A Slow Blink and You’ll Miss it

December 24, 2009 at 5:10 am (Uncategorized)

Definitely a fast year. A week out from the end of 2009, it’s safe to say that one flew right by. Writing Christmas cards this year felt odd, uncanny beyond what’s usual; I kept thinking I remembered writing someone or other’s card already, only to realise that was last year. Maybe it’s because in many ways this year replicated 2008. If last year was the year of hard graft, so was this. If last year was about redrafting the manuscript, so was this. If last year was about trying to get pregnant, so was this. I don’t think I’ve ever had two years resemble each other to so great a degree. Twin years. Let’s not try for triplets.

There are several things I’d hoped for this year that didn’t come to pass, and their stubborn non-arrival made 2009 feel like reliving 2008. I’d hoped to get some kind of traction for MS #1. I’ve done a year’s more work and yet have gone backwards as far as conventional measures are concerned. After starting the year with a shortlist placing, I’ve ended it not making the recent longlist. After starting the year with an agent requesting to see the full MS, I’ve ended it with that same agent having passed on the manuscript twice. Ugh.

But there were many pluses to the year, too. Dr F found and removed my endometriosis. Lady Alzheimer found happiness and appropriate care at St Andrew’s. The Darklings went from strength to strength. Volunteer Reader gave me some tough love. I was asked to be a guest blogger on the Varuna Alumni blog. My freelance career recovered from the hideous lows of the GFC. Llew and I actually managed to have a holiday together – in Shanghai, no less. I started MS #2, and it was shortlisted in its very first foray into the big wide world. I’ve read terrific books, including more Australian fiction in this year alone than probably across the rest of my life combined. I’ve gained new blog friends and celebrated over a year of friendship with others. And to all of you who spend time here at DoctorDi, any time at all, whether you post comments or prefer hiding in the shadows: THANK YOU. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you all make a profound difference to my writing life in particular and my well-being in general. You make working alone far less lonely, you make being rejected far less miserable, and you make spending many hours in a silent room much, much more amusing. Without you, I fear I’d give up, shrivel up and go belly up. I’d have gone dangerously mad by now, so thanks, I owe you more than I can ever repay.

Have a wonderful break, all. I’ll return Monday 4 January – let’s press on, shall we?

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Better Days

December 23, 2009 at 3:13 am (Uncategorized)

Another gorgeous day in paradise… man, I love summer. I had a day on the move yesterday, starting with another blood test at the clinic downtown. Apparently my estrogen levels are galloping along and so they’re keeping my Gonal F doses on the low side (that’s the stuff I’m injecting). I’m just doing as I’m told and trying to stay out of trouble.

I had a good day in several important respects. A couple of weeks ago, I got a text from someone I hadn’t seen in nearly three years saying she missed me. We were friends for a long, long time, since our first year of high school, and then it all went grey and brittle about three years ago, our last contact being mid-2007 when the friendship really ground to a halt. In truth, I have missed her too. I’ve even dreamt about her, quite regularly, and have been anxious to know she’s happy and well. A mutual friend (hello, M!) has been understandably cross having to field occasional queries from both of us regarding the other’s well-being, but as I said to him last time we discussed it, there’s still a difference between wishing someone all the best and being able maintain a friendship with them, and I’m afraid we’d stopped being able to do the latter. Anyway, it was brave to put herself forward like that, and of course I responded, admitting I had missed her too. We arranged to meet. In preparation for this meeting, I tried to do something extremely uncharacteristic, which was avoid over-thinking things. I didn’t want to make it larger or more complicated than it needed to be, I just wanted to see her and enjoy it for the simple pleasure of her company. I took along a small posy of pretty flowers – she had extended an olive branch to me, after all, and I guess this was my gesture in return.

It was really good to see her and know for myself that she’s happy, flourishing, the same beautiful and funny person I still know well. We have a very similar sense of humour, that’s not something that changes, so we immediately reconnected on that basis and opened up from there. I didn’t cry until it was time to go and it was at least partially relief when I did. I don’t think either of us knows what the future holds or whether we can truly repair what broke, but I am really glad to have seen her, and I do hope to see her again.

From there I went to my friend S’s birthday drinks at a groovy little bar called Pocket on Burton St in Darlinghurst. S and her friends had snared pole position between the two main doors, so we were the beneficiaries of the most wonderful cross-breeze, bringing welcome relief after the scorching heat of the day. That was great fun; Llew met me there, and we all had a fine time, the birthday girl especially. Sometimes all I really need is a little bit of fun.

