Monday, November 22, 2010

Last days and coming home

What do most people buy when they travel and are faced with weight restrictions? Me? I buy books. I simply can’t help myself. If there’s a bookshop in front of me, I’m there. I spent time in Borders this afternoon. Much bigger than I’m used to at home with a wider range of products available – not just books.

Senior 'chill out' area, Australian International School.
On Thursday I visited the Australian International School and had a quick look around. It’s amazing the sense of space they’ve achieved inside the buildings when the outside space is so limited. The buildings are very different to what I’m used to but it still felt like a school, with the focus being the students and their needs.

Afterwards I went back to Orchard Road as I hadn’t seen the other end of it earlier. I don’t know why, I know I’m not a shopper, but apparently it’s the place to go. The Christmas decorations are going up at a rate of knots. I went past one huge tree inside a centre and could feel the heat from the fairy lights about two metres away. The only shop I actually went into was the Longines shop. I should have tried to find the bird park as I’d intended. Next time.

The flight home was mostly uneventful. The Captain put the seat-belt sign on every time there was the slightest turbulance so I felt a bit like a jack-in-the-box. Again, I had three seats to myself so I raised the armrests, stacked the pillows behind me and stretched out to read. Not a bad way to travel. I thought I should buy something duty-free so I spent some time going through the catalogue and eventually chose four fragrances to buy. Unfortunately they wouldn't take my debit-VISA cards. Why would they prefer to do business with people who are using borrowed money? The reason I was given was they would land and process the sales and they would bounce. I would have thought they'd have the same problem with credit cards being over the limit. Ah well, all it means for me is I came home with a slightly lighter bag and $400 richer than I planned.

Since getting home I've dropped straight back into my routine. That basically means I'm alternating between reading (and hibernating) and picking up and cleaning up after other people (one of my least favourite things and the reason I read so much). Tonight I need to write. There are just six days left of NaNo. I know there's no way I'll make the 50K but I want to do something more than I did in the first week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The museum and shopping in Singapore

Singapore museum
I spent most of today on my feet. From 10.00 am to 1.30 pm I visited the museum. The Pompei exhibit was there. Most of it was resin casts and copies of things but I still walked out of there feeling for all the people who were there. They had a time-lapse (computerised) film of the eruption of Vesuvius at that time and I kept thinking ‘get out, get out’ until the 1.00 am eruption with the pyroclastic flows and then I thought, ‘too late’. Even if they’d left before that they might not have made it, not with all the ash rain 20m deep.

The next exhibit I went through was the history of Singapore. Just brilliant. The detail and the explanations behind every decision made, particularly since independence in the 60s was amazing. The foresight required to push for such drastic (at the time) measures is mind-boggling. I can’t decide how to make things happen for me tomorrow, let alone plan for a whole country for the next 50-odd years.

I left the museum because I’d been on my feet for four hours (I walked from the hotel) and still hadn’t had breakfast. Like the library, I could stay there for a couple of days and still have new things to look at.

After the museum came Orchard Road, the up-market shopping district. I didn’t last long. I’m not a shopper at the best of times and the idea of miles upon miles of shops doesn’t thrill me. I stayed there long enough to browse through two shopping centres and buy a few things and lunch (finally had the chicken rice everyone keeps recommending to me) and then decided enough was enough. I didn’t go through all the really expensive shops. It would be interesting but I know it’s not for me so other things keep being more important. I went back to Selangor Pewter and exchanged the pate knife I bought on Monday and then back to Chinatown to pick up my suit.

Tomorrow is my visit to the Australian International School. I’m really looking forward to that although getting there is a bit problematic. I have three maps and none of them show me exactly where the school is. I know the MRT stop to get off and the street name but that’s it. I guess I just need to look at it as another adventure, albeit one that has a time restriction since I have to be there by 11.30 am.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Round-the-island tour, Singapore

Today was amazing. The round-island tour is the best I’ve been on, along with the hop-on-hop-off tours. The guide gave a lot of basic information about how Singapore is organised. Things like the public housing system where 20% of income is put into a fund and that’s used to help you buy a house and provide for retirement. We drove through all the industrial areas and the sections of land that have been reclaimed from the sea were pointed out – there’s a lot of reclaimed land.

It’s absolutely amazing what has been done with such a small island in 45 years. The planning and organisation required to make it all work, and work so successfully, is just mind-boggling. Today was the first time I’d seen anything resembling a military presence too. Even then, even though areas were pointed out and I saw a lot of ‘restricted area’ signs, the only military personnel I saw apart from the guards at gates were National Service boys just finished their basic training and waiting at a bus stop. There are highways that can be turned into airfield within an hour or two. What a clever use of space.

We were told a story about two brothers who built a house in 1937. When the Japanese came, the house was bombed. One brother died during the Japanese occupation, the other survived to return to the house and witness the destruction of his home. He demolished the house and built a garden that showed 101 ways to behave well. The garden also included the ten gates of hell. The garden has pretty much been abandoned now and is slowly decaying. They’re trying to find sponsors to provide funding for the upkeep.

At one point I stood at the water’s edge and looked over the sea to another country. I’ve never done that before. In Australia, everywhere you look, there’s more Australia. To know that the land you’re looking at belongs to someone else with different rules and regulations, language and culture emphasised the transitory nature of life.

