Petersham Wednesday April 5, 2006

I’m sitting in my living room, gazing blankly at the computer screen, on the third morning of my Petersham artist in residence in my own neighbourhood. It’s just after nine, and I’m finding it difficult to concentrate. About fifty metres away, construction work is going on, grinding pulsing abrasive rasping noises which permeate the house. I feel this noise in my body as much as in my ears. It’s unsettling, irritating, and difficult to ignore. “Luckily,” we live three houses away from the building site. I can’t imagine what it must be like for the folks who live next door.

This noise started up at 7.32am. I know this because I looked at the time on my phone – I had slept in and missed the make-up yoga class I was supposed to go to, after already missing last Friday’s class. So there I am, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, doubly punished for my sloth. First, missing yoga is a punishment in itself. Yoga is like flossing – it makes me feel good about myself. Whether I floss or “dog-pose”, I’m taking a moment out from just using my back to hold up my head as I type, or my teeth to chew carrots dipped in hommous. These body bits finally get some of the attention they deserve. Going to that yoga class helps me to organise my mind, too, so I can concentrate better.

So: the second punishment for sleeping in, is my inability to concentrate right now on writing these words (exacerbated, of course, by the construction din).

It almost doesn’t need saying that doing a residency in Petersham – where I already live – is a completely different thing to doing one in Kellerberrin, two thousand miles from home. There’s been no geographical shift to displace me from my everyday. I’m still here, sitting in amongst all my stuff. A lot of it is calling to me: “Lucas, come and read me!” (books); “Lucas, come and tidy up my dodgy code!” (unfinished websites); “Lucas, come and work through this list of things to do!” (other collaborative projects still in process). Juggling all these things in my head makes it hard to find a moment of clarity and simplicity. Which (I think) is what I crave.

[…pause while I answer three phone calls…]

Despite all this distraction, I did manage to find some time yesterday to “be here”. I was sitting on my balcony eating lunch in the sun, looking down over Chester Street as folks came and went. There’s a fair bit of lunchtime parking goes on, since we live just around the corner from Silva’s (the Portuguese chicken shop). In the apartments across the way, a lady has been working hard for about a week now. She’s been painting the inside of the place, and I assumed that she was the new owner about to move in, or that she was the landlord doing a bit of renovating in between tenants. Both of these assumptions were wrong.

I went over with a pumpkin from the garden and said hello. Her name is Marie, and it turns out she’s the sister of the Barbara who lives there. Barbara is very frail looking, I sometimes see her walking slowly around the neighbourhood, but we’ve never actually met. Barbara is in hospital at the moment. Last week she fell and hurt her hip, and Marie said it was three days before discovered her at home. While she’s in hospital, Marie is taking the liberty of fixing a few things up. Even though Barbara has been renting there for fifteen years, the landlord refuses to invest a few grand on repainting, replacing carpets, fixing up dicky electrical sockets, etc. Marie’s been pushing them to get their act together, but at a certain point she got fed up and just decided to do it all herself. I told her that if she needed a hand with anything, especially, you know, since I’m tall and all that, she should just give me a yell. I’m almost always at home. She said Barbara loves pumpkin, and she would cook up something to take to the hospital. I told Marie to watch out for break-ins too, since our recent local crime wave. But she said she’d already been already clued in, from some guy passing by walking a dog.

As we talked, a guy passed by, walking a dog, and waved “hi”. It got me thinking about these dog-walking people. I might have to get myself a surrogate dog.

About three o’clock, I went for a walk, over to the north side of the station. Just wandering aimlessly, with a stop in at the yoga place to arrange for the make-up class I missed this morning. Away from the main drag, Petersham is pretty quiet, on the whole. Near Terminus Street, at a cul-de-sac, I said hi to an old fella sitting on his porch. Kids from school filtered through to the station, gossiping and chatting away as they walked along. I went past the bowling club. A dusty sign urged me to “learn to bowl.” I’d really like to, actually. I remember hearing that the club was in trouble, so I’m not sure if people still bowl there. There wasn’t any action yesterday, but the greens still looked pretty well kept. I looped around the Petersham Tafe on West Street, and headed for home, saying hi to a young man in a lurid shirt out the front of a boarding house. He looked surprised and pleased to be greeted.

On the home stretch, I called into Wenchai Publication, a small offset printing office on Canterbury Road. I think I need to get some cards made up, with the blog URL, and a little info about what I’m doing here in the ‘sham. Maybe having an official looking card will help to make it a bit clearer for people to see what I’m trying to do here. Or, um, a bit clearer for me.

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