Sorry for not posting yesterday. I do so like starting the week with a blogging *BANG*, but I am really deep in this pretty critical redraft at the moment, and was head down all day, stopping at 7 pm last night to go for a run (in the dark and the rain, which was unexpectedly exhilarating), then going back to work until Llew got home at nearly 10 pm. I wasn’t idle, in other words, though a trifle neglectful, true…
Yesterday was a better day than I anticipated, given I am once again sleeping like hell. Wide, wide awake at 2, 3, 4 am. Odd, shallow dreams, followed by extended bursts of stubborn wakefulness. Maybe it’s the redraft. Maybe it’s the meds. Maybe it’s the fact that Nana is back from respite. I’m certainly having nightmares about that again, so I think we can safely assume it really is just an established and not very subconscious anxiety at this point. The government forms are back, though, so now we can get her in somewhere or at least on waiting lists galore. It’s hard wishing for a place to appear when we know it means someone else has to die first, but who am I kidding, I am still hoping like mad one magically falls from the sky pronto.
The good news is I haven’t fallen down the dirty well yet with round #3 of the fertility meds. So far, so good. I feel a tiny bit queasy, and I’m tired (OBVIOUSLY. THAT WOULD BE THE TOTAL ABSENCE OF A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP.), but my head is really clear and my spirits are fine. Kinda upbeat. Singin’ in the rain (well, running in the rain at any rate). So that’s a vaaaast improvement on last month’s situation. I’m going to see a lady on Thursday about alternatives including acupuncture, so I guess I’m looking for things I can do in conjunction with the conventional meds, at least until the six month prescription has run its course. After that I might happily ditch these pills, but I want to know I’ve given it a fair crack.
The third arm of sleeplessness, the redraft, seems to be going well, and I am nearly done with the second stage (which this draft consists of writing another page by page breakdown while I edit it yet again, and it’s astonishing how eminently possible that is even after all this time) and feeling pretty positive about the changes. The problem is I really don’t know what to do next. I’ve become quite accustomed to having something specific I’m working towards, a deadline for submission mostly, and now I’m just free-falling. Who should I send it to? What should I send? I’m very fortunate to have the Darklings hopefully willing and at some point able to cast a collective eye over these changes, but unfortunately they’re not coming at it fresh. This concerns me just from the point of view of this draft being taken on its own merits. Maybe it’s an improvement on the last draft, but how does it stand up without the benefit of that comparison? I think that’s what I need to know, so I think I need a pair of fresh eyes. Which raises another question: whose?
So you see what’s keeping me up at night. The fact is, I just don’t know. I’m so broke right now that I really don’t want to fork out for another paid assessment if I can possibly avoid it. It’s $500 I’m planning to invest in the next Darkling writing retreat, the hands-down winner should push come to shove. Should I ask a friend? Well, maybe. Except of course their opinion is always going to be at least slightly coloured by their personal relationship with me. I think this is true even of my blogging friends, because god knows I’ve considered enlisting their help too. I have a couple of friends who have A Contact in The Publishing Industry, that holy grail or desert mirage, depending on your perspective, so of course I’m wondering how and when and if I should leverage (truly a revolting notion) those shimmery connections. Just the thought makes me feel grubby, to be honest, but I know it’s also mad not sucking the bejesus out of every single lolly dangled before my increasingly haunted and bloodshot eyes. Fucked if I know what to do.
And so, dear friends, I’m not going to worry about it any more for the minute (no, I’ll save that for after midnight…). I’m just going to get on with what I need to do, which is fix my manuscript. Fix it ’til I can’t see what else about it be broke.
Oh, by the way, I am really enjoying Mrs Dalloway now. Some of the most sharply and subtly observed character assassinations I’ve read in a while. Most amusing and not a little disturbing too – a particularly delicious combination .
I started reading The Book Thief last week, and then realised I needed to put it down for a while and break up my Nazi Germany reading. I feel like there’s been a lot of WWII strewn in my path recently, and it does start getting me down. When it comes to mining the Furher in fiction, where oh where are the fields full of flowers and gentle springtime frolics a la The Sound of Music? As much as the Von Trapps need a von slap, you have to give them points for skipping round the carnage sunny-side up. Not that Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a WWII novel per se. Ostensibly it concerns itself with a little boy trying to make sense of his father’s death on September 11, 2001, half a century away from Hitler. But there’s a terrible parallel story told separately by Oskar’s grandparents, and yes, the war remains, throughout the novel, incredibly close.
The novel has been sitting on my shelf for months now. I bought it secondhand, and had intended reading it when it first came out back in 2005. Time and reading lists, they do so get away… I’d finished my Dorothy Parker biography, I’d done with Amsterdam, I needed more than Obama’s Audacity of Hope to get me through the night, so I whipped Foer off the shelf and got stuck in. I thought the precocity of the nine-year-old-child conceit would irritate me as the too-young voice in the The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas irritated me (there’s nothing worse than adult writers underestimating child narrators), but it didn’t. I think the first few pages do creak on this front, but Foer very quickly finds the rhythm of Oskar’s speech, and very soon I was caught up in it, hearing the child’s voice very clearly and – even more important – believing it. Oskar charms everyone he meets throughout his adventure across New York, and he certainly charmed me. Maybe these meds are making me teary (or these pretzels are making me thirsty…), but this novel moved me to tears on several occasions.
