Tirra Lirra by the River – Jessica Anderson (1972)

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(Apologize for the earlier distribution which had no text in the post. I’m not sure what happened, but trust me, it had the text when I pushed the publish button.)

Not having read that many Australian reads, I was mooching around for some Aussie titles the other day and came across a mention of Jessica Anderson’s novella “Tirra Lirra by the River” on Eva’s blog, A Striped Armchair (now not updated but still a fascinating source of info).

This title has been on several “Best Novels” lists from various sources and was awarded the Miles Franklin Award when it was published back in 1972. And, in fact, I think it’s quite commonly read by high schoolers for their English curricula. (Poor things. I wouldn’t consider teenagers to be the best target audience for this type of narrative.)

The protagonist is Nora Porteous who is, TBH, one of the more unlikeable characters that I’ve come across in quite some time. I was looking for a fairly optimistic domestic novel, but I wouldn’t call this one “cheerful”. It’s a domestic novel that focuses on one woman’s life, but cheerful it ain’t (cf: back to unlikeable character mention). 🙂

Nora has a rather stifling existence when she is a young married wife. Her husband is yucky, and she is not attracted to him at all which leads to sexual dysfunction which leads to more problems. Unable to sort them out, the unhappy couple divorce and Nora leaves Sydney bound for a new life in England by herself and on her own terms.

Now at seventy, Nora decides to leave England where she’s been living for thirty years or so, and returns to her hometown, gets pneumonia, and then is nursed back to health by some compassionate neighbors who remembered her from her early days in the ‘hood.

So, there’s not a ton of “action” in this novel, and some reviewers have said that “not much happens” which is spot-on if you’re looking at the external piece of this novel. But it’s very much an “interior” novel based on a character’s ideas, memories and perceptions more than the physical moving around. (Nora spends most of the second half of the book lying in bed sick… so not a lot of action on the outside.)

But you know. Nora is not easy to like. She’s rather a grumpy old sod, and she has come back with the idea that her childhood home will be an easy fit for her, despite her age. However, as with anything fraught with the dangers of memory and nostalgia, it’s a mixed bag for her. Things have changed, and yet they are still similar, but Nora is now a completely new person from just getting older and living in a different country.

She’s been fairly content in England, living with two friends and earning a living of a kind by being a seamstress. She’s no good at the cutting out” piece of sewing, where one cuts out the pattern with scissors and requires detail and accuracy. I’m trying to think of how this might be a mirror of something in her life: perhaps her ragged edges of the material reflect the uneven edges of her foggy memory? Not too sure though.

The whole of this novel is based around memory and how one can remember events in one’s life through different lenses that evolve over time. Maybe it’s linked with the metaphor of “stitching” the different memories together to create a new and different picture…?

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Jessica Anderson, author.

What’s actually more interesting to me is the author Jessica Anderson. In 1972, when Anderson was awarded the Miles Franklin Award, most of the previous awardees — up until then — had been male authors. Australian fiction was rather dominated by males, and so in 1972, Helen Garner (Monkey Grip) was awarded the National Book Council Award and when Anderson received her recognition, it seemed to mark a turning point for the industry. (It was also slap-bang in the emergence/continuation of feminism as well for Commonwealth countries, and so the occasion seemed to mark the turning of the tide.)

In addition to both writers being Australian women, the protagonists in each book are also called Nora (what are the odds, right?), but as I haven’t read the Garner book, I’m wondering if her Nora also goes through the bloom of independence in the way that Anderson’s Nora does. (Anyone know?)

Anderson herself seems to have her life on her terms. Born in 1916 in rural Queensland, she seems to have chosen to live as she chose, and not necessarily as that of societal conventions and mores. Like Nora, she traveled to England at the start of her adult life, and lived with her partner, a man, without getting married. (Shock! Horror!)

She returned at the start of WWII to Australia and started writing “commercial” stories for magazines under an assumed name. (Wonder what “commercial” stories are/were?) She also separated from her partner, and only during her second marriage did she feel secure enough (artistically and financially speaking) to write in an “art for art’s sake” fashion (instead of what would sell). (Perhaps that is what is meant by “commercial stories” – stories that she wrote that sold which may not have really been what she wanted to write seriously?)

