I had a late lunch meeting in Chinatown with a couple of my freelance friends today, hence the late post. We had Ramen noodles in a less than salubrious food court rather ambitiously called Eating World. Food courts abound in Sydney, and they’re nasty little places in general, full of mall rats, plastic trays and Golden Arches grime. But food courts in and around Chinatown, well, they are usually a whole lot less offensive simply because the offerings are always so much more interesting, there’s no lingering stench of the Colonel’s deep-fried secret herbs and spices, and there’s less of that horrible feeling of entrapment that comes of being in a place with no windows, because it’s all accompanied by a feeling of displacement and otherness that I always find hugely pleasing, like an especially good surprise. Sydney’s Chinatown – and I know I’ve extolled its virtues in the past, but bear with me – is a really good one, properly alive with a thriving Chinese, Korean, and increasingly Japanese community. And they’re so cool.
For instance. After saying goodbye to the freelance girls, I headed in the general direction of Kinokuniya, a great bookstore that always has everything, including what I was looking for, which was a Wallpaper* City Guide to Shanghai 2009 ($12.94 – now that’s a bargain in any language). Walking up Sussex St, I passed a hair salon packed full of beautiful Asian boys and girls being primped and preened, attended by equally hip stylists in thin ties and Trilbies. I lumbered past feeling oafish and poorly dressed, like I hadn’t made nearly enough effort before leaving the house. These guys had turned hanging out of doorways into some kind of urban art form, and there was more than a hint of performance about the whole scene. In their show, on their street, I was nothing more than a clumsy stagehand, accidentally skidding on a puddle near the curtain, tripping onstage, and then scrambling off again before anyone even knew I was there.
Sigh. I love their youth, beauty, insouciance and style.
The Ramen itself was filling. And famed. The other two girls are both food writers, and D knew about this place Gumshara because it’s been getting some serious press. We were so certain that we’d be fighting off lunchtime hoards that we agreed to meet after 2 pm when the rush would be well and truly over. And we got that bit right. We had a formica kingdom all to ourselves. The Ramen chef was gorgeous, a regal middle-aged man, so sweet, patiently explaining in broken English the difference between one bowl and another as D and I stood studying the picture board menu. Most of them looked exactly the same to the untrained eye.
“Did you know that Ramen has collagen in it?” D asked me while she scanned. “And that Ramen chefs study for seven years before they qualify?”
“No. Really? Collagen?”
“Which is a good thing,” she continued, absently running her fingers across her face, “because I gotta tell ya, after the dust…”
“Yes!” I cried. “Has your skin been really, really bone dry ever since it happened, like the dust just sucked all the moisture out of the atmosphere and now we all look like we’re a hundred?”
D thoughtfully kneaded her face some more.
“So dry,” she said, sadly shaking her head. “It’s been like a rash. A skin disease.”
“We have Desert Storm skin,” I said, feeling my own face now.
The Ramen chef stood patiently waiting to take our order. He didn’t look a hundred. He had perfect unblemished unlined collagen-loving Japanese skin. We envied him his dewy hues for a minute more then finally ordered. J was minding our table, which was pretty funny given the place was almost entirely empty.
When the bowls of collagen soup arrived, we loaded up on Gumshara’s Ramen condiments before doing the foodie thing and taste-testing each other’s orders, also known as the meat and broth swap. It was rich, thick, and tasty. Comfort food. Filling food. In my haste to devour my steaming bowl of goodness, I proceeded to splash vast quantities of Ramen right across my chest area, noodles sliding off my chopsticks and slapping back down into the thick garlicky liquid with juuust the right amount of force to spray out in all directions like a brown fountain. I carefully put my hair behind my ears and studied the brown splotches on my previously white shirt.
“It looks like I’m lactating,” I grumbled, reaching for some water to dab at the stain. “Lactating gravy.”
J watched me soak my shirt some more.
“Oh yeah,” she said, “that’s going to make it sooo much better. Really. Just keep doing that. You’re not making it worse at all, Di.”
I gave up. We all went back to sucking noodles and slurping soup, catching up on all our shop talk and girl goss, Asian food court style.
DoctorDi turns 3 today – unbelievable but true. During the past three years I have written a total of 582 posts. There have been 1,669 comments, which is not bad considering I talked to myself for the vast majority of the first 18 months. Things have markedly improved on that front ever since you guys who talk back came along. You’re the single best case for perseverance I know. Imagine if I’d given up after a year of dead silence. I wouldn’t have “met” any of you – truly a dread thought. Oh, that’s such a horrible idea! Blogging friends have brought and continue to bring more to my writing life than I ever thought possible – between Llew, you guys, and the Darklings, I feel like the luckiest grafter in the world.
