hey nineteen: may pieces

Poem: I’m a Depressed Poem by David Ignatow

You are reading me now and thanks. I know I feel a bit better and if you will stay with me a little longer, perhaps take me home with you and introduce me to your friends, I could be delighted and change my tone. I lie in a desk drawer, hardly ever getting out to see the light and be held. It makes me feel so futile for having given birth to myself in anticipation. I miss a social life. I know I made myself for that. It was the start of me. I'm grateful that you let me talk as much as this. You probably understand, from experience; gone through something like it yourself which may be why you hold me this long. I've made you thoughtful and sad and now there are two of us. I think it's fun.


The first rule from The Art of Courtly Love, written around 1180 by Andreas Capellanus: Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.

Song: Cloudy by Simon and Garfunkel

hey nineteen: april pieces

Poem: And Day Brought Back My Night by Geoffrey Brock

It was so simple: you came back to me
And I was happy. Nothing seemed to matter
But that. That you had gone away from me
And lived for days with him—it didn’t matter.
That I had been left to care for our old dog
And house alone—couldn’t have mattered less!
On all this, you and I and our happy dog
Agreed. We slept. The world was worriless.

I woke in the morning, brimming with old joys
Till the fact-checker showed up, late, for work
And started in: Item: it’s years, not days.
Item: you had no dog. Item: she isn’t back,
In fact, she just remarried. And oh yes, item: you
Left her, remember? I did? I did. (I do.)

Thought: Seth Godin on why “I don’t like your work” doesn’t mean “I don’t like you”

“Here are two useful things to consider:

  1. There is plenty of disliked work from people (and things) where I don’t even know the creator. I don’t like Wagner’s operas, and I never even met him. If it’s possible to dislike something without knowing the person behind it, I hope we can embrace the fact that they’re unrelated.

  2. If we need everyone to like our work in order to feel grounded, it means that we’ll sacrifice the best of what we could create in order to dumb it down for whatever masses happen to be speaking up. Which will make it more average (aka mediocre) and thus eliminate any magic we had hoped to create.”

Song: Birds by Neill Young covered by Marketa Irglova and Sean Rowe

hey nineteen: march pieces

Poem: Summing Up by Claribel Alegria

In the sixty-three years
I have lived
some instants are electric:
the happiness of my feet
jumping puddles
six hours in Machu Picchu
the buzzing of the telephone
while awaiting my mother’s death
the ten minutes it took
to lose my virginity
the hoarse voice
announcing the assassination
of Archbishop Romero
fifteen minutes in Delft
the first wail of my daughter
I don’t know how many years yearning
for the liberation of my people
certain immortal deaths
the eyes of that starving child
your eyes bathing me in love
one forget-me-not afternoon
the desire to mold myself
into a verse
a cry
a fleck of foam.

                  — translated from the Spanish
        by the author and Darwin T. Flakoll

Thought: Morgan Harper Nichols on when strength doesn’t look like strength

“A year ago, you didn’t know you could be this strong. You didn’t know that all along, courage was rising up within you. Back then, it just seemed like you were trying to make it through. It just felt like you were trying to survive when all of the odds were stacked against you. You didn’t realize that every late night you fought through and every early morning you woke up to was a beautiful light-woven reminder that you were far from finished yet. It did not feel like it then, but the seeds you were sowing were being watered. What seemed like it was only rain was actually the nourishment you needed to grow into the next stage.”

Song: The Snow It Melts The Soonest by Anne Briggs

melbourne symphony orchestra | requiem blog

How did Giuseppe Verdi, notably not a church-going man, come to write one of the most revered and performed requiems of all time? It’s kind of a funny story. The name and the texts are steeped in religious significance, and most often, a Requiem Mass or Mass of the Dead is heard in the context of funerals or memorial services.

It turns out though, it’s a little more complicated than slapping the composer with an atheist label. Like many musicians of his time, (he lived between 1813 to 1901) Verdi spent much of his upbringing working in the church. As a child, he would make the long walk to service every Sunday to fulfil his job as an organist. The church was where he discovered music and art, and while as an adult he chose not to attend the services, we can still catch glints of Verdi’s spirituality in his writing. It was his wife, the Italian operatic soprano Giuseppina Strepponi, who gave him the label he is now know for: “a doubtful believer”.

