Norwegian Wood, Tokyo Dreams

September 27, 2007 at 4:24 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve really been reading some terrific books lately. This morning I finished one of two novels Llew gave me as part of my birthday haul, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. It was published in the original Japanese in 1987 and went on to launch Murakami’s international stardom. It sounds like there was a frenzied response to it in his home country at the time too. It was a coincidental choice simply because I’d only just recently read something about Murakami – I can’t remember where, when or what, only that I thought to myself “Hmm, great, yet another author I’ve never read.”

That, happily, is no longer the case, and I’m feeling a lot less traumatised than I was after Across the [Turgid] River and Into the [Bloody] Trees. I am a dead giveaway when I’m enjoying a book, because I cart it around everywhere I go and then leap into bed at the first available opportunity every night, only to delay leaving it in the morning so I can continue where I left off. I do this in a manic binge until it’s gone. When I got home from book club last night, Llew was watching Blade, and whilst I have always loved the vampire genre – vampires are so cool – I can no longer stomach gore. I can’t bear it. Excessive violence – unless properly contextualised and deftly handled, as in the Spartan movie 300 – also finds me fleeing the room. The upshot is that I left the wholesale bloodshed to Llew and got into bed with Murakami instead, leaving myself just a few pages to knock over this morning over a cup of tea first thing.

He’s a lovely writer. When I feel really in sync with a writer I’m reading for the first time, it’s like rather like stumbling across the perfect white t-shirt. I do not, I repeat not, stop at one. No, I comb the shelves looking for every t-shirt in my size, and if they come in black, then hell, I’ll take those too. That’s how I’m feeling about Murakami. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the novel is set in Tokyo. Every time the protagonist was in Shibuya or Shinjuku, I sighed aloud and remembered our own time walking those streets, trying those restaurants, sitting in those bars, listening to those jazz records… It’s making me feel all misty-eyed right now… Oh Tokyo, city, city, city of the senses and the soul. I wish I could claim its streets as my own, even if only for a little while. And now Murakami’s gone and cast the spell all over again. That’s me gone, head over heels like a schoolgirl.

POSTSCRIPT: apologies in advance, as I won’t be blogging again until Tuesday 2 October, when we return from our long weekend in Auckland to catch up with some very dear friends of mine who I so rarely get to see. I promise a full debrief upon our return.

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Help, I’m a Hold Hostage

September 26, 2007 at 2:15 am (Uncategorized)

Today’s post was going to be about cab hailing etiquette, but having just spent another twenty minutes holding for the privilege of speaking to another human being, I’ve changed my mind. I feel like ranting, and ranting good.

What is it, tell me someone, please, that makes the experience of sitting on hold so enraging? I even had David Bowie to listen to this time – much better than the usual punishing soundtrack of wind instruments and harps – but still I fumed. I think part of it was the fact that I was holding for a Virgin Mobile customer service representative, so it was the unfunny irony of wanting to speak to someone on the phone about my phone, and feeling that they were in fact hell bent on refusing this customer any service at all. As far as withholding goes, I can confirm they’re doing a fine job.

I’d move my phone account to Telstra, but for the fact that every single month without fail, I have to sit on the phone holding, holding, still holding, waiting to talk to someone about why they keep sending me an inflated internet account. Llew and I have had to start taking it in turns, because every four weeks, we receive a bill that ignores our contract, and every time it happens, we have to call and… hold. Then once we finally get through, we have to patiently (who am I kidding? Really impatiently) repeat ourselves. After an hour or so on the phone (“We’re just going to transfer you to Telstra mobiles”; “No, stop, wait, they’re going to send us back to you, this is our internet account”; “I can’t help you, this is a Telstra mobile query”; “[muttered expletives] I’m telling you, it’s not, and they’ll transfer me back to you”; “Please hold”), they inevitably credit our account to the tune of about $150, and it’s over for another month. But no one does anything to stop it happening next time. No amount of crying, begging, or screaming has any effect. And so it’s always down to us, month after month, to tell them their business. It’s exhausting. It’s time-consuming. It’s expensive.

And do you know what really, really drives me up the wall so high that my skirt falls over my head? I’m a hostage, an absolutely captive audience. They have me over a barrel from which vantage point they can just keep pounding my sorry arse. If I want to be connected – to the internet, to the mobile network, to – let’s face it – the outside world – then I have to just drop my drawers and take it. Man, it makes me B-U-R-N (even without the suddenly rather unfortunate metaphor).

