Monday, September 5, 2011

In which the fish returns to the sea

 I had a think about it, and I could not remember a time for over two decades when I did not swim. Every day, wind, rain or shine.
 For a few years, it was at 4pm when the shadows began to lengthen and the light lay obliquely on the surface of the sea. 
Gradually, necessity dictated that I rise at dawn and greet the ocean as the sun rose. 
Life is like that, always changing the rules of engagement.

 For most of my life, the idea of not swimming was unthinkable, and at times the thought of doing without it was something  incomprehensible and distressing.
 I would feel physically ill at the prospect of a day with no swim. 

Everything in life has the potential to become an addiction, I suppose. 
Swimming was mine.

Thankfully, it was legal.

 Like all addictions, one will go to great lengths to obtain a hit. 
I once swam 2km in 10C water one winter by tricking myself that I was about to get out. I just kept going, saying I'd just do another few meters...
and another...
and another.

 I began to realise a kind of useful philosophy. 
when people asked with horror how I managed to swim so far in the cold at that hour,
 I would try and explain that it is all a matter of the mind: that  actual sensation of being so cold, and the burning on the skin is all transient. It disappears in minutes and your skin tingles and burns, so that you don't feel the cold at all. 
And at dawn there is no warm sun to feel on your body, so the water seems a lovely prospect since it is often warmer than the air anyway.

  I began to think of this idea in relation to things that made me anxious: 
it will pass, it will change, these things are transient.

 But this winter, because of reasons, it became harder to swim. 
The ocean pool was demolished to be renovated, which  ruled out dawn swims among the predators having their breakfast in the wine dark sea.
Work interfered with daytime swims, and my lovely sojourn in golden-hot Venice seemed to render me vulnerable to the cold. The sea spent the southern winter in a state of fury, waves lashing and rolling and thundering, making it particularly hard for the ocean swimmer to make any headway at all. I did my best, but I almost had my pelt flayed off by rushing columns of sand.

 I was indeed a smelly and rotting dried up old fish out of water.

 Until one day someone suggested I join her swim group, two beaches away.

 Everybody is very loyal to their own territory, and at first I declined. But I began to think I might just have a try. I hadnt quite known where and when this bunch actually swam, so she ordered me to meet up and come along. 

 I did.

We swim across a marine reserve, out to a headland which shelters the bay from the heavier waves rolling in from the sea. 

Creatures breed in this bay. They are all protected: 
Sharks, Rays, Eastern Blue gropers, Wrasse, Luderick,
 Whiting, Squid, Cuttlefish, 
Old Wives, Silver Bream. 

and last spring, I am told (and have seen pictures)
a baby humpback whale joined in. 

 So the fish has migrated, and now swims in the bay in a shoal.

and every day now, 
 says hello to the Gropers, the Rays and the Sharks, 
the Wrasse and the Luderick, 
the Spotty Catfish, the Old Wives, 
the Sand Whiting and the Silver Bream, 
and the salt soaks into her gills, enlivens her scales, illuminates her big fish eyes
and she says to herself when she thinks of the woes in the world:

this too will pass

and swims boldly across the bay: into the ocean, 
home at last.

Friday, July 22, 2011

North and South: Strange times in the Life of the Fish


I become a salted fish head in a box, 
all staring eyes and hard scales sticking out every which way, 
fins hard and encrusted. Smelling like some rotten piece of flotsam, 
of marine life too long in the air, a rank and briny stink.

The winter has whipped the ocean into a frenzy, and the pool is boarded up. 
Look at me, a salty fish head in a box. Nowhere to swim! Too much to do! I may as well be dead!
Too much going on in the world,  thinks the fish brain in its limited and smelly way. 
Too much in the world! 

The sea says nothing for quite some time, because it is occupied having the mother of all seizures,
always seems to be  mid-convulsion. 
The fish, rolling out of its box, tosses to and fro at the edge of the howling sea, all staring eyes and stiff 
fins, all clouded scales poking every way. The silver of its cheeks is worn dull, and it gathers a crusting 
of sand, small barnacles, and the dried fronds of seaweed.
The sea, in a small moment between fits, reaches out a frilled and creamy wave, and rolls the stiff-finned creature swiftly into the deep.

you had better wake up
said the sea, as it worked its way into the cracks.

