Sorry this is happening so late in the day – I’ve been interviewing and transcribing for an article so I’m sure you’ll forgive me because it pays and you – much as I love you – don’t. I’m still sick with the flu, by the way. It must be a new record for me. And if I hadn’t been feeling ill already, I certainly would have by the time they were finished with me yesterday. I had to have an internal dye ultrasound examination – more rounds of secret women’s business (you know what? I don’t want the secret – keep the secret, it’s all yours) – and it was just as unpleasant as it sounds. In fact, it left me feeling very shaky, teary, and violated. I have three carefully chosen words for you: don’t do it. If you can possibly avoid it, DON’T DO IT. The combination of the probe itself and the pronounced lack of bedside manner from the male doctor was traumatic. Once it was finally over and they left me alone – after more than an hour of hell, mind you – I wept as I got dressed. All this and a non-rebatable price tag of $445? My lucky day! Let’s have two!
Aaaaaaanyway, I’ve got a friend’s baby shower coming up in a couple of weeks, and it’s prompting me to put a radical idea on the table: why don’t people have these things after the baby is born? Oh, I should probably explain what a baby shower is as I understand they don’t happen everywhere. Basically, the mum-to-be is thrown a little afternoon tea by either a relative or a friend, and all the women in her life come along with a gift for the unborn baby. We all sit around for a couple of hours chatting and eating and opening presents and ooohing and ahhhing and then the exhausted pregnant woman waddles off home with leftover cupcakes, a bursting bladder, and lots of cute outfits and things for the baby. It’s all very nice.
But traditionally baby showers occur before the baby’s arrival, which I’ve never really understood. A lot of people don’t find out the sex of the child until it comes screaming into the world, so this creates a lemon coloured dilemma come baby shower time. Boy or girl? Nobody knows, so some women opt for supposedly gender neutral lemon clothes. And too much lemon in any wardrobe is an unfortunate thing to behold.
The other thing is that there’s no baby, so it all feels – pardon the pun – premature. There’s a weird disconnect – you hold up all these jumpsuits and toys to show everyone, but there’s no one to dress or play with… And it has to be kind of surreal for the pregnant first timer. It’s all still so abstract and remote at that point, which means it’s probably hard to properly appreciate or even care about that basket of face washers and talcum powder and baby oil and nail clippers. Besides, if the baby shower took place once there was an actual baby, we could all see it! How convenient would it be to see all your girlfriends in one hit after you’d had enough time to recover and adjust to your strange new sleep-deprived world? I know from personal experience that the wait to see a friend’s new baby can sometimes seem interminable – everyone’s baby is different, every new mum has a different experience, and sometimes, well, they’re just not ready for us. But once they felt ready, it would be nice, lovely even, to have the excuse of a baby shower to get everyone together at once. Because maybe new mum is finding it tough. And isolating. Lonely. Hard. Not a lot of fun. And I bet any advice sought by a new mum at an after baby shower would be much more desperately needed and much more deeply appreciated and much more well-remembered than any advice sagaciously dispensed by all and sundry in the know (and they’ll line up, I’ll tell you, I’ve seen them) at a before baby shower. A good friend of mine had an after baby shower because she didn’t have a whole lot of choice – her first baby was born about 8 weeks early, impatient little miss – but I thought it was great. It put the ‘baby’ back in ‘baby shower.’ It just made so much more sense. We all got to fuss over and have a hold of Little One, and we all got to see that our friend was intact and happy and coping, and we all got to see each other. And there was no lemon.
Yes, art lovers, it’s that time again: the 2008 Biennale of Sydney is coming our way. Let the countdown to June 18 begin. You might think I am jumping the gun a little, given I’m mentioning this four months ahead of schedule, but it’s worth talking about now because the 2008 Biennale of Sydney’s online venue – revolutionsonline – is already up and running for your viewing pleasure.
revolutionsonline is a great little warm up to the main event (the 2008 Biennale of Sydney runs 18 June to 7 September and it’s *FREE* so you’ve got no excuse to pretend it isn’t happening all over town), offering an ever-shifting landscape of works of film, audio, image, interactivity, live-stream performance and text. This is why I love the web. I don’t understand how it works. I don’t even know the first thing about how they get all that shit uploaded, and I don’t care to know because I use technology on a strictly need-to-know basis, but I love the amount of cool stuff you can just bump into online.