When I first starting writing this and after having finished the read, my overall opinion was that it wasn’t one of the best reads I’ve had this year. However, now that I’ve put some more thought into this, it’s certainly a novel that encourages you to delve into it deeper, and perhaps this is why so many Australian schools put it on the curriculum? It does seem to lend itself very well to further ideas once you’ve finished reading it. (At least for me.)

As a side note, the title is a line taken from the old poem by Tennyson, The Lady of Shallot, but as I’m not that familiar with the poem, I can’t say whether I can see the link to the actual plot (apart from Nora’s frequent mentions of Camelot?)

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Reading is art is reading…

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This is a beautiful statue of a woman reading a book that we saw in the National Gallery of Art in DC. However, I forgot to find out the artist, so if anyone knows the ID, please let me know. I’m happy to add the info.

General Catch-Up…

catch_upSo it’s been a while since I’ve done a general catch-up with life, so I thought it might be nice to bring you up to speed on my absolutely riveting lifestyle. 🙂

The semester is going very smoothly. I’m teaching two sections of Media Writing, and I seem to have some really good students in both of those classes. (Wheee!) Focused students are really great to work with, so I’m lucky. I’m really enjoying teaching as well, much more than last semester, and I think that’s because I have a much better idea of what to expect and the general game plan. It’s a different world, TBH.

Movie-wise, I’ve been seeing quite a few lately. Saw the awesome Three Billboards… (Frances McDormand et al.) which was really good, and followed that up with a watch of The Post (about the Pentagon Papers and Nixon et al.). Learned a lot about that, so that was enjoyable. I do rather miss the typewriter days and using paper, but probably the e-office set up works a little more swiftly and smoothly now we have the technology!
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Also happened to go to the movies to see a selection of Oscar-nominated short documentaries which were just great. (Glad that I don’t have to choose which one to win, as I enjoyed them all.) This category is filled with short (in length), but big on content documentaries which have been split into two sections (just because of the time commitment). The three that we saw were:

  • Edith and Eddie – A look at inter-racial and elderly romance, this film covers the relationship of Edith and Eddie who got married when they were 95 and 96. The romance is pretty straightforward, until Edith gets diagnosed with early dementia and one of her two daughters wants to sell the house where the couple live and force Edith to go and live in Florida with her family, leaving Eddie behind. It’s never explained exactly why this daughter thinks that that is the humane thing to do, but the film documents what happens rather than explain things. Good, all the same though.
  • Heaven in a Traffic Jam on the 405 – this doc portrays the fascinating life of American artist Mindy Apler who works primarily in papier mache. Suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental challenges, the film shows how art is a survival technique for Alper, particularly during the ten years when she was without speech. Great artist with an intriguing story to go along with it.
  • Traffic Stop – In 2015, an African-American math teacher was stopped in Austin, Texas, for a minor traffic violation, but it turns into a violent arrest. The documentary follows Breaion King as her life is turned upside down by callous police behavior and racism. It really makes you think about things…

oscarCheck out this article from IndieWire for more details. I’m not usually the biggest cinema person, but I love documentaries so this was a good way to spend an afternoon! An added bonus is that some of these selected docs are available to watch for free on YouTube… 🙂

Moving on to other things:  My ankle is slowly healing from its surgery back before Christmas. I had no idea that it would take almost three months before I could drive again, but it did, and now, thank heavens, I am back in the driver’s seat and walking (carefully) around. The Superhero was fantastic shuttling me around everywhere, but I’m glad to have my independence back. (I think he is as well!)

And then one of my favorite months, Black History Month, wraps up as March arrives with its windy weather. I ended up reading a load of African-American books and stories, either written by African-Americans and/or about a person of color, and it was fascinating. I’m planning on diversifying my reading for the rest of the year since it’s been so fun, so hoping to keep that going on. Race can be such a divisive issue, and even though I consider myself to be very aware of this, there are still times when I unconsciously have white privilege running for me, so I’m trying to be even more aware of that, in order to reach my students, both white and POC. It’s a fascinating journey.

So, we’re almost coming up on Spring Break (mid-March), and with that week off, I’m going to fly to Washington D.C. to meet my lovely mum flying in from London, and then we’ll see the sights (dependent on how comfortable my ankle is). I’m thinking that with lots of coffee breaks and some cake, we’ll be ok. 🙂

Life is good. I hope that you can say the same!

