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I can remember the exact moment.

I can remember exactly where I was: in the car, on the Hume, just outside Marulan, heading south. And what I told myself: You have to get your act together, take this seriously, make every effort. Get. A. Damn. Website.

The kick up the pants? I was coming home from a month-long residency at Bundanon, Arthur and Yvonne Boyd’s gift to the Australian people – I’d worked my bum off, a productive time, but I’d also connected with a bunch of extremely committed artists, many of whom spoke about the need to have a digital platform. I didn’t even have the internet on at home. Within months I got connected to the internet, had a website built and got this blog going (which recently took over the role of being the actual website). Yes, my online adventures began on the Hume Highway that morning back in 2009. But the world has moved on, I’ve moved on, nothing’s the same.

Which means I can now make a declaration: this is my 300th post for UTCOAFITD (which clearly is the most ridiculous acronym in the history of humankind). And this will be my final weekly post.

AsleepI really have been doing this on a weekly basis from the beginning, because I read some advice somewhere or other that blog posts should be regular and frequent. On a handful of occasions I’ve done a cheeky mid-week post, but on the whole I’ve kept to my commitment. And there’s been something about that commitment: spending days thinking about what I’ll post, whether it be something that had been published elsewhere (Canberra Times, BMA Magazine) or something written for the purpose. There have been times – many times – when I haven’t known what I’d write until the pen was being put to pad, which sometimes resulted in no words at all, so I resorted to shonky visual…things.

I doubt that I’ve ever known what I’ve been doing, other than, perhaps, writing a journal that other people might read – here’s a depository of writing, one amongst a gazillion other depositories of writing. Of course, the most rewarding part has been connecting with other writers, bloggers and thinkers, some of whom I now consider friends, despite living hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away and never having met in person. This must be the best part of the digital era, surely.

What happens now?

I’m not going to call it quits, but from now on posts will be on an ad hoc basis only – perhaps on average they’ll be every month, but no longer will there be any hard and fast rules. Why? Because I’m exhausted, I’m over-committed; in the larger scheme of things, my brain is really quite small, it can only take on so much, which really isn’t that much at all. I need to prioritise. I want to spend as much time as possible reading fiction and writing fiction. I want to go on great, long, dreamy adventures; I want to be moved, confronted, changed. I’m forty-five – it’s time to start learning about how this planet works, and, I think, the best way to do that is through immersing myself in fiction.

So, fond blog, happy 300th post. Sincere thanks to everyone who’s read and commented – I’ve appreciated our conversations very much.

Here’s to new adventures.

My life for a screen. But it's worth it. Maybe?

My life for a screen. But it’s worth it. Maybe?

Come and go
This blogging thing: really, what’s it all about?  The blog-shaped hole in the universe that you’re currently in came into existence back in mid-2009 and somehow it’s still chugging along.  I’ve seen some truly brilliant blogs come and go; for whatever reason, the blogger has decided to end it all.  I, too, have thought of throwing in the towel – many times, in fact.  But then I think of the people I’ve met, the conversations had, and the points of view and life experience shared, and I realise that there’s no real harm in continuing on.  Perhaps I also like the fact that Under the counter of a flutter in the dovecot (which is still officially the most ridiculous name in all of the blogosphere) is archived by the National Library of Australia.  What’s been created here will exist forever.  In theory.

The pieces
Across the years I’ve often wondered about the point of a blog like this one.  It’s partly a depository of pieces I write for the Canberra Times and related Fairfax publications; if the house burns down and I lose the physical file of clippings there will always be the digital copies kept here.  Then there are the outrageously self-serving updates on my adventures in Fiction Land – frankly, they rarely sit comfortably with me, but writing and publishing literature, especially in Australia, is too difficult to justify being a wallflower.  Then there are the brief, diary-like flashes about my home or my hometown or the writing life.  Then there are the reviews, mostly of albums that I’ve bought and I want to talk about – some of the albums I’ve loved, others not so much, but I still want to work out what I think by writing about them.  Have I ever mentioned how hard it is to write about music?  It’s near impossible!  Finally, sometimes I post collages or simply photos with captions. When I’m all out of words.

For the stumblers
Does all this add up to much?  I’m not sure it does.  But for the bugger who produces it all there’s still some enjoyment to be had, and I sincerely hope there’s still enjoyment to be had for those who stumble here.