What is this space we’re in?
I’m glad it makes sense to people, that codes and programs and everything else that goes into creating the virtual universe of the internet make up a language that many people today speak fluently. I have a couple of friends who build and design websites for a living – their knowledge impresses me, but, if I’m honest, frightens me a little bit too. I’m a tech moron, and their tech brilliance is disconcerting to say the least. But that doesn’t mean I fail to appreciate how impressive the internet is. I love that I can view contemporary art exhibitions online. I love that I can book tickets to see the Cate Blanchett-directed, Sydney Theatre Company production of Joan Didion’s adapted play The Year of Magical Thinking just by clicking a couple of icons on my computer. I love that I can maintain my little blog with a minimum of fuss and that people all over the world can read it.
And I love the dissemination of information. See, I just happened across something this morning that reminded me it was a Biennale year for Sydney, so that prompted a Google search, which led me straight to their main website. From there, I went to the ‘News’ section and then into the online venue. So today, before lunch, I’ve already had a bit of a wander through a gallery… Not a conventional gallery, but what is conventional anymore? Surely we are still occupying some kind of space here in the online world, however it confounds and challenges our expectations and traditional definitions. And now I’ve read Paul Chan’s (articulate, dry, thoughtful) artist statement about his street production of Waiting for Godot in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans… something I didn’t know even happened until the unique serendipity of the web worked its magic once more. It’s just cool. I rate it.
And despite the fact that it cops a constant whalloping, I like contemporary art, too. Sure, some of it is shit, undeniably; I’ve seen contemporary art that’s less sophisticated and interesting than the potato prints we were all busy finessing as 5 year olds. But don’t let the banal or the self-congratulatory or the smug or the plain stupid put you off contemporary art as a whole. It’s such a rich, complex area of the arts that I think it’s a real shame a few boring poseurs have ruined it for so much of its potential audience. But it works both ways. You have to be an engaged participant, you have to get out there and have a look and support contemporary art, because that’s the only way they will be able to claim more room in the world for more artists with more ideas and more passions and more ways of seeing. Otherwise the opportunities shrink, and when that happens, the variety and sometimes the standard contracts. Just look at the health of Australian publishing.
Unpublished young(ish) fiction writers (um, exhibit A right here) have a hell of a time getting their work out, but the average Australian reader has not got any idea how many of us there really are. Young unknown contemporary artists face exactly the same struggle. In some ways theirs is worse, because the “all contemporary art is shit” tag pursues them like a landlord chasing down his overdue rent. It can’t be easy. At least when I tell people what I do for a living they don’t say “Yeah, but that’s just a load of meaningless crap.” Mmm, thanks for the input. Assuming they’re all as personally involved and soul-exposed in their work as I am in mine, I can only say that’s got to hurt.
Anyway, the 2008 Biennale is the perfect time to turf out your preconceptions and prejudices and all the other pejorative ‘p’ words and get out and about in Sydney to make the most of having an international contemporary art event right at your door. It happens but once every two years, so enjoy.
It had to happen, I knew it was only a matter of time. I never thought you were perfect. That’s not where we’ve gone wrong. I always knew we disagreed on some things, and I understood you’d never change, but I was prepared to believe we could still make things work. Perhaps we still can.
