Wild weekend

Tropical cyclone Marcus paid Darwin a special visit last Saturday. It was called a Category 2 cyclone; though the damage it caused has many people questioning that classification. Hundreds of trees down, power lines bursting into flames, some suburbs still without power three days later.

Everyone assumed I would stay at a friend’s place…the way I do, two or three days out of every week, already.

But Sonofagun is my home. She’s all we’ve got. And in a cyclone, you stay with your boat because your presence can make the difference between a boat that makes it, or sinks. She’s also one of the biggest boats up the creek…the bigger the boat, the bigger the responsibility. Can you imagine how I’d feel if I was safely ashore when my monster boat breaks her ropes and goes smashing the smaller boats around me at the height of the cyclone?

As it was, I did have to crawl out front once, with the maelstrom howling overhead, because the rubber guard that protects my rope from chafing against sharp steel had come undone; also, my crazy fig and morinda trees were catching the wind too well, and very close to pitching overboard, so I finally just lay them down on the deck.

All in all, I am glad I stayed with Sonofagun, though I didn’t sit down until the sun emerged and weather maps announced that Marcus was finally past Darwin, some four hours after it started. I had two candles lit the entire time, my little nod to The Powers That Be, and chain-smoked while standing on the bridge, like a third candle.

For me, Tropical Cyclone Marcus ended as soon as it had moved away. I sort of assumed that the cyclone was over for the rest of Darwin, too. It wasn’t until the next day, Sunday, that I heard there was no electricity throughout Darwin…friends were cooking on barbecues, or had to go in search of gas camping stoves. Roads were blocked off by fallen trees. For 48 hours everyone was advised to boil their water before drinking. All the food in freezers and fridges had to be cooked on the spot, or moved into cool boxes with bags of ice. Candles and camping lights were being used inside houses at night, and those sleek modern apartment buildings without windows were unbearably hot and airless. My friends disappeared from social media…the batteries in their phones were dying. The city was so quiet at night, and there were no lights in the distance when I looked in the direction of the CBD. It was like being the last human on earth.

It’s times like these that living off the grid shows its real mettle.  By Saturday night, life on Sonofagun was back to the way it has always been…cool and fresh, thanks to sea breezes and all the rain we’d had; the solar panels had kept phones, the internet thingamajig, my laptop, Bluetooth speakers, camera, even the vacuum cleaner, charged. I was soon playing music and painting  and reading and looking things up on the web. My kitchen was stocked with the canned and dry food that I normally keep—not in case of emergencies but, simply, because I do not own a fridge. There were 800 litres of clear rain water in my tanks. My lights blazed all night. The only inconvenience (pure coincidence) was that my LPG tank was nearly empty, and would run out by Monday morning. So I looked up cold brewing on the internet, and made a primitive version of coffee in a jug with water, and left it standing overnight. It was okay.

More importantly, we’re okay, Sonofagun and I. Made it through another storm. It does not mean more, nor less, than just that. It’s not bravery, it’s not heroic. Stood and watched until something needed to be done, did the thing, and then went back to stand some more. When it was over, forgot about it, and found something else to do. Lucky this time. That’s all. That’s enough.


The humidity & the ecstasy

petit dejeuner pres la plage

Almost like a painting...
I’m enamoured of this photo I took in the morning, because it looks like an Impressionist painting, or something by Seurat or Andrew Wyeth. Got lucky with the filter and sliding things up and down…

Café De La Plage…friends have been trying to get me out there, but I’m allergic to anything that serves “smashed avocado”, and this seemed like the sort of place that would…
So happy to be wrong. It does, of course, have smashed avocado…how could it not?…but that’s really just a symbol for the sort of crowd that usually gathers at these trendy places: the desperate vying for public attention, the celebrity complexes, the identical ironic beards, and the sort of loud idiot talk that passes for conversation these days, are really what I am allergic to.

In this wide open-air space, however, distance from others is a key feature, and the presence of The Sky & Sea reduces everything else to unremarkable elements in the landscape.  Crudely assembled tables out of shipping pallets, a couple of hammocks, and carpets strewn with bean bags, were spread far apart on a softly sloping grass lawn that leads down to the beach. People sit in small groups in the shade of Casuarinas and palms. The clouds were piled high on the horizon, a strong breeze blew in from the sea, and the water was like olive oil. Also, an emerald green oriole sat on our table, within arm’s reach, eating the leftovers of my muffin. Neither I nor my companion wanted to ruin the magic by pulling out a camera, so we just had a really good look and savoured the moment.

I wasn’t in the mood for a serious breakfast, though, so can only say the cappuccino was good, the muffin was crumbly and dry. Though the oriole said it was nice, he polished it off.

