Sorry about the absence of a post yesterday, people. I was with Nana, and Julie from the Aged Care Assessment Team over at Nana’s place in Maroubra. It made for a long and exhausting day, although lovely Llewie was in the mood to celebrate his own clean bill of health, and so he managed to scrape me out of my puddle of over-tiredness and refashion me into something approaching human before taking me out to dinner. Not bad, is he? We went to the GPO wine and cheese room in Martin Place and sat underground in the sandstone ‘tunnel,’ enjoying a rather romantic, ideal meal featuring several of our favourite things (no prizes for guessing what, given the name of the joint). It was a really gorgeous evening.
Back to Nana, it was interesting listening to the types of mental exercises and tests Julie from ACAT kept dishing out to Nana. I was in the kitchen making tea and pretending not to listen, but of course I was fascinated and watching everything they did like a hawk. I was torn between cheering for Nana when she nailed one task, despairing when her memory abandoned her at the next, behaving like a real heel just when she needed it most, and then being relieved, guiltily, that a professional was finally involved and seeing for herself that Nana isn’t really in such great shape, despite still being able to point to her right elbow with her left hand.
The real shocker was the husbands. Nana’s had four. Yesterday, she could only recall two. Number one, my granddad, came through clear as a bell, not surprisingly given he was such an unforgettable character, and poor old Reg, a real English gentleman with skin as fine as rice paper, scraped in at number four. I prompted Nana about number two – “What about Bruce?” – and she looked mildly surprised and then said, “Oh yes. I forgot about him.” Number three has unfortunately been lost to history – I couldn’t and can’t for the life of me remember the missing husband’s name, and Nana was no help whatsoever, but I do know I’ve always been under the firm, unwavering impression that there were four. How shocking it was to see the blankness behind Nana’s eyes when she was asked to name these men she once loved enough to marry. It was heartbreaking; when Julie asked her if she’d divorced Granddad, Nana didn’t hesitate: “Oh no,” she said firmly, and then she looked at me for confirmation I could not provide. Awful.
Julie also asked Nana to name as many animals as she could think of in under a minute. I was almost faint with hunger, so the first animal that went through my mind (with apologies to Jenny) was “cow,” followed shortly by “beef patty.” Next up was “pig” and “bacon.” After that I couldn’t concentrate anymore. I just wanted something to eat. I was tired and hungry and suddenly all these tasks seemed like the most difficult series of questions I’d ever heard. I found myself thinking, shit, I’m glad Julie’s not asking me. I don’t think I’d be doing too well either right about now. I’m totally off the air. Meanwhile, Nana started off confidently. “Oh well,” she said, like this was going to be a cinch, “Dog. Cat.” Pause. She looked around the room and we waited, breathless. “Koala.” Dead silence for a while, and then a nervous laugh from Nana. “Isn’t this silly?” she said. “I know hundreds of animals and I can’t think of any.” She strained in her seat, staring around the room at everything on the walls and all the trinkets along the sideboard. “Horse,” she said at last.
That was it. The minute passed and Nana had named four animals. Have you recently sat out a minute in total silence? It’s a surprisingly long time when you’re one of three women sitting in a small room watching your last surviving grandparent cast about for words that have packed up and shipped out of her mind. It was really heartrending, and yes, a little terrifying too. She went off to get her glasses and returned, proud of herself, with her gold fob watch. “What was it you went to get?” Julie asked. Nana looked down into her hand, clearly puzzled by the question, then held out the fob piece to her interlocutor and said simply “Watch.” Just then she seemed as a child to me, one who has just learned a new word, and is trying it out on a smiling audience of admirers, secretly hoping to be rewarded.
Postscript: thanks to our family friend Janet, the missing husband’s name has been recovered: Taz. I reminded Nana of Bruce and Taz, husbands two and three today – Thursday 9 October – and she said “Oh, I haven’t thought about either of them in years.” Clearly!
