Monday, November 30, 2009

dotty points

Sorry, still feeling flat. And somehow quite disconnected from things. Still, there have been some light moments over the last week:

-- assessing lots of TAFE students as a guest panel member, which felt like being on a panel for some kind of talent show. Byrd was also a panelist, and I discovered how Bad Cop he really can be, which was fun.

-- I had a surprise run-in with a mermaid! We literally bumped into each other in the halls of my art skool, and she recognised me from the various silly photos I've mounted over the years. We made time to stop and have a beverage together on the weekend, among decorative wombat tiles and trees, and it was lovely.

fifi with the wombats

-- Bumblebee and I had a visit from Colonel and Lady Duck today. Colonel Duck has decided to stage an Intervention on our badly neglected garden, and came up to make some plans about how to proceed. He gave Bumblebee one last chance (after nagging him for ages) to write a Christmas Present Suggestion List before he committed to buying him singlets and undies, so B sat down and wrote a very Star-Wars-heavy list, with one last thing at the very end: he wanted a (sic) BADMITTEN SET.

All I could think of was a set of mittens knitted in the shape of devil's horn hands, so:

badmitten set

I had to make that image, THERE'S NOTHING LIKE THEM ON THE INTERWEBS. Come on peoples, especially etsy peoples who can KNIT. Why hasn't anyone thought of this before????!!!

-- It was the cats' collective birthday last friday. I gave them a huge plate of raw whiting. They were very happy. They turned five.

-- Best Beloved has a new job. With a new title. It's quite an impressive title, but I'm not allowed to tell you it. The acronym, however, is DISS {see, I'm even getting my jokes wrong] DISMISS. That's something to laugh about, isn't it?

I'm quite enjoying watching the Liberal Party turn themselves in knots. That's another thing to laugh about...

Hmm. I'm trying to laugh more. I'll get there.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Ceiling Cat, bless the interwebs and the nice people I know on it.

Harry sent me this site:

Unless by “attention to detail” you mean spelling.


Hours of fun and grimacing for everyone, whether you like handmade things or you don't.

Harry is one of the reasons I can spend so much time in my studio. Best Beloved is away for a few days, and Bumblebee spend the whole day yesterday painting Harry's Warhammer figures and working out some elaborate battle scene involving Beastmen, Space Marines, Bionicles and Lego Star Wars. There's also a boss Warhammer dude with a real crab-claw arm (found the last time we went to the beach). It is fantabulous. So thanks a squillion, Harry.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Life in the Hat

Thank you for wonderful messages of support and I promise I won't HTFU too much. I always feel a bit embarrassed after I grizzle on-line. I want to start licking my paws furiously like a cat. But I refuse to delete posts unless they're hurtful because this is as much about me remembering my life as it is sharing it with others.

More gloom: our DVD player is sick. Might be the heat, might be the excessive wurtiness pervading the house.

So we can't indulge in our favorite comfort videos, we're reliant on the tv, which (to stop whinging) really isn't so bad anymore since there's all those kooky free digital channels like GO and VH1 and Turner Classic Movies etc.

Luckily/wisely we bought an extended warranty for the player, but it's going to take up to 5 working days to find out if it gets fixed (which would be another long process) or replaced (huzzar).

Luckily, some of the crap I've been slowly sifting outwards includes our old DVD player that probably still works... we will find out tonight when I try to reconfigure all the wiring. Hopefully I've also still got the manual. We only replaced it because we wanted to be able to record shows and convert videos, etc, so we bought a DVD/VCR combo. Which, 15 months later, is cranky and playing up. I HATE built-in obsolescence. Colonel & Lady Duck used the same video player for 20 years before they went all crazy and bought DVD players and set-top boxes for every room in their house.


I feel I should explain the presence of Ultravox in the car the other day. It's all part of Bumblebee's musical education and trying to rip him away from endless Michael Jackson rotation.

