Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why the long face?

The Old Grey Mare (2016) assemblage by Pants 

10th Anniversary Post

Impossible as it is to believe, That's So Pants is ten today. I'm known for brief personal relationships and very long projects. Ten years is short by my standards of labouring. I'm working fairly consistently now on a toil that is into its twenty-fifth year. For most of that time it has languished, forgotten, in a box file on a bottom shelf. I'm not what you'd call a brilliant finisher but I get there in the end with most things. I have learned that it's fine to work slowly, as long as you live for a long time. Thankfully, I have.

TSP has spanned the move from Hackney, London to Larrikin's End in regional Victoria, Australia. I still use the same selfie profile picture I took in 2006. I'm older and fatter now. And unashamedly grey. I'm thinking of using the illustration above as my new profile picture. If I can be arsed to work out how to change it. Which isn't at all likely. Life is very different from what it was when I started this blog. Much of what I've done in the last ten years has been documented in the 984 (including this one) posts on That's so Pants and Art of Pants. There are three novels and two musicals I haven't mentioned, in addition to the two novels I've floated via this blog. You haven't missed much, don't worry. Like I said, triumphant finishing is not my forte. I'm more the puttering on until the bitter end type.

I was originally thinking of ending the blog today. Readership isn't what it was in the old days. And then I thought, actually, that's a reason to keep going.What do I care? And, everything is still pretty much pants. Even more so. For the past year, Larrikin's End has been on a time-reversal trajectory, retreating from the wind-up internet that I'd just about gotten used to to the hardly-at-all internet. This is progress Aussie-style. There is a mythical beast that supposedly lives underground called En-bee-en*. At some point in the far reaches of space time, this beast will surface at a preordained spot a few streets away. Rather like a summoning from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. From there it will, apparently, guide me towards a goal of digital connectedness the like of which I took for granted back at the turn of the Millennium. My London flat had cable broadband. I now exist on a strict data diet and borrowed WLAN.

So, I have been spending hours in the Larrikin's End Municipal Library, waiting for Windows updates to swipe right for me. In anticipation of the arrival of the fixed broadband system, I've been struggling on with the old dongle. It has served me well in the past. Now, with the perfect storm of the drop-in-drop-out mobile signal and Microsoft's adversarial attitude to customer service, I've had to turn off the automatic updater. It tries and fails until it uses up all my data allowance. Positively medieval. So, it's over to the library's mean-but-just-about-effective wi-fi for downloads these days. It works about one in five times for Windows 7. Meanwhile, whilst wondering whether I could, theoretically, survive a transfer to Linux - I have seen The Martian - I've been downloading and saving old TSP posts while Windows does or doesn't do its thing. I'm definitely in an archiving phase.

In the beginning, and for quite a long time, I wrote a blog post a day. Where did I get the energy? I was probably a good deal more hooked in to what was happening in the wide world ten years ago. I lived in the wide world ten years ago. Being in Australia is like being in one of those sensory deprivation chambers. But mostly in a good way. I have enough self-generated sensory stimulus to keep me going and the lack of external distraction has been a boon to some of my decades-long projects. Real progress has been made. There's a perpetually almost-finished musical, (the 25-year project previously mentioned), and a couple of new novels - with sloppy first drafts completed. I don't know what will happen to these. Apart from them continuing to be works-in-progress for the forseeable future. And, at last, I'm not at all bothered. The making of any kind of art at all is a gift to the world, even if the recipient is none the wiser.

Last week's story of the Italian couple found weeping in their small apartment in Rome almost prompted a blog post. Jole (89) and husband Michele (94) had fallen into despair out of loneliness and distress at seeing television reports of children being abused. The police attending made them a pasta supper. We can't know for sure, but the reports that sparked this grief spiral very likely came from Australia where cases of child abuse have dominated our media for weeks. Indigenous children have been beaten, gassed, shackled and isolated in a youth detention centre. Perhaps Jole and Michele witnessed that shocking footage. Or maybe they saw coverage of copious reports of sexual assaults on and mental distress of refugee children held in our offshore indefinite-detention camps. And the furious denials of the ogres who put them there. Or it could be that they were learning of allegations of sexual assault against children by one of their church's most senior clerics, back in his home country. Australia. 

There is something profound about an elderly couple anguished at the state of the world. They'd come through Fascism and a world war - on the losing side. Yet everything must seem so much worse now. Because no one cares about the children. I get that. And here is a different and deeper take on loneliness. It's possible to feel lonely even if you aren't physically alone. Perhaps Jole and Michele were sensing and responding to the alienating perversion that is globalisation. A force that challenges cooperation, the foundation of our humanity. They were perhaps expressing a global social bereftness. Well, I think that's worth having a bit of a sob about. I won't do it loudly. In Australia, you'd be more likely to get a knuckle sandwich from the police if they caught you blubbing about children who had the temerity to be vulnerable.