You know, statistically my busiest day at DoctorDi remains Day One, 29 September 2006. I sent an email out to everyone in my Yahoo address book, and 157 views were recorded that day for my very first post, Nail Sports. I came close a couple of weeks ago to toppling that record, but I just missed out. It bugs me that I can’t do better than that first day, but as Llew says to me every time I gripe about it, “You sent one email. That’s the extent of your promotional campaign. I don’t want to hear it. It’s a miracle anyone knows it’s there.”
Yeah, well, I guess he’s right. And you, the readers of this insignificant little blog by this insignificant little speck – among you virtual friends I cannot see and may never meet in person – you are my miracle.
So let’s take a short trip down memory lane, shall we? 2006… 2006….I received my doctorate in May of that year, but the beginnings of my manuscript were still three months away. I was coming to the end of an in-house freelance stint at Who magazine, sister publication to People; the editor at the time gave me my first break. There was a full-time job going, but I baulked, and she wisely gave it to someone else. It was the best thing all round. I discovered I don’t have the right personality for ambulance chasing, and when there was still money in the budget for it, I became one of their book reviewers instead – a much, much better fit than the red carpet reporting that was a large part of the permanent job description. I learned a lot about myself in those four months, and when one of the senior editors called me a little while later asking me to do a story that gave me that same tight-chested, anxious feeling, I took the opportunity to politely explain that I really wasn’t cut out for that kind of work, I just wasn’t the best person for the job, but thank you so much for thinking of me. The relief – the flood of blessed relief, the lightness about my shoulders – was extreme. And now I know. Three years later I have a large portfolio of published work that constantly reassures and reminds me that I have to trust my gut at all times. If the thought of doing a particular freelance job makes me feel sick and upset, nothing will make me take it. Nothing is worth the price of my peace of mind.
Three years on from my earliest forays into the editorial side of print media, I now know that I’m what I call a soft writer. I am happiest – and therefore at my best – writing travel stories, arts features, reviews, special reports… soft news. Fun stuff. Nobody dies. Nobody gets hurt. Nobody’s reputation is mud. And that suits me just fine. Some journalists have a serious hunger for the scoop, or the celebrity’s secrets, or the politician’s head on a plate, but I just don’t have it. I’m only hungry for food. Specifically, cake. DoctorDi birthday cake. I don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy or ruin anyone’s day. Nah, come on, let’s all just relax and eat cake.
Three years on, I scratch out an okay cakey type crust as a working wordsmith, a grafter. I keep working on my manuscript because that is what I do, and what I shall continue doing. It is my trade. My course is set. I know its limits, and it surely knows mine, but still we’re pretty okay with each other most of the time. Disappointments are part of life – and I wouldn’t be without mine. But the successes, oh, they’ve been so many, those lovely milestones and twists of fate along the way that mean wonderful things happen and unexpected characters arrive. What a wild ride it’s been since DoctorDi began – the adventures of Lady Alzheimer, roamin’ with Romans, the cool cats of Tokyo, Llew’s kitchen exploits, Varuna, the Darklings, fertility, politics, running, swimming with dolphins, the shortlist placing, the agent’s rejection phone call, the beginnings of MS #2, the evolution of MS #1, Volunteer Reader’s report, the failed short stories, the many books, the dead bird, the red dawn, the wine, the food, the laughs… Boy, we’ve had some laughs. Thanks a million.
Sorry I’ve been posting so late in the day recently – it’s all for a good cause, namely freelance work, and lately there’s been quite a bit of that (hear that? Silence. That’s the sound of no one complaining). I’m staring down the barrel at a very busy week, but since my sources for one story have stalled (not good, but I remain optimistic), I am now going to take a break and quickly tell you about my lovely haul of birthday books.
Birthday books! At last!
First came a non-fiction title from my friends R and S – Stephen Fry in America. Fry is a troubled but supremely intelligent and hilarious individual, and I am really looking forward to reading his observations and insights as he travels around the United States. An Englishman in New York and just about everywhere else – all with the help of a London black cab. Naturally.
Next A and E gave me a book I’d already read – I reviewed Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden for Who magazine back when it was released – so with the present givers’ joint blessing, I exchanged it for M. J. Hyland’s Carry Me Down. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2006, I’ve only heard good things about this novel, and Hyland’s writing in general. I have a delicious level of anticipation about this one because I think falsehood – the ironic fact of it – is such a fascinating and complex area of the human condition.
A double Waugh whammy from my friend S. First is the short satire (coincidentally concerning another Englishman crossing the Atlantic) The Loved One. Universally regarded as hysterical and important, slim in length only, I’ve never read it, but it’s dedicated to Nancy Mitford, and that’s a jolly good start. Second is another of Waugh’s celebrated masterpieces, Brideshead Revisited. S really went all out on this one, giving me what is without a doubt the best-smelling book I have ever received. It’s leather-bound, specifically vegetable tanned buffalo calf, part of the Bill Amberg for Penguin Classics series and a most delicious chocolate-coloured edition.