Lashings of thanks
As others have noted, what keeps a blogger going are the comments, many – most – of which have been amazingly thoughtful and thought-provoking.  So thank you to everyone who’s commented.  What surprises me even more are the subscribers, some of who have been with the blog from day one.  So here are lashings of gratitude to each and every one of you for following UTCOAFITD – I appreciate it very much.  I do hope you get something out of what’s posted and the comments that generated.  All writing, even if it’s fiction, is an exchange of information.  I just hope that you enjoy the exchange that happens here.

All the best, till next week. Unless I get hit by a bus.

Let’s be honest: when all this started I had no idea what I was doing.  But it’s best we go back a bit.

In the autumn of 2009, I spent a month as an artist-in-residence at Bundanon, Arthur and Yvonne Boyd’s gift to the Australian people on the Shoalhaven River just south of Sydney.  On the last night the other artists and I had a few drinks and shared stories of our time in the glorious creative isolation as well handed out business cards and email addresses and website URLs.  I had none of those things – really, how committed was I to writing?  By the time I’d driven home, I resolved to at least get the internet put on at home and set up an email address.

By October of that year, I had indeed got these things, but I also had a website designed, and I set up this blog.  I knew next to nothing about blogging other than it might be a good way of sharing news, if, that is, anyone was interested.  So here we are, in October 2012 and it seems almost impossible to believe that Under the counter or a flutter in a dovecot (which is, to be frank, a ridiculous name for a blog, a ridiculous name for anything) is heading into its fourth year.

It’s probably as good a time as any to reflect on the positives and challenges, so let’s do it, the reflection thing.

On the whole, I’ve enjoyed my time in the blogosphere, even if most of the online energy appears to have shifted to Facebook and Twitter, leaving blogs to feel just a little old-fashioned, which to a certain extent suits me fine because I’m an old-fashioned kind of guy.  Thankfully, when I started this thing, I promised that I’d post only once per week, and I’ve kept to that, more or less.  Is it true that at the beginning I had no idea what I was doing?  Yes, it’s true, and I still might have no idea, although I have come to think of this blog as a diary that I write with other people in mind.  But it’s not a personal diary; I’ve been fairly keen to focus on writing and literature, music, other arts activity, and some quirky investigations into those little things that happen in a day that might have deeper meanings.  Like the last days of a chook.

I’ve enjoyed asking myself during the week, what will I post this weekend, what’s happened or happening that others might be intrigued about?  There’s a discipline to that, on a number of levels.  I’ve also found it fun to try out different things: writing music reviews (which is surprisingly difficult), trying to approach technology in new and weird ways (the On the other side of the city ‘survey’, and what sprung from it, has been a highlight), and it’s good to know that every one of the fifty or so First Word columns that I’ve written for The Canberra Times is stored here, and the features I’ve written have also had a second life online, meaning that the artists I’ve interviewed have been able to link to them (The Canberra Times has only very recently made Panorama, the paper’s weekend magazine, available electronically).

Plus there’s been the great pleasure of getting to know a number of the regular readers of Under the counter – all of whom, it’s amazing to realise, aren’t from my real-world community, some are even from overseas.  In a way, you are modern-day Pen Friends, or maybe that should be Keyboard Friends.  Some of you have become significant contributors to Verity La, that other part of my online life, and for that I thank you.  And, of course, there’s the handful of blogs that I comment on regularly, because the posts are frequently excellent and thought-provoking – have a look at the blog-roll to the left for the links.  Some of these blogs, for example Whispering Gums, are becoming influential, particularly in the funny little world that is literature, and that’s a great thing – a strong and sophisticated writing culture comes from articulate and erudite public discussion about creative practice (even if that observation and the sentence make me sound like a wanker).

What about the challenges?  There have been times, it’s true, when I’ve been all out of ideas, though this can also be a positive, as it’s forced me to still produce something, even if it’s a hastily put-together collage that looks like a six-year-old did it.  A key part of my blogging routine is commenting on other blogs – I can hardly expect readers to comment on this blog if I don’t comment other blogs.  Do comments matter?  Yes, they matter.  I do want to know what people think; I do want to know if readers have been moved, and a comment is a sure sign of that.  I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for commenting – it’s made my day.  But it can be exhausting – and time-consuming – to find posts that I want to absorb and comment on.

