It was funny, real funny. We were at the supermarket today down at Aldinga Beach when I said to my partner, ‘You know, we haven’t had brioches for a while’ and it was true we hadn’t. “Would you like some for breakfast tomorrow?’ she said. ‘Yes, I would. That’d be great.’ So we went into the store and looked but there were no brioches to be found. It was then that I went up to a slightly frazzled looking older assistant and asked, ‘Brioche?’ He looked at me strangely. ‘Pardon?’ he said. ‘Brioches. Do you sell them?’ ‘I don’t even know what they are,’ he said. ‘I’ll ask the bakery section.’ We went with him. He went up to one of the bakers. ‘Brioche?’ he said. And the baker looked at him just as strangely as he had looked at us. ‘Don’t bother,’ I said and we walked out the store. ‘Perhaps we’ll have eggs tomorrow,’ my partner said. ‘Yes.’ I said. ‘That will be fine.’
Recently I wrote a story called ‘My Own Private Guantanamo’, a love story drawing direct inspiration from Gus Van Sant’s film ‘My Own Private Idaho.’ Before that I wrote a story called ‘The Heart of the Matter’ based on Hemingway’s ‘The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber.’ Such stories are literary homages.
Recently Haruki Murakami’s ‘Samsa in Love’, a homage to Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’, appeared in the New Yorker. There are two such homages in Lorrie Moore’s new collection ‘Bark.’ One, ‘Wings’, draws directly from James’ ‘The Wings of the Dove’, neither of which I have read. But I have read ‘Referential’, a stunning piece on derangement, based on Nabokov’s 1948 story ‘Signs and Symbols’. It is that rare piece of literary homage that is superior to the story which serves as its template.
Have you a favourite short story that you can use as a model for a story of your own? It is an interesting exercise. I urge you to try it. You never know what you may come up with.
There are two memoirs I’m reading at the moment that are teaching me a lot about writing. One, ‘Green Vanilla Tea’ won the Finch Memoir Prize in Australia; the second ‘The Bouncer’ was runner up. I can see why GVT, a memoir about her young husband’s descent into dementia and Motor Neurone Disease, won. It has a clear, linear narrative driving to an inevitable climax. I can see why the second, a memoir about a young man’s six year apprenticeship as a bouncer, didn’t win. It is somewhat episodic BUT it appealed to me more. Why?
Maybe because as a male I am more orientated to violent, confrontational literature than a dementia story of which there are plenty. Maybe it’s because I’m interested in the secret world of being a bouncer. And maybe it’s because of a formatting decision on the part of the publisher or author. ‘The Bouncer’ has a title for every chapter which acts as a signpost for what follows and as a handy reference if you wish to reread a particular chapter. GVT just has chapter headings. Oh, and there’s one more thing: I’m up to page 83 in the Marie Williams book and I STILL don’t know what Green Vanilla Tea has to do with the story !!! This is just not good enough.
Have you read any good memoirs recently that you can recommend?
After climbing four flights of stairs to get to the new library and losing my breath, I pulled out my library card and promptly lost it. I was lost for words. A colleague of mine, wandering around in a distressed state, was trying to find his rucksack which he had just put down. And the chief librarian couldn’t find the book I had climbed all those steps to get. “It seems to be lost,” she said. “But it should be there.” My colleague was losing his mind. “The world’s out to get me,” he ranted. “I just put it down for a moment.” Meanwhile someone reported they had just lost their sandals which they had taken off in the Reading Room. “Excuse me,” I said to the librarian, brushing past her. I just had to get out of this inner city Bermuda Triangle before I disappeared too.
I heard once at a religious Retreat a definition of ‘Bliss’ as attributed to the Buddha. He had gathered his disciples around him and was carefully explaining the difference between Bliss, a tranquil state of mind and Ecstasy, an excited state. “Bliss,” he is said to have said, ‘is NOT the absence of pain but an Awareness of the absence of pain.” Such pain — I am paraphrasing here — may be psychological, physical or existential. But it is the awareness of the thing not the thing itself.
What do you think?
When have you been in a state of Bliss?
When I have ‘sleepovers’ at my girlfriend’s place she always treats me in the morning with a fried egg breakfast. She has her own chooks, three silkie hens, two black, one white: Amy, Meg and Fiona. They are lovely chooks: happy and dependable. Occasionally they have laid double yolked eggs which make delightful eating. But how surprised was I this morning when one of the three lay a triple-yolked egg!!! My girlfriend and I looked on in astonishment and argued who would eat it. Eventually she won and I ate it. It may not happen again so I devoured it with gusto. She satisfied herself with a double yolked egg.
We were talking about Olympians we had known when an old school friend came to mind, a javelin thrower who had made a name for himself in Australia in the Commonwealth Games and was desperate to make the Tokyo Olympics.
Failing to qualify in his home country, he flew to England in a last minute attempt to qualify there but was unsuccessful. Broke and desperate to get home to see his young daughter and wife, he had a friend build him a crate in which he sealed himself and had himself air-freighted to Australia. He was 63 hours without food or water. But he lived. In his home country and especially amongst those he went to school with, he is a legend.
I was walking down by the riverside when a flock of pigeons descended on the shady bank. Most were opalescent grey, though a few were tawny and three or four others almost crow-black but there was one pure white, scrawny with pink eyes. I stood back and watched their behaviour. There were perhaps forty or fifty of them and within a short time they began scrabbling in the grass for bugs. The thing is the albino pigeon mingled with the flock. He knew I was looking at him. He looked at me too. Yet the others paid him no special heed. He was fully assimilated, not singled out. It is treacherous, I know, to read too much into the behaviour of birds but still I could not help but be humbled by their acceptance of one so different in appearance. There is much we can learn from birds.
Six Characters in Search of a Plot
My friend was on the bus the other day on the way to her daughter’s place when she was entertained by a series of oddballs who boarded the bus at five consecutive stops. She texted me the entire journey, telling me about them, revelling in their quirkiness. ‘They would make a wonderful short story,’ she said. ‘Maybe you could write it’ Maybe I could. But they would need a plot. A story is more than characters, colourful or dull.
A friend whose work I occasionally read wrote a wonderfully entertaining piece containing six oddballs like the ones my girlfriend encountered on the bus but it wasn’t a story. It needed a plot. It was like Luigi Pirandello’s Absurdist play from 1921 called ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ but here it was ‘Six Characters in Search of a Plot’.
No, don’t Google it. Don’t look it up. Read it twice. Do you know who said this? Do you know who’s responsible for this remarkable piece of eloquence?
‘When you say, “How can you know?” the answer is, you can’t. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could see around corners — have our imaginations anticipate every conceivable thing that could happen, and then, from that full array and spectrum, pick out the ones that will happen?’
What famous Shakespearian quotation does this remind you of? Think ‘Macbeth’. Think Banquo. Think these words, “If you can look into the seeds of time and know which seeds will grow and which will not.”
So do you know who spoke that eloquent passage about seeing around corners or to whom he said it?