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Tensions August 31, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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This week, my sister Ada chose the subject of our writing exercise.
emotion: tension
colour: turquoise
place: town
word: tree

Again, I value your opinions. Feel free to critique.


Arms folded, eyebrows puckered, Gregory is glaring from the picture window from Skye’s living room. Outside is a mess of rampant garden which flows without definition into the chaos of the bush, and beyond that somewhere the untamed ocean beats mercilessly against defenseless rocks and sand.

He can hear her in the kitchen, humming to herself as she makes a pot of chamomile tea and places home-made delicacies on a plate. He’s here because she’s kind. He’s here because she thinks that afternoon tea in her artist’s retreat will unblock him from the inabilities that imprison him in his own stark city studio apartment.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she calls, and Gregory ponders his answer.

“In a sense,” he concurs reluctantly. “I suppose it is.”

To Gregory, beauty has order. There is neatness to beauty. Roadways have lanes, traffic has protocols, days have schedules and painting is a discipline.

Almost as if she has heard his thoughts, Skye says softly from his shoulder, “What time of day do you paint?”

He doesn’t want to answer. He’s heard her eulogies: the inspirational trill of the birdsong, the chatter and life of the bush; the colours of the bay and the flora.

“Between gym and dinner, and between dinner and dawn,” he concedes, recognising that she will wait patiently for his answer all day, if he needs to consider it that long.

“So you have not yet been to bed,” she smiles lightly, taking a seat in a battered tapestry chair and placing the tray on a rustic low table. She does not invite him to sit.

“I have slept two hours. I will sleep two more later if I need to.”

Skye looks up at his back and sees through his tee shirt just how tight his shoulder muscles are. She pours the tea and stands to hand him a mug. He takes it and nods his thanks.

They are very different artists, Gregory and Skye. She is a botanical artist, working with oils to capture every intricacy and pollen speck of a single specimen. He uses watercolours and sometimes ink to create cityscapes in gentle, lively colours, but in an avante garde style.

Gregory likes the surprise element of what he does. An aging, lithe muscle-builder who produces gentle, lively works with a subtlety that belies the harshness of his subject. There are so many tensions within his work that he loves. To him, these are not tensions to be despised – these are the tensions that create interest. The medium of muted watercolours contrasting with the harshness of the city. The defined shapes of the skyscrapers softened by the inclusion of a tree in the foreground. The endlessness of cement broken by a weed flower in the pavement.

He turns to discuss the ideas of tension within artwork with Skye and eventually sits to do so.

She is his antithesis in every way. They would be similar ages – within the same decade at least. She is soft and pudgy and wears flowing hippy-style garments and catches her long, unkempt hair in a ribbon at the nape of her neck to flow recklessly down beyond her waist. He is lean and vain, his casual jeans and tee shirt carefully laundered and pressed, his short white hair regularly trimmed and his face clean-shaven.

Gregory finishes his second mug of tea and acknowledges that their lively discussion has indeed buoyed his spirits. They have discussed many tensions, within their art and within life. They have acknowledged that their personal differences could fuel an obvious tension between them. They agree that careful respect for each other’s skill, admiration for their contrary styles, and allowance for personal preferences may just fuel a pleasant friendship.

Rising to take his leave, Gregory does the artistic air kiss on each of Skye’s rosy pink cheeks and smiles his thanks into her twinkly blue eyes. She laughs and hugs him, warm and strong, but only for a second before pushing away again and leading him out to his car.

“Will you paint today?” she asks as he unlocks the car door. He nods.

“Yes, I will.” He smiles at her and nods again. “Perhaps next Saturday, you would care to join me in town, at my favourite café, for brunch?”

“Ooh! That sounds lovely!” Skye claps her hands like a delighted small child. “Tell me … is it the glorious turquoise of the bay that has inspired you?”

“No,” Gregory replies. He is already negotiating his way down her chaotic, rutted driveway before he admits, “It is not the turquoise of the bay, but the turquoise of your eyes, my dear.”


Multiflorabundance August 24, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
Tags: , , , , ,

My big sister in Western Australia and I both have an interest in writing, and to my delight, she has suggested we do a trans-continental writing exercise each week. Nothing like having some impetus to get to do the practice you’re longing to do!

This week we chose the letter M and each suggested three words, so that we had to weave six words altogether into our story. Our words were: multitude, myopic, memories, mystery, multiflora, mentor.

This is my effort – please tell me what you think. It took about 20 minutes.