I thought of taking the opportunity to kill off Barney. Lord knows the little devil deserves it. But he has his uses. Right now, he's a mole in Camp Trump. He'd be digging the dirt for us if he wasn't completely buried in it. Sadly, he's been taken in by some Trump 'promises', specifically, the proposal to introduce 'extreme vetting'. Barney seems to think this is a kind of deluxe Obamacare for domestic pets. And there's no dissuading him. Perhaps 'uses' wasn't the right word. TQW and I are living off his criminal earnings so it's probably better we keep him alive, at least until we can claim the OAP. At a date which advances further into the future whenever we get close to it. Like a mirage in the desert. So, for the moment we will carry on, in every sense of the phrase.

I'm having a Georgia O'Keeffe moment, in more ways than one. Consider this wonderful thing that she said,

'I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.'

Not one single thing, Georgia? Well, we know what she means. In the grand scheme of things, she appears to have done pretty much as she pleased. And the results were magnificent. It's an argument for, as much as it galls me to say it, 'feeling the fear and doing it anyway'. I'm not sure that's what I do. All I know is that I have developed the capability of satisfying my own creativity above all other demands. If something more interesting comes along to care about in any given moment, I have no hesitation in giving it my full and semi-divided attention. I'm not an obsessive, after all. Let's just say that I've got index cards dotted around the house and, at my age, fleeting thoughts need to be captured before they, er, fleet for good. It may be necessary for me to excuse myself from the general gaiety of our enviable lifestyle and make notes from time to time.

Lifestyle is a word you hear a lot in relation to Australia. Believe me, it doesn't mean what you think it does. There is no inherent 'style' in Australian 'life'. If you want it, you have to invent it yourself. It's a challenge worth mastering because mostly living here is simple and predictable. And no one will bother you if you take the precaution of avoiding any and all  trouble. I've pretty much got the tedious admin tasks pared back to the unavoidable. Apart from the idiotic internet problems, that is. The Larrikin's End library is not a terrible place to be. Earphones help. I make a habit of listening to soothing music while I'm battling the techno-demons. Debussy is particularly comforting and effective at blocking the cackling that accompanies any and every transaction in this country. Even in a library. There's more than a little Clair de Lune in me. I can't explain it, but at some point, I ceased to be able to work effectively listening to UK garage.

Another transitional anomaly is that I suddenly became a talk-radio person when I repatriated to this country. (I mean 'talk' apropos Lord Reith as opposed to shock-jocks.) I began to listen to ABC Radio National. I'd never been a Radio 4 person all the time I lived in Britain. Even after I turned 40. Not even after I turned 50. I podcast BBC now. I can only take so much of the no-shit-Sherlock ABC 'talks'. I was listening to one the other day. Earnest academic researchers came up with the astonishing revelation that walking in the woods is good for one's body and soul. These Aussies. World class or what? With typical clairvoyant skill, I'd been doing this for years. Not realising that it was beneficial. Isn't intuition the most spectacularly marvellous thing? The fresh air. The movement of limbs. The opportunity to experience the sounds and smells of nature. Who would've thunk? So glad we have copious Sociology PhDs sweating away on putting two and two together for us.

On a walk along Lake Larrikin a couple of weeks ago, I happened upon a large piece of driftwood that looked exactly like a horse's head. I pick up any driftwood that suggests an animal. It's spooky how often I come across those. I knew as soon as I saw this fragment exactly what I would make. I pictured the square timber frame I had in the shed. It had housed a particularly vile little print of a cartoon cat. It would be perfect. I found an old leatherette strap in a charity shop throw-out bin. The strip of cord had previously been the frame's hanging fixture. The Old Grey Mare came together.

It was surprisingly difficult to separate the hideous cat picture from its support. It had been cemented onto backing board with the kind of manic super-efficiency of which I can only dream. And secured onto mounting board mitred to perfection.  With the kind of double-sided tape that comes with a life-time guarantee. A Galápagos tortoise's life. So often in discarded artworks, the framing outclasses the main attraction. People go to an awful lot of trouble for rubbish prints. Most of what I make is so atrociously constructed that loving framing would seem a subversion too far - even for me. I'm always suspicious of an artwork that is improved by framing in any case.

However, I can attest to the robustness of this piece. Having not yet replaced the hanging fastenings, because I'd reoriented the frame to operate diagonally, I judged that I could drape it over an existing hook for photographing. I was wrong. As I lined up the Kodak, the masterpiece bolted. Fell five feet to the floor. Then bounced down thirteen hardwood steps. And landed, face-up, on the timber floor below. Yeats was wrong on this occasion. Gee up Nelly. On to the fair. 

Cut to several days later and The Old Grey Mare is now securely fastened and proudly displayed at Seat of Pants. Making things brings me enormous joy. Not least of all because I never know that I will succeed until I've tried. And that, in itself, is a reason to stick at anything. And so I will. See you in September, if not before...

* NBN or National Broadband Network.