An old friend I hadn’t seen in years and years finally got me out there. I confess I’m charmed, though it’s too far by bicycle from my part of Darwin to get there very often. What an amazing place it would be to spend a long afternoon with a sketchbook or journal!

This should really be viewed full-sized, please click the post title to see without the WordPress sidebar…


UntitledA quick rubber stamp, carved from Soft Cut printing blocks…this ship is a vevé—a religious symbol commonly used in different branches of voodoo throughout the African diaspora—from Haiti.

I first tested the stamp on random pages of an old sketchbook…

Untitledthen tried it out using gold acrylic paint…

UntitledFinally, I stamped it on a black envelope.

I figured that if I was going to mess up a perfectly good envelope with test prints, I may as well go the whole hog and make a postal event out of it.

All ready to enclose a letter to my Beloved…

I’ve overdone this one, but he’ll love it. It will be waiting for him at the DB yacht club when he gets back to Australia. Also, it has helped me finalize my ideas for March’s envelopes; I like the idea of the address in a strip down the middle, flanked by art and stamps.

Subscribe before March 15th to start your monthly letter subscription off with this ship-themed letter…beautiful, limited mail art each month, for the price of a coffee and donut.   The Scarlet Letterbox

Running with bulls

Running with the bulls

outgoing mail

Outgoing mail

February (darn it!).

The Scarlet LetterBox

Word whittling

Wrote the letter (it’s a story, really) in one intense day…from 10am through to now (2:30am, March the 1st), from a handwritten rough draft of 3,700 words—whittled and shaved and whittled some more—down to 1,200…hopefully without losing its flavour or story.

It’s pretty good. I know it is. With the kind of knowing that lives wherever my meagre understanding of this craft lives. This knowledge is so elusive that, when it’s absent, you worry that you’ve made it up. But, when it surfaces, it’s so satisfying. That moment when you recognize that what you have done will generate sparks, if only for a few minutes.

I gave it everything I dared, wrote it all down, and then went back over it with a scalpel, and took two-thirds of it out again. I have done the best I can do. Tonight, that is. I can only speak for tonight!

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I’m allowing myself to gloat a little, now, because I might look at it tomorrow , think, “Oh, it’s crap,” and start all over again. Ah, the writing life…

I’ll bet I can excise another 200 words, tomorrow, if I put my mind to it. That’s still too many words for an A4 sheet of paper. I’ll have to add a second sheet to February’s letter.

It’s so grueling to try and hack a story down to 600 words, and yet still do it justice, give it some depth. There’s a very real danger of trivializing the subject matter. This is probably why I only post photos on twitter!

Of course, something very, very short, the tiniest bite of writing, can hold universes. Haiku, for example. Or W.S. Merwin’s translation of delightful Asian aphorisms, East Window:

like a spear from a window

Long way to the law.

Fist right here.

Spits straight up.
Learns something.

Sardine threatens.
Who knows it?

You’ve got an axe but you can’t use it
the other one’s got a needle
but he can

I bought East Window on a whim, never guessing what it would come to mean to me. Every time I pick it up, I discover something I hadn’t noticed before. It makes me laugh, or gasp, or sigh in pleasure, without fail, every single time. The wisdom in it is so tight, so sharp, so loaded, so wry, so observant. Today it is, to my wonderment, one of my favorite books of all time. One that I would grab, at the last moment, from a burning house…or choose to have (along with Coleman Barks’ Essential Rumi and Alain de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy) on a desert island, or take with me on a long journey on foot around the world. Seriously. I know, I was surprised, too. But it does that; each short poem is a little bronze key that unlocks a door you didn’t know existed in your head, and through that door floods the foolishness and the cleverness of humankind.

Or, for a more contemporary example, the entries submitted to the website 8WordStory :

“From 30 October to 24 November 2017, Queensland Writers Centre is giving you the opportunity to publish your work and be seen by up to 300,000 people across South East Queensland.
There’s just one catch.
You can use only eight words.”

My favorite entry (after scrolling through hundreds of 8-word stories) is still Kat Cope’s.

“(Everyone ready?)
it’s today — isn’t it?”

It’s a magic story. In one deft move it conjures balloons, an explosion of confetti, a bleating of party horns, a cake held aloft, a pile of presents, bright lights, a roomful of friends, a disappointed person trying to be grateful, a swooping descent from being excited and proud…to the sickening feeling in your gut that you’ve really, really messed up on this once-in-a-year opportunity. A tragedy. A comedy. A universe in a grain of sand. A master stroke.

Good night. Good morning.