Now, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about books and time is getting away from me – I’ll be having a little break from DoctorDi after tomorrow, and I think my Christmas Eve post will be along the lines Pete suggested – ‘that was the year that was’ – so today’s probably the day for book chat. First, I found We Need to Talk About Kevin simply devastating; Shriver’s writing is terrifying in its acuity. And as I said while reading it, the novel made me flinch. It was uncomfortable reading, unpleasant and shocking, but her workmanship made me want to weep.

Next, I devoured the rest of the stories in Brothers & Sisters. I didn’t much love the very first piece in the collection, but I think that’s bound to happen in any anthology, it’s too much to expect to love every author one reads. But that leaves 11 contributions I really did gobble up, several of whom by authors I was reading for the first time. Of these, I already knew of Tegan Bennett Daylight because she impressed as a panelist (along with Charlotte) at Varuna’s Pathways to Publication seminar in Katoomba last year, and I loved her story of the dumpy, disaffected sister watching her sibling effortlessly take London by storm. Having felt gradually flattened in London myself, I related to the character’s experience very keenly, and very much admired Bennett Daylight’s understated punch. She has an excellent gift for fine detail. I must also mention Robert Drewe’s story Paleface and the Panther. As someone who struggles with the short form, I always feel I have so much to learn from someone like Drewe, who is so masterful over just 15 pages that I can only conclude he is truly in his element. Though I enjoyed his award-winning novel The Drowner, it was with his short story collection The Bodysurfers – a modern Australian classic – that I first developed my hopeless reader crush on the man. This story made my fan love swell. How does he establish place so uncannily well in so few words? He is the consummate showman, by which I mean his stories always show, rather than tell. Delicious. I also re-read Charlotte’s story because she told me she copped a harsh review over the Tasman, and I wanted to try reading it with a critical rather than friendly eye. I’m pleased to report I loved it all over again; the characters are funny and true and Charlotte’s tenderness toward them is the story’s great strength, because it allows the sisters to endear themselves to the reader in such unexpected, memorable ways.

Now I am finishing off the creepy stories making up the back end of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, having shivered and cringed my way through the title story. Is there anything more disturbing than the Other Mother? I honestly doubt it.

I’ve also finished the first draft of a short story of my own, a 3,000 word number I’d been mulling over for some time. Llew’s read it, which makes a nice change (he’s still not read MS #1; 70,000 words seems to defeat him almost on a philosophical level…), and better yet likes it, so I’m going to let it sit for a couple of weeks before redrafting it in mid-January. So there you go – lots of reading and writing going on around here. Life is good.

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Doldrums Alert

December 21, 2009 at 4:06 am (Uncategorized)

I started my self-injections last night. It wasn’t too bad, just a small prick of pain as the needle went in and then a tiny degree of discomfort counting out the ten seconds after the dose. No big deal. No wild mood swings so far today, although I did get emotional on Saturday. I felt lonely, and I felt like I’d been doing all this fertility stuff completely by myself. As I said to Llew, it’s impossible knowing whether it’s the drugs talking or not – because I’m on the drugs, so I can’t say how I’d be feeling were I not – but I was definitely feeling pretty blue. He’s had a lot of Christmas things on – team drinks, work drinks, mates’ drinks, a business dinner, a boys’ lunch – and he’s been working really hard all year so naturally wants and deserves to blow off some steam, but that’s left me frequently alone at a time when I am not only unable to make a raft of alternate arrangements for myself – because I’m supposed to be taking it easy and looking after myself – but when I am feeling especially vulnerable. It’s been a bad combination.

And there’s no question I’m more sensitive to perceived slights at the moment than I would otherwise be; in a much more general sense, I’ve been feeling left out, excluded, overlooked, forgotten… pretty sorry for myself, in other words. By Saturday, I honestly couldn’t remember the last time Llew had even asked me how I was feeling (of course now he’s already called twice today, checking up on me), and I could rattle off a list of people who either haven’t responded to sometimes multiple efforts of mine to keep in touch or who seem unable or unwilling to ever go first. It gets tiring, being that person. And it’s enormously deflating seeing who I hear from when I fall silent; most people don’t say another word until they hear from me again. I like to think that most of the time I manage the juggling act between different friendship groups reasonably well; I put a lot of work into it, at any rate, and I try really hard. But having dropped all the balls – which I have done in recent months, just too exhausted and with my own things to worry about – I feel I’ve sort of been dropped too. So I guess I am taking stock of many things – some of this is rank self-pity, I know that, but some of it isn’t – and reflecting on all my relationships, not just the one I share with Llew.  The funny thing is, I suspect many people feel the same way, and might even describe themselves as the ones who are always making the effort with me, so perhaps this is just the way it goes.

