Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's MY birthday today

In the immortal words of Justine Clarke:
'I'm older than yesterday.'

Here are my birthday letters:
"Happy Birthday Mum
Love Hearts
All done

and another from Una:
It's handie
It's my handie
jus' my handie
it's Freddie's handie
It's MY handie
story Una"

And from Fred:
"Happy birthday Mum,
Japan is a very long time ago,
so watch out for foxes.
They are big fat danger
the big ones are scary
if you see one
you have to watch out.
Love from Fred."

and another from Fred:
"It's candles on your cake,
your own special cake
just for Mum!
It's not for you but sometimes
we can share it. Fred."

And for me my own teeny tiny purple iPod shuffle! With my name on it! Wheeee! I love presents.

It was Martin's birthday yesterday but as Fred said this morning 'it wasn't a real birthday it was just a disaster birthday'. I had planned a surprise party for him but we had to cancel it because I was sick in the night. Boohoo. But Martin seemed to enjoy his quiet day anyway. Fred played all day next door so it was just Una and Martin while I slept. As Martin says, 'She was my birthday buddy.' Cute. Happy birthday to my dear love Martin.

Christmas was good. The family lunch on Christmas Eve and the extended party on Christmas night were the distinct highlights, Christmas is for sharing. We play a nutty game on Christmas Eve and there's a hilarious Secret Santa on Christmas Day, the girls love it, all the grown ups being silly, and so do I.

We're off on the boat to Tassie tonight. To quote Fred: 'Fond farewell.' But then again, I'll probably blog from there, so it's not really goodbye. Cyberspace is cool like that.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas Everyone

This is what I woke up to.

Hope you all have a beautiful day, surrounded by people you love.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Christmas Train is Coming and I've Strayed onto the Tracks

( day I might write a country and western song called that)

Christmas starts tomorrow for us, with Martin's immediate family. We're doing Christmas lunch and presents on Christmas Eve, which has become something of a tradition, except for the years we're in Tassie for Christmas. On Christmas day we're having a quiet day at home and then seeing Martin's extended family in the evening, at his Aunt's house in Williamstown. The kids had a ball there last year, I'm looking forward to it, though I always miss my own family when we do a Melbourne Christmas. We wrapped all our presents last night. I am making some things too that aren't quite finished. A bag for Una with a big girl on it and I've written a fairy tale for Fred called The Robber Princess (based on a character she invented when we were in Queensland) which needs to be bound. Martin and I have already done some illustrations.

I've been feeling a bit spiritually bereft this Christmas and churning over what we can do next year to make Christmas feel a bit more meaningful. We're not Christians (I grew up going to Church sporadically but pretty much the whole family gave it up before i hit teenhood), but I do yearn for some kind of ritual or ceremony. I love the idea of Carols by Candlelight but it's become increasingly more commercial everywhere - too many ex-Australian idols warbling up and down the scales so that it's physically impossible to sing along to any of the carols. Ach. Or maybe it is just the melancholy that is Christmas, the belief that other people elsewhere do it properly and with the kind of golden grace saved for Christmas specials, combined with an air of nostalgia for Christmases past, when I believed in Santa and Jesus and the magic of Christmas. Maybe Christmas is only really magical when you're not responsible for making it be.

Anyway, food. We're going to roast a leg of lamb for Christmas lunch and have it with this:

Dani's Raspberry and Feta salad
300g raspberries (frozen will work if fresh are too overpriced)
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup honey
500g mixed salad greens
150g crumbled feta (bulgarian is perfect for this)
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
Stir 1/2 berries into vinegar. Stand 1/2 hour. Puree with honey and season to taste.
Just before serving, combine all salad ingredients and dress.

Dessert will be chocolate shiraz raisins and a quiet afternoon in front of the Are You Being Served? Christmas specials DVD as we recharge our batteries for a big night of watching the children degrade into general feralness.

Boxing day is Martin's birthday.

The day after is mine.