But Kevin, the honeymoon is over, and we need to talk. I feel so left out of your future plans. So overlooked. I can’t understand it – did you mean the things you said back in November, back in those halcyon days of starry-eyed young love? Because if so, you’ve changed. Mighty quickly. I know there are other women who think you should favour them just because they’re women, but that was never our thing, was it? I never asked you to recognise me as an equal simply for my (opposite) sex. No, I believed you understood that equality is a state of mind, and in that context, there’s simply no question that women are equal to any task. I have never – not once in my life – even remotely considered the possibility that I am not as intellectually capable as a man by virtue of my being a woman. It isn’t a concept worthy of my consideration. It insults my intelligence. I do, on the other hand, understand and accept the physical differences between the sexes. Any idiot can plainly grasp what men can and – oh yes, it’s a biggie – can’t do. Likewise I am well aware of my physical limitations. Llew can carry me but I haven’t a hope of ever lifting him. Still, I could give you both a hiding in the physical stakes in other ways. Care to run a half-marathon with me, Kevin? You’re on.
I feel betrayed, Kevin. Pushed aside. How else do you explain the sole woman chair on your 2020 summit for mapping Australia’s future? Ten chairs, and you select one woman? This after saying the 1,000 participating delegates will comprise Australia’s best and brightest? I’m so shocked and insulted by the gender bias of the chairs that I shudder to think who the delegates will finally prove to be. Let’s get this straight right now, Kevin, before another word is said: I don’t think you should have more than one woman chair because women should be more fairly represented on the basis of being women. Truth be told, I’ve always struggled with the affirmative action movement because I believe in merit, not balancing scales. I know it’s much more complicated than that (how, for instance, can women gain qualifications and recognition and promotions etc if they can’t even get in the door? There is no question at all that patriarchal societies East and West have done much to keep women marginalised, so affirmative action was perhaps a necessary corrective measure, but not without its problems) and I know I am oversimplifying, but what I mean to stress is that the reason I’m so appalled is that it’s grossly erroneous and intellectually reckless to suggest that 9 out of 10 of Australia’s best and brightest possible chairs are men. It’s laughable, or it would be were you joking.
But you’re not joking, are you, Kevin? Oh, you’ll scramble about now, and load up the delegates with women and ethnic minorities and tick all your fucking boxes, but that’s affirmative action style number crunching to get out of gaol. That’s not real equality. That’s not looking around and thinking ‘You know what, there’s no way you 9 guys and 1 woman comprise the most effective mix of chairs among this country’s best and brightest. There’s just no way.’
Choosing six out of ten female co-chairs from your own Ministry as a pathetic peace-offering ‘make good’ is not only cheating, Kevin, it’s arrogant. It’s like saying ‘Oh well, I already scooped the best and brightest females in this country for my cabinet, so my work here is done.’ Well, excuse me, Kevin, but you’re mistaken. You’re very gravely mistaken. Oh, and co-chairs are subordinate, mate. We women folk have had quite enough of that position already, because here’s the fundamental thing: WE AREN’T SUBORDINATE.
Is this where we are in 2008, Kevin? I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. If this is your idea of mapping this country’s future, then we’re all in trouble, and that includes you.
The one problem with the new and improved layout of my office is that I can see the dead plant. It’s right there, dead ahead in more ways than one… It is so pathetic and sad looking, and it’s in a great thumping pot too, like it should really be someone. Instead it’s like when Dorothy pulls back the curtain and finds the wizened old Oz ferreting away back there as furtive as if he’d been busted, tissue in hand, in a viewing room at a strip joint. It’s got that shrunken head thing happening, like when we finally get a gander at Darth Vader and discover he’s really quite puny. That’s my plant. And I killed it.
I do this quite a lot. I have what might be called a black thumb, one touch and they wither. I don’t like watching them die, but in most cases I can’t seem to help it. Any aid I offer usually makes things worse. Much worse. Fatal. The odd thing about this plant’s death is that for a while, it was the big man about the office. Its twin was the sickly one, all embarrassed in the opposite corner and very shy in company. But this guy was the alpha male. The stud. Well, how quickly the end comes. Now it looks like the end of the world swept through here and claimed but one prize. My plant.
