Llew and I watched an Australian film on DVD the other night that really underscores one of this country’s major artistic insecurity complexes. It’s called Three Dollars, and stars one of my favourite Aussie actors, David Wenham, who appears alongside a high-calibre supporting cast. The reviews on the cover were promising: glowing praise from some of Australia’s most recognisable and reputable critics. We’d been circling the movie for years – drawn by its cast and its critical reception, but repelled by past disappointments along the same line. Finally, we rented it, and it sat at home for a week while we continued prodding it with a metaphorical stick. The ambivalence was unmistakable, and, in the end, well placed.
So what’s the problem?
In my piddling opinion, it’s a bit of a growing issue across film and literature, this bogus idea that an Australian contribution to either art form has to be grim and deadly serious and deep and worthy in order for it to have any artistic merit – or that grindingly depressing things are somehow intrinsically valuable artworks in ways that determinedly optimistic things are not. Oh yes, yes, it’s total genius, isn’t it, this courageous exploration of bleak, unrelenting misery. Oh, isn’t it powerful, this unflinching evocation of the depths of suburban sadness and horror. Bravo!
Well, I think that’s just garbage – and worse, it’s got the distinct whiff of apology about it too, as if we feel we have to constantly reach into some fetid slush pile to make up for the average Australian having it pretty good. It’s so… so… contrived. And it’s so disingenuous. In the case of Three Dollars, not even my admiration of David Wenham could get me to swallow the idea that this man – a just-sacked government employee with a university degree, a wife, a daughter, a mortgage, friends and two living parents – would respond to his sacking by instantly agreeing to start riffling through public garbage bins on a busy Melbourne street with his good buddy the homeless guy, who finds him a coat to wear – on loan from another kindly homeless gentleman – and shows him how to procure free food (present rotting food at sales counter and claim to have just purchased it from the same establishment) before whizzing him round the homeless shelter trying to tempt him to bunk down for the night. Now, I’ve researched real homelessness for a freelance story, and I query everything about this picture of a very real ordeal, including its recklessly sanitised depiction of the type of characters one meets on the streets. The hospitable hobo – see now, isn’t he just darling? I find it so insulting – it plays at social commentary, it wants to lecture us in our lounge-rooms, but what it really does is completely minimise and make a pastiche of the terrible circumstance of having absolutely nowhere to go.
And I find this sort of thing happens in Australian films All. The. Time. Maybe less so in Australian novels, but it’s there too, and it makes me wonder if the culprit isn’t partially the grants culture, in which one must prove the cultural value in order to be considered for funding. Levity isn’t often taken seriously in this context, I don’t think. Unless of course you can throw in a fun-loving cast of Indigenous merry-makers, which is what looks to have happened with musical curiosity Bran Nue Dae, in which case you’re sure of a cheque in the mail. But only Aborigines are allowed to have a good time, mind – everyone else has to be mired in the single worst day of their pathetic lives. Got it?
All of this belongs to a similar bag of fibs that artists right around the world can’t quite seem to shake. The idea that sunny places are creative wastelands is a popular one (Sydney as a cultural vacuum is a common charge, and this suspicion about our artistic character seems to revolve primarily around the city’s climate), and suggests that one must be wet, cold and miserable in order to commune with the muse.
Hot on the heels of this damning weather report is the tortured artist cliché – one of the worst offenders, in my view. I don’t believe that creativity is the terrible burden some would have us believe, a weight so crushing one must race towards some form of rampant substance abuse in order to manage the torment of existing in the shadow of one’s great, glorious gift. Please. Give me a fucking break. I’ve tried writing while drunk, and given the hilariously ropey results, I strongly suspect it’s the rare talent indeed who can pull off the dazzling trick of performing while heavily under the influence. There’s a very good reason why people crash cars when they’re in a similar condition.
I think artists who claim their drug of choice as part of their creative palette are mostly just ordinary addicts like the rest of us, and it’s more simply a matter of choosing the best prop to hide behind, and polishing a neat justification for all their bad behaviour.
And yes, all these long months of sobriety are making me cranky. Clearly.
I’ve had two conversations in the past 24 hours that have brought me around to thinking about a couple of things I no longer really believe, and I’m glad I can’t bring myself to believe them anymore, because it’s already paying handsome dividends in terms of saving me time, energy and heartache.