What's everyone else doing for Christmas day? Recipes strongly encouraged.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Back from holidays down at the beach. There's something about floating on your back with your ears under the water that makes me feel like I've gone out of time: body dissolves into water, self recedes. I could be any age, any me.

We stayed in a house down in Dromana, owned by siblings of friends and it came with a beach box. Now I have been beach royalty how can I go back? What a blissful holiday!

I have finished my stint at Inside a Dog, so am now blogging here again. Not that I stopped as it turned out. But anyway. Here I am.

For those of you who are interested (a few people have asked about my thesis) here is my thesis abstract (written in a hurry in the middle of the night):

Melancholy is prevalent in modern texts for children, especially those with a fantasy element, and has a profound affect on plot, structure and narrative closure. This is particularly captured in the image of the everchild – perhaps most immediately recognisable in the figure of Peter Pan, but a recurring motif in modern and postmodern fairy tales. This dissertation looks at three eras of children’s writing – Victorian, Edwardian and Postmodern – and engages with the different ways melancholy is handled by the authors. The melancholic figure of the everchild sheds light on Freud and Kristeva’s theories of melancholia, specifically Freud’s belief that the melancholic subject, unwilling to relinquish a lost love object, incorporates it into the ego, and Kristeva’s further contention that the lost love object is the body of the mother. Winnicott’s model of the Perfect Mother creates a fascinating blueprint for the fairyworld, a domain where the child imagination holds complete sway, and where the integrity of the self is always threatened. The thesis finds that a journey into fairyworld is a journey into the melancholic self via the body of the mother. This journey results in either a healthy retrieval and expulsion of the lost thing or a further concealing of it within the ego so that it remains forever lost in the regressive domain of the fairyworld.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


1. My thesis is finished.
2. Apart from the bibliography.
3. It is called Melancholy ever after? Repetition, maternity, melancholy and the everchild in modern and post-modern fairytales
4. It is 17429 words long including quotes.
5. It has two epigraphs. One is two stanzas from the poem at the end of 'Through the Looking Glass.' The other is a Stevie Smith poem. Which should probably go.
6. Word has just fritzed.
7. Crap.
8. Oh don't worry, it's okay. But now I've been suckered into rewriting my conclusion.
9. Stoopid conclusion.
10. I'm not finished.
11. As you were.

Okay, now I've finished. Feel free to proceed with accolades, applause, ticker tape parades or hearty congratulations.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tis the Season to eat Salad

Every time I go somewhere I take salad. Well not every time.

Places I don't take salad include: the movies, celebrity funerals, first dates, last dates, weddings, the pub, and secret rendezvous with Orlando Bloom.

But since I never go to any of those places anymore, I often make salads and take them with me to parties and dinners out and Christmas and so forth. People say 'You bring the salad cause you do good salads.' So here is the secret to doing good salad.

For a salad to be a meal (with bread and maybe wine) you need to represent a few food groups:
1. Starch. Starchy foods fill you up. The best sources of starch in a salad are potatoes and bread. Pasta and rice are also acceptable but are often dry, or as we salad makers like to say, a bit nyung nyung nyung. Cracked wheat (like in tabouleh) is great, but needs to be well soaked and doused in olive oil and pomegranate molasses. Noodles are good, I love thai salads. Crispy noodles make me happy.
2. Protein. Meat, eggs, fish, lentils, cheese, avocado or nuts. Nuts are great in salad because they give it an interesting texture. I especially like macadamias because they're groovy. We haven't had nuts in our salad for a few years because of the children.
3. Vegetables. Yes, well. I guess they're kind of a given really. Salad greens obviously and herbs are great in summer and who can go past tomatoes when they're in their peak season? In winter, you can roast veggies (potato, pumpkin, sweet potato, beetroot, tomatoes, leek, onion, garlic) and dress them with a light vinegarette and serve warm.
4. Fruit. I love fruit in main meals. I like to add grapes to greek salad (I also love grapes on pizza with olives, spinach or vine leaves and fetta). There's a recipe below with barbecued peaches in a summer salad. Pear and pecans were made for each other. Strawberries and spinach. Sultanas or raisins in coleslaw. Marshmallows in salad though, that's just freakin. I can't go there.
5. Dressing. I tend to make fairly simple salad dressings. I am not big on lots of ingredients because I think the flavour should come from the salad rather than the dressing. My bog standard is olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Lemon juice can be replaced with red wine vinegar or balsamic (but I like lemons). Pomegranate molasses is my new favourite thing, you just need a dash of it to get a strong flavour. When we were trying to get Fred to eat salads we put honey in the dressing with great success. Sometimes I make the dressing in a screwtop jar and shake it, sometimes in a bowl and I stir it with a fork and often I just pour it all directly on the salad. I never serve dressings on the side, I always dress the salad myself, and I have never found a prepared supermarket dressing that I like - they are all too acidic. I seldom use mayonaisse, I prefer vinegarette dressings on potato salad and if there is any warm ingredients going into the salad (like cooked cauliflower or roast veggies) I dress it warm and then let it cool down because the flavours combine better.

