Since I’m still in Grumpy Di mode, I thought I’d play a Friday afternoon game of a little something I like to call Sartorial Slam. Hours of fun for the whole family. Let’s start off with an easy target: psychics. There’s a fortune teller (fortune maker at those prices) who sits in a dirty little alley next to one of the local delis. It’s a squalid sort of place where unidentified liquid drips from walls and seeps into your shoes. Kind of funky. But she’s got her little card table and her set of tarot cards, and probably the seedy desperation of her al fresco office suits the purpose of communing with the afterlife. But what’s with the outfit, honey? I’d like to make it clear right now that I simply don’t believe hemp clothing makes you a more credible diviner of future events (or a better “life coach” for that matter. I think “life coach” and all I can see is beige linen and a lingering handshake). Same goes for turquoise jewellery. I am unmoved. Unpersuaded. And you can tie-dye your entire wardrobe, rattle crystals in crimson crushed velvet pouches, and set fire to your artfully unkempt hair with a Sandalwood incense stick, and I still won’t believe a word you say.
Then there’s the man-child. There was a guy at the RTA this afternoon (part of the anticipated hoard of people crushing through the door when I returned for my test, not to mention a loose poodle in an outfit clearly inspired by Prancer and Dancer’s sleigh bells) who I see around Man Town quite a lot, and I always want to point and laugh at him because he just dresses like a dick. He’s about fifty, and he gets around on one of those low-riding, obscurely menacing bicycles favoured by tough boys who aren’t yet old enough to drive. I’d guess he’s father to at least one such teen, because he seems to have stolen all their clothes. He’s got stupidly long, messy hair that makes such a big point of announcing his deep creativity and wholesale rejection of office worker values. He’s a free spirit, man. He’s such a free spirit he has to prove it by wearing the same ripped cardigans, stovepipe jeans, and scuffed untied Converse we all know so well from every other deep individual intent on mastering the same look. I think we can lay that one firmly at Curt Cobain’s headstone, except – important distinction – this guy is not Curt Cobain. To top it all off, he also wears gigantic sunglasses, sunglasses that look like he must have won them at a carnival. Why? Why do you dress like a pre-pubescent boy? What makes you think your ageing arse-crack is worthy of public display? Why are you even in the RTA when I know you spend all day doing little wheelies on the beachfront?
The third finalist in today’s Sartorial Slam is a set: twins. When I see adult identical twins dressed identically, I just want to run and hide. Because they’re scary. And I blame the parents who go in for dressing their kids in the same clothes in the first place. Nuh uh. Please don’t do that. First, you inevitably end up featured on one of those websites where everyone mocks your Christmas photo (you know the ones; everyone’s wearing reindeer jumpers). Second, I think kids have a hard enough time without having to contend with the general creepiness of being dressed in the same clothes as their siblings. This problem becomes much more acute in the case of identical twins, people who must struggle (although I’m guessing, what would I know?) to find a sense of independent identity as it is. You’re not exactly enhancing their chances by insisting they dress alike, now, are you? There’s something infantile about it, maybe because we’re so used to seeing infant twins in matching gear. But it’s one of those things that really spooks me. I saw a pair of adult identical twins, dressed identically to the point of disconcertion, walking along the beach not long ago, and you know, they made me really sad. They were plain women, frizzy haired, lumpen denim-clad figures with really poor posture. They were clearly spinsters, clearly the centre of each other’s world, each a perfect reflection of the other. But it was like they’d taken the fact of their being twins to such an extreme degree of eccentric doubling that there was simply no room for anyone else. And as comforting as I’ve no doubt the other’s constant companionship must be, still it struck me as a picture of real loneliness. And that made me feel so sad – particularly because neither woman looked remotely happy. To me it was just a big siren call for, among other things, starting them off early with, you know, their own damn clothes.
Oh, I could go on, there’s so much sartorial slamming I could do, but I think that’s enough for one day. I’ve just realised I’ve got to decide what the hell I’m wearing tonight… and that old boilers in short dresses shouldn’t throw stones.