There’s also, conveniently, a multimodal element to Foer’s novel that speaks to my own inclinations. Throughout the novel, photography is incorporated to powerful effect, as well as some hand-drawn colour pages (test sheets for pens and permanent markers) and marked-up corrections (red circles around typed text). The way these visual components interact with and extend the story proper is of great interest to me, and I think Foer’s done an impressive job weaving the different narratives and different modes of narration into a coherent and heartbreaking whole. I plain old loved the novel, but it did make picking up The Book Thief, similar in some parts of its experimentation, a little difficult. So I put it down and picked up Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway instead, thus successfully forging a complete change of pace. It too is proving innovative – there are no chapters – and I’m starting to enjoy it after rather a shaky start. I was doing something that never bodes well: reading the same line over and over. And over and over. I’d come to, shake my head, grip the sides of the book and tell myself to focus, damn it, focus! It’s never good finding one’s mind wandering out of the world of the novel and into the next room…I wonder what’s happening over there… or there… Not ideal. But that drifting feeling seems to have passed, and I’m happy to report that Mrs. Dalloway is coming round for tea and cupcakes over the weekend and we’ll get much better acquainted then.
I know you’ll forgive me if I do just mention that my friend – the lovely Karina Machado – has just had her first book published, a non-fiction title called Spirit Sisters, which is a collection of stories exploring the paranormal experiences of everyday Australian women. I went to the launch last night in a bookstore on Clarence St, and it was packed. I only found out then that Karina was on one of the morning shows yesterday – Kerry Ann – with one of the subjects of the book, and I have to say, my gut feeling (even though of course I’m biased, Karina is one of life’s sweetest cherubs and I want her to take over the world) is that this book will go gangbusters. It’s a catchy title, it’s got a really appealing, intriguing cover, and the fact is, most women I know do have a latent curiosity about this sort of stuff even if they’d never ever come out and say in company that they “believe” (I am including myself here). I don’t know if I do believe, but I know the idea of ghosts and spirit life fascinates me. Not enough that I pursue it in any measurable fashion, but enough that I sit forward and listen up if a friend tells me the strangest thing happened… I love the possibility. It’s frightening and comforting in equal measure. Has anything remotely paranormal ever happened to me? Not that I don’t think of as simply the dreams of a child with an overactive imagination. Just dreams, nothing I have seen as an adult or in daylight. So I don’t “believe,” but that doesn’t lessen the shivery pleasure of allowing myself to wonder. And I know I’m not alone – I expect Karina’s book to fly off the shelves, but I very much doubt a poltergeist will come forward claiming responsibility.
Something awful happened here yesterday. Something bad. I worked in the office all day as usual (MS redrafting is going well, thank you), and at about 5:30 pm, I realised I had to return a DVD (Man on Wire – fascinating doco on the French tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s conquering of the Twin Towers), so I wandered through the apartment shutting doors and windows. When I got out to the sunroom, to my horror I found an injured mynah bird lying still on the tiles.
“Oh my god,” I said to it. “Oh my god, oh my god.”
I knelt down beside it and it raised a wing and tried to move its legs.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit,” I cried. All reasoning capacity promptly LEFT THE ROOM. “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!!!”
I ran in circles around the sunroom for several critical minutes talking to the bird and advising it to REMAIN CALM. I then reassured it that I meant no harm. I was here to help. I bet the bird thought, “Fuck, finally! Now she comes…she didn’t hear me smack into the glass? That was hours ago! I’m dyin’ here!” I ran to get my phone. Couldn’t get through to Llew. Jenny, Darkling and committed naturalist, was my next call, and her phone was switched off. I thumbed a text: Jenny injured bird lying in my sunroom don’t know what to do.
I ran down to the pet grooming business at the end of my street to see if they had a vet emergency number listed somewhere on their window.
I called my sister-in-law. Flic said she’d taken injured birds to the vet before.
“How do you pick it up?” I wanted to know.
“Well, you just pick it up.”
“Won’t it gouge me because it’s panicked? And anyway, what do you put it in?”
“Even just wrapping it in newspaper is fine.”
I looked doubtfully at the bird. It wasn’t moving and hadn’t moved in a while. Then, while I was still on the phone to Flic, it definitely moved a tiny little bit. It was still alive.
“I’ll find a vet! I’ve gotta find a vet! Bye!”
I ran in here and – thank you, internet – found the nearest vet. It’s about a half hour walk from here. I explained the situation and the man – Chris was his name – said they’d be open until seven.
“He’s not looking so good,” I said, my lip trembling. “He hasn’t moved in ages.”