The first is that, given the chance, absolutely everyone would prefer to fix his or her problems. This, I have come to realise, is patently false. We have differences, significant differences of personality, and some people love their problems – they’re completely, thoroughly devoted to them. These people are, with the jaundiced eye of experience, pretty easy to spot: high drama seems to follow them around, there’s always some new crisis, and they declare loud and long that they are always the victims of terrible misfortune. Again. The thing is, the latter is bound to be true – we are all touched by misfortune, it’s part of life and unavoidable, it’s just that everyone deals with it so, so differently.
Don’t get me wrong – I think this attitude of perpetual victimhood does in itself tend to cultivate more problems, in the way of bad debt, but I’ve watched too many people roll around in their problems – thrilling to them, actually, and not doing a single thing to address them – to believe it’s a coincidence. It’s not a coincidence, and it’s not bad luck. There are people in this world who, if given the opportunity to change their lot, will make the worst possible decision in relation to that opportunity. They will squander it, odds on, and then they’ll do something else: they’ll develop what I like to call Opportunity Amnesia. In short order, all memory and evidence of said opportunity will cease to exist. Oh no, they didn’t blow it – it was never there in the first place, not like it is for other people, and therefore nothing of whatever follows is ever their fault.
Now, I am someone who has made a lifelong habit of capitalising on every opportunity that’s ever been sent my way. I actively embrace my best chance, every time. This does not, as some would have it, mean I have had any more opportunities thrown my way than others – it simply means that I have reacted to the circumstances of them in a very particular way. This is my personality, something I do actively but instinctively, and some people – given the precise same set of circumstances – will always choose differently.
I understand this now.
So when my friend called me yesterday to have a meltdown about someone close in her life that suffers from (wilful) Opportunity Amnesia, I knew how frustrated she was. For a start, I could hear it – her disbelief, her bewilderment, and her utter, utter exhaustion. I could also recognise it, because I have been there plenty of times myself.
“She’s not going to change,” I heard myself saying. “You’re different people. You want her to embrace your advice, she should take your advice, but you know what? She won’t, probably not ever, so you just have to figure out what you can live with, otherwise you’ll only drive yourself insane. And you’ll keep getting sucked into her vortex. This is your routine together, these are the parts you play, and I’m afraid you can only change your role in her drama. You want to keep offering her answers and advice and sensible solutions, but the fact is, she doesn’t want ’em.’”
This is merely an opinion – mine – and it’s bound to be unpopular, because on the surface it sounds so… uncharitable. It sounds as though I don’t acknowledge that some people truly have a much harder time of it, and find life a genuine struggle. I can see that – there is abundant evidence of this fact all around me, and I would have to be a particular kind of asshole not to acknowledge, lament, and even try to alleviate it in whatever ways are open to me. I’m just saying I have seen another type of person in action too – and this type of person requires and accepts a whole vast fleet of support systems, and then systemically compromises every benefit afforded by it. I think it’s pathological behaviour, I really do. I no longer believe that everyone wants to find the way out. Some people are determined to stay in strife – they thrive on it, and if you don’t, then I suggest that like me, you learn to keep your distance where at all possible, because I no longer believe there’s much point in these two types of people having much to do with each other. They are fundamentally incompatible – some people are, it’s not a crime – so why keep doing it to each other, why keep trying to force things to be other than they are? Much better, I have learned, to say good luck with that, but I respectfully decline to come along for the ride.
The other thing I no longer believe is that there is such a thing, truly, as a ‘mixed message.’ Another friend emailed today to bemoan a failed romance, and the guy’s many mixed messages. I read through the list of confusing, contradictory statements he’d made to her, and then I wrote back.
‘You know, honey, I am at a point in my life where I don’t much believe in mixed messages. I think that there is usually only one, but some people seem to feel the need to dress it up and try to pass it off as something else. It’s his loss; I suggest you leave him to it.’
This wasn’t an easy thing to say, because it’s natural to gravitate to the more positive messages in the mix, they’re so much nicer, but everything else he did and said belies those messages, and lays bare the only one that ultimately counts: he doesn’t want to be with her. That’s the message. It’s the only message – there’s nothing mixed about it. That doesn’t make the other sentiments untrue, it just means they’re not really part of the message he is trying to communicate. And as I think about this situation more and more – the template of message transmission, if you like – the more I think they never or rarely are. People may have trouble articulating their message. They may genuinely wish to avoid inflicting hurt on another person. They may have positive feelings that they want to share with you, because they think these will help cushion the blow. But none of this ever changes or mixes the fundamental message. Because when you do want to be with someone, it’s very easy to express. Elementary. And I no longer believe that it’s any harder to express the opposite – some people just make it hard. Maybe they do this with very good intentions, but really, they’re merely accessorising at this point, because what they’re really saying is no.