He's found, as I mentioned earlier, all my 80s vinyl, which is really only EARLY 80s vinyl, from 1981 to about 1984. After that I got heavily into cassettes, and we all know how well they survive over 20 years. So I have a big gap in my music collection until I started buying CDs -- and I'm always a late starter -- in the mid-90s. And then in the late 90s, I was too busy sorting out dysfunctional relationships and having a complicated baby to pay much attention to contemporary music, so there's a big gap in my head from about 1994 to around 2002, when I started back at the art school and reconnected with what everyone else around me was listening to. During that gap time I'd been listening disconnectedly to blues, jazz, swing, old standards, and my totally uncool record collection.

Anyhoo, so Bumblebee was grinding our ears with endless loops of 'Footloose' and 'Fame' and 'I love Rock & Roll' (so do I, but not incessantly), and then suddenly a song like Depeche Mode's 'I just can't get enough' would emerge from the mix. And seem really out of place.

One morning I was lying in bed half-listening to his music choices and realised that most of the music I loved from the early-to-mid 80s was the music I wasn't exposed to at the time -- being stuck in country towns with cheesy radio stations -- but the music I'd danced to as a young uni student in my favorite Canberra nightspot: The Manhattan.

AAAHHHH! I heard certain of you gasp in adoring nostalgia.

The Hat, as it was affectionately called, was a cramped long thin swell of a space above the recently-dead Woodstock Pizza restaurant in Civic, in the walkway between Petrie Plaza and Garema Place. It was the polar opposite of all the other mainstream clubs, yet wasn't a particularly threatening environment. It was stuffed full of goths, druggies, new romantics, students, gays, everything that was fabulous about the 80s. They played The Cure, New Order, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Ultravox... and much much more... (you know the stuff) and you could dance on the low floor or the raised floor (if you were feeling brave or at least full of bravado).

The Hat exposed me to low-mood music that was grittier than listening to the Carpenters in my bedroom. It was a revelation, and while I didn't take on much the outward trappings (apart from -- for a while -- my beloved shoe-string tie held together by a deep red glass 'jewel' pushed up to the collar of my crisp white shirt, plus lots of hair gel and eyeliner), I definitely kept a big space in my heart for the Hat and its culture. It's funny, I wear more black these days than I ever did then.

I haven't thought about The Hat for AGES, and a combination of feeling low and B playing that particular DM song made me leap onto iTunes and put together the first in what I hope will be a series of Hat Mixes. The first, my instant gut reaction, has:

Love Action (The Human League)
Temptation (Heaven 17)
Enola Gay (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark)
Chant No 1 (Spandau Ballet)
Fade to Grey (Visage)
Vienna (Ultravox)
Too Shy (Kajagoogoo)
Just Can't Get Enough (Depeche Mode)
The Model (Kraftwerk)
Living on the Ceiling (Blancmange)
Planet Earth (Duran Duran)

That last one is the only Duran Duran song ever worth listening to, IMHO.

When I played it for B, he liked it to a certain extent (it'll grow on him as he gets sookier in adolescence, but for now he's a real Light Pop boy), but I was surprised at how immediate and vivid were my memories of The Hat as a space and some of the interactions I'd had there. It was amazing.

I'm working on another Hat mix, this time taking the time to go through my CD collection to add to the iTunes purchases. New Order (initially typed New Idea, heh), The Cure, Brian Eno, The Cult, Pet Shop Boys, Bronski Beat... any other suggestions? And do feel free to reminisce about The Hat here, please.

It's a great lightweight and non-urgent project to distract me from but also sweetly enhance the inner gloom while it lasts. I'm trying to move Bumblebee through the 80s he's loving at the moment into the 90s so that we can both explore what I missed out on. And periodically he gets caught by something on the radio, which is also great.

When I'm not around him (i.e., during the day at Studio Duck, where I can play what I want, when I want and as loud as I want as long as my studio neighbour likes it), I've been playing CW Stoneking (I've got both albums and crave a third) and Robert Johnson on high rotation.

They're a bluesy cure for the 80s, fo'shure. And my studio neighbour does like them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Body memory

Sorry, haven't been very blogg
Oops, remembered that I swore not to apologise anymore when life gets in the way of blogging.