Some salads:
Daggy (c1993) Chicken Salad: Chicken breast cut into strips and pan-fried in soy sauce, oil, honey, and garlic (you could marinate it but I never get around to that). Combine with bean shoots (the phat ones), grapes, red capsicum, celery, mushrooms and pineapple chunks. I don't think you need dressing for this salad.

Strawberry and spinach: (there's a few ways to make this, this is how I do it). Hull and halve a punnet or two of strawberries, combine with a big bag of spinach leaves. Toss with dressing and sprinkle over sunflower seeds.
Dressing: combine a tablespoon of tahini with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add lime juice (about one lime), sugar or honey to taste (it should be quite sweet, a finely chopped spring onion) and one garlic clove.

Panzanella (or as it is tres classily called in this house wet bread salad): A few big slices of day old good bread (this salad is FANTASTIC made with Phillipas fig and anise bread but good with any sourdough bread), crusts removed. Dampen the bread, squeeze out the excess water and crumble into the bowl. Add to a salad of whatever you like but in this house the core ingredients are really fantastic tomatoes, and a green herb (coriander, flat-leaf parsley, mint or basil). In there as well might be celery, hard boiled eggs, capers or olives (I like green), mushrooms, bacon or tuna and cucumber. I think the secret to this salad is to chop everything up quite small. Dress with olive oil, garlic and balsamic, and black pepper. We wouldn't use salt, especially if we've got capers or olives in there but hey, whatever floats your raft.

Peach and Asparagus: BBQ halved peaches and asparagus with the ends snapped off. Toss with spinach leaves (the leaves will wilt which is all good). Dress with a little oil and some pomegranate molasses. Or if you don't have that make a dressing of oil, honey and balsamic.

Lentil and orange: I love green or brown lentils in a salad. I usually get the French puy ones because even though they're dearer lentils are always good value for money and the little ones taste better. I like hearty warm lentil salads in winter with bacon and roast potato or something like that to chunk it out. Ooh and lots of mustard. Lentils and mustard should get married and have babies. Anyway, a simple salad is brown lentil and orange. You can soak the lentils beforehand if you like them really tender but you don't have to. Just cook them in water, make sure they don't boil dry, add more water if you don't think they're cooked enough. You can cook them in stock, which I particularly recommend for winter. For summer though, combine green lentils (you know, about as much as you think you'd like to eat), segments of orange, and mint (I really heart mint), and dress with olive oil, orange juice, walnuts if you don't have littlies, and grainy mustard. Because you now know my firm opinion on mustard and lentils. Married. Babies.

Fred started eating salad at about two and a half, when she could serve herself (before that she lived almost exclusively on bananas, apple and yoghurt). Una eats everything. I always try and put a couple of things in a salad that I know they'll eat, like crispy noodles or fruit or roasted cubes of sweet potato or grated carrot.

I am procrastinating. Can you tell?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fred's first joke

Where do you find a cold pirate?
In the icy ocean.