And these days, well, I don’t know about you, but if ‘no’ is what someone is saying to me, I’d really prefer they cut the crap. Life is too short to sift through so-called mixed messages like I’m panning for gold. Increasingly it seems to me that the nugget is always plain to see.
After finishing reading Making Stories on Monday, I made the first tentative inroads back into the MS yesterday. Not so much on the MS itself at this stage, more in notes about what I need to do, and where, and with which character/s. Slowly, carefully, gently does it. I have none of my usual ‘freak storm’ energy about attacking the MS full-force. In fact, I mainly feel very circumspect. I’m not unduly worried about this sense of caution, because I think it’s probably quite useful to me at this point – I’ve tried the gun-toting cowgirl approach, and it’s been productive up to a point, but now I think something else is required, something slightly more forensic. I’m donning the plastic gloves and protective headgear; I don’t want to screw this up, and I want to emerge from the science lab in one piece.
Making Stories was great in both expected and unexpected ways. It’s hugely reassuring to know writers like Kate Grenville, Helen Garner and Peter Carey have also struggled with terrible uncertainty and technical difficulties while completing their novels. His inclusion here is incomplete, the editors acknowledging the extract as unreliable, but I know from reading Patrick White: Letters that the great man was not exempt from these professional debilitations either. He felt them keenly, every single time. So I am heartened; I start back on my MS with the renewed sense that this is simply what is required, and that it’s hard, and that, like anything worthwhile, it should be.
I think the book also extends permission, or at least that’s part of what I’m getting out of it: permission for writers to keep trying, but also permission to screw up. I just constantly feel such a monumental failure in my fiction writing, and it really takes it out of you, doesn’t it, this constant whipping, and when your skin is shredded and your heart crushed, it’s rather hard to keep on telling yourself to buck up. Cheer up, Charlie! Oh really? And why don’t you just fuck off, perky cheerleading voice? What would you know about anything? And in those times when I succeed in quieting the inner optimist, I’m left with a fairly sour series of foul-breathed whispers that fundamentally calls into question what the hell I think I am doing, and how long I can possibly afford to keep doing it. This is a very different voice, and it’s nasty. So what Making Stories offers is a kind of olive branch to both the happy cheerleader and the hunchbacked troll – they have permission to coexist. They are both part of the picture.
I was interested and amused to discover that even in a writing resource like Making Stories, my own tastes as a reader bubbled right to the surface. There was one author whose chapter I just Could. Not. Read. I couldn’t get through the interview, and I certainly couldn’t get through the novel extract. I tried. This particular author just did not speak my language, as though I’d picked up a book while browsing and then hastily replaced it: this one’s not for me. There was another very well known author whose work I’ve never read, and I found I just wasn’t captured by the style of the novel extract – no hard feelings (whereas my feelings about the other one were quite strongly unfavourable) – just not my cup of tea. Then there was the surprise of another writer, whom I’ve been off ever since a literary dinner at which the author’s ego wiped out the room like a particularly virulent strain of Swine Flu. I’ve never been able to think the same way about this writer since, and it utterly coloured my ability to enjoy the novel I had earlier purchased that night. There’s been one since, and I haven’t bought it, though the reviews were excellent. But reading the interview in Making Stories, I discovered someone with very real – and familiar – insecurities and fears about their work, and it’s made me warm to the author again, which is very nice.
Finally, the book has introduced me to a couple of Australian authors about whom I knew nothing beforehand, and given me samples of their work. My curiosity has been piqued, my nose twitched, my senses sharpened, my funny bone tickled, and my Must Read list lengthened. All up, a very good result. Thanks for sending me this book, Shuckin’, because the cavalry arrived and took charge. My battlements thus fortified, I finally feel I can face the field once more.