Llew kind of wants me to take up the gardening tools in our relationship, and I keep patiently explaining to him that it is never, ever going to happen. Do you want to know why? Well, haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve said ? I kill things. And I am not interested enough in gardening to learn how to stop driving all the household flora to an early grave (I have my own dumping ground out the back… it’s really quite sinister). I don’t care if we get rid of every plant except the frangipani cuttings from my granddad’s house. As long as we can have fresh flowers instead, I say ta ta, plant life, that’s what you get for being so goddamn temperamental. Who do they think they are, dying like that right after I’ve brought them into my home and tried to shower them with love and care and perhaps, just maybe, a little too much water? Ingrates.
I love my three frangipani plants because they have irreplaceable sentimental value. If they started to ail, I would panic, and then I would act. I would call in the experts, like my mother-in-law. I’d start feeding them that pellet stuff marketers have the nerve to call ‘plant food’ – “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought that was rat shit” – and I’d even deign to turn some turf. But answer me this: what in god’s name is therapeutic about any of that? It doesn’t becalm me, it confounds me. And they don’t call all those dirty things “soiled” for nothing, do they? No.
I don’t like dirt, I like sand. I never prune in the right place, and any attempt to cut back a plant usually results in rampant bald patches and a swift death. I have a hanging plant hanging on grimly to what little is left of its life that doesn’t do a lot of hanging in the bathroom. I’d say it more cowers. And the truly remarkable thing about this plant is that it was given to me on my 21st birthday. This thing even survived 2 years abandoned out the back of Granddad’s house in Bondi Beach whilst I was tripping the light fantastic in London. It just refuses to die. It has an extraordinary will to live, however paltry that life is. It’s my kind of plant because it doesn’t need me. Plants that require a great deal of care are just too much for me because at the end of the day, I’d rather invest all that love and worry and effort on actual people. If I had any flair for gardening, I’m sure I’d feel differently. But I don’t. So stop looking at me with those black dead leaves, you dirty traitor…I’ve got just the place for you…
Sorry about the two missing posts, we went down to Bowral on Thursday for the really gorgeous wedding weekend of two dear friends. Now we’re back, I’ve picked up some hideous virus and feel like death (I have never in my life had the run of poor health I’ve had these past couple of months – it’s been one thing after another and I usually never get sick at all – what’s happening to me???) and am here at my desk by sheer force of will.
And speaking of desks, just call me Mummy Warbucks. You should see this table. I can’t believe my already great office just got better… It’s completely outrageous! We’ve turned it lengthways and moved the bookcase and removed my old table (it lasted five minutes outside on the footpath with a ‘TAKE ME, I’M YOURS!’ sign on it) and now the room looks awesome. Many people would consider such a purchase borderline lunacy, but to be perfectly honest, I kind of love that Llew and I backed ourselves enough to say ‘What the hell.’ Our instincts have proven right in the past, and now that I am sitting at this Gordon Gekko uber-desk, part of me feels vindicated. The other part of me feels rather daunted. I can’t own a desk like this without producing serious results.
Which brings me to my latest defeat on the fiction front. That short story I sent off to a literary magazine in November after the Varuna failure? Rejected. Just got it returned in the post today, almost three months to the day since I sent it in. So no, it doesn’t look like short stories are necessarily going to improve my chances of ever getting published as a fiction writer. Some people – including people I’m very close to – have gently suggested to me several times already that perhaps my skill is limited to non-fiction. Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree. Chasing rainbows. Punching above my weight. And maybe I am. Let’s look at my stats. The first draft of my MS failed to make an impression in the Vogel, a competition for unpublished manuscripts. The first few thousands words of that same first draft also failed to garner the interest of the sole literary agency I sent it to. Then came the second draft. It was rejected by Varuna. It has since seen a third major rewrite, and I am currently about halfway through the fourth. In the meantime, I’ve just had that short story rejected by the Australian literary magazine, Meanjin. Four rejections. Zero acceptances.
I will say that breaking into non-fiction was a whole lot easier. The very first time I pitched a travel story, it was accepted by a major Australian newspaper. Most of the time any initiative on my part is amply rewarded. But does the relative difficulty/impossibility of getting my fiction accepted mean that I should give it away? I don’t think so. It just makes it harder and more painful and more disappointing and more publicly humiliating and more financially irresponsible.
