Thinking Things Through By Writing to You

June 30, 2009 at 7:37 am (Uncategorized)

In typical fashion I completely overdid it with a stupidly over-committed busy weekend, and then I wiped out at about, oh, 4:30 Sunday afternoon. And it was a pretty big crash and burn. Clearly I did not blog yesterday, but what you don’t know is that I didn’t even turn on the computer. It sat on my desk, closed, silent, unattended, until late this afternoon. Even now I’m feeling a little unsteady about committing to an entire post, because the truth is I’m still totally exhausted, and yesterday I barely made it out of bed. One of my friends, S, warned me and warned me and warned me that general anaesthetics can really take it out of you, and she begged and begged and begged me not to overdo it during the weekend, but did I listen? No! Of course not! Stand back, world, I’m CAPTAIN INVINCIBLE!!!!!!! Except now I’m Captain Dribble. I can hardly keep my eyes open, let alone observe appropriate table manners. I’m tired.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t had a coffee since Saturday morning. Is it possible this is some kind of caffeine withdrawal, and not related to last week’s procedure at all? Or maybe it’s my Volunteer Reader feedback, which I received Friday. Maybe my exhaustion is really related to acute feelings of anxiety and failure, which I definitely feel. I am also now anticipating the next draft, which is a pretty dread thought all on its own. VR did a mind-bending assessment of the MS for me, really did the most phenomenal and humbling job – so I am also sick with desperation at the warped lack of reciprocity characterising this entire exchange (is it even an exchange when I can’t for the life of me figure out what was in it for VR?) – but it was so, um, detailed, and the magnitude so great, that it fairly wiped me off the map for the last 96 hours. I’ve kind of clawed my way back to the edge of existence now, but I feel like I’m half dangling from a rusted rooftop pipe and there’s still a suspenseful question mark over whether or not I’ll make it.

Cue ad break.

Okay, so the answer is basically no, my manuscript is not agent ready. Not that VR said that specifically, but as far as I’m concerned there was really no need. Because I don’t want to send it out to an agent or a publisher if I know there’s still things I can do to make it better. I think it’s one thing to get tired of it or bored with it or to really feel you’re done, but I knew VR would have intelligent critique to offer me, so I was in some sense already reconciled to the idea of another draft. I knew there would be things I could do to make it better. I guess I’m only a flattened little pancake on the pavement now because I didn’t accurately anticipate the distance from the rooftop to the ground. It turns out they’re quite far apart.

When Darkling C read it, and loved it, she did say it really took off for her after the first seven chapters. I said to her at the time that it really worried me it took that long, and as I said to someone else (I thought it was C, or maybe it was Llew, but now that C has said it wasn’t her I can’t remember), I’ve wondered several times since then what would happen if I lobbed off the first 80 pages. Now, VR hasn’t suggested anything quite that dramatic, but it’s not far off, and there’s many other considerations besides that are very sound. Just good things for me to think about. I’ve been challenged to consider them, so consider them carefully I shall.

I think there’s a major difference between actually getting too much feedback from too many people and simply deciding you’ve had too much. Everyone is different on this score as with every other part of the process. For me, I like reader feedback. As I’ve said before, my manuscript has benefited from it to an extraordinary degree. The degree of feedback I’ve received has also prevented my sending it widespread into the world of publishing before it is ready to go. The intense, urgent desire to send it to publishers and agents that really consumed me in the early days has all but entirely left me. Of course I want it to go out, of course I want it to be picked up, but I realise now that mostly what I was so driven by was not ambition but a need for feedback. I need it. Maybe not all writers do, but that vacuum, that awful nothingness of having no one to send it to and no one to read it, that’s what was really diabolical and painful to me.

Now that I’ve had several rounds of excellent feedback from people who do totally know what they’re talking about, and whose opinions I respect completely, I just don’t feel that same burning itch to send it out – an ailment that is also a kind of burden. I find more and more – now I have access to these wondrous people who are prepared to read my work – that I feel quite at peace with the process, just the doing, and that there’s enormous, verging on existential joy for me in that and that alone. So my thoughts, after the initial sting, have begun to settle, and I realise without any temper that I still have a lot of work to do. And that’s okay. These things take time, more than I knew. And perhaps this is the way I finally learn patience.

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Could This Be True?

June 25, 2009 at 11:00 pm (Uncategorized)

There are all these reports coming through that Michael Jackson has died… could it be true? Well, yes. People die of cardiac arrest all the time; it’s one of if not the number one killer in Australia. But Michael Jackson? Dead? Really?

I have so many fond memories of Michael Jackson’s music accompanying me as I was growing up. His were some of the very first albums I ever owned, and I loved them. In fact, I loved him. Yes, it’s true. Michael was mine. I was even prepared to overlook the red leather and the natty white socks. He could sing, he could dance, he could make my young toes tap like no one before or since has ever been able to do. There’s something special about someone who just makes you want to dance.

