After a full, frantic day finishing and polishing next month’s Varuna feature, I fell into bed last night and – wait for it – didn’t wake up until morning! No, really! A full night’s sleep – how’s that for a sweet reward? Thank you, Baby J, for allowing this minor miracle to occur, and thank you, Bursting Bladder, for the same. Sleep. I love it. It’s just the most restorative practice – I feel like a completely different person when I’ve had enough kip. I guess we all do. But wow, it’s a nice feeling having a clear head, and after a dip in the Pacific first thing (I’m still sitting in damp swimmers and a sarong), I feel fine! The happy hormones are back – or maybe it’s just the happy hack; it’s always great dusting a deadline.
I finished reading Delia Falconer’s non-fiction Sydney on Wednesday night, and it struck me for the hundredth time what a very different place my hometown is depending on where in it one lives. Are other cities like this to quite the same degree? I’m not sure…Sydney is so sprawling and so disparate, and its four compass points are often so entirely alien to each other, that it does seem like disunity defines a uniquely tenuous whole. It’s pathologically postcode-centric, Sydney, and one’s experience of living here is shaped and stunted by the city’s insurmountable, in some sense unnavigable spread. You just can’t get around easily – it’s a bitch of a place to attempt to traverse. No one’s got the time, many don’t have the remotest interest, and so everyone marks out their patch and largely sticks to it, making occasional exceptions for exciting excursions to, well, foodie destinations, and that’s about it. Sydney is very motivated by food – few things will get its residents moving like the promise of some edible ethnic revelation across town. Make way, make way. Anything else, forget it. Have you seen the traffic? Have you sampled the public transport? NOTHING COULD BE WORTH IT – nothing we can’t eat, at any rate.
Anyway, I loved Falconer’s Sydney because it is so recognisably my own, and not at the same time. I am a rare thing in Sydney, being someone who has lived in all four quarters: north, south, east and west. Years in each of these wildly dissimilar sections of the city have given me a vastly different Sydney history to Falconer’s own, and I would have written, of course, a very different book. Nonetheless she captures exquisitely realised, minute details that made me laugh and cringe in equal measure – oh boy, that’s us, all right – and jogs so many buried memories from childhood and adolescence – some truly nightmarish, including the fatal fire at Luna Park and the unthinkably, unbearably violent murder of beautiful nurse Anita Cobby. The hilarious cheek of a driver leaving an obnoxious note on an innocent party’s dinged parked car made Llew and me roar with shocked laughter – there is something to this ghost town’s convict past that makes us rude in the face of authority and propriety, and I love that about Sydney. I fucking love it.
And when Falconer recalls an older gentleman’s long ago mark of respect at the sight of a passing hearse (I think he removes his hat), and laments both his and the gesture’s passing, I wanted to cry out, ‘No!’ – no, we of this fractured city are still capable of grace. One of the most profoundly moving moments in the days of thick grief after my granddad died occurred the day of his funeral. He was a motor mechanic, and he left instructions that he wanted his coffin carted to the Eastern Suburbs Crematorium on the flatbed of a tow truck (this request being the only thing that managed to raise a laugh – and a big one – from yours truly the day he died). So it was, with the rest of us travelling along behind. The double-takes of other motorists and pedestrians were pretty priceless – as Granddad surely anticipated, cheeky bugger – and as miserable as we all were, bawling in the funeral car behind, little bursts of hysteria kept coming over the car as we registered the incredulity greeting our procession as we passed. And then it happened.
We were coming down Avoca Street in Randwick, about to join Anzac Parade. A young man was walking on our side of the road, also heading south. He looked like a suburban hood: stupidly oversized jeans, arse hanging out, gigantic watch, huge sneakers, a thin white singlet showcasing his thin white frame, tattoos, a baseball cap, some bling. My gaze was drawn to him – perhaps I was already wondering what he would do. Nearly nine years later, it still puts a lump in my throat and I am now blinking back tears. Because this guy, this utter parody of bored youth in all his faux ghetto glory, caught sight of my granddad’s coffin, did the expected full double-take, and quickly scraped off his cap, lowered his head, and made the Sign of the Cross.
Yep, it still makes me weep. Oh dear, here I go!
So, Delia, I wanted to say, the old man’s time has not ended. All is not lost in Old Sydney Town.