It was – and continues to be – most gratifying that the National Library of Australia selected Under the counter for archiving in-perpetuity (if that isn’t a tautology) as part of its PANDORA program.  To think that maybe, just maybe, a researcher will stumble across this little old place in a hundred years time is a bit special.  There’s no doubt that without the commenters commenting and the National Library’s interest I would have stopped long ago – there’s only so often you can call out into the digital abyss.  And there have been times when I’ve wondered if the end might be in sight; in fact, to be completely frank, I can see the end right now.  I won’t keep this blog going forever, nor should it just keep rolling on and on and on.  But I’m not done just yet; there’s a bit more fuel in the tank, even if the engine’s developed a rattle.

Many many thanks again, and here’s to a bit more Under the counter or a flutter in the dovecot.  For the time-being at least.

It’s 8.15, Sunday morning.  Outside there are just a few wispy strips of cloud in an otherwise perfect blue sky, the sort of sky only my country can do.  There are still leaves on the trees, but there’s some yellowing at the edges.  It’s crisp out there, as in the temperature is low, probably around five degrees, which is nothing – in a couple of months it will be minus five, or less, much less.  So here I am, in the dining room, where I am writing this post by hand.  I have the heater on, and three layers of tops, and tracksuit pants, and ugg-boots, but that’s already too much information, isn’t it.

The fact is that I can’t wait to get outside.  There’s a chook-yard to clean, and a veggie-patch that’s starting to look just a little bit sad and sorry for itself – the basil’s long gone, and the tomatoes only have a week to go before they’ll be done and dusted.  Most of all, however, I want to plant bulbs, yes, daffodils, jonquils, snow-drops and more.  Despite this house being 120 years old, there wasn’t much garden when I moved in; the place would have been decimated by decades of searing summers and pitiless winters, and, far too regularly, drought.  But I’m getting it together, it’s a cottage garden now, I think that’s what I’ve created.

But here I am at the dining-room table, writing this post, because that’s what I do first thing every Sunday morning.

This time three years ago I didn’t have the internet at home, not even a private email address that I could access from someone else’s computer.  It was when on residence at Bundanon on the Shoalhaven River that during the final-night celebration the other artists handed out business cards with details of their on-line lives.  On the drive home I resolved to at least get an email account – how much of a professional writer could I be without it?

Within months, I had not only an email address, but also Open to Public, my formal web home, if that’s what it is, and Under the counter, which quickly became Under the counter or a flutter in the dovecot.  And then I started Verity La, and then the Childers Group, an arts advocacy body, which, of course, needed a site.  And then bloody wretched Facebook reared its ugly head; I signed up because I’d been invited to participate in a writing project and the only way the organiser would communicate was through FB, those initials sounding like those of a close friend, but that’s hardly the case.

This week I realised that I now have five active email accounts.  And then there are the Facebook messages, and mobile-phone calls and messages, and sometimes even the land-line rings, though mostly it’s only telemarketeers who call these days.

I confess that it’s quite a struggle to juggle all these strands of what’s become my own on-line life.  I enjoy this blog, very much in fact – it’s become something like a diary that I write with other people in mind.  However, I’m glad that from the outset I committed to doing only one post per week, and only an hour or two of participating in other blogs.  Facebook has become a necessary annoyance more than anything else (and I’m avoiding Twitter like the plague).  It’s the whole email thing that’s got out of control.  On the back of an envelope I’ve estimated that I receive between three- and four-hundred emails each week, and the vast majority of them are important and/or interesting.  So my laptop has become a source of stress, with only the odd bit of pleasure thrown in, if I’m lucky.

How do you keep your on-line life in check?  What rules do you put in place, if any?  What do you do when your digital living starts to unravel in front of your eyes?

I tell you what I do.  I go out into the garden and remove plants, or plant plants, or clean out the chook-yard.  Or sometimes I just sit outside on a little bench with a cup of coffee and simply watch the chooks – how good it is to observe them going about their lives.  Do they care that they don’t have access to Youtube or 24/7 coverage of what’s happening in the world through multi-media newspaper sites? Do they care that they don’t know that someone on the other side of the world has just had the worst cup of soy-chai latte in the history of the universe?

No, not in the slightest, and I envy them for that, I really do.

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