I've been on autopilot lately; operating 'normally' face to face with people, but feeling really flat and numb inside, the sort of caught-in-a-bubble mood that can be completely indulged by driving the car hard down the highway playing Vienna at ear-blistering volume while tears run down your face.

This is an odd time of year for me: the art school winds up, so I have a less obviously pressing schedule (even though there is LOTS to do), the weather hots up so that my body slows down, but the rest of the world seems to be in a high whizz towards Christmas. I am energised by busy-ness, like a self-winding spring, so unless there are pressing deadlines (I tend to type 'deadlies', which feels right) or people depending upon my efforts, I go into slow mode, and that leaves me time to think or mope, whatever my inclination. This year it's mope, big time.

There are so many names for what I'm going through. Churchill called it the Black Dog, Nick Cave wrote about The Moose in the stairwell. I've been on an internal emotional rollercoaster, which is hard for BB, who is a very smart man but not very intuitive and finds emotional outbursts befuddling. 'What can I do?' is a sensible question when you've been highly trained in management skills and how to motivate a team, but it's infuriatingly useless in the face of someone who wants you to just do something, anything, as long as it's not planned or discussed beforehand. And preferably accompanied by laughter, but he's not inclined to jolly me out of misery: he joins in, which never helps matters.

He sent me a text yesterday, from Melbourne airport, where he'd spent the day:

It's our anniversary soon! What shall we do?

And while I'd like to say everything fell into place, I certainly had a beam of clarity pierce the grey matter.

This is the time of year when bad things happen to my body. Just typing that made my eyes water.

I started writing a list of what happened each year, but if you've been reading the blog you'll know it all. Ever since we've been married, starting from the actual wedding, I've had surgical intervention on my woman parts, mostly for failed pregnancies, but culminating a year ago in the removal of them. All around this time of year.

I'm sure I did the right thing by myself to remove the offending organs (well, they offended me), but I still feel bad about BB's chance to have babies of his own. I console myself with the thought that I have laid a lot of suggestions on the table as to alternatives, with the proviso that if he wants to pursue them he has my full support, but the paperwork/organisation is all his (I think I've done my fair share so far). He's done nothing to date, so the regret can be fully shared in future years.

I think, though, that the combination of time of year and weather and everything is triggering off a large amount of body memory: pain, fear, dissatisfaction, anger, an annual time to take stock and make big decisions about forks in the road. I can't work out if I'm indulging myself or if it's involuntary. I'm unsure if this will pass or build, or be annual or whether I can nip it in the bud. I think having the same routine this year as most of the other years isn't helping (like going to Woodford)... I think I/we need new experiences to avoid this sensation of falling into a pit at the end of the year.

It's not just my flawed body and its memories that has been bringing me down... last weekend Poor Bumblebee had his tender young heart broken by someone we thought was a really good friend. It's a boy in his class who seemed more sensible and sincere than most; he was part of a group of kids who fall in and out of favour with each other constantly, but this boy always seemed to stay out of the pushings and pullings. We had encouraged B to spend time with him after school and on weekends, invited him over a lot, were cheered by B finally finding a friend who seemed to appreciate him for himself (for all his loveliness, he finds it hard to hang out with groups of kids, they always seem to find his weak spots -- he is very easy to tease, he's very thin-skinned). B had so much confidence hanging out with someone who actively listened to him on the same level.

But there was a boy in their 'group' who was very jealous about the afterschool activities, and unbeknown to us was working upon the situation. It's a long story, but ultimately this friend succumbed to the group's mood and hung the phone up on Bumblebee quite brutally, saying he wasn't 'really' his friend anymore. We watched B's face crumple and his confidence shatter on the spot. It was distressing, and made worse by this lad & the rest of the group of lads continuing to ostracise B through the week (not quite silently: pointing and giggling from across the classroom) for nothing that we can actually pinpoint other than it's making the jealous boy happy.