British barracks, Changi.
Changi museum and chapel was emotive. The British barracks are still there, untouched. Even though everything’s falling apart, you can still sense the lives of those lived there during that time. There’s still a prison on the site. We didn’t have access to that, of course, or to the original site of the prison that was there during WWII (it’s a huge tract of land). I had thought I’d be disappointed that there was so little left of what had happened, but I wasn’t. I’m glad there’s the memorial, but I’m even more glad that things have moved on from that time. They’ve taken the lessons to be learned and put things in place to try to prevent it happening again, but they’re not letting it control the lives of everyone living in Singapore. There’s a sense of the past underpinning the present but the future driving direction.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Raffles Tour, Singapore

Today has been a day of misunderstandings. The tour today was Raffles footsteps followed by high tea at Raffles Hotel and a boat ride from Clarke Quay. They were to pick me up from the hotel at 1.30pm. I was there from 1.15 – 1.45 but no one turned up. The Concierge knew nothing about it when I asked him at 1.40 so I walked to Raffles Hotel, totally forgetting about the Raffles footsteps part of the tour.

Raffles Hotel knew nothing about the tour either but let me ring the tour company from the lobby and wait in the lobby until the bus picked me up. The tour company weren’t happy with me and spent the rest of the afternoon checking where I was. Everybody knew my name because it was called out at every stop and I was given specific instructions separately!

The Writers Bar at Raffles Hotel
The main lobby, Raffles Hotel
Waiting in the lobby of Raffles Hotel was a treat. No one gets into the lobby of Raffles Hotel unless they’re staying there. They even let me take a photograph (I took two). Who could resist the sign! I nearly took three but the bird was too fast for me.

As I was sitting in the lobby I looked up to the balcony above and found a small bird perched on the ledge. He was leaning forward, ready for take-off and his gaze was firmly focused on the front door. When someone went through the door, the bird dropped from the ledge and swooped through the opening, the door closing regally behind him. He’s obviously done it before.

High tea at Raffles Hotel was different to the high teas I’ve had in Australia. Not as much food on the trays for one thing but the food was also different and offered differently. There was the usual trio with sandwiches, cake and petit fours (eight small sandwiches and four of each of the others). Tea was never-ending, leaf tea and freshly made. I’ve been missing my tea. Once the tea part was over there was a buffet on offer. There was a supply of steamed Asian things – little dumpling things with different fillings. The sweet and sour chilli sauce was good. The buffet also offered a range of cakes and desserts and fruit.

After Raffles Hotel was a boat tour. I’d taken a boat tour the other day and this was similar but I love being on the water. It’s such a relaxing way to spend time.

The Selangor Pewter shop was a must-see according to our guide. I didn’t mind because I like pewter and bought a pate knife with a sunflower pattern and a little merlion. I saw a gorgeous tea set that I would have loved. It was designed for the 125th anniversary of Selangor Pewter. A little out of my price range though. When I unpacked the pewter I found I’d been given the wrong knife pattern. I’ll have to take it back and change it.

The next misunderstanding came in Chinatown when I went for a fitting. I had arranged to fit the jacket being made today because I’m out all day tomorrow but the jacket wasn’t there. He’d written down tomorrow’s date in his book. I know I didn’t agree to that because I’m out all day. Now I have to go back again on Wednesday and hope there are no alterations required for the jacket. Otherwise I’ll have to go back again on Thursday. I’m spending more time in Chinatown than I am anywhere else. I'm starting to know my way around - and those of you who know my sense of direction will be amazed by that!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Singapore Zoo

At nearly 7am there were barely half a dozen cars on the road and two pigeons on the ledge outside my window – the first pigeons I’ve seen here. Noisy minahs (the brown ones with black heads) are the only birds I’ve seen here so far.

There are so many images that flash like strobe lights as I drive around. A tray-back truck full of men sitting in the back on their way to a construction site. A church, the grounds turned into a parking lot, regimented rows of people neatly filling inside. A man and a woman standing on a street corner, she coming barely to his chest, his upper body twisted towards her, leaning over her, eyes focused on her face. She, for that moment in time, is the whole focus of his being. A girl, riding pillion on a motor bike, light-weight skirt flying half-way up her back, white legs flashing in the light. The rider in front of her wearing protective clothing.

An Orang Utan
I went to the zoo this morning. We had two and a half hours there, including breakfast. In that time I managed to see only one third of the zoo and still nearly missed my bus – the only one for the day. I took a few good photos and a lot of really bad ones. I managed to get some shots of orang utans for Lois but unfortunately didn’t see the komodo dragon. On the bus there was a family from the Isle of Mann and another, three generations travelling together for a holiday, from Australia (Ipswich, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Melbourne).

It started raining on our way home. Thunder, lightning and heavy rain just as I was crossing the street. Now my shoes are wet and nothing dries here. I spent the afternoon watching the rain from my room and dozing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hands on Literacy Conference

The train trip this morning was interesting. Contrary to all evidence gathered here so far, there are people up and moving at 7am. Of course most of the people on the train (predominantly men) were asleep. How they managed to wake up just in time for their stop I don’t know.

Once off the train I headed for the bus stop and was almost immediately waylaid by a woman in baggy Adidas running shorts, a crushed t-shirt and thongs. “Are you going to the Hands on Literacy Conference too?” she asked. Is it tattooed to my forehead? No. I’m white. It was obvious I was there for a reason. We caught a taxi together to the school. It was obvious she’d spent the last 20 years in the US from the way she berated people who got into line ahead of us when we’d been standing there a while. She made no apology for it but I think she toned it down a lot for me because she kept telling me it was really obvious I was Australian. I didn’t get angry or angsty when the taxis didn’t stop immediately, happy just to enjoy the warm morning (sweltering, actually) and watch life go by.

