The Lingering Look (of a Book Lover)

It’s no task at all. Simply take the books you don’t want and put them into the two spare boxes. But to succeed at this meant I had to be a zombie bricklayer. Pick up a book, one in each hand from the first pile. Then with closed eyes transfer to the outgoing book box.
Book Pile
Then I said to myself, “Don’t look down. Don’t make eye contact with the books.
But books tend to gaze back like long lovers.
And when it happened, I had that second and recurrent thought. “I like that book. I might need to read it sometime.”
My counter-thought. “I haven’t read that one. It’s unlikely I’ll read it now.
And then the thought trap closed shut. “I know I haven’t read it but some day I just might.”
Back and forth it went until I wore myself down. Finally, I could only complete the task the opposite way. I filled the boxes allocated for the books I wanted to retain. To overflowing. I could not fit another book.
 And then I thought. “Perhaps that paperback could just squeeze into that space between the hardbacks.
 Not a chance. No space even for a bookmark. That was the finish. I was done.
Two boxes filled. The next part should have been easier. All I had to do was lift and shift my gift to a charity book depository four train stops away. I picked up one box. Then the other. Suddenly those two boxes were leaden heavy. I couldn’t budge either of them. Spare Book Box
I then chose a course of action calculated to deceive myself.  I grabbed two large IKEA carry bags. And filled each with books. Now I could carry both over my shoulder.
Then on the street, I saw a man with two small black bags. He had just crossed the road. I recognised the bags from Abbey’s : a well known Sydney bookshop.
I thought to myself. “We have something in common”. But  the lucky man was adding. I sadly was subtracting. In truth we were opposed. I let him walk ahead of me. I tried not to imagine his joy at unpacking those bags of books.
Arriving at the station, I dumped the two bags. And sat with my back turned away from the books. But I peeked didn’t I? There was that thought again. “Perhaps I should keep Made to Stick?” I closed up the bag as the train arrived.
On the train, I ensured I sat near no one. I worried that someone would realise what I’m doing and stop me.
Until I alighted at the station. I avoided everyone and stayed unnoticed. I guarded my anonymity carefully, ensuring no one could possibly remember a man staggering with two full blue and yellow bags.
However, during the escape, I noticed a boy who was asking his mother questions about everything. I knew what would happen next. I moved quickly out of sight so he wouldn’t turn his curiousity towards me. But what I really was dreading was her answers. For she spoke with that curt finality that still irritates me even as an adult. I thought, “Perhaps a book would help her?” But that would mean I would need to look down.
Then followed the short climb up the steep street. Over the intersection was the charity’s office. But no book shed in front, or behind or on any side. I thought, putting the bags down, now that downhill trek to the station is a much better option than lugging these now even extra heavy books any further.
I decided to follow the internet directions. I looked for and found the car park. And shaded by trees was an ordinary garden shed. Unlocked. And three quarters full of books, with only some in boxes.
 I opened the door wide. I stepped back and swung one bag and then the other into the shed.
Then I stopped still. I didn’t look down. The shed smelt like a library. It was that semi fresh scent that had always carried knowledge from page to brain!
I was transfixed. I lapsed. I lost control. I looked down.
And I thought as I saw the first book, “Why would anyone throw out books on world geography? That’s fascinating!”
I shut the doors quickly before my gaze was held again.

Waiting for The Sequel

A Not So Crowded TrainOn a not-so-crowded train. She is the only one standing. Back pressed against the only space that is neither seat nor door. Light brown curly but wiry hair, clear open face, same colour eyes (my best guess as far as I can see), all fully engrossed and engaged.

The bumps and lurches of the train don’t bother her. She just doesn’t lose balance. She sways slightly to the rhythm of the carriage. She is not dancing though. Perhaps inwardly.

Her head is bowed. As if in prayer or contemplation.  And her forehead is smooth. Her face serene. And I watch to see if she will raise her head. It’s not just to look at her face.  For I’m curious as to her quiet calm and innate peace. Now she is even more fully engrossed and engaged. With her hands held up in front of her.