As well as birthday dosh, Llewie gave me the latest edition of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2009, but since it’s full of UK listings, it sadly isn’t as relevant to me now we’re back in Australia (and have been since 2001, which explains why the copy I own is from the year 2000…). I dutifully trotted off to exchange it for the latest edition of The Australian Writer’s Marketplace 09/10. The bookstore in question was out of stock, but I’ll be back…
Last but not least, I bought myself a book second-hand, one of those great reference books you occasionally spy on a dusty shelf and think, ‘Yes! How did I ever live without this?!’ – in this case, the tome in question is Brewster’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Millennium Edition, spotted in a box of unsorted books at Man Town’s Desire Books (3/3 Whistler St, Manly, 9977 0888) the day the Darklings departed Cottage Point and returned to the serene silence of the city. I was with Darklings JB and Deb, and on the day I came away empty-handed (lies! Only one hand was free by the time we left, because I had to have Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces – to see from whence our own Fugitive has come – and Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle because…well, just because). They called me as promised once they’d sorted the box of goodies, and I picked it up the day before my birthday. It’s great, chock-full of brilliant stuff like this entry:
Brooks’s. This LIBERAL and social CLUB was originally a gambling cub, previously ALMACK’S, which had acquired the former reputation of WHITE’S for the high stakes laid by its members. In the late 18th century it led the fashion in hazard and faro. The WHIG statesman Charles James Fox was a patron, as was the Prince Regent (later George IV). The younger Pitt was a member at one time but subsequently withdrew to White’s. It later became a leading Whig club.
I mean, come on, what’s not to love?! There’s so much interest and intrigue in that one small entry that I am practically palpitating about what the rest of this mighty text contains. On the same page:
Brownie. The home spirit in Scottish superstition, in England he is called ROBIN GOODFELLOW. At night he is supposed to busy himself on helpful chores for the family over which he presides [Hmmm… wonder if he’d be interested in a new spirit life Down Under?]. Brownies are brown or tawny spirits, and farms are their favourite abode.
I love it! Hours of fun, right there. Hours and hours of good, clean, phrase and fable fun.
So what do you think of my bulging book bag? Not bad, huh? I’m giddy with excitement, and plan to get stuck right in after I finish Lilian’s The River Midnight, and her second novel The Singing Fire. Happy days!
I am in mourning. Or preparatory mourning. Because my magic jeans are dying. Magic jeans don’t come along so very often in a girl’s life, and their passing is a tragedy felt for all time. I see them fading day by day, their seams becoming weaker, the arse quite literally falling out of them, holes appearing where once there was robust denim good health, and all I can think is, “Why didn’t I buy two of you?”
Oh yes. The price.
My magic jeans were a total rip-off, don’t get me wrong. They were a birthday gift from Llewie two years ago, and they were outrageously overpriced. But at their finest they made me feel like a million bucks, and on a cost-per-wear basis, they’re the best value item in my entire wardrobe, hands-down. I love my magic jeans. Sob! I just love them so much!
The problem, of course, is that they’re dying. I have loved them too well. I’ve already taken them to Lee, my little local seamstress who never, ever fucks things up (Dragon Tailoring, YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID), begging her to revive them. She obliged, giving my magic jeans second life, but now I think even Lee would pat my hand and say, “No worth it, Di-nah.”
There are different people in the world, and what a joy that is. There are jeans people and non-jeans people, shirt girls and blouse gals. I am a jeans and shirt girl. It’s not even as though I choose to be this way, it just is. It’s as much a part of me as the colour of my eyes and the length of my fingers. I can’t do anything about it – with very, very few exceptions, I just happen to feel best in jeans and a collared shirt. Okay, I run to the occasional cocktail dress when the times call for it, but pretty much nothing does it like a bitching bit o’ blue jean.
Oh, how I shall miss them.
But yesterday, love them though I do, I also kind of replaced them… It’s been a long time coming, but yesterday morning, when the zip on my boots kept snagging in one of the new holes down the left leg of my magic jeans, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I snapped. Llew gave me shopping dosh for my birthday, basically the ideal gift aside from books (remind me to tell you about those – I got some! So exciting! So unusual! People never normally give me books, it’s weird…). I love clothes but never feel it’s in the budget to go buy any new ones, and I decided it was time to use my cold hard cash. Even though I have very few reasons to wear what I already own. Let’s face it, I’m a writer, what do I need clothes for? No one sees me. Ever. I could work at my desk in a onesie – or a Snuggie – and no one would ever know. But occasionally a girl gets asked somewhere, and occasionally she likes to strut her slowly sagging stuff. So I needed new jeans. Straight after IVF orientation yesterday, I hit the shops with my birthday dosh.
Hot and bothered is the best way to describe how I was feeling by the time I found The Ones. Pulling my boots on and off, on and off, jeans on, jeans off, jeans sort of grafted to my thighs, steadfastly refusing to advance an inch further, jeans biting my bum, jeans in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours. Why am I a 28, a 27, a 29 and a 10? How hard can it be to standardise sizes??
