Bummers, Birthdays and Bennelong

November 5, 2010 at 2:22 am (Uncategorized)

Friday already? This week’s been a blur, to be honest. It all started when I suffered a bit of a personal setback on Tuesday, being an email communication that unfortunately resulted in an immediate return to the insomnia and hyper-tension that brought about the break of contact in the first place, back when I acknowledged, with enormous difficulty, that the relationship was really taking a toll on me. Here is an impossible thing to explain satisfactorily or kindly to another party: “Our interactions are really bad for me, and they exact too high a price on my physical and psychological well-being to continue.”

That’s not a message that’s easy or pleasant to convey, let alone receive.

Cue sleepless nights, anxiety, hunched shoulders and tension headaches. Llew walked in on Tuesday night, took one look at me and said, “What’s happened, what’s wrong?” How to explain? Well, the feeling that comes over me is like a dense, suffocating shroud – a full blackout – and I wonder if it’s at all similar to what people who suffer from depression experience? The sense of airlessness is total, and even just writing about it now is making my stomach clench and my throat constrict. To tell someone who is not at all a bad person that they have this effect on me only makes things worse, because I feel enormously guilty about and burdened by the way I feel. And yet those feelings, regrettable though they are, do not change the truth of what having this person in my life does to me, and I can’t afford to avail myself to them any longer. I just can’t. I have to be healthy for my own family, for Baby J and Llew, and as callous as this may sound, that means making sure I avoid people and things that I know are damaging to me.

Heavy feelings. Heavy decisions. Not fun at all.

Luckily, I wasn’t able to really sink further into this emotional mire because duty called – I had a freelance job, as I mentioned, that kept me very busy until yesterday afternoon. Business as usual, which was probably the best thing that could have happened. And although I was staggering with overtiredness, Wednesday night we’d committed to going to illustrator/comic creator Matt Huynh’s latest exhibition opening, Alluvia, at the Paper Mill at 1 Angel Place. The Paper Mill is a great little gallery space, opposite the lovely Ash St Cellar. Matt had an excellent turnout, even scoring comic artist Chewie Chan as a grinning occasional bartender. With the exception of a couple of pieces – in particular Autocure, my favourite, the Alluvia collection is quite different in tone and style to his last exhibition, Asperatus – it feels like this show is evidence of Matt’s still very much exploring and defining the type of artist he wants to be, testing himself, trying different things, considering new possibilities, all of which couldn’t be more apt when you consider Alluvia is the spring to Asperatus’s winter in what will ultimately be Matt’s four-part interaction with the seasons in this new body of work. But it’s actually another of this prolific illustrator’s projects that has currently arrested my attention: personally I can’t wait to see the results of his Chinatown Comics project with the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.

The distractions from inner turmoil continued last night, when I got my September birthday present in November: a night at the opera. There is a story behind this particular gift. When Llew was still snuggled in-utero, his parents attended the opening of the Sydney Opera House, so Llewie liked the idea of starting a tradition of sorts by taking Baby J not to ‘Opera in the Park’ or ‘Opera in the Vines’ but ‘Opera in the Womb.’ Rather than opening night, ours was the last, as Llewie escorted me to Opera Australia’s final performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto. My date arrived late but bearing red roses, and we quickly made our way to the pre-opera dinner sitting in the southern shell of the Sydney Opera House, which houses Guillaume Brahimi’s renowned Bennelong restaurant. Now that’s what I call a birthday treat! It’s a pretty spectacular spot inside and out, very much a special occasion restaurant; my only regret is that we had to keep an eye on the time, although staff runs a very, very well-oiled machine in this regard. To start, I had the blue swimmer crab on a bed of avocado with cucumber, coriander and capsicum coulis, but Llew definitely took out the best entrée award: his scallops with cauliflower puree, Shitake mushrooms and chicken jus were sublime. Mains I’d call it a dead heat: we both scored, me with a Barramundi fillet served on a bed of carrot and ginger puree, coriander and pomme allumette, and Llew with a perfect fillet of beautifully marbled beef that he ordered too rare for me to even try (the nerve). We had a side of roasted fennel, too, something neither of us had ever tried and which was a lovely accompaniment to both our meals.

We made it into our seats in the Opera Theatre without a minute to spare. The performances themselves were excellent, in particular Alan Opie in the title role, and Natalie Jones as Gilda, Rigoletto’s [pretty stupid, in my view] daughter, who stepped in at the eleventh hour when Emma Matthews was struck ill and was pitch perfect. I’d mistakenly thought it a comedy, but the story of Rigoletto is really quite sinister in parts, and pathetically human in general. The standout feature of the production for me, however, was the stage design. We apparently have American Michael Yeargan to thank for that – and boy, he did a superb job. I was so fascinated by the sets that I almost forgot to follow the surtitle display. Fabulous.

But my birthday present didn’t end there. No, we went back to Bennelong for post-theatre refreshments. Llew got stuck into the port and a vanilla crème brulee, whereas I opted for peppermint tea and one of the best desserts I think I have ever had: the passionfruit soufflé. I was expecting it to be good, but this was positively scrum-diddly-umptious. As belated birthday gifts go, this one was a world-beater. Better yet, I even managed to get to sleep last night. Thanks, Llewie!!!



