Bibelots

a place for the curious

Category: discoveries (page 1 of 3)

Small, interesting or curious things discovered in day-to-day life

This has heart

One day, many years ago, I walked into a little bookshop in Glebe. It’s a beautiful place; full of culture, cafes, bookshops and all sorts of people. I bought a keyring with the words:

Glebe: somewhere on the East coast of Australia

You can tell a place has a sense of humour and confidence in itself, with vague and ridiculous words like these. The keyring’s broken now. But being the emotional hoarder that I am, I’ve still got it tucked away somewhere.

I fell in love with Glebe. The place and it’s people. It is, as Lonely Planet puts it, ‘quietly Bohemian’. A couple of years later, true love moved me to NSW, and I ended up working in Glebe. Just a roll of the dice, but a good one.

The place had its own unique charm. And it was built up by the people that chose to live there. Glebe, at that time, had a vibrant gay & lesbian culture. It wasn’t my culture or my community, but they were welcoming and amazing. The openness and kindness that was at the core – that’s what made it so wonderful. I doubt I’ll ever have the right words to describe it. Not for that place, at that time.

In another bookshop in Newtown, I found a beautiful book. Not in any special fiction area, just on a shelf. The guy’s name was Armistead Maupin. And his little family of Tales in the City won my heart. Won it, broke it, stormed it. These stories aren’t mine, but Armistead’s storytelling made me feel welcome in the Tales. Just as Mrs Madrigal would have made me feel welcome at 28 Barbary Lane. Armistead’s Tales have a fascinating history, but this isn’t about that. And others have written about it better before, and by people who can call this story their own.

These words are about what’s at the heart of a place, or a story. About how understanding each other doesn’t stop when we point out the differences, but allow them to be seen and shared. And, that’s painful. Sometimes it’s hard to hear or read, sure. But the heart it takes to share who you are, how much you’ve suffered only to be you, that’s something incredible. I had a chance to hear a moment like this again more recently, thanks to a beautiful podcast episode about Remembering Stonewall, from the gentle folk at 99PI. This episode left me speechless. People like this – and their stories – are everywhere. They change you. They open your heart, and your mind.

I suppose what this is, is my way of saying thank you. Thank you to the brave, to the beautiful. Thank you to the open, the honest, the kind. This is for you, the storyteller. The one with the story to tell.

My words won’t ever be enough. Instead, I’ll give last words to the grand lady herself:

“You don’t have to keep up dear. You just have to keep open.”
– Mrs Madrigal

Of fire and will: a letter for Lyra

'letters to myself' old faded cover of a magazine

Letters to myself and other words I’ve never set free, image via British Library

Dear Mr Phillip Pullman

I’m a bit angry. You see, I only recently started to read Northern Lights. The world is full of books and somehow I missed this/you/the boat. I’m halfway through and I’ve had to stop and put it down. It’s not that I’m not enjoying it. I’m loving it.

Oh, yes. It’s exactly my cup of tea. No question there. And it’s not that I don’t like Lyra. I madly, deeply love her. I don’t want to be like her, I want to be her. Lyra is a thousand million types of wonderful. She’s wilful. She’s fierce. She’s a firebrand. She’s on fire. She is luminescent and wild. She runs across rooftops and breaks my heart with every bound. Because it’s all a little late.

She’s who I wanted to be when I was a young girl. Only I didn’t know her. You hadn’t written her yet. I can’t say she didn’t exist, because she did. In my mind and, no doubt, in the minds of countless others.

So, yep. I’m angry. But only with your timing. You’re only a few decades too late. What’s that between friends? Everything, I tell you. Everything. What wouldn’t I have given to have her as my companion. But it’s okay. I think I did. It feels like I did. Did you know? Where you inside my head? Could you hear me? But, no. You couldn’t have. It all came too late.

I’ve put her aside, because when next there’s a day that I want to steal boats and set fires, I can pick up the book and be there again. I’ve done this with books before; there’s one book on my shelf with 3 pages unread. Its story will never end. I know it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t need to. My younger self – my version of Lyra – she’d understand. If a treasure is good enough, you should bury it deep.

So, Mr Pullman, I’ll forgive you and your rotten sense of timing. If you’ll forgive mine.