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Clover Moore’s Small Bars Bill

September 25, 2007 at 5:19 am (Uncategorized)

Clover Moore’s Small Bars Bill is being tabled in Parliament today, and it sounds like she has got some powerful allies at last. I can’t believe the Australian Hotels Association is against this move to make licensing of small venues easier and cheaper. It makes soooo much sense, on soooo many levels, and I don’t even think the big venues will be unduly affected. There is always going to be a place for large pub venues in a city with as profound a binge drinking culture as ours (and no, that’s not something that recommends it or these mega-pubs, but it’s a reality no one is doing anything meaningful to address).

I know I have talked about this before, but the thing is, Llew and I constantly see little tucked away locations all over the place that would be IDEAL hole-in-the-wall wine bars or Italian-style enotecas. They’re away from main residential areas, they could only support 50-80 odd people, they have charm and character (maybe an old barber’s shop, or a converted butcher), and yet all that potential (I can see it now…) is going to waste because people with too much power and their own agenda are preventing Sydney from becoming a city that is more sophisticated and varied in its drinking habits.

We often talk about the possibility of opening one of these boutique venues ourselves. I know just what we’d do. It would be a fusion of several bars we’ve enjoyed in Tokyo (vinyl, jazz), Italy (crostini, vini), and Spain (chorizo, cerveca), bringing together all the elements we love the most: music, atmosphere, wine, beer, tasty morsels, and conversation.

Conversation. That dying art. Everywhere I look when we’re out there are TV screens blaring either a sporting event, a music clip, or Britney Spears’ latest on-stage debacle. Restaurants have even started hanging TVs over their dining rooms – UGH. It’s just absolutely hideous, as unfortunate trends go, and it’s even worse when the volume is so loud you really have to abandon all hopes of a chat and just rack up some pool balls instead. What I wouldn’t give for an intimate local where people meet up for a drink and a chat. We are starting to do it so, so well with cafes during the day – look at Barefoot in Manly and Mecca Espresso downtown – and this Small Bars Bill is really just asking for an extension of that culture of conversation to be extended to nighttime trade.

That’s all it is. Except instead of a caffe latte, I’d order a pinot, and instead of a panini, I’d have a cheese. I want it so badly I can almost taste it, and I know I’m not the only one. Good on you, Clover Moore, and here’s hoping your Bill gets through.

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With a Bang, not a Whimper

September 24, 2007 at 4:35 am (Uncategorized)

That’s how I greeted the dawn of my mid-30s year (because let’s face it, prior to 35 we all shamelessly cling to the early-30s label, whereas post 35 there’s simply no getting around it: it’s late-30s whether we like it or not). I am still feeling the effects of all the revelry, but I suppose that’s to be expected, especially as Friday night ultimately involved Dan swinging from the rafters at Cas and Simon’s apartment in Woolloomooloo…

I was supposed to run the half-marathon on Sunday morning, but somehow that 4:45 am start just slipped away from me on the day. When I awoke at 6 am and realised I could no longer get to the race in time, the tears shed were few indeed. Truth be told, I was very happy to just roll over and go back to sleep and forget all about the 21 kilometres I was supposed to run before breakfast. Now, of course, I’m filled with self-loathing and a deep sense of ‘quitter’s regret,’ but on the day I … well, I just really needed more sleep.

I don’t bemoan the passing years. That kind of negative reflection on things forever lost has never really been my scene. The only thing that surprises me is the persistent arrival of these grey hairs upon my head – be gone, dull witches, be gone! Other than that, I’m just ecstatic to be here. I am always really glad to have made it, because plenty of people don’t. It’s a crazy old world and every birthday reached is an accomplishment in itself. Seen clearly, it’s just a damn lucky thing to lurch from one birthday to the next reasonably intact. My 34th year was great, I had a blast, and I am already enjoying the first few days of being 35. The birthday festival was long and satisfying, and now it’s time to turn to the year ahead and figure out how best and with whom to spend it. I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

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Moderation is Someone Else’s Middle Name

September 21, 2007 at 3:18 am (Uncategorized)

That’s what I told newly employed young Timothy yesterday (congratulations, mate), and it about sums up my position where all things birthday are concerned. I had such a cracking celebration on Wednesday night, although somehow it and the sake seeped into Thursday morning…And the festival continues – I am going to a Sydney dining institution for dinner tonight, after I have been to Valonz to be “Kimmed” (Kim’s the best blowdryer in the east) and then to Sarah’s for girl chat and changing. I can’t wait.