Verdi had an unusual reason for penning his version of the traditional religious requiem. He was not moved by images of the dead or plagued by crushing thoughts on his own mortality; instead, he was deeply moved by the death of another artist, the writer and intellectual, Alessandro Manzoni. Manzoni’s most famous work, the historical novel scattered with Catholic ideology The Betrothed, happened into Verdi’s life when the composer was a teenager. Verdi carried it with him (literally and metaphorically) for most of his artistic life. When they finally met, Verdi was beside himself, writing “I would have gone down on my knees before him if we were allowed to worship men. They say it is wrong to do so, and it may be, although we raise up on altars many that have neither the talent nor the virtue of Manzoni and indeed are perfect scoundrels.”

Of course, then, when Manzoni died in 1873, Verdi could not join the throngs of grieving fans; he was simply too grief-stricken to mourn with the rest of them. Instead, he went to the mayor of Milan and proposed the Requiem we now know – a musical memorial for the man who had spoken to a nation through his work. It was “premiered”, if we may use that term, on the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death in a church that proscribed applause. The drama, the pathos; performed to a room of silence.

For the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

hey nineteen: february pieces

Poem: February by Margaret Atwood

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

Thought: Grace Paley on learning to grow old from her father

“My father had decided to teach me how to grow old. I said O.K. My children didn’t think it was such a great idea. If I knew how, they thought, I might do so too easily. No, no, I said, it’s for later, years from now. And besides, if I get it right it might be helpful to you kids in time to come.

They said, Really?

My father wanted to begin as soon as possible.


Please sit down, he said. Be patient. The main thing is this — when you get up in the morning you must take your heart in your two hands. You must do this every morning.

That’s a metaphor, right?

Metaphor? No, no, you can do this. In the morning, do a few little exercises for the joints, not too much. Then put your hands like a cup over and under the heart. Under the breast. He said tactfully. It’s probably easier for a man. Then talk softly, don’t yell. Under your ribs, push a little. When you wake up, you must do this massage. I mean pat, stroke a little, don’t be ashamed. Very likely no one will be watching. Then you must talk to your heart.

Talk? What?

Say anything, but be respectful. Say — maybe say, Heart, little heart, beat softly but never forget your job, the blood. You can whisper also, Remember, remember.”

Song: Heartbeat Chili by Allo Darlin’

hey nineteen: january pieces

Poem: Sunday by January Gill O’Neil

You are the start of the week
or the end of it, and according
to The Beatles you creep in
like a nun. You're the second
full day the kids have been
away with their father, the second
full day of an empty house.
Sunday, I've missed you. I've been
sitting in the backyard with a glass
of Pinot waiting for your arrival.
Did you know the first Sweet 100s
are turning red in the garden,
but the lettuce has grown
too bitter to eat. I am looking
up at the bluest sky I have ever seen,
cerulean blue, a heaven sky
no one would believe I was under.
You are my witness. No day
is promised. You are absolution.
You are my unwritten to-do list,
my dishes in the sink, my brownie
breakfast, my braless day.

Thought: David Whyte on naming love

“Naming love too early is a beautiful but harrowing human difficulty. Most of our heartbreak comes from attempting to name who or what we love and the way we love, too early in the vulnerable journey of discovery.

We can never know in the beginning, in giving ourselves to a person, to a work, to a marriage or to a cause, exactly what kind of love we are involved with. When we demand a certain specific kind of reciprocation before the revelation has flowered completely we find ourselves disappointed and bereaved and in that grief may miss the particular form of love that is actually possible but that did not meet our initial and too specific expectations. Feeling bereft we take our identity as one who is disappointed in love, our almost proud disappointment preventing us from seeing the lack of reciprocation from the person or the situation as simply a difficult invitation into a deeper and as yet unrecognizable form of affection.”

Song: This Will Be Our Year by The Zombies

new year, new words

I go walking like an old woman, taking a turn of the gardens, moving slowly, carefully. Sometimes I go with friends, asking them questions about their day, their partner, the weather, our mutual acquaintances. It's getting hot now, in Melbourne, and I am worried about the heat. The little stress sits on my shoulder all day long, accompanying me wherever I go. I look at it in the eye, hoping it will match my gaze, but it never does: it flits away, uncaring. And so, here I am, worried, walking. When I go in the afternoon, there are school kids tearing about on the play equipment. I watch them bounce around, their little bodies oblivious to pain until one falls, and then they all do, tumbling from heights. They take turns with with their tears, as if egging each other on to wail louder, higher pitched, with more potency; a canon of crying. And just as it began, it ends, a new game is on.