It’s funny how much the concept of thought is entering my conversations of late (well, hello there! Yes, I have dragged myself out of the bathroom and informed my gastro-intestinal tract that there’ll be no more of this nonsense. I’ve got things to do, I tell you, things to do! I’ve figured out that hamburgers work pretty much like plug holes, and they taste great too!). Thinking about thought – that could get curly. But that is what I mean. The Darklings and I refer to it as “mulling,” one of the most undervalued of all the essential practices in a writer’s life.
Why is it that people regard thinking as a waste of time? I mean, if you’re George W. Bush, I can understand there’s not a lot to be gained even when you’re trying really, really hard, and look, let’s face it, that’s time that could be better spent on the golf course, chasing down a heap of little white balls (hey look, Congress is in session!), but for most of us, thinking can be an incredibly fruitful act. And it is active; there’s nothing passive about it. Watching TV is passive and can’t in all honesty be considered an ‘activity,’ but thinking requires mental action and make no mistake.
I’ve had a similar conversation with several friends over the past few days. Brain matter is in the air, much like, er, pollen. And I have come to the conclusion that our society doesn’t adequately value the act of thinking, of mulling things over, of taking time to decide. Everyone wants everything sorted pronto, stat, yesterday. And this obsession with beating the clock gets in the way of some pretty serious business, like thinking. Who’s got time to think?! In this regard as in so many others, I live an incredibly privileged life. First, I went off and enrolled in a full-time PhD program. You want your brain to actually hurt like calf muscles after a half-marathon? Go sign up to make an original contribution to the Academy. My brain hurt. And so it should. But I was in an environment – and it’s rare, I’m realising – where original human thought was not only highly valued but indeed sacred. It was the reason for being, as well as the half-time entertainment. It was everything. And being in that environment afforded me what I now understand to be the extraordinary opportunity to take the time to figure out my thesis. This took eighteen months of full-time research and full-time mulling. After which, there was another three years of full-time research, mulling, writing, and rewriting to take my early thoughts through to any kind of conclusion of enough merit to warrant the degree that now hangs behind me on the wall of this office. There must have been so many times when I looked like I was doing nothing so much as wasting precious time (not, I hasten to add, tax payers’ money – though not for want of trying; I just couldn’t get my hands on any), when in fact I was thinking. Thinking so hard my brain hurt.
Which isn’t to say I didn’t tune out. I did. Tim, my officemate at UNSW, and I used to zone out with all sorts of fine diversions like talking about favourite childhood iced confections that are no longer around. We even emailed Streets one afternoon to lobby the return of a couple of particularly choice items. Mine was called a Raspberry Cream. Vanilla Icecream coated in raspberries before they were worth $4,000 a kilo. Does ANYONE ELSE remember this icecream? I thought it was the business, and I had no qualms whatsoever spending an afternoon talking about the Raspberry Cream’s virtues with Tim instead of wondering how I was going to deal with the intellectually rather taxing challenge of applying Derrida to DeLillo. As far as I was concerned, that was time well-spent too, because it was down time, and my brain didn’t hurt so much by the end of it.
When I file a travel or other story for publication, or finish a draft of my manuscript, or enter yet another ill-fated short story competition, there are people in my life who can’t ask me a single question that doesn’t involve ‘What next?’ – it’s a permanent setting: what next, what now, what’s on, what on earth are you doing with every waking second of your day, week, LIFE, goddamnit??!! I find it unsettling, to say the least. Sometimes I’m still thinking it through. And I know how lucky I am, because I kind of claim that time, and I’m not giving it up for or justifying it to anyone. Thinking is an essential part of what I do. And, you know, I wish we as a society would be a lot kinder to people who are trying to give themselves time that I frankly demand. I make no apologies for it, and I’m past caring that some people seem to think I’m a “lady of leisure” (I can categorically assure you that writing 96,000 words and then redrafting them five times and counting is not leisurely), because I know the truth, and so does Llew, and we’re the only two people I ultimately have to answer to. But when I see my friends timid to even talk about needing some time to decide, like it’s shameful somehow, like they’re wasting time, I think, hang on. You take as much time as you need. Thinking requires effort. Effort requires mental resources. Mental resources require time. It is not a waste of time to give yourself the opportunity to hear yourself think – I’d go so far as to say it’s only a waste of time if you never do.