Anyway, in keeping with the general stench of failure attending my own work, one of the other Darklings had a disappointment last week when she didn’t place in a short story competition that shall remain nameless. The winning story left her completely underwhelmed, not to mention depressed about her new piece, so I searched for the winner online and read the story myself. Well, it’s no wonder she wasn’t impressed: it’s not very good. Actually, it’s really quite bad. The precise words I used in my email of commiseration were ‘sentimental, clunky and cliched.’  I’m gobsmacked not only that such a mediocre story could have won but that the Darkling’s clearly superior story could be simultaneously overlooked. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s really, really hard coming to terms with the essentially random rather than meritorious nature of competitions such as this one; we place so much stock in them, and expect judges to be better than fair arbiters of literary worth. But a result such as last week’s exposes this faith as a complete fallacy, and there’s enormous liberation in that.

Sometimes prizes go to undeserving winners. Sometimes a terrible story will beat out a field of great ones. Sometimes a mediocre writer will rise and rise and rise, scrambling over far more talented people, kicking them in the head on their way past. It doesn’t make any sense, but it happens. And so I think the lesson for us, the five Darklings as well as other beginner writers, is to recognise now – and never forget – that these forums, these crushing judgements, do not really succeed as a measure of anyone’s work. They’re simply too flawed and strange and subjective for that. We look to these contests to be something they cannot be, which is the unimpeachable answer to our prayers, a kind of Platonic form, a defining yes or no about whether what we have done has truth and beauty and worth. That’s why they’re so utterly devastating, why it’s so crushing when we don’t get anywhere. But now I think we need to embrace the freedom inherent in the system’s flaws and inadequacies. Sometimes they’re wrong. They don’t need to be wrong all the time, and of course they’re not, and often we don’t get anywhere for no other reason than we don’t deserve to, but because they’re wrong sometimes, just sometimes, well, they lose some of their authority, which makes it easier, I think, for any writer to simply accept the verdict and carry on.

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Question Time

December 18, 2009 at 9:58 am (Uncategorized)

Well, for a one time booze hound, it’s a serious turn up for the books finding myself home alone the Friday night before Christmas, nursing not a frosty glass of champagne but a small plastic container full to the brim of nasal spray. Needless to say, the Synarel is not measuring up. In fact, I feel like flinging it across the room. Oh, I’m sure there was amusement to be found had I only been bothered to search hard enough, but I ultimately decided I didn’t want to look very hard at all. Or, at all. No options presented themselves – and look, I am a girl who likes to invite and be invited in return, I get so tired of chasing people to spend time with me – so I decided to give the Final Push to Find Something to Do a miss. The thing is, I had vino on Wednesday, and we’re going to the Panamaniac’s for dinner tomorrow night, so I feel like that’s probably my Isn’t-IVF-Fun quota and pushing it. Llew, meanwhile, is presently jollying it up at his office Christmas party in the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House. Partners unwelcome. BOOOOOOORING.

Oh God. The new upstairs neighbour (who seems very nice, actually) is playing an electric guitar and screeching out the lyrics to Wild Thing. Just kill me now, and please disregard everything I just said. Not only do I wish I were somewhere else right now, I am in serious need of a drink. A big glass of red wine, not a highball of fucking cordial. Oh good, here comes his guitar solo.

Hey, I’ll tell you what else is boring: a Synarel side effect that’s become a flesh-eating beast. My skin at the moment is just AWFUL. I don’t really recall having any problems with acne as an adolescent, but I have the worst hormonal skin of my life right now. It’s disgusting, and I hate it. It’s making me look hideous and feel a freak. I am, after all, 37 years old. A bit old for this sort of thing, frankly. It’s all along my chin-line and neck, and when I run my hands across my skin, I want to scream and/or cry. I’m being SO GOOD, sleeping and eating and exercising well, and sitting at home listening to amateur electric guitar instead of going out partying, and this just doesn’t seem fair.

(Please stop tapping your foot in time… it’s not, you know… in time. I think there has to be two of them up there. This surely can’t be the work of just the one talentless musician.)