Llew thinks I should brace myself for thousands of rejections. Thousands? I’m not sure I could cope with that. But I think I can stand a few more, I think I have to, although I will reflect a lot on this latest defeat and try to figure out where I am going so wrong. Perhaps the story hasn’t been redrafted sufficiently… maybe I sent it out prematurely. It’s a big hazard for me at the moment because I am so desperate for feedback and validation that I think I do rush things out the door before they’re ready to go. I should know better, but it’s difficult to keep sight of all your best practices when you’re most consistent feedback is a form rejection slip.
Hopefully this new desk will keep my honest.
I think blending all my food like a gummy octogenarian for the past few days has taken its toll on my ability to process information. It’s the only explanation for last night. Last night, we had a family dinner for my sister-in-law Flic’s birthday at the (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again) fantastically delicious Sailors Thai Canteen at The Rocks. Seating is communal. The vast table takes up basically 80% of the dining room. We nabbed one of the ends as a table of 5 caught in the midsection can struggle acoustically (as we know from A Tavola). Little did I suspect, gingerly tucking into mouth-watering solid food last night, that enormous communal tables were soon to become the evening’s defining theme.
I can happily report that my DRUGS! mixed quite well with alcohol. In fact, it’s the most effective pain relief I’ve found since falling headfirst into this hellfire. There’s a good reason why I’m not a medical doctor because hell, I thoroughly recommend it! But perhaps it did impair my decision-making abilities… that would explain why the warning on the DRUGS! says “do not operate heavy machinery.” I’d amend that to “do not make any sudden significant purchases.”
Oh yes, dear readers of this blog, Llew and I went in for a spot of impulse buying by moonlight last night. This is something we can ill, ill afford to do, but a little cocktail known as DRUGS! and alcohol made all my pain and reason float right away… I don’t know what Llew’s excuse is…exhaustion, maybe, from having to deal with me for the past week… anyway, we both took leave of our senses.
We do this sometimes. We live large. Large being the operative. On this occasion, we had almost made it home without doing anything stupid or expensive. We even sensibly caught the ferry home rather than risk the extravagance of a Sydney cab. We were so close. In fact, I could hop to the scene of our undoing from here. But we didn’t make it. We faltered, and then we fell.
Our favourite local cafe is undergoing a bit of a refit. You know the drill: new owners want to put their own stamp on the place. Out with the old, in with the new, the show must go on etc. And one of the things the new owners are parting with is the communal table.
The communal table. Imagine, if you will, a table that is a metre wide. Okay. Now imagine that same table is 2.7 metres long. Yes, that’s right. 2.7 metres. Now imagine that you see that table on the footpath out the front of your favourite local noshery. You’ve eaten around that table with friends. You’ve had some fine times around that table, yucking it up, waving in more wine and insisting everyone must have dessert. You see the table is for sale, and that the new owners of said cafe are packing up for the night. Now imagine that – on a crazy spur of the moment whim – you buy that table and immediately enlist the help of kitchen and wait staff in bearing it home. Then imagine that you instal it in your home in the middle of the night while all the sane people are tucked up safely in bed dreaming happy dreams of all the space they’ve got left in their dining room.
We don’t really have a dining room.
What we’ve got is this office, and the communal table is right now directly behind me, as vast and solid as the Pentagon. Like the Pentagon, the table also feels like it’s gathering a dossier on me even as I sit here quietly typing and minding my own affair. It sees things. It knows stuff. Which, frankly, is a lot more than I can say for us.
