Sunday, July 19, 2015

Antarctic vortex

I bought the dog a coat this year to help him with the cold.  Other years it hasn’t felt necessary, at least not in terms of my identification with him. 

And here, I think about how, on a cold day when I was a child who refused to wear her jumper, my mother said to me; ‘It makes me cold to look at you’. 

The roots of empathy perhaps?  My mother sympathising, only, I did not feel cold at the time.  She felt cold looking at me.

These last several weeks I felt cold looking at the dog. And so I bought him the best coat I could find at a reasonable price, one that fitted well and one that was easy enough to put on him. 

Now every morning before his first visit to the garden, I struggle to get him to cooperate in the wearing of this coat.  He needs to lift one leg at a time to fit into the separate holes in the front, then I bring up the two sides to join the fabric across his back and slide in the zip joins. 

This is tricky. 

If I accidentally drop one side and the dog drags a foot out of its hole, I need to start all over again.

Who’d have thought it would be so hard to dress a dog?  I had wanted something I could slip over his head, jumper style, something that did not need as much cooperation from him.  But this was the only one that fitted. 

Although the dog has adjusted to the wearing of this coat by day when he’s outside in the cold, I suspect he’d rather do with out, though he seems now to appreciate the warmth it generates.


Or is that me again, me being like my mother, me responding to my sense of the cold, not his?

My husband says, ‘He’s a dog.  Dogs can manage all weathers.’  Maybe on the farm when my husband was a boy they could.

My daughter says, ‘Small dogs can die when it gets too cold.  They need protection.’ 

In several months time, I will be going off on a short freefall writing retreat with the wonderful Barbara Turner Vesselago.  I’m looking forward to this time but also fearful that I will not write to her specifications.  Not as I write for this blog, with its mix of the ‘show, don’t tell’ variety and a heavy dose of telling, as in authorial intrusion. 

I’m forever telling you what I think.  It’s a no-no in most writing circles. 

The rule is: keep yourself out of the writing, unless in disguise.  It’s boring for readers, the saying goes, ‘Show, don’t tell’.  Let readers make up their own minds. 

I agree, up to a point.  But I reckon there’s merit in the other style of writing too, the so-called ‘diegetic’. 

Don’t be put of by the word.  It’s a writing style in which the writer speaks to you about what goes on. WG Sebald for instance, and many others write this way.

Even wonderful writers of the show-don’t-tell variety have sections wherein the writer paraphrases the action to move the story along.  It helps with pace.  It’s also necessary because every single detail cannot be shown.  There are some things readers need to know if they are to enjoy the action.

Anyhow, I’m fearful of the freefall because it will require I concentrate hard on the show-don’t-tell stuff, otherwise known as the ‘mimetic’. Again, don’t be put off by the word. 

These are things I’ve learned about writing over the years.  That they fascinate me is no guarantee they’ll fascinate you, rather like my mother’s view: Just because she was cold without a jumper, there’s no guarantee I was.

I had a higher metabolic rate at the time.  I’d have been bouncing around in the garden not noticing.  But my mother, looking out on me from the windows of the kitchen where she’d have had the fire on high, would have been more aware of the contrast between the warmth inside and the temperature outside.  

When my mother entered her last year of life, she kept her heater at full bore all day long in winter. To enter her room was to enter a sauna. She found it pleasant and every time I came in with only a cardigan and no coat she would tell me off for not dressing warmly enough. 

But I came prepared for her room.

These days, and this winter particularly, I feel the cold in my own right. 

I’m not alone here. Everyone throughout certain parts of Australia is complaining of and rejoicing in the fact that we have snow in Queensland. 

Not for something like fifty years has there been snow in Queensland. 

They call it the Antarctic vortex.  Which puts me in mind of a comment that JeniMawter made when she handed the fiction prize in the Lane Cove competition last year to Marjorie Lewis-Jones, ‘Don't start your story with the weather.’  


I hadn’t realised that. To me, the weather in my story was simply that, weather at the opposite extreme of what we have now, a hot stinking summer. 

There you have it.  When writers talk about the rules of writing they can develop any number of rules to justify what to do and what not to do. 

I say, ‘do it anyhow’ and see how it works.  If it sounds lumpy and clunky and does not invite your reader in, then think again.  Maybe some of these rules – better named guidelines – might help. Bearing in mind, what works for you might not work for the other.  

Still your ‘feel’ for things is probably a good place to start.





Post a Comment