Monday, October 29, 2007

Settling in

Last night we went for a walk in the flora reserve opposite our new house. It's a large tract of bush with a plethora of dainty petalled, wiry stemmed wildflowers. They remind me of Frederique, needing to be simultaneously protected in a safe environment and left alone to grow wild; resilient yet so fragile; unpredictably beautiful. Una is more like the kind of solid plant you can put in anywhere, in any kind of soil and it thrives, with year round flowers. We didn't see any kangaroos (the neighbours swear they do come into the garden) though we did meet a labrador called Sandy who freaked Una out by licking her nose (in the safe harbour of my arms Una told me she was 'a bit scared of the cow'. I guess a labrador is pretty big when you're 2). The track goes down into the bush then through a gully and though we didn't get very far we reminded Fred as we turned back that we had years to explore it. I wish I had photos to share with you but we still haven't unearthed the camera. But I remind myself there's years for photos too. Anyway, as we walked I had this sudden, sharp sensation that I was visiting the territory of Fred and Una's childhood, seeing into the future, as if we might bump into the older them coming the other way (the other time I've had this feeling so strongly is when we've been camping - I think it's easier to see it when you aren't surrounding by the ephemeral objects of the here and now). But I also felt we were walking through past childhoods too, with the high dome of trees overhead there was the feel of a cathedral, some of the quiet haunting of the bush is the everpresence of memories that are not our own but that we share from stepping the same track, the trace of our footsteps inside the trace of theirs, the coinciding of past and present, like ribbons threading from tree to tree.

I am currently at home alone with Una. She is picnicking on the veranda with Feral Baby 2 and Rosie (a large baby doll that often on outings gets mistaken for a real, mistreated baby, slung across the top of the pram). I am trying to piece together my thesis (I *think* I have something that resembles a kind of argument. If an argument can be said to be a wild opinion kind of verified by a certain handling of the facts). We are waiting for Fred and Martin to come home from one of Martin's last days of uni for the year so we can revisit the gully and scramble up one of the inviting hills that Fred wanted desperately to explore last night.

We still have boxes to unpack and a few surprise plumbing issues to sort out but astonishingly quickly we feel at home here. It's foreign and familiar all at once, and there's still so much to discover.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

And hello St Andrews

Things to love about our new house
The bellbirds. 
The flocks of cockatoos (what's the collective noun for cockies? A quarrel of cockies? An obnoxious of cockies?) They might be loud and kinda bossy (I don't know what they're bossing me about but they really mean it), but they are so beautiful. Oh, I just looked it up - it's a crackle of cockatoos. Lovely.
Rain on a tin roof, greenness, trees.
Seeing an echidna on our first day, in the backyard. He hung out.
Neighbours with children who are also superheroes (more on that later).
Fred has seriously never been happier. 
The veranda. I love them anyway, but ours is especially nice. It's a great place for the girls to play or to drink a cup of tea.
1/3 acre of big rambly garden.
Bush tracks across the road.
Sleeping in a mudbrick room in hot weather.
Rain filling the water tanks.
Catching the train from the city to Hurstbridge and for the last five stations or so winding through meadows, past horses. 
Learning to drive on country roads.
The market.
Finally being here. 

Things to unlove
It smells very catty. For the first few days it was beautifully sunny and warm so we had all the windows open, but it's been a bit cold and the house is more shut up and there is a definite pong. Ah well. we're here now. We will just have to train ourselves to like it. Or hope it fades. Or paint the house and polish the floor boards with the most toxic substances we can find.
Mosquitos. They are everywhere, army thick. A scourge of mosquitos.

