Joe and I watched the first two episodes of the new series of Broadchurch last night. Because there is a kind of discomfort going on in my own life about something and Broadchurch is uncomfortable too I have to read before I sleep so the discomforts don't treble, don't grow legs and a hammering heart that keeps me up all night. So I read Moominpapa at Sea, which is troublesome as well but in a different way and Joe reads and it was two in the morning by the time we switched off the light so the day began there really. Us lying and reading in our rectangular room, in a house built on what once was sand dunes. It's quiet here where we live. No traffic. A single street light that we sometimes have to twitch the curtains to shut out.
I woke first. Lying and thinking about getting up and how if I crept up and crept down the passage past the other bedrooms I might be able to write something or go for a walk on the beach before it got hot. Instead I stayed in bed slow and sluggish and after minutes or hours Alex came in as she always does. Pyjama bottoms and a belly scribbled with purple felt tip pen. She falls into the space between us and within seconds is complaining about something. Whinging, and then throwing her face into angry contortions. I wonder if she is missing something in her life, if there is some basic gap in our parenting, that feeding and admiration and attention, and lack of attention, and basic hygiene and love freely and openly given is not covering that means she is unhappy but I think it is actually habit.
I get up to make her breakfast because she is hungry. She is somehow grumpy about this too and make me play a guessing game about what she wants. Po she says and I have to guess porridge. Every time I make porridge in summer I think about my grandparents who had porridge every morning of the year. More, I think about myself as a kid thinking about them. How part of the experience of going to Kelvin Heights was the porridge every morning summer or winter and I was always the last up and I would never quite want as much porridge as was in the pot and I would leave the porridge there because wasting food was not okay but my grandmother would tell me next time to soak the pot otherwise it's very hard to clean. For years and years she told me this. I would never quite find out what to do with the remaining porridge I didn't want to eat.
After all Alex's whining I whine at her about using proper words and how annoying this particular guessing game is for me. That it isn't funny just irritating. By this time Lexy is kicking the sofa and yelling. A storm in a six year old. So I whine for a while and she yells and kicks for a while. Then I make porridge and Maggie gets up and is friendly and Lexy is lovely suddenly and Maggie and Lexy and I sit around the breakfast table. Maggie tells me how the milk bottle is too heavy for her, how she can't pour it and points to the level she can pour it. My kids are funny and kind.
We drive to the city and to the library.
"Why are there Robo 2000s?", Maggie asks from the back seat on the way.
"What do you mean?"
"In books with robots they're always called Robo or something 2000."
I make something up to respond with. It might even be true. That the year 2000 always seemed like the year people would be flying in jet packs, and it seemed like this impossible distant time in the future, even right up to the day before. So people try and make their robots seem glamorous and exciting by calling them something 2000.
Within a minute Maggie has confirmed her theory finding a robot called Ripizor 2000 or something in the Mr Gum book she's reading.
At the library Maggie finds Mr Gum books she hasn't read. She decides to get four out because last time she read the two she'd got out in one day. Then we find a book on dragons she wants. Alex sits on me in a big comfortable seat and reads me The Rose Rest-home, a reader by Jeanette Cunis. I am astonished all over again by her reading. She stumbles on comfortable, on curved and then on the next page carved and gnome. She misses some words but I don't stop her, I let her read. Her voice finds the rhythm of the language even when the meaning is slightly off. She knows how to pause, she knows how to emphasise.
Maggie leans against the chair with her dragon book. "Hey Mum" she says. "The different colour of dragons mean different things." She tells me the colours and their realms. One colour helps out in times of famine she tells me. She pronounces it fay-men. I tell her it's famine, and that it means when people don't have enough to eat. I am amused by my absurdly simple definition. For once it's perfectly accurate. Maggie has already decided she wants to grow up to write factual books about made up things.
We have lunch with friends. Pip and I hold intense conversations about books. They invigorate me. Pip's daughter and Maggie are the same age and read their freshly issued books. Friendly but not talking. I think about companionship and old friends. These two have known each other their whole lives. Pip invents a game for Lexy of timing her when she runs to certain places. Running is good for Lexy using her own body and her energy and making her laugh. A marionette comes over and introduce himself. His name is James. I compliment him on his cravat. He thanks me and turns to show off his satchel. Lexy runs after the woman marionette to meet her.
