Life outside the frame

Many would consider the small towns I lived near and grew up in boring. It was the 1980s and they lacked the services and excitement of the cities. But they didn’t lack for character, nor characters.

There was a woman who lived on the fringe of town (when I say town I mean one of about 1,200 people), near the almost abandoned train tracks. Her’s was an old timber cottage, with a greying, gap-toothed picket fence. Since I was a teen at the time, I thought of her as old. Everyone seemed to know of her, but I can’t recall being introduced. My mum would have spoken to her, because she spoke to everyone.  My mother practiced inclusiveness before it was a buzzword.

What I do recall is the unease I felt about her paintings. Lined up along the fence and on the outside walls of her property, they were a bright contrast to her house and yard. They were bold and simple. I wasn’t impressed with their lack of accurate perspective, their flat colours, idiosyncratic spelling, and child-like figures. But I was a teen, so I wasn’t impressed by much. My mum praised them as naive. Of course I didn’t know ‘naive’ was a ‘thing’ in art. But regardless, many locals and in the council thought her works an eyesore that distracted from the town aesthetic. They wanted tidy streets to mirror anonymous suburbs anywhere. Now I live in a suburb and I miss idiosyncrasy.

I didn’t understand the attention she was then starting to gain as an artist. However, I’ve learned much since exchanging the country life for a city one, and I can safely say this woman, whose name I had to look up, is transformed in my eyes.

  • She lived on her terms.
  • She was dedicated to the creation of her own mythology.
  • She painted the history of herself.
  • She told stories about the places where she had lived.

And, she kept going, through adversity upon adversity. She made her home her gallery and she was right to do so. Today, I understand her better, and can appreciate her life and art in a way I couldn’t when I was young. I’m glad she never stopped. She helped make the town special.

According to a curator, she never sold a single piece of work, and as well as painting she composed music and produced needlepoint.

As some of her adversities included surviving two house fires, little of her work is left. She has since passed away and the town has lost some of its colour.

I’m still wondering why I suddenly remembered her today, but regardless, Mrs Iris Frame 1915-2003, thanks so much for a life well created. Little towns and big cities need more like you.

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Gestures towards immortality

We half remember the lyrics. We stumble through the steps, and tire too soon. And then grow still.

We hum tunelessly when once we sang. And fade to a hush when the sound is turned low.

We read until we lose the book, or our sight dims. And recite until voices become hoarse.

Rest is silence.

But the art we make is a gesture towards immortality. Small uncertain steps to be sure, and oils chip and flake. But cleaning the canvas reveals the brilliant hues. Just like, after thousands of years, torch beams picked out the silhouettes of hands and the outlines of the beasts they drew.

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A memory

Today, flags are half mast at the Country Fire Service office at Naracoorte and I remembered.

Days after I watched TV and the dust storm cover cities in red dirt, hot air blasted the trees, throwing eucalypt branches into the community swimming lake where I was having lessons. The water was cool, even if I didn’t like the slimy feel of the cement.

The air blustered and howled through the pine plantation adjacent the oval, and I learned I will never love the north wind.

It was a baking, blustering, fearsome afternoon. The school bus trip home was slow through the dust and smoke and debris across the roads. We few kids were quiet.

I wanted to be home, but didn’t want to make that trip.

The wind changed. But there was no relief.

That night fire advanced towards the farm.

Me in the primary school photo.

Dad took my younger brother, a skinny seven-year old slip of a kid, to fight the inferno with him from his ute with a pump on the back.

With Mum, I stayed by the house, distracting my youngest brother while she was on look out for embers with a garden hose.

Even now, there are tears. On this day, 35 years later.

We escaped with the loss of a few fences. Many lost so much more. They lost everything. They lost loved ones.

They became memories and ashes.

Ash Wednesday 1983.

 

And my brave seven year old brother? These days, amongst other things, he is a State Emergency Service volunteer in South Australia.

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Review: Knightfall

What with my new HEMA past time, I want to love Knightfall, but so far (after two episodes), it’s more like curious skepticism. I will keep watching…it’s just, well.

Let’s get medieval on this.

On the side of the Angels:

  • Yes to sets and landscapes.
  • Yes to castle keeps and cathedrals.
  • Yes to swords.
  • Yes horses.
  • Yes to sweeping snowy white capes and suits of armour.
  • Yes to the proper use of terms such as compline and matins.
  • Yes to surly soldiers.
  • Yes to smart arse farm boys.
  • Yes King Philip loved Queen Joan.
  • Yes to Templars losing the Holy Land and feeling bad.
  • Yes to the Templars being loathed because of their immense wealth and immunity from taxes.
  • Yes to political intrigue.
  • Yes to Templars offering alms, safe havens and letters of credit.
  • Yes to Templars fighting to protect everyone.