Right now I’m in the sunroom working on next month’s Varuna feature. After a beautiful day, which included an ocean dip for yours truly, an afternoon thunderstorm is now breaking. Though I am by the beach, the release of humidity smells unmistakably like tilled soil rather than the salt of the sea. It is the olfactory equivalent of freshness, this earthy perfume, and it makes all my senses tingle in tandem with the rapidly dropping temperature.
I have the bi-fold doors open to the courtyard, so as the rain begins falling heavily, the precipitation pregnant with all that hot, heavy air, the scent of the storm keeps rushing across the sandstone pavers, tripping across the old tessellated tiles and coming to rest by planting cool kisses on my bare feet. A flash of lightning is subdued, almost wholly absorbed by the white grey skies, which rumble and growl overhead before the sound moves on.
I love afternoon thunderstorms. Sydney’s are often spectacular. This one feels a little gentler, there’s a wafting quality to it, but sometimes they are terrifying in their ferocity, and I find myself flinching and scurrying, racing for cover, undignified and scared, nothing more at these times than a reprimanded mortal fleeing the violent admonishments of easily angered gods.
And just like that, it ends. The rain has stopped, the clouds are dispersing, and the sun is mounting a determined defence. Outside, the sandstone is already drying.
It’s been a busy few days. First there was the Festival of Llew over the weekend, which concluded last night and happily went off without a hitch (diabolical weather notwithstanding). Thanks to a friend cancelling at the last minute, we even ended up at the magic number of 9 for the joint birthday lunch with Llewie’s best friend, and were free to indulge in the full menu at our leisure. So much better. I also pulled off the unlikeliest coup of recent memory, after inviting two of his and D’s great mates, one of whom lives in PNG and the other in Melbourne. They both came, in addition to a couple more of their oldest friends. It was so lovely see them all together, especially as the PNG-based friend is also soon to become a father for the first time. A little hoorah seemed in order, and that’s precisely what they had. It was also supremely satisfying being the Keeper of Birthday Secrets – I had a great deal of fun orchestrating the surprise guest appearances – I even kept them from knowing about each other. Llew was, as you might imagine, utterly chuffed. Yesterday was his actual birthday, which he unfortunately spent at work locking horns with a gigantic tool, but he escaped in time for us to have dinner with his parents last night. And now we’re both completely shattered. Stamina, why have you forsaken me?
Now, after the most active morning on record yesterday, during which he or she pummelled the birthday boy’s hand as if in particular greeting (all other gifts immediately paling into insignificance), it was I who later scored a quick little glimpse of Baby J during my appointment with Dr F. The backbone was incredibly, thrillingly clear on the monitor, as were the four chambers of the heart, all rhythmically pumping away like one of the choreographed numbers in Fantasia, and the head was snugly down. But because of my low-lying placenta, and spotting over the Babymoon, I am still scheduled for a ‘foetal wellness scan’ at week 34. During the scan, I’ll also be seeking reassurance about the umbilical cord’s position – I just really, really want to know that it’s not around Baby J’s neck. The thought, when it succeeds in breaking through my mental fortifications, makes me sick with anxiety. I’ve tried to just put it out of my mind, but it’s a worry that’s always vaguely there, hovering just below the surface, whispering at me in a pretty heartless fashion. I’m hoping the scan will put an end to this nagging doubt, because it’s a really awful thing to think about, let alone experience (as a number of friends can unfortunately attest). Keep those fingers crossed, please.
And if crossing digits is your thing, I’ll gratefully accept any contribution directed toward the ASA Mentorship Program. I sent in my application today after really struggling with it the past couple of weeks. When I returned to that chapter rewritten in third person, from which I’ve kept my distance since making the change, I didn’t like it. I wasn’t convinced by it – it seemed to actually amplify my authorial presence instead of mute it – so whatever problems I am having realising the protagonist in first person, I’m going to have to keep trying. Mind you, what currently exists of my second MS is in third person and always has been, so I think it’s just a matter of deciding what’s right for each individual project. I’m persuaded this one is better served by first person, but I’m still glad I tried. Of course, this decision only attends to one of the manuscript’s many remaining flaws, and I’m afraid I don’t hold out much hope of nabbing one of the mentorships. I wish I could say I simply don’t care enough to be bothered imagining winning one, but that would be disingenuous. In truth, I would love to be awarded a mentorship – because I both really want and really need one – I just don’t think I will be numbered among the lucky few. Why apply, in that case? That’s a good question. I guess I still feel as though I have to keep trying, no matter how hopeless it all seems (and I’m afraid I haven’t yet recovered heart).
