Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
Most of Australia, as I write this, has just emerged from a drought which has lasted for years. The horror wildfires of 2020 roaring across the landscape on its heels, were a direct consequence of this- and climate warming. And this island continent, with the bravura that is habitual, has unleashed floods and cyclones to keep us on our toes. So welcome to letter 47 which is entitled- Waiting for the Drought to Break.
Writers, any writer, is a god. You summon something out of nothing- even if it’s dire, ordinary, inconsequential. And you wonder why you wrote this drivel and whether you should break your quill in half and chuck it in the bin. Is this how the Creator felt in that unknowable state before time and space existed at the instant of creation? ‘Cause, let’s admit it- we are not a particularly good product, are we? Consumer advice magazines would award us an epic fail rating. I know, staring at the screen now, that the words just written will not prompt Shakespeare to spin in his grave over there in Stratford.
But still, we are gods, aren’t we? Conjuring something out of nothing remains a deep mystery to me. Enticing others to engage with the effluvia seems like a confidence trick, at times. Yet we go on, don’t we? Whenever I visit my local library, I am struck by the huge number of books that I will never read. I don’t care too much about the stuff that I have no inclination to read, but I am haunted by the fear that I may pass by the one volume on the shelf that holds the key to my salvation- be it spiritually or secularly defined. The paralysis of too much choice: it has been defined and studied. So, how do we break this stasis? I like to resort to absurdity.
I imagine an intergalactic auction where Lot 354 is an audio recording of the last fart emitted by the last survivor of the human race. It is passed in for lack of interest in one iteration of the fantasy; in another, it sparks a bidding frenzy where whole star systems are put up as collateral. See what I mean about being god-like? Why read when you can write- yeah! In my case, why half-read when you can half-write. I have shelves full of books that I have yet to finish reading as well as a drawer full of writing projects that are suspended: just waiting for the drought to break.
Another example of absurdity happens in spring and summer. I trundle the mower from the shed and check the oil, clean the air-filter, replenish the petrol and stoop down, bracing for the inevitable. I grasp the starter cord and, having ensured the choke is on and the fuel tap open, I briskly pull the cord out. Nothing happens. Sometimes my shoulder and arm are aching, repetitive strain having taken its toll, and I am on the verge of tears of rage and frustration. Yet, at some point, even if it’s the next day or the day after, the mower roars to life and I stride out muttering your ass is grass to the expanse of weeds, dandelions and struggling fragments of lawn that masquerade as my suburban back-yard.
This is analogous to the difficulties of fashioning this entry: which you may have guessed from the mention of God at the beginning and the subsequent references to mystery and astronomy. But the motor is running, the blades are spinning and the unruly growth hiding the fecund earth is being tucked into the catcher in readiness for transfer to the organics bin which will be proudly wheeled to the kerb on collection day, confirming me as a successful suburban citizen.
I feel, at times, like the man in Bruce Dawe’s poem, Homo Suburbiensis, hearing vaguely the clatter of a disk/in a sink that could be his, hearing a dog, a kid,/a far whisper of traffic, and offering up instead/Not much but as much as any man can offer/- time, pain, love, hate, age, war, death, laughter, fever. Almost like Beckett, who is another writer I look to for a commentary on existence. I first came across him as a student in 1969, having borrowed his 1938 novel, Murphy from the Belfast City library. It was a matter of you had me at hello. Its opening line marked the start of a journey through his output that is not yet over. The line? The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.
Try this out for size, But he had turned, little by little, a disturbance into words, he had made a pillow of old words, for his head, from the novel Watt, written in Roussillon, southern France, where Beckett, a member of the French Resistance, had gone to evade the ministrations of the Gestapo. In the short prose work, The End, an old man, yet another in a line of tramps and down-and-outs, who inhabit Beckett’s world in droves remarks, I tried to groan, Help! Help! But the tone that came out was that of polite conversation. The bleak novel, The Unnameable, ends with a phrase that has provided sustenance to me for decades, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.
There is no room in this entry to even scratch the surface of this artist’s dramatic output- in any case, you need to see plays like Waiting for Godot, Krapp’s Last Tape or Happy Days to get the full meaning. This is true of any play but, for Beckett, the minutiae of set, costume and stage direction were integral parts of the drama rather than mere background or dressing. I’ll leave you with a quote from 1983’s Worstward Ho, which I think I’ve seen as a tattoo on one of the many ink shows on TV, Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Fail better! Even this is sometimes too high a bar for me.[insert song]
Our next letter documents a problematic meeting in Ireland between two of my literary heroes, Samuel Beckett and Flann O’Brien, whose literary output will be glanced at. You will be introduced to a literary game that you may wish to play. There will be lines of exquisite poetry spoken by a monster and we will visit the classroom of a teaching tyro who is attempting to introduce his students to the intricacies of language found in literary texts, ah, the naivety of the innocent.
Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.
Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)
Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58
For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used
Music accompaniment and composition software- Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studio. Approximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.