Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Blue Plastic Chair Leg

What if you decided to set up a little stall on a street corner. And you found strange things around your house, many of them broken— or actually, you made strange things out of the broken items around your house. Craft out of egg cartons and glued-on glitter, maybe. And let’s say you placed all these objects in your stall.

And then people came by and said, ‘oh, that’s nice,’ about your strange broken pieces, and you were silent. Now and then you said, ‘Thank you,’ or, ‘Thank you so much. You are kind.’ Then, a while later you brought out another strange little piece and put that in the stall, and the people wandered back and looked, and didn’t say much. Or maybe they said, ‘This is nice. I made something like this once,’ and a long time later you came back and said, ‘Did you? How about that.’ And so on.

But then, let’s say you went home and just left the stall there. Months and months went by. Years even. And now and then the people would come back and they might call out, ‘Hello?’ or they might say nothing. They might say to themselves, ‘Well, I’ve seen all these before.’ And the strange things at the stall would be getting rusty. Rain-damaged. Spiders spinning webs and laying eggs in the shadows.

Until people stopped coming by at all. The corner would be empty. The whole street empty. The stall leaning sideways, uncertain, dusty. Tumbleweed, I guess – if this is some old country ghost town that we’re talking about — tumbleweed blowing down the street. Or old plastic bags floating by on the grey breeze, wrapping themselves around telegraph poles, then floating on — if it’s more of a contemporary setting.

Well, how could you ever come back?! How could you return to your strange little stall and bring new strange pieces, and expect any people to come and look again!

You couldn’t. Not really. And certainly not until you’d finished your next book.

The only reason I’m here now is because a friend pointed out that my latest post on this blog refers to upcoming events in August and September of last year. And, he said, if you don’t update your blog, people will read that and think you’re referring to this year.

It was a good point.

So here is a thin blanket. I’m just quickly cross-stitching a thin blanket, which I am going to place over the stall, to hide the old and rusting objects.


What’s been going on. Well, I’m nearly finished the first book of The Kingdom of Cello. It will be a trilogy: the first book is set partly in Cambridge, England, and partly in the Kingdom of Cello. There’s a girl called Madeleine and a boy called Elliot.

Also, not long ago, on a cold, bright night, I went to the Sydney Opera House for the Premier’s Literary Awards. Dreaming of Amelia (or The Ghosts of Ashbury High) was shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Award. I was honoured to be on a list with these wonderful writers: Michelle Cooper, Cath Crowley, Kirsty Eagar, Belinda Jeffrey and Melina Marchetta. And I was so glad to be on the same table as the lovely winner, Cath Crowley, whose Graffiti Moon is beautiful, dreamy and hilarious.


I was never good at cross-stitch. In fourth grade, we had to do a cross-stitch pattern on a piece of white cloth, and Mrs Mackenzie chose mine to show the class how bad cross-stitch could be.

Nobody knew it was mine.

‘I don’t know whose this is,’ Mrs Mackenzie said, ‘because whoever did it was too ashamed even to write their name on it.’

A gasp ran right across the classroom.

Actually, I’d done it maybe seven or eight times. Each time I tried it looked terrible! So I’d pull out all the stitching and try again. I did this over and over, and each time it got worse, and meanwhile the white square kept getting greyer and more smudged. Crumpled and food-stained like an old tea towel.

I tried one more desperate time – undoing it all, and starting again — this was at Little Lunch, and I got some of my raspberry iceblock on it. The bell rang and the cross-stitching was half finished and worse than ever. But it was too late. We had to hand them in. Forgot all about putting my name on it.


What else has been going on? Well, I saw the movie Mrs Carey’s Concert, and it’s a documentary. I was so interested, and so moved. All the chaos, and the chasms between what teachers say and what students understand them to be saying, and then all the beautiful music. It’s about the Sydney girls’ school, MLC, and how they have a concert at the Opera House every two years, and the whole school participates. That school, it seem to have an extraordinary number of talented musicians with smiles that light up rooms. Also, a gathering of bad, wild, giggling, beautiful, defiant girls.


That cross-stitching episode. The one where the teacher held up my work. Well, the whole class was hushed and shocked. And so was I, but only mildly. Mostly I felt interested. A detached curiosity. The distance between the truth and what teachers believe! How wrong teachers can be!

Even when they’re speaking in their low, slow, impressive voice with flashing, angry eyes.

I mean, she was right that it was terrible work. But the whole thing about me being too ashamed to put my name on it. Seriously, why would I have deliberately left off my name? What would be the point of handing something in without a name?


I just realised that MLC —the Sydney girls’ school that featured in that documentary movie— well, I spoke at that school last year! It was good, I remember that. But do you know what, it’s one of the 'upcoming events' that I refer to in my latest blog post! So, that’s interesting.