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Thunder and Lightning – Laura Redniss (2016)

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Lauren Redniss has finally completed Thunder and Lightning: Weather Past, Present and Future (2017), another book in her own style that makes it so hard to categorize. It’s a combination of art and science, of fact and passion, of words and graphics, so that in the end, it’s tough to put under one label: Scientific manga, perhaps (except it’s much more than that).

After my read of Redniss’ earlier work (Radioactive, a slightly more straightforward and controlled graphic representation of the Curie family’s lives), I know somewhat to expect with her work, so I wasn’t too surprised to see her rendering of scientific phenomena linked with weather and climate. I just haven’t really seen atmospheric science presented in such an innovative way. And actually, the book covers more than straight atmo sci… It’s a huge ranging book, and is similar to how someone would fall down into related Wikipedia rabbit holes if they had some time to spare. The topics are related, and yet ramble widely across the hemisphere, but it’s all interesting both in content and how it’s presented.)

(Sidenote: Redniss defines Weather as state of the atmosphere. Climate: prevailing weather patterns on a larger scale. FYI.)

Chapters are titled with fairly self-explanatory headings, some of which cover huge topics leaving you, as the reader, to wonder where you’ll travel in the next chapter. “Profit”, “Pleasure” and others are presented, along with “Cold”, “Rain” and the more obvious categorization. (The “Pleasure” chapter, incidentally, was a lovely topic to read about as it included the BBC shipping forecast which I remember hazily from my youth. I am not sure what exactly the forecast is saying, but it’s sounds lovely to hear if you’ve ever searched it out.)

So, this is non-fiction ramble through both the hard science and random facts linked with weather. In fact, I was never quite certain what I was going to be reading about when I turned the next page, which was in equal amounts both exciting and frustrating.

I think most people would learn something from this book, whether you are an expert or not, and so much of the information was new to me. For example, Redniss designed a new font just for this book called Qaneq LR, Qaneq being an Inuit word for snow. (Interestingly, Redniss also addressed the legend that more northern First People groups have loads of words for the different kind of snow that they experience. True or not, you decide.)

This ended up being a good read.

A Letterpress Weekend…

 

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Very kind and patient artist who was helping us with the new skill…

I’ve recently been itching to do something arty (as in drawing or something along those lines), and to try to scratch that itch, Superhero and I went along to the monthly First Friday Art Trail that is hosted by the arts organizations in our community. It’s a big event and happens once/month when most of the big galleries here in town open their doors on a Friday evening, rain or shine, and you can just walk around and see what’s shaking up in the local arts world. (There are also food trucks, which also helps gets us downtown on those evenings. Yum.)

As we were strolling around, looking at the hundreds of great artworks on display in both indoor and outdoor venues, I caught my eye on a flyer advertising a printmaking workshop for that following Sunday, and having seen some really good letterpress pieces hanging around town, decided to sign up for that afternoon’s activity.

If you’re not certain what letterpress art is, it rather looks like an early example of printing, and it’s a piece that typically comes out of an old-fashioned heavy iron printing press, and is usually heavily reliant on fonts and words of some description. (Naturally, as it’s a LETTERpress.) So off I trundled to see what I could learn.

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Some of the letter forms used to make the print on the piece of paper….

It was a very casual workshop set in a really well-lit renovated studio that used to be a former gas station (or maybe an old fire station) years ago. Now it’s this great creative space with really good light and with loads of space to spread out and do artist things.

It was a small workshop, only a few participants, and led by two printmaking artists who were very patient at all our questions and inquiries as we learned the process. It’s typically used for broadsheets (large pieces of paper) only printed in very small quantities. You may have seen examples for graphic pieces or perhaps a short poem with plenty of white space surrounding the words. I’d been dying to have a go at this, so was pretty excited to get to do it.

letterpress_workshop_June2017Seeing as it was more of “experiential” workshop than a 100% serious “teaching” workshop, we all got to try our hands at creating some postcards and notecards which, obvs, was very exciting because – ohhh. Writing materials! Each piece was pre-cut with a matching envelope with really good weighty paper that the ink would not be able to bleed through. (Pet peeve.)

