Note: I got the job, though. Guess playing up the ‘quirky scamp’ angle works, even if the job is catastrophe insurance!
Hah hah hah
A huge metal instrument, tubes and vibrating bars. I play. A side door opens. A man slips through, carrying something. He makes no effort to be quiet. He scans the stage, focuses on me. He stares. Glaring spotlights wink out, leaving me alone in an island of light. My solo. I sit, close my eyes, focus on the notes and the movements of my fingers.
The solo ends. I sit back, relax a little, my brain defocused, the muscle memory piloting my fingers through the harmony. I scan the rows below. Hard to see much but the whites of their eyes. No sign of the fellow now, not even lumbering under the bulk he carried. I wonder idly if he has been ejected for blocking the view.
A soft twanging sound. I look down quickly, checking all the parts of my instrument. I am aware of the myriad high-tension sounds which can indicate a critical failure. Nothing wrong. The harmonic twang again. I glance around, my hands still playing my part. There, in the wings. Out of sight of the crowd, but only a few metres from me, here under the lights.
He stares. He shifts his weight. He almost lunges onto the stage, stopping himself at the last moment. My fingers stumble, I miss a note. He moves his hands across his instrument again, producing the same off-key discord, barely audible of the sound of the orchestra and my own deeply resonant tune. I look up, catch up, my fingers flying. The conductor shoots me a glance and I resolve to ignore the fellow in the wings, to concentrate on the piece and my part in it. I have no interest whatever in learning of this fellow player with his broken instrument. What interest is it to me, what help could I give? Each is tuned to its player – nobody else could produce any usable sound from it. Nobody else could understand its feel, its unique harmonics. It’s strange enough that I’m here at all – this piece was written for a different player. I’m just on call, filling in.
Inevitably a realisation rises at the same time as the swell of the music. My thoughts are cleared while I focus on the complicated and scintillating motions of the finale. Though my sound can’t be much like that of the player I’ve replaced – who (of course) is the one standing almost close enough to reach – I do my best to follow the music, adding the unique sound expected of a player like me. I have no desire to overshadow the fellow I’ve replaced, but the piece needs the full use of my clumsy, beautiful instrument to succeed. I can sense him there, though, his stare boring holes into the side of my head, his body practically vibrating. Continue reading
Tim Winton’s famous and critically acclaimed 1991 novel has been common in high school curricula for years. Somehow I missed it though, and after a few abortive attempts in my youth, I finally read it. Only twenty-one years after it was first published!
The story follows two families – the Lambs and the Pickles..es – who are forced by separate accidents to move from rural areas to suburban Perth. They end up living together in a huge, rambling house on Cloud Street, seperated down the middle. We see the various family members deal with growing up, growing old – each in their own ways, each with their own problems to face.
The rough Australian dialogue – Carn! – took a little getting used to, as did the almost punctuation-free style. This aspect brought to mind Cormac McCarthy, who is quoted as saying that he doesn’t like to “blot the page up with weird little marks”. The lack of weird little marks definitely adds a certain gravity to the proceedings. I guess there’s something about quotation marks which makes the speech seem more natural to read, somehow. Without them, some conversations, intended to be light-hearted, seem unnecessarily heavy. This works fine for McCarthy’s books, but in the case of Cloudstreet added to the shadow of doom that seems to lie across most of the proceedings.
In the end, though, it’s all about family. For such a bleak setting (objectively it isn’t so bad, but post-war Perth comes across oppressively dry and scant), the book ends up being quite uplifting, optimistic even. We are shown – at some length – that people are fundamentally okay, despite their flaws and failures. Terrible things happen to some people and nobody is sure what to do or how to be happy, nobody is left unscathed or even totally sure, but there is always somebody to lean on. As much as any of our lives do, really. I don’t know if anyone can be sure that their life is on the right track; certainly I’ve never felt that certainty, that confidence that I’m making the right choices and taking the right paths. Cloudstreet made me realise that life really does just roll along, and you steer it as best you can. Sometimes doing basic good things are the only way to go, and down that road lies… happiness?
The kind of physical calamaties which the characters suffer – maimings, near-drownings, crushed by a train, bitten by a cockatoo – reminded me of a story my grandfather told me one Christmas. He was always very secretive about growing up in Surrey Hills in the 20s and 30s, and anyway was prone to fabricating most of his stories, so his past remained a mystery. He did tell us that when he was about nine, there was a fellow in a nearby street who’d fallen out with his wife, had kicked her out of the house. To prevent her re-entering, he’d hooked up the fence and gate to the power lines. One evening my grandfather and some mates had headed around there, intending to jump the fence and take some of the apples growing in this fellow’s yard. Needless to say, one of my grandfather’s friends was electrocuted to death. He never mentioned it again and would ignore questions when pressed. I never found out if it was true.
Anyway, Cloudstreet is worth a read now if you never did in high school. I don’t know how well it’d stand up if you did, though – according to my research, studying a book in any capacity will induce a lifelong disdain for it in 99% of cases. My mother – an english teacher – is giving her Year Nines The Road this semester, so I hope that breaks the cycle.
I got the usual sense of accomplishment and inner peace that come from reading something a classic – so few of them really grab me. But, as I mentioned earlier, that sense of optimism comes home at the end and really ties the whole thing together. Sappy as it may be, Cloudstreet reminded me of the importance of family.