Yesterday I was over on the other side of Sydney visiting my sister and her family, including their newest member, gorgeous Harper True. First cuddle time between Harper and her aunt, and I must say she is an incredibly calm little soul. She’s also ginger, my hands-down favourite. Redheads live on a higher plane than the rest of us. I’m quite sure they’re a superior life form. It was great to finally meet her.

And now I must away. This has been the fastest week on record and I am running late again. Things shall return to normal next week, I promise. At least for a day or two.

POSTSCRIPT: I forgot one of my best presents: Llew got me a ‘KEVIN07’ t-shirt – it’s too big, but I’m tempted to wear it in the Blackmores Half-Marathon on Sunday anyway. You can get yours and get behind Kevin Rudd’s bid to end the reign of John Howard by visiting their website.

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Happy Birthday to Me

September 19, 2007 at 7:46 am (Uncategorized)

Sorry there was no post yesterday, especially since we have now officially passed the 5,000 view mark – well done us! Thanks everyone, it’s really quite exciting (as you can see I modify my ambitions in line with the passing years!). I didn’t blog because I was in “the zone” – I was redrafting my MS for hours upon hours and then Llew came home and I thought ‘Wow, another human being. Does he seriously expect conversation?’ – because believe it or not, when I haven’t spoken a single word to a single soul all day, it takes me little while to get my vocal groove back. I just gape at him a little gormlessly for a while and then mutter some inanities under my breath to get back in the swing of things before dinner. Anyway, it was a good, productive day, and I am starting to think about more ways in which I might change and/or improve the MS before I send it off for a professional MS appraisal. Wish me luck.

So. Today is my 35th birthday, and it’s really getting away from me. I’ve had a lovely day – it’s glorious, for a start – flowers, breakfast in bed, books and a new moleskin notebook from Llewie, a nice long run, a swim in the surf, lots of phone calls, texts and emails, lunch with my in-laws, who have safely returned from their road trip around WA, a mani/pedi combo that kept me out of trouble for a solid hour, and the purchase of my birthday jeans, Llew’s ‘real’ present, which he hasn’t seen yet but which I am confident he’ll love. You know you’ve found the right jeans all right when high school girls trying on formal gear comment in the affirmative once you step out of the change rooms. Teenagers have a super-radar that detects mutton faster than a border collie. If they thought I was dressing below my age demographic, I might have seen them sniggering behind their sequins in the reflection shot. But no, I got unsolicited endorsement from the perfect youth, so I hauled my 35 year old arse straight over to the register and said “I’ll take these, please, and hang the expense.”

Oh, how I love a good birthday… I might just have to wear my fabbo jeans (they’re by an LA label called J & Company, in case you’re interested, and when the hell did denim start costing this much??) around the corner for my little birthday dinner with the usual suspects from the ‘hood…It’s a modest affair, because it is a school night, after all.

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4,999 Views… and Counting.

September 17, 2007 at 3:20 am (Uncategorized)

I am the keeper of odd anniversaries. Every New Year, I write in my spanking new desk calendar the important, conventional dates from the previous year’s diary: birthdays, wedding anniversaries, other important milestones in the lives of people I care about. But I also keep another, less conventional set of dates rolling forward year after year. For instance, I know the dates when some of my friends have lost people very dear to them. To me, it’s extremely important to remember these dates because my friends might need an especially warm word or two that day. Sometimes it’s nice, and I speak from my own experience of this, just knowing that someone else remembers. And because it’s usually a pretty crap, sad day remembering that, in my case, for example, it was on that day X number of years ago that my granddad died, or, worse, my niece, it can be a good, timely reminder to make sure the people I love know I love them. But perhaps it’s an eccentricity of mine – I’m never sure if other people observe these dates as I do.

In a similar spirit, I’ve been hoping to reach the 5,000 views mark on my blog stats on or before the one year anniversary of its commencement. I’ve written 209 posts, so that would give me an average of 24 views per post. It’s not breaking any records, but it’s enough to tell me that you’re out there, and that you’re coming back. Right now my stats read 4,999 views, and because the one year mark is September 29, I already know I – we – are going to make it, and that makes me feel just grand. Thank you for continuing to check in and justify this small project’s existence.