The late Princess Diana once famously said that there were three in her marriage, and that’s kind of how I feel about the new presence in my house. It’s so manifest it’s like being watched. Better looking than Camilla Parker Bowles, though, I’ll give it that. Actually it’s a very handsome table. And it’s fit for viking feasts. And if we just move the bookcase and perhaps turn it that way… yes, it might just work… and then I’ll have the most audacious desk (and occasional dining table) in the southern hemisphere… Which means it’s time to wave farewell to my old pine table, my current desk. I’ve had it since I was 21 years old, and it has served me very, very well indeed. It has seen too many meals to mention, and has stepped into its relatively recent role of permanent desk without complaint. It’s been a good, solid piece of furniture and it’s been everywhere with me. Sigh. I hope it finds a happy home and someone who will appreciate it as much as I have. Time to put our own table out on the footpath…
I think I may have discovered the source of last Thursday’s mega-migraine. You see, I had a visit from the tooth fairy the same night. As I just said to my friend Tamsin, it was the tooth fairy, but not as we know her. It wasn’t the sweet, benevolent fairy who leaves money under your pillow as you soundly sleep on. No, this was the fucking bitch fairy, who rips your head apart in the dead of night so she can better stab at all your nerve-endings.
Wicked, wicked fairy. Naughty fairy, who I’d spray with something utterly noxious if only she’d dare come near me again (please, please don’t). Something like, say, Mortein. Or Agent Orange.
On Thursday night, after the roar in my skull became just a dull throbbing sensitivity to movement, sound, and light (and this represents a genuine improvement in conditions, mind you), I was violently awoken by the tooth fairy wrenching at my jaw-line. “Fucking OUCH,” I wailed, clutching at the side of my face. “That fucking hurts.” Bitch fairy laughed gaily and went in for the kill, using some garden-dwelling variety of jackjammer at the back of my mouth. Staggering to the bathroom, I tried to shake her off, but she just dangled from my tonsils and poked at the swollen skin. Bitch.
I ignored her all day Friday. But it seems she didn’t take very kindly to being omitted from Friday’s post, because when I tried to sleep that night, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she’d like credit where credit is due. She’s convinced she caused my migraine – all part of her charm – so why didn’t I just say so and put her name up in lights? Okay. My mistake. It was the bitch fairy. She did it. She has the power and deserves the glory. There. I said it. Hope she’s happy now, the fucking narcissistic diva.
By the time I fell out of bed with the pain on Saturday morning, I knew she had me beat. I needed a dentist, and I needed one last week. So I ran – ran, I tell you – to the nearest dental surgery in the desperate hope of giving bitch fairy the slip. I knew I had the advantage – she tends to get her beauty sleep (and god knows she needs it) during the day. Just like the blood-sucking evil vampire she is.
Emergency dentist came out of the dark, stormy mist of my excruciating pain and I could have sworn he was backlit by a halo. This grew brighter as he whipped out a prescription pad. It positively vibrated when he said conspiratorially “These are extremely effective pain killers.” The light around his precious, sweet head only dimmed when he added “You have an impacted wisdom tooth that’s infected. It’s going to require surgery.”
“Fuck you, bitch fairy,” I thought. And then I thought “Drugs!”
That’s about the last thought I’ve had. Every time I try and branch out and think about something else, something in my mouth moves and then my brain freezes with agony and all I can think is “Drugs!”
Must. Have. More. Drugs! I don’t usually take anything – did you see how I toughed it out with that migraine? KAPOW! – but I am loving these puppies. I’m counting down the 8 hour break between dosages like I’m going to win the lottery at the end. Actually, just an unbroken night’s sleep would do. Bitch fairy keeps sniggering at me and taunting me through the night because she knows I have a wedding in three days and that my drugs will be almost out by then. “You’re not photogenic at the best of times, honey,” she cackled at me last night. “Just wait til the painkillers wear off and the swelling kicks back in!” The alternative? Getting my impacted wisdom tooth pulled out before the wedding. I don’t think so. I wouldn’t give that bitch fairy the satisfaction.
Well, Llew and I had the most ordinary Valentine’s Day we’ve ever had together yesterday. The onset of my migraines is always the same, very textbook. My vision separates (if I look in a mirror straight on I can only see half of what’s there, as in a fun house mirror), and then it starts pooling, like there’s a shimmering around my periphery. After that stops, the pain in my head comes swiftly and totally.
