Confession Time

June 10, 2009 at 1:34 am (Uncategorized)

I’m feeling frightfully smug because I managed to persuade Llew, someone who doesn’t read fiction, to read Ransom.  David Malouf’s latest, already mentioned here in an earlier post, is a very poetic reworking of a key event in Homer’s Iliad, and I was sure, I was absolutely positive, that Llew would love it. And I was right. I can’t properly convey the joy of seeing a good book into initially resistant and finally appreciative hands, but I’ll tell you, it’s a good feeling. Looking at Llew sitting up in bed reading, unable to put Malouf’s book down, filled me with a great mix of emotions, but one of them undoubtedly was glee. 

I was feeling far less gleeful about my own reading, having just finished Truman Capote’s true crime classic In Cold Blood. I always feel I should read as many of these seminal texts as possible, but I should not read books like this. It’s just bad for my head. Capote masterfully brings the reader into the world and mind of each of the two killers, but you know, they’re spaces I have no wish to inhabit. I can’t help it, I get too involved, and before I know it, I can’t sleep for thinking about these two men. I should point out this same thing happened to Llew when he read one of the only other novels I’ve known him to read in our nearly thirteen years together: Crime and Punishment. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s fiction classic explores the mind of a pathologically self-centred murderer, Raskolnikov, so Crime and Punishment actually has quite a bit in common with Capote’s book, since neither Perry Smith nor Dick Hickock can get over themselves long enough to ever think about another living soul. It’s why they’re so chilling. It’s why I couldn’t sleep thinking about them, and why Llew couldn’t sleep years and years ago thinking about Raskolnikov. Because you can’t help it. These books – one fiction, the other sadly not – are so good you start seeing things from the killer’s point of view. However reluctant your approach, inevitably you reach something close to understanding, and that undeniable knowledge, the awful truth of what lurks within the heart of humanity, is truly horrifying. 

It’s kind of spooked me. 

So now I’ve fled into the relative safety of Ulysses, which I started rereading a while ago with a view to experiencing it without the thesis taint hanging in the air. I thought that whole doctoral-hell-when-will-it-end-please-make-it-stop thing really soiled it for me first time round. But what I’ve discovered and am slightly embarrassed to confess is that it wasn’t relating Ulysses to the work of Don DeLillo that was hard after all, it was Ulysses itself.

Man. May I be frank? I think it’s an unremitting slog! Yes, yes, the best novel every written – and it is unbelievably erudite, a real tour de force of intellectual agility, no question – yes, yes, I worship at the temple as faithfully as any reader/writer, but sheesh! Talk about applying myself – it really feels like work – hard work at that. Is it bad admitting that? It feels bad. It feels sacrilegious. But it’s true. I feel tired just thinking about it. And now I’ve started actively avoiding it. Oops, I left my book at home! Oh no, it’s in the other room, and I’m just so toasty and warm in bed! Drat, I could’ve sworn I had it with me! It’s terrible. Shocking. The book knows I’m fibbing, too. It has a very stern, reproachful air whenever I dart past. Back soon! I cry. Liar, it hisses.  

Of course, this all makes me feel like the biggest lightweight in history. But my guilty secret is a secret no longer. Now you know. I’m the sort of person who runs away from James Joyce like he’s chasing me.

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We’re Nearly There…

June 9, 2009 at 9:42 am (Uncategorized)

The end is in sight, my friends. If this were a marathon, I’d be on the home stretch. I’d be in the stadium. I’d be able to hear the roar of the crowd drumming in my ears and I’d be able to see the finish line gleaming ahead. I scarcely dare say it, but I think I’m nearly there (is this the bit where I trip, lose my shoe and end up disqualified  and watching from the sidelines while the runner from Namibia takes the gold?).