The conference was an eye-opener. It’s organised by a very small group of people in the International Teacher Librarian Association. This was the second ever conference and there were probably 300 participants. Not bad for the second time around for a group of nine people. The focus of the conference was literacy, primarily ways to engage students in literacy, particularly when so many of them have English as a second language. By far the majority of the attendees were from international schools around the world and who teach English to students from varied backgrounds.

Ross Todd was absolutely brilliant, both as a keynote speaker and a seminar presenter. He’s so fired up and animated – so ‘into’ his topic. I wish I could be so enamoured of a field, the fire burns for years like that. His keynote and seminar segued so smoothly I barely noticed the room change. I have lots of Web 2.0 bits and pieces to share with the staff when I get back: ways to change students’ searching from information dumps to critical thinking strategies.

Fiction reading area, Senior Library, Tanglin Trust Schoo, Singapore
The school here is amazing. I haven’t seen much of it as we were inside all day but the fiction section in the senior library where Ross Todd’s seminar was held is amazing. What a great space. It’s also used for classes and committee meetings. The screen retracts.

The second guided inquiry seminar was interesting. It was good to see that the theory could be applied with successful outcomes but I think the presenter could have gone into more depth regarding student reactions and engagement in the project and how teachers found the process. She certainly had the time.

The storytelling workshop was a last minute change for me. I was sure it was just going to be a fun filler as the other seminar I wanted to attend had been cancelled. How wrong could I have been? Roger Jenkins’ story-time might have been aimed at the primary level but I could see so many applications at my school, simply because so many of our students have English as a second (or sixth) language and the stories would be a great way to engage them in a topic from the beginning and teach them some language skills at the same time. He showed us three different story styles and I could see applications in English, SOSE, Science, ESL and Tourism just from them. The possibilities are endless.

I met some lovely women at lunch who invited me to visit their school next week. I’ll email tomorrow to try to set that up. What a buzz.

Tonight is the after-conference dinner. I’m going partly because I met some lovely people today and might meet some more tonight but also because I need practice in social situations. I’m a social misfit so need all the practice I can get.

Friday, November 12, 2010


I'm visiting Singapore, ostensibly for a conference, but the conference is one day and I'm staying ten. I started this on Facebook but it was fiddly because I talk too much, so from today I'll post here. My photos will still mostly go on Facebook with a single sentence or two about what I've done.

I decided my blog would be easier for this as I talk a lot. Facebook is more for small news flashes.

Entrance to the National Library Singapore
I spent this morning in the National Library of Singapore. It’s a bright, airy silent place. There were lots of people there, mostly students from the look of them, but not one conversation, no study groups, even in the study room. Everyone sat individually and worked silently.

There’s no photography allowed so I sat and read a book on tea. It described the teas from each major region: India, Ceylon, China and Yassam, and how the growing conditions make the flavours so different. Anyone who knows me would be rolling their eyes about now, knowing I had a brilliant morning and wondering how it could be possible. Mix libraries/books and tea and I’m in heaven.

After the library I went back the Chinatown for a fitting. I took the bus this time and they dropped me at a different place from where I got off the train on Wednesday. I found Food Street. I swear that’s what the sign said. The narrow street was lined both sides with shops selling food. In front of most of the shops were booths selling food. A lot of those were closed. I expect they would open in the late afternoon: that seems to be when most things happen in Singapore. I wasn’t hungry so didn’t stop. Perhaps I’ll go back there for dinner one evening and see if I can match any of the smells to the food. Even though a lot of the places were closed there were still smells wafting around. Most of them I recognised but there was one strongly astringent one that almost bordered on rancid. I’ll try to make sure I never eat what made that smell.

I went back to the overpass where I sat for a time on Wednesday. I swear the same group of men were sitting in the pagoda – the only place guaranteed of shade. There are trees over most of the other tables but shade is patchy and the best ones were occupied. The tables have a game board etched into the centre. At least I think it was a game board. I can imagine those men in the pagoda coming out when the sun loses much of its heat and playing games in the garden. I sat under my umbrella, sweat dripping from my elbow, and drank the last of my water.

I saw Australian mangoes for sale: $5.60 each. I didn’t get one as all the fruit I’ve eaten here so far tastes slightly fermented. I think it would be difficult to prevent that in this heat. Nothing feels cold when I buy it. Food is kept cold: there are often thermometers on the glass to tell you how cold it is inside, but the drinks aren’t. I’ve bought bottled water and canned drinks a couple of times and they don’t develop any condensation and don’t feel cold to the touch. And everything’s small. The cans are 330ml. Lots of places have fridges at the entrance, filled with cans and water but the fridges are only about 60cm wide with half a dozen shelves. Half those shelves are stacked with water, the rest a mix of cans, most of which I don’t recognise. Coke and Pepsi are sold but you have to look for them and then it’s just the small cans and usually only one variety available. I haven’t seen any big Coke or Pepsi fridges like we have at home. I haven’t even seen a full-sized Mars bar. Chocolate is devilishly difficult to find just wandering around. And I’ve looked!