I’m reading Maggie Nelson on an empty tram while the rain pelts on windows, knowing I will have to walk to your house uncovered; smart enough to have brought expensive wine, cheese, blueberries, but not smart enough to remember an umbrella. It’s humid outside the tram, sweltering inside it; the drops that weasel their way in through the gap between the doors providing momentary comfort. I’m afraid to get the book wet, so I drop it back into my bag solemnly, as if after this moment I will have no opportunity to glance at its pages again. I am always overly sentimental on public transport, amidst the glazed-eye commuters and the peckish school children. No one wants to be there, I think, except for me. How comforting it is to sit on a bus or a train and just go, surrounded by people but utterly, utterly alone. On a bad day, of course, this is the last thing you’d wish for, but on a good albeit solemn day, the aloneness is just the thing.


When I pass your street, which happens less these days, I promise myself that I won’t look up: won’t search desperately for you in the place you belonged so long ago. The chances that you still call that street home are slim, anyway, and yet. My eyes drag up against my will, fighting my best intentions to seek you out. Never once have I seen you there, I haven’t caught the scent of you for a lifetime, and yet. There’s a trace of you somewhere here, and I can't pinpoint what it makes me feel. It's nostalgia, perhaps, or some kind of stretched out, unfamiliar disappointment. 


I linger on the concept of it being “my turn” to pick up the groceries, as if it were a responsibility I shared with someone else. Indicating that perhaps last time it wasn’t me who had to wander the aisles, choosing the dish soap, the tomatoes, the porridge. Suggesting that next time it won’t be me either - that this time, my turn, will mean I am off the hook for a fortnight or so, and someone else will pick up the slack. We won’t be out of cheese or vegetables or toilet paper, because it will be someone else’s turn to ensure that those essentials are fully stocked while I lounge comfortable in the sparkling thankfulness of not having to be the person doing the groceries. It's a promise, a pact that insists you pick up not one, but two of things. You've got a second. Mealtimes are not miserable microwave experiments any more, they're pre-planned activities. I catch people in the act, making those decisions together every day. It seems like nothing; choosing a type of jam or debating where to see a film. Do you ever experience jealousy like a wave crashing over you about an odd tiny happening? I never cared about which type of dishwashing liquid was best and yet it's all I want to talk about.


When it's warm out in the evening, I leave the window open and the blinds drawn. They jut out angrily, fighting each gust of wind, making a perfect sideways v of cheap plastic. It is noisy in my room with the window open; the street below never ceasing to beep and careen and bluster. The tribulations of living on a busy road, I think. Nothing I can do about it. I could lock my window up and never look out of it, I suppose, but there's nothing comforting about that. After seven, eight, nine months, I've grown rather fond of the sounds of traffic - an unaccompanied solo that I can listen to, in varying degrees of concentration, for hours on end. The discomfort has become the comfortable; there's something Stockholm Syndrome-esque about that, possibly: the teaching yourself to be okay with something that isn't. It's nine months now living in this room above the busy street. Long enough to grow a child, but not long enough to grow myself. It has been the opposite: an undoing. Nine months of relearning, forgetting, misplacing. Much has gone right in these claustrophobic four walls: great career highs, much laughter, new dresses, old friends. But then, there have been the heartaches and miseries, my personal missteps, others' professional failings. I lie on my bed in the evening, just as the sun is going down and the headlights of the cars below paint my roof golden in a flickering spectacle that I look forward to. I go to bed early, as often as I can, so I can lie there and stare at the busy-ness that I am no longer a part of. I have no need to leave and yet every desire to go. I am a small island of in-between: not quite fitting, and yet fitting wholeheartedly. I try and look back to the steps it took to get me here; whether the path was pre-destined or if my series of tiny choices made it so. Is it possible to be kind and broken; alive and unhappy?

how to be perfect

Everything is perfect, dear friend.

