Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Breathe

Under the shadow of a wing
I woke blinking at the light
And now that dark turns to night
I fear I will disappear again

And I will catch my breath and hold it
Until I know there is no more breath 
Yet another will hold it for me
Until we both breathe again

The Glass Slipper (4) : She Met Me First

It was too dark to film in the pre-dawn twilight. And too hazardous to set up cameras and lights. Or send over their dumb drone in case it crashed and couldn’t be retrieved.

Occasionally, rarely, reality TV did have its benefits and now was one of them. Lonely at last, I thought. But, of course, only for a short moment. For I had to be back ready for the the morning feature. Me splitting wood bare chested (ugh!) for my fans.
I crept softly and slowly still hidden in the night. My torch picked out the sleeping shapes of cows not yet interested in me or milking just yet. Blades of grass reflected their sheen much like shards of green glass. And then the dark swallowed my light. For I had stopped at what looked like a fallen wall.
The last trees I had cleared.  I had left those broken remnants to season and dry. And now I was sawing them into logs and later kindling for the winter. And to boost my sagging ratings.
Behind me in the grey twilight, I could faintly see the camera crew near the house. They were trying to keep warm like ghostly puppets that were losing their strings.

But my work was in front of me, the latest pile of logs. I squatted, bent down, leant forward and drew each log into my arms. Once filled, I slowly stood up and started my trek back to the house.
Still, like the twilight, the other inhabitants paid me no attention. They’d wake soon and the routine would begin. Another day in the life
of “Down on The Farm” : the spun (and slowly unravelling) spin-off show. Featuring the recently separated husband of everyone’s favourite reality star, Ella who was doing I don’t know what.

I stopped.  I thought I saw something. But it was too dark. There is was again. Behind me, I saw a glimpse of curls, followed by a giggle.

“I’ll catch you,” I thought carelessly. I turned ponderously to follow. “Looks like she’s run around me,” I thought again. I finished my sedate circle. Nothing. I couldn’t see or hear anything. I kept on.

Surprised by my thoughts, I said to myself, “It’s nothing,just your imagination running wild in the wild.”
To keep my load steady, I stopped and crouched slightly. I raised left arm and then right and the logs in my arms settled heavily and made a pile yet again. I trailed my way back towards the house. It was still cool and grey and I was a shadow in the twilight. I saw the green roof turn olive-grey in the approaching dawn. The water tanks : squat and silver like oversize 44 gallon drums.
I trudged slowly. As far as I was concerned I had all day. But in the morning silence, I heard the whisper of a smile again, sent to me on the breeze. “A voice too young yet to laugh.”

I stopped again. I took small goose steps as I rotated trying to see the source of my audio dream. I didn’t want to drop my load yet. Still nothing. But something, it must be something. Perhaps…
There it was again. A whisper, now a laugh, curls and a glimpse of a cornflower dress.
To confound my pursuer, I stopped again and turned the other away.
“She’s quicker than me,” I thought carelessly. “Or will be.”
Ignoring the watchers, who had set up camera and microphone, I reached the woodpile and bowed down : a supplicant making his latest humble offering. I threw my arms forward and stepped back in reverential awe. A clump of logs flew forward, thudding and clunking as they hit the altar. Now for the fun part. I took off my shirt and threw it carelessly away. They’d like that, I knew. Apparently it was worth 20 points each time on the ratings.
Next to the stump was my favourite weapon of destruction. A green triangular headed wood splitter. I balanced it in my hands like I was buying a rifle. The head and handle were still smooth yet to be scarred by combat. That would be years I thought. And I had years now. I waited and felt the presence. A watcher ready to ask me a direct question. But she had years too. I heard the camera crew shuffle nervously, as they moved to keep me in view.
Even though the log pile was just the right height, I still leaned down, forward and across. I picked up log number one. I took its weight, squatted and placed it on the stump. Grey silver bark, wood core like cracked ochre. This one had finally seasoned.
I reached down to take the splitter again.
“And how long does it take to season?”
“As long as it takes,” I replied to myself (I thought). I looked up and around. The crew were motionless. They hadn’t seen or heard anything. Otherwise they would ask for another shot.
So I stilled myself, ignored the voice in my head and swung the splitter. Back above my head. I cocked my wrists and swung it just above the small of my back. I waited until it was just about to fall backwards and have no weight at all.
Like the string holding the arrow, I let go, timing turned into power. I struck wood, felt nothing except the tip tapping the stump. “No effort required,” I thought. Turning logs into kindling is the easiest part. Sure beats cutting down trees and sawing up logs. The dark held its breath and watched silently.

