It’s officially the last day of winter – zippity do da! Oh, happy day. As of tomorrow, it’s Sydney in the springtime once more – just the thought of those longer, warmer days lifts my mood. Not that there’s anything wrong with my mood – I slept through from midnight to 6:30 this morning without a single toilet trip or unexplained awakening. For the third night in a row, no less. So that’s enough to put the spring in my step even without the change of season.
It probably helped that I went to bed absolutely shattered. I’m on deadline for the Varuna News, and I’ve also had some more freelance work come in (Hallelujah – apparently foaming at the mouth about the subbing disaster has done no lasting damage). Then there’s my professional driving lessons – I had the first last week, and yesterday’s was two hours long. Two hours! No wonder I needed a little treat afterwards. And I have another one on Thursday morning, just after I file to my editor.
Driving lessons are expensive. As an older learner, it turns out I’m exempt from keeping the logbook – as of last December, that’s only for learner drivers under the age of 25 – but I really, really feel for all those parents out there. Not only is their teenaged child – and just imagine you have three in the house – now required to complete 120 hours of supervised driving before they can go for their provisional licence, but parents are also digging pretty deep if they’re paying for some lessons too (and professional assistance makes sense for a number of reasons, not least being that 10 professional hours of tuition equals 30 logbook hours). I’m on a 5-hour “deal” that cost $330. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty steep. There’s a test preparation lesson I’ll probably do in another month or so, and that’s another couple of hundred right there. And is it worth it? Well, I have mixed feelings so far.
It’s been awesome for parking instruction. This guy has a formula for parallel parking that is unbeatable. If only I could remember it. But still, it’s foolproof. He has the formula pasted to his dashboard, and I’m going to do the same thing in the Welsh Dragon. Perfect parks, every time. And the same with reverse parking, although I only did that between two parked cars for the first time yesterday, and I need to practise more. That’s all quite nifty – and well worth the lessons. But $66 an hour…? You know, I’m not remotely convinced yesterday’s lesson was worth $132. I drove around the neighbourhood and surrounding suburbs for a while, did some three point turns down a side street, reverse parked in a lot, parallel parked down a residential street, and drove around some more. Meanwhile my instructor chatted – non-stop – about his real estate history, his family tree, his new toy, and his preferred final resting place (he’d like to have his ashes scattered out on the bombora by his surfing buddies).
At last week’s lesson (1.5 hours), I found all this talk profoundly distracting. There’s some driving instruction scattered in there too, don’t get me wrong, but mainly he’s just nattering away about whatever takes his fancy. Like the fact that one of his surfing buddies is a cage fighter. This guy named his son Tyson after you-know-who, but apparently little Tyson (we drove past him, and apparently my instructor is currently teaching this kid to drive, even though to me he seriously looked about 10 years old) is a lover, not a fighter. And indeed he was talking to two foxy blondes as we went by. Then there’s the tattoos on young girls: they might look sexy now, my instructor told me, but just you wait twenty years, when that pretty butterfly on a pert teen bosom has transformed into a gigantic terradactyl. He’s got a point.
Anyway, this week I knew what was coming, and I think I almost courted some of the chat as a way of testing myself. There will be distractions, after all. A crying baby springs to mind. And I’ll have to be able to cope with them. It’s made me realise that Llew and I have been conducting our lessons in near silence, bar instruction, and this guy’s incessant chatter came as quite a rude shock. Can’t you see I’m driving?! Now I think he’s doing me a favour – maybe it’s even tactical. Maybe it’s a deliberate strategy. Or maybe he’s only talking because he’s comfortable with the way I’m driving. Or maybe – and this is the most compelling option – he’s a good old-fashioned blabbermouth who loves a captive audience. He was a cab driver for 30 years before this gig, and after the horrors of that job – the joys of regaling trapped passengers notwithstanding – this must seem like very easy money indeed.
It can’t hurt. I’m not sure it’s worth $330, but it can’t hurt. And now it’s time for me to start punching keys to earn dem beans, so I’ll see you guys tomorrow.