Oh, I know what came next, all the weirdness and whiteness, and I don’t really recognise that guy as the hero of my youth. This latter day Michael Jackson has just always struck me as so sad and lonely, not my magical music man at all. And certainly not the beautiful bopping boy whose voice lights up every Jackson Five track I know and still really love. I guess it’s a little  like when Dorothy peeps behind the curtain and finds that Oz is just this wizened, eccentric loner – maybe that was the truth about Michael Jackson all along. But I’ve always chosen not to believe that. I’ve always kept a spot on the dance floor reserved especially for him, should he ever return.

I’m so sad to think this report may be true, and the Prince of Pop may be dead. How awful and how premature. I always hoped he’d get his groove back, because his was a true and pure kind of talent you just don’t see every day. Michael Jackson.

POSTSCRIPT: No, not a publicity stunt or a false report or a false alarm. Wow. Michael Jackson is dead. Michael. Jackson. Michael Jackson. And the first of the emails have started to arrive. Here’s one Llew got from a colleague: ‘Michael Jackson has died of a suspected heart attack. Some doctors blame it on his diet and lifestyle, but I just blame it on the boogie.’

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Tender is the Night

June 25, 2009 at 1:43 am (Uncategorized)

Youchy. I am a little sore, yes. And I didn’t sleep well because my left side especially is quite tender. The Comfarol Forte I took did squat for making me drowsy (at 3 am, I was perfectly capable of operating heavy machinery), although it was fine for pain relief. I have four entry points, one in my belly button, and then three in a little white plaster smiley face across my abdomen. Some stitches. And some answers. It turns out that I have endometriosis. Huh. How about that? And that’s about all I can tell you for now, because while I apparently had a lively post-operative chat with Dr F in which (according to the theatre nurse) I peppered the man with questions, I have zero recollection of that. Like, none. Nope. Not even a faint shadow of memory. I called his surgery earlier to let them know this, and when his receptionist said, “Yeah, you’re sort of half there, half not there after a general,” I said “How about not there at all?”

It’s eerie and disconcerting knowing I yammered away while still totally off my trolley – awake, by all accounts, but not remotely returned from wherever I’d been. Odd stuff, anaesthetic. Oh, and I did mention my untimely awakening to the anaesthetist, and he nodded and said that for the procedure in question (colonoscopy), it was not uncommon because they use the general more to induce sedation and therefore I guess the levels are different. So there you go – he didn’t bat an eyelid. No such trouble this time – this time I was gone longer than I was out… wacky.

It was a long day. Llew and I made merry on Tuesday night because we live life like unsupervised children and saw the impending surgery as a good excuse for fun the night before, but of course then I didn’t sleep, lying awake going over and over just about every aspect of my life, including branching off into the lives of friends and family and their health and happiness. It was all happening in there. Cast of thousands. Llew woke up at some point and asked me what I was thinking about, and after I rattled off at least a dozen topics of current interest, he paused and said “Right. You really do have stuff on your mind.” How do you turn it off?? Maybe I need to investigate meditation. I’ve heard it’s helpful. Last night I turned my insomnia to good effect, coming up with at least half a dozen new scenes for manuscript #2, which is great because just quietly I’ve been feeling really stalled. That almost makes the sleeplessness worthwhile – or at least it might buy me some sleep stamps on those nights I may otherwise have been awake worrying about writer’s block. Ah, the tangled webs we dreamless weave.

Got to the hospital at 6:45 am and proceeded to wait for well over four hours. I’d been fasting since midnight and was NIL BY MOUTH this entire time, and as someone who drinks water camel-style and starts eating the moment I open my eyes, it was torture. I started feeling wildly off-base around about 10 o’clock. That’s when I started annoying Llew. And audibly swearing in the waiting room. Like, under my breath but still really volubly because I didn’t care who heard me. Not even all the uniformly elderly people we were sharing the room with. At that point they all just looked like obstacles to me. Obstacles in the way of my next meal. Worse, there were all these food ads on the endlessly droning TV for which there were no controls. And then cooking segments on the appalling morning programs. And trolleys groaning with food passing by en route to the recovery room next door. I started feeling pretty crazy, and I was reading the same page over and over and over in my book because T.S. was short on food in the scene I was reading, and so I became fixated by his predicament as well as my own.

Then Llew said, “Look up. This will cheer you up.”

And he was right.

Onscreen were two grown women wearing fleece tents with sleeves. One was bright blue in that highly-flammable fabric kind of way, and the other was deep maroon, ironically just like the blanket they throw over you as you’re being led from a towering inferno. Their heads looked like tiny little balls atop synthetic mountains. I cocked my head.

“Didn’t Homer wear one of those on a Simpsons episode?”

Llew started laughing. These things are called something like the ‘snuggler’ and they’re new to Australia from the home of the brave and criminally insane.

“Why would you wear one of those?” Llew wanted to know.

It was a good question for which there was no answer.

“Can you imagine shuffling around the house in…what is that thing? A blanket with a head hole and gospel sleeves? Or a blanket suit? How would you like to wear one of those to work during winter? I just can’t imagine the world in which wearing one of these would seem like a good idea. Why don’t they just turn the heater on?”