Yeah, well. I don't think she quite understands jokes yet.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Christmas Presents to Make

Let me just make a disclaimer here that chances are I won't make any of these. If I could, I would quickly rent a hole in the fabric of space-time, pop into a cosy alternative universe and make all the girls' Christmas presents. Better yet, I'd find an alternative me who was really good at making things, and also employ her to get Fred and Una to make charming potato-print Christmas cards - in this alternative world, F & U are very obliging (unfortunately I couldn't find an instructable for this, or folding space, or cloning myself or anything really useful). Anyway, since I spend some time obsessing over this stuff, I thought I might as well share the obsessive goodness. Lots of these have been kicking around the web since forever, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded of their existence in this crazy rapid-paced space we call cyber.

Pinspinners - cute little pinwheels for a Christmas party or to decorate the table.

Scotty Dog - cute little squishy dog. I made one of these for Fred and she loved it, surprisingly much. Especially considering, frankly, I can't sew for nuts (look, I'm jiggy with that - I can write books, right?)

Little theatre - this little theatre is so tooth-achingly sweet. I heart it's guts out. Um, can't read a word of French, so I translated it with google, which is always good for a laugh. It's an Easter theme, but oh well, I know Fred won't notice. This one I like to think I might actually do. It's within the realms of possibility. Oh, who am I kidding?

A smoogem is a bunny - a very very cute bunny. It's a wheat bag I think, I must admit I didn't read all the instructions. See why I won't actually make anything? As soon as there's instructions my eyes glaze over.

More stuffed animals from Martha. Keep Martha honest this Christmas. Actually I was never sure just why she went to gaol. Combining plaid and polkadots? Running with scissors? Running cocaine inside handmade stuffies? Oh-ho.

Wee Wonderfuls has lots of free patterns to download. I love the paper dolls. Again, within the realms of possibility. If I was, you know. Not me.

Oh my, look at this list of 30 projects to sew from Sew, Mama, Sew. Other me shall be so very busy.

For little girls, I love these pillowcase dresses. Alternative me would happily spend the day sourcing marvellous vintage pillowcases from backwater op shops. At the same time I'd put together a teaset of handpicked secondhand metal cups and a really great teapot.

If you're into web design, you could make your kids a simple website, like Martin has for Fred and Evie Constable. It has photos of them and all the links they like to visit, like Noggin, Charlie & Lola and ABC Kids.

Here's some tips for a sustainable Christmas. We've scored so well with 2nd hand stuff this year for, Fred, a beautiful wooden storytelling game that looks brand new (and that I've seen and hankered after in the shops) and is just up her alley and a lovely anthology of fairy tales, which we bought ages ago, put away, promptly forgot about and then rediscovered. Hurrah!

Okay I'm all worthied out now. Time to log onto Sendatoy and Peanut Gallery and look at all the lovely things we can't afford to buy.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Earliest Memory Meme

Cross posted at Inside A Dog

Tagged by Meli, who stole it from Jabberwocky, who got it from Eleanor Bloom, who was tagged by...well, I guess I have to stop somewhere. But I do love to write the name Eleanor Bloom. Thanks Meli, I loved reading yours and I loved doing this.

My very earliest memory is one that is more sensation and sound. I am in my cot, facing the wall. There's a party going on. The door has opened and my mother and some other people are peering in at me. I am somewhere between being awake and asleep. I recall, though I don't know if this part is invented, not wanting to be picked up and held. When I first told my mother this was my earliest memory, she was astonished. It was November 1975, my dad's 50th birthday party. Kerr had just sacked the Whitlam government. I was ten months old.