Let me explain. About five minutes after we moved in, the in-laws drove off (they'd dropped the girls off who had been with them all day), we said goodbye to the echidna and went in to have dinner. Una sat up to the dinner table, it's one of those tables with leaves, to extend. Martin pushed up one end and Fred and I pushed up the other. Horribly, Una's finger was caught, she screamed, pulling her hand away. It was pretty shocking. Her finger was dangling off. I took one look and said 'she needs to go to hospital'. We ran outside, but our car was full of stuff, the baby seat wasn't in. Martin grabbed Una and ran next door while Fred and I waited - I emptied the car half expecting them to come back. Because we'd shut the front door behind us I actually thought we were locked out, luckily we weren't because Martin and Una didn't come home that night. As we waited I had a little cry and Fred stroked my arms saying 'I will protect you. I will comfort you.' Martin called half an hour later and I found a way into the house and he told me he was at the medical clinic and on his way to the hospital. The next door neighbour was driving them. His wife came around and invited me over for wine. I gave Fred dinner first then we set out in the - oh my god - PITCH BLACK dark and I sat down, drank wine and started to calm down a bit. Fred and the next door kids played beautifully together. Martin rang to say that Una was having surgery. She was lying on the operating table with two anaesthetists, two plastic surgeons and a bunch of nurses, holding up her bandaged hand and saying 'My finger's broken' very crossly. They sewed it all back on (ew) and now we have to wait and see. She has a cast on her hand that goes all the way to her armpit just about with only her thumb sticking up. She walks up to us, to strangers and says 'wook at my wittle fumb' which is both incredibly gorgeous and very heartbreaking. I feel terribly guilty because this is not the first time we've broken Una. Strangely though both her injuries have happened at the dinner table when we were all sitting around together. Which goes to show something. I'm not sure what. But something. Una has a follow up visit next week and we'll find out then if her finger is okay. She's little so her powers of regeneration are superior, which makes her sound cool, like something from the future. And we heart our new neighbours. I don't know how much they'll heart us if Fred doesn't stop standing at the fence calling out 'Tom! Tom!' at 7am. But at the moment I think we're all loving the toing and froing between the kids, and Fred and Tom's earnest conversations at the back fence. This is what childhood is supposed to look like. But without the cast. Or maybe even with it. Part of Una's landscape now. Or bodyscape I guess.

p.s. No photos yet. The camera is MIA.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Goodbye Northcote, we have loved you

We've lived here with some sadness these past few days, wondering how best to memorialise the house and the area, but it is always unexpected what about a house you remember and what you forget. These house holds a piece of all of us now, but especially Fred and Una, and it has been added to the Museum of Lost Houses. Soon we will be ghosts only within these walls, and only the house will recall us, new memories will fill the rooms with noise, memories of which we are not a part. Life has been rapid and joyous in this house. I wrote three novels in the eighteen months or so we've lived here: Drift, Josie and Indigo Girls.

The girls fell in love with each other here. Una became a girl. Here she first talked, walked, and broke her arm. She had her first mouthful of food. She learned what chocolate is. She found her true laugh. Fred has begun to decipher the mysteries of the alphabet here. She has sung and danced and laughed and raged and cried inside these walls. She has learned to sleep. She has learned to wake again and only recently has returned to padding up the corridor in the dark.

Martin became a student here, here we lived another life, a quiet life, a life with good friends close by and close to places that became an extension of home for Fred: the museum, the library, the zoo, John St Child Care. We imagined we would be here for at least four years, the duration of Martin's course. I am excited about our move but a part of me grieves the life we would have had here, the them they might have been if we stayed. Reflecting like this is part of who I am, it helps me move forward to spend a moment or two glancing back, watching ghosts play like shadows, like shafts of light entering an empty room, pale but dynamic, the spooling dust of memory and forgetting.

The pond, home to Sprinkle, Santa and Reindeer
Painting, Una becomes a girl, and Una and Fred become friends and playmates
Una's first meal

The bike trailer, transport of choice for museum trips and early morning rides to John St

p.s. I don't know when I will be online again. It's in the hands of Telstra now. Love to all.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The case of the saggy-baggy thesis

I have speculation. I have theories. I have questions. I have ideas. I even have answers. I have words words words.

Because I don't have an argument.

I don't want to do it anymore.

Onya Doris!

Doris Lessing has won the nobel prize for literature. Hooray. She's only the 11th woman to win it (over 104 years). She's 83. They kept her waiting long enough, eh?