I loved these women for maintaining straight faces throughout their entirely ludicrous infomercial. I admired their comic level of composure, as though these snuggler blanket onesies were not the last word in stupidity, and as though being forced to don them for an extended sales pitch – with their immaculately groomed hair and make-up hovering just above the blanket line – was not one long exercise in ritual humiliation. It was awesome. Cheered me right up. I completely forgot about the lack of food and water the entire time they were on. Thanks, ladies. Thanks, snuggler.

Not long after that, I sent Llew to the driving range, and it was time for me to go under. The second they got me down to recovery, I ate a sandwich [five quarters – go figure], two packets of biscuits, two cups of tea, a bottle of ginger beer and a cheesy spinach scroll. My blood pressure and heartbeat post-op? Worryingly low. My blood pressure and heartbeat post face-stuffing? Totally normal.

Llew arrived soon after I got down there (bringing the scroll and ginger beer, in fact, because he knows my hungry crazies well), and had beautiful orchids waiting for me in the car. He was the supremo carer last night, too. And it was really, really nice to be home.

POSTSCRIPT: my friend J just sent me this link to an amusing Snuggie parody.

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Sometimes My Typing Fingers Have a Mind of Their Own…

June 23, 2009 at 1:34 am (Uncategorized)

It’s a phenomenal day here, not at all a winter’s day. It’s unseasonably warm, and people are in t-shirts and singlets. I’ve left the house completely overdressed. The beachfront cafes are, as usual, packed, and I wonder for the millionth time what it is they all do. I’m always amazed by the number of people slouching around Man Town in civilian clothing who don’t appear to have jobs to go to. Okay, granted, I must look like one of them, but actually I’m not, and I spend many more hours working at my desk than your average person with a job in the CBD. I’m not the only one who’s surprised. When Llew took last Thursday off to come to Dr F’s with me (not a day like today – pissing rain, in fact – poor Llewie!!), I could see his head swivelling from side to side in quite a manic fashion, and I knew he was madly calculating the odds of joining this throng of apparently self-employed or unemployed people.

“I always think Man Town ceases to exist when I’m at work,” he said, his voice full of wonder. “But look at this. Look at them all. What are they doing here?”

“I’ve given up trying to figure it out,” I admitted. “I have no idea.”

And today is no different. If it were all retirees, that would be one thing. But it’s not. And it’s not the great unwashed, either, people who are taking some winter sun for lack of anywhere else to be. No, they all smack of affluence. They all live in cafes. They all have designer sunglasses and white t-shirts and bling. Many do tote the ultimate accessory: a child. Parents of young children do account for a good proportion of these people, but I wouldn’t even feel confident claiming them as the majority. Plenty of them just seem to know something we don’t know. Anyway, there’s not much more to say about it than good luck to them.

Llew and I had another little excursion over the weekend. It didn’t start out as a very adventurous 48 hours – we had friends for dinner Friday night, and Saturday was just miserable, torrential rain, grey skies, so we blobbed and blobbed good. I read my book for hours – and at the moment that’s The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet, by Reif Larsen, which I am thoroughly enjoying (the twelve year old protagonist reminds me so much of a friend of mine… I’m just not sure how to break it to him…). – which was almost as delicious as the leftover lasagne from the night before (I’m into bastardised recipes, and this lasagne was a doozy in that regard and all the better for it; it was probably my best ever), which Llew served up to me while I lazed about in my pyjamas well past an acceptable hour. Glorious. It would be a candidate for the laziest day of my life, and I loved it.

We had to pull ourselves together mid-afternoon because we were due across town in Bondi for another dinner party (I won’t deny it, yes, there’s a lot of face-feeding going on… there’s been a sudden outbreak of socialising after months of hibernation… It’s weird how everyone seems to have synchronised their watches…). Llew wanted to hit golf balls at the driving range en route, so he dropped me at the Max Brenner chocolatier on Oxford St and I read my book, scoffed my Belgian waffle, and drank my dark chocolate hot choc in the back corner banquette that became available like it was destined to be mine. The only thing wrong with this cosy picture was the peculiar incompetence of the staff that seems to be a condition of employment at all Max Brenner stores. We have one in Man Town at the wharf, and Llew and I have been forced to leave without our coffees when we realised it was taking so long we were about to miss the ferry. You need a generous lead-time if you’re going to risk a visit. The cashier managed to grow one of the most extraordinary queues I’ve seen in quite some time by being otherwise engaged chatting to her colleagues about her break, her shift, and her Saturday night plans. And yes, standing there listening to this enraged me. I had my lazy day too, it’s true, but I wasn’t supposed to be at work.

Deep breath. Deeeeeep breath. Llew hit his little white balls into the middle distance, I accompanied T.S. a little further along his journey, and then we went to S and O’s place for a fantastic three course extravaganza. Homemade gnocchi in a blue cheese sauce for starter, delectable roast pork with THE BEST crackling I have EVER eaten in my ENTIRE life, and the tastiest of the tasty roast taties (potatoes), and other gorgeous roast vegetables that were a bit of blur as I sank into a contented crackling coma. Salty, crispy fat: sometimes there is no substitute. As I slid down my chair, wondering if it would be terribly uncouth to unzip my jeans at table (the answer is a resounding yes, but I was a little addled by the food and wine at the time and it truly seemed like an excellent idea). But O and S weren’t finished with us yet. There was one of my favourite desserts to come: citron tart. Made from scratch with their bare hands, the same hands that rolled the gnocchi. Talk about feeling spoilt – what a meal! And talk about raising the bar…

Gosh, here I am nearly 1,000 words in and I haven’t even arrived at the excursion this post meant to describe… I do get so sidetracked by the taste buds… well, tomorrow I have my procedure, and I think I’m unlikely to post live from the recovery room, so I think we’ll meet again on Thursday, when there will be much to discuss.