“Maybe he’s just concussed,” suggested Chris.
“It could be in shock,” I agreed.
“Maybe. That definitely happens. If you bring him up here we’ll be able to take a look.”
“What do I bring him in?”
“A shoe box works.”
“A shoe box. Okay. See you soon.”
I ran into my room and chose my newest, biggest shoebox. Being an optimist, I put six breathing holes in the lid with my kitchen scissors. When I got out to the sunroom, I knelt down behind the bird and started talking in what I believed was a soothing manner. I eased him into the box by sliding him onto a magazine first, but when he rolled into the box, a cry escaped from yours truly. The bird was dead. He was so dead. I burst into tears, put the lid on the box and started running down the beachfront, my box held in front of me like the Holy Sacrament challis in church (it’s been a good long while since I’ve seen one of those, but you know the sort). Then I thought, oh no, they think this bird is still alive! They’re going to think this is my fault because I didn’t get there soon enough! I called back.This time a lady answered.
“I was just talking to Chris about a bird that flew into my bifold doors,” I started.
“Yes?” She sounded nice.
“Um, it’s um…” I tried not to cry, but I couldn’t help it, “it’s died, I’m pretty sure it just died, but I’m bringing it up anyway because I just don’t know what else to do.”
“Oh,” she said, in just the right voice. “Oh, I’m sorry. Okay, well we’ll see you soon.”
“Okay,” I blubbered.
Then, stopped at a set of lights five minutes later, I could have sworn I felt something stirring inside the box. Some tiny little sign of life.
“Hold on, little buddy,” I told the box. “Just hang in there. We’re nearly there.”
The hill I charged up yesterday is at an angle of about 70 degrees. Steep motherfucker. I cleared it in record time. If it was a race, I was winning. And accompanying me on my journey were all the neighbourhood’s native and introduced birds, singing their sunset song. This struck me, as I grunted up the hill, as very beautiful and appropriate as well as unbearably sad. Could my bird hear all the other birds? Was it a farewell song, or was he right now rallying on his bed of tissue paper? I tightened my grip on the box and stepped up the pace.
When I burst into the vet surgery, the kind lady was there. I held out the box and she looked at me (sweaty and deranged looking, no doubt), looked at the box and looked back at me.
“The bird,” she said.
I nodded and she opened the lid.
“Oh yes,” she said. “He’s no longer with us.”
Loud crying from me.
“He looks like he’s been dead a while,” she continued. “He’s pretty stiff.”
“He was alive when I found him,” I said. “He wasn’t in great shape, but he was alive. He raised his wing right up and moved his feet a little bit.”
She was inspecting the body.
“Have you seen this leg?”
It was a big gaping wound, like his leg had been scraped away. There was no blood at all on the bifold doors, just a greasy but perfect feather print, and a bit of drool on the tiles. No blood.
“This bird was not in great shape,” said the nice vet lady. “Look at this. And this.”
She kept pointing out injuries on the bird’s body. I looked at her hopefully.
“This isn’t from hitting the glass,” she said. “I doubt that’s what killed him. He was on his way out anyway.”
Bless her. I think she just said that to make me feel better, but that’s okay, because I was pretty keen to start feeling better. I stumbled out of there and called Flic back and had a bit of a cry to her. No domestic pets for me, I said. Forget it. Can you imagine what I’d be like? Hopeless! Too sentimental! I get too attached! Forget about it!
I walked back down the hill into the village. I felt really bad. I needed a magazine, some baklava and a cup of tea stat. Recovery escapism. I needed something to take my mind off the fact that the poor little birdy died on my watch. He may have been out there for hours, and maybe if I hadn’t been so engrossed in here, rewriting my damn manuscript, I might have heard him smack into the glass. I might have investigated. I might have saved him. It makes me really sad to think of him lying there while I was two rooms away and totally oblivious. Horrible. I’ve since learned from the Darklings that mynah birds are a nuisance and drive out native birds, but being an introduced species isn’t their fault, and nuisance or no, I still wish he hadn’t died. I know death is the most natural thing in the world, but it still wrenches, especially when it happens right before your eyes.
The annual Archibald Prize for portraiture is currently showing at the AGNSW, along with the Wynne and Sulman prizes, and it’s an excellent way to spend a few hours, particularly on Wednesday evenings, when the gallery stays open after dark. You can view the winning entry and others here.
It starts very, very badly. According to Jules Francois Archibald’s bequest, resident Australasian artists are invited to submit portraits painted from life of men or women ‘distinguished in Arts, Letters, Science or Politics.’ What, then, is the portrait of disgraced AFL player Ben Cousins doing hanging on the wall? Last I checked, he was not very distinguished at all, let alone in any of the disciplines outlined in Archibald’s bequest. Oh, he does have some tough stickers emblazoned across his naked chest (the portrait has him chastely covering his nether wares with a sheet while he’s sprawled across a rumpled bed, flanked by a second and third ‘self,’ the first sleeping in a foetal roll and the other sitting by the bed, perhaps looking for his wallet, although god knows a stud like Cousins doesn’t have to pay for it, chaps), massive ornate letters spelling who knows what, I really can’t tell, but I don’t think it’s quite what Jules meant. It’s stretching the friendship that this portrait was chosen for the exhibition because Cousins simply doesn’t qualify, hot pecs or no.