Not long ago, I was asked to bring a blue plastic chair leg inside the house. It had been lying in the garden, this small chair leg — and I was asked to bring it inside and wash it at the kitchen sink so it could be used as a telescope.

Anyway, while I was washing it a dark shadow flew out of the end of the chair leg.

‘What was that?’ I said, thinking, just a leaf. But my friend cried, ‘It’s on your back!’ and then the next instant, ‘Where’s it gone?!’

That’s a bad time. That’s a terrifying time in anybody’s life. When your friend explains that a giant huntsman spider was just sitting on your back, but now she can’t figure out where it’s gone.


The other day, my mother called to say there would be wild winds in the night. At 4 am, she said, wild winds. People are supposed to make sure that there’s nothing lying around in their yards, she explained, ready to fly away.

I thought of my back yard and all the junk and toys. I imagined the wading pool flying through the air and shattering a neighbour’s window. This was about eleven o’clock at night, and cold, and to be honest I didn’t want to go into my backyard.

But I put my jacket on over my pyjamas, and went out there, and started bringing in the broken toys and junk and pieces of cheap outdoor furniture.

I stamped on the cardboard box which Charlie and I had been filling with dirt the other day. He wanted to make snowglobes out of dirt, he said. The first step, he decided, was to fill up this cardboard box with dirt from the garden. He named us ‘clerks’, and what clerks do is, they make snowglobes out of dirt. His job was to pat the dirt down in the box, and mine was to dig it out of the garden. He was pretty bossy. The whole time I was worrying about the next step — about what would happen when the cardboard box was full — because I knew it would be my job to turn that box of dirt into the snowglobes. I just knew it. Luckily, we got distracted by lunctime, and after lunch we had new job titles and descriptions, and essentially what we had to do, was to empty all the dirt into the wading pool.

Anyhow, so I stamped on the box and put it in the recycling bin, and carried all the broken toys and pieces of plastic furniture and the dirt-filled wading pool— I carried them all into the house from the dark and gusty yard, and all the time I was thinking about flying shadows. That night, the wild winds never came.


The giant hunstman spider turned up later that night on the kitchen wall. I got it with the fly swatter. I thought: I have just one chance here. And I hit it hard and fast, and I got it. Then I felt sad and ashamed. Thinking about how happy he’d probably been, that spider, living in his plastic tube home, not harming a fly. Well, maybe a fly now and again. But still! Next thing it had found itself in the chaos of a human kitchen sink! Poor little guy. Big guy, I mean.


What else. Well, I just made a tuna pasta bake for Charlie’s dinner. Just now. Downstairs. It’s in the fridge, ready to put in the oven later. At one point I thought the recipe said to add eleven and a half cups of cheddar cheese. I was, like, what?! But I looked again and it was just one and a half cups. That makes more sense, I thought. So then I chopped up some butternut pumpkin and some eggplant, and I’m going to roast that in the oven, and that’ll be my dinner. After that I had this weird urge to make an apple crumble. I haven’t made one in years. But there were all these apples in the fridge, and I suddenly really wanted to make an apple crumble. I looked up a recipe and it was talking about putting ginger in the crumble and I was, like, ginger is totally good for you! My mum was just saying the other day! As for apples, well, don’t get me started about those. That whole scaring away the doctor thing? Anyhow, but in the end I decided I’d better not make an apple crumble. I’d better come back upstairs to work.


That paragraph I just wrote. The one about the tuna pasta bake and, etc. I’m thinking, if anybody comes along to my stall on the corner, and they see that paragraph, well, they’ll pick it up and turn it over and put it back down. Then they’ll go, “Oka-a-a-ay,” in that way people do, and then they’ll move on.


Anonymous Emma said...

(re: last paragraph)
Either that, or they'd actually be delighted to find that the stallholder had decided to come back and add more things to the stall. Maybe they'd been quietly glancing at the stall every so often to see if anything new cropped up. And when it did, they thought "Oh! Awesome!" because it brought a smile to their face.

Also there is nothing more frightening than a huntsman indoors. I'm pretty sure that was a perfectly common reaction.

5:17 p.m.  
Anonymous Jessica said...

I think the thing about a shop that is as unique as the one you describe is that there will always be some one who walks by everyday just to see if perhaps something has changed. And on somedays, particularly Thursdays, the someone who always looks at the stall will drag a friend along and proclaim "Look here! You see? This is a lovely stall. This is something quite spectacular just waiting to happen." And just because of that one faithful some one that stall fulfills its purposes, rusty or not.

And anyways the point is that the stall exsists, and usually that is quite enough.

But possibly as a faithful some one I would enjoy a glitter glued egg carton or dilapated chair leg or broken door knob.

