Reachings and Slidings

I treated myself tonight to a meal at Fratelli Fresh. I’m not sure if it is just by association with the name but when you walk in you are hit with the green scents of fresh vegetables and perfectly ripened fruits.  I chose the smoked duck salad with figs, pancetta and a variety of leaves and herbs. Crisp, bitter-clean witlof balanced with coloured lettuces, just the right amount of aged balsamic and all else to perfection. I sat and sipped a Pinot Grigio, munched and read ‘Body Parts Essays on Life Writing’ by Hermione Lee. In the essay on ‘Virginia Woolf’s Nose’ I discovered, amongst the quoted humorous criticisms of the Nicole Kidman prosthetic proboscis (in the film The Hours), something I had been discussing on the weekend with a friend, the concept of multi-personae. Lee says, ‘ At the end of Orlando [also made into a a film], Woolf’s teasing spoof on conventional biography, her hero/heroine, reaching the present day, sniffing its smells and powdering her nose, calls her various selves together. For a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves…’ I crunched and delighted in the smoky soft textured duck nodding assent and laughing when I reached the image of Nicole Kidman and a dead bird comparing beaks. It was all quite upmarket from my usual noodle dish at a CDB, Chinese/Malay take-away, strangely called ‘Deli choice’.

A sleepy –but happy – brain always shadows the Monday arrival in Sydney particularly when, and it has happened again, I have arrived on a full moon. I’m all no sleep with extra dashes of clumsy putting my library locker ticket in the only place I later won’t remember and flapping about with numbers for the request slips as my diary nose-dives off my notebook pile of paraphernalia which is precariously balanced between me and the request desk. The librarian doesn’t miss a beat and stamps the slips with their date and time as though my house of cards hasn’t started slipping into the walkway of special collections.

The Miller volumes arrive and I slip into my transcription meditation occasionally broken by my lips speaking out loud a sentence with an unreadable world. Out loud somehow brings greater comprehension to a full sentence and invariably the missing word appears like it was once in invisible ink and has now been revealed. Miller is speaking to his brother Lew explaining, to choose the artists path, you choose to step precariously onto the uppermost rung of a ladder. At times you slip back but you are inevitably compelled higher.

11/2/36 Miller in London to his brother Lew in NZ

‘…most of my life seems a series of reachings to the highest levels, with continuous slidings down, thro the nice easy earning a living stage, to the bottom where once more I puff and scramble my way to the riskiness of the top again. In other words the world of speculations of experimentation and of questioning and discovery is not comfortable. It is very exciting and it is very depressing. It is also very necessary and essential for some particular ones of us. Essential, as is breathing and more close to us than hands or feet. I would not have chosen my lot in any other part of civilisation but I would have liked very much to have, to ______ or I might properly say my affirmation of my feelings – both earlier and with less cruel opposition.’ (Letters held in the Mitchell wing of the SLNSW)

Which brings me to the clouds.

Afternoon clouds above the Mitchell steps

As I lay down on the warm afternoon steps of the Mitchell library, I looked up thinking of those compelled on the metaphorical ladder, I was also thinking of how Gauguin, like Miller was harshly criticised by family as he too, embarked  on the journey of reachings and slidings  – different realms but we are all reaching and sliding – the tricky bit is to call our various selves together for the reachings. You only ever seem to need one for the sliding.



In the late afternoon transcription sitting, Miller comments to Lew after he has attended a wonderful Chekhov play but has sat in the expensive seats with insensitive neigbours…’On such occasions I stomp my way home in a terrible vengeful temper and live in the storm of it until I entertain myself among my pots and cooking or recreate myself by my work. But why do I make the old error again and again of going and seating myself where I am likely not to be happy.’ 11/2/36

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