“What size are they?” asked one girl, pointing down at my magic jeans.
“They’re a 28.”
“What’s the brand?”
“J and Company.”
“Right,” she said, turning to a sea of denim. “Made in the US. They’re usually a bit bigger, so I’m going to try you in a 27…”
I looked doubtfully at the jeans in her hand.
“But there’s not a lot of room left in these,” I said, feeling my magic jeans nip and pinch my stomach. “One long lunch and it’s all over.”
“Try these,” she thrust an array of jeans in my face and marched me to the change rooms. This was store number 3.
I’m going straight to David Jones next time. Those girls really know their shit. She was absolutely right about the sizing, and the first pair she chose for me were the ones I ended up buying. The other sales assistant in the change rooms was also incredibly helpful, and happy to jaw with me on such critical topics as the philosophical, existential elements of denim ownership for a full twenty or so minutes while I weighed up the different options, all the while trying to catch my arse in the act of something terrible.
After much deliberation, the decision was made. The jeans were also 30% off, making them a full quarter of the price of my magic jeans. They were so cheap I had enough birthday money left tearing a hole in my pocket that I burned over to Paddington to my good friend Sophie’s gorgeous shirt boutique – Mr. Rose – coming away (thanks to several glasses of champagne and admittedly with the assistance of a sly discount from the lovely lady of the House of Rose) with a fantastic shirt from her new collection. By the time I met up with Llew, I was wearing a shirt and a pair of jeans, that’s all, but I felt like a million bucks.
For a few eerie minutes this morning, Llewie and I wondered if the world was ending. It’s an extremely disconcerting idea when you have just opened your eyes first thing, but as dawn broke, he lifted our bedroom shutters and we both squinted into a deep, bright red haze.
“What the hell is that?” he asked. “What’s happening?”
“Oh my god,” I said, fear in my heart. “What’s happening? What’s happening?”
I leapt from bed, grabbed a robe and dashed to the front of the apartment. Pushing back the curtains, I gasped. The entire street and beachfront was a deep orange, unnaturally aglow. Everything was ablaze with a thick red dust that obscured the ocean in its usual comforting and at once frightening totality. It looked apocalyptic. I ran back to the other end where Llew seemed to be in shock.
“Aren’t you coming to look?” I cried. “I expected you to come look.”
“I am, I am,” he said, dropping the shutter and swinging his feet to the floor.
Standing out in the courtyard, we turned around in slow, disbelieving circles. A couple walked by and said, “It’s the end of the world.”
“Sure looks like it,” we agreed.
I can’t fully describe the incongruity of seeing people taking their daily constitutional along the beachfront in the midst of this. They struck me as more than faintly absurd, all enacting their habitual brisk lap despite the obvious suspension of normality, and yet they were enormously reassuring, too. I gazed in wonder at people exercising and walking their dogs, as though I’d never seen such a thing before. As the strange red minutes ticked by, the signs of daily life on the beachfront became a very soothing sight.
Llew reached for his Blackberry and I for my laptop (speaking of absurdities. It’s pretty interesting seeing what you do when you think the end is nigh!), and we trawled our different technology for an explanation of what we had seen. Our phones started beeping as others woke up into this transformed world, our city no longer what it had been but some Mars-scape, something altogether otherworldly. Dust, the news media told us. Dust, only dust.
Waiting for the dust to settle, we watched the redness fade to a white dust much less confronting and a whole lot less interesting. It was the sun rising on the water that had turned our beachside suburb this unholy crimson, and as it pushed beyond the dust layer, everything was revealed as a dirty ashen grey. My phone buzzed again. It was my friend S.
What I want to know, her text began, is where they’re all getting their masks from…
It was true. I walked Llew down to the wharf, our mouths filling with dust funk with every step down the beach, because I wanted to check what the dust was doing harbourside (answer: a total whiteout from Man Town to the CBD), and as we stood waiting for coffees, a woman walked by wearing a white surgical mask.
“You keep one of those handy, do you?” I nudged Llew. “What, you just have a box of them lying around the house, just in case of an airborne toxic event?”
“I want to know why people have them on standby like that,” said Llew as we watched the woman marching purposefully down the wharf.
“Me too. By the way, have you got a filmy layer of dust coating your tongue?”
He nodded, making a face like cattle chewing cud.
“It’s all over everything,” he said. “It looked like the shower was clean right up until I turned on the water.”
“Damn funky dust,” I shook my head.
Llew got on a fast ferry. I waved him off and set into the wind for the walk home. Surfers were out, the strange yellowish glow of the sun occasionally breaking through the haze. The ocean lapped at the shore, indifferent, still in charge.
