Here it is already Tuesday – and December! DECEMBER. Oh. Dear. It’s true that ever year gets faster. And it makes logical sense: as you get older, each individual year is proportionately diminished relative to your total age. Imagine how a year must whiz by when you’re 70. 80. It must be a blur much along the lines of that old silver screen trick for denoting the passage of time, desktop calendar pages reeling off as though caught in a vicious gust of wind. December. I can’t believe it.
Traditionally, I’m a bit of a timekeeper. Temporality interests me, and it’s part of the way I make sense of the world and my place in it. I measure myself against dates past and future. By X date, I will have done Y. It’s true, I love a good deadline. And like most people, I also use time as a retrospective measure. On date A, it’ll be B years since I gave up smoking/finished my PhD/started writing my MS. Sometimes the distance between points has revelatory power – soon I’ll have been an ex-smoker longer than I was a smoker. This, as any long-term ex-smoker knows, is a day I look forward to a great deal. Other distances are disappointing, or at least, I have a tendency to judge them and myself in relation to them very harshly. It’s three whole years since I started my MS, over 1,000 days of my life, and that agent who passed on it last month? Entirely indifferent to my efforts. As I said to my writer friends, I think it’s the tired indifference of her email that cuts deepest. She didn’t even care enough to hate it. That’s three years of bloody hard work, and for my trouble, she sent me an electronic yawn.
[Cue hysterical laughter. Like, really, really hysterical laughter.]
You wonder if your time’s been well spent, and I at least wonder about the time still to come. Both are futile endeavours. Ironically, both are a complete and utter waste of time. You can’t go back and you can’t see ahead. But I am a big believer in one’s capacity to alter certain courses, like that slightly daggy motivational sentiment, that luck is preparation meeting opportunity. Now, I have a deep suspicion of motivational sayings and those who espouse them/stick them to their PCs on Post-It notes/send them round to colleagues every morning via the office intranet, but I do think that one says something vaguely along the lines of something I vaguely believe, which is that what I do now, from one moment to the next, can and does affect the road ahead, a road I cannot and never will be able to see until I’m already well and truly on it. I guess in some indeterminate way I have believed this and intuitively acted on it for most of my life. I like putting myself in a position to make decisions. I like – no, love change. I enjoy completing tasks and challenges I set myself within an acceptable timeframe. This preoccupation with efficiency probably explains a lot about me. I’m very motivated to improve my immediate circumstances even when they’re ostensibly well in hand. It’s not impatience or restlessness so much as… curiosity and maybe a slight excess of energy. What can I make of this day, this day that has never been before and shall never be again? What’s it going to be?
So. Here we are. December 2009. The first decade of the new millennium is coming to a close – it’s shocking how quickly these ten years have passed. Ten years ago I was in London, working in a pub and writing a manuscript that will never, ever see the light of day. Ten years later, I’m back home in Sydney, working from home and writing first one manuscript and now another, both of which may meet the same fate as the first. So much – in some areas of life far too much – has happened in between. As in any year, I’m still writing, always writing, but now I write for a living, and for that alone, this past decade – leaving my twenties and now hurtling towards the end of my thirties – has been absolutely worth its weight in minutes. After decades of mud and confusion and madness, I feel like the digger whose pan turns up a small nugget of gold. The true value is never told on the scales, but always in the hunt.
More tertiary education stories today. Phew, I had the most frantic morning. The editor only called them in at about 8 pm last night, and offered me the job as a sort of physical challenge. The type that seems to get people voted off islands these days.
“I need these by midday tomorrow. Can you do it?”
“Midday? Do I need to do any interviews?”
“At least one. Maybe two.”
“Before twelve o’clock?”
“You heard me. Can you do it or not?”
I took a big breath.
“Sure, of course, absolutely.”
I’m pretty sure he hung up before I could change my mind.
So this morning I sat at the desk waiting until a decent hour to call the PR person. I got to 8:30 and thought, ‘I have to talk to you now, right now, or this whole job is in jeopardy.’ Luckily she answered; she sounded a little cool and I don’t blame her, I probably interrupted her Vegemite toast (and if you ask me everyone’s got a right to eat breakfast in peace and quiet). But time was slipping away and I didn’t have a moment to lose. I think she choked on toast crumbs when I said I needed two interview subjects basically in the next five minutes, but boy, what a champion, she rallied pronto. If I had her on a stopwatch, I think we’d be looking at a new world record.