Except it wasn’t the dark.
Two more swings. The rest of log number one split into five pieces. I kicked the kindling away. That one done, I began again. Then I stopped. Someone was still watching me. It wasn’t the cameras. Being watched by them was like being stared at and then ignored as uninteresting.

No I was being observed. Closely and carefully. But not uncomfortably.
This time, I slipped and dropped the splitter mid swing. I turned right then left to catch whoever it was unawares. I saw nothing.
I felt her peer over my shoulder as I fell into the rhythm again. Pick up log, balance, pick up splitter, balance, pull back, let go, split log, split, split and kick kindling. Occasionally, I missed the mark, self-consciously. I would have to repeat the blow. Occasionally, too, I knocked the log over instead of straddling it. And steadfastly, I kept ignoring her.
And in the silence, her presence grew in my mind. I could see her curls, and hear her voice, even when she said nothing. I felt her read my thoughts, turn them over in her mind and read them back to me with another question. And slowly, the dawn crept through and the day began.
Much like the parent I wasn’t and had no intention of being, I more and more hoped that she would go away. Every so often, I would turn around to say it out loud. But I was deterred by the media presence.

I forced myself silent. I knew I would be thought mad muttering to myself in the middle of the bush away from my estranged wife.
And every single time I looked for her, she wasn’t there. She was enjoying this game I knew. She knew where I would move and what I would say before I did it.  I senses that this knowledge would not be used maliciously, however, rather playfully and ultimately patiently. For she knew that I would come around. Every so often I would hear a giggle and then a stifled laugh. I knew that she knew. As she knew I knew.
“Who is she? A haunting?” I had heard stories like this. Lost children haunting the place where they had died, waiting for their parents to return. But at dawn? In front of witnesses?
I stopped splitting and looked across at the crew.
“What’s happening?” I asked. No-one replied. “See anything this morning?”
No reply, neither nod nor shake of the head. Maybe they haven’t seen anything. If they had they weren’t saying, they were professional like that. Besides I knew these questions would be edited out.
I still sensed her listening to me. Much like the child I really was, I decided to scrunch the bed covers over my face, hold them close and feign sleep until she left me. I really hoped that she would slip away and find something else to take her attention, as little girls are supposed to do. Well, as far as I knew anyway.
I continued. Pick up log, set it on the stump, scythe the splitter through wood and hope for sparks,  kick the kindling away, dodge the odd shower of splinters, the rhythm continuous and all-encompassing despite the warming day and its hardening light.
In the silence between logs, I finally took my chance.

“Are you a fairy? A tree-nymph? A gumnut baby fleeing the evil banksia men?” The smile whispered into a giggle, then she laughed. At her giggle.
And while she looked over my shoulder, she beckoned the silence with more questions. “Who are you?” I asked (silently) in exasperation.

Her reply was familiar. “Why are you chopping wood here?”

“Instead of elsewhere,” was the implied thought I heard.

“Instead of where you’re supposed to be,” she thought at me finally.
I sensed that she was patient. And insistent. She knew I would answer her questions eventually. She seemed to have years to wait.
The sunrise rose above the green roof. And with it, the cold post-sunrise breeze washed over me like ice water. And then I knew where I was supposed to be and why.
I said, “Ella doesn’t want me anymore. I’m not in a fairy-tale anymore.”
But still her silence called to mine. She reached forward to take my hand.
I knew that I could send her away. But she would keep returning until I returned to her now pregnant mother.
The cameras kept rolling as I carried the kindling up to the house.

Movie Review : Love and Friendship

Midway through watching this movie, I came to two realisations (and then some more). The first was had the purists been present they would have glared me down to stop me from laughing. For Jane Austen isn’t universally acknowledged as the provider of a wholesome laugh. While I do acknowledge there are many sophisticated, clever and witty conversations in her other books, she unleashes her inner cynic in “Love and Friendship“, based on her  early novella Lady Susan.