Needless to say, following that precedent I have a lot of very clear and potent memories of early childhood. I remember creche well. I have a very clear memory of sitting under (the director) Wendy's desk with Hannah Smith and taking off my shoes, which is funny because I also remember getting into trouble for not knowing where my shoes were! I remember turning up to creche one day to find out we were going to Mt Wellington and Mum hadn't brought my snow gear. She drove home to get it. I remember catching the train (one of the last passenger trains in Hobart) to the deer park in Ross, again with the creche. I remember Delphine's mum teaching a few of us French phrases, while holding her baby boy Pierre-Yves (who I called Prayer Eve). I remember hiding our baskets one year for the Easter Bunny and all the carers saying they saw Easter Bunny's ears at the window and I saw them too (only I know I didn't really), and then I couldn't find my basket because I was scatty and forgetful as a child, but I found it eventually in the tunnel. Everyone saw Easter Bunny tracks and I said I could see them too, but I couldn't and I worried why I couldn't when everyone else could. I remember Hannah Smith and I taking Francie Evans out the front gate and down the road on our way to Disneyland and the carers stopping us and persuading us over the fence to come back (I can't believe we strode out the front door of a creche! Wouldn't happen now without a Royal Commission being called). I remember going to Francie Evan's pool party and she had a doll that you could feed who wet her nappy and I wanted one so badly. I remember as a three year old hanging nostalgically over the half door to the baby's room and wishing I could be a baby again.

I will stop now, though there's more. But I don't want to be tedious.

It's funny watching my kids memories being made. Before she was three Fred had an astonishing memory for people, her memory was indiscriminate. She remembered kids she had played with once and called out for them in the shopping centre. Then as part of growing up she seemed to dump all this and start making new hierarchical memories, recognising the significance of certain people. She has a story she tells as her first memory, the day a dog ate her sandwich from her hand in the park while she and Martin were waiting for me. But I wonder if it's the story she remembers rather than the event. She has a great memory for song lyrics, as do I.

Una seems to have retained the memory of her damaged finger. The other day she saw Craig next door and said 'he helped me with my finger' (he drove her to the hospital) and when we were on the same freeway as we took to the hospital Una piped up with 'lady fix my finger.'

Memory is so fickle. It's amazing the things it fixes on, the things it ignores. It's amazing how memory can take us somewhere else that is neither here nor there but, like baby me, somewhere between - past and present, sleeping and waking. I hope both girls have good memory retention like me. My mother remembers a lot too, though her memory works differently from mine. I tend to remember impressions, mum has an amazing memory for networks and relationships and associations - she can always remember who know who and where from. I think my sister has this ability too (a first born trait? First borns are the family's memory keepers?) My memories tend to be more personal, more inward and introspective.

I am not tagging because I want EVERYONE IN THE WHOLE WORLD to do this, either on your own blog or in the comments, but if you do it on your blog, please tell me that you've done it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Post Liberal World

Oh. Brave. New. World. I still haven't come down. I still have this post election blush. Oh joy. I feel like I live in a world where everyone's nice to each other, where politicians just want to make the world a better place. Julia. Maxine. Peter Garrett. Bob. And Kev, though he's still a bit of an enigma. As Catherine Deveny said:
I feel as if I've started dating another man after being in an abusive relationship for 11 years.

Can it last? Can it possibly last.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Cross posted at Inside A Dog.
A short reading from Undine.

Friday, November 23, 2007

One more sleep

Would you vote for this duck man?
See you at the polls tomorrow.

psst. Bob Brown for PM.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

School socials

Head over to Inside A Dog, read my post about school socials and have fun watching the clips.

What was your favourite song to dream to?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Dancing Lessons

Kick your legs. (straight legs kick up)
Punch your back. (fists pummel the small of her back)
That's how you dance.

(Fred teaching Una to dance)

The weird thing is, it did actually kind of look like dancing.

Monday, November 12, 2007


000_0019, originally uploaded by nellup.

Remember I'm blogging on Inside a Dog this month. Meanwhile I'm slowly putting some photos on Flickr.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Blog O'clock

Next week I will be blogging at Inside a Dog. Anyone got any suggestions of interesting writerly type things I can blog about? I am planning on doing some candid posts about adolescence...should be scary. And possibly funny. But hey, I was in grade eight in 1988, which was never going to be pretty.