Ali clutched her canteen-bought sandwich and bottle of orange juice and battled her way through the incoming hungry hordes back out into the fresh air and sunshine. The multitude only dispersed somewhat when she reached the courtyard, and she was well down the path to her favourite grove of trees on the university campus before she felt like she was all clear of their pressing and pushing.

She didn’t mind university life unduly. She was making friends slowly, but she still thought her father was completely myopic in his insistence that she needed a degree behind her before she followed any of her dreams.

Even she knew, though, that the number of her wild and fanciful dreams had dissipated – more and more, the further she aged away from her childhood. She was here now because really, she had nothing better to do.

All morning, all through the boring lecture on the psychology of persuasion, one word had been going through Ali’s mind. Multiflora. It was an odd word to have parading through your mind, when really, you should be contemplating the vagaries of Maslow and Jung. Ali knew where the word came from: Auntie Pearl.

Auntie Pearl was her father’s great aunt, and she’d been one hundred and two years old when she died a couple of years back. The woman had been a national treasure as far as Ali’s family was concerned. A maiden aunt, she had actively coaxed and coached Ali’s dad’s generation of cousins through their awkward years, and they all referred to her fondly as Our Mentor.

Her heart flooding with memories as she chewed her sandwich and sipped her juice, Ali savoured the peace from under her favourite tree in the grove. It was a beautiful place, really – a wide variety of trees planted higgledy-piggledy, with some fruit-bearing, some bearing wildly coloured flowers and some purely ornamental.

Multiflora. Multiflora, multiflora, multiflora. They were the last words Auntie Pearl spoke from her deathbed. “Poor dear’s losing her mind,” Ali’s mum had said sadly.

For herself, though, Ali knew that wasn’t true. Auntie Pearl’s mind was as sharp as it had ever been, and Ali knew, somewhere in the depths of her being, that the old dear was saying that word purposefully, and directly to her. What she meant by it though, was still a mystery.

Ali knew that the word actually meant plants that were characterised by many single, relatively small flowers. That’s not what Auntie Pearl was saying to her, though. One of her fondest memories of the old lady was flower arranging, and that was an activity that always caused the Auntie Pearl to mutter multiflora under her breath while she worked. She’d take barren twigs and ostentatious leaves, and weave them into magnificent creations that would wow the whole family. In that context, Auntie Pearl had spoken to Ali about making sure that her life had diversity woven through it – vivid colours and heady scents, but also structure and form.

From her sacred position beneath the tree, Ali looked upwards, past the fruit trees that were in blossom, beyond the massive pines that marked the university fenceline, and to the towering city skyline beyond.

It was odd, the sensation that took place within her as she looked. Scrunching up her empty sandwich bag and holding it with her empty juice bottle on her lap, Ali held them there while somewhere in her depths a coin dislodged from a place where it had been stuck for many years, and rattled its way down to the depths of her soul. It almost felt like she was one of those Sambo money-boxes that her father had from his childhood, where you put a coin into Sambo’s hand and lifted it so that he swallowed the coin, which then sat with its companions in his depths until you had enough to buy your treasure.

Ali looked at the skyline. You’ve got to have form and structure – it’s the backbone of life. She looked at the trees. You can only be one species – not a plum tree one week and a banksia the next. She looked more closely at the trees. They all had trunks. Structure. They all did their one thing, but they did a variety of things on the way to doing their one thing. Diversity. The fruit trees were bare, then budded and blossomed and finally bore fruit – they certainly weren’t boring in what they did or what they produced. At the base of the trees grew flowers, and they too had a structure and process before they went wild with abandon.

Glancing at her watch, Ali realised she’d have to rush to get to her next lecture. As she ran along the pathways of the university to the lecture hall, though, she understood what her father had been getting at. When you’re young, it’s important to concentrate on building a strong core – you can’t choose what your natural giftings are, or what background you’re born to, but you can make sure that you build the core of your life strong and true, so that in future, whatever fruit or flowers you produce will be magnificent. And you can surround yourself with interesting people and do fascinating things so that life is never dull.

Ali slid into her student seat in the lecture hall next to a couple of her new friends, smiling broadly at them. The lecturer entered and took his place at the podium, and Ali took out her books to take notes. Across the top of her page she wrote multiflorabundant and smiled. Auntie Pearl would be proud. Maybe her dad would be too.

“What’s that?” her nearest seated friend hissed, pointing at the word and frowning.

“That’s what my life’s going to be,” Ali hissed back, smiling broadly, before concentrating on the lecturer’s words. She had to squeeze all the goodness out of this lecture and every other that would come for the rest of her life. It was all part of the fertilizer that would build the strong core for her multiflorabundance.