And so it came to be that a full frontal lobe assault utterly derailed our planned dinner for two last night. No, Llew had dinner and wine alone after we had to cancel our order, pay our bill (we’re on such a budget at the moment it was just a cosy little local pizzeria, but god it was nice to be out…even if I lasted about 15 minutes), and get me home, where we found the neighbouring apartment block’s fire alarm bringing down the house (not once, but twice – it also went off at about 11:30 pm and stayed on for half an hour, so close to my poor aching head it was like it was fitted in my ear).
Llew watched a DVD and ate the pizza they’d packed up for us to take home, and I went into our quiet, dark, cool room with my head screaming. Romantic, huh? Anyway, I could tell you more, and might on Monday, but the computer screen isn’t agreeing with me even now, and I am feeling rather fragile and yes, it has to be said, a little bit sorry for myself, so I am going to say ta ta for now, and hopefully things will be better by Monday.
Wednesday 13 February 2008. Here it is. A rainy day in Sydney, but an historic day for the country. At last, at long, long last, our elected leaders have said sorry for policies enacted by previous governments that resulted in the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families. These Australians are known as the Stolen Generations, and they have been owed this apology for a very long time.
Paul Keating commissioned the Bringing Them Home report (I think in 1994) back when he was Prime Minister. By the time the report was finished, Labor had lost the election and the findings were handed over to Liberal PM John Howard, who went on to steadfastly refuse to apologise for the duration of his 11 years in office. Can the federal election really have been just a few short months ago? What a difference a change of leadership makes. It is hard for me to compare the two attitudes toward this long outstanding apology without getting emotional. Well, so what if I have a bit of a cry? It wouldn’t be the first time today.
I made the trip into the CBD of Sydney this morning to witness the live telecast from Canberra’s Parliament House on the big screen with my fellow saturated Sydneysiders. Clarence Slockee, an Indigenous Australian from northern NSW, opened and closed proceedings at Martin Place this morning, and he was wonderfully charismatic. It’s not an easy thing to manage humour, gravity, ceremony, and eloquence all at once, but Mr Slockee managed it. His electrifying singing, meanwhile, gave me goosebumps.
What is it about Indigenous song? It is so otherwordly, really haunting, and I daresay that’s the whole point. Indigenous culture is so deeply, fundamentally spiritual, is it any wonder their songs sound like they are coming from another place, from the Dreaming? It’s a very beautiful idea, and listening to Mr Slockee’s ethereal, powerful voice emanating through Martin Place, it was strangely (for me, someone without any faith in the conventional, organised religion sense) easy to believe, too. When he said his ancestors were there with us, all around and watching over us all, Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians alike, it’s the strangest thing, but it honestly felt like they really were.
The atmosphere in Martin Place shifted from start to finish. The rain made us all a bit sombre. Then there’s the fact that we didn’t seem sure whether we were supposed to be free with our jubilation and relief, or just silently respectful of the many tens of thousands of Indigenous Australians whom the day is really about: the Stolen Generations. I can’t speak for any other Non-Indigenous person, but I can say I wasn’t sure what was appropriate behaviour or how best to show my support for the apology. Should I clap? Should I listen in solemn silence? Should I wave a trio of flags? I really didn’t know what was the most respectful way to conduct myself.
I just wanted to do whatever the right thing was. What was the proper etiquette for Non-Indigenous supporters? This is the thing: I really didn’t know – no PM has ever said sorry before! And generally speaking, we Non-Indigenous Aussies still don’t know anywhere near enough about the customs of Indigenous Aussies. This apology is for them; what if applauding the PM inadvertently caused offence to the very people we were there to support? It was an unbearable thought, and in the end I went for a combined response. I cried – silently, behind my sunglasses – as the PM read out old parliamentary policies for “dealing with the Aboriginal Problem,” I applauded loudly and let out several spontaneous whoops when the PM commended the motion to Parliament, I stared in growing disgust and absolute disbelief at Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson delivering his right of reply (I categorically refuse to spread his taint here), and I listened in awed silence to Clarence Slockee’s spine-tingling songs.