Templar symbol. Source of rumours.

On the side of the Devil:

  • Oh come on. The rape and murder of a young woman is the inciting incident for a farm boy to become a warrior monk?
  • No to Greek fire like explosive missiles. It’s not Mission Impossible. Except it kinda is.
  • No to Days of Our Lives love triangles between a warrior monk and his Queen.
  • Sure, Queen Joan was known as smart and resourceful, but she loved her husband. While an intriguing character, this QJ is not her. Plus, she died aged 32 after an illness.
  • No to Popes in full regalia all the time. Not sure Popes dressed like they were presiding over Easter Mass when in business meetings.
  • If everything is in English make everything in English (aka Percival instead of Parsifal). Otherwise Latin and Arabic and regional dialects all the way.
  • Language. Can’t believe I am saying this, but to ‘curse like a Templar’ was a saying. So, have at it. Swear more.
  • More music.

Queen Joan. Knightfall wasn’t cast like this.

Everything else is in Limbo:

  • Pass to names used. The name Parzival is from a 13thC poem about the Holy Grail. Which is a pity because Alfred Lord Tennyson ruined it with his 19thC take on Arthurian legends, thus Parsifal sounds fake. Also, is poetry our best evidence for name conventions for historical Knights Templar?
  • Should this be history or Arthurian legend? Because the Parsifal/Grail stuff is Celtic myth/history.
  • Maybe to Templar relationships, however, there were more rumours about affairs with each other tbh.
  • Maybe to Templars having hold of and losing the Grail. If this turns into an Indiana Jones adventure I’ll be angry.
  • Everything else the Templars get up to, depending on whether the writers follow history or conspiracy theories.
  • Men could be married and be Templars but they were disqualified from wearing their signature white mantle.
  • Where are the women Templars? Yes. They existed. They most prayed but they existed.

Mostly, this TV version of the doomed adventures of the Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici makes me miss Vikings. Funny how, in this global age, tales of Norse raiders and the violent squabbling of siblings over the spoils feels more familiar and close than romances of knights in white from the age of chivalry.

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Thanking you, and you, and you

Yesterday I was complimented and I got upset. It’s not that the compliment was false or ill-timed (it wasn’t). But I suspect when you hear positive things praised and they don’t align exactly to your own (often mistaken) inner beliefs about yourself then your internal critic is put offside. Inner critics loathe being wrong. The result is a happy sadness.

This is healthy. My internal critic is extremely harsh and exacting. It consumes self-esteem. Very often it stops me rather than helps me, and sometimes I can’t ignore it. Sometimes, it does take others to soften its edges, hold it down, and make it admit that I am a decent person, with plenty of admirable qualities, and skills.

Looks small & harmless, but an Inner Critic, if left untamed, has a nasty bite.

The upshot is this: since I know I occasionally benefit from positive reinforcement from beyond my own brain, surely others do too? It’s not breaking news to reveal we don’t praise each enough. We don’t thank each other enough, even for the simple, every day things. Perhaps we don’t even talk enough. Or when we do, it’s not helpful, nor friendly. It’s easy, with social media, to present digital facades that are cynical, and critical, and cool. Or to be misunderstood. It is far more difficult to recognise sincerity and embrace it.

We all know the world could benefit from more kindness. But the world is big. What’s easier to manage is to offer kindness to individuals. We can start with small dose thank yous. We can recognise the qualities we admire in others. We can recognise achievements – even if it is just with words. Because words matter. And, because it would be nice to be so comfortable with compliments that they do not make me upset.

You in on this?

Too bad if you’re not because you’re here. I know how few visit my blog and broadly, where they are from. Thus, from me to all of you who read and move on, or stop and comment: thank you. You are appreciated. You keep me going. Every time the numbers click over, it is positive affirmation that my words could  be interesting or helpful, or just recognised.

Thus: thank you.  Now move on before I cry.

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Review: Bewildering and bewonderment

I finally watched 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople last night. It was written and directed by Taika Waititi, whose screenplay was based on Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress. Oh, it’s a sweet film. Funny, astute, sad, and serious without schmaltz. Casting was superb with Sam Neill as Hec and Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker (I note Dennison is in the Deadpool sequel). Of course there are many actors from Thor Ragnarök, that other little project that saw a bit of success for Waititi.  The setting truly was majestical. The score and music were perfect, and the camera work was both intimate and epic, with the use of ‘artistic’ shots and techniques effective in moving the narrative. I liked the use of the chapters too. There was so much to love.

But…

What distracted me from loving this film altogether was the event that sets the main characters Hector and Ricky Baker, on their escapade in the remote New Zealand bush.

If you have seen the film you know what it is. If you haven’t, I’ll let you guess.

