hope you’ve been well

I feel like this has become a common opener in emails in recent times. Hello, hope you’ve been well… Usually it’s work emails to/from other companies, and usually it’s a supplier that I need to ask about something, and I haven’t corresponded with them in a while. Sometimes the supplier is interstate, in a state that has recently had severe weather or a wave of virus, or some other event that has made the headlines.

It just seems polite to show some concern. My usual contacts also use it when starting a new correspondence with me, so it goes two ways. But I’m pretty sure people didn’t always do this. Or maybe they did, but it didn’t mean as much as it does now. Maybe the pandemic made people more compassionate or something.

For the record, yes, I have been well. I have been very absent from this blog, and I’ve been keeping busy with other things, but I always intended to come back.

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The Cider House Rules

I believe The Cider House Rules is the third John Irving novel I have read, and although the story is quite different to what I remember of The World According to Garp or The Hotel New Hampshire, there is something about it that is still very classically Irving. I think the best word for it is “unapologetic”. He really lays the story out — guts and all — and doesn’t sugarcoat or censor anything.

The other very Irving thing about TCHR and the other novels is that although the events seem rather bizarre and absurd at times, the characters feel so real, and so the events surrounding and involving them also feel real. I think it also has something to do with how fluid his writing is. The story flows effortlessly so that I’m turning the page before I have time to question the plausibility of what is happening. All I want is to keep reading.

[Spoilers ahead — you have been warned]

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wait and see

I’m currently reading The Cider House Rules by John Irving, and there’s this recurring theme of “waiting and seeing”. The main character, Homer Wells, is an orphan, and knows all about waiting and seeing. This week, I’ve also come to know a lot about waiting and seeing, but perhaps in a different way.

At some point in the middle of last week, it started raining. We’ve had a lot of rain this summer — part of the deal with the La Niña weather system — so when it started and didn’t stop, no one really thought much of it. But then the rain continued into the week-end, and it was unrelenting. Creeks were filling up, the river was rising, and damn levels were climbing steadily. By Sunday, countless streets were flooded, people were evacuating, and many had lost power.

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renown

This week, on ABC Classic, they have been featuring the works of Luigi Boccherini because it’s his birthday on Saturday. When I heard this, I thought, “Imagine being dead for over 200 years, and people are still celebrating your birthday…”

Well, of course, you wouldn’t know that people are celebrating your birthday if you’re dead, but you might have descendants, and I wonder how they would feel. And what if they have no interest in whatever you’re famous for?

Back in 2020, ABC Classic spent the whole year celebrating the life of Ludwig van Beethoven because it was his (theoretical) 250th birthday — 250 years since he was born. To be fair, he was a particularly prolific composer, so it’s kind of understandable that they wanted to stretch the celebrations over a whole year so that they could still play other music in between all the Beethoven.

Anyway, as I drove home from work, listening to the radio presenter talk about how it’s Boccherini’s birthday, I started thinking about how someone gets to this level of renown — how do you get so famous that people will continue to celebrate your birthday for generations to come? Is this what it really means to be a “legend”, or how you know this or that is a “classic”?

But I guess no one really thinks that far into the future when they’re writing an opera or composing a symphony or whatever. More likely they’re thinking of their present audience. Resonate with your present audience first, and there’s a chance your work could resonate through the years ahead.

And then I started thinking about us common folk, who don’t aspire to be legends. A similar principle still applies, doesn’t it? Do good by the people around you (your audience of sorts), and be well-received and well-remembered by them, even if only fleetingly. Is it ok to try less or do less just because your audience is smaller or their memories are more fickle?

surviving

The first four weeks of this year have been a hellish rollercoaster. The last few weeks of 2021 went reasonably uneventfully, but then 2022 came roaring in, gnashing its teeth.

The first three weeks saw various staff members, across all departments, in and out of isolation because they either tested positive, or were a close contact to a positive case. Isolation rules of the time required seven days of isolation once a positive result is confirmed, and people could only return to work after two consecutive days of negative tests.

Having one person away for one day is usually ok. We can shuffle staff around, or find ways around it. We might stay back a little bit to finish up on work that would usually get done earlier, but it’s not so bad because we know it’s just one day. It’s a lot different when it’s multiple people across all departments, for at least seven days.

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part 6: foxtrot

Her phone vibrated again in her hand. He had sent another message to reassure her that there would be no flowers this time (he was actually in a meeting). She smiled despite her earlier discomfiture, and pocketed her phone as she stepped off the train.

Breathing in the cool morning air — today comprising the crisp scent of rain and the aroma of coffee, offset by the odour of car exhaust and stagnant water — she left the station and headed down the street amongst a sea of umbrellas and hunched shoulders. Lightning and thunder continued to stretch across the sky, peeking in around the skyscrapers in search of an audience. 

A roar of thunder followed her into the lobby of her building. She turned and watched the passing crowd, pelted by rain, eyes widened or brows furrowed, marching steadfastly on toward safety. She wanted to join their ranks. She imagined walking out, skipping work, following the rain clouds wherever they went, until they found the ocean and she could drift away.

Behind her, a man cleared his throat and excused himself. Blinking away her reverie, she turned to face the man, and promptly stepped into the puddle that her umbrella had created on the polished tile floor of the lobby. He offered to take her umbrella and put it in a bag. She apologised earnestly, and explained that she had been lost in thought. He nodded his understanding, and told her not to worry about it.

That was about the extent of their first conversation. It was a seemingly innocent meeting — unremarkable, commonplace and inconsequential. She didn’t give it a second thought. She didn’t give him a second thought.

But it would be followed, in coming weeks, by charming smiles, lingering eye contact and the accidental touching of hands that would all nourish it from a common shoot into a magnificent blossom. Their relationship would become a beautiful dance — he would lead, and she would follow, and the whole thing would feel effortless, like gliding on a cloud. She would be entranced, enthralled, besotted.

The sight of him — the very thought of him would delight her, and send shivers of excitement through her body. In him, she would find asymmetry, blemishes, imperfection. He would only ever be perfect in his love for her.

They would dance in the rain and marvel at storms together. He would soothe and quell her inner turmoil whenever it threatened to resurface, thrashing its head about and snapping its jaws. He would hold her, and impart a sense of strength, security and constancy. Together, they would fill the ravines and build bridges, and open their worlds to each other. There would be trust and acceptance between them.

But she did not realise any of this then — she could not have foreseen this future after that first meeting. Her life was fear, devastation, disappointment. It was a constant breaking and healing and breaking again. She was always stumbling through her steps, tripping on her own feet or that of her partner, always anticipating the fall.

He stole a glance in her direction as she stepped into the elevator. He watched the numbers on the wall tick up to 12, pause, and then count back down to G. He sighed, shook his head, and told himself he was being foolish.