Lies, I tell you, it’s all lies, lies, lies – far from having radiant, dewy prenatal pores, my skin has never been worse in my life. In fact, generally my skin is pretty good. I have even received compliments on it in the (what seems very distant) past. But now, every morning seems to bring some new unsightly horror right up close in the bathroom mirror. Ugh – combined with the hideous effects of winter, when the acute desiccation of my skin already serves as a daily reminder of why I loathe the cold, it’s just awful. Right now I have a bolt on my neck that would give Frankenstein a decent run for his money. It’s like having a huge panic button conveniently located on the underside of my chin – and I’d press it, I really would, except I’m afraid of making my head explode.
I was hunting a new moisturiser the other day, because my old faithful clearly isn’t up to this particular challenge, and my Man Town writer friend L dragged me into her beautician to consider the options there. The woman came out from behind the counter, peered at my face for a long, uncomfortable moment, and basically pronounced my face dead on arrival.
I was a little taken aback. Next she started on a blunt riff about the need for me to have an hour-long facial – at least – because there was so much hard work for the emergency recovery team to do. Her brow puckered in concern while she continued staring at me – and I have to say, her scrutiny made me feel like I was ageing on the spot. You know in Indiana Jones when the bad guy chooses the wrong grail and his entire face and body disintegrates in a few violent seconds? I felt exactly like that. There was a good deal more head shaking and tut-tutting thrown in, and at the precise moment my bottom lip practically started trembling – because she’s not silly, she’s shrewd – she started piling product into my arms.
The transaction itself went by in a bit of a blur, but when L and I emerged, I felt as though I’d already had my face pummelled. We stood blinking on the footpath for a moment, both a bit stunned by the force and speed with which the beautician had stripped me of my beans. I think I was paying for my freedom – I just wanted to get OUT of there. I wanted to get as far away from her as possible. What is it about these women in white lab coats? Why do they make me feel so vulnerable? And what’s so hot about a total stranger touching my face, anyway? I’m not sure I like the sound of that at all.
Because you see, I’ve never had a facial. And why the hell would I start now, if all they’re going to do is insist I look like shit? I mean, really, who needs it? I’ve been feeling lousy enough about the state of my skin without some lineless freak enumerating my many faults while I am paying for the privilege. It sounds like a form of assault, and I can’t think why I’d invite it.
Anyway, the new moisturiser is a couple of days in and making zero irrigation impact on these arid, uneven plains. If anything I think my skin’s looking slightly worse. I know it’s hormonal, and I guess it’s my payback for dodging morning sickness – although personally I thought sleeplessness was a fair trade. I don’t have the luscious locks, either. My hair is as thin and dull as ever. I’m also back on the loo every several seconds. My legs ache like I’ve been on the rack. And my gums are bleeding. But hey, there’s also a whole list of possible side effects that I don’t have, and I’m grateful for these many mercies. At least I’m not constipated.
You already know I’m completely biased in Varuna’s favour, I won’t deny it, and this is a really beautiful way to offer you a glimpse of the environment both in and around the house itself, and of course out and about ogling those spectacular Blue Mountains. Watching it this morning, I became quite choked. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean – his impressions are at once deeply familiar and gorgeously particular – who knew that dust could look this good?
As I said to Shuckin’, I’d hate to see my own attempt at this sort of thing – I fear it would mainly consist of lots of swearing off-camera and wild shots oscillating between my feet, a corner of the roof and a worn patch of carpet. I much prefer Mark Welker’s version, and I’m sure you’ll love it too.
According to his blog bio, Mark is a Perth writer who’s just relocated to Melbourne to develop his craft. Yes, he’s writing a novel. In other words, he’s living the dream, and we love that sort of thing around here, don’t we?! So good luck to him as he properly commences his own all-in grand adventure, and a very warm welcome to the Varuna family I personally hold so dear.