(p.s. you might remember that I was hoping to hit 10,000 views by this site’s 2nd birthday on 29 September. Well, today we passed the 11,000 mark instead – hooray!)
Friends, I spoke too soon. I am writing this from bed, in between mercy dashes to the bathroom, just to let you know Llew’s one for sharing… Put it this way. The stock market is not the only thing shitting itself.
I’m just too cramped and uncomfortable and foul right now to say much more. What a tag team we are – those Olympic women’s relay track teams don’t have a thing on us – Llew is having dinner for the first time since Sunday whilst I, well, I lie here wondering how long I’ve got between now and the next round in the “ring.” I just hope we don’t run out of toilet paper.
Whilst I was writing yesterday’s post, poor Llewie was lying flat on his back in bed, knocked sideways by what could only be food poisoning. Certainly it had all the classic ‘presenting symptoms’ of food poisoning, and we ought to know. Between us we’ve notched up quite a few dramatic expulsions. The really exhausting thing about food poisoning is that the body’s evacuation of the foul poison of the day is so violent – they don’t call vomiting “heaving” for nothing. There’s really something Herculean about the physical effort involved in getting something rotten out. As vile as that process is, it’s also strangely fascinating, and also, dare I say it, impressive. Just look at the body’s super-defences snap to attention. It doesn’t always feel like it’s on your side, but at the first sign of a dodgy oyster or a plate of rancid mince, you just stand back and watch your body step up. Suddenly it’s as protective as the best friend who keeps you from going home with the biggest fuckwit at the party.
I can’t figure out how Llewie copped a big dose of the “shews” (the shit and spews) and I didn’t. Neither of us can figure it out, because we ate the exact same things on Sunday night. I’d run a half-marathon in the morning (as did Ruben – big props to him for a killer inaugural finishing time), possibly my fastest yet (it might be in the paper today… must remember to check), then stuck around to watch Sarah finish her s-e-c-o-n-d marathon. That’s 42 kilometres of PAIN. I just don’t understand it. I’d kind of like to do one, but at the end of every half-marathon (I think Sunday was my fourth – maybe only my third), the only thought going through my mind is, “I just can’t imagine doing another one of those right now.” Sarah’s now got two under her belt – the New York and the Sydney. It certainly does make you proud. Anyway, the point is I didn’t have the energy to cook, but by day’s end I did have the thirst for a celebratory toast with Llew, so we walked down to the Manly Wharf for a pile of nachos and a couple of beers as the sun went down.
We have no choice but to deduce that the nachos were the source of “the Llew Shews.” At some point Sunday night, early Monday morning, he fell into a burning ring of fire. That much we know for sure. And at first we thought that was it: a serious case of the trots. He was up and down all night like a new mother, except he had to keep wiping his own arse. As for me, I couldn’t get close enough to the bathroom to check on him, it was Chernobyl back there. I stayed in bed calling out the occasional motivational catch phrase.
But then came the advanced stage. At first I thought he was just coughing up a stubborn hunk of phlegm, but then came the unmistakable sound of a pretty revolting musical duet – it was time for band practice. Out it gushed. I ran into the bathroom just in time to see Llew – still taking care of business one end – filling the bin from the other. It’s the force of it that’s most shocking. There’s such an urgency to it. Poor thing – he was so pale, and had broken into such a clammy sweat. His eyes were the saddest thing, sadder even than his sitting there naked, shit-streaming and jet-spewing at the same time. His eyes just looked so bewildered and almost hunted. He was in such a lot of discomfort. Besides which, the whole thing is disgusting. Your body is doing you such a big favour getting rid of the trash, but on the way out, the trash doesn’t go quietly. If it’s the fuckwit at the party, it likes to smash a few glasses, start a fight, and grind ash into the carpet before the police arrive.