(Check this out)
Simonne over at Into the Quiet is the queen of the multitask, and one of the many balls she keeps in the air (along with Charlotte at How to Shuck an Oyster) is coordinating the Varuna Alumni Blog. Varuna, the Writers’ House (good grief, I’ve never seen so many links in so little text, it’s a bit migraine-inducing, sorry), is the wonderful facility at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains where the Darklings met during our Professional Development Residency last year, and where Simonne, Charlotte and many, many other writers have spent time working, eating, and in my case oscillating wildly between hysterical laughter and blubbering tears. It’s a very special place, and unsurprisingly over the course of its history, Varuna has attracted some very special people.
All of which is why I was so gobsmacked when yesterday Simonne asked me to be the Varuna Alumni Blog’s guest blogger for the month of October. I mean, I don’t have a published novel to my name! I don’t even have an agent! It’s like allowing a kindergarten child to address the high school seniors. My first response was “Are you sure?” but Simonne assures me she’s in earnest. Naturally this made my day. Talk about chuffing – I was perfectly rapt to be asked. Of course, accepting the invitation brings with it a rather large dilemma, namely what the hell am I going to write to keep much more experienced and successful Alumni entertained and interested over four weekly posts? Oh god. What have I done?!
I’m hoping you’ll help me, my blogging chums far and wide, because you’re all writers, and are therefore an excellent resource for me going into this month-long gig pretty keen to make a good impression. Nothing complicated, mind you, but all guest bloggers thus far have focused on aspects of the craft, and I assume that’s my remit too. I guess more than anything I want four topics that will really encourage conversation, because that’s ultimately what the Varuna Alumni Blog is all about.
The blog is still in its infancy, being only a few months’ old, but what interests me is that the readership so far consists almost exclusively of Alumni Members. I find myself wondering again, with this new and urgent imperative to play my own part well, if that’s the intention. It’s lovely reading about all the ways in which we’re similar and our practices converge, and just as fascinating and instructive discovering all the ways we’re not and they don’t. It’s part of building that community of writers that’s so incredibly crucial to certainly my own development and sanity, as well as, I suspect, that of many others. But presumably one of the potential benefits of the blog is attracting more writers to Varuna and its many programs, thus growing the Alumni base and building Varuna’s profile. Doubtless it’s also a means of growing the online audience for its current members. I just wonder how those things will be achieved when, really, we’re currently speaking only among ourselves.
I keep coming back to my years Before Varuna (BV). I still get pretty chronic fan love seeing some of the names of participating authors on the blog, and I am terrified of doing a bad job in front of people I admire and respect so much. To be in their company at all is a complete revelation to me, and a huge leap forward from where I stood not much more than a year ago. From that cold and lonely place, I sent echoes ahead that I can still hear now, and I guess I feel a duty to that bewildered, beleaguered self to send word back to others like me, to call back the way I came to let them know that it’s okay up ahead. Keep going. We’re waiting for you. You can do it.
Of course, I haven’t done anything yet myself, but I can’t help wondering if it’s those conversations I ought to be trying to start in the month of October. Conversations with writers and readers who aren’t Varuna Alumni, some of whom might very much like to be in future, and both of whom may currently look at the blog and feel it’s not an open forum. I’ll have to check this with Simonne and Charlotte, but I imagine it means to be, but isn’t quite, and perhaps that’s something I can focus on. Which brings me to you, all of you, wonderful helpful you.
What I wonder is this. Here you have all these Australian writers, all Varuna Alumni, checking in and sometimes commenting – at the very least you have a guest blogger who’s on board for a month, writing posts about writing, responding promptly to comments and so on – what would make that interesting for you? Are there special writerly, practical subjects you’d like addressed, or would you be more inclined to read something personal, or would you prefer to ask questions of the guest blogger about their own practices and experience? I’m just wondering – and do you mind if I shamelessly steal your ideas?!
Ever since Charlotte’s Persian Excursion on How to Shuck an Oyster, I’ve been hankering for Halal, informing Llewie a while back that I wanted to spend my birthday on Saturday checking out Auburn, home to any number of Sydney’s Turks, Afghanis and Iranians in a general melting pot that includes Chinese and Nigerians. For a foodie, this all spells excitement. We spent birthday morning making the most of the beautiful day, going for a short recovery run (I made merry with a couple of friends at the Australian Hotel on Friday night, successfully booting my doldrums well beyond city limits, but leaving me with a rather thick head next day), followed by a swim in the beautiful Pacific (water temperature a brisk 18 degrees), and then we hopped into the Welsh Dragon with coffees and apples and drove out west. From Man Town, it was an hour’s drive, and we were dangerously ravenous by the time we parked the car near Auburn train station.
