Cycles

The compost bucket is heavy in my arms. It is so full that the lid won’t stay on properly and through the gaps wafts a smell that means I can’t possibly ignore the fact that what I eat is something that was once alive: the smell of rotting, mould and decay. Of something that was once alive but is no longer. I walk quickly, and the liquid in the bucket sloshes around. I make a mental note to be aware of this when I empty the bucket into the bigger outside bin in a moment, lest there be any stinky splashing. 

The compost bin lives about halfway down our backyard, near the shed. To get there, I leave the house by the deck doors, peer around the side of the bucket to make sure I don’t trip down the stairs, and then make my way across the patchy grass, hoping there are no bindis popping up yet.

As smelly as the kitchen compost bucket is, it is the outside bin I find most confronting. It doesn’t smell, but it has bugs. Thousands of them. Once or twice I’ve also found mice out here. 

When I reach the bin, I put the bucket down and squint as I open the bin’s lid. The insects rush out at my face in a cloud, heading for my nostrils and squinting eyes. They take a few moments to clear, and I shake them away from my face. I empty the bucket, holding it firmly while I tap the bottom to dislodge the slimey bits of pumpkin from the bottom of its insides, trying to avoid dropping the bucket into the dark cavern of the bin. The pumpkin goop is thick and squelchy sounding and reluctant to leave the bucket, stretching and sliding around the bottom of the bucket instead of falling. But it does eventually fall and lands somewhere in the large bin with a satisfying muffled thud.

IMG_0434.JPGWhen the bucket is empty, I put the lid back on and skip back to the house, pleased to have completed the smelly chore. 

I am perhaps eight or nine in this memory. But it could also be cobbled together from any evening in my childhood. Empyting the compost bucket into the outside bin was a regular household chore throughout my entire childhood. 

There was a point sometime last year that I realised I was a bit obsessed with organic waste — and that maybe I always had been. The empyting of the kitchen compost bin into the outside bin, and all the sensory grossness of the task, looms large in my childhood memories.

IMG_0435.JPGI’m not sure now whether these experiences were unpleasant for me as a child, but I tend now to think of them as confronting but worthwhile. Lessons of a very visceral kind in how life works. Certainly they’re not unpleasant memories — just vivid. And they have not in any way made me want to avoid food scraps and food waste.

As an adult, I’ve initiated and emptied compost buckets on behalf of whole sharehouses, and I’ve acquired and become bizarrely fond of thousands of composting worms.* I’m not disgusted easily (except, perhaps, by bugs, but then maybe that makes sense too, given these memories) and my hands have touched and held much food that is very far from being at its best.

And now I find myself undertaking a major research project on food waste that will see me making things from food scraps (albeit before they’re too stinky or slimey) and making a radio feature about it. 

IMG_0436.JPGIt occurs to me know that when I started this blog years ago, I called it ‘avocado and lemon’ because those were two foods that I have always loved to eat together, and now two of the food scraps I’ll be making things from will be lemon and avocado detritus (the third food item is spent coffee grounds). It occurs to me too that the reason that I chose those particular food items is that they’re problematic in large amounts in the compost.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how life seems to move in circles?

*I called all the worms Barry, in case you were wondering. Known collectively as The Barries. I’m not sure why. Barry just seemed like a good name for such an immensely helpful critter.

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Stalking… I mean, observing

The other week at uni, instead of a tutorial, we were asked to make our way to one of a list of places in the city and make some observations. With the brief ‘cities at night’, we were to produce two 150 word pieces — the first a description of the place, the second a description of a person within that place.

I chose the supermarket at Broadway. I chose it because I’m writing about supermarkets for one of my feature articles, and because I really dislike the place. Actually, most supermarkets make me vaguely anxious. And that fascinates me. What is it about them that makes me anxious?

My written pieces for this exercise don’t really attempt to address this question, but I thought I’d share them here.

    The place is full of people, but not their voices. A hum fills the space – the cooling system for the fruit and vegetable section. Beep, beep, beep; items scanned and placed in bags. “Next waiting, please.”

