Changing lives – making lists and having fun

December 12, 2017 at 3:19 am | Posted in Christmans presents, libraries, list-making | Leave a comment
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Why write?

‘It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.’ I’ve quoted Vita Sackville West https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vita_Sackville-West before but this bears repeating. Writing or any activity that produces something will prevent that feeling of empty past days. But it should also be remembered that Vita Sackville West probably had servants. So if she didn’t write on a given day, perhaps she could do nothing if she felt like it.

Few of us have that luxury now. The days of most people, even if they’re wealthy, are filled to overflowing with too many things to do. (I’ve met two super wealthy people and even at a dinner out I never saw them relax – they’re always on the mobile, checking some crisis in the China factory or whatever.)

There’s another quotation I like:

‘Lists are the butterfly nets that catch my fleeting thoughts…’ by American blogger Betsy Canas Garmon.

Continue Reading Changing lives – making lists and having fun…

Robin Dalton’s exhilarating books – great Christmas presents

December 2, 2017 at 1:32 am | Posted in Aunts up the Cross, Australian memoir, Comic memoirs, humour, One Leg Over, Present giving, Robin Dalton | 1 Comment
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High dramatic comedy

Death was ‘always present, cosily accepted’ in Robin Dalton’s 1930s childhood in Kings Cross, Sydney. As a single child in a house full of eccentrics, the fairy tales she was told were the amusing accounts of how her relatives met their ends.

Her 85-year-old great-aunt Julia was knocked over by a bus. This bus was travelling slowly, in the right direction. It was Great-Aunt Julia who was, characteristically, walking very fast, in the wrong direction. Great-Uncle Spot fell off a ladder while changing a light bulb. A great-aunt died as a child from eating green apples and another from blowing up a balloon. The author’s great-grandfather died while reading Uncle Vanya and her Uncle Ken, a soldier in Gallipoli, was killed not in action but from a fatal bite of sugar. (Clearly an early casualty of the ‘Sweet Poison’ we’re hearing a lot about now – see davidgillespie.org and www.sarahwilson.com )

Dalton’s Aunts up the Cross is still in print, I’m happy to see – originally Penguin and now a Text Classic – and it would make a great Christmas present. There is not a word wasted, every word is elegant, and nearly every word is funny. Continue Reading Robin Dalton’s exhilarating books – great Christmas presents…

Yellow horses: a story of thwarted ambitions and coming full circle

August 29, 2017 at 8:25 am | Posted in art, creativity, Franz Marc, Living creatively, Writing | 1 Comment
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We wondered why the tulips were taking a long time to come up

Silver needles in my knees

I’ve been working on a book about an abstract artist and having some minor setbacks. First, a previous writing job kept spilling over into the time I wanted to be researching the new, much bigger project. (And this keeps happening. They come back wanting more and I do more because they pay me.) Although shorter and simpler than a PhD, the new project is like a PhD in that if I take even one day off it, it takes about two days to get back down to the deep level of engagement with the subject again that makes the connections come easily and the writing go quickly.

Second set-back: I hurt my knee and spent many hours of many weeks doing physiotherapy Continue Reading Yellow horses: a story of thwarted ambitions and coming full circle…

Flirting with the world – lunch with Robert Dessaix

July 3, 2017 at 1:11 am | Posted in English Language, Leisure, Robert Dessaix | Leave a comment
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Getting the hang of leisure

Robert Dessaix seems like one of the last people in Australia to be qualified to write a book about leisure. He has written many books, he taught Russian at two universities, and he has been a radio presenter for long-running programs. A glance at his achievements gives the impression of an industrious and productive life, possibly one of unremitting toil.

Recently I went to a lunch at Muse bookshop and restaurant  www.muse.com.au  with Robert Dessaix and a few other convivial, interesting people. We ate delectable food, drank good wine and listened to Robert Dessaix talk about the life of leisure and how he came to write a book about it. A copy of it, The Pleasures of Leisure (Knopf, 2017), was included in the very reasonable price of the lunch.

Dessaix admitted that leisure was something he ‘never quite got the hang of’, knowing only how to fill vacant time usefully and productively. In the book he tackles aspects of leisure such as loafing, reading, walking, nesting, travelling, taking siestas and meditating. With the notion of loafing in mind, he reflects on his childhood:

‘I’d never nonchalantly arrived at anything at all (although from an early age, by dint of hard work, I could say “nonchalant” in several languages’ (p. 5).

 Why do words go out of fashion?

Loafing is not a word you hear much these days. It produced in me connotations of disapproval, probably from my mother’s attitude, and loafing was definitely one of her words. The opposite of loafing, in her vocabulary and moral universe, would have been expressed by ‘gumption’, another word we don’t hear much these days. (Why is that?) Continue Reading Flirting with the world – lunch with Robert Dessaix…

Tearing sentences to pieces

June 20, 2017 at 9:00 am | Posted in Tim Ferriss, writers' habits, Writing | Leave a comment
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Schine novel

They May Not Mean To

Your worst fears

According to Tim Ferriss, ‘the worst fears of contemporary men and women are getting fat and getting too many emails.’ Well, no wonder we’re all having anxiety attacks!

The Slow Carb diet in Ferriss’ book The Four-Hour Body should solve the first problem and spending regular time unsubscribing from unnecessary emails will liberate more time to spend on what’s important. Easier said than done, I know!