My first interview was in the can by 9:10 am (how much do I love 1300RECORD? Let me count the ways), and I was manically transcribing it when the PR Princess beat her personal best by dishing up #2 seconds later. My heart swelled with love and gratitude – maybe, just maybe, I’d make it. The interview was set for 10 am.
Between 10:10 and 11:15 am, I wrote the first 600 word article and sent it on ahead. Between 11:15 and 12:10 pm, I transcribed the second interview and wrote the second piece. I can be a pretty efficient freak when circumstances demand it, but frankly, even I was impressed. Sweating, mind whirring, fingers racing across the keyboard, I was down to the wire, but the second 600 word piece was blinking in my editor’s Inbox at ten minutes past the hour. Not bad. He then disappeared into a black hole of deadlines and I am STILL waiting for that phone call or email, you know the one, that fantasy response, the one in which an ecstatic, grateful crowd carries me to the medal dais, gently swaying to the Rocky theme song as they reach out to touch me as I pass. They’re chanting, “Midday! Midday! You got them in by midday!” and I have to quiet the crowd so we can all hear the sound of my editor falling on his knees before me. God I love that sequence. But I’ve been stalking him all afternoon, and I can’t even get him to tell me where and when the damn things are running. They just use you up and spit you out! But don’t you worry, I emailed the PR Princess straight after filing and I said, “We did it! You were awesome this morning, thank you.” I think we call that a dead heat.
In other news, I had my follow-up consultation with Varuna this afternoon just after I’d caught my breath. This was after the shortlist placing in the Publisher Fellowships; I signed up for the half hour chat as soon as the lines opened. It occurred to me I should record the conversation for my future benefit (I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…), and with C’s kind permission – she was one of three on the judging panel – that’s just what I did. Well, I can only stress how worthwhile it was. C had some excellent constructive criticisms, although at all times she was careful to emphasise that she knows it’s still very much a work in progress (I’ll say! I’ve barely started! I hardly know these people!), and that therefore everything we discussed today will change. True. Be that as it may, she pinpointed a thematic thread that immediately went tearing through my mind, ripping off dust covers, throwing open shutters, and shaking out mouldy mats. *Cough.* Yes, I thought. That’s it. Such a simple moment, but so profound. And I guess that jolt of recognition encourages me to continue, to finish what I’ve only just begun. It was such a useful conversation. Having someone else say back to you of their own accord exactly what you think your story is about – well, it was a rush. It all rushed in, jamming that mental opening until I felt my whole brain was clean off its hinges. But you know, that’s better than okay… I’ve always preferred an open door policy. And now I really feel like I am ready to go back to work. MS #2, you and I are about to get busy.
I sat up past midnight finishing Reunion last night. It’s hard to know what to say about it, because I really don’t want to ruin it for people who are either intending to read it or who are part way through reading it. Is there anything more irritating than someone telling you the ending? I doubt it. And I’ve learned from bitter experience to avoid most reviews these days; they tend to be nothing more than step-by-step plot summaries, sometimes even including the “shock” denouement – I wish I were kidding – and for the time being I’m no longer writing my own (unfortunately Who took book reviews in-house to save money a little while back). I don’t know who among the Darklings has finished (Jenny made a gift of the novel for us all), but this is one of those times I’d really like to be able to sit around and talk about a book everyone in the room has read.
Reunion is getting excellent reviews, one reviewer marvelling at the injustice of Andrea Goldsmith’s not yet being a household name. Perhaps this novel will change all that… I wonder. I do sort of suspect if Peter Carey, for instance, had penned Reunion, then there would be parades and fireworks and dancing girls through the streets. Some established writers (and there is a gender bias, so please let’s not bother pretending there’s not) need only to breathe to have the whole world falling about, blushing and gushing and giddy. But I fear Andrea Goldsmith – whose The Prosperous Thief was shortlisted for the 2003 Miles Franklin Award, so she’s hardly toiling in total obscurity – has had to do it the hard way. A case in point: this is the first novel of hers I’ve read; it’s her sixth.
I’m very glad I persevered. Truthfully, I wasn’t enjoying it at first, and I think it’s because it reminded me of all the things I hated about academia. Everyone and everything I loathed. The characters are five super smarty-pants, and the sheer pomposity of some of their conversations made me want to gag and/or scream. Oh please, yes, you are so erudite, so cultured, so mighty, please do enlighten us, one and all. I love frighteningly smart intellectual people, they give me tingles, I just can’t stand the ones who have to keep congratulating themselves about it the whole time. They bore me rigid. Goldsmith has done a flawless job drawing these characters, they are so spot on, and it’s just unfortunate for me that for the first half of the book they mostly bear an uncanny resemblance to the type of Smug Clevers I can’t abide. They’re very true, though, and that’s always a great thing in something that is by its nature not.