The whole first room is a shambles. The portrait of Senator Bob Brown, member of the Australian Green party, portrays him almost as a Christ-like figure, which is, you know, a trifle extreme. Then there’s Mathew Lyn’s Heiress, his portrait of fellow artist Joan Ross. Ross is wearing a colonial-style dress made entirely of kangaroo fur… ugly and bizarre. Michael Zavros’s Ars longa, vita brevis evokes a skull in his self-portrait, and could, as he suggests, be an interesting comment on the way consumer items are now perceived as core to identity, or his Tom Ford sunnies for eye sockets, expensive Italian shoes for nose cartilage, and collection of colognes for teeth could just be a pretentious copout. I’ll also admit freely I’m biased against the Sass & Bide duo, Sarah-Jane Clarke and Heidi Middleton, so Jenny Sages’s portrait of the pair was never going to get my vote, although I will say it perfectly captures what I can’t bear about them, being that unshakeable sense that they are forever locked in a mutual admiration society that means constantly touching each other and exchanging meaningful glances until the world ends. I just want to hit them. Really hard.
Things improved for me after my Sass & Bide gag. Love author Thomas Keneally’s portrait Mountain of Tom by Paul Ryan; Cherry Hood’s portrait of pianist David Helfgott has captured something so heartbreaking in those haunted eyes; Ngaire Devenport’s affectionate portrait of much- and unfairly maligned artist Ken Done is one in the eye for the curators (ha! He’s finally hanging in AGNSW! Take that!) ; I could look at Indigenous artist Nancy Kunoth Petyarr walking toward me as in a dream in Jan Williamson’s portrait all day (or perhaps it should be all night); Ben Quilty’s portrait of the once hard-living rocker Jimmy Barnes is arresting; James Powditch’s portrait of his artist father Peter Powditch – Peter Powditch is a dead man walking – is as tender and pointed a plea as any son has made to a chain-smoking father; the winning portrait of blind Indigenous musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu by Guy Maestri is sombre and shadowed, it’s beautifully quiet and still; and finally, Anthony Bennett’s self-portrait in the bathroom discussing beauty, bukowski and brett whiteley with my ex, now a stripper, who likes to dress as wonder woman is a wonderful and timely reminder that humour is not illegal in the hallowed halls of Arts, Letters, Science and Politics. It won my vote in the People’s Choice, but you’d have to think Vincent Fantauzzo’s really pretty staggering photo-realist offering (of the show-stealer in the movie Australia, young doe-eyed BrandonWalters) will take out that particular prize, and good luck to him too.
I won’t tell you too much about the Wynne and Sulman prizes this year except this: the Wynne – for landscape painting or figurative sculpture – is always excellent, or at least, there are always several terrific works. I think the Wynne is probably one of my favourite exhibitions of any year – always reliable as a showcase of landscape talent, it never disappoints and often delights. The Sulman – for subject, genre or mural painting (part of its problem, I think, is its major identity crisis) – so pathetic in past years, such a letdown as the final leg of the night, actually managed not to offend me this year, and for that alone I give it full marks for Most Improved Prize.
It’s all on show until 24 May – and it makes a great pre-dinner stroll on a Wednesday night.
Yes, it has happened. As I emailed the Darklings this morning, last night I slid off the moderation wagon and hopped right aboard the booze bus… ouch. Now I remember why I was enjoying moderation so much… hangovers bite the big one. In my defence, Jenny’s signing is a bloody big deal, and good times were had last night as four of the five Darklings made merry in the CBD.
We met at one of my favourite places in town, the Bambini Trust Wine Room on Elizabeth St, opposite Hyde Park and right next to their fabulous restaurant, where we would have eaten had money been no object. But starving writers are starving writers, so we scoffed the free snacks, had a couple of drinks outside enjoying the beautiful night, and then walked down to Koreatown – not quite Chinatown but on the outlying streets – to a restaurant Llew and I stumbled across one night and have been meaning to try ever since. Something has always gotten in the way, but not last night! Last night I was on a mission! I did have a moment’s panic about its precise location, its being down an alleyway off Pitt St, but we managed to will our way there in the end, and the girls immediately gave it the Darkling seal of approval.
After a round of steamed dumplings and a pretty tremendous tofu salad (yes, really – it was one of the highlights of the meal), we loaded up our Korean BBQ in the centre of the table and had a very tasty, very interactive time of it, cooking up first the king prawns, then the marinated chicken, and then the beef bulgogi. Yum yum. Catherine, our official fire starter and keeper of the flame, did sterling service over the hot coals and everything went down a treat, washed down with several requisite bottles of wine. Llew also made a guest appearance just in time to eat… well, just about everything. The only thing missing was the fifth Darkling, but we harassed her by firing off a series of photos taken round the table (phones are pretty sophisticated these days) and she reciprocated from Melbourne, so we got her there in the end. Most satisfying times. The manager, Peter, looked after us like we were family, and needless to say we won’t have any trouble finding our way back there in future. A big thumbs up from this little piggy.