Not a newspaper. Not a smart phone. Not a magazine. Not even one of those slate-sized flickering whispering mini TVs.

For a second, time stops and everything around her is removed. So much so that I stop and wonder and look again.  Yes, now I know what it is. It’s like she’s behind a lectern. She’s reading. A tattered dog-eared hardback with yellow threads fraying the red cover. No title that I can see. The Story

I wait to see if she’ll read what holds her so aloud.

For the last person that held out a book like that let me read it.

And I wanted to read it aloud : it was that good…a children’s book too…

Perhaps I’m waiting for the sequel.

Does The Pen Hear More than the Keyboard?

“I probably won’t be using that.”
It wasn’t a derisory or demeaning disclaimer. Just a calm statement: this is not for me.
I never was much of  a software salesman anyway. I had livened up a not-so-interesting training session by describing an upcoming software feature. It may or may not be in the next future possible major release! Geekspeak for I don’t know what the developers are doing).
Simply stated, instead of scanning in notes, they could be typed through an electronic form.
As my trainee wasn’t rude or abrupt, I nodded in agreement, at first. Only later did I realise how much of what she said really applied to me.
The conversation continued as she expanded upon her point. Besides the training session had ended and time was not of the essence.
She said that people say more when you take handwritten notes. She restated her point as people say less when you type notes on a computer.

Blue Pen on Paper

Blue Pen on Paper

 Instantly I thought of my last doctor’s appointment. As soon as he finished talking to me, he swivelled in his chair, he began  typing. Automatically  I stopped talking. I waited until  he had entered his notes and printed the prescription. I only realised later that had I anything important to say, it would have been lost. Admittedly, medical personnel don’t have as much time as me.
But it was exactly as my trainee was saying to me. But it went deeper than that. It applied to me more than I knew.
As a desktop support operative, people used to make fun of what I carried around with me. It was rather ancient and certainly non-technical.  People thought that it was funny that I carried around a pen and two (paper) notebooks. One was a diary and the other was a scratchpad. So many people remembered that when I left, I received an electronic diary as a farewell present. Sharp Electronic Organiser-open
But those two notebooks had a strange effect on myself and my workmates. Firstly, it was quite odd how well I remembered what I didn’t write down. For as I recalled my notes, other details would be revealed.  And secondly, in the presence of a (real) notebook, my workmates would reveal more detail about their problems than if I turned up empty handed. Often I found I solved more than one problem at once. Thirdly,  I also was able to record my successes and failures. Which was useful for future reference and self-defence.
And this conversation, threw light on my weaknesses and strengths as a technical writer and trainer. Upon reflection, I found I recalled more from handwritten notes than typed ones. And certainly more from handwritten lecture notes too. And again,in the presence of the pen and notepad, subject matter experts revealed more detail than when the keyboard was listening. Which meant that I found out what people needed to know not what was nice to know. In other words, by picking up a pen and paper, I (unknowingly) did my job better.
And now as a writer (there I’ve said it now : there’s no turning back), I find the pen and paper are often better tools for me to express myself and record than a keyboard. I handwrite first and then type into the computer.  Although that doesn’t work for everyone, just me.
Besides, that was the role of my trainee : to find out as much as possible about people’s problems before making her diagnosis.

Talent : The Gift is Borrowed.

Blue Pen on Paper

Blue Pen on Paper

Many years ago I wrote a speech called Through the Eyes of a Child. And a story called Medicine Woman.

In both cases the sensation was exactly the same. I’m sitting there, open-mouthed, literally watching the pen write the words in front of me.

It would be great if that happened all the time. But it doesn’t. I still can’t say (arrogantly), that it occurs because I’m talented. That it came from me. No…

I talked with one of my sons about talent. His observation was that others suddenly became envious once they found out you’re talented. The feeling for him was being treated as if you’ve stolen something. My rather strident response was tell them that it’s not theft at all. We did both agree that jealousy towards talented people is unwarranted and untrue.