I decided to keep going because Goldsmith’s writing is very fine and because its own smarts were initially far more intriguing to me than the characters themselves. And I was duly, abundantly rewarded for my faith. There was a moment when one of the characters has a long – too long in my impatient view – overdue epiphany about the ludicrous terms under which he’s been living his deluded life, and I thought, ‘Thank Christ for that,’ because as far as I was concerned, it meant things were getting interesting. He was getting interesting; up until that point, I’d really wanted him to disappear and please make it snappy. Chop, chop, little man, time to get off stage. In the end I was pleased he stuck around. Just goes to show. You can’t always judge a book by its beginnings. Sometimes you have to get to know each other first, and sometimes things change dramatically once you do. And what do you know? That idea is actually extraordinarily appropriate to the novel itself. Pretty cluey herself, that Andrea Goldsmith…
Freelance job yesterday, sorry chaps, and by the time I’d drafted my story (not on Shanghai, sadly, just a small Higher Education piece), and finished making a rather-tasty-if-I-do-say-so-myself spaghetti bolognese for dinner, all I really wanted was to curl up on the couch with my book (still Reunion, just over 100 pages to go – more on that anon), particularly as Llew called (yes, called! Your admonishments did the trick!) earlier with the news that he would again be working back (eventually arriving home at 11:15 – talk about getting their pound of flesh!). The truth is, you haven’t missed much. I’ve had no screaming symptoms to speak of, nary a hot flush and certainly not the expected catalogue of horror. If real menopause turns out to be anything like this, I’ll be absolutely delighted. Maybe all the personality defects and mood monsters I thought would be writ large by these drugs are actually being levelled out instead. How unexpected but welcome is my general sense of well-being… I really feel very relaxed. Tra-la-la-la-la-la-la…
Is that the sound of a fast approaching semi-trailer heading this way without brakes?
Perhaps. But so far, so dandy.
The IVF Festival kicked off at 9 pm on Friday after a snippity-snip from Kim at Valonz, followed by a Nasal Inauguration Ceremony with my friend Sophie, the woman behind the divine Mr Rose. We scooted into the Victoria St Spice I Am, both of us nursing a serious hankering for what I call the Spice Spider – something so hot and chilli-infused it feels like a tarantula is creeping up your face and across your skull.Yeah, baby. Ship that shit in. And two ice-cold Singha beers. Stat. It was perfect weather for Thai food – sticky, thick with humidity, everyone glistening and panting and parched in a most sexually charged fashion. On a night like last Friday, everyone in Sydney just slides around looking hungry and vaguely depraved, it’s just fabulous. And in my opinion, there’s no better cuisine in those conditions than Thai, which at its best totally reinvigorates you. At nine o’clock on the dot, my mobile alarm went off, Sophie helped me remove the child safety catch (I am HOPELESS with those things), and I stuck the Synarel up my nostril (right at night!), pumped and inhaled.
Nothing happened, so we ordered more wine.
Had a great night, and then Llewie and I had a lovely weekend in Man Town. Swims were in order first thing (and there was a whale right out front for our trouble), then we took the papers and went and had breakfast at one of the cafes around the corner (can’t remember the last time we did that), before heading down to the Farmers’ Market to stock up on sourdough, meat, fruit and veg. Then we strolled the arts & craft market, where we found a lovely summery silk top for Llew’s mum’s birthday (okay, okay, I admit it: plus a different one at half the price for yours truly…!), before heading home for another swim and then preparations for the birthday barbeque with K and the rest of the family. Very simple, but thanks to everyone’s delicious contributions (including my sister-in-law F’s fabulous Neil Perry flourless chocolate cake – decorated with our Farmers’ Market strawberries – oooooh it was sooooo goooooood, just like Llew’s sister-in-law M’s chocolate brownies, which I cannot, just cannot, stop eating), just perfect. I only had a couple of half glasses of wine, not even; Friday night was my final hoorah, a bit of a line in the sand. And you know what? The moderation didn’t kill me.