I think I need to go to the business district. There’s a busy-ness here, wherever I’ve been; a quiet desperation to make money, but there’s also a sense of calm. Didn’t I say yesterday that Singapore is a city of contrasts? I wonder what those who already make or have money feel like. I was going to Orchard Road this afternoon as it’s the other place that screams wealth but didn’t make it. I decided I’d drop in at my hotel to freshen up a bit (and pick up some more cash) before going to Orchard Road but I picked the absolute worst time to go back to the hotel for a break.

No sooner had I sat down than there was an announcement that the annual fire drill would be happening. Annual fire drill, and I walked in right then. I rushed around, thinking I’d get out before the alarm sounded but no such luck. I couldn’t even hide in my room and pretend I wasn’t there because I was standing in the lift area with a staff member when the alarm went off and the lifts disabled.

I asked what I should do but none of the three staff members on my floor seemed to know for sure. It seems the fire drill was mainly for staff. I asked if I had to go down the stairs and they all nodded and agreed with me and showed me where to go. I got down to the bottom to be told guests aren’t allowed to use the stairs. It took a while for me to get them to understand I was directed to do so because of the fire drill. I thought it odd that I was the only person in the stairwell the whole eight floors down, except for the ladder blocking access on the seventh floor, and have the distinct impression that guests were exempt from the drill. That seems a little odd. I’d like to think someone would at least check to see if I was out of the building if it came to that.

By the time I got to the lobby I was even more hot and exhausted than I’d been before. I sat there for a while contemplating my dilemma: go back to my room, go out as I was, go to the bar. The bar looked pretty good.

Eventually I decided to go out for dinner. I found a little restaurant around the corner from the hotel and had Black bean beef, Stir-fried vegetables and rice. It was like eating at a different restaurant at home. The food was similar enough that I recognised it instantly but there was a slight difference in flavour. The beef had lots of garlic – sliced not crushed – and big slices of ginger too. There are about five other similar looking restaurants in the same block so I’ll try a few of them.

Tomorrow’s the conference I came here for. I’m having such a good time looking around and doing my own thing I keep having to convince myself I really do need to go to this conference. They’re going to want feedback at the first staff meeting when I get back. It means getting up early. I have to be there between 8.30 and 9.00am. That in itself is odd for Singapore as nothing opens before 11.00am usually. The school I have to go to is on the opposite side of the city. A taxi would be the easiest but probably the most expensive too. I’m thinking of taking the MRT (love Singapore’s train system) to Orchard Road and then a taxi the rest of the way.

Friday, October 29, 2010

My new toy

I admit it. I like new toys to play with. Several weeks ago I bought a crepe make, a pie maker and an omelete make. Aside from the obvious storage issues, they're great to play with.
Canon G12

My newest toy is a new camera. I wanted something that had a lot of similar features to a SLR but without the bulk or the weight. I've ended up with a Canon G12 (pic from this site) and have spent every spare minute today (not many with work in the middle) playing with it to learn what to do.

It's been ages since I've had a camera to use. The last one I used regularly, a lovely compact Nikon I gave David for his birthday one year, I lost. I've been feeling guilty about that ever since.

David got a new camera a little while ago and is very happy with it and, as I'm going to Singapore soon, I thought I needed one. No way am I borrowing his camera again! If I'm going to lose another camera, it'll be my own.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A world of contrasts

A friend of mine is currently touring Ireland and is posting gorgeous photos on her blog. The country-side in the photos is nothing at all like I'm used to seeing here in Australia and I've started making comparisons.

I spent my very early years, and some time during my teenage years, in sheep country out west (way out west: 12 hours' drive west of Brisbane; about 1100km). It's the beginnings of desert out there with a few lonely Marino sheep - until shearing time and they're all rounded up and you realise there're thousands of them. The desert changes just as dramatically too when the floods come. There's no or little rain out there - just drought and then flood from the Channel Country up north. Then the country becomes a carpet of colourful wildflowers, the colours so strong that when the sun rises, your eyes hurt.

I have a photo taken in 1989 of a paddock full of golden daisies. If you're not sure how large a paddock is, just imagine those thousands of sheep and how much space they need in dry country that offers little food or water. There's no such thing as a half-acre plot out there; most stations are thousands of square kilometres. Usually the bright red soil is mostly covered by coarse grey-green grass and pock-marked with scraggly eucalyptus trees, but when there's rain or a flood the flowers come out and suddenly you begin to wonder if you're really as far west as you thought.

The photo is from so long ago partially because I don't go out there any more and partially because the area rarely gets enough water for the flowers to bloom. Those sorts of floods happen once a decade.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What a difference a decade makes

Ten years ago, getting passport photos done meant I walked into the Post Office and asked for them. I stood against the wall, stared at the camera, paid my money, collected the photos and I was done.

I tried that two days ago. The process was the same but the results weren't.

Getting passport photos today means I need to have my eyebrows and eyelashes tinted and wear a foundation to even my skin tone. I even have to brush my hair - something I usually only do at night before bed.

I don't usually pay into the vanity shit for women, but then I've always been a reasonably good looking woman (and it's amazing what a difference smiling makes to your face). Now I'm seeing signs of aging. There's some grey coming in: not enough to colour my hair but enough to notice. My eyebrows were hit first, oddly enough. I also have sagging skin under my eyes that's a different colour to the rest of my face - hence the need for foundation. It's disheartening.

