This morning I have a coffee date with Morgan so she can return my copy of Dark Night, which I lent her last month in Adelaide. She’s a bookseller and talked about it on ABC radio 702 Tuesday night – which I missed because I was discussing family matters with my sister. I like to retain two copies of each of my books but with this one, it’s hard, I keep having to give them away for some reason or another. Perhaps it’s a good thing when copies of a book are rare – or is it just inept distribution?
I’ve known Morgan a long time, I think I met her when I auditioned, as a writer, for A Country Practice way back in the 8os; she was a story editor there. Later she was at E Street, where I also tried and failed to get writing work; then turned up again as my friend Paul’s girlfriend in the 1990s. It was, as they say, a tempestuous relationship, which Morgan famously ended on the day John Forbes died . . . and yet they continued working together on a film script they’d hatched together. Paul, who appears as Blackspot in Chronicle of the Unsung, is dead too, nine years ago now. He was an impossible person and yet I find I still miss him.
I call Morgan at ten and we agree to meet at her local cafe in Dulwich Hill at eleven. It’s raining again and, as I turn the car into the street by the railway line, I see her sitting outside with Sunday, her three-legged poodle, sipping a latte and reading the Sydney Morning Herald. The Peter Slipper allegations are front page news and I think, not for the first time, that politics here is best regarded as a form of entertainment; also that, just when you think there can’t be a more lurid scandal than the last, one comes along to out-sleaze it. We gossip companionably about this and that and then I come home again in the rain.
I check emails and find that approval of the trip to Alice and beyond has been granted by the HoD, although they want me to shave $500.00 off the amount I’m requesting and I’m not sure if I can do that. Also unsure as to whether to go alone or with a companion. If accompanied, I’ll have to find the airfares myself and, given my chronic state of hand to mouth living, I don’t know if I can afford to. These thoughts go round and round in my head all afternoon; I check the price of airfares, the availability of flights online and then ring a travel agent to check what they can offer – a dollar less plus a $20.00 voucher.
This every day writing is beginning to exacerbate a sense of discontent about how I work. Ever since I started at the Uni (Feb. 2010), I’ve had to drive as well – the stipend, though generous, isn’t enough to live on; which means fitting my writing around the paying work I do and I don’t like that . . . I much prefer to be able to write a book at a sitting, as it were, even if that sitting lasts a year. It’s now almost three years since I’ve had the luxury of doing nothing but write.
How come the funding body in NZ never acknowledged my latest application, I wonder, yet again, and decide it’s time I knew the answer. I write an email to my contact in Auckland and she replies quick smart, in vaguely admonitory tones, saying they don’t usually consider re-applications for which permission has not been granted but in this case, my case, they have . . . while this sounds like possible good news, it may not be. The immediate effect on me is a resurrection of hope, followed, seconds later, by the suspicion I’m being set up again and they have no intention of actually funding me, only of delivering a third, unanswerable, humiliation.
Some years ago now I conceived the idea of writing a book that begins with the discovery in a second hand shop in Petersham of a painting by an artist thought to be dead; but if the work is genuine, and the date upon it correct, he’s still alive. A kind of detective story ensues, as I try to discover the provenance of the work and in the process uncover an elaborate fraud. The artist in question, Jacob Oort, is fictional but his life and his work bear some resemblance to those of Phil Clairmont. I thought it was a pretty good idea at the time, wrote the first fifty pages or so and, on three occasions, asked the funding body to support me long enough to write the rest; three times they said no. Perhaps they think I have no talent for fiction. Perhaps they’re right. The book languishes somewhere in its unfinished state.
There’s also an email from one of the producers of my last film saying that they’re having a showing in Blenheim, of all places; she wonders if that’s where my mother was from, no doubt hoping to use that, if true, in the publicity. I write back to Les and tell her no, Lauris was from Greenmeadows in Hawkes Bay; I also mention that 33 Postcards is closing the Real Film Festival in Newcastle next weekend and that I expect to be in the audience. Les writes back asking if she can tell the organisers this as they might want me to speak after the screening. They’re trying to organise a skype connection to Beijing so that the director can answer questions but are having problems . . . I say yes and then get this queer email from Screen Hunter suggesting I might want to stand up and say something at the party after . . . I don’t think so.
These sorts of days are exhausting, a lot seems to happen but at the end of them you’re left with nothing much. Though I’ve promised myself I wouldn’t, I go out and buy a bottle of wine and drink two thirds of it before and during dinner; then afterwards run a hot bath and go early to bed. Lying there drifting I start imagining some of the landscapes I might see when I get out into the Western MacDonnells, and beyond, in June. Places like Areyonga, Ikunji, Palm Valley, Tnorala, Mt Zeil; places I’ve seen many a painted image of but never yet encountered as real entities. And then I caution myself, remembering how, out there, you must also confront the desperation, the grief, the anger and the pain of the dispossessed . . . while I’m happy enough to be alone in the landscape, I’m not so sure if I want to venture solo into places like Papunya: or is that cowardice? I just don’t know.