Monday, April 28, 2008

Finished the book

I finished writing my current book last night. Well, actually I finished it last week, but went back to it yesterday to tidy up a bit. I rewrote the last chapter so it flows better and wrote a whole heap of prophesies and extracts from books to go at the beginning of each chapter, so that all the strange terms I use make sense. I know it needs a lot of editing still, but it's such a good feeling to finally reach the end. I've been working on this one for about two years - in between working five days a week and studying and the myriad other things people fit into their lives.

I even know what book I want to write next, although I really should finish another one I started a little while ago. Actually the one I want to work on is probably top of the pile simply because I have a beautiful new notebook to use for the planning. I've already done some planning - created the world and the threatening creatures and the major characters, all with complete biology and diagrams. I have motivation and internal and external conflict, a history and a mystery to solve, good guys and bad guys and man-eating beasts and, of course, a love interest. But that's where I stop. I know where the book starts and I know where I want it to finish, sort of, but no clue at all about how to get from A to B. It will require some thinking time. The really fascinating thing is that I know by the time I do work out how to get from A to B, B will have shifted to an entirely new place and I'll be surprised all over again. I love writing.

I thought I would start writing last night, immediately after closing the file of the other one, but it didn't happen. I have the picture in my head for the first scene but after the herione captures and incarcerates the hero, I don't know where to go. I'm also having trouble letting go of the characters from the previous book. This is the second book I've written with these characters and they feel like friends. I don't want to just abandon them. I do have a third book following the lives of some of them in my head but I wanted a break from them. I wanted a totally new world with different problems to solve.

So now I have separation anxiety for people who don't even exist and I know if I don't revisit them I'll grieve for them too. My sister once told me I need to get a life but this is my life. I just have real friends AND imaginary ones. :)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Being a mother

My daughter is nearly 25 and a joy to be with. Last week she lost her voice. This is a regular occurrence and often coincides with an upper respiratory tract infection. It happened to me all the time when I was her age. If she doesn't get antibiotics for it, the loss of voice can continue for weeks. Not good when her job relies on her being able to speak.

Yesterday morning I got a phone call. On answering, there was nothing there but as I was expecting her to call I held on. Eventually I heard a soft whisper. How she expected to communicate on the telephone with no volume, I don't know. The request: 'Mum, can you take me to the doctor?' Isn't that sweet?

So that's what we did. I went in with her to 'interpret' - something that hasn't happened since she was a teenager. Then we went to the shopping centre to have the prescription filled. Of course, you can't go near shops without shopping so we bought shoes and dvds, then went home and cooked lunch. After lunch we played with the wii for a while then gave each other manicures. I even had the opportunity to tuck her in for a nap and kiss her forehead as she dropped off to sleep. Another thing that doesn't happen very often anymore.

It was a beautiful quiet time. She couldn't talk and I didn't feel the need to fill the silence. The habit of working together the way we used to when we lived together just slipped back into place, with each of us having our little tasks, swapping tasks as the need appeared, and the whole thing dovetailing almost seamlessly. It was comfortable and comforting.

None of this would have happened if she hadn't been ill. Am I an awful mother for being grateful my daughter needed to go to the doctor and wanted me to take her?

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Tomorrow is ANZAC day. It's one of those odd days that is many different things to many people. ANZAC day - 25 April - marks the day that Australian and New Zealand forces landed at Gallipoli in 1915. The whole campaign was an absolute disaster. Not only was it poorly planned using eroneous intelligence, but we were landed in the wrong place. Yet the Australians and New Zealanders held their position for nine long months. Today, we commemorate the things that campaign brought to light about the Australian people. Courage, Compassion, Mateship, Honour. There are services of remembrance held around the country on ANZAC day. The first one is at dawn (that's when they landed at Gallipoli). Not every town or suburb does a dawn service but there's usually one within easy driving distance. The next services are at either 9am or 11am, depending on the decisions made by the RSL (Returned and Services League) in the area.

My father was the President of the local RSL branch for many years before he died. Even though he was British, ANZAC day held special significance for him. It was the only time during the year he ever drank more than one drink. The day would start with the dawn service of course. I'd wake at 3am and listen as Dad made a pot of tea before he left. The dawn service is, of course, held at dawn. Afterwards the RSL put breakfast on for members and guests. Dad would stay at the RSL hall, entertaining dignatories and toasting lost mates, until the next service at 11am. That's the one families usually go to. There's a parade of returned and current servicemen, youth groups, schools, etc. There are speeches and "Nearer my God to thee" and "Amazing Grace" are sung.

The Last Post is played by a lone bugler and silence reigns for two minutes (the first minute is to be thankful for those who survived, the second to mourn the loss of those who didn't). I love that The Last Post finishes on a high note - a note of hope and promise. It makes remembering the ANZACs less futile. Reveille follows, in the dawn service it's timed to be played as the sun peeps over the horizon. A new day, a new beginning, a new life to live. The Ode to the Fallen is recited, often just one verse:

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."


"Lest we forget."

Emotive and poignant.

After the 11am service the RSL put on lunch for members and guests. Dad would usually roll home around 6pm, flushed from the scotch, a smile on his face and ghosts in his eyes.