It's sad, and as a family we're all saddened. We feel quite helpless as to what to do. The lad's mother rang back straight after the hang-up and apologised, but didn't sound like she wanted to intervene, thinking it would work itself out. It hasn't, and it isn't a trivial matter. B, who had been feeling secure in that one crucial person's support, feels utterly undermined. He's wary again, and cautious, and we're suffering with him. We all, as a family, feel rejected. We're pretty bad with social upkeep generally, and situations like this show us how thin-skinned the three of us actually are. I went through a lot of them as a young adult, and I'd hoped my child would escape them... but no. So I'm also reliving bad memories of this kind too.

I am pinning my hopes upon high school for Bumblebee. I know it's a whole new big potentially cruel arena, but it will have a breadth that small classroom microcosms don't have. He'll go from a year of 50 students to a mosh of at least 250, and all jumbled up into different classes and groups. The old pecking order will be disrupted, and there will be new opportunities for friendships. And these kids will hopefully learn that you can be friends with each other in different ways and for different reasons.

I can hear thunder outside, which is heartening, but bad for my computer. I think it's time to get out & about, try to jolly up somehow. Harden the f%&* up, as they say.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Remember to breathe

funny pictures of cats with captions

I'm pretending that I'm moving. It's messy, and it's going to get worse before it can get better, but I need to purge. I want less crap in my life.

funny pictures of cats with captions

The cats aren't helping.

UPDATE. I've decided upon a hot weather action plan. Pretending to move in the mornings and evenings, while the house is cool, and pretending to live at the studio during the day, where it's always cool. Destruction and creation, awesome way to pass the summer days.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


funny pictures of cats with captions

I hate hot weather. It's always astounding to me how Canberra has long glorious cold crispy winters, sneaks in a few weeks of perfect spring where the evenings are chilly and the days are warm, and then it just thrusts HOT and DRY onto us abruptly. Last week I was wondering whether to leave a jumper or two out in my wardrobe, and yesterday I pulled out all my extreme (hot) weather gear. It's rude. It's horrible, and I wish I lived in Alaska or Nimmitabel* or something.

Hot weather makes me cranky and my skin breaks out. I look like an adolescent at the moment with my spotty t-zone, which is ridiculous with my greying hair and bingo-wings.**

My studio is lovely and cool, but I'm on a weird schedule at the moment where I have to dip in & out of art skool to assess people, and so I never get a clear run at studio time. So I've been writing & thinking & drawing, which is not too bad.

BB still has a sore bottom (have I mentioned it before now?). Caused by riding his bike too hard, it has progressed through many stages of hypochondria from cancer to boils and other alarming things and his hobbling varies depending upon who is watching. He's getting an ultrasound today, so hopefully we'll get to the bottom of it (groan). I can't tell you anything else about it, the details are too revolting and TMI would damage your relationship with me.

Bumblebee is spotty too, increasing in hormones daily, and gaining height rapidly. He's almost grown out of my shoe size, but I don't want my riding boots back because he's trashed them completely. I noticed the other day that his voice has deepened but not breaking yet, so he'll have a very deep voice eventually. He's going through an 80s music phase sparked off by me giving him one of my albums to play after he saw the (new) movie of Fame; I'm trying to steer him into the more electronic side of things, but he loves the cheesy songs, and my ears have started bleeding from all the earworms I carry around all the rest of the day.

The cats are miserable in the heat. I've been planting catmint in weird places around the garden to surprise them, but they're too hot to wander, just lie around the house all day in the cool, stretched to full length on the floorboards. Occasionally I'll step over Padge in the hallway (he can't stretch full out there unless he's diagonal, he's longer than the width of the corridor) and he'll catch my leg with a desultory claw as if to remind me that he would like some food or water please, like some fat English tourist on a Spanish beach.

rampant padge
Padge in my office filling up available floor space. he's not stretched to capacity, and my feet (size nine and a half) are a good size indicator.

Blogosphere as I know it is going through another big purge -- lots of interesting people giving up their blogs, like Alan Loney & Betty Slocombe. Others are starting new ones. It's a dynamic thing, isn't it? I guess I'll just keep on keeping on... that's the beauty of keeping the aim of the blog really broad :)

Happy happy happy that Amanita Design has released a new game: Machinarium. I've downloaded the full version but haven't had a chance to play it yet. I love Samarost and their other games -- good for both adults and kids, with their beauty and reliance upon logical yet dreamy thinking.