Monday, October 15, 2007


So on Thursday we are moving house. Tis done. Settlement went through last Tuesday, the key arrived in the mail on Wednesday. I have the odd fluttery 'what have we done?' moment, but that is part of my decision-making process, sometimes I have that feeling when I'm making dinner, or at the video store. Ah but seriously. We are beginning to realise just what a treechange we're up for. Yesterday Martin went up to scrub the bathroom ceiling (as you do) and clear out the leftover porn (porn bloopers...?! What is WITH that?) and as he wandered round the house noticed a distinct absence of mailbox. Turns out, according to the friendly neighbours (who have smallish children - hurrah!), that there is no mailbox because there is no mail. We have to go to the local general store/PO to pick it up (which actually sound kind of fun, check back with me on this next July). There's also no gas service (boohoo) which means electric cooker - I am in mourning. Tank water. Bushfires (eek - must back up photos and files and learn to flee with gay abandon...I mean -ahem - stay and fight like a man). Cockies and parrots and kookaburras just hang out, eyeing you, as if you might be a tasty snack. We are yet to see a kangaroo or any other land dwelling critter.

So all those things I meant to get done before moving (writing my Harry Potter speech, the other half of my thesis, a couple of novels, take Fred to the museum and zoo) I have until Thursday to do. Along with packing, teaching a class tomorrow and returning all my library books. Unread of course. Sigh.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ready, Set, Reconcile

"He wants to keep breaking our hearts. He has had 11 years and he has failed us." Lowitja O'Donoghue

Do you know what I hate about politics? All the bloody politicians. Mr Howard has apparently had some gracious shift in his thinking on - gosh - the eve of an election in Australia. Apparently reconciliation is a good idea after all. He even points to the election-based thinking behind this:
"I sense in the community a rare and unexpected convergence of opinion on this issue between the more conservative approach which I clearly identify with and those who traditionally have favoured more of a group rights approach."
So if the conservatives want it, then it must be okay. But doesn't this barely veiled comment also dismiss the collective voices of those of us who have 'traditionally favoured a group rights approach'? Are we not 'traditional Australians' too? I can't help being highly suspicious of these steps towards 'symbolic reconciliation'.
But part of me wants to actually believe Howard is genuine in his humility. He's quite good at that, he strikes quite a pathetic figure, and increasingly a solitary one. Mr Howard is basically admitting here (in quite a vulnerable way, which is why it is compelling despite the blatant timing) that he is a product of a way of thinking that is no longer relevant when it comes to social issues. In other words, Howard seems to be admitting to a kind of historical racism.
"The challenge I have faced around indigenous identity politics is in part an artefact of who I am and the time in which I grew up."
Basically, elections strike me as ultimately flawed. All these shiny shiny words at election time and then years of slipping in the crappy stuff when no one is looking. I mean long live democracy and all, I am well aware of the position of privilege I write from - as a non-minority subject in a democratic country, who lives in a well serviced urban region. But I've always thought there was a huge gap between being a good politician and being good at running the country. As Howard himself admits.
"True reconciliation will become a reality only when it delivers better lives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That, quite frankly, will be the work of generations."
But how can such a reality be achieved when it comes in sound-byte-sized pieces every three years, or as a set of competing policies between short term thinkers?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Which brain are you?

Left brain or right brain

Click on the above link and see, then come back here and tell ME (because I am curious). When I saw the image in miniature I saw it as clockwise, bigger I saw it as anticlockwise. I don't know what it means that I now see her swing from side to side. I tend to identify more with the right brain traits, though I think I actually have a big logical streak in me too - maths and science were never my strong points however. If you slide your eyes away from her to the left or right she seems to change direction.

