Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cold turkey

When I step out of the shower and feel the first chill of air against my wet skin, I wake up for the day. Only then can I make plans: shopping to buy, errands to run, housework.
Ideas tumble through my mind but I cannot settle on one. There’s a crack in the ceiling I had not noticed before and beyond it a fine spider’s web pearled with water droplets from the steam. It is winter. The bathroom mirror is fogged. The extractor fan has lost any ability to do its job. I flick it on at the switch and it grinds noisily but has no effect.
I cannot see my image in the mirror, which is just as well. I could not see anyhow. My glasses on the bench have fogged up, too. Without them the world is a fuzzy ball. Yet in my mind I see it all clearly now, the thought unbidden like an apple falling from a tree.
Those cigarettes will kill me. I have to stop smoking.
I have had this thought before but today it feels different. Today it will not go away. Today is the day, I tell myself. Today is the last day. After today I will never smoke another cigarette again. Without the fan the left over smell of my own cigarettes even through the fug of the warm wet bathroom reminds me of the stench of my childhood home.
My throat constricts. I cannot stop coughing and mucus rises into my mouth.
My father died of emphysema, did you know? He died for want of breath. He died when he was sixty-five years old, when his body could not go on against the wretched struggles of his heart to pump blood around his body, and his lungs could no longer take in fresh air and use it to purify his blood.
One day soon the bathroom fan will collapse. My father’s lungs were like the extractor fan in my bathroom. They collapsed. The noise the fan makes now is like the sound of my father’s catarrh. The sound of his hacking cough as it rattles through the hallways of my memory.
And did you know I took up smoking when I was well into adulthood? I cannot plead the excuse of the young, those keen to prove themselves. I had, I thought then, already proved myself. But I took up smoking almost to the day that my father stopped.
I know it pained him to see me drag in the sweet cigarette smoke while he could scarcely breathe under the weight of his own now passive smoking. I should have left the room, but I wanted him to suffer. A cruel punishment to inflict on my father; something of what he had inflicted on me, as if to say to him, there you see, you did it, you taught me and now you must suffer. Reap the benefits.
Do you know I am now officially addicted. I cannot give up smoking without suffering the pain of withdrawal. I know this now. It is an unhappy thought. How will I endure the next few days, the next few weeks without the comfort of my cigarettes?
My body is dry. The towel is wet. I hang it out along the rack. I step into my dressing gown and slippers, then make my way to the bedroom to dress for the day. Sandals, a t-shirt and jeans. My cigarettes lie on the mantelpiece where I last left them. I pick up the packet ready for that first cigarette of the day. My body rises to greet the first rush.
No, I say. Today is the day, not tomorrow. I throw the packet outside my window into the teeming rain where the cigarettes will grow soggy and incapable of offering solace to anyone. I go cold turkey.

Friday, March 25, 2011


I've written a piece on Doubt for anyone who's interested. It's based on earlier thoughts I've described here, a tad more 'academic' but hopefully still readable.

The MC journal is also worth checking out.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


And so the day begins. My grandson is staying overnight. He shared a room with one of his aunties and she has taken charge until later in the morning when my husband takes over to cook pancakes as promised for breakfast. The others are still sleeping but the day has begun.

I have snuck off to write. That’s the operative verb, to sneak off, to slink off, to leave the room unnoticed, just so that I might be able to get in a few minutes of writing time before the rest of the day begins and I lose this opportunity, the best opportunity as I see it, early weekend mornings for writing practice.

I watched Shrek with my grandson last night and the word onion comes to mind. Shrek tells Donkey that an ogre, like an onion, is layered. In other words, an ogre is not simply a function of his external appearance nor of his behaviour. Underneath the layers of hardness, of ugliness, at least in our terms, there is also a thoughtfulness and tenderness that might surprise even the thickest of donkeys.

It takes time to get to other layers of experience.

Today I will clean out the fridge. It is giving off a bad smell as though something had died in there. On a first inspection I cannot locate the source. Smells like this are disturbing.

It’s hard to get into this writing imagining that at any minute I will be interrupted but more than that feeling guilty that I should not be here writing, rather I should be there in the kitchen with my grandson, though he does not need me at the moment. He is happy to trawl through his Thomas the Tank books while my husband prepares the pancakes.

I am free to write now but my mind is tangled up in the topmost layers of my thoughts and it is hard to get down below to where I prefer to go.

I prefer to go below because to me below is where the deepest meanings reside. They do not live on the surface along with all other superficialities. Though the surface is always our first port of call.

I will need to empty the fridge completely in order to find the source of that bad smell. I will need to write for some time in order to get down to the deepest layers of meaning.