The good news – and this is where food poisoning has a small but significant advantage over other types of sickness – is that once it’s gone, it’s gone. Llewie went back to work today feeling if not a hundred percent, then at least a hundred percent better. But phew – what an awful shew…
La la la, news and current affairs, I can’t hear you…La la la la la la…No, you see I have managed to avoid you for a full three days now and I’m halfway through my fourth. Not sure I miss you, either, not sure at all. Everything has seemed rather pleasant and indeed sepia-toned since I stopped reading the paper. Take Friday, my birthday. Gosh that went well – no nasty headlines or sensationalised gore to be seen. My day started with a fierce battle for my attentions between Llew and David Sedaris. I was reading When You Are Engulfed in Flames in bed when Llew returned from his secret, early-opening florist bearing a gorgeous bunch of tiger lilies. I stuck a finger in the book to mark my place and regally accepted the bouquet. Then I extended my other hand and took the proffered cup of tea. The gift bag had to just lie on the doona – just how many hands does he think I have, anyway?
Llew went to work, leaving me alone in bed with David. I had to make myself stop reading, otherwise I would have just sat on, propped up against the pillows with my breakfast tray, until the book was gone. Once I realised with mounting disappointment and alarm that I was already into the final essay, I snapped the book shut and decided not to even sneak a peek until today (when I practically assaulted it). I distracted myself from David’s charms by going for a run along the coast walk. Just my usual route, but on a superb day. I then hopped on my bike and rode up to my friend Zana’s. She and her daughter had been baking me patty cakes in anticipation of our play date (her son just looked on as he cheerfully attempted to eat my mobile), and they were just coming out of the oven when I pulled up on my Townie. I tell you what, hop on a bicycle with a wicker basket on front and you will feel like you are ten years old. Every time. It simply never fails and is much more age-defying, I guarantee you, than breast implants and collagen injections. The wind in your hair, your feet loosely working the pedals, that casual, knowing way you ride up the dead centre of a tree-lined, two-way street like you own the place, seriously, it’s just the best feeling.
I coasted home and jumped in the shower just in time to get ready for my lunch date with my friend Tamsin. We went shopping for something specific; never do this if you can possibly avoid it. That mission failed, but in its place was the smoooooth operation whereby Tamsin handed me a fabulous top over the change room curtain and I proceeded to first try it on and then buy it. A “Birthday Top” isn’t like other tops in my wardrobe. No, no, the normal rules (wear something I already own, for instance) don’t really apply. Birthday Tops are s-p-e-c-i-a-l. Especially special was the Birthday Top Tamsin sourced for me on Friday. “Well,” I told Llew during my Birthday Top confession, “we have been saying we want to support that store.” See how thoughtful I am? After my BT was in hand, Tamsin and I repaired to the Manly Wharf Bar for caesar salads, champagne, and hysterics by the sea. Perfect.
Being chauffeured to my hair appointment (and you wonder why I didn’t blog on Friday – who had the time?) by my lunch date all seemed in keeping with the pretty dandy day I was having. Even when it meant Tamsin had to go totally out of her way and sit in a traffic jam for an hour, I still felt like it was all coming together beautifully. For me, anyway. And that was the prevailing sentiment for the remainder of the evening: Kim my stylist – an incurable narcissist on any other occasion, the dear boy – obliged me with an actual double take when my Birthday Top and I arrived at Valonz. Good Birthday Top! Then he worked his usual magic on my hundred hairs. Thank goodness for Kim. I’ve already told him if he ever attempts to leave Sydney I’m going to kidnap him and dump him in a shallow… salon. Out on an abandoned farm, maybe, and I’ll make it real, real nice. Boar hair brushes and all. He won’t even miss Valonz, you’ll see.