Llew had some tips from colleagues who live locally, but we did the requisite familiarisation lap while weighing up lunch options. Eventually we decided on a roving meal. We took the advice of Llew’s workmate and sat down for kebab and pide at Murat and Ziya’s Sofra (35-39 Auburn Rd, Auburn, 9649 9167), sharing the mixed kebab plate (succulent chicken, beef and lamb pieces served with fresh tomato, onion and squares of piping hot pide) and barely making a dent in the huge, delicious ground lamb pide pizza. It was so scrumptious, but despite Llew’s valiant attempt, it was clear we’d need to take the rest home, and it’s taken me two days of concerted effort to finish it off. Well worth the trouble, I assure you.
After rolling away from Sofra clutching our bursting guts, we waddled down Queen St and basically chucked a lap around Auburn. That’s when I noticed the birds. After reading Woo’s recent post on the subject of Sydney’s springtime swooping birds, I’d been feeling a little nervy, having been victim of a vicious head peck in the past, and I couldn’t help noticing a very agitated group of mynah birds in a couple of trees lining one of the backstreets. We hurried past, but as we walked beneath the trees, a mynah came flying toward us at warp speed. It flew directly at us like a locked missile. I leapt out of its way, now knowing for sure we were travelling too close to its nesting ground, but as we briskly continued on our way, the bird came back, clipping the back of my head. It was all over very quickly, but I can confirm that being swooped shakes you up. Llew later admitted thinking I was paranoid right up until it attacked.
The small tarnish on the happy birthday feeling was soon alleviated by our arrival at Real Turkisk Delight (Shop 1/3-5 Station Road, Auburn, 9649 9787). I’m eating an icing sugar-dusted square of the rose original right now, and it (and the second piece, and the third…) is delicious. Okay… I need to put it away now… step back from the Turkish Delight… Give me a minute while I take this box into the next room out of harm’s way…
I’m back, wiping icing sugar off my gob.
We bought several take-home packs as hard-to-part-with gifts, and they have a number of variations including one with almond, another with pistachio and more. Real Turkish Delight is also a fine chocolatier, so the shopfront smells wonderful, and they have a mouth-watering selection. Back over the bridge, we continued on until we found ourselves at Ismet Mutlu’s Butchery (8 Civic Rd, Auburn, 9643 1686), spying the Turkish smoked sausage parmak sucuk hanging on hooks behind the counter. We chose a fat chilli version before heading into the nearby Sweets House (12 Civic St, Auburn, 9749 2915) for some take-away baklava and an Iranian cake that had surprise hints of pepper when we finally got around to scoffing it yesterday at home. A final inspection blitz included the small arcades loaded with cramped Money Transfer offices and whole families shouting orders across glass-top counters groaning with bargain meats. On the other end of Queen St, next we found the local market and its tasty selection of olives, anchovies and Persian spun sugar, the foodie’s fairy floss, before happily stumbling across New Afghan Bread (1 Beatrice St, Auburn, 9643 9633), where a couple of bucks scored us two large rounds of fresh-baked traditional Afghan bread straight from the oven. More than satisfied with our haul for home, we retired to Akif Karapinar’s well-known Mado Cafe (63 Auburn Rd, Auburn, 9643 5299), which specialises in Turkish cuisine, particularly ice cream and sweets. Its calm interior seemed far from the madding crowd, and the service was equally unhurried. Llew tried a Turkish coffee – I opted for Turkish tea, already knowing the silty Turkish blend is not my preference – and we shared a dessert plate. More baklava, which I adore, in a selection including a strange green concoction that was probably pistachio-based, and the famous Maras ice-cream, which is traditionally eaten using a knife and fork due to its unusual consistency. The firmness is apparently caused by an ingredient the menu also suggests is an aphrodisiac, orchid root. Indeed, check the back of the menu for more curious Turkish ‘facts’ – we enjoyed them almost as much as the ice cream.
Over-indulged at every turn, it was time for us to head for home. We did make one final stop: Wing Fat’s butchery opposite the station. Eye-wateringly cheap eye fillet and lip-smacking lamb chops were both simply too tempting to leave behind.
As you can probably tell, I ended up having a great birthday festival. It turns out Persian product makes me perky.
I went walking this morning with a friend who lives locally, and it was the first time we’d managed to catch up in weeks. She’s been seeing a life coach, and was full of enthusiasm for the changes she’s making to her life. Now, I should say upfront that when I hear ‘life coach,’ I just want to run away – hard, fast, and screaming at the top of my lungs. I believe everyone is different, so it stands to reason that different things appeal to and work for different people. Life coaching doesn’t appeal to me. It’s just the way I am. I don’t tend to look for external steering mechanisms for my own life, at least not in terms of organised religion, yoga retreats, self-help literature and/or life coaches. Some people find all of these things enormously helpful, even life-changing, and my friend is one such person. She’s done self-improvement courses in the past, is a yoga devotee, and has now enthusiastically and sincerely embraced the lessons offered to her by her life coach guru. It’s very much her thing, and it works for her.
I’m not even sure why I’m telling you this.