And while we’re on the joys of IVF, I might add that I had a really alarming conversation with some of the book club girls on Wednesday night, when we met not for book club but for Christmas catch ups. After listening to all the mother and child chat, I eventually said, because I’m really keen for reassurance at the moment that putting myself through all this shit is a good and not plain terrible idea, “But it’s all worth it, right?” to the three women sitting up my end of the table. One clearly hesitated. The other two froze, then one of them nodded sagely. I narrowed my eyes at the first one and said, “You hesitated.”

And after all the expected disclaimers about how much she wouldn’t change a thing and how much she loves her kids and so on, she very candidly admitted to sometimes reflecting how different and in some ways better her life would be if she’d never had children or, for that matter, a husband. Selfishly, she said, things would be a lot easier. She also said something along the lines of make no mistake, have children and my independent self, my independent life, that identity which I have known and owned for 37 years, well, that self would be gone.

A chill crept over me. I began feeling fearful and resistant. I like my life, and I like myself. I don’t want to give up either. Must I give up both? Is that what parenthood means? Panicked, I started looking them up and down, the ones left anyway, the ones who hadn’t already flaked after one glass of wine and peeled off to go home to their families. I looked closely at the remaining women, looking for that shadow self, the lost self screaming inside. Briefly, I felt like running away. Meanwhile they were all nodding, starting to admit dirty secrets of their own, these precious, forbidden doubts and resentments – these truths – that women so often hide from each other. The sick feeling transformed into a kind of awe: I felt so privileged, truly honoured to have them speak the godawful truth to me, the kind of truth that doesn’t flatter and is rarely conceded at all. The kind of truth that usually comes swaddled in a palatable lie.

It was gutsy. I was by this stage officially terrified by the prospect of having a child, but more than anything in that moment I loved her, and loved the others, for respecting me, themselves and each other enough to answer the goddamn question.

This they did, to the very best of their ability, and you know, it made me proud to be a woman. Did it make me want to be a mother? Well, I find it impossible anticipating unknowns, so I honestly don’t know what that means for me as someone who isn’t a mother. It’s like asking if I’d rather be a man. Huh? How should I know? If ever I’ve wondered about something before, like, say, diving, I’ve been able to explore it, actualise it, make it a known thing on which I base my decision. The obvious difficulty with motherhood is that you can’t just quit if you decide it’s not for you after all. Sorry, this is a bad fit for me, and I don’t think our arrangement is working out. I don’t like it. It simply doesn’t work that way – tough luck, momma! –  which makes having a child a massive gamble. I’m not a gambler, so that level of risk makes me deeply uneasy.

Equally, my friend would, in fact, be living a different life if she had neither husband nor children, which means it’s very hard, in my view, to give this comparison a measurable value. I believe the fundamental truth is that there is only one way to find out. It’s easy and tempting to stare longingly down every other road but the one actually travelled and think they all look a treat, but… well, try walking down one, because I bet the usual frustrations and disappointments will barrel down the path soon enough and knock you into that horrible jungle of poison ivy. That’s just life. It’s itchy.

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Lunch Date

December 17, 2009 at 5:15 am (Uncategorized)

I had my freelance writer friends over for lunch yesterday; we’re the Christmas Party refugees of the publishing world, no office soiree for the sole trader, and so we’ve taken matters into our own hands. Ms. Food arrived bearing homemade fudge, bubbly, biscuits and dip, while 6 foot Ms. Travel swished through the door looking very va va voom in a fishtail dress, promptly disappearing into my kitchen to assemble a Banoffee (as in banana and toffee) pie, an English dessert suddenly doing the rounds of Sydney.

“I don’t understand how it can be English,” she mused, diligently soldering condensed milk to the bottom of my saucepan. “It’s hardly the banana capital of the world.”

“Maybe it’s the Jamaicans,” I suggested. “Plenty of bananas in Jamaica, and plenty of Jamaicans in the UK.”

“Hmmm…” Ms Travel said, her brow furrowing in concentration as she ground Oreo cookies using the mortar and pestle.

Then my Man Town writer friend L arrived, also looking very snazzy in the tres chic trousers she picked up during her recent Parisian trip. She was packing bubbles and Belgian chocolate – come right in! I introduced L to Ms F and T (or Fun and Trouble, if you will) – and Ms F and T to each other, come to think of it – this time last year, and we’ve all been catching up since. L, as you may recall, is the writer I tracked down after the Sydney Writers’ Festival workshop debacle.

“I told another friend I was catching up with my stalker today,” L said, settling into the courtyard. “And she said, ‘L, you’re just too good to people, that’s your problem, you’re even kind to the weirdos.'”

“I’m so glad I stalked you,” I said, filling her glass.

“Me too,” she said. “You’re much better than my last stalker!”