Sunday we had swims before breakfast in the courtyard with my sis-in-law, who pronounced our sofa-bed very comfortable. After F headed to the mountains for the day, Llewie headed to the driving range, and I headed into the village. I had a bee in my bonnet about cushions. Yes, cushions. I’d been giving ours the evil eye and I really just wanted them gone. From the moment I saw their replacements last week, I knew they were not long for this world. A little while ago we reupholstered our couch, and the cushions have been quietly irking me ever since. Not right. They were not right. And once I pointed out their wrongness to Llew, he quickly came around to my way of thinking. They had to go. I was burning to replace them before the family arrived late Saturday afternoon, but alas, I ran out of time. Sunday, however, I had but one mission and I was determined not to fail. Perhaps it’s a nesting instinct; certainly the inserts in the new cushions are feather, so I might even be said to be feathering my nest. Whatever the case, the new cushions are PERFECT. And it was very pleasing when Llew walked in on Sunday afternoon and eyed them approvingly.
“When you’re right, you’re right,” he said, and I practically purred before sticking my head back into my book. Llew then changed into workman gear and went on a DIY frenzy around the apartment and exteriors. I didn’t even know it was possible for me to get excited about a new wall-mounted clothesline, but so far this whole IVF process is simply full of surprises.
Gang, I’ve been granted a stay of execution: the agent replied to my email yesterday (though I only got it today after a lovely day away from the computer), along exactly the lines I’d hoped (good news about the shortlisting; she’ll get back to me re. my MS as soon as possible). I’ve also got a much better idea what she meant when she said it would take some time to get back to me – she hasn’t even started the full read, but she hopes to have a response for me by the end of the year. As Llewie said when I told him, crikey. These things really do not happen overnight. So yes, there’s relief here at DoctorDi HQ – I’d convinced myself that I already had an answer, and it was no. Ah, it’s great to be alive and still in with a battling chance.
Speaking of chances, I’m starting IVF today. I went in for a blood test this morning and coughed up the cash – goodbye, zero credit balance, you were so fine and fetching while you lasted – and I’m currently waiting for a call from the clinic to say, “Shove that nasal spray up your ancestral Percy nose and pump.” Nasal spray that flattens out my hormones until I’m in a quasi-menopausal state. Sounds promising, doesn’t it? Especially for Llew. After Maureen the nurse told us what to expect of my moods and side-effects this morning, Llew said, “Mmmm, I think I might go back to Shanghai,” to which I replied, “Actually, I think I will” – after all, no one’s asking him to snort drugs and self-inject hormones, so if anyone’s going back to Shanghai to wait out the clinic-induced crazies, I bloody well think it ought to be me. Hey, the drugs are taking effect already – and I haven’t even started using them yet…
In other news, it’s a scorcher here today, and I am so glad to be a beneficiary of that ocean breeze. Neither Llew nor I could sleep last night (pre-IVF butterflies), so we got up for a swim at about a quarter past six, and an hour later I’d been for a brief run and a second swim (the water temperature, btw, is perfect right now), still enabling me to be downtown at IVF Australia by 9 am. I love the beach. Love it. And while I am usually vile first thing in the morning, this morning was so brilliant I almost felt I was glimpsing another, early-rising me. It was strange but thrilling. I can’t really fault mornings like this one, it was a beauty.
And I can’t really complain about yesterday, either. Sometimes I need a day pass out of the office, and a tax appointment downtown with Llew and our accountant provided the perfect excuse to leave the computer plugged in at home where I couldn’t check email and otherwise obsess about the agent. I continued reading Reunion on the ferry, then strolled into Dymocks. Boo hiss to them, really, because they were one of the big corporate bullies in the parallel importation debate, and it feels a bit like sleeping with the enemy going into a Dymocks store now, but I had my gift card from my birthday and it had to be used. Mission accomplished: I strolled out again with the Australian Writer’s Marketplace, which was finally on the shelf where it was supposed to be. It’s a useful resource for any Australian writer, although I was interested to note several Sydney literary agencies I’m aware of are not listed, so it’s by no means an exhaustive directory.
After the tax appointment and lunch with Llew, I strolled up to the State Library, spying Charlotte et al‘s Brothers and Sisters prominently displayed in the Library store. Thank you very much, I thought, I’ll be having that too. Now laden with three hefty tomes, I felt properly justified retiring to the Mitchell Library for the remainder of the afternoon. I settled into one of the armchairs by the racks of periodicals, read all the fiction in the spring Meanjin, then polished off two of the short stories in B and S: Charlotte’s, because I know her (though really only because she’s pretty tops towards me, a sort of unofficial mentor, if I can even say that), and Michael Sala’s, because he’s an emerging writer. This is surely a terrific break for him, having Like My Father, My Brother included in an anthology alongside work by a short form heavyweight such as dear, dear Robert Drewe, and other disgustingly talented writers like Christos Tsiolkas. Really good on Michael Sala. Reading his story second was sort of my way of congratulating him, and it did not disappoint. I think we can expect a lot more excellent stuff from him.