I don't mind getting older. I really like the person I am now and know I wouldn't be that person without all my life experiences. But I don't want to LOOK it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Father's Day

I always get a Father's Day present. I know it seems strange because I also get a Mother's Day present. Yes, it's double-dipping, but I've done both jobs for so long I think I deserve the recognition for it.

Tomorrow is Father's Day here and Lauren gave me my present tonight.

F111 during afterburn
Tonight was the annual Riverfire celebration. Basically it's an hour of fireworks along the river that bisects the city. Before and after we have an F111 fly over and afterburn. It's a spectacular sight and this year was the last year for the F111s before they're retired from active service. Lauren rang at 5pm to see what my plans for the evening were.

The fireworks.
"Want to come up to Mt Gravatt and watch the fireworks from there?"

"Sure, sounds fun. What time?"

"I'll meet you at the bottom of the mountain at 6."

That's right. The bottom of the mountain. The road was closed off for the night as Mt Gravatt is a popular place to go to view the fireworks over the city. It's far enough away from the city so we can see the whole show without the interference of the bends in the river or the crowds. We can't hear the music either but that's not such a big problem. We get the birds' eye view. But it's nearly 2km from the road closure up to the top, and with the road closed we had to walk.

It took us nearly half an hour to walk up to the top. We were more interested in chatting so we just took our time and enjoyed the evening. The view from the top is spectacular with the city laid out all around us. Spring has just begun so the breeze was cool with a promise of rain later. Cool here in Queensland means that about half the people up there with us needed long sleeved shirts but mostly short sleeves were fine, even at night.

Afterwards we started the walk down again. Someone in the crowd called out 'shortcut' and, like sheep, we all followed a narrow, barely visible path down the mountain in the pitch black. The path was so steep it was like walking down a very steep flight of steps, only there weren't any steps, just slippery grass and gravel. And did I mention it was night time and dark?

Of course I can't ever suffer in silence.

Me: "We'll never find our way out. We'll still be wandering around the bush in three days."

Lauren: "You didn't bring any water with you, did you?"

Me: "No, but I know how to gather the dew from leaves in the morning."

Lauren: "Oh good. We'll be fine then."

Me: "They'll probably find our bodies next week."

Lauren: "No. With so many of us going missing at the same time, they'll find us before then."

You can't argue with that logic. It took less than 15 minutes to reach the road again.

Just to put it in perspective Mt Gravatt is a popular destination for walkers, runners and cyclists, and it's surrounded by suburbia. I've walked up there fairly often myself and have used the shortcut - in the daylight. It feels different at night because there's no perspective on distance or direction. And there were kids in the group I could scare. Couldn't miss that opportunity!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

To dragon or not

I have a pet dragon. Not a tangible one, one in my book. She's based on a little pewter dragon a friend gave me years ago. She's portly and naive and unaware of her own strength, but totally aware of her appeal. She eats amber and grows exponentially. Her interactions with my characters provide humour in dire situations. I want to keep her.

The problem is she doesn't seem to have a role to play. In my head she's important and the four main characters can't achieve their goal without her but it's not coming through one way or the other. At the moment she's a little light relief, popping up at unusual moments and then disappearing just as suddenly, only to come back again when all the people seem to be doing is travelling on a long journey. She nearly drowns a couple of them - by accident, of course - and deafens and kills a whole heap of bad guys but mostly she's used to get my characters out of situations they can't get out of themselves and, therefore, probably weakening them. At the end of the book she has a major role to play but none of that is clear until right at the end (which I haven't written yet because I haven't worked it out).

Judging on the feedback, she's not working the way I wanted her to at all. All the critiques so far have said 'get rid of her' and 'she's detracting from the story', 'has no purpose'. So now I have a dilemma. Do I go back and write her out of the story completely so my characters can find their own way forward and save themselves, or do I go back and change her character so she ups the ante, so she makes life just that bit more difficult for everyone and no one knows if she's a good guy or a bad guy until right at the end?

I'll have to spend some time on the weekend plotting out both scenarios to see which one will travel the best.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The way writing works

I've always known my mind works differently when I'm writing but I had a graphic reminder of that today.

Last night I was working on my story - the one I've been trying to finish since Christmas. I'm so close I don't know why I don't just write it and be done with it - until the editing starts, of course. Anyway I had all my characters in a huge cavern, just finished a battle and killed lots of people. Then in an off-hand way, one of the characters says something to the others. Another character spins around and says, "You know the second verse of the Pledge!"

Nothing unusual in that. My response though was to throw my hands in the air and exclaim, "Oh no, there's another verse to the Pledge? I didn't know that. Now I have to write it and find out what it says."

That didn't surprise me - I often have similar sorts of things happen when I'm writing. I don't plan ahead very well; I'm more of a reactor than a proactor, if that makes sense.

The graphic reminder I mentioned before came when I was relating this to a couple of people at work. If the looks on their faces could be translated into actions I would be languishing in a 19th Century mental asylum by now. :)

I've written the second verse of the poem. It's second draft at the moment. I need to do some more work on it but it's good enough for me to continue with the story the way it is. I won't post it here - I have no illusions as to my talent as a poet no matter how much I enjoy playing with rhyming patterns and syllabic rhythms. I write really BAD poetry.


A couple of weeks ago I went on a retreat with one of my writers' groups. It was brilliant. Half of us arrived during the day and the rest in the evening of Friday. When we entered the apartment, it became 2015 and we were in character.