Last but not least we had a man in the mix, a very old, dear friend of mine, the one and only Panamaniac, who has relocated here from Panama via Washington DC. The Panamaniac used to edit the business section of La Prensa before accepting a diplomatic posting in DC; now life has brought him to Sydney and Man Town seemingly for our express benefit; Llew and I are thrilled. I’ve known the Panamaniac since 1989; we met at college in Canada and yes, he has seen me with a perm.

So we were five. Five very happy campers, plus one roundly derided Christmas tree that didn’t meet with Canadian L’s approval. In fact, she even took a photo of our Christmas tree so that she might better mock it later at home with her family. This from a woman whose last tree was the cat’s scratching post with a Texta tree drawn down the side. I mean, the nerve!

Anyway, tree ridicule aside (it’s real, and it’s very nice, and it’s not our fault the North Americans go completely over the top with those ceiling scrapers and fire hazards – this is Australia!), in case you’re wondering I made Jamie Oliver’s fish pie using snapper fillets, served with a monstrous green salad and sour dough. It’s surprisingly rich, but very tasty. After we finished all the bubbles, I cracked a French chablis because, well, it’s Christmas. It was bloody good, too. As was the Banoffee pie. All told, lunch was a five hour affair, and I’d like to see any office do it better, because these freelancers are doing it for themselves.

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December 15, 2009 at 5:34 am (Uncategorized)

Something else happened on the weekend that I forgot to mention yesterday. Something that made the latest rejection of MS #1 look trivial at best.

We went for a run Saturday morning; Llew hasn’t been pounding the pavement much in recent months thanks to long hours in the office, so it wasn’t long before I’d pulled ahead. As I reached the south end of the beach, I saw a crowd gathered along the promenade outside the Man Town SLSC, gawking at something on the sand. I glanced across and saw what looked like a demonstration. There was a camera and boom, too, a film crew, so I just dismissed it as a training exercise, a simulation for the benefit of the cameras and the endless dirge of reality TV. In among all the lifesavers and life guards gathered in a circle, a pair of legs was visible, sticking out toward the surf just like the stockinged feet of the Wicked Witch of the East after she’s unceremoniously flattened by Dorothy’s house. They were a man’s legs, but slim, tanned, and I assumed they belonged to a lifesaver who’d volunteered to be “revived.” I kept running.

Turning around at Shelley Beach, I was surprised Llew was nowhere in sight. There’s usually no more than a couple of hundred metres between us, but this time he lagged well behind. When we finally crossed paths, he stopped and said, “Did you see that poor guy?”

“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t think it was real. There’s a camera there, right in his face.”

“It’s real,” Llew said glumly. “And it doesn’t look good. Poor bastard.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I think they pulled him out of the water.”

“But I saw his legs,” I said, still struggling to compute. “His legs looked young!”

“Well, he’s grey,” Llew said. “Grey hair, balding.”

“How awful! That’s terrible – there’s all these people standing around watching!”

“I know.”

We looked at each other.

“Petty things don’t matter,” I found myself saying.

Llew shook his head.

“I love you,” he  said.

“I love you too.”

And we kissed, just briefly. I reached out to touch him before we went in opposite directions: be safe, my love.

When I came around the bend, I saw things had changed on the beach, and not for the better. An ambulance had arrived, and now the lifesavers were shielding the man not only with their bodies but with what looked like a plaid picnic blanket. The crowd had grown. The snout-like boom was still snuffling into the shot. I slowed down, partly to avoid colliding with any of the onlookers, but partly too because bouncing by while a man was being given mouth-to-mouth just seemed beyond crass. It didn’t seem right to stop, and it didn’t seem right to continue merrily on my way. More curious still, I had a sudden, intense urge to make the sign of the cross. I caught myself, caught the instinct, and started wondering about it as I slowly made my way around the front of the club, past all the people. Instead my hand crept up to cover the round O of my open mouth – an entirely inadequate replacement gesture, almost rehearsed, signifying none of what I wanted to send the universe’s way.

Be well, stranger. Breathe.

That is all I wanted to convey, simply the hope that this man’s life would be spared. But I had no invocation, no mark of respect, no ritual, and no right to pray to a god in whom I do not believe. My arms dangled; I was instantly clumsy and self-conscious. Where the urge had been spontaneous, resisting it caused all manner of creaky posturing. And all this happened in a second, the time it takes a lifeguard to pump a single breath into a still and silent heart.