Get some sleep.
Don't give advice.
Take care of your teeth and gums.
Don't be afraid of anything beyond your control. Don't be afraid, for instance, that the building will collapse as you sleep, or that someone you love will suddenly drop dead.
Eat an orange every morning.
Be friendly. It will help make you happy.
Raise your pulse rate to 120 beats per minute for 20 straight minutes our or five times a week doing anything you enjoy.
Hope for everything. Expect nothing.
Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room before you save the world. Then save the world.
Know that the desire to be perfect is probably the veiled expression of another desire—to be loved, perhaps, or not to die.
Make eye contact with a tree.
Be skeptical about all opinions, but try to see some value in each of them.
Dress in a way that pleases both you and those around you.
Do not speak quickly.
Learn something every day. (Dzien dobre!)
Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.
Don't stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don't forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm's length and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass ball collection.
Be loyal.
Wear comfortable shoes.
Design your activities so that they show a pleasing balance and variety.
Be kind to old people, even when they are obnoxious. When you become old, be kind to young people. Do not throw your cane at them when they call you Grandpa. They are your grandchildren!
Live with an animal.
Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.
If you need help, ask for it.
Cultivate good posture until it becomes natural.
If someone murders your child, get a shotgun and blow his head off.
Plan your day so you never have to rush.
Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if you have paid them, even if they do favors you don't want.
Do not waste money you could be giving to those who need it.
Expect society to be defective. Then weep when you find that it is far more defective than you imagined.
When you borrow something, return it in an even better condition.
As much as possible, use wooden objects instead of plastic or metal ones.
Look at that bird over there.
After dinner, wash the dishes.
Calm down.
Visit foreign countries, except those whose inhabitants have expressed a desire to kill you.
Don't expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.
Meditate on the spiritual. Then go a little further, if you feel like it.
What is out (in) there?
Sing, every once in a while.
Be on time, but if you are late do not give a detailed and lengthy excuse.
Don't be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.
Don't think that progress exists. It doesn't.
Walk upstairs.
Do not practice cannibalism.
Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don't do anything to make it impossible.
Take your phone off the hook at least twice a week.
Keep your windows clean.
Extirpate all traces of personal ambitiousness.
Don't use the word extirpate too often.
Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not possible, go to another one.
If you feel tired, rest.
Grow something.
Do not wander through train stations muttering, "We're all going to die!"
Count among your true friends people of various stations of life.
Appreciate simple pleasures, such as the pleasure of chewing, the pleasure of warm water running down your back, the pleasure of a cool breeze, the pleasure of falling asleep.
Do not exclaim, "Isn't technology wonderful!"
Learn how to stretch your muscles. Stretch them every day.
Don't be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel even older. Which is depressing.
Do one thing at a time.
If you burn your finger, put it in cold water immediately. If you bang your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for twenty minutes. You will be surprised by the curative powers of coldness and gravity.
Learn how to whistle at earsplitting volume.
Be calm in a crisis. The more critical the situation, the calmer you should be.
Enjoy sex, but don't become obsessed with it. Except for brief periods in your adolescence, youth, middle age, and old age.
Contemplate everything's opposite.
If you're struck with the fear that you've swum out too far in the ocean, turn around and go back to the lifeboat.
Keep your childish self alive.
Answer letters promptly. Use attractive stamps, like the one with a tornado on it.
Cry every once in a while, but only when alone. Then appreciate how much better you feel. Don't be embarrassed about feeling better.
Do not inhale smoke.
Take a deep breath.
Do not smart off to a policeman.
Do not step off the curb until you can walk all the way across the street. From the curb you can study the pedestrians who are trapped in the middle of the crazed and roaring traffic.
Be good.
Walk down different streets.
Remember beauty, which exists, and truth, which does not. Notice that the idea of truth is just as powerful as the idea of beauty.
Stay out of jail.
In later life, become a mystic.
Use Colgate toothpaste in the new Tartar Control formula.
Visit friends and acquaintances in the hospital. When you feel it is time to leave, do so.
Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.
Do not go crazy a lot. It's a waste of time.
Read and reread great books.
Dig a hole with a shovel.
In winter, before you go to bed, humidify your bedroom.
Know that the only perfect things are a 300 game in bowling and a 27-batter, 27-out game in baseball.
Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to drink, say, "Water, please."
Ask "Where is the loo?" but not "Where can I urinate?"
Be kind to physical objects.
Beginning at age forty, get a complete "physical" every few years from a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with.
Don't read the newspaper more than once a year.
Learn how to say "hello," "thank you," and "chopsticks" in Mandarin.
Belch and fart, but quietly.
Be especially cordial to foreigners.
See shadow puppet plays and imagine that you are one of the characters. Or all of them.
Take out the trash.
Love life.
Use exact change.
When there's shooting in the street, don't go near the window.

the year, gone

So as it turns out, I barely know anything. I'm almost twenty-four, which is not a traditional landmark in any sense of the word, but it's been a trip. This year, I've realised that most of the things I thought I knew weren't true and all the things I didn't know stayed unknown. I've been collecting bits and pieces to take with me, though, things I've tripped over and come undone about. fifteen things that I learned this year:

  1. I set myself a myriad new years resolutions at the end of 2017 - personal resolutions, professional resolutions, financial resolutions - and I mainly lay on my bedroom floor and ate corn chips when I could have been “baking bread”, “turning my phone off more” or “taking German classes”. Resolutions are, as it turns out, not for me, and I think that’s okay. I had greater success with my yearly goal (I only set one, because they’re generally a bit esoteric and I don’t fully know what they mean), which this year was learn to be okay asking the stupid questions. I went to Germany and listened to Stockhausen at 7am to achieve this and I’m so very glad I did. Here’s to another year of stupid questions.