I don't expect a lot to change in my life in just five years. I'll have finished my Grad Cert, hopefully finished my PhD as well and, with a bit of luck and more persistence than I've shown so far, have a book accepted for publication. That's it. I was absolutely fascinated to hear the five year plans of the other writers in the group. They ranged from having two books on the NY Times bestseller list simultaneously, to making a success of a new small business to having multiple books published with local (ie Australian) publishers to becoming totally self-sustaining as far as providing food and energy for the household. Brilliant.

One of the activities we did was a creative collage exercise. A few weeks before we spent a day at a cemetary and chose some people as a focus for a short story. The collage was to help us flesh out those characters and put them in situations that could build into story. It's been a long time since I've spent a couple of hours cutting out pictures and sticking them on cardboard. It's very soothing.

This is the result of my efforts. I didn't use all the pictures I cut out but I've kept them and will use them for other stories.

When I came home, I put the collage on the dining table and left it there for a few days. Every one who came to visit stopped at the table and examined the board. Every one of them came up with their own explanation of who the people were and how they related to each other. The only thing these stories had in commone was the fact that every one of them picked the same person as the villian!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A reason to travel

I've thought about travelling overseas for years. I even made a list of must-see places. Antarctica, Nova Scotia, Hadrian's Wall, Tintagel Castle and Marakesh are all on that list. I've planned itineraries and chosen hotels, picked the best time of year to go and checked that I have enough leave accrued to do it. But, except for a week in Fiji in 1993, I've never actually gone anywhere. I look at the cost and decide I have a better way to spend that money - a way that would leave me something concrete to show for it at the end of it.

Last week that all changed. I finally found a reason to travel. I found the one thing that has spurred me into applying for the leave, although I haven't actually booked flights yet. I've seen my boss and have tacit approval for the leave and I've told my colleagues and students to expect me to be away at that time. I'm going. It's decided.

And I'm going to a place I've never had the slightest interest in even visiting. Singapore.

Sure Singapore is an interesting place, if for no other reason than Changi prison is there, but I don't like crowds and have never wanted to travel in Asia or anywhere else that's crowded - think of the population of Antarctica, my number one place to visit. So what is it about Singapore that has me almost on the plane right now? Sad to say, it's a conference. I know, my students have already told me I'm more than a little strange. But the keynote speakers are the 'bees knees' in their field, I've read a lot of their work and I desperately need to hear them speak.

Who is it? No one any of my friends would know, but that's just because they're all in different fields to me. Professor Carol Kuhlthau and Associate Professor Ross Todd. Yes, it's them; world leaders in the field of information literacy and guided inquiry learning. I'm so excited I can't sleep, and the conference isn't until November.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My new Kindle

I just bought a Kindle and I've been so excited I'm showing everyone I know. I bought the 6" one because I didn't want anything larger than an A5 size book to carry around and it's the perfect size. I've spent the last two days doing very little other than playing with my new toy. So far, for the most part, it does exactly what I expected it to do. I can see me carrying it everywhere and using it all the time. I love the screen. It's small but I can change the size of the text and it's much easier to stay focused on than a computer screen.

It's been an interesting experience so far. Of course, only having it for a couple of days, some of the problems I've had could just be me not knowing how to use it properly yet.
  1. My first attempt to buy the Kindle met with a message saying Amazon didn't ship to Australia. I found that odd because I'd done the research and Australia was definitely on the Kindle shipping list. It turned out I had to go into a specific International section to buy it (you can probably tell I rarely buy things like this). Once I got that, it was super-easy. The eight day shipping time turned out to be three days so it all came as a pleasant surprise.
  2. I'd like to be able to choose which songs I want to play as I read. As far as I can find out so far from the user guide, the Kindle simply plays the songs from the first one downloaded to the last, picking up where it left off at last use. That's fine most of the time but I play music to suit my mood and I can't do that with the Kindle. I guess I'll still have to carry my iPod with me.
  3. I'd like to be able to see the comments I add to the books I'm reading when I'm actually in the book. I can see where there is a comment but I haven't worked out how to see the comment at the same time the page is opened, like a footnote or something. It seems to just open a new screen to show the comment then flips back to the page. I'll play with that feature some more.
  4. The text to speech function malfunctioned tonight. For about an hour it wouldn't play at all, just gave me (eventually) an error message then suddenly it decided to work and played from the first page I tried to play at the beginning of the evening, even though I was by then in a completely different book. I had to just let it play through until it caught up with where I was. Hopefully that won't happen again.
  5. The battery doesn't last as long as all the advertising material said it would. I've had it three days and have already had to recharge it and the battery is back to half-charged now. I'll have to recharge again tomorrow. Perhaps I'm just doing a lot more reading than expected. I'm on holidays so I'm spending around eight hours a day reading.
  6. When I first researched the Kindle I decided I probably wouldn't be downloading books directly to it but by the time I actually bought it I'd forgotten why. I worked it out yesterday when I was out and decided to try the direct access to the Kindle store. It was really easy to operate and shopping in the store was very convenient. I bought two books then, when I got home, checked my bank account. With the download charges, those two books ended up more expensive than buying two paper books. In the future I'll stick to my other methods of buying books and download them to the Kindle from my computer. It's good to know I have the connectivity if I need it but I'll certainly try not to need it often.
Overall, I'm really happy with it. I've been wanting one for absolutely ages. I had wanted to buy an e-reader in Australia because I like to try before I buy and I like to know I have access to people in case of a warranty claim. Unfortunately the only one I could find didn't have half the features the Kindle offers. I just hope nothing goes wrong with it because getting it fixed is going to be problematic.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The things you do for children

Lauren is 26 but that doesn't mean she's any less my child than she was twenty years ago. The only difference is, while I'm still doing all the "Mum" things, what constitutes a "Mum" thing has changed.

