Dave’s Desiderata

Desiderata for Dave
Commissioned by a friend.
Don’t look too closely at the writing, it’s all over the place!
I loved doing the watercolour eucalyptus leaves, though.

Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata is still a beautiful piece of writing. It’s funny that almost everyone I know (myself included)remembers reading it behind the bathroom door…what a strange place for such a lofty piece of writing!

Still, when you consider that the bathroom is often the only place in the house where we can be alone and have time to reflect on philosophy, perhaps this is where something like Desiderata can make a real impression. Who would stop to read it, otherwise? It’s worth letting its message sink in…still relevant, perhaps more so, nowadays, than when it was written in 1927…


“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

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One foot in sea, and one on shore

We are sitting a really nice house for our friends this month. It’s a nice change from the boat…electricity, running water, modern kitchen, all appliances, spotless and sparkling everything, two pretty cats…not to mention staying here cuts my morning commute by an hour and a half!

But what’s an artist to do in a sleek modern household on her day off, when both lunch and dinner have been made on the touch-operated glass stove top, the dishes are in the dishwasher, the laundry’s in the washing machine (that plays tunes like a calliope), the floors are gleaming, the carpet’s vacuumed, the spa’s been chlorinated, the plants watered, the cats fed…and you’re one of those people that don’t watch television?
Bella


You run away!
Creative mess on the boat

We locked the house and went back to our houseboat up the creek for the day…to drink rainwater, battle sandflies, fry eggs on a camping stove, boil coffee in a blackened pot, and make a creative mess.

Untitled

On the boat, books, art materials, and tools line every shelf, fill every drawer and storage box.


I’m allowed to get paint on the tables, spray paint things on the floor, bang nails into the wood, strew paper and canvases across the bed, tape art to the walls, and play loud music. The place is a disaster area.

I’m surrounded by things that my friends have made.
Creative mess on the boat
There are pages cut from magazines, stashes of fabric and paper, sketchbooks, poetry books, Plasticine clay, half-finished paintings, pompoms, glitter, sharks’ teeth, fish skins, skulls, the wing bones of sea birds, all sorts of curious objects on the ledges…
Creative mess on the boat
…the sort of stuff that sparks ideas, makes you hungry to work with your hands, and sets the imagination off and running.
Creative mess on the boat

We left Sonofagun, happy and our creative appetites satisfied, at sunset. Back at the unit, the cats were eager to be let in; hot showers, cold beer, and a fiery vindaloo were waiting; also, the first truly crisp, cold Dry Season night had moved into Darwin.

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
    Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
    To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
    And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
    Into hey nonny, nonny.

It’s the best of both worlds, really.

Monsoon Dervish on ETSY

It only took a month and a half of pleading, nagging, cajoling…

Kris finally opened his own ETSY shop.

Can you believe it?! Oh, he still grumbles about it, but hey, at least it’s up, and you can now purchase physical copies of his four books, as well as the PDF file of his Manual of Sextant Navigation, directly from him.

www.MonsoonDervishBooks.ETSY.com

 

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.

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…

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:

Sudden
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?)
SURPRISE!!…..no,
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.