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June 18, 2009 at 11:25 pm (Uncategorized)

I didn’t blog yesterday because my obs/gyn appointment was moved again from Tuesday to Thursday, so yesterday found me in Dr F’s waiting room, which is wildly festooned with photos of newborn babies. There are reams of delivery and post-delivery snaps. It’s not often I actually crave those two-dollar-shop prints of Tuscan bridges and farmhouses and trattorias that inexplicably adorn the walls of so many waiting rooms, but I did find myself wondering if it was really necessary to keep rubbing it in. Llew took the day off work to come with me, so we just buried our heads in our dated magazines and tried not to feel like the freaks without babies. 

Dr F is a nice guy, I like him, and I liked the way he was so decisive yesterday about the next step. I just wasn’t quite as delighted with his plan of attack, which begins with my having a laparoscopy next Wednesday, during which I am under a general and hopefully none the wiser. It’s keyhole surgery – very sophisticated stuff involving lights, camera, action! – but it’s surgery nonetheless, and frankly a little scary for that. I just didn’t see it coming. I don’t really think of myself as a ‘requiring surgery’ kind of girl. My general health is excellent; it’s only my reproductive health that seems to be letting the side down, and who knew that was going to happen?! Not me. I like surprises, I honestly do, but I must say I prefer the ones that involve presents and cake, not fasting from midnight and being rendered unconscious.

So look, that’s the latest. I am still digesting it conceptually, and practically there’s nothing else to say about it. We should get some answers – they can see everything inside my abdomen and pelvis up in lights. Or up on their really alarmingly grotesque monitor. Looking at the image dominating the monitor view on the little booklet Dr F gave me about the procedure, I am more convinced than ever that I did in fact wake up mid-procedure the first time I went under. The whole thing was so weird and frightening. I remember this yawning terror mingled with deadweight immobility, but I’ve never been certain I wasn’t just dreaming – except I’ve been told you don’t dream under a general, and what I saw on the screen was more vivid than anything I could have imagined. Also when I was in recovery, no one came near me. No one. It was like they thought if they just let me eat my sandwich and suck my lollies and drink my cup of tea I’d forget waking up in the middle of what was happening to me.

I was never able to verify if it really did occur or if I somehow dreamt it, but looking at the monitor image on my brochure, those innards look strangely familiar, and now I know there’s a good reason why we don’t generally get so up close and personal with the things that make us tick.

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Torn Between Two [Novels], Feelin’ Like a Fool

June 17, 2009 at 7:25 am (Uncategorized)

Yes, the happy day has finally arrived for a Donna Summer reference on DoctorDi. It’s a shame it hasn’t come sooner. Donna never gets old. I think the next line is ‘Cause loving you both/ is breaking all the rules – strangely apt as I think about my current state of mind. In fact I am torn between many more than two novels. There’s the published novels I’m reading, for a start (although thanks to your tacit encouragement/permission, I have temporarily abandoned Ulysses for the hundredth time and am eager to explore this audio option of which some of you speak ), and then there’s the unpublished variety I’m writing. They’re definitely competing in a fairly bloody timeshare arrangement – and that’s without including the non-fiction books I’m also reading or wanting to read. They’re shouting at me too, clambering to be heard. I tell you, it’s exhausting. Ever feel like you’re making no progress at all? I do. 

[An aside: I had an unexpected and warmly welcome freelance job fall into my lap in the last 24 hours, so I’ve only just had lunch, polishing off a cold lamb (leftovers from the other night, when Llew flexed his roast with the most) and mint mayo sandwich on sourdough – really, really simple and delicious. I love food.]

I’m at an interesting stage… I have one manuscript that’s been extensively redrafted. Nothing is happening with it at the moment. It’s just sitting on my desktop while I wait for feedback from my Volunteer Reader (I’ve had a few of those along the way, and may I just say, they are, each and every one of them, absolute legends). VR may say it’s agent ready… or VR may say it’s not. Either opinion is of equal benefit to me, because the last thing I want to do is act prematurely. Ever again. Because that just ends in tears, usually mine. But in the meantime what I’m finding is that I can’t quite let it go. I guess because it’s still here. With me. Not out there doing its thing with readers. I can’t let it go because it hasn’t gone. This is also true because I’ve commissioned Marcelo to do these illustrations for me, so we’re having lots of back and forth about that, which is hugely engaging and fascinating, and which keeps me very much focused on the MS. That can’t be helped. In fact, none of it can be helped. Time ticking on is one of the many surprise elements of this process. Months slide away. In six months, I’ll have been working full-time on this project, with freelance work on the side, for three years. And unlike my PhD, I could do the work, complete the task, jump the hoop and still not make it across that invisible line, which in this instance separates published and unpublished authors. All I can say is thank goodness for the freelance work. It’s been necessary financially and psychologically to have writing wins all along the way. 