Lauren and most of her work colleagues and miscellaneous spouses are going to Malaysia and Thailand for a week. She's spent the last month packing and scrubbing her house from top to bottom (can't go away and leave the house dirty). Part of her packing has been for her and her partner but the largest part has been for her pets. That's my "Mum" thing at the moment. I'm the pet babysitter while she's away.

This afternoon Lauren and Andrew turned up in two cars and started pulling things out from in the boot and behind the seats. The first thing to come out was the cage of birds. Two budgerigars named Clive and Hummingbird. While Andrew took them into the house I collected the next wave - Logan the dog. Then Lauren brought Jesse the cat in. While Lauren and I sat in my office letting Jesse acclimatise, Andrew brought the big things in. There was
  • the dog house with its associated bedding;
  • the yellow "Mr Happy" bag with Logan's food, rewards, chains, leashes, dishes and toys;
  • the green bag with the birds' toys, seed and treats; and
  • the blue bag with the cat's food, dishes, blankets, toys and litter tray.
The birds are the easiest. They're sitting on the dining table. I'll just uncover them in the mornings, make sure they have food and water, clean the cage when it needs it and cover them again at night.

I already have two dogs in the back yard, one of whom is not at all socialised and who attacks any other animal that goes near him. This means that my own cat, Bridgit, can no longer go into the back yard and neither can Logan.

Logan is inside the house. He's a good dog but he has a tendency to follow me around and, as soon as I stop moving, he flops down and goes to sleep next to my feet. If I move, I step on him. His play mat is in the entry with all his toys and his house is in the dining room. I have to make sure he goes outside at regular intervals - on the lead as he doesn't come very well. I have to take him for daily walks and also take him back over to his place every morning and pick him up from there every afternoon so he has some free off-lead time.

Jesse is in my office with two blankets, food and water bowls and litter tray. I have to keep him confined at least for a few days to let him settle in and also to keep him away from Bridgit. Neither Jesse nor Bridgit appreciate the competition of another cat. He's used to having other people and Logan around all the time so he cries when he's left alone for too long.

Bridgit is confined to my bedroom. She doesn't get on with either Jesse or Logan; one being a rival cat and the other being a big, boisterous, over-friendly dog. Luckily she spends a lot of time sleeping on the bed anyway and has food and water there so hasn't really noticed she can't get out yet.

I've had the visitors here for three hours now and haven't had a moment to myself. I'm not sure I'm going to last the week.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Work sorted

My work situation is finally sorted. What a relief. I'll be teaching two classes (three fewer than usual) and the rest of the time will be filled with other things. I'll be responsible for administering two Vocational Education Training certificate courses and I'll also be doing some policy writing and presenting some inservice to staff. That'll be fun. I've wanted to do this sort of thing for a while but it hasn't worked out that way. Hopefully now I have the opportunity I'll be able to show my worth in that area as well. With a bit of luck that sort of thing will become a permanent part of my role.

I had planned on spending a chunk of the weekend working out how my first week in the position is going to roll out but, of course, that's not going to happen. As often happens, the release of the stress has resulted in a massive headache. I'm onto day 2 and, if it runs the same course as most of my headaches, I won't be fully functional until Monday. I'm spending my day sleeping, only waking to take medication and fluids - and write the occasional blog post.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Working full time

I've just gone back to work full time after being part-time 0.8 for four years. The last two years my part time was in bits and pieces, never a full day off or even two half-days. It had become annoying because my extra time wasn't in a usable chunk. I decided it would be just as easy to be working full time.

And now I'm surprised at how much work that extra day over the course of a week really takes. I'm exhausted. While there's still no word on what I'll actually be doing all year, I'm taking another teacher's classes while she's on leave for a couple of weeks. The full time table means I have five classes instead of four. I've also taken responsibility for all the preparation for a program offered to the senior students that I don't actually teach. So that means six different subjects to prepare for. I've had between three and four for the last four years and hadn't realised how much extra work that one or two subjects would be. Even though I'd been studying that whole time, I'd become complacent about my work load.

Going back full time has also given me a greater sense of belonging. It's not as if I didn't feel part of the place before, it's just that I missed a lot of meetings because of the hours I worked. I was always running to catch up with the information. Now I'm there all the time, I find out things at the same time everyone else does.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mood writing

I'm a mood writer. I knew it but it's really been brought home to me this week.

On Friday I spoke to a Staffing Officer about my position at my school because I still hadn't heard anything. Apparently I've just been transferred to the school I've spent the last three years at. I'm not holding my breath that that will stay that way because I don't have a timetable - no classes; nothing to do. I'll probably get transferred somewhere else in the next couple of weeks. One positive thing is that they confirmed that I've been place on a full-time load, up from the part-time I've been doing for the last four years. I'd requested the part-time position because I wanted time to study and it worked really well but I've wanted to return to full-time for 12 months now. At least that much has worked.