I’ve had to work my way into the optimism of yesterday’s take on the hung parliament. Indeed, I spent a sleepless night after the election. Saturday night, I went to bed feeling anxious and depressed that so many Australians felt comfortable voting in favour of Tony Abbott. Okay, in Australia we vote for the party, not the politician, but the result does legitimise Abbott as the Liberal leader, and it also serves as a tacit endorsement of the Liberal party’s ultra conservative elements. I think that’s a shame, because there’s nothing ‘liberal’ about it, and I’m enormously troubled that a good portion of this country happily voted for someone so rightwing. I find nothing to celebrate in that, and it ate away at me as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling late Saturday night.
I drifted off about midnight, only to be awoken by Llew coming to bed at 3 am after following the election coverage to the point of no return. That was my fragile slumber shot, because he instantly set to a spectacular snoring that no amount of prodding, shouting and pleading could interrupt. I guess some delirium must have carried me off, however, because I was next jolted violently awake by the sound of the upstairs neighbours coming home at 5 am and commencing a drunken ruckus. Five am – now I’m no longer feeling homicidal toward them, I can almost admire the awesome display of staying power.
Between the snoring, the cavorting, and the niggling gnaw of the chaotic caucus, I snapped. I barked something blue at Llew (minus the rhyme), grabbed my pillow and stormed out to the lounge room. After lying on the couch in a rigid fury for another hour or so of sour sleeplessness, I finally succumbed. At 8 am, my alarm went off.
Talk about foul. God, I was in a filthy mood. I just wanted everyone – and I mean everyone – to fuck off. Especially Llew, who became the focus of my icy early morning contempt – yes, he could especially fuck off. He could – and should – fuck off further, fuck off faster, and fuck off for longer than anyone else in the world. Because he woke me up, and now I had to go to a course all day, and I was so exhausted I just wanted to curl into a little ball and cry.
Understandably, Llew spent the next hour gingerly picking his way around the apartment, silently giving me a wiiiiiiide berth, right up until it was time to get in the car. I was having another driving lesson come hell or high water. The course was a short story workshop with Cate Kennedy over at the NSW Writers’ Centre in Rozelle, back across the Harbour and Anzac Bridges of the weekend before, and I can only describe my state as one of grim determination. I’d shovelled my breakfast, knocked back my coffee, sucked down a glass of orange juice and all but slapped my own face, and now I would drive, goddamnit, even if I was locked in an internal battle with some temporary form of Tourette’s.
Oddly, driving improved my mood. I was also so steely that when I arrived at the workshop, the very first thing I did was triumphantly offer Fugitive Pieces – just returned from Blighty and a familiar face beside a spare seat – my upturned palms: dry. Perfectly dry – I was so calm as to be almost entirely unhinged.
The workshop itself was really helpful. Cate Kennedy was warm, funny, clever and constructive, and it was beyond fascinating watching her take the thread of a single idea and spin it into a hundred others, very much the same way Maths prodigies answer complex problems of Calculus by working through them out loud. Of course, it makes everyone else uncomfortably aware of just how dense they are in comparison – or at least, that’s how I felt – but Cate somehow managed to make my own stupidity seem fun. Not that I volunteered to read out my response to the exercise she set. Nope. I completely chickened out. I kept having flashbacks to two prior occasions of opening my mouth in a group writers’ setting – once at a Sydney Writers’ Festival workshop and once at a Sydney Writers’ Festival event – and frankly I couldn’t have soldered my mouth shut more effectively if I’d tried.
I’d just about worked myself up to it when an older lady down the other end of the table read out hers, and that was it, there was no way I was reading my piddling, embarrassing effort after that. She did a really, really good job. Everyone in the room was impressed, including Cate. The Fugitive and I had bunked off out of the grounds during the lunchbreak, and I started silently convincing myself that this woman hadn’t paused for lunch like the rest of us. She’d worked solidly through, I told myself. She obviously didn’t even leave her seat. She couldn’t have. Surely. Swot. And then that mean-spirited, envious little voice abruptly ran out of puff – it had put in a full day at this point, you understand, because it clocks in pretty much the second I can’t sleep – and I was left just feeling, yeah, impressed. Horribly inadequate, but impressed.