Then we stumbled on our little trotters up to a pub on the corner for one last cleansing ale. As you do. The clock struck midnight and we cheerfully ignored it, or at least we tried to, but sanity and Llew’s busy day ahead eventually prevailed. In a most uncharacteristic fashion, we were the first to leave, and flagged down a passing pumpkin to see us home. I clearly spent the early hours of the morning unleashing a truly majestic wine snore, as my throat currently feels like shards of glass have lodged there for the duration. Ouch and ouch. Poor Llewie – it’s not exactly Sleeping Beauty round here.
In other news, I went to a UTS seminar before meeting up with the Darklings that was fantastically useful for my redrafting. Highly relevant. It persuaded me once and for all (I’ve nursed this suspicion for a while) that there really does need to be a visual component, and there’s a multimodality to the emerging text that I find very exciting and challenging. Of course, it makes my life more difficult, and it makes the book a more expensive proposition for any prospective publisher, which obviously isn’t ideal. But the images absolutely do need to be there, I’m certain of it, and perhaps if I stick to mono (black and white), it won’t be too bad. This is probably all very confusing for you because you don’t know what I’m talking about, but trust me, it’s a step in the right direction. The real problem now is figuring out who is going to do these illustrations for me, because I just don’t have the skills. I might try doing a few sketches and see how I go, but I am not an artist, so I don’t expect to go very well at all! It may help clarify the images I do want, though, so it’s not a bad idea thrashing it out myself before approaching someone to help me. That was the other great thing about the seminar: now I know where to look. And boy, talk about my spiritual home – they were talking about the in-between space between words and images and hybrid literary forms, and these are ideas that not only informed my PhD thesis to a huge degree, but they remain two of my most pressing preoccupations, and are an integral part of this manuscript of mine. I felt so at home. Except, of course, that I stuck out like the sorest throbbing thumb: there I was in my Man Town resort wear, lost in the deep black sea of undergraduate emo…
Just a quick post from me today… I’ve been redrafting like a demon and now I’m out of time… things to do, things to do. But it’s a glorious day here today, and it’s been like this all week. I’m especially pleased because one of the Victorian Darklings is in Sydney this week attending an ASA (Australian Society of Authors) course, and it’s pretty hard not falling in love with this town when it’s looking like this. I hope she’s swooning.
Actually, I daresay she really is: I know you’ll all be thrilled to hear that Jenny had her meeting with Australia’s largest and oldest literary agency yesterday, and she’s officially been offered representation. WOOHOO!!! They’re signing contracts on Friday, and then she’s away! IT CAN HAPPEN. It really can happen. And in this case, it couldn’t happen to a better person. We’re all beside ourselves with Darkling pride, shaking our feathers and waddling around the pond perimeter quacking with glee. It’s so incredibly exciting, and what’s even better is that I’ll be seeing Jenny tomorrow night and buying her a congratulatory drink in person. You know how I love serendipity, and it’s wonderfully serendipitous that here Jenny is this week, in Sydney, just in time to be signed to an agent and go out clicking her heels with three of the four other Darklings. What are the chances of that? Ordinarily, pretty slim. So it’s pretty outrageous that it’s all happening at just the right time.
Jenny, Darkling, Changeling, published author, represented author and all round good egg, I salute you with love.
I read Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam on Sunday (don’t be impressed, it’s verging on a novella), and the timing was quite good, as the Sunday papers here published racy photos of ex-One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, allegedly taken some thirty years ago by an ex-boyfriend (nice guy).
Hanson is going for election again, a candidate in the forthcoming Queensland state election, and she’s a stubborn growth in our political pancreas that just won’t quit no matter how many times we operate. I don’t like her politics. I think hers is exactly the form of ignorance of which we have most to fear. She’s so certain of her xenophobia. So inflamed by her nationalism. So self-righteous and strident in her prejudice. Perhaps her views have cooled in the 12 years since she divided Australia and was given carte blanche by John Howard to basically do his dirty work for him, but I seriously doubt it. However, to be fair, I haven’t acquainted myself with her latest platform, and mentally dismissed her election bid as a folly. I keep falling into the small l liberal trap of thinking most Australians are more broad-minded than that, but her prominence last time, leading what should have been a really marginal party, belies my own armchair assessment of the state of the nation. In real terms, I don’t know how the majority of Australians feel.