The forthcoming federal election has become a peculiar, surreal trip down memory lane, more akin to a nightmarish episode of This is Your Life than a serious political contest. At this point I’d really like to see the whole thing performed onstage as a knowing folly, a nudge-nudge farce, and preferably by hand puppets. No, really. I think as a puppet show it would make perfectly entertaining viewing, but as a federal election, it’s verging on the obscene.
Both sides have seen a curious roll call of past leaders romp onto centre stage, oftentimes swallowing their candidate’s spotlight whole. On the Labor side, early on we had Bob Hawke and Paul Keating continuing their little long-running uber-ego spat, and I can just see them slapping at each other with their hand-sewn felt fingers. Now we have to contend with Punch himself, Mark Latham, such an oafish boorish pest I just want to swat him – or better yet, see him permanently yanked off the stage by one of those great long hooks. He’s such a slut for a column inch or pixel that he’s yet again managed to spray the whole audience, and now the entire country is in need of a good wash. And Kevin. You poor bastard. First an humiliating rumble with Judy, I mean, Julia, then a gall bladder operation, and now they’re trotting you out like Monty Python’s Black Knight. It’s merely a flesh wound! Come on, then! Stabbed to political death by his own party, now those slimy, engorged leeches are desperately trying to revive their fallen Caesar, prodding him back to his mark, mopping up the blood, and starting up the band. I honestly don’t know how he can stand it, except to imagine that, like me, the thought of Tony Abbott as Australia’s next PM is keeping Kevin Rudd up at night.
Which brings us to the Liberal Party Cabaret. John Howard’s back for another rant, reminding one and all that the current leader of the Opposition was never anything so much as Howard’s personal finger puppet, and we’ve also heard a bit from the Abbott and Costello show, with good ‘ole Pete, the PM who never was because someone forgot to sew on his balls, taking umbrage at the Labor Party’s quoting of him on the pesky question of Abbott’s economic credentials. CUE LAUGHTER.
Then, bursting out from behind the curtain to join the other ghosts of leaders past comes Andrew Peacock, who doesn’t even live in Australia anymore but still wants a piece of the limelight, which airtime he uses to declare, “You’d need to be pretty handicapped not to appreciate this Government is dissolving before your eyes daily.” Sophisticated argument, isn’t it? Needless to say, the disabled voters of Australia are rather insulted by the suggestion that they’re unable to follow the show.
But let’s not forget the two Malcolms, slightly less amusing and much less beloved of their respective generations than The Two Ronnies, it’s true, but for my money probably still the only two people in the Liberal Party worth listening to about anything. Actually, Malcolm Fraser has left the party in disgust and disillusionment over its increasingly arch conservative character, so he’s not a current member of the chorus, but he did make his moment onstage count when he refused to endorse Tony Abbott, and suggested the current Liberal Party is not ready to lead. Sock it to ‘em, old boy. Malcolm Turnbull, on the other hand, is currently on the hustings for his own seat of Wentworth, but every time he opens his mouth, he only succeeds in reminding this voter at least of what might have been. That the Libs went for Tony over Malcolm says too many disturbing things about the party’s direction to name. I’ll give you just one that matters to me: Abbott, like that pathetic, fawning monarchist before him, that great and despicable Referendum saboteur John Howard, is committed to the patent, appalling absurdity of Australia’s ongoing subjugation to the Queen of England. Malcolm Turnbull – and this, it must be said, is something he shares with Labor leaders past and present – believes in an Australian Republic, and so do I.
I can’t wait for the curtain to drop on this embarrassing debacle. It’s an expensive flop, we know that already, but I almost can’t bear to wonder who’ll be left standing on opening night.
The inaugural GRAPHIC festival was held at the Sydney Opera House over the weekend, and Llew and I went along to a couple of Saturday sessions. It’s great to see this kind of event get some serious traction in one of Sydney’s highest profile venues – it does help demonstrate just how mainstream graphic novels, comics and other visual and animated storytelling modes have become, and it must be very validating to some of these guys to finally find themselves on a major league stage. Boasting international and local talent, GRAPHIC managed to attract plenty of fans, aspirants and professionals, and I suspect the Opera House will be very pleased with attendance figures. It was the first, but I doubt it’ll be the last.