We bought a new camera as our old one seems to be D-E-D (that's dead, for those of you who don't know how to spell proper). It is charging at the moment. Oooh. It's not fancy, but I'm okay with that. Martin picked it while Fred and I looked at a cringeworthy shop in Epping Shopping Pahlooza (not the real name) that was full of genu-ine fake asian and african artifacts. I was cringing so much I couldn't walk upright. Anyway, camera is charging. Photos, finally, tomorrow.

I drove all the way back from Epping. I even went on the freeway which scares the b'jeezus out of me because of the whole merging thing (though I quite like driving fast). So I am now a B'jeezus free zone. Thanks for asking.

Our echidna came back. We hung out. I think he's voting Green. He came right up to the veranda. Have I mentioned I love it here?

Fred has started talking to people. To everyone. She asks them what their name is, what their mother's name is, what their sister's name is on and I like your watch and your bag and your blue eyes. It can be quite embarrassing, like when she sticks her head under the gap between toilet cubicles. But she is not easily deterred. Even when people are outwardly rude, she just stands there and says 'excuse me excuse me excuse me' until they answer. I find it both funny and confronting. But mostly funny. Then Fred said to Martin the other morning, 'Why when I say hello to people do you and Mummy laugh?' So we must try not to find it funny or confronting. She used to be quite shy and quite reluctant to talk to other adults, so it's actually a really good development for her. And it's not her fault if some people are rude. I have this enormous need to buffer, to protect her from other people's rudeness and to protect them from my extremely nosy four year old. I need to step back and let her discover all by herself that people can sometimes be difficult, as for them, they cna all look after themselves. I myself have a tendency to avoid difficult interactions. So I like the idea of her wading in no matter what and continuing to press until she gets a smile, I don't want to parent her out of that.

On the other side of the spectrum, Fred has also learned the word hate and she uses it a lot. This grinds me down. Of course she's allowed to hate things, I can't expect her to think everything is sunshine and roses. But that's such a bad freaking vibe to spread around the earth. Seriously. And the flippancy with which she uses it... Yeah, yeah. I know. She's four. She doesn't really HATE ducks. But she needs to find a more...semiotically rich (as my undergrad students would say) way of expressing herself.

Photos photos. Tomorrow. I promise.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Rainy Sunday

I'm in bed writing - fiction for once, instead of thesis. It's rained all night, we were woken by thunder and lightning and the sound of glorious rain beating the roof and filling the watertanks. Martin is currently cutting a whole in the fence between us and next door and the kids are running back and forth, playing in the cubby, climbing a tree (I can watch them as I write dangling from its branches). Poor Una is asleep, she just can't keep up with those big kids.

Yesterday as we walked out onto the road to go to the market we met the neighbours across the road and walked together. They have a boy the same age as Fred (in 2009 they'll start school together) and another boy four years older. They invited us for dinner and we sat around the table and ate pizza and cake and drank wine and talked about gardening plans and swapped some of our histories while Una rediscovered the joy of lemonade and Frederique discovered sitting on a skateboard and scooting down a steep drive. We came home across the dirt road in the rainy dark and bundled the girls into bed. It's hard to believe we've only been here for two weeks. It's strange to remember what life was like before.

It's raining again. The kids are staying out in it, not afraid to get wet. Martin's still out there too. Good for them. But I'm glad it's not me. Now, back to the writing I guess.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Fingers, hospitals, scissors, tears

Yesterday we went back to the hospital to have Una's cast removed. It was quite frightening as they were cutting it off, I was scared of what they might find under there. Una, who played happily with Fred in the waiting room, running around like a crazy child, freaked out at the giant scissors and cried more than when it happened (well maybe not, but she cried a lot). I think it was also what they were cutting away that upset her - she has become quite used to her cast and I think she saw it as a part of her being taken, in the carpark as we were leaving she said dolefully 'I wost my wittle fumb'. But perhaps she has worried about her finger too and was alarmed at losing the protection. Looking at the rough drawings in blue ink of her angle her finger was on made me shudder. Even the nurse sucked air through her teeth when she saw it. And when one nurse called it an amputation, my blood ran cold.