The better reason is that periodically writing these applications forces certain kinds of thinking about the work, and it’s beneficial to have to regularly articulate a project’s direction and status. It’s clarifying, and it’s surprisingly difficult to do well (so I find, anyway), which means I find the process very worthwhile irrespective of the outcome. And that’s lucky, because it’s rare to get the result one desires.
Waking up to find your apartment block is inside the perimeter of crime scene tape, and that your end of the street has been barricaded by paddy wagons. And then the small matter of learning that a body has been discovered over the fence.
Over the fence on the eastern side sits a beachfront apartment block, at the base of which is a commercial strip comprising restaurants and a surf shop. The body was apparently found behind the restaurants, and probably came from the apartment block’s open walkway above. At about 5 am, judging from the birds just beginning to pipe up, I was woken by the sound of two men talking – just conversationally, absolutely nothing about it sounded untoward – and it was almost certainly the restaurant staff arriving for work, where they evidently discovered the body (which we mercifully did not see).
Staff in one of the restaurants told our neighbours on the other side that the man was wearing boxers, which instantly makes me think ‘sleepwalker’ – particularly as there are always holidaymakers in that block, so it’s not at all a stretch to imagine how something might have gone horribly wrong in that case. However, the police definitely seem to be treating the death as suspicious at this stage, which makes me think there must be some detail I at least have not heard. My neighbours also said the police were having a hard time getting anyone in the block to recognise the man, which again makes me think he was a holidaymaker. Whatever happened, it’s just awful.
Everything’s packed up now and everyone’s moved off, including the reporter and photographer from the local paper (yuck – what a hideous job. I am sooo not cut out for hard news). It’s a blindingly beautiful day, but somewhere out there, someone is getting the worst news possible, and it makes me very sorry to think of it. Death under this cloudless blue sky is appalling, somehow – there’s something mocking about it, a brightly coloured tease. But it does make me want to get out and make the most of it. It made me want to go for a dip in the ocean, which I did, and which made me feel cleansed and alive.
This morning, I dropped porridge down my front, because a spoonful’s safe passage from the bowl to my mouth is clearly beyond me right now. Later in the morning, I somehow lost my balance – while sitting down, mind you – and abruptly flung my cup of coffee all over my chair, my cushion, my computer and, naturally, myself. When leaving for my walk, I next tried retrieving my 1 kg weights through a gap that was too narrow, thus tipping the fruit bowl clear off its stand. I dropped the weights in order to save the bowl from certain destruction, and they promptly rolled off the butcher’s block, loudly knocking out some of the contents of the shelves below as they plummeted past. Now I’ve just eaten my lunch. As I took my first bite, hot melted cheese spurted down my second outfit of the day, looking for all the world like a pale loose turd, while mayo squirted sideways onto the remaining cushion as if to say, ‘And now take that.’ When I took the lid off my drink just now, almost braced for the next assault, it too seized its opportunity and sprayed a fine effervescent arc right across my front. What, one wonders, does tonight’s dinner hold?
There’s nothing slapstick, meanwhile, about trying to get my application in shape for the ASA Mentorship Program. I’ve entered before and been unsuccessful, and as this is the last program of any description I’ll be entering before Baby J’s public debut, I’d like to do a decent job and give myself the best chance, but don’t really have any sense that I’m doing either when I look at my support material so far. For a start, I have to include a sample from the MS, and I don’t even know whether to send it in first person or third. Time is running out, though, so even though the decision doesn’t have to be made for all time, it does have to be made by the ASA’s deadline. The whole thing makes me feel totally addled, frankly, but even as a complete and utter outside chance, it’s still too good an opportunity to pass up. I have to take that chance and apply.