My grandson is calling, this writing will have to wait.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A yellow towel

I sit beside my mother on the blue Ventura bus. It snakes its way through the back streets of Box Hill. We have been travelling for nearly an hour. Already the trip is long, from Mentone beach into Surrey Hills. We did not have time to think or to decide on the clothes we might wear, or the books we might bring to read on this long journey. We could not stay a minute longer.

It happens like this. On Friday nights my father drinks himself into a stupor. Most times he falls asleep on his chair in front of the television. He leaves us in peace, but sometimes the drinking starts earlier before Friday. It might begin on a Wednesday. On days like these, my father does not go to work. Instead he drinks and sleeps, sleeps and drinks, and in between times he looks to us for company and for fights.

He looks especially to my mother, but she pretends she does not notice him and the more she pretends the more angry he becomes until in an explosion of rage he throws a radiator at her, as he did this morning, or he rips off her dress, as he did last week, or he tears out her hair.

Last week we left to stay with my big brother and his new wife in Hawthorn but we have overstayed our welcome there. This week we visit a friend of my mother’s who has said that my mother and the two little ones can stay the night with her, but we older ones will need to fend for ourselves.

And so it was decided. We older ones will catch the blue bus back to our home, but we will not go inside. We will sleep in the garage if we are brave enough to sneak into the backyard and otherwise we will fend for ourselves in the outside world.

The bus drops us off two stops before our house. We do not want our father to see us from his front seat in the lounge room. We walk around the block and approach our house from behind. Even from behind, our house does not feel safe. There is a vacant block behind the grey paling fence that divides the back of our house off from the next as yet unbuilt property. We will spend the night there.

My brothers climb the fence and sneak into the back yard to collect three towels off the washing line. We left them there the day before, after we had been swimming. We will use the towels as blankets.

Mine is a yellow towel. It is summertime. A hot night. I do not need a blanket. I use the towel as a mattress, a thin mattress that cannot cushion me from the rocks and rough bits that stick into my body every time I try to turn over in my sleep, but it is a comfort nevertheless. The two boys offer the towels to us three girls as an act of gallantry. They are strong boys. They can do without.

I look at the stars and imagine myself far away even as I marvel at the idea of my twelve-year-old self as this homeless person. How they would marvel at my school. How shocked they would be. Families from my school do not sleep out of doors at night because their father is drunk.

The next morning we go to Mass. The priest in white and gold vestments raises the host to the altar in the Hosanna chorus and I look down at my dirty fingernails, dirtier than usual for all the grit of my stony dirt bed the night before and I marvel at the way life can seem so very different from the outside.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Old Eggs

It was a Tuesday. I remember the walk across the car park and back to my car, the slow drip of blood between my legs.

I remember squeezing my pelvis, as if by this simple movement of my body I could hold on, hold onto my little Horatio.
Horatio, I said under my breath. Horatio, hold the bridge.

The doctor had told me it was too soon to know.
It’s not unusual to bleed in these first few weeks, she said.
It might not spell the inevitable.
The inevitable, she said, was not inevitable, though to hold my grief, or to help me to focus on something else, some greater grief perhaps, she offered her own story:
How she, at forty-two years, had stopped IVF, and finally made the decision to accept her fate.
‘You already have three children,’ she said.
‘Think on it. Even if the inevitable happens, you have something to fall back on.’

And I was thrown back in time.

A ten-year-old girl, I stood beside my mother in the front garden of our house.
The geraniums had wilted under the summer heat, and my mother picked at them carelessly.
She plucked off the dead ones and threw them away.

Mrs Bruyn from up the street stopped at our fence.
‘I was sorry to hear about your baby,’ she said, and my mother’s eyes filled with tears.
‘But you still you have your other children,’ Mrs Bruyn said. ‘They must be a comfort to you.’
My mother nodded and Mrs Bruyn walked away. I watched her floral dress billow in the breeze. I heard the clip clop of her heels on the concrete path.
Mrs Bruyn also came from Holland, the land of babies, my mother told me, the land where people wanted big families, but there was no room.

Mrs Bruyn had room for babies but she had not made any.
It was not her fault. My mother told me, something to do with her eggs.
Eggs, I thought, like chicken eggs, eggs that sit under the warmth of a hen for days and then one day crack open and out pops a chicken.

I thought again of my own eggs. Old eggs, the doctor told me.
‘You must not leave it too late to have your babies. Once you reach forty, your chances halve.’

But I had waited too long for this last one, as she had waited too long for her first. Our eggs were old.
The lottery of pregnancy, the doctor said. The later you leave it the less chance of success.

I did not tell my mother about my miscarriage.
She did not tell me of her still born until later, years later when we could share our grief.

My mother had another miscarriage, years before I was born, she told me. She had lost the baby in the toilet, like a penny doll. She could see its arms and legs, its little eyes.