(If you’re curious about my results, check out the pic on left. Most of playing with space and graphic design, so no worry if they don’t make much sense.)

Such good fun, and although it’s incredibly unlikely that I will ever get my own printing press (big, expensive, bulky), I had a great time and it really scratched my creative itch which was good. If you ever get the opportunity to try it, it’s pretty easy and extremely satisfying. (Instant gratification. Hooray!)

We’re just about to head off to Albuquerque, NM, and drive with my mum and sister around to look around so things might be quiet here on the blog for a couple of days. Fear not. I will return, and then we can catch up with reading, news, and all those other things that make a life well-lived.

 

So – my trip to Vermont…

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…Was a lot of fun, so thought I’d put some photos up to show some of the sites that we passed.

As none of us had been to Vermont before and as we were all arriving from different far-flung places across the globe, we started the trip landing at Burlington Airport in one of the state’s larger cities. Didn’t see a great deal of Burlington, but I had a rather late arrival so after chatting a bit (and finding our first set of rocking chairs*, we went to the hotel and bed. (I had no idea that Vermont was so close to Canada! Hmm. Learn something new everyday, right?)

We tootled around Burlington the next morning, with a must-see (for me in particular) being the huge Lake Champlain. In Texas, it’s rare for me to see any large bodies of water, freshwater or sea, and so it’s always very high on my to-do list when I travel to places that do have one of those. So we took a ferry tourist ride around the lake, which was interesting and refreshing and a really fun way to spend the day (especially as all three of us had traveled across multiple east/west time zones to get there).

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The next day, we went to the Shelburne Museum which is a huge ranging historical place with authentic buildings that have been moved (in some cases) from elsewhere and then filled with artifacts anywhere on the spectrum from modern fiber art (e.g. art quilts) to sixteenth century kitchen tools and a covered bridge. (The covered bridge was outside, of course, and was interesting in and of its own right. We’d never seen one before, so found it to be an interesting experience. Are the bridges covered due to the frequency of severe cold weather events in Vermont?

One of the buildings at the Shelburne Museum...

One of the buildings at the Shelburne Museum…

Inside one of the old covered bridges that are scattered through Vermont (and other states?)

Inside one of the old covered bridges that are scattered through Vermont (and other states?)

Credit of artist: ?

Credit of artist: ?

My (rather small) mum sitting in a (rather big) chair at the Shelburne Museum.

My (rather small) mum sitting in a (rather big) chair at the Shelburne Museum.

Anyway, highly recommend a visit to this great museum if you’re in the neighborhood. It was really a fantastic place and we ended up spending most of the day there. (Of course, we found some rocking chairs to sit in for some of the day. 🙂 )

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We also visited the really well curated Robert Frost Interpretive Trail run by the National Forest Service and set in the middle of the Green Mountain Forest. There was a beautiful winding drive to and from the trail, and then, during the walking trail at spectacular scenic overviews, there were signs with relevant Frost poems written on them, and this was a really interesting touch. Frost had spent some time living as a forest ranger in this particular forest, so it was interesting to see similar views to the ones he had seen. I also had no idea that Frost is quite a recent poet. (I had thought that he was very Olden Times, but he’s not really.) (The views were really great in and of itself, but with the addition of poems, the trail breaks became a cultural tour as well. Well played, National Forest Service, Well played.)

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More booky photos next time. Suffice to say, that this was one of our family’s favorite trips. Thank you, Vermont!

IMG_8315 * One of the ongoing themes of the trip was searching for three or more Adirondack rocking chairs. I don’t know what came over us, except that it was really fun to spot them and go and commandeer them for a while. 🙂

Play: Red by John Logan

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Over the weekend, a last minute invitation from some friends led to us attending a really good local drama production which was really unexpected fun.

Hosted by the tiny drama group, Hub Theater Group, Red has a small cast of two in a plot focused on modern artist Mark Rothco and his star-struck apprentice. As their working relationship develops over the next couple of years, the audience learns to appreciate the rather acerbic Rothco and his insecurities over being an aging and perhaps irrelevant artist, railing at his innocent apprentice who eventually learns to stand up to the bullying and force the older man to face some uncomfortable truths. (See more on the play’s plot here in our local paper’s review.)