Charlotte’s The Cricket Palace is such a showcase of her skills that I am so chuffed this book’s out – it’s possibly my favourite piece of her writing that I’ve read so far, although I really wouldn’t want to call it. I both laughed (out loud, shattering the deathly quiet of the library as only my hyena cackle can, and I defy anyone to read about Ruth’s family’s ad hoc podiatry and not do the same) and had to wipe my eyes at story’s end. In fact, first I stared off into the middle distance and slowly replayed it all in my mind, and that’s when tears started dribbling down my face. So big props to Charlotte – way to go, mate! I felt I loved and knew both these women so intimately; no mean feat across 28 taut pages.
After I read Michael Sala’s story, it was time to go, and I ambled through the Botanical Gardens (kicking off my sandals thanks to the invitation at the gates to Please Walk on the Grass – how lovely is that?), then around the Opera House forecourt, pausing for the fascinating Trent Parke photography exhibition by the entrance to the Studio, which documents his twelve months backstage, before buying a gelato cone by the ferry wharf, which I was just polishing off when Llewie arrived. I tell you, I should leave the office more often.
POSTSCRIPT: the clinic called, I’m good to commence treatment, so sit tight and here we go.
My novel-reading habits have changed in the past couple of years, and I think I’m beginning to understand why. Prior to the PhD, all novel reading was simply for pleasure; I’d absolutely include undergraduate reading in this, because if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t read it. I was not a discerning student so much as a slack one. One primary result of reading for pleasure is that it always allowed me, no, encouraged me, to savour each novel one at a time, much in the way one delights in each delicious, different meal (and believe me, a decent sandwich is exciting stuff). But postgraduate study meant becoming an All You Can Eat Buffet-style reader, the sheer volume of required reading – and the limited time with which to absorb it – meaning that I piled things onto my plate in a panic, and then gorged myself, often until I felt quite sick. Sleepy and plagued by heartburn. Bloated and uncomfortably stupefied. Addled.
Now that I write for a living, have worked reviewing novels, and am trying to develop the skills required to write my own for the rest of my life, I find I’m unable to ease back into the simple reading-for-pleasure mode. Don’t get me wrong – reading remains intensely pleasurable – but my brain appears to have rewired itself without permission, so that it now regards the act of reading in more professional terms. The main manifestation of this change is my current ‘multiple read’ strategy. There comes a time in every reader’s life when they look around and think, “I’m running out of time. I’m not getting through all these books fast enough.” It’s a depressing moment; it makes you feel old and tired even if you’re neither, because seconds later you invariably realise – with a nasty shuddery feeling – that you’re never getting through them all. Not possible. Not even if you repaired to bed for the remainder of your days. So what some readers do – and this is certainly what’s happened to me – is start reading several titles simultaneously.
Maybe I’ll fit more in this way…
This is a marked change for me, a real shift in my reading habits. At its worst, it reeks of desperation, and even at its best I’m finding it highly unsatisfactory that it’s taking me longer to get through each novel. I’m still reading my birthday books, and Cate Kennedy’s short story collection Dark Roots, and Andrea Goldsmith’s Reunion (a gift from Darkling Jenny), and as you know I’ve got my beadiest eye fixed on Brothers and Sisters – is it any wonder I only just finished Lilian’s The River Midnight? It’s terrible! I feel like I’ve been reading it for months – a totally unacceptable state of affairs. I think it was finishing The River Midnight that made me realise how haywire my new system makes me feel – it’s just chaos, I tell you, chaos. But when I consider trying to return to those sweet one-book-at-a-time days of old, something catches in my throat and twists. It’s that anxiety of missing out; of Time, that fickle Lothario, rushing off to greet someone else – some other, younger reader – with wide open arms, even as he turns his back on me.
“Time is running out” – what is this but proof of a feckless lover’s desertion?
I think I need another coffee. Hold that thought.
Right. Coffee cup (found in a gorgeous Shanghai ceramics store during one of our day-long rambles, purchased after we were invited to take tea with the owner) refilled and now I must get a grip. Actually, I wanted to tell you something else that occurred to me as I reluctantly closed The River Midnight, having read the entire glossary of terms and the reading group questions (okay, put it down now, it’s really over). Yes, there is great pleasure in drawing out the reading. Definitely. So that’s one thing in my current strategy’s favour. But the other is that this was such a different story for me – life in a Polish shtetl at the end of the nineteenth century – and it made me realise that I’m still just bone lazy. After all these books and all these years, I stand before you, a slacker. A reader staggering stupidly down the path of least resistance.