Things float vast distances in the ocean,
strange currents circle and pull.
The outgoing tide pulls you under, where the sunlight is a mere green whisper,
submerges you in shadows.
When the waves lift up at last, you get to see the view. Who knows where you will be?

I opened my eyes,
 and was back in the city of water.

And so the tidal pull takes me back to Venice, 
where the sun breaks into a million pieces and reflects onto the palazzo walls,
where a hundred boats make their ways this way and that, weaving webs upon the malachite waters,
 here, look at this one: lights strung across the deck, 
or that one, carrying a little crane, 
or this one, bigger than every island of Venice put together...

This fish from the south finds itself in the summer of the north, 
in a summer hot and bright,
where the water is benign and silent,
and all around is colour: shifting with the fluid light.

And the salty fish leaps into the air, 
all silver and lithe,
and lives awhile in the city of water,
taking deep breaths,
and looking with great round fish eyes,
happy as can be. 

Am I dreaming? asks the fish.

No, no

says the sea.

You are not.

Monday, April 25, 2011

In which the fish greets Easter Sunday

We were all there, on Easter Sunday.  

The sea, warm as my blood, rocked and danced quietly 
under an immense and luminous dome of blue.

I slipped out on the current and watched the heads of my offspring, sleek and shining with light, darting and bobbing over and under the waves.  The seagrass below waved
 like a field of green, a forgotten world.

I swam past them, and drifted awhile in the calm of the open water, breathing in and out slowly, drawing saltness and blueness deep into the heart of me. Folks sat on boards and chatted quietly waiting for waves, or dipped cupped hands along the surface, going here and there, looking for the best place. 
The ocean was soft and green out here, far from the tangle and thrust of life. I floated with my hair down like tentacles.
 I wondered what I might snare.

After some time I raised my head, and saw the horizon tilt. 

For Me?
I asked the sea.

I flipped my fins and the sea picked me up on its wavering lip. 
I stretched out my hand, holding the heel of my palm against the surface of the wave which had turned to glass as the sea rolled forward.
I was so high that I raised my head and watched the water speed beneath my hand, the froth and foam rushing, spitting out onto the dark green of itself.

I flew in like  some strange heraldic sea creature all the way to the sand, where I stood up, flicked my hair from my face,  and breathed once more
the salt of the sea, 
into every small corner of my heart.

Friday, April 22, 2011

fish on good friday


I did not want to leave to go to work. 
I wanted to stay home, 
sit on the red chair with the cat, 
then go to the sea.


I can.

Happy Easter everyone.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

the fish in the phone

Having contracted myself this semester to an unseemly number of classes, I have found little time to do much else, and thankfully I am now more than  half way through the semester.

As can be expected when one works nine hour days, the family chooses to all have simultaneous breakdowns and issues, which contributes to all the excitement. There is not a lot of time to do much else at the moment: when I am not teaching, I am reading up for the two postgraduate classes I was breaking my neck to have. This week I am reading up on Bourdieu, Elliot Eisner,  and pictorial conventions in Venetian portraiture.  I am very thankful for this, as some of the other things I have had to read were very annoying. 

Interestingly I looked at the photos on my iphone and found it had become a little journal of sorts, a record of my life in phone photos.


They are many classes. Lots and lots, so it is fortunate I actually like them.

Here are  some students drawing a few weeks ago.
At the moment they are painting. All 180 of them...

thankfully not all at once.


I spend a lot of time in my car thinking about things. I look at the sky a lot because I go up and down a few big hills. This was on my way home.

Some days are of course nicer than others. This is Sydney,  City of four seasons in one day.

The band

The Husbands band plays quite a bit, and here they were playing down the coast a bit and I drove down to watch.

I drove home in a rather melancholic state, because of reasons, and played Einaudi all the way home, looking at the scenery. It is an emotionally-laden landscape, full of nostalgia, change, and remembered other lives that I have led.


In contrast, they played at an inner city pub, which was fun even though I think that day I was fretting over some reading for that week, which was not Bourdieu but something very tedious if I remember correctly. It was good to get out and watch. the proprietor said it was his biggest crowd ever.

The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes Opening Night at the AGNSW

Here I am with My friend Ben in front of his artwork. That room resembled, as Ben described it, a zoo.
As you can see I remembered to take my favourite bling (in the form of silver coral) to work, but NOT my hairbrush. 

Here is Lucy Culliton's painting of Ray Hughes. She is a great girl, and I have a few of her paintings here in the house, one is of cakes.