My subscription to the Literary Review (hard copy plus online) is as important to me as my subscription to the Guardian Weekly. I’d unsubscribe from anything before these. The Literary Review is ‘for people who devour books’ and the editors recently warned me that if I let my subscription expire I’d risk ‘missing out on everything relevant and stimulating in our society’. That kind of chutzpah can only be rewarded; of course I renewed. (Even though it eats up too much time!) Reviews are one page, in plain English and reviewers are clearly chosen, apart from their profound experience relevant to the book’s topic, for their wit and intellectual dexterity. You can subscribe at https://literaryreview.co.uk/

Continue Reading Tearing sentences to pieces…

Lamplight on the darkened path

May 7, 2017 at 4:04 am | Posted in capitalism, creativity, Democracy, Living creatively, media negativity, public squalour | Leave a comment
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A Bigger Prize and The Short Goodbye

In Sickness, in Health and in Jail by Mel Jacobs

‘The world breaks everyone, and afterwards some are stronger in the broken places.’ Hemingway said that, and Mel Jacobs quotes him in the front of her poignant memoir, In Sickness, in Health and in Jail (Allen & Unwin, 2016). The author describes the shock, social stigma and logistical nightmares involved when her husband went to jail for two years after breaching the rules concerning his online hunting weapons business.

It was being uncharacteristically slack with a couple of technicalities (which were, granted, against the law, but seemed so minor in the scheme of things) that landed a decent, normally highly moral, small business guy in jail. A pity that the justice system doesn’t use such finely honed powers of legal scrutiny on anyone in finance or banking, I thought, since at the same time I was reading Elisabeth Wynhausen’s riveting The Short Goodbye (Melbourne University Press, 2011) about the global financial crisis.

Almost no one in finance or banking – no matter how illegal, unethical or immoral, no matter how many millions of lives they’ve ruined – will have to endure the appalling conditions of Australian prisons described in Jacobs’ book, and it’s exactly the same in the UK and Europe and the US. As Wynhausen states:

‘Even as unemployment around the globe soared, the financial institutions responsible sped from the wreckage they had left in their wake, to grab whatever they could get their hands on. After nine big Wall Street banks … were bailed out with US$175 billion from American taxpayers under the program President Bush signed into being, though President Obama would cop the flak for it, they handed out nearly US$33 billion in bonuses. (p. 189)

Continue Reading Lamplight on the darkened path…

Cycling and writing

April 12, 2017 at 2:45 am | Posted in Cycling - health benefits, cycling - mental benefits, depression, Living creatively, writers' health | Leave a comment
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A people-centred society

Riding a bicycle regularly has measurable benefits for your body and immeasurable ones for your brain and creativity. In my last blog I hinted at these benefits and in this one I have the space to expand on some of the glorious results of swapping four wheels for two, and I don’t mean the kind with the internal combustion engine attached. I mean the kind that relies on human muscle power.

That muscle power is the key to the benefits. Cycling improves the strength, tone and flexibility of muscles and sluices synovial fluid through the hip, knee and ankle joints, which eases arthritis. Pumping oxygen through the bloodstream enhances your energy, expands brain capacity and improves your complexion.

Continue Reading Cycling and writing…

How to be a gazelle – on health, fitness and match-making two writers

April 2, 2017 at 7:10 am | Posted in Anti-ageing, Cycling - health benefits, cycling - mental benefits, sarah wilson, Tim Ferriss, writers' habits, writers' health | Leave a comment
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The human guinea pig

Ferriss

‘The 4-Hour Body’ – definitely an uncommon guide

It was already hot at 8.30 on a Saturday morning. My nightie was on the floor and the sheet kicked aside when I glanced over at my reflection in the large mirrored built-in wardrobe doors.

I groaned and said, ‘Oh, God – I’ve put on weight. I’m a beached whale!’

And my companion said, ‘No, you’re not. You’re a leaping porpoise.’

I took this as a compliment.

But I’d still rather be a gazelle. American writer and adventurer Tim Ferriss promises me that I can be. Not in those exact words but near enough. For all my complaints about Tim Ferriss and the gender imbalance of his books (see January 14 of www.penhanley.wordpress.com ) I’ve been won over by him. His enthusiasm is infectious, he’s insatiably curious, and he’s funny. I’m gripped by the boys’ adventure style of his prose. In the idiom of his native country, what’s not to like? Continue Reading How to be a gazelle – on health, fitness and match-making two writers…

Puns in life and puns in dreams

February 17, 2017 at 1:17 am | Posted in dreams, Father/son memoirs, humour, Puns, puns in dreams, Shakespeare | Leave a comment
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Fraught father/son relationships

Last post was about the memoir I Am Brian Wilson. There’s an interesting aside in it that involves a pun. I’m not a big fan of puns (notwithstanding the visual one on this site – a sharp pen) but they can be interesting, specially when they involve a Freudian slip.

Brian’s father, Murry Wilson’s relationship with his sons was fraught. He used to hit them, sometimes with his open hand and sometimes even with his fist. When the sons became old enough to decide that they didn’t want him to manage their band the Beach Boys any more, they essentially fired him. Continue Reading Puns in life and puns in dreams…

A struggle with mental illness – I Am Brian Wilson: A memoir

February 5, 2017 at 11:24 pm | Posted in creativity, depression, mental illness, song writing, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Pet Sounds

When I was fourteen my older brother gave me the new Beachboys’ Pet Sounds album for Christmas. It was and remains my favourite. I’d never heard anything like those sophisticated, layered compositions and sublime harmonies – and neither had anyone else. No one had ever put together sounds like that before. It had a massive influence on future music. Without Pet Sounds the Beatles would never have made their Sergeant Peppers album.

I’ve been thinking about Pet Sounds a lot lately because I’ve been reading I Am Brian Wilson (with Ben Greenman, Coronet, 2016), a story of early success and mental illness, of creative genius and tragic loss, of addiction and second chances. I love this book. Continue Reading A struggle with mental illness – I Am Brian Wilson: A memoir…

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