What is to be said about a day spent writing? Nothing much . . . and that is perhaps as it should be. The labour of catching up with the demands of this self-imposed task takes up most of the morning and half the afternoon; I recall that familiar anxiety which will not let me rest until I feel as if every word is in its right place, even though I know that, later, on another read through, what is right now may well seem wrong then. Or when.
It’s strange how, in this my fifth decade of professing to make this my profession, very little has changed. It’s still the case that the only time I can feel any degree of confidence in what I am doing is while I am actually doing it; and perhaps confidence isn’t the right word either because the longed for state is really one of forgetting – the kind of forgetting that erases personality, circumstance, time itself, until the only reality is the thin stream of words advancing across the whiteness of the screen.
At some point I realise I’m hungry so find my shoes and go off to buy a bread roll for lunch. A plain sourdough roll from The Happy Loaf, to be precise. Beside the letter boxes I encounter Grace, on her way down to Plunge for a coffee (I presume, she doesn’t say) and she grins and we start one of those Morris Street conversations . . . about Lisa’s savage trimming of the people’s rosemary bush, the habit builders have of listened to talkback radio at top volume while they work, the iniquity of those who park outside where you live with the engine running and bad music playing loud. I remember the little old man who used to shave the two bushes on the front lawn of the building next door with a kind of inflated barber’s tool, how he would take about an hour to do each one, how the machine had a low-level stutter that made it sound as if it might stall at any moment though it never did.
Later in the afternoon I finally manage to engage with the prospect of a research trip in winter. The first week of June, I decide, and rough out an itinerary which goes: Sydney-Alice Springs-Adelaide-Lacepede Bay-Warrnambool-Melbourne-Sydney. Can I do all that in ten days? Yes I can. It will involve hiring two cars, a 4WD for explorations out west of Alice and a saloon for the Adelaide-Melbourne drive; and three air flights. Hotels and motels, all that. I get it all sorted out in my head and then put it on paper but when I try to go to the university’s preferred (actually, compulsory) travel agency to get an official quote, they won’t allow me on to the website. Is my password wrong? Or my email address? I have no idea. Then I recall my supervisor saying that I should just make up a detailed itinerary myself and give it to one of the staff out at Bankstown for action. But of course I can’t do that now until Wednesday, probably. I feel stupid. Weeks of indecision then, when finally I try to do something, I do it on a day when everyone else in the world is on holiday.
Later still I ring my son to tell him there’s a new mobile phone here for him and he says, excitedly, that he thinks he might, just might, have got the job he was after. Then, just before I go out, M calls from Canberra to say she’s fallen in love. What, with some bearded folkie? I ask. No, she says, with the Irish whistle . . . so I quote the famous lines: They all play on the penny whistle / You can hear them blow/ If you lean your head out far enough / From Desolation Row. She laughs.
I get in the car to drive over to Nigel’s to watch the Stormers and the Highlanders do battle . . . but really so I can find out what happened on his recent trip to NZ, during which, he’s already told me on the phone, he had a really bad time. The city looks muted, all greys and browns and pale reds, and I think, for the first time, that the colours of Sydney sometimes resemble, not in their hues or shades but in their softness and their saturation, the blues and greys and greens of the Australian bush.
I don’t think I’ve ever watched a game of Super Rugby to the end and this one proves to be no exception. About halfway through the second half we leave them to it and go to sit at the zinc topped table to eat asparagus and rice and mussels and capsicum and plums and ice-cream. Nigel’s NZ experiences are gruesome indeed but it’s not for me to say what they were . . . he says he’s never going back to Auckland again, which sounds a bit extreme but maybe he means it. We move on to more general discussion and he tells me a bit about the Vicky Viidikas project he’s involved with and I tell him he’s become a resource and that people should have to commission an environmental impact study before attempting to exploit him.
I get home about 9.30 or 10 and, for the first time in a long while, have a smoke then crank up the stereo and play it loud. Bob Dylan singing Things Have Changed, Van Morrison’s Keep It Simple (the whole album), that EP collaboration between Calexico and Iron & Wine (In The Reins) and some Little Axe. My neighbour across the hall doesn’t hammer on the door like he sometimes does but I do wonder if the new people next door can hear me and if it bothers them. What the hell, it’s Saturday night and there’s a party down the street anyway. There’s a line in the Little Axe song Short Fuse that, after fifteen years listening to it, I can never get and I don’t get it this time either . . . but it doesn’t matter, there’ll come a day when, surely, I will.