Today was a cinch, I tell you, a cinch! After a sleepless night (come on, man, give it up, dream snatcher!), all I had to do was get myself on the 8:30 Fast Ferry and then on a bus from Circular Quay to Maroubra. Hell, a walk in the park! I even had time to grab a coffee and a pastry to eat on the boat. Then I ran into a good friend who also lives in Man Town, so we nattered at a mile a minute the whole way across the harbour. Sometimes all you really need is a chat with your girlfriends to make you realise/remember that everyone goes through it. Yes, we’re all crazy. Most women I know breathe some mean fire when circumstances demand it, and it’s just good to be reminded of the fact. I don’t feel less insane, of course, just less alone.

I arrived at Nana’s without incident. My sister Kate and the removalists had been and gone, and the place was empty but for the collection of miscellaneous crap I’d left for myself on the kitchen bench, including a bottle of Johnny Walker Red from Dot, who told me to share it with Nana next time I visit. Share? Scotch makes me gag, so Nana can tuck right in! I wonder if they’ll let me leave it with her? I guess we’ll find out soon enough. At any rate, it was very sweet of Dot. And rather more conventional a parting gift than what I took round to her this morning: the spare toilet paper and tissues. I figured everyone needs those. Dot agreed. 

Then Damien and Vikram arrived to rip up the carpet and backing, and take down the curtains and brackets. Perfectly good carpet and curtains, mind you, but all part of the ongoing contractual shaft Nana signed up for when she got mixed up in this retirement village rort when she perhaps wasn’t paying close enough attention or bothering to read the fine print. A lesson for us all: READ THE FINE PRINT. Robyn, the young neigbour to the right of Nana’s, popped in today to lend us a short ladder and said, “Oh, you don’t have to take up the carpet, do you?” She was clearly surprised. She might want to have another look at that contract.

“I think you’ll find you do too,” I said. “When the time comes. It’s part of what you’ve all agreed to.”

Damien snorted from the corner. He was laughing at the quality job they did laying the carpet in the first place. Honestly, they must just see the elderly folk coming and reel them in by their dentures. It really does seem nigh on criminal. 

Damien and Vikram had it all ripped up and out in under an hour, for less than half the price of those highwaymen I spoke to last week. So I guess what I really want to do is give these guys a plug, because it was Damien and another bloke who turned up and saved the day last week with all the rubbish removal (the good news is they do sort through stuff and recycle, so it didn’t just all automatically go to the tip), and their cheerful helpfulness and really efficient mastery of the whole NIGHTMARE really eased the strain. Twice. Affordably. Professionally. Politely. I couldn’t have asked for more. The other thing is, Llew and I couldn’t have hired a ute, packed it, gone to the tip and gotten rid of all this stuff ourselves for less. So the big question is WHY DO IT TO YOURSELF? The short answer is, don’t. 

The outfit is called Cheapest Load of Rubbish

02 9699 6591, info@cheapestloadofrubbish.com.au

Now it’s just the cleaning and final inspection to go. Yes, the end is in sight.

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My Knight in Shining Product

June 8, 2009 at 6:05 am (Uncategorized)

You’ll be pleased to know I got my whales: yesterday morning, straight out front a couple of hundred metres offshore. Very playful they were, too, despite the number of boats in hot pursuit (in total violation of the rules, I might add). Oh, they made my heart sing – is there anything more magical than seeing whales frolicking so close to home? We’d just been for a run and were heading into the water for a swim when a crowd on the promenade alerted us to the show, and sure enough, there they were, plainly visible to the naked eye. They thrill me, they really do. I was beaming from ear to ear after that. 

It’s not that the past few weeks haven’t given me anything to smile about – clearly they have. All this stuff to do with Nana and her relocation and her Alzheimer’s and, just for good measure, her neighbours, has been nothing if not perversely amusing. But it’s also been incredibly draining. I’ve been staggering from day to day feeling increasingly wrong-headed and finally psychotic. I don’t think I’ve ever been as angry with Llew as on a couple of occasions over the past few weeks.

“I’m not even asking you to anticipate my needs,” I screamed at one point. “I fucking well spelt them out for you!!”

