Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Survival of the Fittest

Bill saw him first, this tiny possum at the side of the road on the nature strip. I was in the drivers seat about to take the car out of the driveway, when Bill pointed it out. The possum was trying it seemed to scale the long shiny telephone pole, one of those broad silver poles painted black at the base. The possum could not get any grip on the pole and kept slipping back onto the grass. Slowly in full beam of the headlights it skipped across our driveway, in search of a tree, we imagined. I looked towards the tree on the other edge of our nature strip beyond our driveway imagining that at any minute the possum would appear on his ascent to the safety of the tall branches. It could not possibly go out onto the road, I thought. It would have more sense than that. The traffic on Riversdale Road in front of our house stood at a standstill waiting for the lights to change. Friday night, early darkness, headlights flashing like a million bright eyes. The possum stepped out onto the road and stopped between the line of stationary cars. The cars in front took off and the driver immediately behind the possum seemed to hesitate. The driver must have seen it, I thought and waited for him to get out and shoo the possum away. But whether the driver had seen it or not a second later the car took off. I put my hands over my face. I imagined the possum underneath the belly of the car safe from the wheels. But when I took my hands away I saw car after car drive over the top of the possum. It was dead in minutes. It did not stand a chance.
By the time we returned home from collecting our Friday night takeaway dinner, the possum was a mashed up mess, by morning it was spread so thin across the road it was longer recognisable as a possum.

Possums are pests around here, but I could not feel the satisfaction of one less possum in this instance, one less critter to eat the buds off the roses before first flowering. This little chap was dead in first flowering, dead too soon. Thinking about it now fills me with the sense of trauma I felt that night half watching, half hoping it would all go away. Five days later it's hard to get that death out of my mind.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Rhythm of Life

Despondency sets in all too easily. It’s predictable, have a holiday and I start to feel ill, to worry about my health. It always happens. The number of times I decide there’s something seriously wrong with me during a holiday is legion. Then reluctantly I get back to work and it’s all over. I’m myself again. Perhaps I was made to work.

There is something about the business of putting my thoughts down on the page that exposes a level of vulnerability that’s frightening. It’s one thing to speak your thoughts to another, even to a group of others. Generally words that fly out on the wind blow away, unless someone’s taking notes, but even then they have far less power than when they are written and circulated for others to read.

I never know how what I write will be received. Any writer never knows how their work will be viewed. It can be wonderfully well received by the majority or it can be despised. It can be read in a manner completely different from what the writer may have intended. The writer’s intentions matter not these days.

That Greek fellow, Harry Nicolaides, in Thailand, who wrote a sentence or two in his novel that was interpreted as insulting to the King of that country had no idea, I suspect, that it could lead him into such trouble. There will be many who would say that he should have seen it coming. But how could he? And of course the fact remains that it has led an unknown writer, allegedly with not much talent, into the minds of many. Is this what he had wanted? What of the price he paid? – imprisonment for a time with the threat of further imprisonment. I think perhaps it is almost too high a price. He will, I imagine, be forever traumatised and wary of what he writes. Salman Rushdie comes to mind – the fatwa on his head for speaking ill of Islam.

It is a dangerous business. Yet it is addictive. The more we write, the more most of us want to be heard. Annette Kuhn talks about this wish in her book on family secrets when she writes about the film 'Mandy' - ‘The little girl wants to be heard’. Sue Woolf, the Australian writer, talks about it too – her position as the only girl in a family of boys and her later recognition that as a writer she has her chance to be heard, whereas in her family of origin she most often felt silenced.

Some people thrive in the shadows, preferring to remain invisible. Some people are shy about their work, but others have this deep need to get recognition. Where does it come from? Not enough recognition at birth, in childhood, too great a sensitivity to the good opinion of others, too much uncertainty about one’s own value unless someone tells you repeatedly. Perhaps it is the lot of women, more so than men.

Research has shown that in the classroom, boys command more air time than girls. This is not to criticize the boys. Their ways of learning, their needs are different from girls. And at the moment, I suspect there is a crisis of masculinity going on in the western world where the men generally, though perhaps not at the top of the tree, are disadvantaged. A crisis that comes as a consequence of the relentless pace of change culturally, feminism has ushered in a new era.