Then there are my other markers of progress or indeed the lack thereof. This year, May 26 marked a year since I graduated with my doctorate. May 29 was the date I posted my ultimately unsuccessful entry in The Australian/Vogel literary award; September 11 is when I found out it didn’t get anywhere. June 8 marked a year since my first day in a freelance stint at WHO magazine, and September 13 is down as the anniversary of being told by the editor that the full-time job was going to someone else. June 28 this year was the 6th anniversary of my giving up smoking. I like to see those years accrue. August 20 is the day I received my rejection slip from the Curtis Brown literary agency, which was one day shy of the 10 week mark of my having sent the sample of my writing in. You may look at this list and see occasions you’d think I’d prefer not to be reminded of, but it’s actually the opposite. I like to see what I’ve accomplished instead, in the meantime. I like looking back on the year since a job I was already doing, and as far as anyone could tell me, doing well, was given to a candidate I hadn’t even known existed. The reason I like reflecting on that day is that the job really wasn’t right for me, and I know I would have ended up hating it. I think in her wisdom the editor already knew that, and knew I probably wouldn’t stay. Still, our conversation was a big shock to me, and so I keep that date as a reminder of what I was ultimately spared. And I see the body of published work I have accumulated since with no small measure of gradually recovered pride.

It’s the same with my MS rejections. I have faith in my manuscript, if you want to know the honest truth. And I choose to believe – I have no other choice – that it will one day find a home with a publisher. Ultimately, I have to look at these dates of vast personal disappointment and distress as markers of their (the editor’s, agent’s, publisher’s) loss, not mine, and so it’ll be great, great fun to see where we are with all of this another year from now.

POSTSCRIPT: in case you’re interested, here’s the extract from the winning Vogel entry that appeared in Saturday’s Review section of The Weekend Australian.

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Chasing Comic Genius

September 13, 2007 at 5:23 am (Uncategorized)

Hats off to ABC’s The Chaser. Every now and again, something comes along that makes me regret not having a TV, and last night’s edition, which was about the Chaser team’s inspired APEC infiltration, takes the cake. And they were justly rewarded by rating through the roof of old Aunty’s house.

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, the Chaser is basically a bunch of guys, all ex-lawyers, I believe, who run amok in comedy sketches that most often pillory politicians and other authority figures. It is a richly satirical, utterly fearless, at times wonderfully juvenile format that allows them to comment in the most hilarious fashion on some of the abundant absurdities in Australia’s current political and social climate. They’re also not averse to skewering ignorant civilians here and abroad (one skit in the USA had a member of the Chaser asking passersby to name countries of the world beginning with the letter ‘U’ – most struggled).

And we in Sydney were totally, abjectly terrorised by the security detail for APEC. It was expensive overkill in the worst way. You couldn’t move for fences and snipers and the boys in blue. Llew was even stopped on his way to work, in suit and tie, unruly red curls bouncing, and questioned by a very serious policeman about just what he thought he was doing walking down the street. Citizens of this city were treated like suspicious scum-bags for a whole week. Were the whole thing not so insulting and so excessive, everyone in uniform on a little-bit-of-power jag that knew no bounds, then the Chaser stunt may not have seemed so spectacularly hilarious. As it was, however, it proved the perfect assault weapon, and the only one to come back in the face of all the metal turned on the citizenry. Go, boys, go.

Masquerading as an official motorcade bearing the ever-benign Canadian flag, the Chaser team was waved through not one, but, deliciously, two security checkpoints in a city that was basically in full lock-down. I can just imagine them sitting in the car saying “Shit. That wasn’t supposed to happen. What the hell should we do now?” They nudged their way, inexorably now, to the door of the Intercontinental Hotel, were US President George Bush was reportedly staying (in the worst-kept secret of the whole shebang). Still undetected, the Chaser had few options but to forcibly launch themselves in the face of the $250 million security network, and one of them eventually leapt from one of the [three?] vehicles dressed as Osama Bid Laden, loudly proclaiming himself to be an important world leader who had come to claim his place at the APEC table. Naturally, he was arrested, as were ten other members of the team, including production.

The papers the next day showed him being given a full body search – as if there was ANY REMOTE CHANCE this guy was packing. That’s the joke. It just makes the entire security operation look utterly farcical. Really, it just emphasised the fact that the only thing authorities should have properly anticipated was that the Chaser team would try something.