Thank you for the lovely hand stiched rememinder why I love your blog so much.

5:42 p.m.  
Anonymous Holly said...

This post made me very happy, and gave me a reason to persuade my friend (who was reading over my shoulder) to read your books. She's reading Dreaming of Amelia at this very moment.


A Pleased Customer.

7:27 p.m.  
Blogger Alexa said...

As someone who regularly checks the stall I was delighted with the items laid out today! Especially the tantalizing titbit about Kingdom of Cello - hurry up book I am longing for you!

And while I would, of course, much rather you finish KofC I do hope they'll be a few more things on the stall soon, they make me smile :)

10:23 p.m.  
Blogger Elleira said...

Analogous! :)

Oh I HATE spiders. I don't know why we humans perceive them as scary but to me they are horrific things.

What if we lived in a world where spiders were lovely and butterflies were evil?

11:02 p.m.  
Anonymous E. Lockhart said...

I like your stall a good deal.

11:08 p.m.  
Anonymous sabiya said...


Just joking! I'm so happy you've posted something. I was just thinking about your blog, especially since May started, cos it reminds me of your 30 day blog thing from last year which was so cool :)

And i agree teachers can be very wrong sometimes. But sometimes it is weird how they know stuff about you which you are not aware of yourself.

Anyhow i love the name Madeleine! Can't wait for your new book and I am so glad it's going well!

sabiya :)

8:57 p.m.  
Blogger Nil Zed said...

Oh, I've never noticed this stall! It seems interesting.

2:50 a.m.  
Blogger mick said...

Oh, I've been waiting and waiting for that dotty lady to open her stall again. She sells some amazing treasures for a pittance! There was a lapis-lazuli kaleidoscope that had the label "blue plastic chair leg", what a bargain! I feel bad taking advantage of her, but she seems happy.

1:34 a.m.  
Anonymous Janine said...

I like stalls like yours that are filled with quality items. The quality of the stall is always more important than the frequency with which it is restocked :)

9:10 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I love you and how you write everything. So good to have some new blogs to read :)

12:04 a.m.  
Blogger Ellen Osborne said...

Oh J.M,

I am so pleased to have checked your lovely stall, as I occasionally do. Such a joy!!
I agree that teachers are wrong a lot of the time. I am a brand new teacher and I do a million things wrong every day. Today I accidently tripped up a step and my fingers ended up in a year 11 boy's mouth. I do not know how this happened or who was more embarrassed. Today I also managed to lose AND find a whole class worth of year 9 tests. I do hope my students know what I'm on about though. I do tend to sing a lot. Badly.

Cannot wait for the new material.


10:09 p.m.  
Anonymous Lana said...

I looked up what a Huntsman spider looked like on wikipedia, and that is frightening. As hell.

10:15 a.m.  
Anonymous Alissa said...

Most fortuitously your blog posts feed into my Google Reader. It’s like every morning I push open my window shutters to let the sun stream in, and see on my sill a line of small birds holding carefully folded notes in their beaks, letting me know which stalls have added to their wares. The birds hop about and attempt some muffled warbling around the notes, hoping they will attract the most attention so they can be relieved of their missives and be on their way to breakfast, or a birdbath somewhere, quite possibly having missed out on all the worms. I hear Google feeds them well though, so that’s ok.

If there were no little messenger birds I’d ensure my outings included skipping past your stall with great regularity. It would be the perfect place to stop and catch my breath after the skipping, while admiring all the known creations fondly and thinking ‘isn’t she clever’, and upon seeing new creations ‘oooh genius, that one was worth the wait AND the extra skipping’.

6:23 p.m.  
Blogger Jaclyn Moriarty said...

You guys. You're all amazing. So funny and kind and such beautiful writers. I'm a lucky girl. Jx

6:36 p.m.  
Blogger Amber said...

I stopped by the stall a lot. Then I did it less frequently. Then I even moved house, twice, and it was more difficult to remember to come by the stall (though oddly it was no further away, even when I had moved. Twice, to somewhere much too cold for hunstman spiders.)

Then this morning I needed a glitter egg box, and thought, I might just try the stall, just in case. The blanket was unexpected, but it turned out to be what I wanted, even more than the egg box.

5:11 a.m.  
Anonymous Britt said...

I ALWAYS(!!!!) lurk around the stall, and even if I HAVE seen the objects before, I will pick them up in the palm of my hand, look carefully,curiously, and wait for my heart to be filled with warmth!

AND as for NEW things. WELL. I'm sure I need not explain the warmth. I practically have heartburn (in the best possible way).

Although. Jaclyn (if i may be so familiar..?)
One should never abandon baking for work.
(one should also never say 'one' unless trying to sound 80. Apologies.)
Apple crumbles are delicious, as are nutella choc chip cookies which I made instead of working.

ah, procrastibaking.