Once I was newly coiffed, I strolled down Oxford St and then down Palmer to Lucio’s Pizzeria, passing Naomi Watts on the way just for good measure (I’m pretty sure I caught her checking out my Birthday Top). Lucio’s is in a little piazza beneath the Republic apartments, and I actually had another birthday there a few years ago when it was still Pizza Mario’s. What can I tell you? I love that dough. Had a lovely, lovely night – eight of us for a relaxed al fresco dinner – with gorgeous company and even presents (how spoilt am I??? SO SPOILT), and not even being the only one at the table aside from Llew who thinks Obama is going to be the next President of the United States could rain on my parade. In case you weren’t in Sydney Friday night, it was perfect. And I hear Obama’s back in the lead.
(THANKS EVERYONE for all my calls and texts and emails and facebook messages – you’re the best! x)
The final day of my mid-thirties dawned clear and warm in Sydney – it’s a beautiful day out there today – before being followed by a rather frightening stock market crash as Australia continued to feel the aftershocks of this week’s American collapses. Ouch. Llew sent me a text earlier saying “Mayhem here. Proper crash.” I responded: “Did you ever get around to taking out that income protection insurance?” Llew: “Oops.”
I wonder if the dire condition of the Australian stock market might not be a timely metaphor for what I can expect to see happening to my own ‘exchange board’ in the coming years. As of tomorrow, I will be in the business end of the decade. I’ll be 36 and officially in my late-thirties. How’s the sag tonight, Madam? Not bad, thanks, not bad. Would you like some crease with that? Why yes, thank you, I would.
Even with all the usual upsets and outright disasters, my early and mid-thirties have been great, so I don’t really see any reason to expect my late-thirties to suddenly plummet through the floor like Macquarie Bank’s share price. I’m reasonably solid stock, after all. A good investment over the long term, perhaps, rather than one of those flashy, high risk, highly speculative types. I’d have to ask Llew about this, but I’d like to think I have steadily accrued in value year on year. He might occasionally fantasise about diversifying his portfolio, as new high yielding options continue to flood the marketplace, but in the end, the whole point of a Blue Chip holding is that it’s packaged to provide both security and lasting rewards. That’s what I’m going to helpfully remind him of, anyway, as we walk toward this new frontier where I have to tolerate him for an entire 13 months and 6 days being my mid-thirties husband whilst I am his late-thirties squaw.
My friend Suz pointed out yesterday that on the Chinese calendar, things are arranged on a 12 cycle, so that means that at 36, I am coming into a whole new phrase of life. Tremendous! That would be so timely, because I do feel this week – the culmination of my time at Varuna and subsequent bouts of sustained mulling/emailing/talking/writing – that I have turned some kind of corner creatively and conceptually. It’s still far too early to say, but it does feel like I am shedding that old, terribly passe mid-thirties skin and am instead making progress toward a new phase of productivity and inspiration. Who knew that getting older would prove to be such an invigorating celebration of new possibilities? Boy, talk about underrated! And it’s always lovely – this is a fundamental part of my birthday ritual – to take the time to simply rejoice in being here for the party. Not that I’m having a party, but with this whole existence lark raging on around me the whole time, who on earth needs one?! Late-thirties? Don’t mind if I do.
It’s been a big day in transit for this little non-driver… Nana lives across on the other side of Sydney (it’s a four hour round trip before I’ve even bought her a pie), and the old girl is increasingly in need of care. That’s perfectly understandable at nearly 85 years of age, though god knows I spill more food down my front than she ever has, but in Sydney, I’m it. Being the sole family in situ can be tricky; I travel for work (I was overseas on a travel writing job during one crisis, and in Queensland’s Maroochydore during the last), whilst also living and working well north of her deep south. I’ve been a primary carer before, for my adored grandfather, and let’s just admit it: even if you’re a saint, the role is not without its challenges. And I am no saint. But we do the best we can with what we’ve got, don’t we?