Our first session was a panel discussion in The Studio between Chewie Chan, Mark Sexton, Chris Georgiou from Animal Logic and James Hackett from Hackett Films, entitled Storyboarding for Film. I was interested in this session from a characterisation point of view – there are two illustrators in my MS, and both Chewie Chan and Mark Sexton started off as comic book artists before moving into storyboarding (breaking in with Happy Feet, if you can believe that). I just wanted to observe and listen to the panelists, and soak up the audience atmosphere as well, as a way of bringing me closer to my two characters. There were other sessions that I would have almost preferred attending – including one with Matt Huynh, whom you may remember from previous posts about our encounters – but they were sold out by the time I belatedly got my act together to book, and this one was interesting from a career development perspective; it’s useful to be able to imagine what else my characters might want to do.
During the session, I could see Llew puzzling over just what I was scrawling in my notebook – 16 pages’ worth of notes, no less – but he immediately got it afterwards, once I had a chance to explain what was useful and relevant to me, including the answer to my question, which was about their day-to-day essential work materials. I wanted them each to describe their workbench, as it were, which they duly did. Chris Georgiou’s answer was the most compelling, because it was most like the space I think my ‘good guy’ illustrator would describe. The other thing particularly of note was how few women were present – not one on the panel, and scarce few in the audience. That’s important to me because my ‘villain’ illustrator is a chick, and there are interesting implications for her as part of such a male-dominated environment. That’s why going to these things is so surprising and important – one never knows what will happen, but just being immersed in that world with these people is absolutely invaluable.
Saturday night was the big ticket item: Neil Gaiman reading his newly published story ‘The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,’ accompanied by the Fourplay String Quartet and illustrations by Eddie Campbell. This was a sellout, and as you know from recent posts, Gaiman’s become a very significant figure in the development of my MS. Aspects of his Sandman cult comic series have become the structural and thematic scaffold of my protagonist’s thinking, which means Gaiman’s work is part of the organising principle presently guiding my own. I like Gaiman’s writing because he traverses so many boundaries, breaks so many so-called rules, and draws his influences from such an abundance of sources, from the ancients to the penny arcade. That’s for a start. The other thing I particularly love about his work is that there is a very dark stain seeping across it, and it’s a characteristic I don’t think we share. The fact is, I don’t have a dark mind – I don’t tend to inhabit nor conjure those black spidery spaces in which Gaiman so gleefully dwells. So I love going there with him.
As I described it to Llew and my writer friend L, I love it because it’s very like that delicious childhood terror of a scary story before bed. I feel safe – I don’t want to visit these terrible places on my own, and any badlands expedition I’ve ever attempted has failed, but I like exploring this sometimes ghoulish territory of Gaiman’s because it’s like I’m tucked up under the doona, toasty warm, and all the bad things are outside, rattling trees, where they can’t hurt me. It’s like Gaiman goes to the window, sees what’s out there, and casually reports back, whereas I stay put, shivering and hiding but also delighting in my fear. His mind works in a very different way to my own, and I enjoy following his trail.
A final word: Gaiman read beautifully, and the Fourplay string quartet was fantastic. They wrote an original, um, soundtrack, I guess, for the story – they didn’t actually write a traditional musical score, Eddie Campbell said they (incredibly) only had notes written down the side of Gaiman’s text – and it was just perfect, haunting and lovely and tinged with tragedy. I loved them.
- Now I’ve reopened that dank, dim cave in my mind marked ‘Manuscript,’ I find myself thinking more and more about this particular project’s potential as an e-book. Conceptually, there are some undeniable advantages to electronic publishing, not the least being managing the MS’s graphic element, the potential for growing the text’s interactivity, and cost effectiveness. There’s not much question that harnessing computer technology would help mitigate some of my MS’s apparent ambition in conventional publishing terms. Now, I don’t currently know enough about e-book technology to know if the capabilities I’m imagining even exist right now or not, but if I’m thinking of them, and I’m a technophobe, then it can’t be long before someone with the know-how starts thinking of them too. There are competing voices in my head about all this, and the traditionalist in me finds the whole thing vaguely abhorrent, but the more radical, adventurous voice is starting to gain some airtime, because as hard as this is for me to admit – and any book lover who aspires to write books knows why it’s hard – it grows more and more difficult for me to deny the theoretical fit between possible e-book apps and what my MS has become. Hmmm.