All the best,

Britt :) :) :)

9:51 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jaclyn. I have been visiting your store for literally years. Absence of new posts will not make me stop visiting, but their presence will continue put a smile right from my left ear to my right.
ps. I did a cross stitch for a school project once. I didn't finish it in time so I coloured in big patches with texta and sat at the back of the class so the short sighted teacher wouldn't notice when I held it up.

9:24 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, what all the others said. You are a delight to read. (Highlighted by the fact I have just been reading some things that were definitely not on the stall).

The word verification below is logimpl. Very you.

9:37 p.m.  
Blogger Jaclyn Moriarty said...

I have taken much too long to come back and say thank you for these very lovely comments. I really like the word procrastibaking, and I am still laughing at that story of colouring in patches of cross stitch with a texta. Should've done that myself. Thank you to everyone again. Jx

11:39 a.m.  
Blogger Ellen Osborne said...

Ohhhh J.M,

I miss your writing! Sometimes I hang out here and read through old posts again.

I hope everything is progressing well in your life, and that we'll all get to read some of your amazing work sometime in the near future.
(I have also become a fan of both your sister's works! Amazing!!)


4:29 p.m.  
Anonymous sabiya said...

i agree with ellen osborne. i miss your writing too. i miss your blog posts.

i am happy your first cello book is complete though. and hopefully it is published in the UK soon!

sabiya :)

5:12 a.m.  
Blogger Jaclyn Moriarty said...

Ellen! Why has it taken me so long to respond to your comment? What is wrong with me? I'm very sorry. But thank you so much for it, and my sisters are glad and grateful to have you as their reader. My new book, 'A Corner of White', will be out in October 2012 in Australia, and in April 2013 in US/Canada. Not sure about the UK at the moment. And Sabiya, thank you too. You are right: I should definitely update my blog more ofen. I have been thinking about it lately which is a step in the right direction. Jx

8:24 a.m.  
Blogger Ellen Osborne said...

HaHA! (I say, like I've discovered something magic... I have! Your comment!!)

Today I bought "A Corner of White". Right now I am up to page 8 and you have already made me think of my other favourite author and poet (... you are the one who isn't the 'other) - the other other being Richard Brautigan.
I'm making "In Watermelon Sugar" connections already - which is completely fabulous and wonderful for me! But I wonder if you know that you've made these two amazing books (your own and Brauty's) come and twirl themselves around in my head!?

Anyway, I had to find some way to share this with you. So here I am - if you haven't seen or heard of "In Watermelon Sugar" I highly and most surely recommend it! Colours and Trout and Watermelon Sugar everywhere! I am so excited to keep reading your book. In fact... why am I typing and not reading? >> EXIT!

10:06 p.m.  
Blogger Jaclyn Moriarty said...

Ellen, thank you so much for buying my book and for saying I am one of your favourite authors. What a thing to hear. I don't know Richard Brautigan's work, and I have a slight feeling of panic now - like, 'what?! somebody else already wrote my book!?' - but I don't think that's what you mean. I will look for his books - I like the sound of colours, trout and watermelon sugar very much. Thanks again and sleep well tonight. Jx

10:20 p.m.  
Blogger Ellen Osborne said...

Thank you for your speedy reply! And now here I am replying to a reply... (I'll forgo any kind of dignity I may have as a fan and tell you now that I squealed with delight when I found ANOTHER comment! Which would be fine if I was still a teenager and loving "Feeling sorry for Celia"... but as it happens, a *slightly* grown up English Teacher might not be allowed...)

I'm just dribbling on now, but you are right, not the same book - I just found some really cool connections; please don't panic! I am hurtling through your lovely book faster than I would like to go. And I am very happy! Thank you for another wonderful novel.
(I give you leave to not reply to this comment now.. otherwise it may become ridiculous!)

9:14 p.m.  
Anonymous sabiya said...

i miss your blog! i miss it so much. so many things have changed in the past few years.

i wish i could find a copy of 'a corner of white' but it is nowhere to be found (in london) :(

hopefully i will find it soon.

have a beautifully breezy day full of cuddles!

love, sabiya :)

4:54 a.m.  
Blogger Jaclyn Moriarty said...

Sabiya, you are so kind to say that you miss the blog, although you highlight my hopelessness. What kind of a blogger leaves years and years between posts? I have been thinking of updating this blog lately, but every time I go to do so there's TOO MUCH TO SAY. As you point out, many things have changed in the past few years. However, I promise I will update soon. Or soonish. And I hope you find A Corner of White soon or soonish too! And I wish you a wonderful day. Jaci xxx

9:41 p.m.  

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