And another thing I've been wondering lately... (damn earworms) call me crazy and call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but I'm wondering if my trouble with online Scrabble ISN'T just my crappy connection and the fact that the rest of the virtuniverse is trying to play, but the fact that I have requested that all my playing details aren't broadcast to all of my facebook friends etc. As soon as I vetoed all the notifications and crowings and general annoyances, the software became extremely recalcitrant. Makes me cranky in a very GenX kinda way.

Sigh. I guess I have to go out and brave the heat of the day. I hope you're sitting somewhere cool, maybe even downright frosty.

*not as silly as it sounds. Nimmitabel, between Cooma and Bemboka, is the highest settlement in Australia and even in summer they have to wear a light cardigan in the afternoon. My grandmother was born there. I would be living there now if BB could drag himself away from his career.

**I realised when I talked about the chook-raffle recently that I need to have a glossary sometimes. Bingo-wings are large flabby under-upper-arm bits that wobble when you move your arm. Sometimes they're called 'bye-byes' because they keep waving after you stop. Any other good names for them? Share.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Pillowbooks

The Pillowbooks is an artist's book comprising a complementary pair of concertinas. It was made for my exhibition Pressings: Recycled Bookwork, and sat so quietly in the show that I don't think many people noticed it.

The rationale for my exhibition was that the works in it were made from the remnants of other work; there were altered commercial books and pieces made from larger/more formal book projects that I'd been working on over the years. When I printed Transmigration, a fine press book of poems by Nan McDonald and drawings by Jan Brown, I printed the edition on paper called BFK Rives Green, which is a lovely eucalypt grey-green colour. I also printed a much smaller, spare edition on BFK Rives White, and those pages are still sitting waiting for me to resolve them... but there were off-cuts from both editions. The green offcuts became part of the fine press books by becoming endpapers, and some of the white off-cuts became The Pillowbooks.

It's a devilishly hard work to document, because the back piece is clean-embossed and standing, which means that the light is never right for a photograph. The front piece lays flat, which also makes it hard to get a good clear shot at the same time as the back piece.

So I'll describe them to you: The Pillowbooks is a set of two concertina book-structures containing the same piece of text. The text is paraphrased from a song called Be My Pillow, by Australian outfit Machine Translations, from the album Happy. This is what the MT website says about the song:
Be My Pillow is about a great love affair between two home-furnishing impersonators.

Yes. Well, right. In fact, it is a full-bodied, multi-layered and heart-smackingly rich paean of yearning that sounds amazing through headphones and that I never get sick of. The words on these sheets of paper are

I was listening to the song one day and it made me think about relationships as pillows: how when you're not in a relationship, you yearn for the comfort and companionship of a lasting relationship, and then when you are in the thick of a comforting long relationship, you can still yearn for the crispness and freshness of a new encounter. And from another angle: being aware that any relationship worth its salt doesn't stay fresh and surprising; it wears in, gets comfortable, becomes old. If it goes past comfortable, becomes lumpy, do you accept that and keep on, or do you look elsewhere? If I stick with the pillow as metaphor here, do you keep the old pillow or buy a new one? Do you freshen up with a new pillow but hold on to the old pillow for sitting up in bed, for support? Do you ever just want to borrow a pillow for a while if you're feeling a bit flat at someone else's house? Is using someone else's pillow wrong? Do you think upgrading is decadent, unfaithful? Do you hate holding on to old things, and prefer making a fresh start every few years? Does the idea of taking off the pillowcase and seeing the pillow stains make you feel queasy? Do you leave pillow maintenance to somebody else?

Pillow books have been described as "a collection of notebooks or notes which have been collated to show a period of someone or something's life."

So here are two 'pillows': one is fresh, white, crisp, stiff, embossed with the words (I used wood type, printed letterpress), folded in one concertina direction so that the first fold is a valley-fold, hand-sewn at one end (like the decorative end of a pillowcase) with crisp unwaxed linen thread that emerges from the thick fluffy paper jauntily. The paper deckle is at the top of the sheet, so the concertina can stand upright.