I look at my shelves, and I see an easy majority of Western contemporary literature. This says something of my tastes, for which I don’t apologise, but it also says something about my lack of application, as it were. One hardly need apply oneself to reading novels reflecting one’s own world. I speak the same language as these books, and while that’s very comfortable and cosy (read complacent), it’s a bit stunted, too. Oh, I’ve got Indian writers, Dominican, Mexican, Nigerian, even Danish writers here, and many others besides, writers whose work I love and am so enriched by, but so much of what I read these days is of my own time, and of my own Western liberal humanist milieu, that reading Lilian’s debut meant I really paid attention in a different way, because there were religious rituals entirely new to me, language I’d never read before, food I’d never heard of, and countryside I’d never seen described. Universal elements abound as in the best stories they always do, and I laughed along with the villagers as they joked and gossiped throughout (how clearly I could hear them!), and yet there’s no question I experienced this old world primarily as something new. This in turn made me realise how little historical fiction I read. Not because I’m not interested – I ate it up, I loved discovering the Blaszka ‘that shines through the stones’ – but because I think I’m too easily distracted, fascinated (an open-mouthed child twisting in her stroller) by the bright baubles and sometimes empty emblems of the present day. What I read, how I live, who I am. I must strive to always keep broadening all three. Thank you, Misha the midwife, Hayim the water carrier, and all the residents of Blaszka (and their loving creator, of course).
1. Waiting for an email response that Is. Not. Coming. Once I got confirmation of the shortlist placing yesterday, I emailed the agent who’s still got the full MS with what I hoped was an enticing little update as well as a subtle reminder of my lowly existence. Ever since I’ve been checking my email account with the dogged obsessiveness of a gambling addict plugging a hostile poker machine. STILL NOTHING. It can’t be good. It just can’t be good. Were it remotely going to be good, wouldn’t she email back and say, ‘Hey, good for you, I’ll get back to you re. your MS ASAP!’ or something equally perky? She would, I wager, if she wanted to. But no. There’s still nothing. And yes, she’s definitely there. Just ignoring me.
2. Waiting for Llew to get home before I eat my dinner. You know, I spend all day by myself as it is, so I kind of like sharing at least one meal a day with someone else, namely Llew. Last night, I sent a text pretty early on saying something like, ‘Should I be planning to eat alone?’ Nothing. That’s usually an unintended hint that the answer is yes. Llew really doesn’t like acknowledging this, so often he just won’t respond, as a warped and completely ineffectual way of delaying the inevitable. But I guess that’s partially my own fault, because even knowing how to read the warning signs, still I persist in playing along. So of course I put in a call at some point last night, and he said he was “leaving in about twenty minutes.” An hour passed. I ate a banana and a fistful of peanuts to stave off my Where-the-Hell’s-My-Dinner hunger pains. Then I called again.
“You were leaving in twenty minutes an hour ago. How does that happen?”
“Sorry. Nearly out the door. I’ll call you when I’m on my way.”
I waited. And waited. And then I just snapped and couldn’t wait anymore. I’d made dinner, there was still no call, so I sat down at the table and ate my dinner alone. Still no call. I was done eating and was reading my book on the couch when my phone finally buzzed. Too late, she cried! It was just after ten o’clock when Llew walked in the door.
“Hello stranger,” he said. “My name’s Llew.”
“Who?” I sniffed.
Wow, someone’s ears must have been burning. Llew just called to say he has to work back tonight. I told him he had a starring role in today’s blog post, since waiting for him is one of my prime Shortcuts to Crazy. I don’t really know how to tackle this increasingly common situation for a number of reasons, but I realise writing this that waiting, in general, is not a state that sits well with me. I don’t like waiting. Waiting makes me feel passive. Powerless. Waiting rarely delivers.
And maybe that’s the lesson I’ve been so unwilling to learn: there’s no point waiting. Waiting is just another name for a waste of time.