Now my eyes are all hurty.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Finding a voice, finding another one

Sometimes you need more than one voice to tell a story. Sometimes it's necessary to slip points of view, to show what another character's experience of the story is. But getting your reader to make the change with you, to put up with parallel storylines offers challenges - if one voice is very strong and compelling they might not want to leave it. I'm sure I'm not the only person who skipped all the Browning-esque poetry in A.S.Byatt's Possession (ooh, how naughty). I quite like stories with fairy tales in them. I had this funny old book when I was a kid called R my Name is Rosie about a girl who lived in a hotel run by her busy mother who really wanted a dog. She and the bartended took it in turns telling each other this story about a princess called Rosalind (I might be misremembering some of the details). Anyway, there was this floral design in the margin to indicate where it slipped into the fairytale, which meant sometimes on rereading I'd skip one of the narratives and just read the other, which was very postmodern of me. I loved it though, I read it heaps as a kid. Apparently Lili does something similar in Scatterheart (which seems to sell out rather quickly in Readings, I must order in a copy).
The Indigo Girls which comes out next year is written from two first person points of view - I wanted to show the interior of the friendship of two very different girls from both perspectives.
The novel I'm writing at the moment has a very particular voice. I feel like I might need to show things from another side, but I am not sure I can do it. I've been looking for a second voice but the voice is elusive.
For me finding the voice is the difference between being able to write a novel and not. It's multi-stranded. First person or third (for me, pretty much never second - hmm, maybe I should try it now)? What's the vocabulary? What's the dialect? If it's first person is it an interior narrative, is there an implied audience, how unreliable are they? If it's third does it attach itself to one perspective or move between characters? If it's first have I chosen the best person to tell the story from? What if it's from this person's point of view, or this one's? The voice for Undine came to me in snippets, lying in bed or walking the streets. I wrote quite a lot of it in my head before I wrote any on the page. It's third person and slips p.o.v st first just between Trout and Undine and then one or two other characters as the trilogy progresses. The Chomp I wrote for Penguin, Josie and the Michael Street Kids I actually wrote in third person and converted into first at some point in the writing process (which is making writing the sequel, something I pick at when I'm stuck or bored of everything else, interesting - should I use the same technique?) Indigo Girls was always first person, though it took me a while to get the two voices right, wanting them to be distinctive but not overly jarring, to keep the reader pulled through the story without them having to readjust with every new chapter.
The first person voice of the novel I'm writing now (tentatively titled Only Ever Always) came easily, sometimes the voice is what gives you the character and that was the case here, I got character, setting and atmosphere all from writing a few paragraphs in this voice. Which makes me wonder if the trickiness of finding a second voice is a resistance of a different kind, perhaps it's my way of telling myself not to separate the strands of the narrative at this stage. And yet I'm not sure I can write a novel in bits and then stitch it together, like a quilt. Does anyone else write like this? Every novel I've written I've written from beginning to end, in one document. Of course there's some cut and pasting and shuffling about at the end, some adding and subtracting. How do you put in the stitches at the end, how do you make it hang together?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Audio files

Does anyone know if there is a place to host audio files for free online, so you can stick them on your blog?
(Like youtube but without the talking moving eerie soulcapturing pickchas).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Writing from Life

Yesterday the Writing Fiction undergrad tute I'm teaching this semester was talking about the line between fiction and fact, what we felt was free ground for us to draw from, where we felt the moral line is drawn between art and life.

On the way home I was still thinking about it. When a group of writers have a conversation, who owns it? Who has first dibs to write about it? Last week I was chatting to Rod Jones in the cafeteria about Classics and I mentioned how I had moved to Melbourne hoping to study Classics, and at that stage it was my ambition to do a PhD in Ancient Greek literature and be odd and lonely (okay, actually I didn't mention the odd and lonely part, so already this is a fiction). But I didn't get into Melbourne Uni, I got into Monash, which didn't so much have Classics but had a strong archaeology department. So I studied that instead. I thought I would quite like archaeology, and I was happy to readjust my fantasy to be odd and lonely and in Egypt at a dig site tilling earth steeped in myth with a teaspoon, finding shards and dwelling inside narratives. But I actually found archaeology bitterly cold and flat. It wasn't about stories or mythology it was about verifiable facts and what things weren't. The stories that were full and round in my mind were flattened, the details stripped back to expose the bare facts within. I couldn't see people, like I could when I was reading Euripides or even when I was writing an essay about women collecting water at the well. All I could see were the broken things, the artefacts, their stubborn refusal to complete themselves or to sing or to be what they had been or where they had been or when they had been before.