Waiting…

Waiting…

If you guessed the film used the death of a mother figure as the inciting incident then you win….a deep sigh that confirms that yes this is correct..FOR THE ONE HUNDRED MILLIONTH TIME. Can we do away with killing women off just to inspire men’s adventures?

Sometimes even dead mothers are rejected.

Women as signifiers

Women in The Hunt for the Wilderpeople represent civilisation, domesticity, and government. All of them are linked to nurturing. Bella is the farmer, a woman who has no children, who rescues dogs, Hector and Ricky Baker to form her family. She is the heart of their home: her awkward warmth symbolised by the hot water bottle she gives Ricky. She is the Earth Mother Demeter figure. She is contrasted to by Paula from Child Services who represents Government. She treats Ricky not like a vulnerable teen who needs care, but as a criminal, a problem to be fixed.

Ricky Baker : I’ll never stop running!

Paula : Yeah, and I’ll never stop chasing you – I’m relentless, I’m like the Terminator.

Ricky Baker : I’m more like the Terminator than you!

Paula : I said it first, you’re more like Sarah Connor, and in the first movie too, before she could do chin ups.

If Bella is the source of comfort, Paula offers the coldness of a Crone figure. Her desire to get Ricky back isn’t out of immense sadness like Demeter, but out of legalistic determination. The fears and dangers she represents to Ricky are real, but she is made ridiculous by her obsession. Then again, their adventures makes the everyone involved in the law look idiotic.

Officer Andy: We’re offering ten thousand dollars to anyone who can capture them, dead or alive.

Officer Andy: Oh. Alive. They should be alive.

Then there is Kahu, the Kore figure. The girl who at dawn rescues Ricky on her barely domesticated horse and brings him food and music. She is presented as a muse, deliberately, and the positive leader of her family. She is both nurturing in her care for Ricky, but legalistic, in that she organises the rescue of the park ranger. She is the happy balance of Bella and Paula.

The making of men

I understand there needed to be a catalyst for Hec and Ricky to become ‘wilderpeople’ but does it have to be the same every freaking time? Even if this film explores how the absence of mothering/women wounds men, and drives them to recovery through doing both stupid and heart-rending stuff… Bella’s death really distracted me. Then again, I believe this is a worthy story, deserving of being made. For Ricky, pop culture references in place of parenting do not a man make. But Hec’s closed off emotions and grim silence don’t work either.

Death and intertextuality

What I realise is that what colours my experience of this film is my awareness of the BILLIONTY OTHER STORIES who kill off their female characters for less profound purposes. I know it’s not this film’s fault that there are decades of TV crime dramas, or 10,000 years of story telling with dead mothers littered through them like the inevitable snow in a Doctor Who Christmas episode. But every now and again it would be nice if mothers didn’t have to be dead for children to grow up. Especially when this particular story builds on the absence of Ricky’s birth mother.

So I beg you all – story tellers, novelists, playwrights – for the love of crikey find another way to traumatise your characters into action/personal growth beyond killing off their mothers.

Wilderkid, Ricky Baker.

Of two world views

There are two views of the cosmos presented  in this film. The legal, paternal, chronological world of Child Welfare, police, and funeral services, where life is a series of experiences from home, to home, to home, to Juvenile Detention and then death.

This is contrasted to Bella’s beliefs. Where horses can exist for themselves, rather to be ridden, where families grow in all sorts of ways. In her world life and death coexist, as she kills a wild pig to feed her family. In Bella’s philosophy life is sweet, but bloody, and milestones are to be celebrated, but idiosyncratically. Rather than the confusing door metaphors of the Pastor Bella believes she will be reunited with her ancestors via a lake whose face touches the sky. This is made more poignant when we learn she, like Ricky, doesn’t know her ancestors. The film teaches us if you take Bella’s beliefs too far you end up as Psycho Sam, but too far the other way and you become Paula. Thus the film directs us to laugh at the Christian service by making it stupidly comic and the Pastor a Fool. And while Hec rightly walks out of this farce, it doesn’t make him a believer in Bella’s philosophy. In mourning, he takes time to come around to her world view.

In the end, Ricky and Hec are able to integrate both world views. Ricky finds a family. Hec learns to read. They accept that they must live within the law, while recognising they need each other, poetry and the wilderness for their personal growth.

Finally

  • Lord of the Ring reference!
  • Dogs stole the film. Tears.
  • New Zealand is so green.
  • I want to go there.
  • That is all.

 

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A course in uncommonplaces

I signed up for Catherine Ann Jones’ Way of Story online course. Partly as a pick-me-up because the writing for the last few months has been absent except for posts here, and seemingly endless job applications. If you haven’t heard of Catherine Ann Jones’, don’t worry,  I hadn’t either. Turns out she is an actor/playwright/writing lecturer/film and was script writer for Touched by an Angel.

