Steps & Branches

How cold can Melbourne get this winter? Yesterday at Montsalvat I was in double jumpers, fingerless gloves and hat working at my little desk – the little heater struggled on vainly. Today I hid from the Eltham hills in our wet, wet city and sought refuge in the Theosophical bookshop where to my delight I found Goethe’s ‘Theory of colours’ secondhand. In a different league to bookshops the election is becoming a distraction. The campaign is fraught with the polish of the spin masters and I look to commentators with the expertise to analyse the complexities that befuddle me – thank goodness for Radio National. However, what I really need is to focus on my Miller journey and since giving up my day job I have found it difficult to recreate my work ethos for my new world. This is in part a loss of a work community and the need for reliance on self. It is a matter of adjustment; there are no colleagues now with which I can bounce around ideas, receive feedback and acknowledgement – it is just me in Sue’s tower at Montsalvat.

Thus the gift of friends is of paramount importance in this new world and a partner that checks in on me, proffering direction – directions that may not appreciate the dilemmas entirely, but they do make me question my approach further. The Montsalvat Arts Manager, Simone, provides gentle guidance over morning coffees and has assisted in building up my exposure to good biographical texts as I search for a form appropriate to my subject. It is with my actual writing practice though, that I let myself down. Last night my friend and meditation teacher, Kate James, shared that she listened to an audio book ‘Writing down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg. This was the break I needed and with Krishnamurti’s words on listening in my mind I began a sideways branch on my Miller journey.

My favourite tree at Montsalvat

I had already planned to write Miller related pieces building up a creative file to enhance the main work and I intended to take an anecdote that Miller writes to his brother Lewis and develop it – as indeed Miller suggests “something can be made of this” – into a short story. And yet I had not begun. However, James Gleeson’s description of why Miller may have been considered ‘difficult’, by some, referring to Miller’s conversational islands surrounded by a sea of silence, haunted me and so I have now written the first verses. The content of the poem as planned, at this point, is drawn directly from Miller’s letters and is an attempt to enter into the essence of his thoughts. Each verse will take ideas from critical decades. The additional benefit from this exercise is that I am re-reading the letters with a specific purpose – purpose illuminates. These are the preparatory steps I need prior to the intensity of disciplined biographical writing. Miller says to Lew 8/5/1935 “ …the method of approaching is likely to be that of little step, little step, little step. At the same time we see our goal but vaguely. In actual experience these two things help each other – that is the little step aids us to see our goal a little more clearly,”.

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