My sister and I are starting a gentle relocation prompt based around the temperate climes of Ballina, where my sister and her kids live. My father and his wife live there too, and though I’ve long been estranged from them and shall remain so, Nana would get the grand old dame treatment from three generations up there and make no mistake. The best I can offer her is a day a fortnight, and though she’s got her little community over there of other residents and daily visits from the Meals on Wheels people and so on, even combined I don’t think it’s going to be sufficient supervision for much longer. Her short term memory is officially shorter than that of your average gold fish. She asked me to cut up her lunch for her today, and by the time I’d done it she was indignant that someone had handed her a pile of food that was all in pieces. I’m telling you, it’s scary stuff. And surprisingly draining for the person who still vividly remembers the very first time she talked about her favourite brooch. But it’s all new for Nana: as far as she knows, she’s got me on the edge of my seat with sparkling and unpredictable conversation and wit. And I’m glad for her that she isn’t aware, perversity that it is, that she’s forgotten, because she’d be so mortified by the many things she no longer remembers to do.
The wheels are in motion for an aged-care assessment, which will help determine whether or not independent living is still appropriate for Nana, or whether in fact we need to start investigating a hostel arrangement. I’m pretty sure they’ll spend five minutes with Nana and sign her up for assisted living, because her condition seems to be declining on a near-daily basis, but that’s not exactly an immediate comfort. Hostels can be pretty manky and depressing places in Sydney, maybe a function of any large city’s total refusal to drag its heels for the old and infirm (“Maybe if we just ignore them, they’ll go away…”, and lo and behold! They do!), but Ballina (parting clouds, shafts of light, an outbreak of choral song) is basically a geriatric nirvana. But it has to be her decision to move up there, she has to want to do it. I’m not interested in making her; I think being old and having your memory fall to the floor like de-elasticised undies is bad enough without people taking away your free will too. She’s still with it in many ways, with it enough to decide. She’ll forget the decision the second she’s made it, of course, but she still knows a thing or two about pleasing herself, and I’m counting on it. I think – I hope – if they tell her she has to move anyway, she’ll be packed and waiting by the road for us to drive her up to Ballina before you can say “mushy peas.”
Sitting in bed last night, I was compelled to read aloud to Llew from Wasp Season. I’ve seen enough documentaries in my time to know it’s actually no picnic out there in the natural world, but I was still astonished by the knock-down, drag-out horror of life in the main character’s garden. There was so much violence. And it made for very gripping reading. Llew was trying to read something about golf swings (seriously), but I just had no choice but to keep interrupting Greg Norman with another classic battle scene from the pages of Jenny’s book. I can honestly say I’ve learnt a lot reading her novel, and I will never look at insect and animal kingdoms the same way again. Once I was on a roll, I actually flipped back to near the beginning and shared a passage with Llew about how a native wasp species paralyses spiders as future meals for the developing pupae. Um, incredibly disturbing. In the book Jenny describes it as a kind of ‘gothic horror’ and I’d agree. The wasps basically bury the spiders alive and then pluck them limb from limb after keeping them paralysed – but alive – in seriously deprived conditions for some incredible period of time like 30 days. All that suffering, only to be devoured bit by bit. That sort of psychotic violence would have any human being imprisoned for a very, very long time, and a good thing too. And there I was afraid of the spiders; I can’t tell you how I pity them now. There’s so much more of this: a bee massacre, a slaughter of sleeping queens, rampant cannibalism and inter-species warfare. Unbelievable and gruesome stuff. But yes, very educational! Very.
Rich with ghoulish detail, Jenny’s book was far and away the highlight of my day yesterday, because late afternoon I received notice that neither of my short story submissions were accepted for inclusion in the next issue of Going Down Swinging, an Australian literary anthology. I re-read both stories yesterday, as well as other starts I’ve made on several other manuscripts (there’s a lot of words I’ve written that have never seen the light of day…), and the good news is I still actually quite like them both. The bad news is I’m kind of sorry neither one made the cut because it means I won’t successfully reach my little self-imposed milestone/deadline of one fiction acceptance by my birthday. I turn 36 on Friday. Time’s up. The GDS notification was my last hope of making it (can you hear the final grains of sand sliding through the hourglass? I can).