Horatio did not hold the bridge. Ten weeks into the world and he was gone.

No matter what we do we cannot save them, these lost babies.
My husband has white lumpy bits on both his ankles. That’s where the babies were attached in utero, he tells me, or so his mother once told him.
All the dead babies that he managed to out live, as if his life cost theirs.

And Mrs Bruyn who lived up the street had wished my mother well.

The dead ones do not count as long as there are lives to take their place.
Even in Australia, where we have plenty of room, there is not room for everyone.

Someone has to go.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Yoghurt and blogging are good for you

Nancy Devine has honoured me with a stylish blogger award, for which I am grateful.

Here follows my acceptance speech, which at Nancy's request includes seven things you might not yet know about me:

1. I would spend all day blogging if I could and then feel terribly guilty for it. To me it would be like spending all day long in a coffee shop chatting with like minded friends about things that are of interest to us all. The occasional tense moment might arise, but most of the time we would travel into new areas of thought and occasionally retreat back into safe and familiar territory, always with the knowledge that there is so much more to learn out there.

2. The only way I can justify the hours each week I spend on blogging is to convince myself I do it for the writing practice. This then is an insult to my blogger friends, as if I do not appreciate our time together. Nothing could be further from the truth.

3. When I was little I wanted to have nine children just like my mother and at the same time, despite my reservations about the man who was my father, even then, I imagined I wanted to marry a man just like my father: a tall Dutchman with blue eyes and blond hair and a deep gravelly voice.

4. I have achieved none of these things. My husband is neither tall nor blond. He is fifth generation Australian and descended from convict stock and my children number four.

5. Over the past several months, in fact since I broke my leg last September, I have undertaken to eat a tub of yoghurt a day. I understand yoghurt is good for you in many ways and I now have the fantasy that it might help my bones.

6. One of my great pleasures is to escape into BBC period pieces, the Jane Austen variety. Their worlds seem so much slower than ours, so much more predictable, but I despise the class divisions and the gender divide in those days appalls me. I would not want to live in such an era. So why escape into it? I keep asking myself this question.

7. Despite my best efforts to be generous to others, I fear I have a jealous disposition. I am inclined to resent those who do better than me, particularly when it comes to writing. I suffer such pangs often within the blogosphere where there are so many wonderful writers.

I think it comes as a function of being sixth in line in a family of nine and always looking up to my smart brothers and sisters ahead of me. I could never imagine that I might be as smart as them. No amount of education, psychoanalysis or life experience seems to shake that view completely. I admire intellects that are accessible on the one hand and on the other I wish they were mine.

As for the bloggers to whom I would like to offer this stylish blogger award there are too many to list. Also, I’m aware that many who receive such awards find them onerous.

So I offer this reward as a mark of respect, not as a requirement that you follow through on any of the tasks assigned, the stuff about linking back to the award giver and listing seven things about yourself and passing the award onto five other bloggers.

All these things to me should be voluntary and no one should feel pressure to oblige. Nor should any of my blogger friends feel aggrieved to not be included here. I’d list you all if I could.

That said, I’d like to make the first two awards to Rumi and Rilke who cannot speak for themselves but can only respond via Ruth at Synch-ron-izing and Lorenzo at The Alchemist's Pillow.

Thereafter I’d like to mention Christina Houen’s relatively new blog. Christina is a wonderful writer who presents views of life in Australia that to me represent something of the essence of being here in this country.

I suspect he would not want an award for all the usual requirements but I cannot go without mentioning the remarkable, Jim Murdoch of The Truth about Lies. His blog is a font of information for all people who read and write. His blog tends to be a series of reviews on a vast array of books.

Jim is a poet who writes beautifully about other people’s writing and occasionally talks about his own writing process.

And finally, though there are so many more I could list here, so many wonderful bloggers whom I have met over the past few years since I took up blogging more seriously, I’d like to mention both Blackland’s Angela Simeone, a young artist whose work, both in her art and her writing is haunting and powerful.

And secondly Lynn Behrendt who strikes me as a brilliant poet and a modest artist whose wonderful work deserves the highest praise and recognition.

Visit these people and you will come to find our more of what I blog for: intelligence, aesthetics, deep sensitivity and a light touch of humour.

These bloggers are all artists and wordsmiths in their own right, and I value the fresh insights they offer on life’s journey.

Finally, and I should not for I have already exceeded my quota, I mention Kass of The K.... is no longer silent, another poet and a wise and generous woman that many of you will already know.

I must stop now because a flood of associations leads me on to other names and other folks. I have met so many wonderful bloggers through my travels. How rich and wonderful is the blogosphere.

Thanks Nancy for prompting these thoughts and enabling me to introduce and boast about some of my blogger friends.