Postscipt: Stations of the Blog
So it’s later now, and I’m back from a run. Always very clarifying. I do fear these things I rant about above will just flare periodically, as it’s certainly not the first time I’ve had a dummy spit about being left home alone. It happens sometimes. And as happened just now, then I have a bit of a think about it, and realise – always the same thing, so when oh when will I know it true? – that my contentment is not Llew’s nor anyone else’s responsibility. If I am lonely, then it is up to me to do something about it. Leave the house. Phone a friend. Make some plans. Llew’s not forcing me to sit here alone – no one is. The other thing I forgot to mention before (well, it was chief among the ‘number of reasons’) is that Llew’s working really hard, and I’m sure my whining about eating by myself is simply adding to his load. I’m sure – I absolutely don’t doubt – he listens to me gripe, looks at my set-up, compares it with his own, and then thinks, Fuck you! Why don’t you try this on for size and see how you like it?! And that’s a fair response. I can see that. Frankly I’d think the exact same thing myself.
I just fall into that trap, that’s all. It’s an oldie but a goodie. All I need now is a rolling pin and a copy of Good Housekeeping.
By the way, I finally spoke to Nana this morning. Not that I caught her in her room, oh no, the RN had to track her down. Maybe next time I should take a leaf out of Lady Alzheimer’s book. She still knows a thing or two.
Well, my dears, a high in among recent lows: I got email confirmation this morning that MS #2 was shortlisted in the inaugural Varuna Publisher Fellowships. And a big congratulations to Darkling Jenny, whose latest MS also made the shortlist – nice one, Changeling! Unfortunately only the bastard winners are listed on Varuna’s website (and no doubt they’re all really very nice people), but you can read about the program here. From memory, I submitted 20 pages for consideration; the MS itself is very much an incomplete first draft, currently travelling at about 30,000 words. I guess it does make me feel more optimistic about its chances of one day being a fully realised story. It certainly beats being bitten on the bum.
The current situation is one of sheer neglect: I haven’t touched it in months. All my effort has been focused around redrafting MS #1, although frankly it too has been utterly ignored since my return from the Cottage Pt writing retreat with the Darklings back in mid-September. The rash of freelance work was really well timed, as was the holiday, and it was only yesterday that I turned to Llew and made some noises about starting work on the fiction again. I think I needed the break.
There were a staggering 500 entries in the Varuna Publisher Fellowships. Talk about a tough field! It’s disappointing that #2 didn’t get over the line – boy, that would have been a sweet little pick-me-up – but the shortlist placing is encouraging nonetheless. And I’m genuinely looking forward to getting back to those characters. I think it’s into their world I’m headed, rather than back into MS #1. Right now I’m not sure what else I’ve got to bring to that particular story, so I think that means it’s time to step away. Most of you (and Llew, and the Darklings) feel putting #1 online would be a mistake (thank you for your dissenting opinion, David, I think you really understand where I’m at), so I’m going to listen to your collective wisdom, thank you, and revisit this down the track if and when I conclude it’s lying dead in a ditch from a publication point of view.
In other news, I’ve been feeling a little cramped and crowded in my office recently, so as part of a spring clean (by which I mean trying to reduce the piles of paper in here), I thought I’d try culling some books – something I’ve never, ever attempted before. I was curious to see how I’d fare, so I went through every single one of the hundreds of titles on my shelves, and you’ll be pleased to know I felt able to jettison a full fourteen titles from my collection. Fourteen! Llew peered into the box and said dismissively, “Hmmm, looks like someone got distracted before she really got going…”
No, no, I assured him, I was done. I was even feeling quite proud of myself.
“Why bother?” he said. “You may as well keep these too.”
But I felt lighter and more orderly for the tough decisions I’d made. I felt the significance of shedding those 14 titles in a way Llew would have trouble imagining. It was quite a big deal. A hard ask. And now they’re sitting in a box. Right here by my desk. In my office. Exactly where they belong.
In case you’re all wondering why there’s been a lack of Lady Alzheimer updates recently, Grad’s last comment reminded me to let you all know that, damn it, I’ve tried calling – several times today, and several times this week since we got back from the Happenin’ ‘Hai. The fact is, I can’t ever get Nana in her room these days. No, she’s too busy yucking it up as a lively member of the St Andrew’s Follies to ever be available for a simple phone conversation with her poor forgotten granddaughter – sheesh!! Kate says that whenever she visits and tries sitting Nana down to a caramel tart (because the best way to any of our hearts is straight along the pastry path), Nana’s always craning her neck to see what she’s missing.
“I think I’m supposed to be over there,” she says, gesturing madly in the direction of whatever hijinks are afoot.
Kate has to food bribe her just to get Nana to sit with her for ten minutes. The caramel tarts are especially effective because Nana never thinks she’s had one before.