- I have always been a klutz, but pregnancy is taking my spillage spectaculars to new lows – or should I say into new nooks and crannies. I’m now routinely spilling cups of coffee, whole jars of sugar, full bottles of water (upended in my bag, natch), my lunch (on Monday I watched fascinated as my lunchtime falafel rye wrap slowly rolled itself off the plate and onto the floor – I mean, how does something inanimate even do that?), and not one but TWO cans of tomato puree while making a bolognese sauce the other night. This was pure slapstick: I knocked one open can straight into the air – puree flying in all directions but mostly all over me – and as I replaced it to the bench, hair dripping, I promptly knocked it over again, and what remained in the can spilled all over the bench, finally dribbling off the side in a most desultory fashion to join the rest of the bloodbath on the kitchen floor. While mopping up the bench spill, cursing and lecturing myself on my staggering stupidity and clumsiness, I knocked over the second full can. Full kitchen carnage ensued. I don’t know about you, but at a certain point I think this becomes an actual talent.
- I’m loving Making Stories, and plan to finish reading it before I start in on making any actual changes to my MS. As far as that re-entry goes, I’m currently doing the hard yards of really thinking about the book again – people who don’t write have no idea that this kind of thinking constitutes critical and difficult work, but the fact is, it really does. Making Stories is helping me do some of that structural thinking, but so are a couple of films we’ve seen recently. Llew and I have started renting classics on DVD, and the film version of the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who are both fantastic – was particularly interesting to me from a structural and spatial point of view. All About Eve, starring Bette Davis, was great in terms of drawing a seamless narrative arc. Neither story has anything in common with my own, but that’s not the point, it’s more that they both have something to teach me about how narratives function. This is also true of Making Stories – it’s a really fascinating insight into the way ten Australian writers go about the work of constructing a text, which in so many ways is a requirement quite apart from simply writing it.
- Reading first Patrick White’s letters and now Making Stories is adding to my list of must reads, but I’ve promised myself and Llew that I’ll read everything I already own first. There’s quite an exciting pile of TBRs right under my nose, and I have neither the cash nor the space to add to it right now, let alone the time. But I will say that in addition to wanting to sample PW’s own work, I’m also particularly keen for some Janet Frame, a NZ author PW admired, and Christina Stead’s Letty Fox, Her Luck, which both PW and I think Helen Garner in Making Stories rave about.
- I am losing my office. So much for a room of one’s own – it’s the very first thing to go in preparation for Baby J. The good news is I am getting a massive wall-to-wall bookcase built down the hall to make way for this imminent loss of my working space, and I’ve always wanted one of those.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said… yes, the moment has arrived: I have to go back to work on the MS. I’ve had a decent break away from it after the last disappointment. Because of the coincidental timing of that, I haven’t looked at it since I got back from the Varuna residency – more than a month ago now. The whole of July was given over to other things – redrafting a couple of short stories, writing a first draft of the new one, reading and giving feedback on a new Darkling MS, looking for a mentor, following the forthcoming federal election with a sense of mounting horror (sorry, but if Tony Abbott is the next leader of this perplexing country, we will have no choice but to start engineering our way out of it), and finally filing the latest Varuna Alumni News feature.
Speaking of which, I should probably mention its debut: as of this month, the Varuna Alumni site is going public, and the News will now be accessible via Varuna’s own main website. This month it’s listed on the RHS of the home page under ‘Announcements’ – by clicking on the ‘Varuna Alumni Website’ hyperlink, you’ll go straight into the August edition of the News.
This month’s feature is on endings – and was very nearly the end of me, that’s for sure, as I wrestled with Shuckin’ Charlotte’s absence (she’s usually my gatekeeper, and the brains of the operation), and the new formatting requirements (my technical skills are strictly on a need-to-know basis, and up until now, I’ve only ever needed to know how to send a Word doc). Next month I plan to conquer images – Llewie’s given me a little tutorial after I tried and failed to figure it out for myself. Anyway, it’s Out There, and over time I hope the change from private to public proves beneficial to all.
Meanwhile, the mentor situation has presently failed to resolve itself. I’m not going to just sign up in desperation with any old mentor; I can’t afford to risk it backfiring from either a practical or financial perspective (because wow, do these baby costs keep mounting). I’d rather wait, keep my ear to the ground and my eyes peeled, and see what eventuates. But I am on the clock: our little friend is coming (and maybe isn’t so little after all…), my alone time is running out, and I need to get cracking.
