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The Sydney Opera House - an example of great simplicity in action (as well as great complexity)

The Sydney Opera House – an example of great simplicity in action (as well as great complexity)

New year resolutions aren’t really my thing, beyond preparing a list of what I’d like to achieve in writing – read better, write better, submit more, do more creative journalism, make sure to enjoy it all, that kind of thing, which I say to myself every year.  However, on a recent drive south, good music on the car-stereo, a hot hot hot sky and landscape and potentially catastrophic summer conditions all around, it came to me quickly, a list, three words: simple, good, imaginative – that’s the kind of life I want to live.


Life, given half the chance, will always complicate itself, because it is random, chaotic, and formless.  Being someone who likes a bit of routine and order, I find that keeping things simple helps to keep me on the straight and narrow.  So, simple finances, simple goals and expectations, even simple house-furnishings.  Of course, this is often easier said than done, because to reach a point of great simplicity takes a brain that can traverse great complexity.  Consider the Sydney Opera House: a simple idea, a simple structure; but what extraordinary technical skill to make it all a reality.  Still, a simple life is the one for me.  If I can manage it.


What is good?  Something that enhances life?  Or perhaps simply (huh!) doesn’t diminish life?  Is good nice?  Not necessarily, and probably not.  Is it generous, honourable, thoughtful, loving?  Yes, it may well be all these things.  Is living a good life the same as writing a good story?  I’m not so sure – is it good that Brett Easton Ellis gave us American Psycho (1991), a novel that’s about how not to be good?  Yes, it’s good that we have that work in our world, but not in the way we think.  Perhaps a good life is one in which that person and the people are around that person feel more able?  I’ll run with that.


At first, the word on my list was ‘creative’, but a creative life can be nothing more than making handmade birthday cards, which is inherently a good thing, but it’s not quite what I’m looking for.  Imagination seems to me to be more all-encompassing.  It is an imaginative act to write a story – in every possible way.  But it also requires imagination to solve a particularly complex household maintenance issue.  Or to resolve a financial matter.  Or to mend a broken friendship.  Imagination may also be required to approach the design of one’s life in new and exciting ways.  In an interview I did this week with literary blog Whispering Gums, I referred to something Ben Okri wrote in his magnificent collection of essays A Way of Being Free (1997): ‘The imagination is one of the highest gifts we have’.  He really is right.

What are the key words for you this year?

There’s no way to sugar-coat this: it was a cruel blow. She’d been sick for weeks, months, most of her life.  She’d twist and jerk her neck, as if she was doing a strange dance, but also as if she had something stuck.  Last year I took her to the vet, who appeared undecided about what to do, so I took her home and declared that dear old Woo was now officially on palliative care.  I picked her up and massaged her crop so that whatever was stuck or blocked would hopefully be cleared.  It seemed to work.  I also gave her a mix of garlic and yoghurt, and that seemed to work too.

With the on-set of winter, all chooks going off the lay, Woo declined rapidly.  No matter how much I massaged her, no matter how often I administered the garlic-and-yoghurt mixture, she looked so terribly uncomfortable.  Every second day, I’d think, Okay, this is it, I have to do it, it’s for the best.  On a number of occasions I woke in the middle of the night to mentally workshop the best method.  Always, however, in the morning, there she’d be, Woo the hen, looking as bright as ever, as if to say, ‘Something wrong with me?  I don’t think so!’

Except there was something wrong with her.  To the point that she no longer came down from the coop, her wings hung low, almost lifeless, her eyes were now mostly closed, and it looked like she was gasping for breath.  She’d once been the most royal chook in the run, a grand display of brown plumage.  And a good layer.  And she loved a chat, and she loved being held.  So I gave her another day.  She managed to get herself down from the coop, but she didn’t eat. I picked her up; under her still wonderful display of feathers she was so thin, just bones.

I had to do this. I googled techniques, I looked on Youtube, I even found in my library (as in the real one in my real house) a book about backyard animal husbandry.  But it all seemed complex – would I end up making a horrible mess of it all?  So I got the mallet from the shed.  I stepped into the run.  I went over to Woo.  I crouched down.  She opened her eyes.  She looked at me.  Feeling way too much like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, I lined up what I had to do.  And did it.  The blow knocked her forwards, her head pressed hard into the dirt of the run.  Her eyes closed slowly, but she gave me one last look as she went, I know she did.  As soon as her body relaxed out came a flood of liquid from her beak – her crop was so blocked that she’d been drowning.  I know this now.

I put her body in a plastic shopping bag, and put the bag in the rubbish bin.

The next morning, to my surprise and delight, one of the other hens, a hen who’d not lain once, gave me an egg.  And the next day, too.  And that’s how it’s been for a week now, egg after egg, as if to say, On the other side of death is life, it’s always been this way, nothing will change.

Image from Michael Yon’s blog.

As noted previously on Fluttering Under, we’re in the middle of a federal election campaign here on this big old island called Australia, and – in a way – it feels like there’s a war.

This election feels like a war between wanting to move forward (even just a little) and being dragged back to our dim dark past, between accepting that some things are complex and dumbing things down to win votes, between being open to diversity and opposing difference, between hope and fear.

If only we could live in a world without politics.

Living in a world without war wouldn’t be such a bad thing either.

Would it make things better to have more women in power?

Is it wrong to be an idealist?

I don’t know.  I just don’t.

I’m rambling.


PS. My apologies if this post gives you visions of John Lennon.

PPS. And apologies if this post is a little on the grim side – I’m reading American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis, and it’s doing my head in, as it should.

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The past