FUCK FUCK FUCK BUM SHIT FUCK. There. Better now. They received – get this – over one thousand submissions. One thousand. For an anthology you can either buy online or write away for in the post, so it’s not exactly front and centre at your local bookstore. But they’ve still selected a bunch of pieces for the issue, and neither of mine made the cut. Still. Again. Haven’t we been here before? Indeed we have, my dears, indeed we have. Pleasant, isn’t it? Sigh. Is it just me in competitive mode (just how big is this field of competitors, anyway??), or are more people writing these days? It’s a great thing, really, if that’s true, because it means there will be even more wonderful writing out there to enjoy, but boy, it makes it tough when you’re trying to rise not even to the top of the pile but the bottom of the IN tray. I’d love to just make the IN tray. I wouldn’t mind finding out AT ALL that they had to flip a coin to decide if they’d try and squeeze my borderline entry into their book. Nope. Borderline is fine. Just so long as it’s their side of the borderline. As it is I’m in the OUT tray. If this is Checkpoint Charlie, then I’m not on the cool side of Berlin. I’m stuck with the people who know perfectly fucking well that the grass IS greener on the other side (“You have grass?! I want grass! I love grass!”). And I’m firmly excluded, too, with not one, but two more rejections to add to my list. A double whammy. Efficient of me, don’t you think? Yes, I think so too. Marvellous, really. Almost Germanic.
So here I am having another identity crisis about my writing and the manner of writer I am. I think about Varuna, and everything Peter and the Dark Girls (yes, we have a name for ourselves now, and it’s come out of the fact that Varuna is made possible by the Eleanor Dark Foundation. Eleanor Dark was a prolific Australian novelist, and her son, Michael Dark, established the Foundation and the Varuna model after his parents left the Varuna home to him after their deaths. It’s an incredible thing he’s done for Australian writers, really incredible, and we five women also especially loved the fact that Varuna was the home of a great Australian female writer, so the Dark Girls it is) said about my manuscript, and I am left wondering what to do. My interests are fixed so firmly in the ‘Real’ that even when I make things up it seems people assume it’s true. Am I, in my heart, a non-fiction writer? And are my cherished fantasies of one day becoming a ‘Real Writer’ a little too wedded to fiction as the only ‘Real Writing’ there is? Of course that’s absurd – just look at the wonderful David Sedaris – but that doesn’t mean it may not be precisely the mental block that’s been (and remains) lodged in my way. Maybe it is. Maybe the hard truth (and there it is again…) is that I’m no fiction writer. Maybe my only chance of ever becoming a ‘Real Writer’ lies in ‘Writing the Real.’
I’m so glad spring is here, although I’m still feeling slightly wary about it, like I can’t quite believe after that seemingly interminable winter that the end has finally come… and that in its frosty place, spring has sprung instead. And yet outside, Sydney is glorying in the rising temperature and the bursting new life. In fact, we were up visiting Llew’s parents on the weekend, and as far as the pair of visiting Rosellas were concerned, there was no doubt at all that the new season was underway. Originally named Bonnie and Clyde when they first started swooping down for a casual feed on Katie and Peter’s deck, they’ve since been renamed due to the male bird’s rather amorous advances. Thus, Randy and Mandy it is, and Randy is as Randy does. He would not be deterred. He puffed himself up and shook out his feathers and nipped at poor exhausted Mandy’s neck and literally chased her round and round the garden like an avian Benny Hill. You could see the female bird trying to put him off, but Randy was absolutely deaf to all protests. And talk about insatiable! It didn’t remotely bother him that Mandy was thoroughly disinterested; he’d have a crack regardless. We arrived at sunset on Saturday, just in time to see Randy pursue Mandy around the bird feeder. You could practically hear them having it out: “What’s a guy gotta do, huh?” demanded Randy. “I’ve taken you out for a beautiful al fresco meal in a swanky restaurant, we’ve had a few drinks, it’s a perfect sunset and a full moon – what more do you want, woman?” And there’s Mandy thinking, “Christ, a good book and an early night, since you asked…”
And if Mandy was able to hold Randy back for the night, by morning he was back, ready to demand conjugal satisfaction. We were making breakfast when we became aware of the birds back out on the deck railing, squabbling and darting and hopping and negotiating. Mandy was so weary, you could see her defences weakening. She just didn’t have the energy to resist him for much longer. Randy had successfully worn her down. He was meanwhile absolutely full of beans, strutting up and back, preening, periodically launching himself at his hapless bride, and you could see Mandy’s head bowed in a particularly feminine pose of resignation. “Right, come on then,” she seemed to say in the end. “Get on with it, for crying out loud! I’ve got things to do!” And so away they flew, to consummate not just their relationship (for what must be at least the hundredth time, judging from Randy’s voracious libido), but really, symbolically, everyone else’s as well. Ah, spring… ain’t love grand?!