The second was the familiarity of the main character, Lady Susan Vernon. Played with the right blend of known selfishness and feigned selflessness by Kate Beckinsale, she is a brilliant case of rampant narcissism. Even a small sampling of her words (of which there are many) and actions (disguised and self-justified) would have psychologists running for their notebooks and chairs. Widowed too early and with a daughter, as she constantly reminds us, she lives intermittently with her nearest relatives until she quickly dilutes their welcome. And then moves onto the next, with as little notice as possible to evade her increasing followers, debtors and lovers alike.

She is a grifter (probably not a word associated with Jane Austen), seducing and manipulating men and women respectively, with the aim of gaining a husband for herself and one for her daughter. She despises true love, as according to her, the only part of a man that makes a husband is his income, although even those words are not reflected by her actions at the conclusion of the movie!

Her plans are encouraged and abetted, by her best friend, Mrs Johnson played by Chloe Sevigny, one of the few characters in this  movie that is developed to any depth, though similar in nature to Lady Susan. Which brings me to my third realisation…

That Love and Friendship is filmed in vignettes. And each set of characters was introduced beforehand. Even so, in truth, I wished I had a libretto or the novel itself so I could keep track. Consequently, I realised that midway through the movie, perhaps with less characters, those remaining could be more deeply drawn rather than being a sequence of walk on extra special guest star roles!

As for the plot, it demands to be followed carefully! For as Lady Susan is the driver of the story, one quickly learns that her versions of events aren’t always strictly true.  Even when cornered and caught in untruth, Lady Susan dissembles brilliantly, that is, until people and events are further examined and the lie is exposed. Then suddenly, she moves elsewhere to avoid the consequences and responsibility of her actions. Much like the classic narcissist!

Beautifully filmed, but not in the overly worshipful way that plagues other Jane Austen films, Love and Friendship does through its scenery, of course, provide an ongoing insight into the successful upkeep of Great Britain’s stately homes.

But what most appealed to me was the wit of the script. It was replete with lines so wicked and cynical that the small crowd (from different walks of life by the way), all laughed uproariously!

Finally, while this film may be set in nineteenth century England, Love and Friendship could easily be transplanted into modern times. A self indulgent heroine greedily grabbing and grasping at every opportunity to make money and further her cause? Never, say the purists! All she would need is her own reality TV show!

Never Unknown Again

You know I'm staring at you
Though you won't look at me
Your head is bowed low
Over Candy Crush or TV

I can wait with my empty cup
You'll remember, you'll see
You'll bob your head up
And stare full back at me

And when our eyes meet yet again
We'll create our own serenity
Only for another three seconds
That last another eternity

Never unknown again.


The Gift

How could I understand
When it left my hand
That heavy burden, now lightly lost
Had released all and every cost?

The gift then revealed itself to me..

I am a constant escapee
I am a freedom loving revolutionary
I am the silent conspiracy
I am the light to a world of misery

The Bitter Sea

Mine is a lost soul that swims in a bitter sea
Overlayed and swamped by waves of jealousy
Caught and held under by a rising tide of night
At the mercy of winds of animosity

Until I lose my strength  and drown ashore
Foundered now ocean’s false martyr
Suns may rise, storms may  fall
A light shower  washes my tears away

Hunt for The Wilder People : Movie Review

It’s 6 o’clock Saturday 11th June 2016. I’ve exited the Event Cinemas in George Street Sydney. I’m sitting on a step scribbling furiously as people pass me by, lights and shadows draping me briefly.  I’m too immersed in what I’m doing to notice much else.

I’ve just seen Hunt For The Wilder People, the New Zealand smash-hit, apparently seen by one-in-nine Kiwis, though not yet as many people living on the West Island (Australia, in case you’re wondering).