It’s been a relief, not entering things, and just how great a relief becomes explicit when I think about the one outstanding competition result and how it makes me feel, just instinctively tensing day after day after day while I wait for the rejection to land like a big scavenging vulture swooping atop my flimsy Tower of Silence. Parsee dead are beyond caring by the time they’re lying there waiting to be picked off by the birds, but I’m still just conscious enough to know what’s coming for me. And they’ve had this story five months. It’s the same story that got precisely nowhere the last time I entered it in something, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s still the only short story I’ve written that I don’t think of as an unmitigated disaster. Anyway, in it went, and I signed the entry form and agreed to the terms and conditions, and there it has stayed for the past five months.
In honouring the terms and conditions, I’m not allowed to send out this story to anyone else. So while five months go by and I wait for what will almost certainly be a list of winning and commended entries from which my own name is conspicuously absent, the story isn’t even able to be considered elsewhere. It’s a bit rough, don’t you think? Personally I think that kind of timeframe is a little unreasonable – it seems, well, unfair to hold hundreds of hopefuls to ransom like this for such an extended period. Most of us won’t get anywhere in this competition, but at five months and counting, nor are we free to try our luck elsewhere. It’s a very long time to await a decision – the Josephine Ulrick, the biggest short story prize in Australia (that Darkling Jewelene won this year, thank you very much!), doesn’t take nearly so long to cut the rejects loose – they’re admirably efficient about it! I can’t remember how long it took, exactly, but I think it was about three months. A blink comparatively – certainly within what’s regarded (crazily) as a standard turnaround in these matters. But five months…? What’s taking so long??
It’ll be nice when it’s no longer hanging over me – my rejection in waiting. Who needs it? Not me.
Today, I’m a month into 38 and two months from D-for-delivery-Day (although I am convinced Baby J will opt for a late checkout, and I’ll be getting a plastic hospital tray Christmas Day. This is something I imagine so clearly I can smell the lumpy custard). The first half of that equation feels mighty swift – was my birthday really a month ago? – but the latter is an eternity. The idea that Baby J has two more months of growing to do makes me feel a bit breathless – although that’s probably due to the amount of growth already under his or her belt (not to mention my own…). Nine more weeks? How about I cash in a few sleep stamps, and you can just wake me up when it’s over?
I feel like everything, not just the Guest Breasts, has inflated overnight. I’ll be interested to see if Dr F thinks I’ve puffed up at our next appointment, because the past few days, I think I have. Things really do tend to change overnight in pregnancy, which is something I hadn’t expected, and bang, overnight, I feel like a big bloated bovine butterball. It’s my sad duty to confirm that I’ve definitely exhausted the run of happy hormones (Llew’s noticed it too), and right on cue I now feel like nothing so much as a really sleepy sack of fat. So when my friend L said to me yesterday, back in Sydney after a month away, “Wow, look at you, it’s really huge now, huh?” I wanted to jab her in the eye with my pie fork (and not, you understand, forego the pie).
The continuing elevation of my feet at every available opportunity remains a top priority; I went to a play with my sister-in-law last Thursday night (more about that in a moment), and I kept being distracted by the sight of my legs swelling right before my eyes, an especially uncomfortable, ill-timed party trick. Were we not in a darkened theatre, it might have been something to see. During intermission I thought I was going to burst out of my jeans like the Incredible Hulk. I thought Llew was going to have to cut me out of them by the time I got home. The good news is, as long as I keep them UP, the Tree Trunk Effect appears to be largely under control, so let’s just say I won’t be signing up for an economy seat on a budget airline any time soon.
The play was Rhinestone Rex & Miss Monica, the latest offering by David Williamson, Australia’s best-known playwright. Llew’s mum gave us the tickets, so when Llew couldn’t make it, asking my sister-in-law seemed like the next best thing, and she kindly agreed to be my date. The play was at the Ensemble in Kirribilli, which as you may recall I really like (the theatre and the suburb both, the latter of which lies at the northern base of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and is a lovely little village). Llew and I generally meet at Circular Quay or the Rocks on the southern side and walk over the bridge to find a pre-theatre meal; it wasn’t the same without him, but it was a glorious early evening nonetheless, the harbour twinkling below, alive with commuter ferries chugging people home; the Opera House glinting in the last of the light; the sun setting to the west, briefly recasting the clouds as a flock of flamingos… Sydney at its very finest, enough to make my heart beat a little faster, as my eyes greedily drank it in. Gorgeous.
