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’. 

4 thoughts on “Clock watching”

  1. My mother has always been a prolific letter writer, but in her letters to me she has been so frank about family members and matters, I have shredded the letters. Writing to people helps her mental wellbeing and I am my mother’s son. I have written countless unsent letters and emails. I feel better afterwards. I have said what I wanted to say, even if the recipient never knows it.

    Sorry to hear of your lack of a publisher. I like your blog post writing at least.

    1. Unset letters are very helpful as you suggest, Andrew. they help us make sense of our struggles without doing damage to others, at least not at the time. And thanks for your kind words.

  2. I can only remember ever contacting one literary agent and that was over twenty years ago. The reply wasn’t dissimilar to the one you got but I never tried again. I’ve thought about it. I’d trawl through the ‘Writers & Artists Yearbook’ and by the time I was finished I was so exhausted I never got any further. My last copy is from 1998 although Carrie did buy ‘The Writer’s Handbook’ in 2000. I still toy with the idea and every now and then a link catches my eye but I never do anything about it. I’ve not even done anything more with ‘Left’ despite having positive feedback from two beta readers after you. Somewhere along the line I lost any passion I had not that I’ve ever really seen myself as a passionate man; I have interests as opposed to passions. A champion would be nice but I’m realistic; agents are in it to make money and I can’t ever see myself as a cash cow.

    I’ve never been in a laundromat in my life. There was one on the corner of the street near my secondary school and it fascinated me although there was nothing exotic about it in fact it was a bit on the grubby side but I had no reason to go inside and so never did. I’ve seen them on TV of course and used to wonder what kind of people didn’t own washing machines. Everyone I knew growing up, rich or poor, had one. Who didn’t have a washing machine? It wasn’t until I was in my late thirties and living in a bedsit for some six months that I got a taste of that world and I can’t say I enjoyed it.

    You and I have talked about our differing attitudes towards our respective pasts before so no need to go there again but I do agree with you that writing is more than thinking written down even if it starts off that way. I can just about hold a short poem in my head but holding that poem and revising it is simply impossible. I remember when I first got the opening to ‘Milligan and Murphy’ when I was on my way to work and how hard it was to hold those couple of sentences together until I got into the office and could grab a piece of paper. Not like me to be caught without a notebook but, hey, it happens. I find it interesting reading something I’ve written and feeling apart from it. I tried to explain that in a poem I wrote a while back:

    Poetry’s like spittle.

    It’s fine when the words are
    swilling around my mouth
    but the instant they hit
    the page they revolt me;
    I can’t bear to look at
    them.

    Words, and I do love them dearly, are so damn inadequate. Nobody is ever just happy or sad or anything else. There’s always so much going on and it goes on in an instant but that instant can take pages to describe and it feels more like an instruction manual or a legal document by the time you’re done. Photography and painting are not without their flaws too but where they excel is in their immediacy and words never do them justice.

    I leave you with the art gallery scene from ‘LA Story’ (it’s not long but the important bit starts at 1:58): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4JM5c5TSS8

  3. Well that take from La Story is pretty amazing. Talk about in the eye of the beholder. Something on the ‘male gaze’ as well. but that’s my read on his read. Thanks, Jim. My eyes wide shut as the saying goes.

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