So that’s the situation with MS #1 (which is actually MS #2, but the original #1 – celebrating its 10th birthday this year – really doesn’t bear thinking about – oh my god, no wonder it took me so long to attempt another one). Now comes the really tricky bit. Zeroing in on MS #2. What next? As an unpublished novelist, this just feels plain audacious. Get back in line, missy. Number two?! What gives you the right to start number two when number one is just rolling tumbleweeds across your screen? How can you have the cheek to even think about the next one when you’ve done nothing with this one? Well, they’re good questions, and the only explanation and justification I can offer you is this: I have to keep going. There’s an interesting discussion going on at the Varuna Alumni Writers’ Blog that’s related to my thinking about all this, and I think it’s really useful hearing in advance of possible publication that publication is not the end zone. It’s just one touchdown. You make your plays, you inch toward the line, you cross it, and then what? You go back and start all over again, that’s what. So in some sense I am trying to develop a game plan, which in my case involves writing the first draft of my next manuscript. 

Which brings me to the other way in which I’m feeling torn. You see, I have over 29,000 words of one I started a few months ago after finishing another draft of Spill (that’s the name of #1). I have developed a definite affection for the new characters, in part because the entire landscape is a total departure from Spill. It’s just so nice to get away from that world. I’m enjoying it, and them. But I do have a problem with plot, as I’ve already discussed here. It definitely comes later for me. One of the problems with that is that I am looking at these 29,000 words and thinking, okay, they’re interesting characters, I like ’em, but what the fuck is going to happen to them? I just can’t tell right now. I have no idea, and I mean none.

So I guess I’ll do what I did with Spill, which was keep writing, and then eventually stop writing and start redrafting. The plot is there somewhere. It just takes me a long time to find the path beneath the weeds. So what’s the trouble, you ask? Well, I’ve had this other idea in the last couple of weeks, and I’m really keen to pursue it. It’s very different to #2 in that it’s going to require a tonne of research, so I wouldn’t be writing anything of my own beyond notes for quite a long time. That’s okay, research can be a real joy, but… I think I’m scared. I think I’m scared that if I’m just reading and reading and not writing at all, that it’ll all…STOP. That I’ll open up #2 in a few months and it’ll be alien to me. That it’ll have curled and browned and finally died while I was away. Part of me is afraid that every manuscript is a race. A race to get that first big draft done, so that it will exist – however tenuous its life force. And so I’m afraid I’ll lose the race to see #2 into the world before the doubts besiege me. That’s what I’m trying to outrun, you see. The doubts, the terrible sleep-snatching doubts. Do I dare leave an embryonic manuscript unattended, unloved, unsupervised and unfinished while I go off to research something else entirely? I’m not sure. I’m not sure I can. So instead I’m paralysed – the worst outcome of all. Maybe I’ll flip a coin. Maybe Donna should too.

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Out and About in Old Sydney Town

June 16, 2009 at 6:21 am (Uncategorized)

Llew and I spent the weekend making like tourists, doing a few of the things permanent Sydney residents often forget or neglect to do. Sydneysiders on the whole are a very postcode-centric lot, and because of the topographical challenges of getting around a city that’s frequently interrupted by vast expanses of water, Sydney types do a fairly convincing line in arguing that their own little patch is where it’s at. This appalling habit of ignoring whole sections of settlement probably occurs in all cities, but I always feel Sydneysiders are particularly prone to it, especially because our depressingly inept state government has long been determined to do nothing about facing up to the infrastructure crises that are sure to bring this city to its knees in the near future. Their stunning lack of imagination or even just one decent set of balls between them means that Sydney suffers from a chronic lack of vision by the pie-eaters in charge. Oh dear. Segue alert: DoctorDi’s Rant Can is officially open and spewing worms. 

Aaaanyway, Llew and I decided to get into the Welsh Dragon (aka our car) on Saturday and head out to Cabramatta, west of Sydney. When I was in school, this suburb was nicknamed ‘Vietnamatta,’ and, at the time, the name was certainly intended as pejorative, although now I believe it’s become an affectionate term that’s part of a city-wide pride in our cultural – and especially gastronomic – diversity. Later, the area became notorious for a drug and violent gangs problem that meant lily-white Caucasians like myself put a little imaginary circle with a line through it around a place I’d never even seen except through a train window. I despise my habit of too easily believing negative hyperbole, particularly as traditionally presented by the media, but it would just be a lie to pretend I’ve never done it. I have. 