My sis-in-law and I headed to a place I’d spied down the side of the Milsons Point train station the last time I was in Kirribilli, Ricky’s (it’s a tiny cute little place that feels like a secret, but lo and behold, Ricky’s has a website). It was delightful, from the stunning Italian waitress’s apologetic smile as she gamely stumbled through our language barrier, to the short but enticing menu, not to mention the food itself, and the gentleman waiter who also couldn’t do enough for us, we were both pretty smitten when we rolled out of there.
The play was also a success – Georgie Parker is perfectly cast as a brittle but glamorous musician, and Glenn Hazeldine is instantly likable in the tradesman role. Monica’s unable to continue playing violin for the Sydney Symphony due to injury; Gary’s putting in her new kitchen and loves country & western music. To say they’re an unlikely pair is the understatement on which the success of the whole play relies.
Once you accept the rather tired stereotyping of the two characters – as a blue-collar worker, he’s the salt of the earth, and as an artist, she’s an insufferable snob – it’s a very entertaining performance, and both Parker and Hazeldine are pitch perfect in their handling of the play’s frequent comedic moments. There are a lot of laughs. My sis-in-law summed it up perfectly when she said afterwards, “It’s a good chick flick” – that’s precisely what it is. If that’s what you’re in the mood for – and we two girls certainly were – you’ll go home smiling.
If I could only muster the energy, and stop my head lolling loosely on my neck long enough to focus on the screen, I’d quite like to make some progress on the MS redrafting. There’s a lot of work that needs doing, and the elves are evidently on strike.
One of the things I most enjoyed about Fiona McGregor’s Indelible Ink is the novel’s use of Sydney, and it’s something I think I could and should make more of in my own writing. McGregor’s novel puts Sydney’s climate and flora to work, and beyond their metaphorical value, both succeed in really creating atmosphere, shifting the mood of the story in careful partnership with the unfolding narrative arc.
Using a city’s dramatic weather patterns as a narrative-vane is not a new thing, and nature of course features in a great many texts, but I became aware while reading Indelible Ink that Sydney is not yet the character she could be in my own manuscript. I know this city, and I love her, and yet thus far I haven’t given her proper due. It’s something I plan to address, and it’s also why I chose Delia Falconer’s non-fiction Sydney as part of my Babymoon Book Haul. I was very interested to read not only another Sydney writer’s perspective on the city, but also in the difference between Falconer’s personal exploration of it and McGregor’s fictional one. I suppose, then, I am, however indirectly, starting to do the work that needs to be done, but I fear it’s still a long road ahead.
When I opened up the MS last week, I impulsively did something quite radical, rewriting the first chapter in third person (until now it’s always been a first person narrative). I haven’t yet decided how I feel about the change. I’ve since left that rewritten first chapter alone in a separate document on my desktop, but I’ve certainly thought about doing it many times in the past couple of years, discussing the possibility at various points with various people, and when I came back to it this time after such a substantial break, it seemed at the very least to be an experiment worth trying. I wonder how I’ll feel about it when I read over it? Perhaps – and this is one of the possible outcomes that most appeals to me – the distance produced by this shift in narrative perspective will construct a sufficient detachment for me to see the MS anew. Even if I ultimately return the perspective to first person, it seems valuable to use the third person alternative now to help me step back and conduct the necessary critical reappraisal of all that I find. But I do have another problem to overcome either way, and that’s plain old exhaustion, so I fear it’ll be slow going whatever I decide.
In other book news, I finished Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) last week. Jackson’s name kept cropping up in recent months, as sometimes happens, so that when I spied this in the Penguin Paperback section of Berkelouw Books in Mona Vale, I pounced. The Library of America recently honoured Jackson by releasing a volume of her work (edited by Joyce Carol Oates, who seems the most perfect choice imaginable now I’ve read a piece), and it’s this recognition of Jackson’s significant contribution to American letters that’s responsible for my at least hearing about her for the first time. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a fabulous, unnerving example of mid-nineteenth century American gothic; it’s a genuinely creepy novel that had me shivering with that perfect reader’s mix of horrified delight. The elements and the environment also feature here, but it’s Jackson’s use of food that particularly interests me. I think we’ve become so used to the sensualisation of food in writing that, for me at least, it made a wonderful change to have it become the source of the dark and sinister instead of the erotic and fecund. Her 18-year old first person narrator, Mary Katherine (Merricat) Blackwood, is a complex creature one both likes and fears, and the spiteful cruelty of the small town is rendered with acidic acuity. I was hooked.