At the end of the day – six hours that went by like two – I gathered up my notes, exchanged commiserations with the Fugitive, thanked Cate, and went out to the car park to meet Llew. He swapped seats, and I drove home.
Okay. Let’s take a big breath and have a look at what went down here over the weekend, and the issue of what may happen next. I’ll have to tread carefully, though, and walk slowly through the bodies, debris and spent rounds, because this has never happened in my lifetime, and like everyone else I am feeling my way through this new post-party world.
A post-party world – of course it’s not that or anything like that, but it is true that neither major party won enough seats on Saturday to form government, and it’s also true that the balance of power in the House of Representatives looks likely to be held by three Independents and a Green, the last of whom made history by winning the seat of Melbourne on Saturday night – the first such win for the Greens at a federal election.
The final counting is unlikely to be completed until next week, with record postal votes still being processed (not to mention huge numbers of informal and donkey votes – the latter being votes that are deliberately invalidated – an ‘Up yours, the lot of you’ gesture – the former accidentally so), and results so close we are still seeing the pendulum swing in excruciatingly small degrees in the undecided seats. Currently I believe Labor has won 72 and the Coalition 70, with 4 undecided, although the article I just read suggested Labor’s expected to win one of those, with the other 3 likely headed to the Coalition. That is, we’re on track for a dead heat (there’s that sporting language again).
(As an aside, I must say I find it extraordinary seeing pre-election polling come to such precise fruition like this – the accuracy of the predictions is proving uncanny. I guess I’ve never paid opinion polls a huge amount of attention before, so I am struck by just how closely this situation mirrors the forecast, especially because voters did such unpredictable and sometimes unprecedented things in such huge numbers – it’s crazy!)
A hung parliament: our last was in 1940, in other words during WWII, which seems to suggest it’s a fairly extreme, very unusual result.
But is it any bad thing? Well, I think it’s potentially a very good thing. It’s a remarkable occasion to witness the privilege of peaceful democracy at work, and what we have here is Australians, right across the country and political spectrum, registering their discontent with the two major parties. That’s a very healthy expression of political dissatisfaction. The message is so deafening: it’s essentially a vote of no confidence in both directions. People are completely disillusioned and more – totally alienated, I think, by both Gillard and Abbott’s reaching for the Marco Polo ‘safe’ territory in the pool: the edgeless, weightless middle ground. Though they’re coming at it from opposite ends, neither one is a moderate. In the event, it looks like this insufferable pretence hasn’t fooled anyone, so one wonders if they might have been better off standing up for what they actually believe.
As expected, the Greens capitalised on this mounting disaffection with the Labor and Liberal parties. They’re currently celebrating a record result, and the very best of luck to them: they’ll hold the balance of power outright in the Senate, and their man Adam Brandt is one of the crucial players in this question of which party will form a minority government in the lower house. It’s hard to imagine the Greens putting their heads together with the Liberal party, but at the moment, all bets are off; they have to talk to both sides, and the Greens will be growing up fast in this arena, earning their negotiation stripes in record time. My fear for the Greens is that they will find their ideology tested and tarnished by the reality of their new power and prominence – it’s inevitable, because they will have to compromise – and that’s going to be difficult for them, because the Greens and their support base have grown precisely because of their committed principles and to date unswerving agenda on a range of issues. Everyone is going to find it hard watching some of these previously core beliefs fall prey to the harsh blow of political reality. I wish I could believe that they’ll avoid the defilement somehow, but I regret to admit I think they’re going to find life pretty tough at the top.