I didn’t post yesterday, and I could pretend it was because I was taken out for lunch (which I was, and it was lovely) and therefore didn’t have time, but it was really more a lack of inspiration and inclination. What was I going to tell you? That I was and am still feeling a bit flat? Why would I write about that? There’s nothing wrong, I’ve got absolutely nothing to complain about, and in more ways than I can count I am enormously fortunate, so what’s my problem? I don’t know. I’m just a bit out of sorts. I have no reason to be – I have a great husband, I have terrific friends, I have eggs, I have finished another draft of my MS, I live in a wonderful place, I’m a lucky cow. I really am. And it’s not my birthday, because I don’t get morose about ageing, I’m always relieved and delighted to find I’m still here for another one. So that’s not it, although I will admit to a significant lack of enthusiasm for celebrating it this year. No doubt this will sound ironic given the navel-gazing nature of this post thus far, but I actually think I’m a bit over myself. I’m feeling really ho hum about the thing that is me.
So many people I know seem to be experiencing something similar. I’m not sure if it’s a late-30s, early-40s phenomenon, but I can’t tell you the number of friends I’ve had mention this same basic reappraisal of themselves in the world. We’re seeing our first mid-life crises, for instance, and so many of my peers appear to be looking around thinking, “How the fuck did this end up being my life?” I know some of my friends are unhappy, really unhappy, and that’s a terrible thing to realise about people close to you. As a friend, I often feel completely inadequate, and in many ways, that’s exactly what I am. I can’t help with the majority of what ails them, and that’s because, by and large, we’re all stuck having to help ourselves. I tend to believe that if you don’t help yourself, the help never arrives. And yet, that’s not quite right either. I receive plenty of help, and always have. Loads. More than my share. And I try to put it back out there. But it’s not enough, is it? People still have to find answers for themselves. I don’t have them.
It’s funny that some of the things my friend’s life coach has introduced into her life are things I have always done. One is keep a diary. My friend was telling me how amazing it was, venting all that frustration, letting it go before it mushroomed into something else, and it’s always been a very therapeutic act for me. In fact, Llew realised just how therapeutic when he picked up one of my diaries – it’s hand-painted and he had no idea what it was – and it fell open on a massive FUCK YOU. He dropped it as though it had bitten him. I took up the diary to find what had so enraged me that I felt compelled to take a whole page to write just two words, and it turned out it was Llew himself. It was during the month from hell packing up Nana’s flat, at a time when he was not at his most empathetic. I felt badly let down at times during that experience, and I think he’d probably say the same of me, because he was also stressed out and under a lot of pressure at work. I explained the entry was about him and he said, “That’s not very nice.”
“Well,” I said, “this is how I deal with things. I write them down so I don’t scream at you instead. You really weren’t supporting me at times during all that, and I vented in my diary, and that probably avoided a massive blow-up. So… what can I tell you? That’s the function my diary often serves.”
He was still a bit wounded by the hostile sentiment, I think, but it was also hard arguing against my writing FUCK YOU there instead of starting a big fight in person. I suppose this blog has often done the same thing; you’ve all certainly helped lift my morale during various disappointments and challenges, and thank you. It is a way for me to work through things rather than hold on to them. See? I feel better already.
Occasionally the search terms that bring people to DoctorDi really tickle me. Here’s one I never thought I’d see: Does Tinkerbell know the Tooth Fairy? What fascinates me about this is that it was a question posed by someone evidently old enough to access a computer, use it properly, and spell all the search terms correctly. Someone old enough to know better, in other words. Does Santa know the Easter Bunny? Gee, let’s see now…
I spoke to Nana earlier. I’ve been sorting through some of the paperwork around her transfer to St Andrew’s (they can call it what they like, but we know the truth about that apostrophe), and so it seemed like a good time to check in with the lady herself. She wasn’t in her room, but the lovely Nicki soon located her and handed Lady Alzheimer the phone.
“Hi Nana,” I said. “It’s Diana.”
“Oh, Diana!” she said. “Someone here just gave me the… someone just gave it to me, before, and you were there. Here you are.”
Sometimes these conversations seem straight from the pages of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead…
“That’s right,” I said. “I’ve been away, but I’m back now so I thought I’d better give you a call and see how you’re doing.”
“It’s very nice here,” she confided, “but I’ll tell you I can’t… I can’t settle. There’s too much of it.”
“Too much of what?”
“Too much of what it is,” she triumphantly announced.
The funny thing is, I almost know what she means. Too much of what it is – ain’t that the truth, toots?!
“I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling unsettled, Nana,” I said. “Unsettled in what way?”
“I just can’t settle,” she said. “There’s this window. And under the… there’s a big metal thing here. It’s all right, I can sit there. But I can’t, you know, I can’t settle, but that’s all right. It’s going to get better.”
“Do you need your own chair?” I ventured.
“Oh no,” she said. “There’s plenty of places to sit.”
“But are you comfortable? Is there anything you need?”