I’ve (uncharacteristically, it must be said) felt supremely relaxed throughout the past 30 weeks, really chilled out and untroubled and even-keeled, but the last few days, I’ve noticed A Worrying Change. Things are irritating me again. Like really, really pissing me off, and this morning I woke up so tired and so grumpy I have been half snarling all day. Oh no! I found myself thinking earlier in the week, fuming in a store about some stupid thing, I feel like myself again! Where did the magic hormones go? And how can I get them back again? TAKE THE UNBLEMISHED SKIN BACK – seriously, I would rather get a lifetime’s supply of that love drug I’ve been coasting on for the past six months!
Please don’t go! Stay a while!
What’s making me steam like my old self today is the rise of the group booking. I am simply trying to make a lunch reservation as part of the Festival of Llew (his birthday’s coming up), and because we’re 10 people, we have to – have to – have a set menu whether we like it or not. This riles me from the outset, because what the restaurant is saying is that the more people we bring into their venue, and the more money we drop at their door, the less we will receive in return. Beside me sit the forms I am now forced to print, fill out and fax back in order to secure our table. If we were a table of 9, I wouldn’t have to do anything but call and leave my name and number. Then there’s the set menu. Instead of being able to peruse the full menu, I have to choose, on everyone else’s behalf, three options. I have to decide – right now – if everyone’s having dessert, or no one is. There is a fixed price, which exceeds what you would pay for the same two courses from the regular menu. How does that work? Why are we paying more for bringing in a larger table? Aren’t large tables good for business? You bet they are. Shouldn’t we be rewarded? Not on your life.
Then there’s the wine list. This place has a great list; it’s one of the reasons why Llew wanted to go there. Do you think we’re allowed to order what we wish from the full list? It seems not. No, they want me to choose one white, one red, one beer and so on now – on my fax, you see, without which my booking is NOT confirmed – and everyone will be forced to drink that for the day. Now, I worked in hospitality right throughout university, so I understand the argument about the limited food menu even though I think it’s a fucking cheek, but I don’t accept it’s so desperately difficult for the wait staff to deal with our beverage order. What if we want to try a few different wines? Well, it looks like we’ll have to un-invite a couple of Llew’s friends. I’ve emailed back saying I think that would be a real shame, so I’m awaiting their response.
Finally, because wait, there’s more, for the privilege of being punished at every turn for lining their pockets with group gold, we earn a 6% charge on top of our bill. It’s for nothing other than yet another slap on the coin purse for being rude enough to fill their restaurant.
As you might imagine, I am starting to lose my appetite. And yes, if it were a different story anywhere else, we would take our sucker selves off the reservation sheet and suggest they ram it up their arse. But it’s not. They all do it. Welcome to Sydney.
Hunger. Hunger like you wouldn’t believe. Now, I’ve never been one to let myself get really ravenous, I tend to take care of business well before it hits that crisis point (and that’s because when I’m hungry, I’m crazy), but this is a new and truly voracious appetite.
Nothing seems to satisfy the gaping maw that is my mouth.
I got really hungry around about the start of the second trimester, and then things calmed down again, but for the last week or so, I would describe my appetite as frantic. I’ve nearly been in tears – honestly on the verge of weeping – if there’s been any sort of delay between the onset of these hunger pains and their satiety. And the expression is literal, because it is painful – there’s an actual gnawing, as though Baby J were a Pac-Man from the old video game, chomping his or her way through my insides. I’ve only just eaten lunch, and before lunch I had a mid-morning banana, and at breakfast I had a big bowl of porridge (and the all-important glass of OJ), and apparently none of this has had any impact whatsoever, because I feel like I am STARVING.
The other night, I had to have a pre-dinner bowl of muesli and yoghurt because I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I knew Llew was still an hour or so away, and I was never going to make it. That’s what this feeling is like right now – I am in the grip of it, and it is consuming me, because I have evidently failed to consume enough. Wait a second. I need to stop writing right this second and go and get something else to eat.