Further along the beach, out of sight of the rescue effort, children squealed, couples held hands, day-trippers paused to take photos of the waves, while just a little way down the sand a man’s life was ebbing away. The message was part obscenity, part salvation: life goes on. A second ambulance came screaming down the street and people turned, a little dumbfounded, to watch as it passed.

I listened to my breathing. I willed the man to resume his own. I ran on.

By the time Llew passed the scene on his own return lap, it looked like they’d succeeded in finding a pulse. Finding? More like pounding; by this time they must have been performing CPR for at least twenty minutes. Llew said the ambos had the man on a gurney, but he was still unconscious and clearly wasn’t in great shape. Grey hair, and now grey skin too.

I wish – how I wish – I could tell you he lived. But he didn’t.

Alive. I am alive, and being alive makes me feel lucky. Writing makes me feel lucky too. Lucky, and alive.

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Packing Up the Violin

December 14, 2009 at 7:40 am (Uncategorized)

Sulk’s over…As I confessed to Charlotte earlier today, I know perfectly well that staring at the long list won’t change it; trust me, I’ve already tried! Nope, the combined letters stubbornly refuse to transform into a happier tale, there’ll be no magical reassemblage of data into an order that suits, and although I can’t change the result (would that I could), I do know there are ten very excited writers out there who are no doubt still celebrating their own name’s appearance on that list. I do wish them well.

No tears have been shed – I seem to have toughened up a little on the rejection front – but I do feel really disappointed. I hadn’t hoped for more than a spot on the long list, but I admit I did dare hope for that. I know we’ve discussed this before (because there’s so much opportunity), but it remains a strange and difficult thing, trying to be both optimistic and brutally realistic. I have to believe that I can do it and yet in the same breath accept that perhaps I can’t – it’s a bugger.  And bombing out completely unlisted is such a deflating end to the year – another year of such hard work it scarcely seems possible to have it dismissed so decisively. Oh, but of course there’s one more kick in the teeth still to come: the agency’s verdict. Goodie! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it just really feels like I’m on another rejection [not-so-]merry-go-round, and I don’t think the news is going to be good. So I just wish they’d hurry up and SAY IT. Can’t they just SAY IT and have it done?

Enough of that. For now I’m sidelining MS #1 myself. It can just languish in the naughty corner until I’m good and ready. Instead I’ve added 1,300 words to my short story draft today, and once it’s done, I’m just going to press on with MS #2. At some point in 2010, I’ll get another MS assessment done for you-know-what, but until then we’re going to have some time apart. I’d hoped this separation would be in happier circumstances, but sometimes in life, a rogue fruit bat will take a steaming fig-infested shit right down your glass bi-fold doors, and there’s sweet fuck all you can do about it except get down on your hands and knees and start scraping.

In other news, Llewie and I had an excellent fifth wedding anniversary. He took Friday off work to surprise me, so we went out to our favourite local restaurant Jah Bar for dinner Thursday night, then awoke late to a perfect day which culminated in a wonderful dinner at Yoshii with the wedding party (being the two of us, the best man, his wife, and my bridesmaid). The weekend was a happy blur of running, swimming, eating, drinking, catching up with friends and chatting by candlelight with my beloved, so really, in all the ways that matter, I truly did win, and you certainly won’t find me complaining about that.

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Talk About a Broken Record…

December 10, 2009 at 6:38 am (Uncategorized)

This is getting SOOO OLD – I just got an email naming the longlist of ten in the inaugural CAL Scribe prize (for an unpublished manuscript by an author over 35) and MS #1 is *not* on it. The subject line of the email built an awful false hope, saying simply ‘CAL Scribe Fiction Prize Longlist’ – couldn’t they have said Announcing?! Something, anything to avoid that subtle suggestion that I might have been receiving the email because I was actually on the list?! These things are so easily misconstrued by the desperate and hopeful! Anyway, my name isn’t there. Show’s over. Nothing more to see. Thanks for coming.


At least I’ve had a good couple of weeks working on MS #2, and at least I’ve spent the afternoon starting a short story I’ve been mulling over for a while. And at least it’s our wedding anniversary tomorrow, and at least Llewie loves me.

See you next week – I may have a brief sulk between now and then.

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December 8, 2009 at 11:54 pm (Uncategorized)

Before you say anything, yes, I do know entirely how neglectful I have been for the past two days. And I am sorry, I just seem to be running out of stamina. I suppose one thing Shanghai really wasn’t that Llewie and I both needed it to be was restful. We really didn’t have a break, we were far too busy having it large and loud, and I can feel in the bone exhaustion of my present state that I do still genuinely require one. Of course, this level of fatigue also feels almost entirely synthetic – it’s the IVF nasal spray or I’m a monkey’s uncle.

