Clock watching

‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ Mary Oliver

A Memory from 1973

‘But do you love him?’ my friend asked, and something clicked in my brain. 

Not anymore. The thought left me breathless. 

I need not be like my mother and stay forever in this relationship, which others had earmarked for marriage. 

I could try elsewhere for love.

My friend and I sat in Coles Cafeteria where the rattle of plates and cutlery was like the symphony orchestra you hear in movies when the hero reaches her epiphany and knows finally, she must act.

But did I dare?  

I had one such moment several weeks ago when I dared to send an email to a well-known literary agent. 

To it, I attached my synopsis, the first ten pages of my manuscript with a truncated list of publications and asked her to become my agent.

I heard nothing for weeks and decided I must dismiss this hope from my mind. 

Either my email never reached the agent, hidden among the many emails on her desktop, or she did not bother to respond.

In time, she replied with apologies for her lateness. 

‘I love your writing,’ she said, but I’m most likely too busy to take you on. Let me think about it.

Hope soaked back into my thirsty body, hope for someone who might back me and help me get my manuscript beyond its third draft stage into something closer to ready for the world. 

I wanted to write then and there and tell her how chuffed I was that she might even consider me. 

Was this too humble? 

Should I sit on a reply? Leave it a while. Sound cool and nonchalant. Say ‘Thank you, I look forward to hearing back’. But I did not. 

I wrote immediately and with gushing enthusiasm.

The agent wrote back again within the hour to say she could not take me on after all. 

Once again, the sadness in my mouth. 

Not for the first time.

What could I do with my devastation?

I could not write back to her and say, ‘Oh please change your mind. Please take me on.’

Instead, I wrote about my understanding of her situation, my thanks for her consideration and the pain of rejection we writers cop. 

She wrote back to commiserate.

I can still feel the pain of coming so close to finding an agent. 

Like a sponsor, someone who would back me, or such is my fantasy of agents. 

They champion you. They say things about your writing, you cannot say yourself because that would be boasting. 

Besides, you don’t even believe it yourself. 

You need someone else to believe in you.

Otherwise, you stumble around trying to build confidence in your efforts while most of the time the bright lights of other people’s successes dazzle you while you keep on trying to be pleased for them and hope one day your turn will come.

Another memory, 1974.

The laundromat near the corner of Inkerman Street and Kooyong Road is still standing. I once loaded washing into its heavy-duty machines on a Saturday morning and flicked through magazines. 

Between bursts of attention to the magazine, I watched the circle of glass on the machine and listened as the driers spun round and round. 

Laundromats tend to look alike, the same laminated table in the centre of the room, walled with white machines in rows, the washers on one side, the driers on the opposite. The same set of rules and instructions mapped out in bold print on a central wall below a large white clock, that invariably does not tell the exact time. 

I sat opposite my spinning load, clock-watching in my boredom. The only other person in the laundromat, younger than me, a man with dark hair and black eyes like cherries also stared into his magazine. 

He was not my type, but still, he prickled my desire to meet someone new. 

Somewhere out there in the wide world, there was someone, who thought like me. Who shared my interest in exploring the inner workings of his mind, just as I liked to explore mine. 

A social worker perhaps, with a social conscience, an intelligent fellow who also knew his own mind, who could stand up for himself, and yet did not despise me for my foibles. 

Such a man must have existed somewhere.

The writer before she wrote, circa 1973

I have written so much about my past it seems as if there is nothing left in it to explore. I know that this is not true. I know there are countless avenues to re-traverse, but they do not come back to me so readily these days, these memories of a past that seems constantly to slip from my grip. 

My experience of the past has changed through writing about it. Mere thinking about it was never enough. 

Thinking about events in the past merely served to keep them locked inside as if in a bubble of sense impressions but writing about these memories drags them out into the light and there they begin to change, not only to fade but to resemble something different from how I originally thought of them.  

So, I shall keep on writing and hoping and trying for that agent.