Okay. Now I’ve had an apple, but I keep putting down the core and picking it straight back up again for another round of shredding… okay, what’s left of it is actually coming apart – I’m through to the pips. I don’t think it’s going to work. I’m still hungry. And hunger makes me feel wild.
Despite all the eating, and despite what Dr F’s scales said, I don’t actually look all that huge. I mean, I have a big baby bump, as you’d expect, but the rest of me looks… kind of… normal. Dr F didn’t believe me when I told him what the scales said, and made me hop on again so he could double-check, and as he said, I’m not even puffy. Not yet, anyway. I’m sure a lot can change in ten weeks. But currently I look about the same, except I’m carting around 12 kilos of extra tummy (although the Guest Breasts must take some credit too, since they’re easily double their normal size). That’s right, count ‘em: T-W-E-L-V-E – and that’s according to my scales; if we’re to believe Dr F’s, you can make that fifteen (neither of us think his scales are accurate, but that could well be wishful thinking). And there’s still ten whole weeks to go! Jesus! I shudder to think where I’ll be at the end of this, but all I know is, when you’ve gotta eat, you’ve gotta eat. Speaking of which… I need an apple chaser before I take off my arm…
Let’s see how I go with a treat… a warm date cookie and a glass of milk – will that take the edge off?? Here’s hoping.
As for other symptoms/evidence of my current tenant? Thumping great kicks these days, which are both strange and wonderful, and make me really impatient to meet the little person behind them. Nosebleeds – or at least bloody mucus when I blow my nose (nice). Indigestion – this seems entirely unrelated to when or what I eat; I think it’s just crowded in there, and my digestive tract sometimes lodges the protest hours and hours after the fact. Ridiculous bladder behaviour: it’s back. Sore legs at night – don’t ask me why, but I think I’ll call them ‘bed legs’ from now on. Insomnia – although that’s largely about discomfort now. Oh, and a brand new one hit me before sleep the other night: a horrible shooting pain, kind of like what I imagine a heart attack might feel like, except this one stabbed me on the right side rather than the left. This was the first genuinely unpleasant thing I have felt. It was even a little frightening. I really hope that’s not what contractions are like.
Anything else…? Um… my skin is a lot better, as Annah predicted. I wouldn’t call it perfect, but it’s a big improvement, although that’s also seasonal, I know. The blessed humidity is back, winter is over, my skin is rejoicing and so am I. Oh yes, my vision: I have excellent sight ordinarily, but my right eye is currently weaker. No question. My friend L tells me this is another usual side-effect of pregnancy, and not to even bother going for an eye test – because I’d like to make sure it’s not a new, permanent problem with my sight – until after Baby J’s arrived and I am back to “normal.” She says there’s no point, it won’t be accurate, and I’m inclined to agree.
I’m sure I’m forgetting any number of things, but while I have happily been describing this as a trouble-free pregnancy, and truly believe it to be, and feel extraordinarily fortunate for that, it’s interesting to realise that there are in fact a list of things happening that aren’t really much fun. They just don’t seem to add up to anything worth worrying about – it’s all just stuff, small stuff that happens when you’re growing a small person. No complaints (and I think the cookie and milk did the trick).
I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere in the world, but debates around motherhood are currently all the rage in Australia, and for me, soon to make the transition into motherhood myself, such discussions, particularly as they appear in the media, are increasingly fascinating. The cover story of the magazine insert in one of the Sunday papers (euphemistically but accurately known as “rags” here – a truly great Sunday paper is one of the things we still miss about London ten years since coming home) over the weekend was entitled ‘Single Figures,’ and it reminded me that this subject was something I wanted to unpack a bit here.
I very nearly didn’t read the Sunday Life story at all, because the swamping headshot of Jennifer Aniston on the cover (the first of no less than six Aniston images around the piece), and the caption, made me think I was in for yet another vacuous, fawning celebrity profile, but Rachel Hills’s article is better and more intelligent than the aggressive, misleading packaging of it suggests. It takes as its focal point one particular dichotomy within modern womanhood – motherhood VS childless singledom – and because it doesn’t examine other permutations of existence (the married or committed woman who does not or cannot have children, say, or the single mother, or the dual same-sex mother, or the stepmother), it misses, I think, part of what it means to address, which is the curious, fractious space women occupy today.