Yours

 

A fellow firebrand, aka Pirate Rose

On the act of writing

The pen is mighty, so is the keyboard

Typists, the old fashioned way

Typing: the grace, the beauty,
George Eastman House on Flickr’s The Commons

After spending my whole day surrounded by words working on writing,  editing writing, and plain old writing-writing I come home and write some more.

Sometimes, of course, I don’t. I might do something visual, make something real or do something physical. I might even allow myself to be enveloped in the hedonistic act of reading.

Often though, when I can’t imagine I can fit anything else in my day, when I thought there was nothing left but sleep, I write.

I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want do this. As soon as I could read, I wanted to write. More to the point, I wanted to write stories. Like everyone, I’ve had my ups and downs with it. When I’m exhausted, what I want to tap is boxed up and unreachable. Before computers came along, my hands would often cramp and I’d be dispirited before I could even begin.

I occasionally hear people say ‘the youth of today have lost the art of handwriting’. I’m not that young. I know how to wield a pen. But, actually, I think that’s bollocks. They know how to write. They also know how to type, swipe and whatever the hell else you can throw at them.

So, yes, I know how to put pen to page. I can fight you, sword tip for pen nib. I love a good fountain pen; dipper and cartridge both. I have notebooks and pencils for capturing fleeting ideas. But for the outpouring of storytelling, it’s the gentle, loving stretch of fingers across a keyboard that calls to me.

Let me describe it to you.

Open the lid. Watch the keyboard glow. Allow yourself a few minutes to disperse busy thoughts. Get it out of your system and onto twitter, if you must. Open your manuscript. Or start a new document. Don’t stare at that blank screen, it’s only going to stare back. No. Run your fingers over the keys. Oh, let’s just call it what it is. Caress the keys. It’s a slow dance of creativity and love. Ready?

Now.

Close your eyes. Feel your breath. Empty your mind.

And go.

Hours or minutes later, you’ll find me still. Curled up in a tight embrace of my own making. If it’s going well, I won’t even notice you’ve arrived. I’ll be somewhere astonishing, wild and new.

Pens, notebooks or keyboards. Oral, digital, or physical. Honestly, none of that matters.

What matters is that a story is told. Told and allowed to unfold.

Staying blue

two types of cyanotype images on paper - one pale, washed out blue, the other a vibrant cyan blue

feeling a little blue

A bit of backyard science

A few weeks ago I was experimenting with a different sort of cyanotype – a digital image of an underground tunnel, printed on a clear transparency. I had captured the slow steps of someone moving through the low, dark space. I’d hoped to use it in a group ‘thing’. Unfortunately, it failed terribly. That is to say, the chemicals failed.

I’m used to photos not successfully translating to cyanotype, but this image seemed to have the right stuff. After waiting through a week of rain and sunless sky, I was at last able to set up. I painted my paper, watched for a longish moment of late-winter sunlight and exposed the cyanotype in the usual way. A raindrop or two got caught with the sun, but as it’s a ghostly and indistinct image, I figured it would be okay. It looked beautiful. I rinsed the paper and let the chemicals wash away… and with horror watched the lovely blue image wash away too. I had managed to produce a damp, wrinkled, blank piece of paper.

A couple of weeks later, when the sun reappeared, I tried again in the somewhat futile hope that I’d mixed the solutions incorrectly. But, no. That image washed away, even after a 40 minute exposure – longer than needed in Australia at that time of year. There was no more than a hint of an image.

It turns out that the unmixed liquid cyanotype solutions have an end shelf-life. The best information I could find was ‘it should last a few months’. I did my googling, as any good internet citizen would, but couldn’t spot anything more definitive.

In case you’re one of the few who want to know, I’d kept the two solutions in separate bottles in a dark cupboard for about six months. One week they were working pretty well. A few weeks later, not so much. Obviously, I’ve had to discard the solutions. New chemicals have been ordered and I await their blue-toned arrival.

Next time I prepare the solutions, I’ll put a date on the bottles and track what happens. I’ll do one test strip a month, and keep a record of the date and changing sunlight. I’m sure can get a better idea than ‘a few months’. Data, baby. That’s what I want. Data. Failure is okay, so long as you learn from it and try again.

And that, my friends, is my little bit of backyard science. Science in the sun. Cool, huh?

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