I hate people insisting on enforcing stupid, nothing, meaningless rules. It requires a serious lack of imagination, being a stickler; I can’t stand it. Take this afternoon. I filed my stories earlier today (ker-ching!), and then put my head down and studied for my Driver Knowledge Test, the little exam they give you before you can get a Learner’s Licence. Yes, yes, calm down, I can’t drive. This has never really bothered me before, in fact, never being designated driver has distinct advantages, but it is starting to feel a bit silly. It does feel like something I ought to be able to do, kind of like swimming, identifying a rip and tying my own shoelaces (although come to think of it…). And I think that if (there it is again) we do happen to have kids one day, I’m pretty sure being able to drive a car is really going to come in handy. I look at mothers struggling on and off public transport with progeny and paraphernalia, and I think, “No thanks.”
Anyway, all of this had me standing at the local Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) this afternoon. I finished reading the handbook, and got myself down there toot sweet thinking I’d sit the test while it was all still fresh in my mind. I was issued a ticket, and the time on the ticket is recorded as 4:06 pm. At about 4:10 pm, my number was called to window #2. I explained what I was there to do, and the woman looked at her watch and said, “We don’t do Driver Knowledge Tests past four o’clock without an appointment.”
I looked down to my left, to the bank of empty computer consoles.
“I’ll be quick,” I said hopefully. “And it looks like there’s room.”
“That doesn’t matter,” she told me, and I could see what was coming. “You don’t have an appointment. It’s after four o’clock.”
“You really can’t let me just do it now I’m here?”
“You can come back tomorrow. Would you like to make an appointment?”
No, you hideous rule lover, I wouldn’t like to make an appointment. What I’d like is for you to allow that I missed the stupid non-appointment cut-off time by a matter of minutes, bring a conspiratorial finger to your lips, smile, and direct me to the bank of available computers so I can do the damn test and get the hell out of there so I don’t have to come back and go through the whole process again tomorrow. That’s what I’d like. But no.
“I suppose so,” I grumbled.
She started tapping away.
“You’ll have to pay for that now,” she said. “Because you’ve made an appointment.”
“But if I walked in off the street any time before four o’clock tomorrow, I could just do it all then, including pay?”
“I can come first thing in the morning, if that’s easier.”
“If you want to come in earlier,” she said, “you don’t need an appointment. Just let them know you have an appointment for later in the day so they can cancel it.”
Just then I had an unpleasant premonition of jostling a cast of thousands at the ticket machine. Because that’s exactly the sort of thing that tends to happen when someone’s protocol obsession means you have no choice but to come back. Subtle changes in the environment mean the entire experience is guaranteed to be worse the second time round. I’m not a gambling woman, but I would sure as shit put money on that. I tried to anticipate and pre-empt; this attempt to save my own time is doomed to fail, but I like to give myself an A for effort. Mostly I hand out A’s for ARSEHOLES.
“Is there a time in the average day that’s usually really quiet?”
“Pretty much the rest of the day,” she said, and I swear to god she did not even remotely smirk. Sticklers don’t tend to be smilers. The heart of the matter is right there in that poker face. “But after four, you get the school kids, and you have to have an appointment.”
“Right,” I said, nodding, looking again at those empty test seats, so near and yet so, so far. “Got it.”
I’m in a mean mood, so rather than write an ugly post showcasing my smallest side, I thought I’d talk about a book, being The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet, which you may recall I read a little while ago now. I’ve had occasion to think about this book again for two reasons. One is that it has a graphic element, and the other is that it has a story within the story. I knew it had pictures when I tracked it down, they were the main reason I bought it, because I wanted to see how that relationship between words and images resolved itself in Larsen’s novel, but I didn’t know about the sub-story until I read it.
One of the things Volunteer Reader said in the feedback on my MS – and VR was right – is that if you’re going to do this story-within-a-story thing, you have to go all the way. That’s the contract the author makes with the reader, and the reader expects the author to damn well honour it. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I left off a bit. Like, the ending. Not a good look. And trying to do a better job of holding up my end of the bargain has brought me back to Larsen’s book because really, it cheats a bit on this count too. The story-within-the-story abruptly ends, and although T.S., whom I really liked, and whose point of view I readily accepted and enjoyed, is as put-out about this as I was, I’m not sure that’s really enough to make it okay, especially not when T.S.’s own journey slips into farce soon after, and several impossible things are conveniently presented as possible in his hitherto very quirky but credible world. It was annoying, and there was an important lesson for me in how annoying it was.