I don’t think that feminist beliefs, for instance, are the sole preserve of the childless. Hills doesn’t suggest this either, by the way, but the implication of the article nonetheless seems to be that the lines are drawn between these two camps: the traditional domestic and the feminist independent. I’m immediately troubled and alienated by that cosmetic split because I believe that I – and many others – inhabit both spheres. I am married, pregnant, and fiercely committed to the rights of women. I am a very independent person who also happens to be in a committed partnership with another human being. We are soon to be three. I do not see any of this as contradictory. I am not about to start enacting some 1950s mode of living just because I am having a baby – and it insults my intelligence to suggest, however obliquely, that I am retrenching my identity and compromising my feminist principles by having a child. I just reject this categorically, and I think it’s a deeply unhelpful starting framework – lazy too, because it doesn’t begin to acknowledge the innumerable ways in which women both give care and don’t.
What I will say is that I am part of the first post-feminist revolution generation; Generation X was the first and perhaps will prove to be the only round of kids brought up believing, from the outset, free and clear, that boys and girls were “equal.” This fundamental belief underpinned the education that many of us received. This notion of “equality” didn’t just take root in the minds of all the girls – the boys took it on too, it was as basic as arithmetic, and as a result, countless men of my generation have always regarded women as peers. They do not question our place in the workforce, they do not doubt our intelligence, they do not dismiss our contributions. And it wasn’t just Gen X women who were in no hurry to race down the aisle – Gen X men thought there was plenty of time to decide about marriage and babies too, and that’s because that “equal” education we all received left out a really key piece of information: men and women are not “equal” at all.
Yes, we all knew about the biological clock on some abstract level the whole time, of course we did. But I can’t begin to tell you just how remote its machinations seemed when I was in my twenties. The world was ours for the taking, and that was a core message: don’t squander your potential. DO. ACT. BE. We were free and empowered, strong and independent – all of us, not just the girls – and this was a rare privilege, hard won for us in the mythical sixties before we were born, and we had a sacred duty to make the most of all our new and dazzling opportunities. And so away we went, young ladies merrily linking arms with the lads, and all of us having the time of our lives.
Meanwhile, for the girls and the girls alone, egg reserves and other fertility determinants were already on the wane. Tick tock. Who ever thought about those distant and stuffy Personal Development classes, where such facts of biology were last discussed? Not me, I can tell you that for sure. And whenever someone did get married and have children in their mid-twenties? Well, gosh, that seemed so appallingly early. Nothing could have been further from my mind at that time, even though I was seeing Llew at 24. And the same goes for him. We had things to do, places to go, people to meet, ambitions to achieve – separately and together – and children? Good grief. Not even on the radar. Parenthood was beyond my reckoning altogether – I just didn’t really think about it.
It was a lasting shock to enter fertility treatment and discover I am classified as “elderly” in fertility terms. We started trying to get pregnant four years ago, and I can honestly say I did not think it was a moment too soon. I was 34. It seems so naïve and stupid now that I know so much more about the reality – and that reality is deeply, fundamentally, inescapably unequal for men and women – but I truly didn’t imagine I had left things a little late. The truth soon became blindingly apparent: my side of the bargain was in real jeopardy, and that discovery was a very rude, very unpleasant awakening for us both.
There will be some sort of correction in the next generation – Gen X women won’t be able to help ourselves – we will want to warn those women currently in their twenties not to delay as long as we did that harsh reacquaintance with the way in which men and women really are different. I think that’s inevitable, the impulse to sound a note of caution, and it’s already happening. But is that desire to equip them with a fuller picture of what’s at stake promoting a return to more traditional homemaker roles, or an insidious insistence on the primacy of the conventional couple? NO. No, it’s bloody well not, and it’s really totally beside the point to insist that it is. All we can do is try to learn from each other and learn from our collective mistakes, and try to leave a better world for the ones who will replace us. I think it’s perfectly legitimate for Generation X to say, ‘Wow, turns out there’s a screaming timer on that whole baby question, and it completely blindsided us, so you might want to keep that in mind because some of us really stuffed it’ – because this isn’t an academic hypothetical, far from it; the consequences of paying no heed to the gender inequities of time are all too painfully real.