / for so long / I am in the mood / to be forgotten.

Extract from Something Fresh by P. G. Wodehouse:

“The silence lengthened. Aline could find nothing to say. In her present mood there was danger in speech. ‘We have known each other so long,’ said Emerson, ‘and I have told you so often that I love you, that we have come to make almost a joke of it, as if we were playing some game. It just happens that that is our way, to laugh at things. But I am going to say it once again, even if it has come to be a sort of catch-phrase. I love you. I’m reconciled to the fact that I am done for, out of the running, and that you are going to marry somebody else; but I am not going to stop loving you. It isn’t a question of whether I should be happier if I forgot you. I can’t do it. It’s just an impossibility, and that’s all there is to it. Whatever I may be to you, you are part of me, and you always will be part of me. I might just as well try to go on living without breathing as living without loving you.’ He stopped, and straightened himself.”

A quote from the inimitable Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with our old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”

playing the field | words from the week (v)

Poem by Nayyirah Waheed in her anthology, salt:

“in our own ways we all break. it is okay to hold your heart outside of your body for days. months. years. at a time.

– heal”

An extract from the East Folk newsletter:

“Our hands do a lot for us. More than any other body part, our hands work. They wash our bodies, hold our loved ones, build houses, cut vegetables, pick flowers, button shirts, take photos, write, caress, push, press, and touch. We use them to communicate. We wave them to say goodbye, put two fingers up for peace, and one for the opposite.”

Poem by Mary Oliver in her anthology, Felicity: (a lot of poetry was needed this week)

Nothing Is Too Small Not To Be Wondered About

“The cricket doesn’t wonder
if there’s a heaven
or, if there is, if there’s room for him.

It’s fall. Romance is over. Still, he sings.
If he can, he enters a house
through the tiniest crack under the door.
Then the house grows colder.

He sings slower and slower.
Then, nothing.

This must mean something, I don’t know what.
But certainly it doesn’t mean
he hasn’t been an excellent cricket
all his life.”

everything is waiting

“Everything is Waiting for You”

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

David Whyte

playing the field | words from the week (iv)

Anne Truitt on vulnerability, via Brain Pickings:

"I am always, and always will be, vulnerable to my own work, because by making visible what is most intimate to me I endow it with the objectivity that forces me to see it with utter, distinct clarity. A strange fate. I make a home for myself in my work, yet when I enter that home I know how flimsy a shelter I have wrought for my spirit. My vulnerability to my own life is irrefutable. Nor do I wish it to be otherwise, as vulnerability is a guardian of integrity."

From Alain De Botton's The Course of Love:

"We believe we are seeking happiness in love, but what we are really after is familiarity. We are looking to re-create, within our adult relationships, the very feelings we knew so well in childhood and which were rarely limited to just tenderness and care. The love most of us will have tasted early on came entwined with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his or her anger, or of not feeling secure enough to communicate our trickier wishes.

How logical, then, that we should as adults find ourselves rejecting certain candidates not because they are wrong but because they are a little too right—in the sense of seeming somehow excessively balanced, mature, understanding, and reliable—given that, in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign and unlearnt. We chase after more exciting others, not in the belief that life with them will be more harmonious, but out of an unconscious sense that it will be reassuringly familiar in its patterns of frustration.”

Singer, writer and artist Claire Evans on "a new way of looking at things or something to attempt in the future", via Moonlists:

"I learned that fire alarms don’t signal that a fire is happening; they signal that it’s socially appropriate to react. People will stay in a room as it fills with smoke, if nobody else moves — they don’t want to lose face. The alarm gives everyone a shared context, something to point to and say, “this is really happening.” It strikes me that art serves the same purpose." 

playing the field | words from the week (iii)

Eileen Myles on writing and the impact of social media:

“I feel like so much of contemporary loneliness in motion is this compulsion to share my web browser. It’s like there’s a way of aesthetically stating your browser, which is kind of where you move and how you look and what you see. Even just breaking it up into close shots and long shots, and like what’s at the center. It’s not about a golden mean, but it’s a signature as poetry—which is how I see and how I move and what stops me—and putting them together.”