You’ve probably heard about this book because it comes with one of those extraordinary stories of overnight success. It’s Reif Larsen’s debut novel, and after being accepted by the first agent who saw it, a bidding war ensued, and the publisher who finally carried the day paid the young New Yorker (they’re always precocious overachieving New Yorkers, aren’t they?!) what’s been reported as close to a cool $US1 million advance. A million bucks. I don’t know about you, but that’s the sort of tale that makes me feel a curious mix of envy, admiration, and something that could even be pity, because I can’t help feeling it’d be hard work bouncing back unscarred from a mill. What’s next?! Nice as it must assuredly be to have the poverty line recede so definitively from view, I think that amount of cash would weigh heavily on most authors, who are generally plagued with self-doubt as it is.
I’ve shown the book to a number of people, all of whom, without exception, have turned it over, flipped through it, and handed it back saying, “Looks like a textbook. Not the sort of thing I’d pick up.” Just goes to show. I love the look of it, I love the strangeness of its presentation, and I love the drawings, all of which are Larsen’s own (see? Overachieving git). I think it’s a beautiful thing physically, and I merrily went along for the ride. But at the end of the line, I had what I consider too many unanswered questions, and that was frustrating as well as finally unsatisfying, so as I pull my MS to pieces and start thinking about how to put it back together again, I’m going to keep dear little T.S. nearby, so he can readily whisper in my ear, and I’m going to try to step up and deliver, which is all I think any writer can do. Okay, I am now running late for the IVF thing, so I must go. An incoherent post, I fear, but it was written on the hop with my laptop quite literally resting on my lap en route. I’ve got a freelance job on tomorrow (mercy be) and book club tomorrow night, so if I don’t manage to post, see you Thursday.
My Man Town writer friend L has changed her writing day to Monday, so today was the first time we’ve started the week together. It suits her so much better because her hated but extremely lucrative job hasn’t had time to sour her mood and soil her creative inclinations, both of which kept happening by the time each Friday rolled around, which of course put the whole idea in jeopardy. And it’s really all the same to me, although today was good. I do really love starting the week well, and, as you know, I am very spurred on when she’s here. This week promises to be a double whammy in the productivity department, since Darkling C is also planning a day’s work at Chez J, so it’s all systems GO.
That’s at least true for the MS redrafting. All systems seem determined to fail where the fertility train is concerned. I know, I know, I shouldn’t expect anything to happen so soon after the laparoscopy – or even at all, at this rate – but then again, why the hell not? INSTANT PREGNANCY stories abound for everyone else who’s had the big spring clean, so why not me? Well, I don’t know. But ‘not me’ is where we’re at. So it was a crap start to the week in that respect. There were tears. I’m quite frustrated. And the psychosomatic aspects of this are amazing, almost alarming. I thought there was a chance I was pregnant, I really did. I’ve even been able to convince myself I’ve been feeling a little nauseous. I’m the least nauseous person in the universe, so the failure of any actual nausea to materialise just seemed consistent with my long-held suspicion that I’m an unlikely candidate for morning sickness. But wasn’t I perhaps feeling just a little bit queer? Why yes, I told myself, I believe I am. Except I’m not. Pregnant, that is, which means it was all in my head.