The IVF update is that because my body refused to cooperate in time, levels shooting off in all directions at very inconvenient times, I was heading toward an egg collection date of…. yes, you can see what’s coming, can’t you… 25 December. When no one will be there. Yes, my body perversely locked onto IVF Australia’s annual break and would not let go. It seems all it wanted for Christmas was egg extraction. Now everything has to be pushed back because the vast team of people required to get this party started have failed to volunteer sacrificing their Christmas holidays for me. I know – they’re just so selfish. Instead, I have to keep snorting Synarel and won’t start injecting until 20 December, which by my calculations means I won’t be going under for the egg hunt until the New Year.

Talk about anticlimactic – and there are too many puns there to bear examination.

I have unearthed a few sneaky side effects, though. Nothing big, aside from the dead weight exhaustion. It’s just little things like, say, my hair falling out. As well as doubting aloud that I’ll ever be able to “cope” with any given travel destination (my being a travel writer and wildly enthusiastic traveller having zero impact on this opinion), my MIL has a funny habit – my own mother used to do this constantly too, and I so wonder from where it stems – of suggesting a full complement of ailments that might be ravaging my system at any given time, and helpfully suggested hair loss could well mean a thyroid problem. Perhaps I should get that checked out? Have they checked my thyroid? Yes, K. They’ve checked me for everything. K looked me up and down like she found that idea highly unlikely, so I don’t think I’ll mention that the hair loss has really picked up the pace since.

Now, I know there’s nothing wrong with my thyroid not only because I’ve had about eighty blood tests in the past year, but because I enjoy excellent health and always have done (with that one exception of paratyphoid A courtesy of a honeymoon in India – not something that was wrong with me per se, rather something that got into me from the outside and made me sick). In the information pamphlet I was given on Synarel, hair loss is listed in black and white as a possible side effect, and I know that’s why it’s happening. Same with the dry skin (and boy, don’t I look a hundred right now). One thing it doesn’t mention, though, is this insatiable sweet tooth. Look, I am generally a savoury head, and even with my sweet things, I prefer a tartness, like the bitter edge to 70% Lindt. I adore citrus probably above all other flavours (especially when it’s lemon mixed with parmesan). So I’m not what you would officially call a sweet tooth. I could happily never eat chocolate again. Ice cream preferably has nuts in it. Give me a cheese plate over a dessert dish any day. And yet at the moment, I am craving sugar like a junkie. Fruit helps, so I ate a bowl of cherries yesterday instead of going to the shop for sweets. But Monday? I was out of control. Devoured six of those ginger snaps, demolished a large hunk of baklava, and then hoovered a quarter of a tub of ice cream. If there’d been any chocolate in the house, I would’ve eaten that too. At some point, I caught myself shovelling sugar and thought, “Whoah, Bessie… what’s going on?” And in casting my mind back, I saw that the Cookie Monster first took up residence and started treating my body as host when I started the drugs. Interesting. By the time this is over I’ll either have diabetes or a new wardrobe.

Roll on 2010.

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December 4, 2009 at 12:51 am (Uncategorized)

I’m in a mildly agitated state because I feel slightly scatterbrained. Lots of different things are screaming for attention and wanting to make it into today’s post and there’s a mental clamour that makes me feel a bit pooped even though it’s not yet 11 o’clock in the morning. Good thing I’ve had four ginger cookies to fortify myself. And these are excellent cookies, purchased in a big tin I daresay I will empty unaided in the coming weeks. I found them at the Scandinavian store in Man Town the day I went after and lassoed my couch cushions. They’re soooo tasty; spiced instead of sweet, light and thin instead of thick and doughy (though ordinarily I say give me chewy cookies over hard biscuits ANY DAY – I make an exception for these). The tin is seasonally red and quite festive, and if I can decipher that Viking font correctly, they’re called ‘Nyakers Pepparkakor’ – damn fine ginger snaps could well be the literal translation. I find them soothing. Might have two more.

One of the things I wanted to tell you is that it’s Lady Alzheimer’s 86th birthday today, and by phoning at 7:30 am, I succeeded in catching her in her room – mid-ablutions,  according to the staff member who answered the phone (when she came to the phone, Nana more cryptically suggested she was “having some thing done,” the combined information instantly conjuring the more regrettable, er, end of the image spectrum). Well, wasn’t the birthday girl bright as a button? She was very jolly, and pretty lucid. Note to self: call early before her brain gets tired and starts playing silly buggers.