“This is nice, this thing,” she apparently says. “What is it?”
And then she’ll swivel around in her seat to let Kate know she’s got places to be and people to see. There may be a baleful stare or two thrown in for good measure, the type children who want to play outside tend to give their long suffering mother over the dinner table. Kate regularly updates her photos on Facebook so I can at least see Nana more regularly than I can speak to her. There’s a new photo up and Nana is positively beaming. She just looks so happy. And healthy. So healthy, in fact, that Kate’s had to go out and buy Nana some new clothes – she’s put on enough weight that her clothes are too tight! Fantastic! There she was not so long ago practically off her food – a crisis if ever there was one. Kate and I both nearly cried when she told me. It just means so much to know Nana is not only being well cared for but is genuinely enjoying herself.
She’s never in her room because she really does have much better things to do than sit alone in her room waiting (in that three-second-memory kind of way…) for the phone to ring. This is of course the best case scenario, but, you know, can’t she pick up the bloody phone once in a while?
I’m trying not to worry unduly, but I’m feeling very doubtful that the agency news is going to be good. It feels like it’s taking too long. I wouldn’t think this but for the fact that I know two other writers who are signed to this same agency, and I know the timeline from the request for the full MS to the offer of representation was much tighter than the month I’ve been waiting to hear. In fact, one of them heard back in a couple of days. In fairness (and optimism), the agent who requested my full MS did explicitly say it might take a while to get back to me – but what is a while? I’m not sure, but this certainly feels like a while to me…
I’ve been asking Llew to clear out our P.O. Box downtown for a few days now. It’s on the same street as his office, and en route to the ferry wharf, so it should be a simple enough task. But it’s been getting lost in among Llew’s work pressures, which are back with even greater force than they had before we went away. He’s just got his own stuff to worry about, and I don’t think imagines for a moment how much this is plaguing me. I already know there’s one returned MS waiting for collection; what I want to know is, are there two? Have I not heard anything via email or phone because the MS was returned while I was away? It’s ENTIRELY plausible. And that’s what’s driving me crazy.
On the other hand, I was reading your always heartening words of encouragement today and Tuesday, and it occurred to me that I really do feel pretty fulfilled here at DoctorDi even though ostensibly there’s nothing in it except my writing and your reading. Of course I say ostensibly because in the case of my fellow bloggers, we do have the friendships – curious though they are to people who don’t engage in this way – that have built out of reading each other’s writing. And I know other friends of mine, some in Australia and others overseas, read this blog without commenting or letting me know that they do, and that’s lovely for me too, because it keeps us connected. Writing is and always has been an end in itself for me, the act is a force within me – I really don’t want to compare writing to urinating, but it’s that basic. When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go, and not going is extremely bad for you. Well, that’s writing (and reading, like drinking water is to peeing) for me. So I don’t question whether or not I’d continue doing this even if all of you were to stop reading it, because the fundamental truth is that I would, of course I would, if not here exactly, then in a diary or letter or some other field of the written word.
So it’s an end in itself. Okay. This and recent conversations in the context of something else entirely have made me question why conventional publication is so important to me. It’s always been the Holy Grail: a novel, published by a reputable house with my name on the cover. I have dreamed of such a thing for most of the days of my life. That, I know, is because books really are holy to me, and the articles themselves precious. Properly published novels are the gold standard and they always will be. And yet I’m realising being recognised in this way is slowly sliding down the ranks of significance for me until I’m beginning to wonder if it really matters so much at all. When I read Grad’s comment the other day, and responded that it’s enough for me that she thinks this mystical thing will happen, I realised with a jolt that I really did mean it, which means I don’t need the mystical thing after all. I just need Grad. And the rest of you who find what I do here interesting enough that you come and spend some of your all too precious time with me. Isn’t that, finally, what it’s all about?
So this radical realisation on my own part is making me wonder about whether or not there’s merit in simply posting my MS here for those of you who are interested in reading it. Or uploading it on a ‘fiction for a fiver’ basis, or something like that, because I think Llew would have a total fit, and fair enough, if I simply published three years of work online. This is particularly because of the amount he’s worked to make it possible for me to spend that time writing it. It would be plain disrespectful to say, ‘Oh yeah, I just posted it on my blog, I decided not to worry about that whole publication thing.’ Anything I decide will be in consultation with him. But I’m just wondering. If all I really care about is trying to communicate something in writing that other people might like to read, then why not?
In other news, Australian writers have had a win, and it’s a biggie: the Government has found in favour of retaining parallel importation restrictions – hooray!