Like many men, Dad enlisted with his mates. He made more friends during his service. He was the only one who survived the war (WWII).

The ones the fighting left alive, cholera took. Dad told me once about being admitted to a hospital along with 200 others (he and most of the men had cholera). He was one of only two who left the hospital alive.

He never spoke about the war, only ever mentioned a couple of his experiences during that time. All the emotion was tucked away behind his iron will and only allowed out on ANZAC day. Every year he was devastated. It never got easier. It never went away.

Not everyone attends an ANZAC day service. Many, especially when the ANZAC day holiday creates a long weekend like this weekend, go away with family or friends. Camping is a favourite at this time of year. I was talking with my mother this evening - she's staying overnight so she can attend the dawn service with my daughter and me. She got quite angry at the idea that so many people treated the day as just another holiday. It's not what those men and women in all the wars have fought for.

I disagree. I think that's exactly what they were fighting for. Our freedom to choose how to celebrate the fact that we have a choice in our lives. Our freedom to live the safe existence we enjoy. What else could possibly be worth fighting for?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Potatoes yet

Did you know 2008 is the International Year of the Potato? I know I'm singularly uninformed when it comes to current affairs but it struck me as unusual to dedicate a year to a vegetable.

I think my protected and insular upbringing has sheltered me from a lot of the horrors of the world. I've been lucky enough to grow up in a country that has never seen a war. Well, when I say never seen a war, Darwin was bombed during WWII and before that there was the Eureka Stockade (our one claim to a fight for independence). Our soldiers have always gone away to war, beginning with the Boer War, although Australians didn't actually fight as independent Australians in that war. It finished before our first contingent after Federation in 1901 arrived in South Africa. We still have people in other countries risking their lives for others (I wish a safe return for all of them), but that isn't my focus here.

In Australia, we've never had to fight to defend our lives, our homes, our families. The entire history of settlement in Australia has been relatively peaceful in modern terms. (I say 'relatively' because the treatment of the Aborigines is a whole other story.) While we haven't always been a wealthy country, we have always been the country of opportunity. Logically and intellectually we know that not everyone is so fortunate but in a comfortable life, the impact isn't great.

It's this balloon of ease that has made it so confronting for me to suddenly realise, emotionally, that a small thing like a potato could mean the difference between life and death. In my life, I have so much choice the potato features in my diet two or three times a month, no more. Yet, without it so many would die.

I'm wealthier than I thought

I teach teenagers. That in itself is probably fodder for dozens of blog entries but the teenagers aren't my focus tonight. I simply mentioned them because without that fact I wouldn't have the knowledge I have now.

We've been studying a unit on world poverty. We've spent 12 weeks looking at different countries and researching what makes a person poor and how poor 'poor' actually is. We've all learned a lot about the world we live in and what we can do as individuals to try to make it a better place.

Today my group of 14 year olds (and the rest of the 14 year olds in the school) participated in a 'hunger banquet'. It operated along similar lines as the 'Global Village' only with the focus on food. We were imagining if all the 14 year olds in our school were representative of the world, how much would they get to eat today. As the students walked into the room they were given a card. The card gave them an identity, a background and an income level.

The high income people sat at widely spaced tables covered in cloth tablecloths and bearing cutlery, wine glasses, vases of flowers, sweets and chocolate. These people ate chicken and vegetables, wine (softdrink for teenagers) and dessert and were served by others. The middle income group sat at crowded tables but had no cutlery. They had a bread based meal with little meat or vegetables and clean water. The lower income group sat on the floor and were given a small bowl of rice and dirty water (represented by sarsparilla cordial).

I expected all of this but it was really good to see the unequal distribution of plenty in such a visual way. What I didn't expect was to have it brought home so soundly the difference between perceptions. Where I live, I'm considered 'middle class'. Not poor, certainly, but not rich either. Not by any stretch of the imagination could I consider myself in the high income bracket in my country. Yet that is where I fit according to global definitions.

I knew that, logically. But today, with the visual stimulus of the activity we did with the students, it was really brought home to me just how lucky I am to be in the place I am and to have had the opportunities I have had in my life.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I'm like my mother

One of my clearest thoughts from when I was a child was "I never want to be like my mother". For the most part that's still true. My mother isn't a bad person, per se, she just isn't the kind of person I want to be.

Some of the ways I differ from my mother:
  1. I love my daughter unconditionally. It doesn't matter what she does, I'll never tell her she's not good enough to be loved. Everything she does brings something to my life, even if it's surprise that she'd do such a thing! Mostly, she's a joy to be with.
  2. I'm happy when my daughter's happy. It doesn't matter if she's not living her life the way I anticipated. It's her life and her decisions are right for her. She's a fine, trustworthy, hard-working person and I'm proud of her just the way she is. When she speaks to her sister without telling me I'm happy that they're friends. I don't complain that she hadn't let me know of the contact beforehand.
  3. I own my own emotional state. I never blame anyone if I'm having a bad day. I'm cranky for a reason and it's not because someone else is in my life, it's because of decisions I've made that haven't worked the way I wanted them to (or I simply haven't had enough sleep).
  4. I own my own financial state. If I've made bad financial decisions, they've been my decisions. If they've been based on advice from someone else it was still my decision to follow that advice. If I lend money I make sure people understand that it must be paid back. I there isn't that clear understanding, I don't expect to see the money again. I don't lend money I can't afford to lose.