"Fury Is a Political Weapon. And Women Need to Wield It." in the New York Times by Rebecca Traister:

“Many of the women shouting now are women who have not previously yelled publicly before, many of them white middle-class women newly awakened to political fury and protest. Part of the process of becoming mad must be recognizing that they are not the first to be furious, and that there is much to learn from the stories and histories of the livid women — many of them not white or middle class — who have never had reason not to be mad. 

If you are angry today, or if you have been angry for a while, and you’re wondering whether you’re allowed to be as angry as you feel, let me say: Yes. Yes, you are allowed. You are, in fact, compelled. 

If you’ve been feeling a new rage at the flaws of this country, and if your anger is making you want to change your life in order to change the world, then I have something incredibly important to say: Don’t forget how this feels. 

Tell a friend, write it down, explain it to your children now, so they will remember. And don’t let anyone persuade you it wasn’t right, or it was weird, or it was some quirky stage in your life when you went all political — remember that, honey, that year you went crazy? No. No. Don’t let it ever become that. Because people will try.”

Su Wu on an encounter for Moonlists:

"I’m pregnant, my best friend said into the phone without hello, and I yelled, holy fuck, on the street in another country. Some guy turned, rushed over and asked, are you okay?, and it was a new kind of joy for me, a whole joy running headlong into kindness, and I said, I’m okay, and really, more than ever this month, I was."

in September, things that are new

I called you as I paced, full of nerves and caffeine, back and forth in front of the building that belonged to a man who would become my employer. I wasn't ready yesterday, I told you, but today, perhaps, I am. It was a Monday - you were at work in your teaching job, shimmying out of the classroom when my call flashed up on your mobile. I should have been at home preparing for another day of my own nine-to-five, but instead I was in an unknown city, negotiating a contract for a position I was both unsure of, yet intoxicated by. The day prior - a Sunday - I was inconsolable in my hotel room; the world of possibility crumbling around me amongst hotel-room soaps and worn-out passions. I had no idea what I wanted, and there was no one around to tell me otherwise. I wallowed and threw myself around, lazily picking objects up and admiring their solitude, wondering if I could take up as a woman who simply exists. The constant go-go-go of the city and the job and the life were getting to me, too deep in my veins and I was burning myself to the ground chasing something I wasn't sure I wanted. I slept fitfully, angrily, and then I was there, calling you on the street on Monday morning, perhaps readier than I ever had been. Maybe it was you, an anchor, a weight, that helped me leap. You heard the surety in my voice, the clarity saying yes, yes, now I am ready, now I am strong enough, now I have arrived. Write it down, you said, because you won't believe me when I tell you how ready you were, next time you believe it wasn't right after all. You have to remember, right now, that you can. Read it back, tell me you still believe it. I never wrote it down, I'm sorry to say, but I have never stopped thinking that I should have. What I wrote somewhere in the back of my memory is the way I stood, after you said those words, shoulders back, head high, attack-ready, (I suppose). I leapt.


I've been making tea on autopilot - finishing one cup, or noticing the cold remains at the bottom and immediately padding back out to the kitchen to put the kettle on again. As it burrs in anticipation of bursting, my mind wanders. There are tangelos on the table, a habit I picked up from my father ("if they're in season, buy a few") and staling bread rests on the counter. It's always mine, because I always leave it there. My housemate is not so forgetful as to leave her bread about the way I do - nonchalantly, uncaring. Cars whir past without pause and a bird whistles incessantly. Any other week I would linger to hear it, but this week I just wish it would go away. I close the window in a hurry, pour my tea, head back to the desk.


Places I am not comfortable: grocery stores, waiting rooms, hospital beds, foyers, some gift shops, and occasionally, home.


If you laid out an entire life in blocks of activity, it is said that you will have spent 67 days purely experiencing heartbreak. I spend fourteen minutes considering how long this really is. Is it enough? Is it too much? How does one classify heartbreak, anyway? Does it account for all the small times your heart breaks for things you have no control over - the acts that you witness but cannot leap into, the stories that are not your own? Or does it only consider the personal miseries and longings, the wrong things said and the deceit received and given? How many of my waking hours have already been chipping away at that number? Is there a right time to stop being heartbroken?


