Coming Up Swinging

May 12, 2010 at 2:17 am (Uncategorized)

You wouldn’t know it given the absence of a post, but I had a productive day yesterday. It started at sunrise, with a brisk walk and even brisker swim with my friend T, and I must say, it is astonishing what a few extra hours in the day will achieve. More meals, for one thing: get me up at that hour and I expect a few extra snacks to help me stay upright. Yesterday’s early bird treat was a piping hot proper Belgian waffle from my favourite local café, Barefoot. The real thing, you see, is round, even oval, but definitely not rectangular, and more to the point, the American-style waffle is composed of something completely inferior to the delectable dough responsible for the Belgian variety. Frankly, there is no comparison.

I had my first Belgian waffle in Brussels (1999), and I’ll never forget it. First that intoxicating aroma, wafting up the street cartoon-style. Thus infected, my travel buddy S and I joined the street stall’s queue and were soon enough rewarded with our own miraculous morsels of doughy, caramelised perfection. Look, I’m a savoury girl if we’re wearing badges, but Belgian waffles will turn a girl to sugar in seconds. They’re delicious. They’re just s-o-o-o good. They were the foodie discovery of our entire backpacking trip, although that could be because our rapidly diminishing budget of Australian dollars (‘No, please, do set my savings on fire, I insist’) meant a subsistence diet made up almost entirely of Laughing Cow and baguette. Sigh. Anyway, imagine my surprise and delight when years later, back in Sydney, these same waffles turned up to claim their rightful title, stripping the American-style waffle of all credibility and kudos. The bells rang out: there would be Belgian waffles throughout the land! Or, um, at least in Man Town and some select weekend market stalls across Sydney. But enough for my purposes, certainly: there are two weekday vendors walking distance from my apartment, with a third on the weekend. Belgian bliss.

I do get easily distracted by food, don’t I? I had no intention of waffling about waffles today, and yet…

Anyway, because I was walked, watered and well fed by about 7 am yesterday, I finished reading The Essence of the Thing before my workaday started at nine. I ended up feeling slightly flummoxed as to what my friend S was talking about, in drawing a comparison between St John’s writing and my own, so I sent her this text:

Hi honey – finished that book this morning – enjoyed it, thanks, and am completely intrigued that it reminded you so strongly of my MS… I wonder if you would think so now?! But that perception is really interesting regardless…More food for thought! Xx

Her response was a complete surprise to me, for reasons I’ll explain below:

Hi Di, yes I realise that now. I think it was just when I started reading it, with the initial breakup of the relationship it reminded me of when I first started reading yours, which has obviously changed a lot now. But I guess I just didn’t really enjoy the style of The Essence of the Thing and could not believe it was shortlisted for a prize, when I enjoyed the style of your writing so much more. Much sharper, wittier and insightful… that The Essence just annoyed me.

Cue warm fuzzy feelings, which lately have been very thin on the beaten path of this unpublished author’s low-budget journey. A yellow brick road this ain’t. The truth is, I’ve been in a pretty serious morale slump about my writing, so just reading those favourable adjectives from S was such a boost.

I couldn’t care less if she only said it because she’s a good friend – I still really badly needed to hear it. It’s H-A-R-D keeping going in the face of repeated failure – everyone needs oranges at halftime. At least, I do. But what struck me was how differently I’d interpreted what she said on Saturday, so I wrote back (after a slobbering thank you for scraping me off the side of the road and winding me up again):

You know, I took away something completely from this on Sat – really reveals how demoralised I am at the moment!!

To which S replied:

You prob thought that I thought the book was bad and your MS was worse??! Wrong wrong wrong. There might be lots of reasons, the frustration of the MS not the least of them, but don’t forget how full on the pregnancy hormones can be.

See? She’s a good friend. But yes, she hit the nail on the head; that about covered it, only I’d add that I also thought it meant my MS was condemned to be derivative and tired. Yep, whipped. As a writer whose fiction has to date ended up precisely nowhere , I now realise that all the negative reinforcement has casually set up camp as the default position. I can see why people find those dark holes of depression desperately hard to climb out of, because the walls of the well are really slimy. If the majority of received messages are swift kicks to the face, well, it doesn’t take too long before your nose starts bleeding.

What S did for me, in other words, was fetch some ice and hand me some tissues, and now I’m going to try to get back on track. Giddy up. That started yesterday, when I redrafted a short story (this is the only short story of mine I don’t think an abomination, but lo and behold, it bombed too) and continued preparing my application for the Penguin Varuna Scholarship. Now pass me an orange slice, please, and tally ho!

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17 Comments

  1. charlotteotter said,

    If your novel is half as funny as this post, I’m buying. Your friend S is right, you are witty and incisive.