So out to Cabramatta we went. And of course, as always happens when you go see for yourself and bloody well educate yourself about places and people, there was absolutely nothing to fear. On the contrary, we found an exciting, thriving marketplace, teeming with life as families crowded through side streets and inspected fresh produce and a dazzling array of meat and seafood, all for prices that left me feeling a little dumbfounded at what I cough up on the other side of town. Discount fabric stores, bridal shops, Chinese restaurants, Vietnamese pho cafes and bakeries were all doing a roaring trade as we wandered the streets and arcades and headed up escalators and stairs in search of the hidden gems. I particularly loved all the side arcades off the main drag, humming with shoppers chattering to grocers, all of them groaning with good  and sometimes unfamiliar things to taste, touch and smell. 

Ravenous after all the inhaling and drooling, we repaired to a busy noodle house, Tan Viet (Shop 2-3/100 John St, Cabramatta, open 7 days 8:30 am – 7 pm, 02 9727 6853), for a feast. I had drop noodle soup with fishcakes, adding just a hint of heat from the chilli dish our waitress recommended to me, and Llew went all out, ordering the house special of crispy-skinned chicken, which he demolished along with a steaming bowl of egg noodles in a tasty broth before moving on with nary a belch to the aromatic and delicious goat curry. We washed all this down with a couple of drinks – mine was called the three bean, and the waitress was right when she insisted it was yummy. The bill came in at the princely sum of $29. Where I live, the same meal would cost at least twice that.

We were due at Darkling Deb’s sister’s book launch at Gleebooks, back close to town, so we waved a fond farewell to Cabramatta pledging an oath to come back, soon, with more people. An hour later we were just in time to meet Deb and fellow Darkling Catherine for the launch of Always Liza to Me, the memoir by Cecilia Rice of growing up with a severely disabled sibling. It was packed upstairs at Gleebooks, and it was very exciting and moving to be there to see the first of what’s destined to be many Rice family books hit the shelves. Clutching our signed copies, Llew, Catherine and I left Deb to a family celebration and hit the Nags Head, a great old Glebe pub, for the rugby and a few quiet beers. Llew’s sister met us there, and eventually so did Deb, and aside from being served the worst, loneliest bowl of corn chips masquerading as beef nachos that I have ever seen, it was a great night. 

Sunday was overcast and the Welsh Dragon needed to be recovered from Glebe, so Llew and I hopped a ferry to Circular Quay, standing at the ship’s bow as we crossed the Sydney Heads until the threatening rain broke. At the quay, I coaxed Llew into the Police and Justice Museum (Cnr Philip & Albert Sts, Circular Quay, 02 9252 1144), which is only open on weekends, because I’ve been wanting to see the Femme Fatales exhibition since it opened. The permanent exhibition and even just the site itself is worth a gander even without the riveting exploration of some of Sydney and cinema’s most dangerous women. I loved it, except in the old clerk’s office, where I came across a late nineteenth-century photo of the Circular Quay area, taken well before the wholesale destruction of our architectural heritage. I find such photos deeply upsetting. When I think about what the Sydney skyline used to and might still be, and what beautiful sandstone structures preceded the concrete eyesores that dominate today, I actually tear up. I was so distressed and enraged staring at this photo, willing things to be different, wishing I could turn back the clock and throw myself into lobbying against this complete travesty and dereliction of civic duty by, again, the monkeys in charge. It makes me sick to think of it. If you could see this photo, and compare that lost legacy with the often hideous face of the city today, I think you’d feel sick to the stomach too. 

After more than three hours at the museum, we headed to Ho’s Dim Sim Kitchen (429a Pitt Street) and loaded up on steamed pork bun supplies for home, pausing to scoff a couple of pork bun samplers as well as a barbeque pork pie, a satay chicken bun, and a custard tart. Everything at Ho’s is about a buck or a buck and a half. Tell me again why I don’t live closer to Chinatown? Oh yeah. The beach. But still. Love a dumpling empire. And then we lost ourselves in Mae Chen’s grocery around the corner, emerging with a jar of dried anchovy beer snacks (the jury’s out on that one…) and a sensational takeaway spicy ground pork dish we served with steamed rice for dinner. Just to make sure we’d covered all bases, we returned to an old favourite, Wong’s, for roasted pork and Llew’s favourite, roast duck (too oily and fatty for me, but I love the swine). Laden with our delicacies, we wandered through Ultimo, uncovered our new favourite pub in the whole of Sydney (I might tell you about it, but then again, I might not…), and finally loaded up the Welsh Dragon and headed for home. Now that’s what I call a great weekend in Sydney.

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Done and Dusted

June 15, 2009 at 6:51 am (Uncategorized)

Today was the final inspection of Nana’s flat by the “village” management. A representative met me at the flat with a clipboard and a checklist and I stood to one side while he went over Nana’s place – gutted, mind you, what with no carpet or curtains and telephone wires exposed about the place – with a fine tooth comb. 

“There’s a lot of nails on the wall,” he said, pointing to the offending nails with the end of his pen.

I glanced around and shrugged. 

“I think old people like to hang lots of things on the wall,” I said. “They’re all like that, aren’t they?”

Silence. No doubt there’s a regulation number of nails allowed and this will be an opportunity to charge us something extra for an excess of hooks. Speaking of which, I checked the PO Box a few hours later, and, lo and behold, there was a bill from these people for “General Services” for the next quarter, totalling nearly one thousand dollars. General Services? The place is gutted. And even when Nana was still living there the “services” remained a complete mystery. What services? There’s a stunning lack of services of even the most rudimentary variety. It’s mystifying. But it’s contractual.

