Sunday, March 27, 2011

Being Efficient

I installed a new DVD player, and much to my surprise it worked. This was not a hard task: the plugs were colour coded, (although there were too many), and I ignored the instructions about "if your system is..., then do this ...; but if it is...then do that.... "

But, I certainly didn't expect it to work, and the thought, "You are not incompetent" leapt (leaped?) into my mind when it all operated perfectly. This astonished me, because although I bewail the contemporary complexity of technology, I have never thought of myself as incompetent, and if I search back through my treasured Pandora's box of ancient accusations and insults, I can't find an apt one. I can only assume that it was a judgement I took upon myself as a youngest, who, by position, can do most things slower, more fumblingly and clumsily than everyone else in the family.

But it made me consider how differently I would have lived my life if I had thought of myself as competent and efficient. For a start, in my married life I would have cleared out all my mother in law's detritus from the many cupboards. This means I would have tossed out curiosities like a small box of penants printed with tributes to QE2 on her visit here in 1954 - (Our Radiant Queen) ; dull books which turn out to be old diaries; the bill for a sister in law's wedding in 1952 at the Savoy in London: "Couverts" - what is that? - @15/6: 77 pounds 10 shillings. etc. They drank a lot more whisky than gin; plus 70 bottles of Freminet for 122 pounds 10 shillings.
What difference would it have made if I hadn't kept them? None at all that I can see. They are of slight interest to some people, and none at all to others.

One of my sister's in law is a most efficient woman. She had most of the family's written records in her keeping and when she left here she efficiently cleared them all out and burned them.

None of these things actually matter, as far as I can see. (see Leonard Woolf).

Although I had not thought of myself as incompetent, I certainly didn't think of myself as efficient. That I had never cleared everything out, after living here for 40 years, did seem, from time to time, a cause for a little self-reproach. Then I read that a letter from J M Barrie to one of his "boys" , written in 1927, had been recently found at the back of a drawer, and was reminded of that wonderful truth that there is always someone who has done a worse job than you.

In which vein, I always recall during my third year at S Univ, where I was inattentive, missed lectures, harrowed myself with my own shortcomings, and was therefore totally chuffed by Bruce Beresford, entirely without self consciousness asking me the times, days and sites of the Anthropology lectures in Michaelmas Term, 5 or 6 weeks before final exams.

I don't know whether he passed or failed, but I would think that this made little difference to his future as a film director.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Short stories

I have been reading and enjoying two Scribe published collections of short stories. One can't help but be struck not only by the skill, but also by the homogeneity of style.
And by the homogeneity of the author biographies,which can loosely be summed up as: has done/ is doing/ is teaching a creative writing course; has won/ been shortlisted for (insert distinguished literary prize here); has been published in Meanjin/Southerly/Overland etc.
They sent me to my old copy of "Australian Short Stories" which was a school text in the 1950s. Now, assuming that the contemporary authors are possibly within a 15 year age bracket, the ASS has a diversity in that age range from Marjorie Barnard to Douglas Stewart, each with their own distinctive, identifiable style. Of course, the age spread among the contemporary may be even wider.
I wonder why this has happened? Smaller, more proscriptive markets?

Visual artists seem to practise a wide range of styles. The public and the cognoscenti seem not only to accept this, but to expect it. The artist's style is recognisable: he is valued for it. Why the difference with words?