It’s the story of an incorrigible orphaned boy Ricky (played by Julian Dennison). As a last resort, he is sent to the final foster parents in the middle of nowhere by Child Services. Totally unimpressed, Ricky tries to return to Child Services but once settled at home promptly runs away. After being found again (and again),  he  slowly acclimatises to his new environment, and starts to bond with his foster mother Bella (played by Rima Te Wiata). However, he develops a tenuous and stand-offish relationship with her cantankerous partner Hec (Sam Neill) who really would rather be left alone.

Sadly, tragically, Bella collapses and dies. With only Hec left, Child Services informs them that they will now take Ricky back. That’s enough for Ricky to go bush for good. Once Hec realises the situation, he searches for and finds Ricky but is injured in the pursuit.

Unfortunately, Paula from Child Services (No Child Left Behind, No Child Left Behind is her mantra), arrives on the now deserted farm. With no Ricky or Hec, she calls in the real police and starts a manhunt.

Directed by Taika Watiti, (director of Boy) who has an amusing and disturbing cameo as a pastor, this film showcases the scenery of New Zealand (the opening is like a travelogue) but lets the story unfold itself at its own pace. Through crisis, contemplation and humour,  we see the relationship between Ricky and Hec develop even if they are complete opposites. In their continuing adventures, Ricky learns bushcraft, bravery and brashly defies Paula from Child Services when she nearly catches him again. As the manhunt becomes national news, they’re left to the encroaching winter, the not-so-stealthy efforts of the pursuing Special Forces and the police. Although I did experience deja vu having watched Sam Neill in much the same situation in Sleeping Dogs!

Luckily, the Hunt for the Wilder People has a more humourous and happy outcome even if Ricky and Hec do end up confronting the New Zealand Army on its home turf.  And Julian Dennison steals the film.

This is a wonderfully told story, with many laughs and some sadness too. And a cast whose enjoyment in making this movie shines through! Go see it and enjoy.

More Than A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald

As a recent and still temporary resident of Sydney, I wanted to meet other writers. And of course to pick up some writing tips from a real-life author. Naturally, the best place and time to do both is a book launch.

So there am I, on a pre-east coast low cold and rainy Wednesday (31st May 2016) at the launch of a Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, by Natasha Lester at the Australian Writers Centre in North Sydney. I introduce myself to a few writers, have a drink and find a seat to listen to Natasha Lester be interviewed by Valerie Khoo.

And it was a fascinating interview : how she writes, the path to publishing this novel, the inspiration for the book and how she researched.

And it gave me comfort,  inspiration and encouragement. Firstly, that I should let the story tell itself, for being a writer is an imperfect listener. Secondly, that with patience and persistence, all things are possible, that I could write more than a series of interlinked short stories. Thirdly, that even a geek like me can master Scrivener, a complex but powerful piece of software.

But I was in for a surprise.  The lady on my left was an integral part of Natasha Lester’s story, Rebecca Saunders, her publisher from Hachette. And once introduced to me, suggested with no prompting whatsoever, that I should enter writing competitions. “But I haven’t even told you that I write or what I write,” was my reply.  Maybe publishers have a level of intuition that I don’t yet know about.  It is true that I had entered the Big Issue competition last year with hopes until I saw who had been published. I felt like plankton in a vast ocean. Still often the most unexpected advice is the best to take.  Funnily enough I received the same advice later that night but I did mention I wrote.

And so as one does, on impulse, I bought the book and had it autographed by the author.  And during my conversation with her, I entered the confessional (much as many audience members do when a speaker reveals themselves) and mentioned my plan to expand these short stories (which has already started to happen). I was again gratified and encouraged by the response. Here is someone who wants everyone to write that can!

But the biggest surprise awaited until the weekend. I read the entire A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald in a day. This is a delightful book, both a historical novel and a story oriented towards women yet one that is accessible to male readers too! This well-written and well-thought out story takes the reader back to New York in the 1920s with beautifully described scenes, especially the clothes of the day and carefully drawn characters including the nuances of speech and slang.

It is the story of a woman who has an ambition to be an obstetrician which was then a completely male-dominated profession. It touched me as I have an ex-partner and also a sister who is a nurse and a sister-in-law who was a nurses’ aide. Through them I do know that as of now the medical environment has some way to go to fully accept women. But I was shocked at the latent hostility and deliberate ignorance towards women whether they were patients or medical colleagues. And this is where Natasha Lester delves into the dark places where men are knowingly cruel to women.  But that is not where the story stays…

A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, is the story of a woman’s struggle to find true love and fulfillment against the odds. And that is  why we write.

