New year review

That was then – view here  –  our Christmas 2018 performance

This is now – 2019!

The general view about the quality of writing coming out of SSOA’s meet up groups is that we’re more than happy. Self-congratulation perhaps? Not only. We’re wearing a few laurels on our lapels. And an example of the standard we’ve come to expect and appreciate is this prize-winning short story by Jim Piotrowski, which won an end-of year competition by Better Read Than Dead bookstore in inner-city Newtown. Every word is Piotrowski’s own work – we would never claim otherwise. We just love to see how writers associated with SSOA blossom …

Landing on a Promise

It’s a small yard compared to what we had, growing up in the suburbs where the backyard was big enough for a decent game of cricket in summer or footy in winter. My eye was never so sure as it was those long summer afternoons playing cricket in the backyard. There was a vegie patch in one corner and a compost heap in another and in the centre of the lawn was a hills hoist clothesline. We’d wind it up as high as it went to mind the washing and appoint the things on the line as extra fielders. If the ball got hit and was snared, say, in a pillowslip or Dad’s undies, it was definitely six and out. It was out because it was caught, it was six because it was such a fluke to be bad luck, which had to be rewarded somehow. The rules were flexible; we made them up as we went along.

Now, living closer to the city, I’m glad enough to have any outdoor space at all.  Just big enough to swing a cat, I think. I’m not sure why I would want to swing the cat, but the yard is just big enough to do so.

The cat is named Max; it’s just a name given to a cat. He’s black and surly, jealous of the mouse attached to the laptop; he bites the hand that feeds him. He strolls around in winter moving from one sunny spot to another. The winter sun is soft and comforting; it warms him in a tender way.

The maple has lost its leaves, the ivy makes no progress, the creeping fig is dormant and the grass is turning grey. There’s full sun in some part of the yard throughout the day but growth is slow in August and it hasn’t rained in months.

There were two disconnected events, both wretched in different ways, setbacks that led me to spending too much time with the cat, contemplating the movement of the sun across the yard.

A few years ago a good friend of mine passed away after a long illness. Yeah, it was sad. In her final season the medications she took for her condition made her kind of crazy, she had all sorts of weird thoughts, incorrect beliefs about the neighbours, confusing conspiracies. It was mostly the medication I think, but also I assume that her natural fear of death created havoc with her emotions, her senses. I made a promise to her in that time before she died. I said as a joke that one day I’d write a book about her and call it The Paranoid Detective. She didn’t take it seriously, but she liked the name, she got the joke, she laughed. She had a nice smile. 

And that was that, I forgot about the promise, focused on work, got used to living on my own.

Then last winter there was an office coup where I worked. A power struggle that took a while to resolve as the aspirant and the incumbent proclaimed the sins of each other and gathered followers who, with craze in their eyes, seemed to genuinely believe that their champion was some kind of messiah.

Uninspired by either of the contenders, I remained non-aligned. As discussions became private and smiles turned to snarls, I learned that neutrality could be perceived as heresy. Strangely I didn’t care. The crazy-eyed devotees had released in me a new contempt for subservience, a disrespect for power that once realised couldn’t be reversed.

So I left that job. It wasn’t an easy decision. So much of my identity hinged on what I did for a living and I liked the actual work. But I planned my exit as best I could and even managed to wrangle a little ‘go away’ money out of the scoundrels.

Reflecting on the experience, I took a broad approach in assessing my changed circumstances, identifying the problem in terms of organisational structure rather than political naivety.

‘I’ll never work for a hierarchy again!’ I declared to all my friends.

As you may appreciate, this stance limited my job options.

I wandered around for a while, happily aimless in my travels; taking in new scenery, indulging dubious habits, investigating beliefs in the supernatural, developing an appreciation of frugality, gradually shedding my identity, finding a new one underneath.  

Back home, seeking a new purpose, I fell back on the promise, the joke we had shared years before, and resolved to write a book about a paranoid detective – who wasn’t a detective and possibly not even properly paranoid.

So this winter I’m working from home, working for myself and no one else. It doesn’t pay very well; in fact it doesn’t pay at all. But I persist. My old bedroom houses tourists for a fee much cheaper than a hotel. It’s an income, it slows the flow from my savings, but it can’t hold back the tide.

I saw a former work colleague the other day coming out of the pub on a Friday night. Very drunk he was, but a friendly drunk. He gave me hug.

‘I’ve dropped out,’ I said when he asked what I was doing, but he’d forgotten his question by the time I’d answered and didn’t enquire further.

I was somewhat surprised at my answer. I’d not thought about my situation like that, ‘dropped out’ – sounds like I’ve given up, but in truth it’s just the opposite.

There’s a small covered area out the back of my place with a table and chairs and a blue tooth speaker, surrounded by potted plants and looking onto a small patch of grass that could be called a lawn. There’s a washing line too, just some wires strung up across the yard. That’s where I work, searching for inspiration, finding distractions in the garden.

The herbs don’t grow in the low winter sun; the thyme is stunted, the parsley’s weak, the rosemary is placid, the sage struggles to avoid its demise.

The winter growth is stalled but I find the warmth of summer in my resolution. The cat sits in the last rays of sunshine touching the yard, meditating, deeply lost in a moment of time, like a statue; solid and unwavering.

I look at the words on the page unsure if it’s a work of art or an act of stupidity. But I persevere, holding myself to a promise like an excuse that justifies my indulgence. I don’t care! It’s a new game and the rules are flexible. I make them up as I go along. 

 Copyright: text Jim Piotrowski – photos cvwilliams & Ferdinando Manzo

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