Women are seen to be the equal of men. Men are no longer simply required to be so-called breadwinners. More is required and women find themselves busy bread winning as well. All of this is a simplistic interpretation of the reasons behind what I suspect is a fundamental change to our past history of the patriarchal.

I’m sure that my children do not feel the pressure of the patriarchal quite as strongly as I do. Though the other day when one of my girls said that they would be able to get a dog only if their father approved, then it became clear to me that his veto is more powerful than mine. Or maybe that applies in instances where both their parents are in two minds on something. We still do not have a dog. And as Ella’s return to school draws nearer I breathe a sigh as I suspect we may get through this crisis without bending to the pressure.

We may yet get way without getting a dog. As Bill has said, one of the cats, Anoushka would almost certainly ‘leave home’ were we to come home with a dog. It's far worse than coming home with a new baby because a cat cannot be made to reason. A cat will feel completely displaced, or so my anthropomorphic reasoning tells me. Our cats need to have their space respected. In years to come I would love a dog. Certainly when the cats are gone, though of course this might take years. The three girls argue a dog would be good for their father. I think this may be true. But not now, not yet, not when there is already so little time to attend to the needs of those already here, cats, children and parents, grandchild now as well.

Roll on school and a continuation of the pattern of busy days. Holidays are dangerous. I get sick during holidays and my children dream up unrealistic schemes that can sometimes snowball into impossible demands for which there is no room during the normal school and academic year. Roll on the rhythm.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What a difference a collapse makes.

You can tell I'm on holidays this week. I have more time for postings than usual.

I did not feel well yesterday. It's funny how often I feel unwell during holidays, as if the time to stop allows my body to start talking to me again, telling me to slow down perhaps or at least to pay attention.

I was standing at the check out in the supermarket when my eyes went strange. It was as if my vision, particularly in my left eye had begun to break up, as if a line had been drawn through my sight and the point of the line began to shake. My vision across that line then became fluid and blurry. I blinked several times to right it. My mind was still intact. I could complete the transaction and leave the supermarket as if normal and I imagined my vision would come good once outside, but it continued though less severe, until I reached my car.

When I came home, I looked up Google for a diagnosis, as you do, by which time my vision had resumed normalcy and I decided that I might have been hypoglycemic. I need to eat more in the middle of the day perhaps.

I ate a banana then and although I felt physically better, my mind kept troubling me with thoughts of dire disease, diabetes and the like. I will check this out today when I visit the doctor for my annual flu injection.

Millie tells me that I am not my usual self. That I am worse tempered than usual. That I get angry with the girls in ways I never did before. I explained to her that I have reached the stage where I no longer enjoy the challenge of housework, and that it begins to get on top of me. Age, I say. It must be my age. I’ve had enough of being a mother in the domestic sense.

Last night the three girls, especially Millie and Ella tidied the kitchen and put all the washing away. Rosie tidied her room. What an achievement. I don’t think it’s happened like this before.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Anyone for Dog?

Our daughters, those three who still live at home, want a dog, demand a dog, desire a dog in that order and we their parents are under pressure to oblige, though so far we have managed to resist. It began the day a couple of walkers chased a stray dog that had wandered away from his home around the corner into our backyard.

The girls then took care of this dog, a silky terrier whose name turns out to be Matty. They calmed his trembling form and took him inside, fed him cat food and generally nursed and petted him until we were able to take him down to the vet to attend to his wounds if any, and to locate his owners. I hoped he would have a microchip in his ear and that a simple x-ray would locate his identity. As it turned out the minute we walked into the vet’s, the receptionist told us that she believed she had already located Matty’s owner who had rung earlier that morning to report her missing dog and to inquire whether anyone had brought one in.

So we drove Matty home and talked to his heavily pregnant owner, Lucille who was so pleased to have her dog returned that she gave my daughter, the one who came with me to the vet, a large box of chocolates.

My daughters, at least the two youngest, were disappointed they could not keep Matty and even though Lucille had said they could borrow him at any time, even for a sleep over, the girls decided they must have their own terrier, or Jack Russell, or Beagle whatever. It had to be a small dog to match our small back yard. It had to be a non-yappy dog. And they will take care of it.