As Llew went off to a meeting after Mr Slockee closed proceedings in Martin Place, he said “It’s been a very long time since I last felt proud to be an Australian.” As a Non-Indigenous Australian, I think our new Prime Minister acquitted himself very well this morning, and I humbly hope all surviving members of the Stolen Generations and Indigenous Australia feel the same way.
This apology is only the very beginning of what still needs to be done to redress historical wrongs in this country. Everyone knows that. The facts of Indigenous Australia’s current existence scream out some pretty hard truths even without examining the past. We’re talking life expectancy, healthcare, housing, education, substance and sexual abuse; Indigenous Australians have been unable to gain access to the fortunate, prosperous life available to the majority of Australians. They are our First Australians, so something is definitely wrong with this picture.
For too long, sorry has seemed to be the hardest word. It’s been an effective foil for that other word: racism. In fact, there are many other uncomfortable words that have been hiding behind sorry, so hopefully now we’ll all start talking about them as unflinchingly as our PM spoke about appalling past policies this morning. I want so badly to believe we will all get there, together, and today, through the cheering, crying, and flag-waving, I simply wanted to say “I believe in this apology. I believe in you. I believe in the precious sanctity of your ancient culture and in the critical importance of preserving it through and for your people and all others who call Australia home, past, present and future. I believe the forced removal of Indigenous children was wrong. I believe in reconciliation. I am so sorry. And I am so very hopeful for the future of all Australians. Every single one.”
I’ve spent the day finishing off a short story I wrote whilst in transit yesterday. It’s only 1,500 words, but I had to type it into my computer from my trusty little moleskin pocket notebook (I love those things), finish it, and redraft it a number of times on-screen (thank god for computers – I don’t know how Don DeLillo does it, working on a typewriter when the whole world knows there’s a much easier way…!).
The genesis of the story is interesting because the idea – and it’s only a small one, nothing to get excited about – came to me during a recent bout of insomnia. I’ve been having a lot of those lately. Maybe it’s the crazy weather. Maybe it’s because I am living in a perpetual state of rigid anxiety about the effect of my job’s (a job which beyond non-fiction freelance work there’s absolutely no evidence I am any good at, by the way) not being a ‘real’ job with a real salary and real benefits like superannuation and annual leave (excuse me, I’m just going to step outside now to SCREAM MY HEAD OFF). Maybe it’s the chocolate before bed. Whatever is keeping me up at night, one thing’s for sure: there is a certain creative madness that comes with a zero ‘z’ count.
Awake, awake, still awake, dum de dum, one two three four five six seven eight nine ten, still here, still awake, la la la, wake up Llew, tired, very tired, wide awake…
Around this time, I’m starting to get angry. And I’m probably moving around a lot in a very uncharitable attempt to disturb Llew from his usually peaceful slumber. This is unforgivable, I know, but in my defence he always does it to me whenever he can’t sleep, and I think pretty much every couple in the world does it too. Homo sapiens are a very mean-spirited lot.
But the other night, somewhere along the line, I had my tiny weeny idea for a very short short story. Better yet, I remembered the idea, crazed with sleep deprivation though I undoubtedly was, the next day. And then yesterday, I found myself travelling across town by ferry and train with time on my hands, so I started writing it. And now it exists. All 1,500 words of it. It’s not much, I grant you, but it’s mine. I won it at the insomnia carnival.
I am still waiting to hear about that other short story I sent off to a mag two and a half months ago. I checked their website again today, and where I thought it was a 2 to 3 month wait for a response on unsolicited material, it’s actually 3 to 4. It’s an incredible amount of time to wait for almost certain rejection.
Is it any easier getting a short story published in this country than a whole novel? You know what, I don’t know the answer to that. I suspect it’s still extremely tough and competitive. But part of me hopes it is a bit easier. I could really use the validation. But I do know that regardless, short story writing is an excellent exercise for anyone wishing to write anything longer. I think a decent short story requires a very particular and difficult to acquire set of skills. So it’s unquestionably a valuable departure from my work on the full-length manuscript, not to mention a nice change of scenery.
Let’s hope sending this new one off into the world will help me sleep a little better tonight.