  2. In 2018, I gave over ten public talks about classical music, and in only one of them did I speak about the wrong composer. Here’s to reading the program properly but also here’s to making mistakes and carrying on anyway.

  3. If your best friend really wants to see the movie you hate the look of, go anyway and have an expensive, popcorn heavy nap.

  4. There is a playlist on Spotify called “Slowdown Slow Jams” and it sounds a bit like being at a Year 10 social in the 90s and that is a feeling that I am chasing down, particularly come mid-afternoon of a work from home day.

  5. Speaking of working from home, oh boy, that’s a challenge and a half. Hot tip: if your bed and desk are in the same room and sometimes you don’t leave that room all day, you should move your wheelie chair over to your bed at night and then in the morning, just roll onto it and push yourself over to the desk. Really cuts down on commute time. My apologies to all people I told that joke to during the year. I only have five good jokes.

  6. Moving out of home is really great if you’re an adult who knows how to do things but it’s really hard if you are an overgrown child who still needs advice on whether to eat the chicken that’s been in the fridge for more than three days. Short answer: don’t eat the chicken. Long answer: if you’re freaking out about stuff in your house, you should definitely call your mum or your dad or a trusted adult, because they probably miss you and your general clumsiness and un-worldliness will give them an excellent anecdote to share with their work colleagues. Hi Mum, I know you’re talking about me during your lunch break.

  7. Watching young people achieve massive things is the most exciting part of being a semi-grown up. I got to work with a bunch of developing musicians through 3MBS and the University of Melbourne this year, and holy moly, those kids are great kids.

  8. There is nothing quite as good as going to a regional city on your only weekend off and having two glasses of wine at lunch. Bonus points if you’ve got an excellent memoir to read and you stay in the restaurant so long reading it the waitstaff have to kick you out to get ready for dinner service.

  9. Watching all of Mad Men for the first time does very little for your life, other than making you get weirdly obsessive about hats and encouraging you to drink during the day. Try not to drink during the day, particularly if you work from home, as previously mentioned.

  10. There are few things I like more than a fancy restaurant. I also cannot afford to go to any more fancy restaurants. SURPRISE, this bullet point is about budgeting, which is something that I promised myself I would do in 2018, but absolutely did not. It’s going back on the list for 2019, I’ll keep you posted.

  11. Similarly to the budget situation, I’ve had the “Couch to 5k” application on my phone for almost all of this year, and I’ll tell you what, it has not encouraged me to leave the couch. Occasionally it makes me feel a little guilty, so I move back to my desk to watch Netflix. Getting fit is something I’m mildly interested in, so I’m popping that on next year’s list too, but the point of this bullet point, is that your body is a great body, no matter what shape it is. You should move it sometimes, and put a vegetable in it from time to time, but you should never let anyone make you feel like what you’ve got isn’t good enough. If they do, you have my permission to lightly punch them in the upper arm and say “not today, my dear” and walk away.

  12. If you don’t put any concerted effort into locking the bathroom door, you can’t be angry at the person who innocently walks in on you sitting on the loo. I’ve been the walker and the sitter in this scenario, and sometimes you just have to laugh off the embarrassment.

  13. Pasta alone is good, as is pasta with other people. Pasta on a date and pasta in a group are both equally excellent situations, and if you get sauce on your chin and you don’t find it until you get home (after a 20 minute tram ride), it’s a sign of a good time, and that’s something I know to be true.

  14. There will be circumstances where you need to buy a fancy outfit approximately three hours before the fancy event and in that moment, it’ll feel like nothing will ever be more stressful. This is incorrect. I learned two things from this: if you don’t think you’ll be bothered by the event in three weeks, it’s not worth panicking about. And please just buy a dress in advance.

  15. If someone asks you to dance, and you think they’re generally good, just dance with them. We could all use more dance time.

Next year’s goal? Learn to listen better, to take time, to relax a little.