He didn’t even bother opening a single cupboard, blithely saying, “Oh, they’ll probably refit this whole place before the next person moves in.” Right. I’m so glad it’s all spotlessly clean then. Thanks for that. And I’m especially glad because it means they won’t even be trying to lure someone else into this criminal scheme in time to reduce the SIX MONTHS’ contractual obligation to keep paying the bloody General Services fee. Why would they when they’ve got someone who agreed to pay for half a year more than the term of their tenancy?! Here’s how they put it in the instructions for vacating:

Recurrent charges for General Services will continue to be calculated on a daily basis and be payable and owing to [the housing association] by the Resident, until the earlier of the following dates:

i. the unit is occupied by another resident, or

ii. six months from the date that the Resident ceased to occupy the Unit (*as per clause 10.13 of your Deed).

There are lots of references to clauses in these instructions. There’s clause 19.1, and 12.3, and 9.4, and even clause 11.1 if you’re still looking for a little more variety…

I’ve got a clause of my own that I’d really like to give them, but it’s unprintable. 


Anyway, it’s over. I shouldn’t have to go back there ever again. I don’t think that’s quite sunk in yet, but I do feel a lot lighter. And the absolute best, best, best thing is that I rang Nana after leaving her place for the last time, and she was as happy as a clam.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’m very well, actually,” she said. “I’m here, and I’m happy.”

I very nearly burst into tears of nothing more than profound relief.

“Oh, Nana, I am so, so glad to hear you say that. What’s news?”

“Oh, there’s a good one here,” she said. 

“A good one what? Is this the man you were telling me about?”


“The week before last,” I said. “The good looking one.”

“Oh, probably,” she said. “I suppose that was him.”

“What’s his name?”

Pause. Just a long second, and then, “Mark.”

“Well, that’ll keep you on your toes,” I said. “Keeps life interesting, doesn’t it?”

Nana laughed and laughed. Like she knew something I didn’t know and wasn’t telling me for quids. A very gay laugh, actually.

“It’s just lovely to have someone attentive around,” I continued.

“That’s it exactly,” she said firmly.

“And a bit of flattery never goes astray,” I said. 

“Yes, flattery. It’s nice to be flattered every now and again.”

“It is,” she said. “Although there are some real ding-dongs here.”

“Sorry? Ding-dongs?”

“Yes, ding-dongs. That’s just the first word that came to mind.”

“Get ten people in a room, Nana, and there’s bound to be at least one ding-dong.”

“Or nine,” she said, quick as a flash.

“That would be rather unfortunate,” I said, and we both laughed. “But Mark doesn’t sound like he’s a ding-dong.”

“Well, I’m not putting my claws into him or anything.”

“Oh no,” I said. “Of course not. You’re not desperate.”

“No,” she said. “No, I am not.”

“But it makes things more fun,” I suggested. 

“Yes,” she said brightly, “it certainly does.”

Anyway, we chatted for a few minutes more and then rang off, and as I madly texted Kate and Llew with the good news, I did have a bit of a tear, but only the very best kind.

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June 12, 2009 at 5:53 am (Uncategorized)

I’m late posting today because I thought I was going to be able to regale you (I just spilt my late lunch right down myself… such a classy broad you’ve all gotten yourselves mixed up with here… what do I do? Suck my jacket? Lick my shirt?) on the subject of Secret Women’s Business. Except it’s no secret and I was going to be the only woman in the room. Yes, I was off for my long-awaited obs/gyn specialist appointment, armed with my temperature charts of the last five months and a freshly spruced bikini line. In fact, Sherie, my hilarious Chinese beautician and the biggest sadist this side of Shanghai, was just moving in for the kill when my phone rang. Ordinarily I wouldn’t think of answering in such circumstances, but as Llew was due to come to the appointment with me, I felt I had to take it. Sherie paused the torture while the conversation took place; when I got off the phone, she told me she didn’t want to risk frightening the person on the other end with my bloodcurdling screams (which she quite enjoys. I can see it in her eyes). “Thanks, Sherie. Mighty thoughtful of y-OOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!”

The upshot of the call was this: Dr F was called away and my appointment was canned. They rescheduled for next Tuesday, but I doubt Llew will be able to escape a second time – it’s not exactly convenient to his office, but unbelievably he’s in a Man Town-based management “off-site” today (and yesterday, which culminated in work drinks that went on until he stumbled in, waking yours truly, at 3:40 am this morning. I’d only just gotten back to sleep when the jackhammers started on the building site three metres from our bedroom window, so Llew wasn’t alone in wishing he’d stayed in the hotel with the rest of them) and so was on hand for the appointment. 

You do gear yourself up for these appointments, so it was a sour letdown to be bumped. Probably by some pregnant woman who’s gone into labour. Typical! And then just like that she’ll become exactly like the woman in the store where I met up with Llew. A tiny store. A tiny store with a really narrow path through it. But she decided she simply had to wheel her gargantuan pram for her multiple progeny from one end to the other the second Llew and I walked in. Because up until then, it was fine by the door. It was only when we stood gormlessly staring at a rack of clothes that she decided the pram needed to be at the other end. Stat. No, really. It was suddenly a matter of great urgency. She sprinted the length of the boutique like she thought we were about to make off with the thing.