I write in the present tense, the story is not over yet. We neither have the dog nor have we finally totally and adamantly said ‘no’ to a dog. We, my husband and I, are waiting till the school holidays are over by which time interest might drop off.

If we had a dog I would probably soon love it. But I would also worry about it. It would add to my store of concerns. Our cats, I am sure, would not love a new dog, under any circumstances and much as my daughters would no doubt love the dog from the onset, I fear that their interest would last only as long as they were at home. The two older ones will leave home soon and the youngest will no doubt become preoccupied during her final two years at school. I shall be left to care for the dog, just as I cared for the multiple rabbits and guinea pigs and such like from the past.

Cats need little by way of care. They tend to fend for themselves but even they require regular attention, feeding, trips to the vet, protection from stray cats etc.

I do not want a dog, but keep posted. It may well be that in very little time, we will have one whether we, my husband and I, want it or not. Such is the power of persuasion, two power point presentations later and the persuasive force of at least two adolescent daughters with a little help from someone’s boyfriend, and lo and behold you have a siege of parents that is likely to end in adolescent victory.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


I feel cheated when I cannot complete a freefall (a time spent writing freely writing whatever it is that comes into my head, a technique I learned from the wonderful Barbara Turner Vesselago – go on, Google her – I should provide the link here I know but I do not have the time) on holidays and weekends.

So for this day and tomorrow I shall suffer the frustration of missing out on my favorite morning activity. It is like early morning music practice, the glide of my hands over the keys. I cannot correct errors as I go and as a consequence the sequence of my thoughts are almost as first produced, the thoughts that spring to mind as I sit here contemplating what next to write.

But the thoughts that spring into my mind must surely be different from the thoughts that spring to mind in ordinary states of quietude, when I am mulling over events and feelings.

When I write I receive my thoughts slowly, to allow enough time for my fingers to keep up and somehow therefore I think I must censor them. I must censor these thoughts in so far as I want them to fit into a logical pattern of sentences and meaning. When I daydream I suspect I do not bother with such neat constructions, I just let my thoughts take me where ever they want to go. And because I know the thoughts will not enter the light of day, unless I’m rehearsing a speech or something I want to share with someone else, then I know they will remain safe with me. I need not polish them too heartily. But when I write I check myself, however lightly. Like now, behind these written thoughts there are others unwritten, like the order to myself to get rid of those adverbs, ‘lightly’ and ‘heartily’. There’s no room for adverbs here. While in daily thought and when speaking there’s plenty of room for adverbs. I do not try to abolish them.

This line of thought is drying up, my cup of coffee is nearly drained and I have so many jobs to do that soon I will stop this freefall, get dressed and go into the crowds at the Camberwell market to buy the odd Easter egg for an Easter egg hunt tomorrow, to buy wine for tonight’s dinner to celebrate my brother’s birthday tomorrow and to buy ingredients for the dessert we are to provide. My daughters will make it, a type of crème brulee, chosen to accommodate my sister in law’s celiacs, a condition that means she cannot tolerate gluten. Therefore no cakes, unless they’re flour free.

I wish I could stay at home and send the others on without me. I wish I could be like one of my writing companions who takes herself off for days on end to write. An independent means, a husband who supports her, children grown, she has the space I lack. So I must make do with the little scraps of time I can find between my commitment to my work, to my children to my husband, house and home and play away on this clickety clack computer in the morning spaces in between.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


It’s a ritual of mine, this weekend freefall, first thing in the morning before even checking my emails. The temptation 'to check my public', as my husband calls it, is so great, always looking for a piece of good news, a distraction, a friendly message, anything to shift me away from the hard work of writing, at least from beginning to write, for it’s the beginnings of writing that hurt the most. That terrible time when the white screen yawns before me empty of ideas and words and the thought comes again and again, I have nothing to say, nothing worthwhile to write. Anything I write will be useless, or worse it will be meaningless, colourless, it will lack any relevance to any person living on this planet, including me.

How easy it is to get into a diatribe against my writer self. And how boring, but at least it’s a start.