 

 

 

Light, Inspiration and Chocolate : Vivid Sydney 2016

On a reluctant impulse, I went to Vivid Sydney on a Sunday night (29th May 2016). I would have preferred to stay home. I would have preferred a movie. In either case I was too tired for both and decided against falling asleep for money at the Dendy Cinemas.

Rather than feeling sorry for myself too much, I took the train to Vivid.  Once the sun departed, Vivid announced itself as a post sunset dance of light. The Harbour Bridge lit from end to end glowing and flashing to a new rhythm.

The Opera House patterned in colours and pictures. I managed a sideways glimpse.

Crane your neck to see Vivid at the Opera House

Crane your neck to see Vivid at the Opera House

I managed to take two photos before my phone ran out of battery. Worse, than that, I checked my pockets and I had left my spare charger behind me. Fate was against me that night it seemed.

Which meant I had to watch Vivid without a camera. Which meant too that I was in the minority. Most people were snapping and selfieing? and I thought to myself ruefully, they are welcome to it.

Which meant I had to knuckle down and enjoy the experience. And have fun.  So  I had fun, though reluctantly at first.

I first noticed the parents oohing and aahing over the light shows to their children. They had put aside their cameras and phones to create a moment instead of capturing one. Then I noticed the cathedral in the Botanic Gardens! It was beautiful and mesmerising.

I retraced my steps and watched the people queue up for a mini sound light show. And noted their bemused expressions as they exited. And children playing music by foot at an interactive exhibit.

And then I recalled randomly a house-sit I did for an artist. Her house was that eclectic mix of colour and shapes that attaches itself to an artist rather than the other way around. It had an ambience that flowed through to me. And Vivid was doing that to me now.

I wasn’t tired anymore. I wasn’t reluctant anymore. I didn’t want to go home.

Martin Place : Gotham City to the Bat Cave

And in the midst of that new atmosphere, it happened. While walking from the Botanic Gardens to Martin Place, a story I had sent away returned to me.

I had attempted to expand this story. But I was dissatisfied with every possibility and have given up. All that was left were some pages of scribbled lines.

As I’m walking up Macquarie Street, it is now being told to me in its entirety. Which annoys me somewhat as it is too much to remember. I have neither phone nor pad nor pen to record it. Luckily I find a convenience store and buy what I need.

Yes that’s me crouched over a pad, scribbling furiously while eating a Drumstick : inspired by chocolate and Vivid.

Three Steps Too Many

Everything seemed perfect. Nothing had changed in years. So much so I forgot where I’d put my wallet and keys.
But only momentarily. Everything was as it was.

The carpet, that dull dirt brown, with sickly flecks of grey. Brighter than I remembered. No fading, no wear, no patches yet needing repair. The walls too, that soft creamy white, which was yet to fade fatally.

Yes it’s close to perfect. They had done well.

The curtains too, drawn against the sliding glass aluminium windows. The sunlight was completely blocked not strained as I later remembered. I flicked them open, and peered down. Four floors to the street.
I overlapped the curtains and shut the world out.
Just a desk, an old school desk with the hinged top. And then the bed. Both pristine as if just delivered. I stopped myself from looking for the packing.

Clean crisp sheets lay under that green and black patterned bedspread. That lost joy of sleeping in a new bed. I pulled the covers all the way back. I slipped in and slept.

Set your doubts aside, I told myself, as I woke. I had slept through. I swung my legs out and planted them firmly on the floor for certainty’s sake. Back on that carpet. Push off the covers and start a new day.
New clothes awaited me. Shiny shoes too. I showered, shampooed and shaved in expectant pleasure. Next a singlet, clean and fresh. White shirt next. Though pre-pressed I could still feel the new creases. Cuff links magnetically almost magically attached themselves. My trousers fitted perfectly as if they had melded themselves to my form. These easy features were great I thought and noted it for later.