I’ll admit to being a little scared about going back in there. I think I’ll just try to focus on not having finished the latest redraft anyway, because my job wasn’t done even before the disappointment of not making the Penguin/Varuna shortlist (which still stings). Usually these bruises fade pretty briskly, especially now there’s been quite a few, but not this time. In my mind, I use these things as a kind of marker of progress, and failing to make that shortlist was so violently disheartening because I truly believed – still believe – that the MS had come a long way since it did make one of their shortlists, so the negative result was blistering.
Not making that list is one of those things I cannot change, and while I accepted it within a day or two of the announcement, what’s taken longer is figuring out the implications for what is still in my power to control. How should I read this rejection, how can the MS benefit from it, and what do I do now? These questions don’t have immediate answers, and the reason I so deliberately stepped away from the MS at the time is that I have learned my instinctive temptation to rush in must be curbed at all costs. I still don’t feel like I have the answers, but I do feel like it’s time to face up to the job at hand.
I do worry a little that the time for my MS is already upon us, culturally speaking, and that I am missing the good ship Zeitgeist. Graphic novels are much in the press right now, and the master himself, Neil Gaiman, is appearing at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday night as part of a weekend-long Graphics Festival. Gaiman’s Sandman has become an influential component of my MS, both structurally and thematically, and it’s been very difficult watching this wave of mainstream interest rise when I haven’t even been able to get the MS to leave the shore. I feel like the MS is probably missing its moment, and I am powerless to stop it because I haven’t managed to do my job well or fast enough. That’s a pretty terrible feeling, I must admit, because I think the MS has potential it isn’t reaching because I am its lumbering guide, and it’s stuck with me, and I am holding it back.
Timing. It’s never been my forte. Maybe I’ll iron out the problems, maybe eventually I’ll succeed in doing what needs to be done, and maybe one day the MS will meet with someone else’s approval, but I seriously doubt it’ll be in time to surf this current wave, and that’s a shame.
For now, onwards.
Well, my friends, it’s Week 20 of the pregnancy: we have officially reached the halfway mark. Llew thinks it’s all whizzing by at a great rate; I am finding it the slowest process in the known universe. Twenty weeks down and… gee, only another twenty more to go – what, pray tell, is fast about that?? It’s an age. And it’s really quite alarming to imagine what another twenty weeks is going to do to my waistline… I can’t visualise the scale of it, but Baby J is certainly beginning to make his or her physical presence felt, and I think there’s a pretty good chance this baby is about to go rogue.
We had the 19-week ultrasound on Friday, and A from Sydney Ultrasound for Women confirmed our little friend is tracking “on the big end of average.” On the monitor, Baby J gave a dismissive little wave as if to say, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. And for my next trick, watch this.”
I could have sworn I inflated further that very instant, while onscreen Baby J languidly flexed and stretched and made like a concert pianist (it must have been the Beethoven…). Then again, they were running behind schedule, and at that point I’d been forced to hold for an excruciating two hours, so there’s a very good chance I was about to explode because of my bladder, not my baby.
All looked good at the ultrasound: we have the correct number of digits, two working kidneys, a beautiful looking heart (A was very happy with the heart), and so on. Hallelujah. Basically Baby J passed this latest test with flying colours. I actually got misty during this one – my usual habit is to tear up alone afterwards, usually on a cold toilet seat somewhere – as there was something especially overwhelming about it. Counting fingers and toes made it all suddenly seem real.
I still can’t feel Baby J moving around in there, but I heard her or his heartbeat only a couple of hours ago at Dr F’s, so I’m just going to try to be patient. Apparently the placenta is lying across the front of my stomach, which is absorbing the movement. And the placenta is low, which may mean I won’t be able to deliver naturally, if it ends up blocking access to my cervix. Both A and Dr F said it was far too early to tell, but it does mean I’ll have to have another scan between 32-34 weeks to decide the issue. Personally I would prefer to do it naturally, so I hope it resolves itself as they both suggest it might, but it’s an early refresher course in the difference between what one wants and what may happen regardless. I would have preferred to conceive naturally too, but the fact that I couldn’t was a good lesson in embracing the alternative. I may be forced to do the same here, and as long as the baby and I both emerge safe and well, I really don’t ask for more. In fact, in the final analysis I’m sure I won’t care less. If I can deliver naturally, great, and if I can’t, why on earth worry any further about it? I’m a big believer in accepting the things one cannot change. Anyway, time will tell.