    On the whole, it is a place devoid of smell. Only the bread and meat sections have a scent: both vaguely sugary.

    There are few Supermarket Rushers at this hour. People move in a dream-like state, eyes sliding over the shelves, occasionally stopping to peer more closely. To speak to someone is to wake them.

    Away from the hum of the fruit and vegetable section, people’s footsteps can be heard on the bright white hospital floors. The high heels and heavy business shoes have gone for the day, left are those who have had time to slip their feet into something more comfortable. White light — a Hollywood yellow in the cosmetics section — shines down from above. This place seems both small and enormous; with no windows there are no landmarks for perspective.

    ~

    Phone between her shoulder and ear, basket dangling from her arm, she puts two heads of broccoli into her basket. Her grey sneakers take a few steps away. She is not speaking English on the phone, but her sigh is clear; she returns to remove one head of broccoli from her basket.

    The white phone now hangs in her hand. She has moved to cosmetics. Her eyes amble over the face creams on display, looking without really looking.

    In her basket she has a box of oats, a carton of soy milk and the green vegetable. She seems unsure what to add next, moving briefly back towards the vegetable section before drifting in the opposite direction towards the frozen foods. For several minutes she stands in front of the garbage bags, squinting at the many choices. She decides on purple bags a shade or two darker than her shorts.

    She scuffs towards the self-checkout. Basket down now, she gazes at the screen a moment before moving to scan her first item. She has not brought her own bags.

It was an interesting exercise. I ran into someone I knew at one point, and had to pretend I was doing some last minute shopping — even though I was at the opposite end of the supermarket to the milk and cheese, which is what I said I was there to get. And I discovered that stalking is really quite difficult.

But the exercise was fun. I had trouble keeping to the word limit because I had many, many notes. Being asked to observe something almost always has me listening harder than I normally do, and I had lines and lines about the sound of the supermarket.

As much as I dislike these places, supermarkets are fascinating. People behave strangely in them. This observation exercise was as much an exercise in trying to find the kind of compassion for other people I ranted about in my last post. People are rude and vague, tired and careless. Maybe they dislike the place as much as I do.

In last week’s class we got back an edited version of our pieces and discussed the exercise. There were some fairly heated discussions about some of my classmates’ observations of other people. I won’t discuss those here just yet (they relate, again, to my last post and I want to give them a little more time when and if I do write about them).

When I got mine back it was covered in notes, questions, underlines and crossings out. I love the way something looks when it’s been edited. I’m not really sure why.

(Excuse the terrible photography.)

Workshopping

I’ve got more to write about my weekend at TiNA and the National Young Writers’ festival, but I feel the need to write about this now. So please excuse the interruption.

I’ve explored this before. I know many people have had horrible, scarring workshopping experiences, but I absolutely love them. My writing would either be incredibly crap or take about five times longer to produce if it weren’t for the regular opportunities I get to have other people read my work and give me feedback. Usually I know, somewhere deep down, what’s going wrong in a piece but it helps to have someone else articulate it for me. Sometimes though, like tonight, I know there’s something wrong, but I’ve no idea what it is. I spend far too many moments in my life thinking about it, rolling it around and around in my head to no avail. Those of you who’ve read some of my writing will be aware that it’s not always the most sunny and uplifting experience, so it can be quite distressing to have it kicking about in there.

Tonight I’ve workshopped something that I’ve been writing for about a month. Last month’s Monday Project helped me further some parts of it (I’ll put the result up here and there shortly). I’d finished the first draft but I was really at the point where I needed someone to be honest with me.

And therein lies the potential problem with workshopping, I think. Firstly, honesty can be difficult to hear; but, and perhaps more importantly, it can be difficult to give. Some people don’t want to hurt your feelings, so they hold back; others don’t care how you feel, or at least don’t know how to put the word ‘constructive’ into practice. I’ve found, though, that if you go into a workshop knowing that you don’t have to listen to everyone (or even anyone) it’s much easier to listen well. I’m certainly not always good at this! (Or giving feedback…)

I’m interested to know, from those of you who don’t get feedback from others about your writing or other output, what process do you use to work through the inevitable sticky points?