And what has this to do with mood writing? I've done more writing or working on writing this weekend since I've had that small thing settled, than I've done in the whole six weeks beforehand. If that isn't mood writing, I don't know what is. It annoys me that I let something like job security affect my writing. Writing is hugely important to me. I don't feel truly happy unless I'm writing and if something stops me writing my whole world collapses. Logically, it's silly. Emotionally, it's devastating.

This weekend I've been working on Warrior Pledge. What started as a sub-plot has become the main plot, the motivation for one main character. What was the main plot has become the motivation for one race and a twist and slightly humourous for another. I've added (or re-added) 12000 words in the edits and picked up little things that need tweeking to make it work better. I'm 110 pages in and it's a much stronger story - as well as being closer to my target word-length. I'm excited about it again. The ending doesn't feel so weak now so I'll probably actually write the last few chapters when I get back to that stage.

Apart from my shoulders and neck burning and seizing up because I've been at the computer all weekend, I feel great.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Jobs and imbalance

I'm a teacher. It's not just something I do, it's something I am. I can't help myself. If someone asks a question and I have even half an idea about the topic I force them to endure a long-winded and involved explanation of how everything works and why it should be so. If I don't know something, I find out and then tell them. Of course the story-teller in me usually makes it interesting too. Teaching is such an integral part of who I am that when it isn't working right everything in my life feels off balance.

At the end of every year we're given a timetable that tells us which classes we'll be teaching the next year. Last year I didn't get one. They had no classes for me to teach, nothing for me to do. It's not really a big deal. I'm still employed and still getting paid. The department has to find something for me to do. I keep telling myself that, but I don't really believe it. For me, it is a big deal. I've proven that by sitting around for five weeks doing absolutely nothing, simply because I don't know what direction my job is going in.

Today was the first day back at work after the summer holiday. I've felt flat all day because there's still no word on where I'll be or what I'll be doing. This afternoon I rang staffing to query my position and finished the phone call laughing so much I was almost in tears. I've been put back on full time after four years part time (my request so I would have time to study). That's terrific, just what I wanted. The thing that had me laughing is that, according to the staffing officer, I've been transferred to my school as from today. I've been there for three years now and hadn't realised I hadn't been transferred already.

In all that, there's no guarantee I'll be spending this year there. I still have no classes. I still feel unsettled and out of balance because of that.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Job requirements and discrimination

I keep an eye on different jobs available around the area. A lot of it's for my students so I can tell them what they need to know when preparing for work, but it's also for me. I'd like a job as a teacher-librarian in a school so I have specific searches for those positions.

I read of a job position this morning at a local Christian school. It sounded perfect, just what I'm looking for, so I pulled up the application forms and started reading. Within a very short period of time I was so angry I shut everything down and walked away. There is no way I'm going to apply for a position at any place like that.

I'm sure the school itself is fine but one of the criteria I would have to make a statement about hit every anti-discrimination button I have. They want me to state that I believe the only 'proper' relationship is a "monogomous heterosexual marriage"! What utter rubbish. How do they get away with this sort of discrimination? I thought we had laws against it but they're hiding behind the religion banner.

Of course Australian law doesn't recognise homosexual marriages because some narrow-minded bigots in Canberra decided the only reason anyone gets married is to have children. Some moron even said same-sex marriages end in divorce half the time. I thought that was a bit odd because we don't have any recognised same-sex marriages in Australia. Where did he get his figures from? My aunt married at 84. I sure she never intended to have children from that union! But she was allowed to get married because she married a man. I know a lot of couples who are totally committed to each other but can't get married simply because they're the same sex. It's ridiculous. And have they checked out the divorce rate lately? Nearly half of those married, get divorced. And, as only heterosexual marriages are recognised, those statistics show only those figures.

Why do so many people shut their brains down when they're confronted with something outside their own experience? All I can think of is they must be terribly insecure within themselves and feel threatened by anything different.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Becoming tiny

I think I've finally managed to relax after finishing work just before Christmas. I spent two weeks preserving every type of food I looked at - at least that's what it felt like. I made twelve different preserves this year: three chutneys, two pickles, three jams, two jellies, two butters. I impressed myself, but the main result of the preserving obsession was to give me time to avoid everything else, even thinking.

Today was the most productive day I've had since the middle of December too. I've washed and cleaned and shopped and, in between it all, I've written 1500 words. That's the best I've done since NaNo finished. I finally started work on the sub-plot I've been thinking about for about four months. It's slow going. I can't just write it all. I have to keep thinking about when things are happening and how it fits in with the bits I've already written. I don't want the other characters to suddenly be in the way - they can't meet each other for a while yet.

After all that, I needed a break, so I put my favourite Fleetwood Mac on to play (I don't know anyone else who can layer rhythms like that. Absolute magic.) and decided to learn how to make a URL tiny. It's one of those little, simple things that I've been meaning to do for a long while, knowing it'll make my work much easier, but I never got around to it. So along came Father Google to help out and now I know what to do. It'll be great when I go back to work and need to send links to people.

Also on the topic of becoming tiny: I started dieting again and have managed to stick to it for two whole days. I don't do fad diets; I like my food too much. I usually eat very healthy, lots of fresh fruit and veg and homemade stuff. I just eat too much and don't exercise enough. Cutting down the volume of food and exercising regularly is a trial. If I stick to it, by March I should be 10kg lighter. I know that sounds a lot but according to all the medical texts I should lose 30kg. I won't though. I don't like myself too thin; it's too hard to maintain and I like curves on women. The 10kg is just enough for me to fit into my comfy clothes and move without my knees protesting.