Stuff this for a joke. Next stop, IVF. The only thing that’s happening is that I’m getting older. I say bring in reinforcements, embrace medical science, and get on board with technology when the Nature Express leaves without you. I’ve put things like signing up for the City2Surf completely on hold in the hope that I wouldn’t run because I was pregnant, because after three super early miscarriages, I just wouldn’t be comfortable running a difficult 14 km course in the early stages of a pregnancy. But hey, lucky me, I’m not pregnant, except now it feels like it’s too late to run. I hate that aspect of all this fertility bullshit. It places you in a really unenviable, perfectly perverse pregnant pause. You so easily, too easily end up putting your whole life on hold for something that never shows. I could give up coffee, stop drinking, avoid soft cheeses, say no to raw fish, watch the sugar, wind back strenuous long-distance runs (like the half-marathon I missed earlier this year because I was consumed with doubt), get my meat overcooked, deny myself oysters, for God’s sake, and still it may not happen. In the past month, I’ve done all these things to a certain extent. I’ve been on my very best behaviour, and very conscious of all these little decisions all along the way. What if, what if, what if I am pregnant, then could this, or this, or this be harmful? Could this, or this, or this happen because I did – or did not do – that, or that, or that? You end up paralysed, paused in a cruel phantom state, whereby the mere possibility, the outside chance of an actual pregnancy renders you incapable of conducting your normal life without it. This thing that hasn’t eventuated – and may never eventuate – is still so omnipresent, seeping into every conversation, every meeting with family and friends, every intimacy with my husband, every day of its ongoing non-arrival.
I don’t like living my life like this. I resent it. On this issue alone does a life of contingency open up before my eyes, a life in which decisions are made around things that haven’t happened, particular things that very particularly haven’t happened to me. It’s a fucked way to live, and I’m not a fan. So yeah, I’ll stick with it until my birthday in September, mere weeks away now, but there’s an IVF information evening at IVF Australia tomorrow night, and we’re going.
Busy day yesterday. I apologise for neglecting you, truly I do, but I really, really wanted to finish rekeying my MS before I went across town for a casual freelancers-in-poverty lunch with writer friends that promised $10 meals and cleanskins (wine without labels). Mission accomplished: I have rekeyed 62,000 words, shedding 17,000 from a document that was 79,000 words long when I began retyping it. 17,000 words dumped. Yep. That’s what I said, too.
Next I pulled those 62,000 remaining words (all looking pretty nervous now, like army recruits before their first cold shower) into two documents. I have a story-within-the-story, so I pulled that out, putting it in one document, and then I put the story in another. The story-within-the-story is in reasonable shape, although it needs an ending. Just a small detail, like, say, leaving flour out of pasta. The story, on the other hand, that narrative arc bizzo that is the bane of my existence, needs not just its main ingredients but much more work besides, and so I’ve separated it from the story-within-the-story so it can’t continue HIDING behind a support act that has actually taken over the entire show. What I’ve discovered pulling them apart is a real imbalance, whereby the story-within-the-story has taken the lead role, while the story itself has been become a sort of mediocre understudy. Not. Good. Must. Change.
I was concerned from the outset, in fact, that the two documents would reveal a heavy bias in favour of the story-within-the-story and that the story’s own word count, without this misleading buffer, would be so slim as to warrant serious creative and existential panic. The good news is it’s not quite a landslide, although personally I wouldn’t build my dream house there. It’s just not a solid enough foundation. So it’s going to be incredibly interesting going through the story today and just seeing how it reads without the story-within-the-story propping it up. I’m expecting it’s going to throw up all sorts of really fucking ghastly gaps and hazards, but that’s exactly what I’m looking for.
Over dinner last night (spaghetti bolognese, one of my better ones for reasons probably to do with an extra slug of red wine and very good meat), Llew casually dropped into conversation that he was called up for jury duty a week or so ago. He has to present himself at the court for jury selection at the beginning of next month, and, if chosen, may be off work for as long as two months while he performs his civic duty. At least, that’s the timeframe on his letter, which I haven’t seen. It was all news to me, first I’d heard. Which brings me to the point of today’s post: why Llew? Again? Why not me? Where’s my letter??
“I can’t believe you’ve been called up again,” I sulked into my bowl. “That’s the third time. Why can’t they ask me? I’ve never been asked, not once. Don’t they know I’m here?”
“I can’t believe you’re actually jealous about this. It’s jury duty.”
“I don’t see why they’re so keen to have you instead of me,” I said, stabbing my spaghetti. “I’d be a great juror!”
Llew laughed and laughed and laughed.
“Dumb jury duty,” I muttered. “Didn’t want to do it anyway.”