They’ve actually been charged, which is also ludicrous, under laws that were brought in especially for APEC. Talk about wasting more time and money. They’re comedians, for Christ’s sake. They’re satirists. As if they weren’t simply doing their job (and doing it much more efficiently than some other people we might mention). Pursuing them legally just makes people who already look stupid look dumb and dumber. The trumped up charge is something like ‘being in the area without just purpose.’ Something like that. But I think they’ll be able to argue very persuasively that they were indeed there with a purpose – to expose the idiocy of APEC’s super security by committing a brazen and too-easy breach. That’s a damn fine purpose, and it worked a treat. They’re comedians. That’s what they do. If they had failed to show, everyone would have been amazed. We were amazed anyway, because no one, including the 11 charged members of the team, expected in our wildest dreams that the Chaser would be waved right through to the APEC epicentre. It came off a comic dream, and it is now a full-scale bureaucratic nightmare. Bravo, boys, bravo. Love your work.

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That Ship Has Sailed

September 12, 2007 at 6:30 am (Uncategorized)

Well, it turns out I am nothing if not pragmatic, so 24 hours after the knockout punch, I find I am already walking away with a jaunty spring in my step. That ship, as they say, has sailed, and no amount of navel-gazing and fervent imaginings of alternate outcomes will bring it back. So ciao, dear Vogel, and bon voyage. Allow me to wave you off with a happy heart.

Here’s the article from one of the judges, plus snapshots of the 5 shortlisted titles (from a field of 144 entrants). It’s ambiguous on the question of whether all 4 judges read all 144 manuscripts, but given they only had about 120 days, it seems unlikely. Then again, what would I know? Nothing. That’s the beauty of the whole process. It’s extraordinarily opaque, like the best brothel window.

I’m determined to shamelessly whore my wares elsewhere, chickadees – what fun! There’s never a dull moment around here, so stay tuned for Part III in the continuing saga of the unpublished manuscript bearing my name. Tally-ho!

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Slamming Doors

September 11, 2007 at 5:19 am (Uncategorized)

That’s slamming, not sliding. Today I received written notification that my entry in The Australian/Vogel competition for unpublished manuscripts was unsuccessful.

And it’s actually a bit worse than that, because my MS didn’t make the shortlist. Oh, and because it didn’t make the shortlist, I don’t get any feedback whatsoever on why my work failed to make the grade. Talk about frustrating. Three and a half months of waiting, and then nothing but the news of failure. Ouch. This, as Sheena emailed me earlier, fully sucks.

Big sigh. Naturally I’m disappointed. It’s not that I thought I’d win, it’s that I’d hoped to make the shortlist. And in not making the shortlist, I have no choice but to conclude my work is substandard. The Vogel is one of those awards that is popular at all levels precisely because there’s no agenda other than to identify the best unpublished MS among the two hundred or so entries each year. It’s also one of the only opportunities in this country for unpublished, aspiring authors to have their work read and judged by industry professionals. So it’s no minor thing to have failed to leave the desired impression. It’s quite a big thing. I have to accept that my submission simply wasn’t good enough; or, “They’re just not that into me.”

That’s two for two, people. First the literary agency rejected a sample of my writing, and now a literary competition has rejected the entire MS. Things are not going well. I know, I know, I know and have already written elsewhere on this blog that so many ultimately successful authors go through years of this. I know. But it would be naive and possibly the sign of some kind of mental illness were I to assume this is all just a rite of passage. It may be happening not because it happens to the best of ’em, but because it also, in much greater numbers, happens to the worst of ’em.

But let’s be frank. I’ve looked over my MS a few times since entering it in the Vogel. I still don’t think it’s terrible. Tim, my reader, didn’t think it was terrible either. We each hold a PhD in English, and we have done our fair share of reading over the years. We have above average English language skills. So what’s truly terrifying about this failure is that the judges weren’t even looking for the MS that’s closest to ‘publishable standard.’ They’re looking for the one with the most potential, the one they think can be knocked into shape by the editors at Allen & Unwin in time for the book’s launch in about 12 months time. And mine still didn’t make the shortlist.

I’m sure the field was excellent and of a very high standard. I have absolutely no doubt this country is teeming with talented young writers who just can’t win a trick. I’m certain the judges have fulfilled their remit with great integrity, and I look forward to reading the eventual winner’s book when it’s published (the winner is announced on Thursday). I’ll also be interested to read the judge’s report – annually, one of the judge’s writes a piece about that year’s entries. I’ll be glad to know what he or she has to say about the level of competition, number of entries, criteria for the shortlist and so on.

Unfortunately, though, none of that helps me understand what’s wrong with my MS and how I can improve it. None of it helps me work through the intense sense of failure, nor the accompanying loss of confidence about what I am doing with my time. All I can do now is move on. It is what it is – a pretty lousy moment in time – but what can I do except try to learn something from the failure, and keep trying to improve?

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