Sunday, December 1, 2019

Of late


It's been a while since I've had the chance to post here. This year in my job at QUT, I've been filling in as Head of the School of Creative Practice. It's a busy role of meetings and reports and plans, and working closely with others. I'm drawn out of the relatively quiet, (and for me) individualist work of research and writing and thrown into days of collaborating in a way that demands being across everyone else's work - both the great joy of the job and an impossibility of sorts, too.

Now that this is ending, I find myself thinking about what I've put down in the meantime. I've managed one or two hours a day on a novel I'm hoping to finish soon; in July, I gave a performance version of that story at State Library of Queensland; I've reviewed a biography of Ibsen; I've begun a collaboration in the field of Narrative Medicine with the Queensland Children's Hospital; and, I've written a profile of conductor Simone Young for The Saturday Paper.

When I look at a list like that, I straight away see what's missing - all the projects that have been postponed.

I went looking for them this weekend, on an expedition that began by re-reading bits of writing I'd started at the beginning of the year. Soon enough, just like when you open an old box of keepsakes, I was venturing years back into old files and folders, notes with ideas or just titles and topics, odd things I'd seen or heard, pen sketches. Some are very much just fragments, others nearly finished works that I've suspended right on the eve of completing them. I do this a bit, not because I can't finish them; almost always, it's because the drafting has gone faster than the gestation of ideas and structures, faster than the thinking. The works need more time, they need a drawer to sit in for a while.

One such work is a collection I've been piecing together for about five years. Maybe even longer, for the first journey that I undertook for it was in 2001, when I visited Ndola in northern Zambia to see the site of the terrible plane crash that killed Dag Hammarskjöld (in September 1961). I think it was probably on that trip, one that nevertheless found its way into a travel piece and formed part of the broad philosophy of my novel The Ash Burner, that I began to see the outlines what remains a (so-far) unrealised series of essays.

Another part of this imaginary collection is a piece I wrote in 2015 for the Sydney Writers Festival, when I was invited to give one of the Curiosity Lectures that run across the program. My lecture was On Meeting Viking Ancestors, and a trip I'd made to Borg in western Iceland, once the home of the Viking warrior poet Egill Skallagrímsson. The question I asked was whether we could ever meet such intensely remote figures of history, and whether the old saga stories about them could bring them closer.

As I was going through my files and folders, I chanced upon a recording that was made of that lecture, and, as quickly as I'd put them down, I felt myself once again picking up the questions of that talk. They will have changed in the four years since I wrote the talk, but there's no time limit on questions. The steps towards them are still there, as the renewed hope of a final draft.