Saturday, February 7, 2009

Birds and Balloons

The other day I was at my daughter’s dance class when I ran into writer Lisa Gorton, one of those extraordinarily gifted people too over-qualified for anything but poetry. We were both on the “art and motherhood” panel at the Melbourne Writers Festival and I was quite in awe of Lisa’s poise. Last year she published two books, Cloudland, a fantasy novel for children, and Press Release, for which she deservedly won the Victorian Premier’s Award for Poetry.

Lisa told me that she had been in a café recently when she overheard two women taking about The Divided Heart — which is such a flattering thing to hear. While we were talking another mother jumped in to ask if I wrote TDH, as she had several friends who had been stirred to revisit their art and rethink its importance in their lives after reading it. That was pretty special feedback.

We had a brief chat about that sense of frustration at the work always feeling off there somewhere just out of reach. When a story idea comes to me it often arrives, in a sense, fully formed; graspable — if only I can just grab the string and hang on for dear life. If too many distractions get in the way, I start slipping and all too often that hot-air balloon — so beautifully shaped, containing whole worlds within, but so easily popped — deserts me altogether, flying off and taking with it all that excitement I felt at its possibilities. That is a heart-breaking moment.

I hope Lisa finds a way to clutch one of those strings and keep dragging that balloon around above her head no matter how inconvenient to be attached to something so fragile when life is so full of thin doorways and jagged edges — and you constantly need two hands to tie up shoelaces and that kind of thing! Just hang on by your teeth, I say, if that's what it takes. I, for one, can’t wait to see what Lisa produces next.

In the meantime, I can recommend a book I’m reading, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which was recommended to me by writer Susan Johnson, and which I keep hearing about, coincidentally — perhaps because there is a new local edition of this book available. For example, see this recent post by Loobylu.

Also my illustrator friend Kim Fleming today introduced me to this extraordinary photographer, Joey L. If you take a look at his breathtaking images, you will see why there’s no need for words — and why they are worth sharing. I love his notion of the “dignified portrait”, mentioned on his blog.

OK, I am now escaping to the seaside, hopefully out of the 43˚C (107˚F) heat. I have been cooked well enough this past fortnight. Good luck to us all!


little red hen said...

I love that image of the hot air balloon of ideas hovering your heads it really conjured up a whole scene of women running about their day- in the play ground, shopping being a taxi driver for their teens, all with their beautiful balloons al la early french style. This is an image that will stick with me for a long time like our "self esteem buckets". When I was at uni learning to become a teacher one of our lecturers said that kids walked around holding tight to their self esteem in a bucket some of those poor little cherubs had so many knocks that their buckets were empty, they had to carry these empty buckets with them everywhere and it was our job to try and fill them up a bit. That was over 20 years ago and I still remember it vividly. Your ideas hot air balloon image has joined the self esteem bucket!

Damon said...

Now that's just uncanny.

Here's a passage from my short story, a clumsy homage to Henry James, 'The Master's Balloon':

The first stroke preceded a gradually expanding balloon of words and phrases. And he marvelled, without knowing – quietly, unconsciously, breathlessly – at the growing spectacle of it, as the breath of his imaginative vocabulary filled up its moveable walls. It would be splendid, this balloon, marvellous in its curves and lightness; its brilliant marriage of expanse and air, slowly increasing in his mind’s eye. He would aerate this toy, play with it thoroughly, and then give it, in all largesse and imposing friendliness, to the anonymous children who received his pages. They, too, would tap it with their fingers, kick it about, revel in its spacious bounce, and then tell their companions its story.

And he would smile, knowingly, happily – though not without reserve, without awkward ambiguities – at their praise, only because he, too, occasionally sat, laughingly stupefied, by the calibre of his gift. All was repose and daydream, reverie and relaxation, as the rubber filled, its circumference outlining the limits of his expansive mind.

Rachel Power said...

I love the self esteem bucket concept. What a lovely thought that there are teachers out there who care in this way.
And, yes, uncanny indeed, Damon--except that your description is so much more lyrical than mine. That lovely idea that it would eventually be handed over, still intact--to be enjoyed by others. Now there's something to visualise.

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