Regardless, before the Hanson story broke, I was fascinated by the fallout occasioned by the publication of photos of a minister in drag in Amsterdam. I’ve enjoyed all the McEwans I’ve read, and I’ve read a few (actually, Litlove, he should probably have been on yesterday’s list… Atonement, On Chesil Beach, Saturday, Enduring Love and now this), but I did find that Amsterdam pushed the bounds of my credulity in ways I found ultimately unsatisfying. McEwan favours the multiple perspective, and is particularly expert at excavating our common failure to perceive events from any viewpoint but our own. His composer and his editor in chief, lifelong friends, suffer from a fatal failure to communicate and resolve their differences, differences which ostensibly only arise because of their attitude to publishing the photos. But would events really spiral out of control to the extent he suggests? I just didn’t buy it. The denouement seemed melodramatic and frankly absurd. They love McEwan on the Man Booker Prize panel; Amsterdam won and On Chesil Beach was shortlisted, I think. Both of them are very slim volumes, so presumably it’s not the weight of the tome that makes it weigh in so persuasively with the judges. But I have to admit I’m slightly surprised Amsterdam took it out. I don’t know what else was in contention that year – perhaps I should make it my business to find out – but I do know that as I reached the final page and put the book down, I felt vaguely miffed. Oh well, that’s all very neat, isn’t it? I thought. All a bit self-consciously sewn up, isn’t it? Come on! As if! Which is hardly what we – or at least I – want to feel having invested my Sunday morning in a book. I don’t like scoffing at an author’s conclusion. It tarnishes our relationship horribly.
Which, speaking of tarnish, brings us back to the Hanson photos (in a roundabout kind of way). I have no relationship with her, but I do with the country’s press, and I think it’s utterly FOUL of them to run these pictures and intrude on her in this way. It’s just disgusting. It has NOTHING to do with her tilt at parliament, and it’s just exploitation for monetary gain all round. The despicable cretin who took the photos sold them, and the despicable cretins who bought the photos ran them. It is NOT in the public’s best interests to see these clearly private photos. It’s such an abuse – a flagrant, really base abuse – of the oft’ invoked and hysterically defended concept of freedom of the press. I believe in the freedom of the press, but I also believe that with that freedom comes responsibility, responsibility that is being shirked constantly these days. There’s a gleeful mockery of the very principles news agencies are so very quick to insist they uphold. The amount of gratuitous, parasitical invasions of privacy that pass for ‘news’ these days is staggering. The way they feast on images of carnage and despair – not because it’s necessary to tell the story, but because it sells, sells, sells – makes me so sick I have started avoiding even the broadsheet papers, which more and more resemble the worst of the tabloids.
Publishing thirty year old private photos of a young woman – photos that were never intended to see the light of day – is not what protecting the freedom of the press is all about. It’s just grubby and tawdry, and we the public do not always have a right to know. The press is the world’s watchdog, but who’s watching the press? Sometimes common decency really ought to prevail.
POSTSCRIPT: In a nice case of life imitating art, the publication of the Hanson photos has spectacularly backfired. They have been exposed as a hoax, and the editors who ran the pictures are scrambling for cover.
Our neighbours have split up, or are splitting up, and it’s a bummer. We’ve been living side by side on the ground floor of our apartment block for over four brilliant years. R is the other owner/occupier; both the upstairs apartments are rented. M is his girlfriend (shit – I just heard what sounded like a small car crash… and I’m going to resist the ghoulish urge to go and have a look), and she’s moving, it seems, back to China.
M has been here as long as we have, but she’s significantly younger than R and about an eighth his size. R is a big, slow moving man, a retired tradie who plays a lot of golf and follows the cricket and Rugby League. He’s a top bloke, just a really nice older guy and an awesome neighbour. He sticks his head over our courtyard wall whenever he’s coming home sloshed and we’re still sitting out there entertaining friends, and though we always invite him to join us for a drink, he has the grace to decline. In other words, he wants to say g’day, but he knows we didn’t invite him to dinner, so he leaves us to it with a friendly wave and the occasional burst of jocular abuse. I like R very much, maybe especially because we’ve seen him at his most vulnerable. We came home once to find him passed out on our doorstep, drunk as a lord, locked out of his apartment, and determinedly unconscious. Forget trying to move the man. At that point he was as permanent a feature of the landscape as Ayers Rock, an absolutely immovable dead weight that could not be roused. Eventually we stepped over him, went inside for a blanket, and left him there, where he slept soundly for a couple more hours before finally gaining entry to his own home and bed. How could this fail to endear the man to you? I found it adorable. He looked so snug.
M is a really early riser. She’s been our wake-up call too many times to name, her dawn alarm enough to strip paint on sound waves alone, since their backdoor slides open with all the silky ease of heavy artillery fire. It jolts us awake like we’re being attacked in our bed. All a bit violent, really, but M herself is pint sized and cherry-on-top sweet. She skips. I mean it. She actually skips. She also does that distinctly Asian and quite perplexing thing of collecting stuffed toys and displaying them along the back window of R’s car. It’s really crowded back there – everyone’s coming along for the ride. The whole zoo. I don’t get it, but the thought of these animal toys not being there anymore makes me unbearably sad. Is she moving the entire collection back to China? You’d assume so. Heartbreaking!