  1. Norwichrocks said,

    Jolly glad to hear that the belated birthday treat was so sublimely fab.

    And equally sorry to hear about the email communication that sent you down the rabbit hole. I’ve been there, its enormously unpleasant and you are absolutely right to avoid it as far as possible – not just for Baby J but for yourself.

    And, since one cannot control one’s feelings, only one’s response to them and the actions we take as a consequence, I have long believed that guilt over one’s feelings is unnecessary. This person makes you feel bad and you are taking the only sane course of action as a result. Huzzah for you!

    {{{and hugs}}}

    • doctordi said,

      I think that’s the difficulty, Woo – I’ve TRIED to control my feelings about all this, and of course it doesn’t work – has never worked – so I just end up feeling sicker and sicker about it. I know they neither intend to make me feel bad, nor probably even understand how and why they do, and yet… this remains the reality. On top of all the other feelings, it’s also just plain exhausting. I’m totally wiped out from worrying about it. Again.

      Thank you – hug gratefully accepted. Do you mind throwing in a shoulder I might pass out on, please?

      • Norwichrocks said,

        shoulder always at the ready (and its quite broad so very comfy for crashing out on!)

  2. litlove said,

    Sounds like a fantastic birthday treat. Really sorry too to hear that you’ve been suffering that way. Is this a situation where silence is possible? You know, just pull up the drawbridge behind you and stop communicating without explanation or justification? Sometimes it’s easier to say nothing than to say the things that will wound, and it can be effective in getting the message across. You can’t change this other person, but you can look inside yourself and see why this affects you so badly and perhaps learn something valuable from that. I’ve often found that learning something from a situation helps me to get closure with it. Good luck with it in any case and hang onto the fact that everything passes. Hope you get lots of rest and the return of peace of mind.

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks, LL. I didn’t feel I could pull up the drawbridge without explanation, no. I do know why it all affects me so badly, though, so that’s something. I’m pretty clear on all that, which is how I’ve learned that for me, there’s really nothing else for it. I have to withdraw. A tactical retreat is what I initiated some time ago, and unfortunately I was called upon to confirm it was still in force. It’s a totally shitty position to be in, and it exposes all my inadequacies, but all I can do is be honest about my limits.

  3. Grad said,

    The birthday celebration sounded wonderful…and highly deserved, I might add. You Australians certainly know how to eat well!! Or, dine well might be the better choice of words. I love the Opera and used to go quite often as a young woman in Chicago. Alas, very little of it here, although La Boheme came here a couple of years ago and I took Shorty. Not quite the Chicago Opera House, but they did a good job nevertheless. As for toxic people…been there done that. Sometimes you just have to cut the ties and let them float away. But it ‘aint always easy.

    • doctordi said,

      No, it’s not easy at all. But I agree with you, Graddikins.

      I’d love to see La Boheme. We’d go more often were it not so crushingly expensive. There’s a good reason why the purple rinse set dominates the audience numbers – around here you’ve got to work your whole life before you can afford to become a patron of the arts.

  4. Lilian Nattel said,

    Happy Birthday! It sounds like a wonderful time.

    I’m sorry about the upsetting email. Have you thought of setting your email to block this particular recipient? You can have the email deleted without your ever seeing it or even knowing it had arrived in your inbox.

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks, Lilian, it was really lovely.

      Oh no, not in this case. I could never do that.

  5. davidrochester said,

    Sorry to hear about the life vampire … those situations are so complex and terrible, and you’re right that dealing with them involves impaling on the lesser horn of a dilemma. The belated birthday sounds lovely, though — Alan Opie is a very talented performer, and I envy your having seen him in person.

    • doctordi said,

      So true, David – ‘impaling on the lesser horn’ is the perfect description. Still bloody, still painful, still a ghastly mess, and yet still preferable to the untenable alternative.

      I hope Opie gets to Portland so you can enjoy him in person too.

  6. Pete said,

    I’m in awe at your Sydney opera experience. And I love the thought of Baby J bopping along inside there. As for the food, oh my god. Is Sydney now the new capital of fine cuisine? Actually it probably has been for a while and I’ve just not known.

    And I like LL’s advice about the upsetting friendship. I would say it definitely helps to know why this person gets to you and then just to walk away. And yes, we do absorb other people’s toxicity and it sucks. At the risk of stating the obvious, I’d suggest daily journalling on it for a while (but don’t send the emails) to let it go. To learn something from this (whatever that might be) would be the challenge I guess.

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks, Pete. I’ve learnt and am still learning plenty from this situation, though I dearly wish things were different. But they’re not, which is what I keep coming back to.

      Sydney certainly thinks of itself as *a* capital of cuisine – but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if this were yet another instance of our being legends quite literally in our own lunchtime. Having said that, the food in Sydney is actually very good, so at least this time there’s some reason for the loving self-regard.

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