The thing is, I find the law quite fascinating, at least until we get to the subject of billable units (zzzzzzz…). And the jury concept is one of the core principles of our judicial system. It’s an experience no amount of money can buy, which is also part of its appeal. You have to be selected to serve on a jury, and as far as I can see, the reasons why you may or may not be dismissed during the selection process are subjective and at the whim of legal counsel. That all makes it a bit of a lottery. But I’ve never even advanced to the waiting room. I’ve never had the letter in the mail.
“What’s wrong with me?” I wailed to my glass of pinot, while Llew managed his hysterics on the other side of the table. “Why don’t they want me?”
The first time he was called up for selection, Llew missed out on sitting on the jury for the Ivan Milat Backpacker Murders trial. The writer in me is completely fascinated by the idea of participating in such a case, but I have to admit, I know I’d struggle with the graphic details and the evidence tendered to the court. I don’t see dead people, and that’s the way I like it. Shudder. We don’t know what he missed out on the second time, only that they chose their jury and dismissed the remainder, of which Llew was one. Professional white male… I guess the odds are against him. They can’t stack the jury with too many of those…
But what about me…? And if the lawyers are never going to choose Llew, then why do they keep calling him up?? He just can’t understand my enthusiasm, but I’d love to see what goes on behind closed doors, I’d love to be part of the process. And then I’d like to write about it.
“You can’t write about it,” Llew said. “You can’t even talk about it. Oh my god. You’d be completely hopeless.”
“Maybe not at the time,” I said. “But later I could, I think. And anyway, I could make up a completely fictional trial and just use what I know for authenticity. But as it is I have no idea what happens when the jury retires.”
“Honey, you don’t even know what the letter looks like.”
“Thank you, Llew. Good of you to point that out.”
I bet they wouldn’t pick me anyway. I can just see one lawyer leaning across to the other and whispering, “Too eager.”
When I saw online that yet more suicide bombers had struck Australia’s near neighbour Indonesia on Friday, I sent Llew a text: Oh no. Terrorist attacks in Jakarta. An hour or so later, I was on the ferry into Circular Quay, but just before we crossed Sydney Heads, whales passed by, very near and very frisky. A pair of what I think were blue fins, heading straight for Manly Cove (they were off-course – they don’t usually come so far inside and around North Head). I’ve never been so close before. I was as excited as any tourist, and as I watched them rolling and spouting and waving, I thought about those poor people whose lives had just been shattered in Jakarta, and I stopped to appreciate that moment with the whales and be enormously thankful for it. I felt really emotional, watching the two whales play. They just seemed such a life force, and so much bigger than me.
Saturday morning I picked up The Weekend Australian, and there was a long moment of cold psychic confusion as I registered the familiar smiling face in the photo and then tried attaching its presence to the accompanying article. “Oh my god,” I said to Llew. “That’s Craig Senger. Oh no. Oh no.”
I rambled at him, but he was uncomprehending, unable to remember Craig, so I called my friend S and unfortunately was the one to tell her what was then the unconfirmed report that Craig was among the victims in Jakarta.
Craig Senger. I hadn’t seen him for years. The last time I did see him turned into a big night out with Craig, S, Llew and myself. S and Craig had reconnected at the 2003 wedding of a mutual friend, and when they arranged to meet up for drinks soon after, the invite was extended to us as S recalled I knew Craig from university days. The four of us met at Establishment for drinks, and then ended up at an Indian restaurant in Glebe several hours later. I hadn’t seen him in years, and I never saw him again, but it was great fun catching up with him that night, it was a real blast from the past, and there were a lot of laughs.
So to the past, when I knew Craig quite well. As university students, we worked together for years at the Park Royal Hotel in Canberra. We were both part of a large crowd of uni casuals who worked and socialised together on a regular basis. I remember Craig’s 21st birthday party vividly. His family pulled out all stops – it was held at an historic homestead, and was a lovely sit-down dinner with family and Craig’s many friends. I remember thinking, wow, imagine your family throwing you a party like this – an entirely alien concept to me. But here was an abundance of love and happiness, and they made being a tight-knit family look so easy. It was a great night.