She and R had this little ritual (pass the tissues, I am really getting emotional) of walking to one of the cafes around the corner for a coffee every evening at dusk. They are – were – an odd couple physically, no doubt about it, but the sight of R walking heavily (he has a gammy knee) to the cafe with M skipping merrily beside him just gladdened my heart during many a setting sun. R also had this habit of shouting faux abuse at M whenever he got home with a skinful of beer in him. The first time this happened, I jumped out of my own skin, and called Llew feeling sure something dreadful was happening next door. I was petrified. Then as I was speaking to Llew, trying to decide what to do, I managed to gather from the sound of high times coming from next door that in fact it was all in jest, and very much part of their slightly unusual couple schtick. Certainly part of R’s: he fancies himself quite the comedian. Ever since that first and momentary misunderstanding, R’s bellowing whenever he returned home has made me smile.
Then M’s mother got sick in China, a few months ago now, and R started doing his own washing (he crept up behind the upstairs neighbour once, as she stood hanging clothes on the line, and whispered “A woman’s work is never done,” thinking he was hilarious, and I can’t tell you how amused Llew and I were when we eventually got to do the same to him).
“Where’s M?” I asked.
“Looking after her mother,” R said. “I don’t think she’ll be back for months.”
I dismissed this with a wave of my hand. Airily is the word.
“She’ll be back,” I said confidently. “Someone’s got to keep you out of trouble.”
But it seems the end of their fine romance has indeed come. I feel so sad for R my eyes are smarting writing this. We had a little chinwag at the door last week (he’s taken to knocking on the door quite a bit – he’s lonely, you see, and that makes me want to sob and sob), and he told me he was leaving for a golfing holiday in America and that while he’s gone, M was coming to clear out her stuff (she’s here now, and even the strange trinket that has hung over their door for the past four years has been whipped off and presumably packed away – I can’t bear it).
“You can’t be telling me the romance is over,” I said to R last week, my denial still in full flight. “I don’t believe it.”
“Romance!” R scoffed. “At my age it’s not about romance, it’s about companionship. Romance is for people your age.”
Well, as it happens I thoroughly disagree with R on this point, but it’s quite, quite bad enough that my dear neighbour has, if nothing else, just lost his constant companion. M will be sorely missed around here.
It was the drugs what made me do it, officer… Wow, I cannot articulate the improvement in my state of mind over the past 24 hours. It is a physical, palpable sensation of my head having cleared. I realised it yesterday afternoon: I felt like myself again. I felt well, I felt clear, cheerful, energised…mentally and physically fit and well. And it was only when I met Llew at the ferry last night that I realised there had been a distinct shift. “How are you?” he said, and I stopped, thought about it, and said, “I’ve just realised I feel great for the first time in weeks. My head’s cleared.” And he looked at me and said, “You actually look healthier.”
On the other side of it, it’s only now becoming screamingly apparent to me that I was in a drug-induced fug. That miserable person is not me – I am a born optimist. That self-pitying, downhearted person – you know the one – is some hormonal monster that swept in and devoured my soul. I feel like I have exorcised something terrible. And you know, it makes me super dubious about continuing with these fertility meds. Clearly it caused a little estrogen tsunami to kick off inside me, and the results were pretty diabolical compared to the way I usually feel. I tell you, it’s in my HEAD. I can actually feel the lightness and clarity returning to my head.
What a relief. I honestly can’t describe the shift from that state to this – it’s marked, and it’s further confirmed my general preference for not taking drugs for anything unless it’s absolutely necessary. I am going to return to my GP and my obs/gyn guy and ask if this is Really Absolutely Necessary. Because the last few weeks have been shit, with the notable exception of the retreat at Aireys Inlet, where I think I was so euphoric about being with the Darklings and having our Virtual Varuna that I kicked some kind of override switch.
And just in case we were in any doubt about whether or not this was going to be a better day, I’ve also been granted a stay of execution… or at least persecution. My sister called this morning, and I thought it was to confirm the arrival time of their flight for Nana’s scheduled return home today. The one thing I didn’t expect her to say, of all the possible things she could have said, was “I had a call from St Andrews this morning, and they’ve offered her another fortnight’s respite,” but that, my friends, is what they said to her and what she then said to me. Talk about rescue at the 11th hour. I just spluttered down the line, scarcely able to believe the change of fortune. Needless to say, she leapt on the offer the second she recovered her own power of speech. Oh, the RELIEF. What I didn’t know until yesterday is that Nana has no recollection of her life prior to St Andrews, no concept of home being elsewhere, and no desire to return to wherever the hell Kate’s threatening to take her to. She can’t understand what it’s all about, nor why she has to move anywhere at all. Well, unfortunately the reprieve is only going to last another two weeks, but seriously, that feels like the best Christmas ever. I am still in shock. Happy shock.