We go across the bridge for ice creams. It takes a long time to get there. Pip and I are talking excitedly at each other. We are talking about Janet Frame. I have just read Intensive Care. Pip hasn't read it. She says every time she reads another Janet Frame book she thinks she won't be blown away but she is. Behind us the others get distracted watching rowing and seeing rays. Pip's daughter starts clearing away plastic and rubbish from the water. Maggie joins in. We get the ice creams and they walk us back to the car.
Joe needs to go to university so we drop him off and Lexy pops into her own preschool and gets a big hug from her old teacher. The teacher translates the characters on the Chinese t-shirt that Lexy got from her Uncle Sam who just got back from Malaysia. Some of the characters mean lots of wealth or money, one of them means goat. We knew the t-shirt was something to do with the year of the goat. It's a yellow t-shirt. Most of the picture and writing are in gold and red. The goats have large blue eyes and for some reason look like fish.
We visit the tuatara at university. We drive home. Maggie's friend arrives for a sleepover. They are two quiet girls who play wild loud gleeful games when they're together. Star wars training, or dragons, or archery. Lexy plays on the computer. Joe goes for a swim. I feel sick with heat and nap until it's cooler. I read Lexy some Moomin. I am scared she is bored but when I stop reading she tells me to keep going. Joe makes pizza. After dinner we let the girls play outside. Lexy complains about being brought in first, all the whinging and fury returns. She is never ever getting into her pyjamas. She doesn't care if she doesn't get a story. It isn't fair.
We spend some time trying to decipher a line in a poem on Lexy's class Christmas CD. She's been asking us for days 'What is Re-spacing?' and have come to understand it is a line in this poem but we are still not sure any of us what it means. Joe and I think perhaps although the poem is read by someone called Daunte, at the end he is telling us it is by Rhys Baker. Not a word but a name. She's not having it. She puts on pyjamas. She brushes her teeth. Joe reads to her. He is scared she will make him read The Faraway Tree as he had to yesterday. 'That's such an awful book', I say. It was that or The Great Glass Elevator, he says. Ghastly we say, it's a bad book, how did he write such a bad book.
I do dishes listening to a podcast of Pip talking to another writer about Virginia Woolf. Pip says each of her novels are as if she is playing a different musical instrument.
Tea. Joe reads, I write.
Read I'm working on a blog post
I have so many more things to say about I'm working on a building but when I found this song I realised it said what I'd been trying to say all along.
Working on a building, Bro. Joe May and the Sallie Martin Singers
The book like the song is full of redemption and longing. Full of hope. Full of time and the possibilities that time offers.
A story told backwards, as IWoaB is told, makes us hold time differently in our heads. Makes us consider time in two or more ways simultaneously. I always think of the first chapter (which tells us the most recent events in Catherine's life) as also being the last chapter. The last chapter which tells us of Catherine as a child, already moving away from people, already interested in buildings, is also like a first chapter. I can only understand the book if I both these things true. Like Lyra reading her Alethiometer in Philip Pullman's Northern Lights - learning to hold three levels of thought in her mind at once.
I kind of see 'em. Or feel 'em rather, like climbing down a ladder at night, you put your foot down and there's another rung. Well I put my mind down and there's another meaning and I kind of sense what it is. Then I put 'em all together. There's a trick in it like focusing your eyes.
The title of the book is an affirmation of time. That the moments of construction, the project in flight, the building are something larger than itself. I'm working on a building is not just a statement about a sequence of events but a summary of Catherine's life story. Cathy, inheriting a human world of collapse and failing finds a type of grace in the certainties of heavy engineering. Cathy survives because she is smart enough to understand, in physical terms, what material will in actual fact, when it comes down to it, bear what load. How concrete is always moving. What happens at moments of stress.
Every second from then, the building would be something new and the new thing would finally twist the floor open and pull her down so she was falling and watching the building coming down on top of her exactly as she expected it would. Look at you, she thought, watching all it would become. Be monsters, she said, and it was.
Listening to the song makes me feel a bit like I feel reading the book, sad and glad and hopeful. Time can carry us back or forward to the places we want to be and the people we want to be with. Time lets us build. Time as a common. Time as a kind of blessing, inevitable, and despite numerous efforts at theivery, available to all of us.
Poor Kitten, Tansy thought. How the hand that feeds has come to hold you. All Catherine would be able to do now was work hard and late, disappear for lengths of time during which she could make something different of it all. Wait, she thought; wait it out. Time changes everything.
I'm working on a building. Pip Adam. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2013.
Buy it online or at a bookshop or borrow it from the library. If your library doesn't have it ask them to buy it.
(C) Copyright 2012, Mrs Loolupants, All Rights Reserved.