Socks and then the shoes. I tied up the laces as I hated self-tying shoes. As I stood up, the shoes felt loose again. I looked down and they were untied. Sit down, tie them, stand up and untied again. I took them off and put on a pair of slip-ons.

My wallet and keys were where I’d left them. I pocketed my wallet which snugly fitted. The keys. They were there on the bedside table only a minute ago. They were gone. I checked my pockets, my suit jacket, the pillows, the blankets. Nothing. I checked my pockets, my suit jacket, the pillows, the blankets. I looked up and the gleam of the jets caught my eye. They were on the bedside table after all. Okay. Noted.

Breakfast next. I was running early so I had nothing to worry about. As I made the coffee, I left the teaspoon in the cup. As I poured the water in, it flowed up the bowl of the spoon and over the handle. Quickly I jump back. And quickly I mop up the mess. The water doesn’t seem so hot now. I should think nothing of it, I say to myself. I pick up the knife to butter the toast. The blade brushes the handle of my cereal spoon and sends it spinning. Luckily I’m quick again and save it from meeting the floor.
I’ll see this through I say. But my teeth are starting to grind.

The last task before work. The teeth clean. But first as advised, I floss. I check the indicator and there’s about 50 metres left. I tug at the strand and pull out two fingernails of dental floss. I look again. None left. Thus warned, I duck under the basin and draw out an extra roll. When I look up again, there’s 10cm of floss waiting for me. Okay it’s not what I expected but I’ll take it.
Four flights downstairs, two at a time. It’s like walking on air. I check my watch. Come to think of it, when did I put it on? Five minutes to the bus, it blinks at me.

I step out onto the street. Instantly my hand goes up to my left cheek to deflect a waft of breeze. A little cool in the morning is a joy. Suddenly I crouch & duck my head as a slurry of leaves and twigs suddenly appear. Then as quickly as it appears, it’s gone. I get to my feet and realise I had fended off the assault with my right arm. The winds are fluky today but not as I remember.

The bus arrives on time but not my time. I don’t argue with reality. I take it anyway. I touch on as usual. I shove the card back in my wallet and it promptly pops out. I’m quick but it takes two grabs to catch it. It seemed to start, float in the air momentarily and then stop. But why the hell didn’t it pop out before? I gave it enough chances!

Then I look at my fellow passengers. They’re strangers who are familiar yet remain a mystery despite sitting in the same seats and talking about the same banalities that I can still remember. Conversations about matching lists of possessions, defiant children and recalcitrant spouses, all suffixed by furtive glances at their smart watches. It’s strangely stilted somehow but I just can’t work it out. I’m not dropping out now. Not this time.

Finally the bus makes it to the freeway. And I’m dazzled. I slam my eyes shut. After a few seconds I reluctantly half open my right eye. The sun was still glaring at me. But I remember this trek far too well. Even in my half sight I can see the landmarks I know and mentally tick them off. But the sun. It’s still there. It’s in a different place today. I mentally play back the trips I remember and this doesn’t match. Perhaps the freeway has been re-routed, or I’m in a different seat today. But none of those match either.

But it’s too late to think of that. The bus has left the freeway and is being piped along a dark tunnel. And my stop is next. And it does appear. I leave, wend my way through the crowds and climb the stairs, two at a time, to the street.

And it’s raining. How did the weather change so quickly? I look up at the rain trails in the sky which stop before they hit the ground. I rack my brain for the term: Virga. I scan the sky for the source : cumulonimbus clouds and there aren’t any. Perhaps the wind blew them away?

My place of work looms up before me as I walk. A few steps, take the lift, see what joys and pressures await me today.

I take the steps three at a time…

I wake up from a leaden sleep. I feel as if I’ve been drawn up from the depths. Dimly I realise that two men are wrestling my helmet off me. With that familiar mixture of deftness and roughness they unstrap me and unbuckle my suit.
“Where am I?” I ask.
“You shouldn’t have taken that third step”, one of the attendants said.
“It forked the stair routine and deleted the building instance. They’re rebuilding the model now.”
“I don’t want to be an alpha tester anymore,” I say.
The other dev just glares at me.
“It was the final beta test.”
I shrug, find my misplaced wallet and keys, and leave. I approach the exit stairs.

I take the steps three at a time…

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