“How old am I?” she wanted to know.

“86,” I said.


Suddenly I doubted myself.

“Well, what year were you born?”

Pause. And then a giggle.

“Oh, I don’t remember!”

“I’m pretty sure it was 1923.”

“Oh,” she said, pleased, recognising the year, “I think you might be right!”

“Well, in that case you are 86 today.”

“It doesn’t seem right somehow,” she said dreamily.

“I think perhaps it’s because you’re now older than Granddad lived to be.”

“Am I?”

“Yes,” I said, wanting to kick myself. What a  stupid, thoughtless thing to say! Sometimes she doesn’t remember that Granddad – although the first of four husbands, he and Nana remained friends, and when both were widowed became twilight sweeties – has died. But on I ploughed, like a runaway train. “Granddad died at 83, two months before his 84th birthday.”

There was another pause, and then Nana said throatily, “Dear Keith.”

My turn to choke up.

“Dear Granddad,” I managed at last.

We kept chatting.

“How’s Llewie?” Nana asked for the second time. No memory problems on that front; she may not recall my answer to the original enquiry only moments before, but she sure does know who she wants to know about!

Anyway, all’s good on that front. Nana said again how lovely everyone is at St Andrew’s, how often Kate and the kids visit, how there’s a nice gentleman whom she considered but ultimately declined because she didn’t feel like getting into anything, supposing she’s too old for that kind of thing.

“That’s not the sort of attitude I want from the birthday girl,” I protested.

Nana laughed.

“That’s true,” she said, “but I do suit myself. I am able to suit myself.”

“Well, I’m hardly going to complain about that. I hope you didn’t break his heart. Are you still friends?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “I still wave to him and he waves to me. I can see his room from my room. It’s just over on the other side. Everyone here is very nice.”

“It feels funny not seeing you on your birthday,” I admitted. “We spent the last seven of them together.”

“That’s true,” she said. “We always went out for lunch, didn’t we?”

“We did.”

After this round of IVF is over, I’m just going to have to get up there to visit her. I know just what to do, too: take her out for lunch.

Other things quickly now:

* I knocked over The Loved One, one of my birthday books, in record time, not simply because it’s such a slim volume but because it’s a riot. Some of the best lines of satire ever. Highly recommended.

* I’m now reading Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, perhaps a peculiar choice given the current fertility battle, but the writing is so compelling I find I can’t help myself, and there’s a pretty massive distinction between fiction and my own lived experience. All I’ll say for now is wow, that lady can write.

* I’m also reading another of my birthday books, Stephen Fry in America, which is an excellent dip-in-dip-out diversion that mainly makes me jealous of his trip. It resembles to a large degree a journey I have long imagined undertaking myself, and it would be really nice if someone would give me cash and crew so that I might begin it. Thanks.

* I was talking to a friend about his two (really cool, smart and funny) kids the other day, and I asked what his son was reading, because the last time we were at their place for dinner (his wife is Italian and a fantastic cook), O was reading His Dark Materials, the Pullman trilogy. He’s 12 years old, an avid reader, and it reminded me of all the really difficult books I read at his age, novels I should reread simply because of all I must have missed first time round. Anyway, that got his father and me onto the subject of their local library, and how great the kids think it is, and I had this full-body-heart-and-mind flashback to a particular library of my childhood.

Oh, my refuge.

Sometimes I think libraries saved my life.

But the other thing that occurred to me while talking to my friend, whose young daughter happily skips out of the library with upwards of twenty books at a time swinging in her book bag, was how utterly empowering libraries are for children. You have no money, and therefore no real capacity to acquire things independently, and very little choice in terms of the rest of your life: what you study, what you eat, what time you go to bed, what clothes you wear, what sports you play, what instruments you learn, and even which children you play with is all largely restricted by decisions your parents make for you. So imagine – remember – the magical revelation of being able to borrow books from the library. To take them from the shelf, to build a small kingdom of longing, and to clutch the stack en route to the loans desk. To stand on tiptoes and push the lovely load toward the always impressed librarian.

“Are these all for you? My, my, you must be quite a reader!”

Oh dear, I’ve just burst into tears!! And now I’m laughing at myself, but still tearing up, too, oh, I know I’m silly, but I’m also serious, because this experience – of choosing my books, and waltzing them out the library door during those days and years when I can honestly say I had not one more thing to look forward to, especially not waiting for me at home – was just like magic. And I still believe.

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