Rod Jones pointed out that archaeology isn't the writer, it's the critic.

Of course.

The text isn't being created, or even read in the indulgent sense of the word, it's being tilled with a spoon. It's being exposed to a set of criterion, interpreted to an inch of its life, the myth is not the myth, it's not the dream, it's the factual basis. Who wants truth? I'm not motivated by truth, or at least the truth I want is a different kind of truth, not generated by facts or relics but generated by stories. There is of course a kind of beauty in the critique I'm sure. And like philosophy or psychology you probably have to get to PhD stage before you really start thinking with true originality, tilling your own earth. But still, it was an unappealing process to me.

I knew an archaeologist once, John his name was. I liked him, he lived with Zoe (hmm, should I be offended that she says blogs are for the tediously self indulgent?) for a while, but he always kind of baffled me. There was a precision about him, a kind of reserve, he never seemed to burble excess words. his concerns lay somewhere between the intellectual and the concrete - the whimsical, the silly and the useless didn't seem particularly to interest him (though he had a wonderfully dry sense of humour). Being as I am a great fan of whimsy and uselessness and one to often burble excess words, I found that next to him I felt kind of excessive myself, and shallow and sort of new, where he seemed intrinsically deep and old. I was entranced by the fact that his interest was in a kind of agricultural archaeology - he studied seeds, in Israel I think it was. It has a romance to it, tilling the earth, creating a picture of daily life, of something extremely ordinary and transitory, but also remote and distant, and cyclical, bound up in the same dirt we now farm, with the same seasons, the same sun, the same moon pulling the earth through the same space, our crops descended from their crops. But as soon as he went into detail the romance was lost in the dry facts, a different kind of buried, and really, I don't have the patience for digging with spoons.

Anyway, the conversation with Rod, who is doing a PhD in classics, was much shorter and pithier than that. Jen was there too, she writes books based on Greek myths so we all own and have some kind of stake in that conversation. Perhaps it wasn't even a new idea to them, but it was to me. It's intriguing to think what each of us would make of it if we were return to it at some point in fiction, how different our lived memories of conversations and all the things, all the referents and memories our words point to, would be.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Silly silly name meme

Knickered from Muppinstuff

1. My rock star name (first pet and current car)
Whitlam Nissan (Whitlam was a budgie - I think we had Cairns at the same time.)

2. My gangsta name (ice cream flavour plus cookie, or biscuit)
Passionfruit Velvet (nice! Found my true calling)

3. My fly girl name (first letter of first name, first three letters of last name)
P Rus (It just doesn't roll of the tongue)

4. My detective name (favourite colour, favourite animal)
Indigo Bear

5. My soap opera name (middle name, city of birth)
Ann Hobart (ah yes, suitably dowdy)

6. My Star Wars name (first three letters of your last name, first two of your first name)
Rus-Pe (sounds like a sound you make in disgust, that could involve spitting out something nasty tasting)

7. My superhero name (second favourite colour, favourite drink, add “the”)
The Crimson Coffee

8. My Nascar name (first two names of my two grandfathers)
Charles Frederick (distinguished, but what's a nascar?)

9. My stripper name (favourite perfume, favourite sweet)
Jardin Clos Eclair (fancy)

10. My witness protection name (mother’s and father’s middle names)
Mary William (ho hum)

11. My weather anchor name (fifth grade teacher’s name, a major city beginning with the same letter)
Larkey London

12. My spy name (favourite season/flower)
Autumn Iris (oh yes, very bond)

13. Cartoon name (favourite fruit plus garment you’re wearing, with an “ie” or “y” added)
Apricot Docsie (hmm, I see a big eyed bunny for some reason)

14 Hippie name (what you ate for breakfast plus favourite tree)
Tomato Rivergum (oh yeah. That's of course what I'll be changing my name to when we move out to St Andrews)

15. Your rockstar tour name (favourite hobby plus weather element, with “the”)
The Reading Wind (Could be good. Could be gassy).