Then there’s the Independent MPs: Tony Windsor, Bob Katter and Rob Oakeshott. They’re all ex-Nationals, I think, but importantly they’re unhappy ex-Nationals, so it’s not clear they’re about to warmly embrace Tony Abbott’s Coalition. Indeed, Darkling Jenny pointed out yesterday just how much regional and country voters – and their Independent MPs – have in common with some of the more left-leaning concerns of Labor and the Greens: the national broadband network, water security, the environment, food miles, renewables… so the swing to the Greens hasn’t, it seems, come simply from a split Left leaving Labor for the Greens, but also from ex-National voters abandoning the Coalition. What will they do? Unfortunately, we don’t know.
I heard Tony Windsor speaking last night, and felt very reassured by him because he seemed like a considered, intelligent man. Oakeshott is known to prefer Labor’s broadband model, but to my knowledge, there’s nothing stopping the Coalition from adopting a very similar broadband policy in order to secure the support of the Independents and form government. If I’ve got this right, Oakeshott also fell out with the Nationals over his support of the Emissions Trading Scheme (which was eventually scrapped by Labor, thus hammering the first nails in Rudd’s coffin), whereas Abbott doesn’t believe in climate change. So… you have to think there’s a chance for Labor to woo these guys. Bob Katter is widely held to be a little bit crazy. I’d rather share the insanity around, because surely Abbott is dangerous enough, but I don’t know which of the two major parties Katter regards as the lesser evil. In fact, the same applies to all three. Tony Windsor last night was absolutely clear about not discounting either one.
So there we have it. No answers, and no idea of what happens next. Waiting, waiting. But Australians have let their ballots do the talking, and it has resulted in a shake-up that will hopefully shock both Labor and Liberal politicians into the realisation that they must change, and they must do better, because there’s no such thing as the ‘party faithful’ anymore.
Yes, for those of you who are interested in such things, I am planning to post on the results of the federal election – and maybe under the same headline – but for now what’s making me want to rip out my hair is an incompetent sub. Here’s the email I just sent to my editor:
Here’s my invoice, with thanks.
The story looked cool, except a sub inexplicably removed two correct apostrophes:
“There’s the obvious one of the weather – it’s just great – and it’s beautiful”
unfortunately became, “There’s the obvious one of the weather its just great and its beautiful.”
It’s a pretty egregious error. I really hate to bring this sort of thing to your attention, because I am so grateful for the work that the last thing I want to be is a pain in the rear, but this makes *me* look bad, not just the paper. It looks like my error, and it’s not. It’s hugely frustrating and disappointing, because I worked hard to do a good job, and someone else’s sloppiness has made my work look shoddy, and I have no way of ensuring it won’t happen again. Anyway, I think you should know that your sub doesn’t know the difference between it’s and its, as it’s likely to come up again.
Let’s not talk about the election.
What can I say, friends? This kind of thing GNAWS at me.
When I was out for my walk this morning, I saw a copy of someone’s Daily Telegraph front page, entirely taken up with the gleeful pronouncement, YES, HE CAN! The Tele is Sydney’s biggest-selling and worst newspaper, a News Ltd tabloid, although long gone are the days when the difference between broadsheets and tabloids concerned their content and not their column inches. It’s a last-minute push for Tony Abbott, and no, he really can’t.
It’s revolting and offensive enough that the Tele has blatantly ripped off Barack Obama’s successful campaign slogan, suggesting a not-so-subliminal association to voters between Obama and Abbott (ridiculous on absolutely every level there is, except maybe that they’ve both fathered daughters), but what’s worse is that the News Ltd flagship, The Australian, ran a similar headline on its front page on Tuesday: Yes, he will: Abbott meets PM’s Challenge. Note the cunning omission of the other candidate’s name? You have to admire the subtleties of this kind of manipulation – it’s pretty impressive, even if it does make me sick. Yes, can, will, meets: active, leading, positive language. It’s the eve of the election, and Murdoch-owned News Limited’s message is clear.
At least the Tele is blatant in its bias – and I didn’t expect any more of that particular paper, but I am always horribly disappointed when The Australian takes its reportage cues from its sister publication, and I can’t find any other interpretation of this piece of grotesque populist partiality from Paul Kelly, supposedly one of Australia’s leading and certainly one of its most senior journalists. I actually gagged reading this yesterday:
He offered prudence, personal conviction and the humility of the common man. […] Though tired, Abbott’s natural rapport with people was manifest.