Spring has arrived, with not so much a bang as a whimper. I welcome it with old favourites: roast vegetables, stewed apples, Melancholia on the DVD player and books; Helen Garner, Julian Barnes. It is still cold outside, though around lunch the weather breaks and the sun warms the one specific part of the living room carpet that I can sit within and bask under for at least a quarter of an hour before it retreats again. There is music from the cars underneath the window - mainly radio hits, but occasionally, Wagner's Prelude from Tristan and Isolde. I only recognise it because of the film that's been playing on repeat; I am notoriously bad at holding tunes in my head if I have not recently heard them. The melodies almost always seem familiar, but I can never recall from where I recognise them. The Prelude though, from the film; it sits heavily on my chest; too heavily for Spring. I've closed all the windows now, because the chill has returned to the bones of my apartment. I choose to listen to new music, new words; melodies that I couldn't recognise even if I tried to. I like this; that if you focus on the new, there is no matter if you forget the old. You have no reason to remember it now.


I walked towards the train station the other day, collar up against the chill, eyes pressed tight together leaving just a glint to see where I was going, the wind whistling through the tree-lined streets around me. I noticed a man walking hurriedly in my direction, looking ahead sternly, but eating an ice cream. I gaped at him; surely it was too cold to be enjoying a treat like that on a wintery day? He saw me looking and cracked his fierce exterior; grinned. As we bumped shoulders on passing - the streets not quite wide enough to walk two abreast - he winked and said, "some afternoons require  sweetness", not breaking eye contact. I stumble a little, as I'm known to do, knocked around by disappointment and beauty and the fact that some afternoons do, in fact, require sweetness.

every month, an essay. editing by Madi Chwasta.

playing the field | words from the week (II)

Examination for Capable Assistant by Jesse Ball:

+ Which month is best and why?

+ Take the overland route or a ship around? And (2) if possibility of bandits in mountain pass / pirates in straits — then which?

+ Shorthand: sad it has no use these days, or, it has a use! or never mind, it stinks.

+ Someone doesn’t like the great jazz singers of the mid twentieth century. How do we behave with/ trust such a person?

+ What book are you reading?

+ Do you occasionally put stones in your pocket? Why?

+ Why must we be friendly only to a point?

+ Which personal items should be of best quality?

+ Draw a map of your life, somehow.

+ If you had to appear in a photograph, would you want to be wearing a raincoat in 1948 or getting off a motorcycle in Cyprus in 1964 or standing on a Korean fishing boat in 1979 or sleeping under a bridge in Moscow this morning?

+ Someone of low quality wants to borrow something of yours, say, a book or a paring knife. Do you (1) let them borrow it, (2) give it them for good (it shall not be the same after they’ve had it), or (3) simply say no. What if you know it will get them out of a pinch?

+ Someone attempts to put you in his/her debt through purchasing you something without your permission (a drink, a coat, a roast chicken, a transit card, etcetera). Do you accept or not? What form would your analysis take?

+ Write a short plan for a bank heist.

(This is the written exam I give to prospective personal assistants. It generally allows me to determine whether a person would be suitable or not.  There are many ways to go wrong.  I’d say it is a test of discretion and imagination. - Jesse Ball)

Nicholson Baker on copying out passages of your favourite books by hand via Austin Kleon:

“Copy out things that you really love. Any book. Put the quotation marks around it, put the date that you’re doing the copying out, and then copy it out. You’ll find that you just soak into that prose, and you’ll find that the comma means something, that it’s there for a reason, and that that adjective is there for a reason, because the copying out, the handwriting, the becoming an apprentice—or in a way, a servant—to that passage in the book makes you see things in it that you wouldn’t see if you just moved your eyes over it, or even if you typed it. If your verbal mind isn’t working, then stop trying to make it work by pushing, and instead, open that spiral notebook, find a book that you like, and copy out a couple paragraphs.”

Margaux Williamson on how to act in real life:

“I set up a small red carpet in the dead center of the museum. Being dead center made me feel less cornered. Sheila and I sat there and I gave her these “acting lessons.” I’m not such a good teacher or a good student, but I understand having friends. So I gave Sheila some lessons, and she gave me some too. We made it up as we went along. The brochure was on a podium in front of us. When people picked up the brochure, they knew we were thinking of them and aware of them, but that we didn’t have to talk to them. It solved my problems. It was also surprisingly intimate and intense.”