The other is folded in the opposite direction, mountain-first, and lays horizontal. It has also been embossed with wood-type, but the indented letters have been stained with watercolour, in the colour that pillows go underneath the pillowcases, from pools of drool and seeping hair-grease. The hand-sewn threads at the decorative end are limp and aged (really old: antique Victorian-era cotton, straight from the factory spool!). The paper deckle is at the base of the sheet; it doesn't stand up easily, and is quite unstable when it does.

Old, new. Fresh, used. Permanent, temporary. Loved, rejected. People can have such differing viewpoints about what is necessary, what is important, what they like/dislike/value. All of these thoughts sit in this simple piece of work.

I like the idea of making work that connects with specific pieces of music. So much of what I do and think about is accompanied by a soundtrack in my head, and to make concrete connections with this soundtrack excites me. I think hearing Be My Pillow is important to the reception of this work, but of course it isn't essential. It's an optional enhancement.
no wait
no stay
this will help you
along the way
no love
is lost
and i want you
to be my pillow
(extract from lyrics written by J.Walker)

For purchasing information, see my website, or for further information, please contact me.

[written for and cross-posted from]

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

hands on

Feeling moderately better. It's a revolting cold, just squats in your sinus chambers like some horrid monster, and one day you feel like it's shrinking, and the next it grows until you think your head will explode. Today hasn't been so bad, and I hope tomorrow will be even better. I'm trying to kill the monster with olive leaf extract and lashings of garlic.

In the meantime, I've been kind on myself. Lots of rest, lots of nice food, not too much rushing around. I quite like cooking when I'm feeling poorly, and I managed the best risotto I've ever made a few days ago: chicken with fennel, lemon and garlic. It was stunning, and I think it's because I added lemon juice and garlic every time I added stock, so the flavour built up slowly and strongly. Yum! [PS: made it again last night, and remembered that the other WOW factor is adding lots and lots of ripped up fresh herbs -- marjoram and sage -- and stirring through just before serving. Plus fresh black pepper.]

Today I wasn't so kind: I took Bumblebee to see This is It, the Michael Jackson movie. Sigh. All I can say is that it was just like a Michael Jackson album: lots of schmaltzy crap interspersed with moments of absolute brilliance. By the end of the movie you've had quite enough, and I was relieved to be out of the cinema. The excess! The money spent! I kept thinking about the sheer amount of power and resources going into his method of spreading the word about saving the planet. The tears of gratitude shed by the dancers when they found out that they were in the show... the way you could tell that MJ (as they all called him) didn't like to touch or be touched, no matter how many times he said 'I love you'. And his hands...

I came home and started telling BB how I'd become mesmerised by MJ's hands... great big slabs of capability, they were, and strange on such a slight dreamy frame. BB surprised me by barking out a laugh, and told me that just today he'd listened to Ricky Gervais et al saying exactly the same thing!

Blimey. Honestly, I couldn't stop looking at them, and it was obvious that he was quite aware of their size and has practiced hard at keeping them unobtrusive in his dance moves. He had bandages on the tips of his right hand through much of the movie, and I wondered if he'd been trying to stop biting his nails in preparation for the concert series?

I'm sure the concerts would have been amazing. He was planning to put so much energy into them that I doubt, if he'd not died when he did, that he would have lived through the entire run of 50. What impressed me most was that he didn't rehearse to recorded tracks... it was all live, live, live, and he was quite a perfectionist. If only he'd kept away from doing long, tedious, overblown ballads! So boring, so unnecessary. So him.

Lastly, we've rediscovered real-life Scrabble. I've dusted off the old set, sewn up a pretty cloth bag for the tiles, and I'm 'versing' (as the twelve-year-olds say) anyone who will play me, and teaching Bumblebee how to play (and to stop saying 'I'll verse you', which makes me think of hard-core poetry slams). Byrd turns out to be a very good RL player, for all his lazy typing facade; BB is highly competitive, and if he loses, he'll fret until he wins the next game soundly. Me? My style is fairly laid back, because I just like the actual playing, but if I get a whiff of success, I'm capable of raw aggression and smugness :)