It’s shocking how quickly we can lose the equilibrium that took years of love and care to build, but it repairs easily and well too. We’ve had a few days of enough sleep, some time together, some fun, some good and necessary and important conversations about where and how we’ve both felt let down. Consideration and understanding will always require effort, they don’t simply arrive with lights flashing ready to resuscitate victims at the scene of the crime. They can’t always respond to emergencies, though we constantly expect them to. No, they have to be tended day by day, maintained in the realm of the ordinary and everyday. And so the past few days have been about getting back to basics, being kind to each other, listening and laughing and pointing at the whales.

I’m back over to Nana’s tomorrow, but I turned the corner on Thursday. Mildred, a 97 year old neighbour of Nana’s, shuffled back in as the rubbish guys started hefting boxes and dragging furniture outside. Not to be deterred, Mildred started peering into the boxes even as they disappeared out the door. 

“What’s that?” she said. “And that?”

“That’s a George Foreman Grill,” I said. “It’s all yours.”

“What about that?”

“That’s a mini food processor,” I said. “You can have that too.”

“I’ll swap the other thing for that.”

(Interesting logic, Mildred.)

“Do you drink coffee?” I asked. “Take the plunger. Here.”

“Okay,” she said. “It seems a shame. It’s such a sad thing.”

“Well, not really,” I said brightly, trying to steer Mildred to the door. “You have to remember Nana got so much use out of all these things. They’ve all had a long and happy life. It’s okay to let things go. Can I interest you in a mirror?”

Mildred stopped and inspected the mirror. 

“Oh no,” she said sadly. “My two daughters are in their seventies. They wouldn’t be able to put that up for me.”

Longevity clearly runs in the family. And in normal circumstances, I would have volunteered to see the mirror safely onto Mildred’s wall. But with no drill, no drill bits, and barely the wits left to get me through the rest of the day, Mildred was sadly out of luck. Take it or leave it, honey, and make it snappy.

“Well, if you’re sure,” I said. “You’re more than welcome to take anything from any of these boxes. But you’d better make it quick.”

Mildred had another good forage through what remained and then reluctantly took her leave. 

“Dot and I were the closest to your nana,” she told me at the door.

“Then I’m sure Nana would be happy to think you’re able to use some of this stuff,” I said. “Enjoy.”

(Mildred had already made off with the vacuum cleaner earlier in the week, plus a little portable oven thing that Nana had clearly never once used in over seven years in the flat). 

When I left Thursday, I walked straight to Paddington from Maroubra (not an inconsiderable stretch) via Centennial Park and staggered into Valonz. Yes, when the going gets tough, the tough get their hair done. Let me tell you, I’ve never been happier to submit to a shampoo and head massage than I was on Thursday. Valonz was an oasis of calm, and Kim, my delightful stylist, was reliably funny and self-absorbed. I can always depend on Kim to show no interest whatsoever in the petty dramas of my life. I think one of the things I like most about him is that he really doesn’t care – it’s refreshing, in a way, because he doesn’t pretend. So many hairdressers feign enthusiasm for their clients, in some cases becoming quasi-therapists, but not Kim. Kim’s very comfortable with the idea that his life is always way more interesting than mine. Somehow this works for me – I refer to the whole ritual as being “Kimmed,” and here’s why: Kim’s the dominant feature. My own life is utterly suspended during my time in that chair, and while sometimes this leaves me feeling a little overlooked (one time Kim had lots going on in his love-life, and his animated chatter had a slightly alarming impact on my already-limited locks), on Thursday it was bliss. Sheer bliss. After an upbeat session with Kim, the fastest scissors in the east, and Fiona, the eyebrow wizard, I stepped out of the salon feeling like a new woman. Or the same woman a few years ago. After that it was only a mani/pedi to go and I was event ready… which is lucky, because that’s just what we did: drove to Canberra for the gala opening of the Vanity Fair Portraits exhibition now showing at the National Portrait Gallery. Champagne? Thank you, I don’t mind if I do. 