If talent is not theft and talent does not come from me, then what is it? The shadows were cast away by a TED talk on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Yes…being creative is like unwrapping a gift. The talent (if any) is can you unwrap that gift? To me, it’s like the poet Ruth Stone as described in Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk. The speech or blog or story or poem is told through me not from me. To tell it well, doesn’t require talent so much as listening (and Evernote).



Once A Writer….

Quite possibly the people in this conversation may recognise themselves so apologies (accolades and gratitude actually!) to all in advance.

I’m in the queue with my two or three bags (by then) of fruit and vegetables. I’m not prone to queue rage as I’m second in the queue.

In front of me is a woman with a large basket on the counter. The cashier unpacks and repacks and enters each purchase. Fruit and veges out, a touch of the button and fruit and veges back in. It wasn’t taking that long. I’m in no hurry anyway as it’s a long walk home.

Behind me is a couple, a man and a woman. The man leans forward, and steps past me. He has recognised the woman being served. She’s a long-lost friend and he greets her as such. I’m happy minding my own business and enjoying one of the better moments life can offer.

Then the introductions begin. The woman at the counter is introduced (to the one behind me) as an artist. Then the counter introduction, the woman behind me is introduced as an ex-writer!

I start laughing. That’s too much for me.I say,”I can’t pay that. There’s no such thing as an ex-writer. They’re always in between books!”


Writing Isn’t Safe

Last week I came across this article from the Wheeler Centre by Jessie Cole which talks about the self revelation of writing fiction. As an author, I’ve had that happen to me. I didn’t pay much attention to it until this afternoon.

I’m writing about two characters. They’re not getting along so well.

I’m trying unsuccessfully to postpone the final falling out between them.Revelation

Today, sadly was the day they got into their last argument.

As the author I was clear what they were going to say and how it would end.

What really happened is that I’m crouched behind a bush, listening to these two people I know unfold themselves in front of me.

Until the argument began. It simply doesn’t go to plan. Until several pages later I realise it’s something I always wanted to be brought into the open. It’s even more confronting as its something I don’t think can be resolved. Obviously I need to write some more about that.

So Jessie Cole is right, writing fiction isn’t safe at all.

But upon reflection, neither is blogging. I just think its a safer. To begin with, I ‘m writing about people I meet and things that happen to me. I can choose to leave things in or exclude what doesn’t make me feel comfortable. But…

Upon re-reading and reflection, even that isn’t safe. Unwittingly I have exposed thoughts and feelings and emotions that I wouldn’t shout out in a crowd. I need to write some more about that.




Shoals and Reefs : Self Publishing with Euan Mitchell


Self Publishing

Literally I clicked the email link and found what I was looking for. A presentation by Euan Mitchell on self- publishing.

But it seemed too late in the afternoon to make it.

So I clicked again to book a place. Booked it.

I arrive at St Michael’s Annexe in Melbourne just after 6 o’clock.

Writers funnily enough seem to be a quiet crowd. Everyone is waiting and expectant. Euan Mitchell appears and lightens the room with a cartoon: every one in the room has a book in them (or needs it surgically removed). Finally someone understands me.

His presentation is about his self-publishing journey. Despite being in the publishing industry himself, he found it no advantage to publishing his own manuscript. That starts to confirm my worst-held fears.

He outlines the shoals and reefs that he had to navigate through and in doing so makes a map for all of us. He passes on quite a few tips and sage advice (see also Q&A with Euan Mitchell and this document) about publishers, editors, printers, agents and advertisers.

He mentions that many manuscripts aren’t published, many books don’t sell and many authors aren’t rich. For some reason I’m less pessimistic. Besides some stories just need to be told.


The Story Begins

The best option but the most difficult option appears to be self-publishing. One of his recommendations is to use people around you who know books. Suddenly two names pop into my head. This is getting better.

He suggests starting slowly and creating a network using social and existing media. And write. Better get to that.

He also has a book (self published) which summarises his ideas available from his web site.

There are questions at the end. I ask mine and get an encouraging answer. And after that all I want to do is write.