I can see Craig so, so clearly in my mind’s eye. The first thing you need to know about Craig is that he was always smiling. I can see him waving down to us from the hotel’s Atrium Bar when we were down below in the restaurant. His cheeky, ready grin. I can see him spinning a tray, clicking his fingers, tapping his toes. He was always moving. One of those people who was so gregarious, so upbeat, that he never had time to stand still. There were too many things to do, things to see, people to meet, laughs to be had. Craig was incapable of malice or spite. He did not have a cruel or vindictive fibre. It just wasn’t who he was. He had an incredibly, notably sunny and warm disposition, and of course was someone who made friends easily and then treated them exceptionally well. A rugby enthusiast, Craig was a keen sportsperson but always retained an endearing gentleness. I don’t imagine any of these qualities changed in the years since I knew him. I can’t imagine that. They were such defining features of a person who was truly one of the good guys, and someone who adored being alive, and all the adventures and possibilities that living his life afforded.
Craig was a lovely guy, cut down in the prime of his life by fanatics. It’s not ever, will never be fathomable to me how one human being could do this to another, and it’s a foul thing, knowing how this good person and innocent civilian has died along with so many others around the world and across these long years of our collective history. It always amazes me that the bombers maintain enough rage to go through with it, and it amazes me because in the course of the everyday, just in the mundane dailiness of existence, people extend small kindnesses all along the way – surely these people receive such gestures too? It’s the basic decency of the majority that leaves me stumped as to how this deadly minority can maintain the rage and madness necessary to unleash these assaults on innocent human beings with no opportunity to defend themselves. This is not righteous, and it is far from holy.
I understand Craig’s father died suddenly just weeks ago, and my heart just breaks for his mum, who must be trapped in the worst, darkest nightmare, some dread place beyond imagining. I am so sorry for his wife, his whole family, his friends – all his loved ones, of which there must be – have always been – so many.
I know bad things happen all the time, and the scale of some human atrocities mean that people are sometimes quick to point out that this death toll isn’t much compared with some other horror. But it’s not a score-keeping exercise, and that logic badly misses the point. Which is that every life is worth the same as every other life, and every loss is felt as keenly by those who are left behind with their sorrow. I lost contact with Craig after moving back to Sydney, but I remember him so very fondly. I know his family must be as proud as they are devastated, and so they should be. Craig Senger was a hell of a human being.
Just so you know, rekeying is a slog. I am finding it remarkably slow going – I can barely believe how long it’s taking me. I’ve only just passed the halfway mark of the last draft, but since I’ve dumped a lot of the beginning for the next draft, that means I’m nowhere near halfway in the actual rekeying itself. Does that make sense? It’s a really big job rekeying all those words… I accumulated those 80,000 words in fairly good time in the very first instance, but retyping them now is a bitch. Still, I wish I’d known about this little exercise while I was preparing to submit my thesis – now there’s a document that really could have used a large, sharp scythe, although the thought of rekeying that ugly monster is enough, even now, to make me want to flee the country screaming.
In the meantime, I’m wondering about the other thing that makes me want to flee the country screaming, and that’s the Productivity Commission’s recommendations (see Australians for Australian Books for a clear picture of the anticipated consequences from the Australian publishing industry’s point of view, and for a less emotional, more cogent response to the news than my own post on the subject, see author James Bradley’s analysis). I am trying to recover my native optimism about it all. I just have to believe that good writing will find a way to reach its readers, and I am not going to despair of that being the case for the future of Australian publishing. No. Too many people work too hard and believe in it too much and do it for too little money and too much love already for it all to go to the dogs. They deserve my faith and that of other readers and writers. So now I’m just wondering how to help them. I guess my first agenda item will be writing to the appropriate parliamentarian. My mother-in-law suggests Senator Robert McClelland, Attorney General, as the recipient of such a Missive of Malcontent, and I think I might spread the fury to a few more quarters just to make sure I don’t miss squirting the right weeds with something appropriately noxious.