So there you go, the pendulum swings and moods improve and things get better. One of the other things I noticed yesterday, when I started emerging from the fertility fog, was that I called up a couple of friends I hadn’t spoken to in ages. I initiated contact because I wanted to know how they were and realised I didn’t really know. I didn’t want to talk about myself, I wanted to hear about them, and it’s only now as I reflect on the last few weeks that I realise all that looking inward was perhaps a symptom of this drug’s effect on me. I wonder if it wasn’t almost a form of depression, because certainly every single person I’ve ever known with depression has also been sort of narcissistic and self-absorbed, and that’s exactly how I’d characterise my own recent obsessions with self. Interesting from a purely intellectual perspective, but frightening at the same time.
Thanks for bearing with me.
I’m reading Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy at the moment (City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room), and there’s nothing like the evocation of the peculiar, isolated life of the writer to give me a good, hard slap across the face, because it’s clearly a shortcut to madness. There’s the savant-like repetition of the primary task, there’s the time spent cultivating an inner rather than an outer life, and there’s something, at least in Auster’s trilogy, that reeks of… I don’t know… it’s something other than loneliness…maybe it’s… maybe it’s an indulged desperation.
There is something horribly needy about writers, and I at least have learned several cunning ways to exacerbate my own clingy insecurity. For example, I’ve developed a habit of refraining from talking about the manuscript when I’m with non-writing friends unless I’m asked directly about it. On the surface, this could look like something I’m doing for them, but really, deep down I suspect it’s just another weapon in my insecurity arsenal (which I furnish lovingly with all manner of grenade), and that therefore is really all about me. It started because I figured that they’ll ask if they’re interested, and I don’t want to bore them with it if they’re not. It was innocent enough in the beginning, motivated by a genuine desire not to hog the conversation. After a week on my own, come Saturday night I have a tendency toward unchecked ranting, so I have worked hard over time to reign in my blabber mouth by whatever means necessary. I also reasoned that some of them might keep up to date with the trials and tribulations of my writing via this blog. Although I have no way of knowing this if they never mention it, perhaps they then feel there’s no need to discuss it in person. Doubtless others simply don’t give a shit, and still more secretly think I haven’t a hope in hell and would rather talk about belly button lint than look me in the eye and tell me so (on being told by another friend that I’d made the short list of the Varuna HarperCollins thing, one friend turned to me and said “That must be a relief – that means it’s not completely shit!” – yeah, I guess it does, but interesting that ‘completely shit’ was such a distinct possibility!).
So you see where I’m going with this. The real fruits of my indulged desperation start to flourish when I spend a whole evening with a group of people and not one of them asks me what’s happening with the writing. I don’t offer anything unless I’m asked, remember, so it’s fascinating to me in a sick, sick sort of way waiting to see if anyone asks me a single thing about the manuscript or, in some cases, anything at all. You should try this one at home or next time you’re out with friends – it’s addictive in that shameful, revolting way that picking at and squeezing the human body is addictive. It’s like I’m trying to catch them out. “Aha!” I think to myself. “There it is again! Nobody cares! I knew it!” A weird thing to feel jubilant about, I grant you, but there’s undeniably an element of glee in my misery on the way home from these nights. I feel like my desperate insecurity is well-founded – proven, even – and is therefore a worthy investment of my time and energy. I swaddle myself in hurt like it’s bunting.
Maybe no one asked because they know I didn’t win. Maybe they thought it would make me uncomfortable talking about it, and having to admit failure. Failure makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. Maybe they decided I’d talk about it if I wanted to (ah, glorious impasse of the great unsaid!). Maybe. Who knows? And why would I care when I can harness all these unknowns and turn them into a searing song of self-pity? Why wish my friends showed more interest when I can assume on their behalf that they have absolutely none at all?
It’s all pretty self-obsessed, if you want to get right down to it. It turns out that the mean guy who said the shitty thing on the blog a few weeks back wasn’t so far from the mark. I really am “self-obsessed and actually think people are interested in the mundane arrogance of my life.” In my defence, though, aren’t we all guilty of this? As Stephen King says in On Writing, we’re all the star of our own show (or something to that effect). I can’t help but be caught up in my own dramas. But one thing I’m not enjoying about my writing life is this uncomfortable but pressing sense that it’s cultivating a kind of block between myself and the rest of the world. I seem to be filtering things differently, and relating them much more to how they affect me. I don’t think this is a good thing. Even celebrating my darling Darkling’s win yesterday (she had a call back from Australia’s biggest literary agency about representation – MASSIVE!!), which I did with all my heart, I could still hear that whining little voice inside that was bemoaning the fact that nothing of the sort had happened or ever seems likely to happen to me. What’s with that? It wasn’t about me, it had nothing whatsoever to do with me, and that whining little voice had no right to hijack the celebration of my friend’s fantastic success. It was good catching the whining little voice right in the act – mid moan, as it were – because, like Auster’s mirror-on-the-wall trilogy, it allowed me to give myself a much needed reminder that it’s not – and never was – all about me. So… enough! I promise to reacquaint myself with the outside world and stop this forever looking in.