Last night Llew and I went to an AGNSW event at the Police and Justice Museum entitled ‘Crime Time.’ It’s that great old pre-Federation building behind the Sir Stamford Hotel down at Circular Quay, and I was pretty keen to get in there because every other time we’ve tried we’ve found ourselves outside their opening hours. At the moment they’re exhibiting booze memorabilia from Sydney’s colourful history of excessive imbibing. It’s fascinating stuff: original rum and porter bottles, old liquor licenses, photos taken inside watering holes both notorious and swank, plus truly devastating photos of some of the stunning Victorian hotel and other civic architecture we’re now without thanks to the pea-brained idiots in charge of development and planning back in the 60s and 70s (it’s enough to make me weep). The ‘BEFORE’ and ‘NOW’ photos are a damning indictment of these fools. I mourn the city we might have been had those dickheads left our precious architectural heritage alone.
Oh yes, there was also plenty of material from shoot-outs and scandals and flophouses, nicely contrasted with posters and letters of complaint from the Christian Women’s Temperance League. My favourite CWTL poster featured an early 1960s social scene in the home emblazoned with the words FOR A HAPPY PARTY, THE HOSTESS SERVES FRUIT DRINKS! Points for trying, girls, points for trying…
And then came the speakers. First up was Nerida Campbell, a researcher who’s currently putting together (I think…) both the next exhibition at the museum as well as the accompanying publication: Femme Fatales, which will open in March 2009. Sounds fantastic. Campbell was a very natural speaker and well across her subject; there was something very noir-ish about her, too, so she was the perfect spokesperson for the Black Widow and other stars of the femme fatale page and screen. Ever want to know more about the great Tilly Devine’s rivalry with Kate Leigh for the title of Queen of Sin City’s Underworld? Campbell is surely the best place to start (I’m already thinking about it myself… there’s got to be a few good books left in those bawdy broads…).
The other highlight was debut author Lenny Bartulin, whose first novel, A Deadly Business, was launched at the Sydney Writers’ Festival earlier in the year. Tara Moss was the headliner, and she was very polished, super glam and super professional, but I kind of preferred Bartulin simply because he wasn’t reeking of glamour. Moss is just BIG in every single way, and for us lesser mortals, it can be a little intimidating. Bartulin was very natural and funny and his journey to his first published book (it took him ten years of wandering around the writer’s wilderness trying to find his thing) was very familiar to this member of the audience at least, right down to having to develop the maturity to let go of all the literary pretensions of our arrogant, not roaring (much closer to whimpering), twenties. For a time there, we were really full of shit. And having heard Bartulin recount his own years of posturing and pontificating, laughing in recognition at the worst of his confessions, I wonder now if it’s actually part of this very mysterious and on-going process. Maybe you have to be a bit of a wanker first, quoting everyone from Bukowski to Kafka, slouching in corner cafe booths reading Real Literature, before you can really get over yourself and on with the much more mundane job of actually writing. I wonder. Certainly everything Bartulin admitted to last night was embarrassingly familiar to me. In fact it was me, ten years ago. But thank Christ those years are over.
I didn’t buy a Tara Moss in the end, because I don’t think she needs my help with sales, but I did buy a copy of A Deadly Business because I liked Bartulin, and I like noir, and I must say I’m genuinely looking forward to reading it. I just have to finish Wasp Season first…