Most questioners called him “Tony”. He came over as an authentic, competent, down-to-earth Aussie asking for the public’s trust. Win or lose, the Abbott personality is now penetrating — genuine, self-effacing and imbued with the sense of human imperfection.
Abbott never promises the sun, moon or stars. He is strong on the limits of government, given his drive against waste and deficits.
Jesus. Give me a break! ‘Though tired’ – please!!!!! It’s embarrassingly romanticised, biased language – as if Gillard isn’t dead on her feet by this stage too! And this is not a biblical struggle, despite appealing to Abbott’s Jesuit education at one of Sydney’s most expensive schools. ‘Down-to-earth Aussie’? You must be joking, Paul Kelly.
By contrast, Kelly repeatedly characterises Gillard as spiky and aggressive (and stresses Labor’s negative campaign against Abbott, as though the Coalition hasn’t run its campaign against Gillard along exactly the same lines), which is smart, because no one could accuse him of ignoring or downgrading her performance, only of suggesting she is one pushy chick, and since the scale of her ambition is no longer in any question whatsoever, well, no surprises there. But it does ever so gently stoke that lingering fear, loathing and suspicion plenty of Australians still have about strong women. Kelly favours adjectives like ‘relentless,’ ‘determined’ and ‘combative’ in his depiction of Gillard, and I can almost feel the collective lip curl in disdain.
It’s shrewd spin, but unbiased reportage it most definitely is not, and it concerns me deeply that there’s no honesty or transparency about media’s by now near total abandonment of its stated remit. Elections are not horse races or sporting events, but everywhere you look today across various media, all you’ll find is the language of the track. And guess what? It’s ‘neck and neck’ and voters are still ‘hedging their bets.’
I hope those huge numbers of undecided voters have come across at least some of the material that removes the muzzle very wisely fixed across Abbott’s jaw throughout this campaign, because there are things that people really should know about him. Among other much more recent clangers, GetUp! unearthed this 1980s example from Sydney University’s student magazine, in which the undergraduate Abbott says: ‘It would be folly to expect that women would ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas, simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiology reasons.’
This guy? Lead my country? No, he can’t.
Interesting. Over a thousand words of notes just poured out of me about a completely new idea for a novel. Where on earth do these things come from? First came a company name. Then a protagonist’s name. And then a strange scenario starting forming in my mind. That’s when I quickly opened a new Word doc and just jotted down the first thoughts. The vital statistics. I feel better now, like I’ve caught a cloud. I’ve thrown a little loose rope around an idea, and now – hopefully – it won’t drift away from me while I attend to other things. I wonder what wisps like to eat…
POSTSCRIPT: make that over two thousand. Well, then. Whaddya know…?!
- I can only imagine the profound disappointment of one poor individual, misdirected to DoctorDi yesterday via the search terms ‘girls taking off their jeans very slowly’ – arriving here must have been the blogosphere equivalent of socks for Christmas.
- I’ve become addicted to my lunchtime wrap, and expect I’ll completely overdo it until I won’t be able to look at another one for as long as I live. But while the force is still strong with this one, I thought I’d share it with you, because it’s so quick and tasty, and sooooo much better than the depressingly tasteless $8 toasted sandwich I had downtown last week, which was like eating a neat square of glue. It was what I imagine food engineered for space travel tastes like – unlike my wrap, which is usually some variation of the following: a rye wrap, cheese, avocado, falafel, rocket, tomato (fresh or oven roasted), satay sauce, salt and pepper. I also put sour cream or plain yoghurt in there when I’m really feeling decadent. First I scatter grated cheese over the wrap, stick it under the grill to melt while I am nuking my falafel balls (two), then I spread half an avocado on top of that, add rocket, slice up the falafel and tomato and place them down the middle, add seasoning, then apply large dollops of sauce because I am a condiment loving girl. Wrap the whole thing up and open wide. It’s genuinely delicious. And if I have run out of one or several ingredients, it doesn’t really matter. Trust me, you can either substitute – lettuce for rocket, roast pumpkin for tomato, chicken for falafel – or just make do. Either way you honestly can’t lose.