Charlotte from How to Shuck an Oyster has just reminded me of another issue on which our government – the same government whose election I greeted with such JUBILATION, mistakenly, naively believing it to be deliverance from the politics of John Howard, which, to my dismay, I now find very much alive and well in the so-called alternative (FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRK) – is just thoroughly out of order, and that’s their plans to censor the internet on behalf of the supposedly free citizens of this country (for more information on how to register your disgust with government, click here). I’m not kidding, and unfortunately, neither are they. Um. Gee. You arrogant, Draconian maniacs.
Nothing gives them the right to make these decisions about limiting our access to information, but what I’d like to know is, HOW did we get to a point where they are thus empowered, and feel more than comfortably justified in exercising that power to these ends? I guess the answer is the malaise that strikes this country time and time again. And that’s apathy, deadlier than anything currently doing the rounds of Australian communities. Apathy kills. And we are in the midst of an apathy epidemic.
We all need to wake the fuck up.
Commerce has struck a violent blow against culture here in a country where we do have to fight for a way to tell our own stories, and then fight to have those stories heard. A vast country with a very small population that is already inundated – saturated, in fact – with offerings from the United States and the UK. We’re already drowning in cultural influences that aren’t really our own. Australia, the great early adopter and mimic. And now the Productivity Commission has found in favour of lifting the parallel importation restrictions on books published overseas, a move, if adopted by government, that is terrifying for actual Australian practitioners both present and future. Commercial interests have decided recommendations in what ought to be a cultural debate. It’s just not right.
Australian authors and agents have been lobbying against flooding the Australian book-buying market with overseas titles because they want to protect Australian voices – voices which barely register above a whisper in a commercial sense as it is. Oh, everyone knows Tim Winton and Peter Carey, but financially, they’re the exception. The truth is there’s not a whole lot of profit to be made in the novel writing enterprise for most of us who are trying to do it. But that’s all right, because storytelling is valuable for its own sake. It is its own end, and its value simply CAN’T BE MEASURED in dollars and cents. I just bitterly resent and fear a world in which everything about who we are is decided by the bottom line of some vast corporation. The country’s biggest bookseller was hard at it, lobbying for the lifting of restrictions, and it could afford to make its case much more persuasively. It also stands to gain most monetarily. It’s not interested in the impact on the Australian writers and Australian readers who may soon wander into a bookstore and be unable to regularly discover a brand new Australian voice. Perhaps the day is not far off when they’ll forget it was ever any different. Australian writers will recede, increasingly consigned to some shelf of anachronistic remainder titles up the back of the store, a dusty curiosity, a small artifact of the days before we were shouted down. We simply don’t have the numbers to compete with the author populations and output of other English-speaking countries like the US and the UK. There’s more of them, lots more of them, and bringing in all their books for a pittance is going to crush ours. For someone like me, in the gestation phase of my first novel, this decision is an icy finger on my heart. It was already hard. Now, if the government accepts the Productivity Commission’s findings and changes legislation on the basis of it, it will be nigh on impossible for any unestablished Australian writer to make an honest go of it.
And can I tell you something interesting? The UK and the USA both protect their own authors. They have these same restrictions in place to protect, preserve and promote their own literary heritage and future. But Australia is being asked to abandon its protection of ours, and, incredibly, the Productivity Commission is suggesting we comply. I can’t decide what reeks of leftover colonialism more; the message that our authors aren’t as worthy of protection as theirs, or the way Australia rolls over and agrees.
Art cannot be judged solely in terms of income potential. Books are not just bits of merchandise companies have to move. They are works of art. They are cultural contributions. But their fate is being decided as though they were nothing more than trinkets, cheap souvenirs you pass by at the airport. “Where the hell are we again?” an American gentleman might bellow to his companion as they make their way to the gate. “Who knows?” his wife might reply. “It’s all the same to me.”
I don’t really understand how these blog awards work, but Charlotte over at Charlotte’s Web has just won one (and a very worthy winner she is, too), and kindly tagged me as one of seven ‘nominees.’ While slightly confused about my role (does this mean I am an award recipient now too?? Or am I simply helping Charlotte fulfil certain requirements so that she may claim her prize?? I have no idea, but regardless it’s lovely to be included!), I am very happy to oblige by completing the meme, in which I list 7 personality traits and then nominate 7 bloggers for similar disclosures (I think). Okay, here goes.