 

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Coming to You *LIVE* From the Retirement Village

June 3, 2009 at 12:06 am (Uncategorized)

It was still dark when I left home this morning, dark and wet. The ocean has an unusual, restful stillness at that hour – the atmosphere was so expectant I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see a whale break the surface of the liquid grey. I shared the promenade with a few other early risers as I made my way to the wharf. There was a white-haired couple briskly walking a very happy dog. There was one guy staring optimistically out to sea, hands plunged deep in his pockets, looking for any sign of the one thing there was not: surf. A likely lad ambled past with a cigarette tipped from his lips, his insouciant lope suggesting a man just returning to his own bed, not one just leaving it. A couple of runners gamely squinted against the rain, and I envied them, knowing that today I am unlikely to get the chance to follow their lead. 

I’m on my way back to Nana’s. The Vinnies truck is coming to pick up some of Nana’s furniture, books, kitchenware and… shoes. Lots of shoes, most of them still in their boxes, all barely worn, if at all. It’s a pristine collection spanning several sizes – clear evidence of a woman willing to suffer for her art. In Nana’s case, this was always her appearance, so it’s been a particularly twisted irony of Alzheimer’s that her interest in all matters of grooming was one of the first things to go.

I was there all day yesterday. I actually can’t believe how much stuff there is. It’s a one bedroom flat, for crying out loud – where is all of it coming from?? Every single inch of storage was in use, every surface covered. Every cupboard chock-full of Nana’s things. I must have texted Kate twenty times yesterday trying to ascertain what to keep for her and what to consign to the Vinnies pick up. 

It’s later now, and I’m sitting at Nana’s small dining table. A hulking Adonis (oh yes, do come in!) has just been to collect Nana’s fridge with his contrary and near-retirement assistant. I wish they were here to take everything away; I want this to be over. Now I wait. The Vinnies truck is coming ‘at the driver’s discretion,’ sometime between 8 am and 3 pm today. I’m hostage to the schedule.

It’s a funny little place, this “village” (who are they kidding? It’s a block of flats). Since I’ve been here doing the pack up, at least half a dozen residents have stopped by to ask how it’s all going and to find out how Nana’s settling in up north. Most of them have a knowing, sympathetic shake of the head to offer me, too. 

“It’s an awful job,” they tell me. 

“Back again?” they say. 

“You still here?!” they cry.

It’s nice that everyone’s so sweet and encouraging – Dot, or “the eyes and ears,” as Nana started darkly calling her, even brought me over some chicken soup last night, afraid I’d not eaten all day (I had – there’s a shop across the road, and George and Layla made me a ham and cheese roll and talked me into a slice of Layla’s apple cake) – but what’s strange about this is that I never once came across Nana with any of these people. Without exception, I knocked on the door to find Nana all alone. Did the party start once I was gone? Or is it only Nana’s absence, and the underlying meaning of my protracted task, that is responsible for the belated flurry of activity at her door? To my great relief and their group credit (you haven’t seen news travel until it’s in the hands of octogenarians), they took charge of the fridge situation in seconds – mere minutes passed before I had someone pledging to pick it up. Dot wanted the fridge but her cupboards are too low, so next she volunteered to take a lamp off my hands. It’s a good one, so it’ll be heading up to Kate, but I consoled Dot with a mirror and a snazzy two-slice toaster. She wandered back to her flat gazing at herself, and I must say, having caught sight of her reflection as she went, she looked quite pleased.

There’s an interesting cast of characters. Nana’s neighbour to the right is only about 55 years old. What in the world is she doing here? I just don’t understand it. You might think it’s because she’s guaranteed quiet neighbours, but you’d be wrong – the lady on the left is stone deaf, and her TV is up so loud it’s like morning prayer in Mecca. I can’t comprehend why someone so young is living in this environment… I mean, Llew’s parents are both much older than this lady, and I think they’d have a fit even just driving past. Forget it. And a comparatively youngish man stopped by the other night to tell me Nana was a good golfer (she must have been talking up her game, because I know for a fact she hasn’t played in at least a decade). He then apologised for the skinful of beer he’d been drinking all afternoon and stumbled away. But again, he struck me as kind of young for these digs – no wonder he’s drinking. Boy, I’d drink too. 

