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!