Here is the winning Ben (Quilty),  with whom I have had the pleasure of speaking a number of times and  been impressed by the depth of his feelings on various issues such as indigenous rights, australian history and identity, and the way young men in the outer suburbs enact various suburban rituals. 
He seems a very generous guy, and before he moved to the southern highlands from Sydney, was happy to accomodate my painting students, and give them talks on his work and ideas for nothing. 
In his speech at the opening, he gave a pasting to sportspeople who dont pay their HECS debts. Culture, he said, is the glue that sticks us together, and in hard economic times it was culture which provided social cohesion. He then questioned the legitimacy of famous swimmers who did not have to pay university fees, whereas others who made important contributions to life, still had to. He included in this equation his own brother who had just attained a doctorate in soil rehabilitation, rather than just swimming up and down a pool. It was interesting.

Peace and Quiet

The boys of the family spent some time on a surf trip. This meant that after I cleaned the house, it stayed that way. 
Sadly, they have decided to return and fill my life with chaos.


Some days commence in spectacular fashion

and finish with a tsunami of sorts, right above my house.

And such is the life of the fish, whio ha managed only fragments of time in the water, and is hoping very soon to be spending far more time in the salty deep.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tectonic chaos: In which the fish swims at the feet of The Buddha

That was more than a just a shiver in the spine of the fish
as it passed through the deep waters far away.

After I returned home from Japan, the tectonic plates gave an unholy shudder,
after which, the ocean broke it bounds, came flooding in,
erasing lives and places. 
So fragile, that border between sea-and-not-sea. 
And how cruel the huge surge that came shouldering its way inland.

The Buddha of Kamakura

The Great Buddha at Kamakura has survived a tsunami before, and I imagine it sitting there serenely as the ocean rises up to meet it
but the little potters studio I visited, and the shop with the antique indigo cloth, are likely to have been inundated.

I remember lingering to watch the potter, noticing the trays of damp, chocolatey pots awaiting his hand. 
I complimented him and spontaneously bowed in deference to his craftmanship, as you do.
He was very pleased, and grinned as he bowed in return.

He then continued to work on his pots.
I think now the way that, underwater and untransformed by fire, that tray of unfinished bowls may well have reverted back to the earth from which they came.

I only bought a couple of his small pieces, as I was worried about carrying them. I have now set up a litle shrine, for Japan. The incense is from the Temple at Kamakura, where I visited the shrine of the goddess of the sea.

Where the sea meets the shore, Hasedera, near Kamakura.

In the temple of the Kannon at Hasedera,
the statue of the 11-headed kannon, or Boddhisatva of Compassion, has a story which is entwined with the sea also. It seems it was one of twins, and was thrown into the sea, where it stayed for many years:

"According to legend, in 721 AD. the pious monk Tokudo Shonin

 discovered a large camphor tree in the mountain forests 
near the village of Hase in the Nara region. He realized the trunk
 of the tree was so large that it provided enough material for carving
 two statues of the eleven-headed Kannon. The statue he 
commissioned to be carved from the lower part of the truck 
was enshrined in Hasedera Temple near Nara; the statue from the upper half 
(actually the larger of the two) was thrown into the sea with a prayer that it 
would reappear to save the people. Fifteen years later in 736 
on the night of June 18, it washed ashore at Nagai Beach
 on the Miura Peninsula not far from Kamakura,
 sending out rays of light as it did. The statue was then brought to
 Kamakura and a temple was constructed to honor it."

(from the story of Hasedera Kannon)

The Boddhisatva of Compassion


This Earthly Realm.

Because of reasons, 
I am currently teaching nine courses at the university
Both undergraduate and postgraduate.
In one of the courses I had chosen to look at this Hokusai print, and my voice would waver just the tiniest bit, and I would have to stop speaking just for a moment
when I showed it.

Katsushkia Hokusai, "A Sudden Gust of Wind"
woodblock, 1820's

It seems that every second of my week is occupied with something,
and I work long days, getting home at 7pm.
Needless to say, my home is chaos, but easter isnt far away....
During this time, I try to imagine
the Great Buddha sending me serenity
as the waves of chaos lap at its feet,
just as they are lapping at mine.

Our family company has made a generous donation to japan Relief
if you would also like to make one, big or small, 
please go here.
The devastation there is beyond imagining.