But I think my favourite is the woman at the window. On every single one of my endless trips down to the bins, there she is, a floating head between the vertical venetians, not waving, not smiling, not talking, just watching. And then she makes a big  noisy production of letting the venetians drop back into line, as if to say no, no, she wasn’t being a nosy-parker at all. She was just… adjusting the blinds. Checking the weather. Closing the window. Oh, I didn’t see you there. Oh, there you are again! And here am I! What a coincidence! Yeah. Sure. I’m onto you, lady. 

Two hours down… only another possible five to go…

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Packing Up is Hard to Do

June 1, 2009 at 2:36 am (Uncategorized)

It’s just come to my attention that Couchtrip Pete’s comments have once again been languishing in the Spam queue… so for those of you also missing his South African hoorahs, you may find he has been there all along. I’ve rescued his comments from the slag heap, but must remember to do the occasional Spam Raid…

Anyway, it’s Monday. I’m sort of stunned after yesterday’s ten-hour packing and tossing session at Nana’s. It’s the third round, but this was the most intense by far. Llew was able to help me for a few hours, but then he was called into the office (yes, on Sunday) because packing the flat coincided with a big project Llew’s been working on for twelve months going ‘live.’ Left alone, I flatlined into some weird, zombie-like state. Wrapping and packing and taping and marking and sifting and sorting and folding and tossing. It was largely mechanical, I guess because Nana’s still alive, so I’m not grieving per se, but it is quite curious a process for that very reason. It feels a bit impudent going through her things and making these terrible, permanent decisions about what is worth keeping and what is not. Am I making the right decisions? Now her wardrobe is so much more modest, am I keeping the right clothes and shoes for her while giving the rest to her preferred charity? Will she miss items I have relegated to the charity bin? Will I one day be called to account for relieving Nana of the majority of her Imelda Marcos-style collection of shoes? 

And what of old Christmas cards, reams of them, with their dashed signatures and quick updates from persons entirely unknown to me… what on earth am I supposed to do with them? I don’t want them. I don’t imagine Kate wants them, either. And Nana, well, she’s got no use for them at all, not to mention no room. So out they’ve gone. Or at least out they went until I was suddenly plunged into despondency about it all, rescuing a random clutch from the ‘OUT’ pile only to practically hide them from myself, surreptitiously sliding them into the ‘IN.’ I could see it was ridiculous, but suddenly it seemed important not to throw them all away. 

I’ve kept Nana’s estranged only daughter’s strange and stunted communications (such a sick and cold person, my so-called mother, so sad, really, that I almost feel sorry for her), and old cards written by my missing siblings, the same ones who, much like their mother, haven’t contacted Nana, to the best of my knowledge, since 2002-2003. And yes, there are photos of my beautiful younger sister at her Year 12 formal – wow, what a knockout she was that night. Show-stopping. She looks so stunning it’s shocking. And what happened to her, to us? Oh, my mother. That old chestnut. She spread her poison and killed the bonds between us all with such determined vigour, such appetite, that the branches of our family tree atrophied and died. And there is no way to make a dead thing live again. Among Nana’s things there’s a photo of my mother as a young girl, an old black and white, and I found myself looking at this sweet and pretty young lady, marvelling at and lamenting the ugly, so ugly adult she became. But I cannot, would not, throw any of these still precious things away.

I have cried several times going through all these keepsakes alone in my nana’s flat. There are, of course, many photos of my young, vibrant niece, at the beach, at home, at Granddad’s, on her eighth birthday, and again on her fourteenth. Looking at that last photo yesterday, on the eve of the sixth anniversary of her death, I looked at her beaming face, and the number 14 on her final birthday cake, and I sat on the side of Nana’s stripped bed, and I bawled then as I am bawling now. Rest in peace, lovely girl. 

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