- I finally have some properly renumerated freelance work this week, hence the bullet point post. When my editor emailed me to ask if I was available, I emailed back, ‘Yes please, God yes, thank you thank you – I was going to write and ask if there would ever be any work for me ever again for the rest of my life.’ He’s a friend of mine, so I can say this sort of thing without him thinking I am a lunatic. Or more of a lunatic. It is such a relief to be reassured that I have not been inexplicably blackballed after all – he’s just had no work for freelancers. Gainful employment: it feels good.
- Our Little Friend has started moving around in there. She or he is quite active at night, although has been very well behaved overnight the past two days, when I have managed the miracle of a full proper night’s sleep (mercy be). Even Llewie has been able to feel it punching above its weight, which is lovely since he’s obviously locked out of the earlier physical experience. I have started playing the bump drum in my idle moments, which is more entertaining than you might think. The really exciting news is that my bladder has finally scored a reprieve – after a sensationally improbable number of toilet trips the past six weeks or so (as in leaving the bathroom only to realise that I have to go back), things finally appear to have settled down on that front, and last night I didn’t have to get up to go at all. Not once. It was a miracle, waking up and finding it was 7 am instead of 3:30 this morning. I actually could not tell you when that last happened – maybe 22 weeks ago. I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts, as I have a suspicion that the relief will be brief.
- I also think I’ve finally made headway in the elevated feet department. I’d sort of moved to the ottoman in the sunroom, which is fine for reading and some writing, but quickly proved inadequate for MS redrafting. This is both a practical and psychological discovery: I need to work at a desk. I just couldn’t get the sunroom space to operate adequately, first because I had nowhere to spread out my notes so that they’re within easy reach, and second because sitting stretched out on the ottoman with my feet up is not conducive to any serious undertaking. It feels like holidays, and indeed, the sunroom has long been my weekend lair, whereas traditionally I have worked in my office Monday-Friday, ignoring it for those 48 hours of recovery. This was just something I did quite naturally, but the demarcation of household zones has turned out to be very important to the work itself. Same with the freelance – I knew as soon as my editor called in the job that I needed to find an elevation solution for the office. And I think I have. I’m back in here today, and I tell you what, the difference is astonishing. I’ve snapped back from casual to conscientious like someone’s changed my batteries – it’s pretty interesting. And beneath the desk my legs are resting upon a short Mexican stool I bought at a market in Baja in 2000. Perfectly adequate. And why the obsession with elevation? My deep fear of courting the horrific varicose veins that are my hereditary due – I really don’t want ‘em.
- I can’t stop thinking about the family of the poor man killed by a shark off the Margaret River coast in WA yesterday. He was the father of two young kids, out doing something he loved before returning to his mining job further north, and it’s a terrible death. The shark was in its natural habitat, just doing its thing, and of course we all know they’re out there, and that we’re on their turf whenever we enter the water, but still, as a coastal dweller and devoted ocean lover myself, I always find it genuinely heartbreaking when these things happen.
The weekend was all about driving lessons for this little learner – two hours on Saturday, and another two on Sunday. Saturday I drove north to Palm Beach and back, but Sunday boasted the big ticket items as Llewie and I headed across town: I made my driving debuts across both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Anzac Bridge (easily my favourite bridge in Sydney, not that I had much opportunity to gaze in appreciation this time round), and did it all again on the way home.
As we reached the car Sunday before heading off to a friend’s lunch in Rozelle, a brief, violent storm hit Man Town. Llew looked doubtfully at the gathering mini-tornado and asked not once, but twice, “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”
It was like a Truman Show obstacle course – a specially engineered test designed to dissuade me. A palm tree flew past. Any second I expected the neighbour’s roof to lift off and hurtle down the street after us. I set my jaw and got in the driver’s seat.