    Also, wouldn’t ‘Oranges at Halftime’ make a great title?

    • doctordi said,

      Charlotte, it really WOULD – surely someone has already used it??? It’s a fab title – I hadn’t even thought of that, but you are spot on!

      Thanks, sweetheart. Excuse me, I’m just going to roll around in these compliments for a minute before sewing them together into jockey silks… then I might be able to get back on this nag…

  2. Norwichrocks said,

    Firstly, I’m going to be in Man-town on Sunday for the annual Scuba Dive treasure hunt at Shelly Beach and I would LOVE to have a proper waffle with you (in both senses of the word). You around?

    Secondly, way to go friend S for her honest and usefully-timed feedback on the MS.

    And as for the walls of depression wells being slimy and steep – they are usually topped by figures hosing them down, too. On closer inspection, those figures invariably turn out to have one’s own features… go figure.

  3. doctordi said,

    Ooooooh, tricky: we have imposed a blanket ban on socialising Sundays, because we’re just wrecked and not spending enough time together, but I would LOVE that, so will email you re. times and numbers etc and see if we can’t sneak it in somehow.

    Yes, S is a godsend in many respects.

    Oddly, now I’m seeing hose-wielding Oompa Loompas crowding around the mouth of the well…

  4. Pete said,

    I loved the description of that waffle scent wafting up the street cartoon-style. And your writing definitely rocks so I’m glad you got such positive feedback from your friend. Best of luck with the Varuna stuff. Oh, and let us know how the meet-up with Norwichrocks goes too.

  5. Grad said,

    I wish I was going to be in Man Town knoshing on one of those Belgian waffle thing-ys. But I might as well ask for two waffles and then plaster them straight onto my thighs, because that’s where they would end up. And, friends are just the best things of all, aren’t they?

    • doctordi said,

      Friends really do make the sun rise, agreed.

      I wish you were going to be in Man Town too!! Although yeah, I don’t think I should make them a daily event myself. Tempting, but no.

  6. Fugitive Pieces said,

    Every one needs an S in their life. I demand that mine be issued immediately, although my existing friends are doing a sterling job preventing me from sliding into the abyss. If possible, I would like the deluxe S model, the one that also proof-reads, as nothing I’ve written ANYWHERE has been typo-free in, ooh, 2 months? (I look forward to discovering how I’ve screwed up this comment.)
    And one of my favourite bloggers is called Belgian Waffle. Despite this regular verbal cue, I’ve never eaten one. Excellent: I now have a mission – one that doesn’t require me to be able to string a sentence together, merely to follow the waft of batter.

    • doctordi said,

      Fugitive, am I to understand from this that you are at RISK of sliding into the abyss?? We absolutely can’t have that!! Oh yes, S is a deluxe model – she was a great critical reader for me in the very earliest drafts. I agree we should pump out little S models on a factory line – she’s conveniently pocket-sized, too, so wonderfully portable.

      HOW can this be? Never? They sell them at Max Brenner, for starters. I forego the chocolate because I’m a waffle purist, but just reheated they’re the ticket in a pinch, although I prefer Barefoot because they’re cooked to order, as they should be.

  7. litlove said,

    Oh boy, aren’t those moments of positive feedback just the best? Your writing is always excellent, Di; it’s only you who doesn’t know that.

    • doctordi said,

      Aw, thanks, LL. But yes, that just sounds really foreign and weird to me, although I am very glad you think so. I really needed the positive feedback I think especially on the fiction front, which is just not going anywhere. It’s been tough going – I actually want to find a paid mentor situation because I need the kind of professional ongoing critique that’s just impossible to access as an unrepresented, unpublished unknown.

  8. Lilian Nattel said,

    I’m so glad that your friend gave you the cheering up you need and deserve. Anytime you need such, just send me an email and I will be glad to oblige.

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks SO much, Lilian – I really may call in that favour one day, you know!!! Sometimes the whole endeavour feels – and therefore I feel – hopeless, which is a truly horrible feeling. Anyway, I have to finish this latest draft, which is taking ages in part because my morale has been so low. I have to put that to one side now and just get back to the work. Big breath..

  9. davidrochester said,

    There’s a local restaurant here that makes Belgian waffles, after the owner went to Belgium a couple of years ago and became enchanted by them. In fact, he now has a “waffle window” out the back of the restaurant, for passersby.

    Everyone needs a good honest supportive reader — glad yours came along at that crucial moment. 🙂

  10. doctordi said,

    David, I *love* the waffle window! That’s just the way it should be. Who could resist that walking by?!

    Boy, ain’t that the truth. Sometimes you don’t even realise how badly you need it until it arrives and you almost collapse with gratitude. I’d really been on the skids.

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