Not much of a plan for what’s left of my ‘one wild and precious life’. 

Mother’s milk, jazz and running out of resources

There’s something about an accountant, our accountant, a lovely man, but one whose lens is squarely focussed on money and how to use it wisely. He hates debt unless it’s something you can use as a tax concession and introduces a way of thinking into my mind that I want to dismiss.

I don’t want to get bogged down with fears for the future. 

Mrs Milanova talked about the fear of running out of resources as a universal fear, which she likened to a baby’s fear that the milk might dry up and there’d be nothing left to sustain her. 

I have a tendency to treat all resources as mother’s milk and to operate on the same principle as lactation.

Supply and demand. As long as the baby feeds from the breast, the breast will produce more milk. 

I like this model for life. As long as you make use of what’s available in a thoughtful, ethical way, the world, or people or whatever else creates these resources will go on producing. 

It’s probably the basis of capitalism with all its problems.

 What about those who cannot feed from the breast and need to be provided for in some other way? And what of those breasts that cannot provide?

Last week, I was listening to the pianist and composer Paul Grabovsky talk about Miles Davis’s jazz number, Kind of Blue. He used the metaphor of a cat.

Grabovsky described watching as his cat perched high on a ledge. It paused to size up the distance, then with everything balanced, it leaped and landed effortlessly on its feet. 

Grabovsky likened this cat’s estimation to what he imagined were Miles Davis’s calculations before he launched into his improvisations. 

Isn’t it more the case that Miles Davis had a hunch which he then tried out?

A well-informed hunch based on all the years he had studied and practised and composed music.

Miles Davis had a hunch, maybe similar to the cat’s calculations about that leap, but he did not know where he was going or how his music would land. 

Any more than I knew this morning as I sat down to write that I would be going on about resources and cats and jazz and hunches.

In other words, about creativity.

Isn’t this what makes something new? A series of happy coincidences, a bit of luck and someone using their intuition to time things in such a way as they come together in a new and pleasing composition which makes sense to other people.

It can feel both new and exciting and also uncannily familiar. Not too new as to jar but not so familiar as to be boring. 

Earlier, when I was in that horrible state faced with the blank page and nothing to offer, lacking in resources, I noticed the golden lucky cat that sits on my desk.

It used to sit in my husband’s office years ago, a gift from a client or colleague and found its way here after he left. 

When I tidied up my writing room during the holidays, the cat appeared out of nowhere in my clean up and my daughter urged me to set the cat beside me.

I rested the cat there in the hope it might bring me luck.

And then I feared for cultural assimilation as I know little about these gorgeous, gaudy gold cats who wave a paw at you and grin broadly. 

This reminds me of a time when my husband and I were in a Chinese supermarket in Victoria Street.

Years ago, in the days when one of my daughters was into playing with cash registers and we saw all this fake currency on one of the shelves.

We decided to buy some. 

At the checkout, the woman looked at us suspiciously. I was quick to explain.

‘We’re buying it for our daughter, pretend money for her toy cash register.’

‘You must not. This money is for the ancestors,’ she said. ‘They will be angry if you use it this way.’

She implied a curse would fall upon us if we used the money thus.

We had already paid for our items before the woman spoke, and we thanked her for her warning and went on our way.

I did not give our daughter the money but tucked it away in a drawer.

It’s a resource of sorts but in my hands, it’s of no use, only I will not destroy it for fear of the ancestors. 

I tell myself not to be suspicious.

Still, I’d prefer that someone in the know remove it. Or someone ignorant who will not be spooked into thinking bad fortune will befall them if they disrespect the fake money.

Money that costs almost nothing to buy but like the Farex tasting hosts the priests used at Communion when I was a child, white bits of nothing, the significance we ascribe to them means we cannot use them for anything other than their religious purpose.

Otherwise, we will fall foul of god, and he will take away all our resources. 

The milk will dry up and we’ll all be in trouble.