“I’m a bit out of breath,” she said. “Because I was just on my way downstairs.”
There is no downstairs.
“How’s Llewie?” she asked suddenly.
I love that Nana calls him Llewie, and that she always asks about him unprompted. Somehow I imagine she’ll forget me before she ever forgets him.
“He’s good,” I said. “We had an IVF appointment yesterday, and they told him he has Super Sperm.”
She had a bit of a giggle.
“Oh, well,” she said. “I suppose he has to be happy with that.”
“He’s very happy. He was strutting around proud as a peacock, don’t you worry. And the good news is it seems I have some eggs, so everything should be all right.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, it is. How are you going?”
“I have to go,” she said, breathless with excitement or agitation, it was impossible to tell which. “I have to go downstairs to see the man.”
“You off after a bit of a flirt?”
“No,” she said firmly. “I’m not flirting. He’s the one who looks after us, you know. The man. And I’m on my way downstairs to see him, to see what I can get.”
She really stressed that last word. Whatever he’s got, it’s good. Except there’s no downstairs, and maybe there’s no man.
“Well, you’d better get down there, in that case,” I said.
“It was lovely talking to you,” she said brightly.
“You too, Nana. Lots of love.”
Nana said goodbye. Then she put the phone down without hanging it up. I listened for another minute more. I didn’t hear anything but Nana’s retreating murmur. In my mind’s eye, I imagined something else, a cartoon scene, where the only things left were a dust cloud and the dangling receiver, dropped in her haste to get on with the business of getting whatever it was she was so determined to get. A mystery, all of it, but Nicki and my sister both confirm that Nana’s thrown herself right into the activities roster, so I think she’s perhaps nothing more than a bit overwhelmed. Tired. Maybe she’s overdone it. Maybe we both have.
I’m sitting in a Max Brenner Chocolate Shop near IVF Australia downtown. We had a follow-up appointment, and boy, don’t they see you coming. Over $130 bucks for a very brief chat, only $30 of which is rebatable by Medicare, and not one bean of which is rebatable using the private health insurance we’ve been paying for years. It’s incredible but true. I’m no longer sure just what it is covered, only that we keep being told no refund whatsoever is due.
Enough about the money. Who wants to go to Shanghai anyway? No, I’d much rather spend the holiday fund sitting in the waiting room at IVF Australia flipping through old magazines wondering if I have a single viable egg to my name. Well, I guess next time the question making my palms sweat will be different, because that one was answered today, and without further ado, I am happy and relieved to say that yes, it seems I still have eggs in the basket. Apparently my AMH (AMH? Anyone? Is that right?) results even have the good grace to be superior in my age group. Phew. It hadn’t occurred to me it was possible to exceed the average – I was just hoping not to bomb out completely. Basically, the blood test I took last time indicates something about egg quantity, and that in turn indicates something about egg quality – there seems to be a direct correlation between number of eggs and viability of eggs, and therefore they can deduce something about my chances of having good eggs from this one vial of blood.
The doctor was very pleased with my score. I waited in vain for a merit certificate or a high five or a Pina Colada with a paper umbrella, but frankly the relief was reward enough. I have been making myself a little sick with worry since they took my blood several weeks ago. It’s been a case of pretending not to have a care in the world but knowing perfectly well all the while that this one particular anxiety was there offstage shouting obscenities at me from behind the curtain. Now I can have it removed by security. Get out! Be gone! You’re not welcome here! Don’t come back!
It’s not so crazy that I was concerned – there have been plenty of unexpected twists and turns in this little psycho-drama so far. And when we first sat down with Dr P, he happily informed Llew that he has Super Sperm, while in the same breath expounding his theory that people with B negative blood (ie. me) are directly descended from Neanderthals.
I’ll give you a moment.
Yes, Neanderthals. My jaw dropped, but Dr P didn’t notice. He was enjoying the live audience for his theory too much to pause. It goes like this. The highest incidence of B negative blood on the planet is found in the Basque region of Spain. Neanderthals died out in this same location. Ergo, modern day B negative Homo Sapiens are descended from Captain Caaaaavemaaaaan. It’s a beautiful theory. I bet you can see why I’d rather hang out with Dr P than go to China. As options go, they’re neck and neck, or sloping forehead and sloping forehead.
As you can imagine, Llew’s eyes lit up as Dr Jekyll laid out this pearler for his paying (and paying and paying) audience.
“You know how I told you everything would be fine because, as far as I’m concerned, you’re the height of humanity?” he whispered while Dr P swotted imaginary flies and giggled to himself. “Well, forget that. I was wrong. This is much better. I’m going with that whole ‘I married a Neanderthal’ theory.”
I smiled weakly, rummaging for the credit card. But that was last time. For today, I’m just going to enjoy the idea that Mother Hubbard’s cupboard is not yet bare. I think that’s a win. Survival of the fittest? I’ll take ’em, I’ll take ’em all!