“It’s probably a good idea for me to have a lesson in the rain,” I said.
“Rain is one thing…” Llew muttered.
As dramatically as it began, the burst of destruction abruptly subsided not long after I drove out of Man Town – although not before a car spun completely out of control on the opposite side of the road, ending up lying like a boom gate across two lanes of traffic – and the sun came out in reassuring shafts of light for the remainder of the trip. I was so glad I’d persevered – it would have been all too easy to say, “Oh yes, it’s too hard, never mind” – and I won’t learn to drive doing that. There are plenty of excuses not to if one starts down that slippery slope (I’m too tired, there’s too much traffic, there’s a lightning storm, I don’t know the way, etc.), and I didn’t want to allow myself a single one of them.
I wanted to cross the bridge.
I wanted to cross the bridge because now I’ll never be crossing it for the first time ever again – instead, I have already driven across it twice. There, now. That wasn’t so bad, was it? So that particular fear has been confronted – and therefore diminished – although I don’t think I’ll ever lose the sense of caution about it. Then again, nor should I. Driving is a serious business, a big responsibility, and too many people get hurt or killed on the road for me to do anything but approach it with extreme care.
Sweaty palms like you would not believe totally gave the game away – I would make a comically lousy drug mule. My palms were dripping when I managed to peel them off the wheel at a set of lights to show Llew. I didn’t feel nearly as nervous or stressed as my saturated palms suggested – in fact, I felt quite calm. Focused on the task. Determined to drive. It’s hard to imagine a day when I’ll be competent and experienced enough to actually enjoy driving, but I hope and trust I’ll get there eventually, and I look forward to it, because right now it’s just exhausting. I’m concentrating so hard that it becomes a physical and mental effort I hadn’t quite reckoned on.
Still, I am doing it. I am driving, I will keep driving, and I will get this qualification before the baby arrives. I will be a driver.
Not driving had begun to feel like the last lingering vestige of my mother’s legacy of deliberate ineptitude, and her extraordinary determination to stunt the development of her kids. It was the one remaining eccentricity of my life that could be traced directly to her. There’s no question this is part of my motivation for learning now: I want to snap that final thread. I don’t want to be the kind of mother who can’t – sorry, won’t – do this basic thing. I have clear memories of my granddad’s failed attempts to teach my mother how to drive. He bought her at least one car, and I distinctly remember her melodramatic hands-in-the-air damsel wailing every time she was briefly behind the wheel. I can hear the sound of it as though it were yesterday. To a child, she made driving look terrifying. And she never learned. The disease of her influence naturally spread down to us: my big sister didn’t learn, I didn’t learn, my brother didn’t learn. Then came two more kids with our stepfather: neither of them had learned the last time we were in contact. I believe her example succeeded in spooking and delaying us all.
I believe this because she tried to spook and delay us in everything else, too, and I now hate the fact that she succeeded on this driving front with me, because in every other respect, I escaped her debilitating clutches long ago, and know them for what they were: her sad, sick need to feel better about herself by surrounding herself with children, only to systematically cripple them one by one.
One by one, down we went – or down I was going, until I got away from her. The others weren’t so fortunate as to make an early escape. All of us had huge potential and good hearts and special gifts, but she took great care not to foster a single talent, nor to encourage the smallest shred of ability that might have led to our becoming capable and productive members of society – functional, and therefore capable of being independent of her. The force of my desire for independence was stronger than her ability to extinguish it, and that’s the only thing, I think, that really saved me. I think the others – I can’t speak for them, of course, but I’ve often wondered about this difference – felt more beholden to her than to themselves, so took their cues and made their decisions based on what she wanted – a trapped audience for her self-made dramas – rather than what they may have wanted for themselves. A criminal waste, in my opinion – but then again, she was never interested in that.
And now I am learning to drive a car anyway – all the better for continuing the lifelong work of driving myself far, far away.