As a writer

The course comprises 16 lessons, including details of Jones’ professional experience in New York and LA, and short film she helped write and her insights. If you’re not into touchy feely and terms like ‘soul work’ and ‘blessings’ this course won’t appeal. What was beneficial were the exercises. Some were new to me, and others familiar, but I won’t detail them at length, as that seems like giving her work to you for free.

Jones’ explanation about blocks to writing were insightful and every lesson brims with anecdotes about meeting the likes of Joseph Campbell, Finnish film directors, philosophers, and prima ballerinas, from India to LA. Basically, the course was Jones’ biography, but the highlights were her selection of quotes and references from others. It’s always interesting seeing where and from whom our teachers take their lessons. Jones’ quotes Kafka to Krishnamurti, Einstein to Eudora Welty.

As a commonplace compiler

Aaannnnd this is where I diverge from a straight review and chat about commonplace books, also known as zibaldone (Italian for ‘a heap of things’). I had kept such books since I was gifted two gilt-edged snowy white page memo books as a teen. Not knowing what to do with them, I proceeded to paste in everything. Water colours, doodles, and then poems, song lyrics and quotes from novels, TV programs and films. Some arranged over my paintings.

Poetry on watercolour

Then I found pictures, and collected postcards, then kept tickets to events or places I visited, like museums and galleries and events. Turns out I was doing what people had done for centuries, without knowing anybody else had done this at all.

Commonplaces full of souvenirs

When my Nan died 10 years ago, my dad found her initialed Tupperware, her initialed handkerchiefs and other initialed ephemera, as well as commonplace books of newspaper clippings and quotes. I never knew Nan did this. Turns out it this practice is genetic too.

Aannyway, my point is this course feels a bit like Jones’ personal commonplace book, with its anecdotes, myriad quotes, exercises, and advice. It’s just at the end I get a certificate.

As an Australian

This feels so very American with its homey, take home wisdom, combined with name dropping. It’s clearly targeted towards an American audience, which is why I hesitated about offering criticism. But this is my review and my perspective.

For me, what took away from the course was the language. Perhaps this is an artifact of age, her American-ness, or exposure to Campbell, but all the mentions of ‘men’ and ‘he’ grated. This is especially since rereading Ursula Le Guin, and being immersed in the work the Suppressed Histories Archives. Women are and were shamans. There are Heroine’s Journeys, and who says women weren’t involved in hunting? Grrrr. Hunter gather stereotypes always 100% annoy me. Stop with the 19th century essentialism.

It’s not enough to argue ‘he’ indicates both men and women, when for too long powerful men made the standards impossible to meet for women in a range of industries, including, clearly, Hollywood.

Thus, after being slightly less engaged because of this, I was aghast at the example of a film script she adapted from a novel entitled The Sai Prophecy.

The year is 1899. A dying aborigine in Tasmania gives anthropologist Philo Hoffman a ring engraved with the words, Shirdi, Sathya, Prema. This ring takes Philo to a small town near Bombay where he encounters a remarkable Indian holy man…

Um. “Dying aborigine”? How about a dying Elder named …… from the …….Nation? Because Aboriginal (capital) people have names. Then there is the premise. A dying First Nation Person who has endured decades of Frontier Wars, diseases, and probable exile from mainland Tasmania, will just entrust some colonising stranger with a sacred object (from an entirely different spiritual tradition)? To make matters worse, this nameless character isn’t the point. The death is merely the inciting incident to a larger adventure for (of course) an American family in (exoticised) India. This is textbook cultural erasure in one blurb. Tasmania is code for Other. It could’ve been anywhere. Instead it’s somewhere where the legacy of genocide was fresh, but unexamined in this narrative. Even if the novel/script is OK overall, this blurb is problematic. I say this even as I make no claim to being a member of a First Nation. I just recognise my privilege as a beneficiary of the legacy of colonisation. And I was reading this in January, which highlights how Australia Day valorises invasion as settlement, and even ‘discovery’. Thus, instead the lesson, I was thinking about how some stories erase some voices or use them as a backdrop for white people escapades. Maybe you will argue this is snow flake hand-wringing about words. But the type who mock such concerns also howl for blood when poets call for the institutions that have oppressed women and FNPs to be ‘burned down’ and rebuilt to enshrine equity.

Conclusion

These concerns are a pity, as they undermine the beneficial guiding premise of the course. It was meant to be about honouring the impetus to tell stories and making space to understand our inner voices. But despite its good intentions and valuable exercises, it can’t fully live up to them, not until its language stops diminishing the experiences of women, and excluding and overshadowing the stories of First Nations Peoples.

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