I know those four comments probably make my mother sound like the harridan from hell. Sometimes she is, but mostly she's just a person who doesn't know herself very well, who has never taken responsibility for her own life and, now, never will. She's simply who she is, the good and the bad.

My brother-in-law celebrated his 60th birthday last weekend. Family and friends gathered on a paddle boat (the paddle is fake but the boat looks good) for dinner and conversation. We sailed down the river and back for three hours. It was a good night. It was that night I discovered that, even with all my efforts to NOT be like my mother, I am.

On the dock before boarding, someone nearby sniffled. My mother rummaged in her cavernous handbag and came up with a clean tissue to hand over. Later that evening, during dessert she dove into her handbag again and handed over a 'wet ones' (pre-moistened towelette) for someone to wipe their fingers. At the same time someone dropped their spoon. My daughter, not prepared to wait for anything in life, even waiters, rummaged in her handbag (larger than my mother's) and came up with a zip-lock plastic bag containing cutlery. She handed over a clean spoon. At my table some guests were discussing contacting each other. I rummaged in my (equally large) handbag and came up with pen and paper.

We each have a different focus in life: my mother is focused on keeping people clean, my daughter is focused on comfort (she keeps moisturisers and anything that will make the consumption of food easier), I'm focused on communication (I keep all sorts of stationery items in my bag including a stapler and staple remover). But in our own ways, we're similar.

So, after more than twenty years of making conscious decisions to be the kind of person I want to be and not the person I was brought up to be, I find I've missed a bit. It's not such a bad thing actually. It does give a sense of continuity. I got all the important things right. This little thing that shows connection can stay.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


I remember being surprised - often - at the age of my parents or how long they'd been married. My dad did the same job from the time we moved to that town until he retired. Every morning at 6.30 am he filled a flask with sweet black tea, made plum jam sandwiches and left for work by 7.00 am. Every morning before he left for work he'd come in and wake me and my sisters and tell us to get ready for school. He'd leave bowls for cereal on the kitchen table and sandwiches in smelly tupperware containers sitting beside them. Every afternoon at 4.05 pm he'd come home.

That sameness was comfortable and reassuring but I think it allowed me to ignore the passing of time. It was a shock when he retired and I realised he was 60. I hadn't expected that, even though I'd grown up and married and had a child, he would be getting older too.

I still have the small pine table we had in the kitchen as I was growing up. I look at that table and can almost see me and my sisters sitting underneath it. One would grab the jar of peanut paste, another the jar of vegemite and another the jar of honey. The fourth would get teaspoons and we'd sit under the table and scoop portions from each jar to lick off our spoons. I can remember the sound of 'ssh, Dad's coming' floating around the room, punctuated by the sound of Dad's slippers flopping on the floor, coming closer, stopping just inside the kitchen. We could see up to his knees. We always figured if we couldn't see Dad's face, he wouldn't be able to see us!

He never once let on that he knew we were there.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Time waits for no man

I'm not sure who said that but at times in my life it becomes my catch cry. It came to mind again when I read the blog of a friend and he was commenting on the structure of time. Read his blog (and my comment) here.

I love that sort of philosophical discussion. It's so circular.

We start at a point of pondering and think and talk out along tangents and around corners and eventually end up at almost exactly the same place we began. It's wonderful. You achieve almost nothing but you feel as if your brain has had an incredible workout and suddently you're capable of flexing quite impressive mental muscles. To what purpose I'm not quite sure!

Memory and the way it's linked to time fascinates me. I have three sisters and at times (not so often the older we get) we all get together and talk usually ends up at some point in our childhood. We all were born of the same parents, lived in the same house, ostensibly had the same upbringing but we all remember exactly the same things totally differently.

At some point my family were on holiday in a small country town in western Queensland. It's desert out there. All dry, sinking bull dust (very fine grey sand, like talc) and masses of magnificent wild flowers when it rains (that usually happens every 7-12 years in the spring). It must have been January 1973 because I had not long turned 12. I have no idea how long we were there although my younger sister could tell me to the day. I remember it being so hot that the thermometer (that went to 120oF) sitting inside the house in front of the air cooler blew the mercury out the top. I have memories of dust storms that coated the entire inside of the house with 1/2 inch of dust - and that's with all the windows and doors closed and towels stuffed around the cracks. My eyes stung and my lungs felt clogged for days afterwards. I remember going for long walks with my younger sister and hiding under a bridge to sneak cigarettes. For the life of me, though, except for one fishing expedition, I can't remember my older sisters being there at all.

Does that mean that at the times they weren't there (for me) they didn't exist in that moment of time? If I didn't notice them, were they even there? Or was I the one not there for that time? Is time perception? Just as memory appears to be?

And immediately I'm struck by the absolute arrogance of my remarks. I'm a human being so therefore the world and everything connected to it revolves around my perceptions of it. Just like it does in my real life.

Yeah, sure.