1. I love food, always have, and I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about and planning my next meals. Yes, you read that right. Meals. At breakfast, I’m not only wondering what’s on the menu and in the fridge for lunch and dinner, I’m also asking myself how I feel about the next day’s breakfast. Am I truly satisfied with what I’m eating right now, or can I do better?
2. I’m very talkative by nature, but I have taken pains in recent years to shut the fuck up, and as a result I volunteer a lot less in person and over the phone than I used to. I am sure most people haven’t noticed any change whatsoever, and I feel really irrationally begrudged by this.
3. I adore laughing. I had a supreme giggling fit in bed with my husband just after the laparoscopy, and I was so sore and tender that laughing really, really hurt, but I couldn’t stop, and I kept saying, “O-o-o-u-c-h…” as I lay there writhing and laughing, and this just made Llew scream harder, which naturally set me off again, and we laughed until I honestly thought I was going to bust the stitches. It was the best. It’s funny (no, really it is), but whenever I have a laughing fit, I remember two things. Without fail. One is getting in trouble from my arsehole ex-stepfather (now out of my life, mercy be, for the past 25 years) for getting the giggles (what kind of person gets incredibly angry when a kid can’t stop laughing?). The other is the day my best friends at school – Deb, Flick and Lisa – and I were struck by an incurable case of the unstoppable titters during science class with Mr Ware, who was the last word in science teacher nerdiness. He was just like Jerry Lewis in Cinderfella before he drinks the magic potion. He put one, two, three of us in three corners of the room, and when he went to point to the final corner, there was a bin already sitting there, and it totally flummoxed him. He got so flustered by the lack of spare corner that he put one of us – I can’t remember who – equidistant from corners A and B along the back wall. This corner choreography just sent us into more helpless paroxysms that still raise a smirk from me 20 fond years later. I’m no longer friends with Lisa, but I dreamt about her just the other day.
4. I love clothes, shoes, and accessories (I don’t have my ears pierced, but I love a good necklace and have some great ones),and I enjoy shopping unless I am having a dreaded Fat Day (these tend to coincide with my cycle; never a good time for swimsuits) or unless I am too broke to buy anything. The latter is frequently the case, so then I just avoid the stores like they’re housing a virulent strain of swine flu. I never enter stores where I can’t afford to shop. Llew can’t understand this, so he dragged me into a Louis Vuitton in Bangkok, and I hated, hated, hated every excruciating second. He doesn’t try to make me now.
5. I like to think I’m a good friend, at least I certainly try to be, but I remain disappointingly insecure about whether or not people really like me. An example. I’ve recently sent an overseas friend – someone I have known for nearly two decades and who flew to Australia for my wedding – a number of texts and Facebook messages, and the lack of response eats away at me. Rationally, I know I haven’t done anything wrong, but reason doesn’t always carry the day in my feverish mind. I fret about this at least once a day, but a really sick stubbornness prevents me from just calling and saying hi.
6. I have an ugly jealous streak. It’s definitely closely related to #5, and I control it these days by not drinking too much.
7. I’m not remotely as scary as some people seem to think I am. I’ve never understood anyone thinking I’m intimidating – you must be kidding me, I cry at ads – but it’s a word that’s been levelled at me more times than I care to remember. I always want to look over my shoulder to see who they mean.
Phew, that was tricky! Now I think I’m supposed to tag seven more bloggers, and that’s easy, especially since Charlotte’s already done hers. And the nominees are (in alphabetical order):
Charlotte at How to Shuck an Oyster (who is hereby granted permission to make her 7 traits food, writing and reading related)
David at Quotidian Viscissitudes
Grad at the Curious Reader
Lilian at A Novelist’s Mind
Litlove at Tales from the Reading Room
Pete at Couchtrip (which is cheating a bit since Charlotte also tagged him, so I reckon that earns me a spare…)
Piereth at Castle Green Days
Simonne at Into the Quiet