It was a literate and interesting theater experience and made a really good change from the traditionally “safer” play choices usually selected by Am-Drams here. (Not a slam by any means as most productions are fine but this was definitely a more challenging selection than the 32nd showing of Steel Magnolias.)

It was also played in a black box set up so it expected more participation from the audience (in terms of higher expectations) which I just loved. So – an unexpected treat for the weekend and fit the bill perfectly for a good evening out.

One of Rothco's pieces...

One of Rothco’s pieces…

Trying my hand at something different…

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As work and life was getting so demanding, I was having difficulty with doing much reading so I turned to other ways to relax. Watched a few movies – the old Roman Holiday movie was a blast to watch. (Really funny in places – much better than I had thought it was going to be!) Still working on The Wire, and started the new Dennis Leary series about an aging rock star. (Good stuff.)

And I wanted to do something with my hands — crafty stuff. I don’t know what came over me, but I signed up for a community evening class to learn how to make wire-wrapped jewelry – earrings in this case.

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Way back in my teenaged years, I taught myself how to make earrings using springy wire, some random beads and a round-nosed pliers. They were pretty basic in design, but I enjoyed the process and had fun distributing the end products to friends. Thirty years later, I’m at it again, but this time, I’m learning to do it right from a professional artist.

Our lovely artist teacher...

Our lovely artist teacher…

What fun!

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It’s been so long since I’ve done something meditative (such as this) that I’m really interested in integrating this more into my life as balance, and to continue this spate of hand-crafting, I’ve dug out an old cross stitch project and I might even get with some friends to do some coloring.  The world is our oyster. 🙂

Flying to Fort Worth…

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Just before my mum left this side of the world for UK, my twin sister and I met up with her in Fort Worth as an easy place to meet between us, geographically speaking. Fort Worth is also well known for its art offerings, and as we all like a bit of culture every now and then, this was a perfect spot.

So, Fort Worth is known to be a cowboy-town as its history revolves around that. It started in the late 1800’s as an Army outpost on a bluff overlooking the river, and then evolved into one of the main stops on the cattle drive trail via train to leave (and enter) Texas. It’s right next to Dallas, so for many people, Fort Worth gets all swallowed up in one vast metroplex, but the two cities seem to have different feels to me.

So, we stayed in Fort Worth, right in the Cultural District, and we all had so many laughs – it was so fun. Culturally speaking, we visited the Kimbell Art Museum  which was FABULOUS. I don’t know why more people don’t talk about this place as it was very very well done plus it was designed by famous American architect Louis I. Kahn (which was also a nice touch especially as I have a slight craze on that field at the moment). I’d done some research before the visit so I could astonish my family with such intriguing nuggets as “look at the vaults – Kahn liked Roman structure” and similar. 🙂

The art collection was fabbo. (Technical term for you.) It’s not a huge collection, but it’s curated extremely well and so they have some excellent pieces there. This was one of my favs:

Sorry - not sure who the artist is here... Any ideas?

Sorry – not sure who the artist is here… Any ideas?

But there were loads of others as well. The descriptions beside each of the pictures got to be pretty funny after a while — once we’d read the 20th over-earnest art statement about it, they started to seem to be a bit ridiculous and stretching to make a point. (It’s a picture for crying out loud.) However, it was fun,  it was culture, and the building was superb to see the art. (All natural light.)

Oh, and in the museum gift shop, I happened to find a book written by my favorite uncle Peter Inskip who is an expert in renovating historical architecture and works with Yale University on some projects. How about that? “I see famous relatives…”

And here's my lovely Uncle Peter on the spine of a book that he co-wrote...

And here’s my lovely Uncle Peter on the spine of a book that he co-wrote…

So once we’d finished there and had a nice lunch, we went driving around and found a Target (as is our family wont) and then really just messed around for the rest of the day. (Loads of laughs too.) The next day was sunny and pretty and we spent the morning walking around the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens which were just plain lovely to see. As it had just rained the day before, everything was very green and lush which was beautiful to see plus my sis, mum and I were just casually chatting about anything and everything. Nice combination of things to do.

So – a lovely weekend with the fam…