“Excuse me,” she bellowed, pushing with all her might. We were in the way of her super pram. 

I leapt into a small opening between two tightly packed clothes racks and kind of pressed up against the glass like a hapless bug on the windscreen. Llew got shoved back against a table of jumpers on the other side of the small continent that was her baby mover. I lost sight of him for a minute there. But the main thing is the pram was okay. It made it! It wasn’t easy, and we’re not sure what it was worth, but it did indeed invade and then finally conquer the store. I peeled myself off the window, edged back into the store proper and said, “Let’s get out of here.”

That was when I realised I felt a little glum. Llew had to go back to the off-site and I had to make other arrangements seeing as my fertility appointment was a wash. I just stood there in the square watching Llew’s retreating form, wondering why I felt so sad. I guess it was because I was bumped. Bumped by the ladies with the bumps. There’s been an awful lot of casual bumping going on around here, there’s some kind of bump boom happening at the moment (no wonder Dr F couldn’t see someone bump-free), and sometimes you wish you had a bump if for no other reason than being able to bump right back. Oh well. Let’s try again Tuesday.

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Behind the Scenes

June 11, 2009 at 2:57 am (Uncategorized)

Things have been happening offscreen the past few weeks that you may be interested to hear about. First, one of the Darklings, JB, was shortlisted for the second year running in one of Autralia’s most significant short story awards, the Alan Marshall (woo hoo!!!!! Way to go, JB!!!). This year’s competition was judged by Sophie Cunningham, editor of one of the country’s premier literary magazines, Meanjin. I can’t get anything published in Meanjin, but it’s a great mag, so there’s no hard feelings. I’d be much more distressed if a lousy rag kept knocking me back, whereas Meanjin is entitled to maintain its high standards, and it has my warm blessing to do so. Anyway, I was pretty sure JB’s entry would get some sort of recognition in the Alan Marshall, and I’m very proud and pleased it did. I hated my own entry, and didn’t rate its chances myself (you may even remember my saying so at the time, and I was and am completely sincere), so there was no disappointment at the letterbox, just a sense of justice having been served. I don’t even know why I bothered entering. I guess because otherwise I feel like I’m letting opportunities pass. But the truth is, I shouldn’t send things I know are sub-par. That’s not missing an opportunity, that’s screwing one up. It doesn’t help me and it certainly doesn’t help the poor judge wading through what must be at least 40 percent dross, mine included. Ugh. 

Llew said to me the other day, “Well, you don’t put any work into your short stories, so I’m not even going to talk to you about it anymore because you’re not even serious. Put a fraction of the effort into one of those that you’ve put into the manuscript and maybe then this is a conversation we can have.”


And he’s right. What’s interesting is that JB’s consecutive shortlist placings have been for edited extracts from her full-length manuscript. JB’s a beautiful writer, a real craftswoman, and, you know, she’s done the work. It’s great that she’s being recognised in these short form arenas because it validates the larger project. I haven’t tried submitting excerpts from my manuscript as I don’t think it lends itself very well to that, but there’s no question that’s where all my effort has been spent. Llew’s absolutely spot-on. I always feel like I should be writing short stories, so every now and again I try, but they’re pretty bad, I’m sorry to say, and I can expect them to stay that way unless I fully commit to studying and practising the form.

I wonder sometimes if I’m not more a distance writer in the same way I’m a distance runner… I honesty don’t think much of running 21 kms without the benefit of training – that’s exactly the circumstance in which I ran my first half-marathon, just to see if I could – but I can’t sprint. And as far as the writing goes, I think it’s because I think in terms of character instead of plot, so it takes me a long, long time to get anywhere. I have to hang out with these characters for a long time before I know them well enough and before any sort of plot comes along to direct their actions and decide the thing for me. Short stories, on the other hand, need to have a really clear universal axis around which they briefly spin… an immediacy I haven’t been able to tap. But I want to do well at it. I think short stories are incredibly difficult to do well, and so as a practice building exercise, I’m going to start paying much more attention, and trying much harder. 

As for the manuscript, well, Marcelo, the illustrator, and I have been emailing back and forth since I rediscovered him, and I think we’re almost there. It turns out I can’t afford to get all the drawings done, but I’ve put money aside to pay for some, and we’re pretty much agreed on which ones they’re going to be. Now I can start getting really excited about it all. I can’t wait – CAN’T WAIT – to see someone else’s vision of characters I’ve created. It’s just cool. I can’t wait. And if it all goes horribly wrong and we somehow don’t get each other at all, and it’s a disaster, then that’ll be a shame, and it’ll have cost me some hard-won wedge, but regardless, I’ll have some of Marcelo’s funky art, more knowledge for next time, and a great story to tell anyone who cares to listen. So friends, that’s what’s been going on behind Nana’s venetian blinds. Never a dull moment.

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