On a dreamy eve recently I joined the loved colleagues for drinks at 'The Local' in Carlisle st. I've worked at the StKilda library long enough to remember when this building that now embraces a well-designed and richly timbered beer-house was a huge op-shop owned by an old and very eccentric Russian couple. She had black dyed hair and venomous red lipstick. He was short and wore braces to holed his pants bellow his tummy. And see, it wasn't actually an op-shop, it gave nothing to any known charities, it was just a mammoth and darkly-dank cavern full of old clothes and strange objects. Nothing was priced, all reeked of mildew, and the boards would creak ominously as you tiptoed past the steam from their samovar, on perpetual boil to refill their tiny glasses of tea on the counter.
If you found something you wanted to buy you tiptoed up to the counter, curtsied (ok, maybe not) to the Baroness and with much meekness asked “How much?”. Quickly her husband would be at her side, and together they would ruthlessly cast a calculating look from your quality-of-shoes to carat-of-gold in your earrings.
If you looked poor it was always “For you dahlink five dollars”. Look well-heeled and it was a few moments of vehement narrative about the items' origins and its wonderful OLD and EUROPEAN pedigree...And as a young Australian of this young and ill-bred island that wouldn't know history if it slapped them with a red-talonned hand, you would nod at any price, fumble for the money and leave hurriedly, only later discovering the 'Katies' label...
But I digress.
I really adore most of my colleagues, and on this eve we were in fine form, celebrating the resignation of a well-liked chum who's braved the big decision to change his work and pursue his passions.
Some favourite conversations were with fellow writers. One, L, is a beautiful yet oddly shy young woman I've known since she was a garrulous six-year-old. She's just won a major poetry prize that comes with publication. She was modest: articulate and self-effacing, and we recalled her childhood memories and mine of our social times when I was good friends with her parents. A brief chat with E, a shelver who I see daily doing that wonderfully writer-ish thing with complete unselfconsciousness; he sits at the cafe beside work, black curls bent over the tiny laptop, long coffee lingering at his side, smoke after smoke in his hand as his poetry spills out like heart-bloom. And later a more lyrical conversation with the Polish J. I've read his book of poetry and hear in it the sound of war, of a Europe long gone, ancestral memory drumming out its grief in a young man in a young and brash country. In his words, so adept, his desire to be understood in a second and seemingly useless language.
For him, the act of writing is a warming thing, he described the sun-drenched sensation, he has written of the fire he feels in his work and uses in his work, of feeding the words to fire sometimes so that better ones rise from the ashes. A man of cold climes seeking warmth from his work, belonging, the shock of vodka heating the belly.
And me, with the outback of Bourke a searing harmonic that thrums like blue-wire in my extended Irishy family. Me with the harshly singing Australian light always over me. I, who when I write, am always falling into a cool pool, expanding into the water's caress, falling beneath a dreamy surface, the liquid skin moulding me to the world like a lover to his body.
Ah, to write. To write. To sing and hum and dream.