Anyway, it looks like her little finger is going to be fine. They soaked the bandages off and had a good look, though Una kept wanting to plunge it back into the soapy bath, hide it away. They bandaged it up again and Una was still not comforted, though she calmed down as we left the ward and was running and laughing in the hospital corridors. She's still favouring her left hand, she holds the other arm crooked against her like a broken wing, as if the cast is still there. Martin thinks it will make her left handed.

She'll lose her nail. I wonder how she'll feel about that when it happens. And then she'll grow a new one. Bodies are magnificent.

We all had a good look at Martin's brother's finger on Saturday night, he did the same thing at 18 months in a folding chair. It was reassuringly ordinary. It is strange to think how families connect up, not just through genetics but through stories. Una's accident recalls and rewrites the story of Peter's finger which I've heard many times, being part of the family lore it is told over and over, though I think Saturday night was the first time we'd all connected up that story with adult Peter's finger. Now the stories belong together, injuries almost thirty years apart, laid side by side.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The dreamlife of fred

Sometimes when I watch Fred sleep I wish I could see what she is dreaming, which I suppose makes mothers creepy cause I can't imagine someone walking through my dreams. It reminds me of that scene in Peter Pan where the mother tidies away her children's thoughts...ugh. Martin and I read that to Fred in utero and both of us kind of freaked out about this idea of mothers. Turns out it's freaky accurate, though I can't actually get in there to rummage around.

Anyway, Fred just came to me stroking a pink feather, and told me her dream:

"I got into the cot and hugged Una and she was dying. She waved but she was dying. And I put her in the fire and you watched me pull her out again and she was alive again."

I was writing an article about death and repetition in children's literature at the time. Spooky.

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).

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Terrible Terrific Tear-ific Turbulent Triumpant

And then she was two.

Una was lying on the floor crying this morning, her forehead pressed to the ground, because I wouldn't let her have another turn on my computer (it freaks me out watching her bashing the keyboard). Martin joked, 'Are you just going to be terrible two now?' and she sobbed, with clear annunciation, 'I'm not terrible.'

I love other people's two year olds - in fact it's my favourite age in children I'm not responsible for rearing. But when Frederique was two I must admit it was a struggle. It was mostly the shock really, that this gorgeous, happy, easygoing baby transformed into a small person filled with rage, frustration and so much misplaced POWER, and most of it was turned against me. At the same time she was funny and delightful, emerging as a social creature, enraptured by her friends (though she was a bit of a thug as well) and developing a sense of humour, with its own referents, not just giggling in response to us or things she saw. Her memory for people and places was awesome (better than it is now). Her favourite movie, delightfully, was Travelling Birds (a documentary) which she would watch over and over and she had these five wooden people who she would arrange in secret corners of the house. But I was pregnant with Una from when Fred was 19 months (she was nearing 2.5 when Una was born) and Fred slept terribly the whole time, up and down and in and out of our bed, more up than down - every few nights she would just be AWAKE for hours in the middle of the night (was it so often? It seems as though it can't have been that bad...but it was pretty bad). She also hardly ate anything except cereal, bananas and yoghurt. Una has had some phases like this but for some reason I don't feel quite so personally involved in Una's body - if she doesn't eat it doesn't bother me, if she won't sleep during the day we get her up if she's wakeful during the night we pop the Noni CD in for her). She would often refuse her day-sleep or she would sleep and then she'd wake up in a foul mood that would rise in pitch until all the local birds evacuated and I'd end up crumpled in a heap in the corner of the kitchen weeping on the floor (literally, once or twice - Fred would either join me or hug me, she's always been very compassionate). Almost exactly around the time Fred turned three she transformed. She started to sleep through the night in her own bed, eat our food and stopped hitting and biting...most of the time.

Una is a very different girl and I'm more balanced these days. So I suspect I'm actually going to, for the most part, enjoy two this time round. Already cranky behaviour and extreme reactions I found bewildering and personally assaulting with Fred I find somewhere between mildly amusing and mildly annoying in Una. Part of it is that I know it's not personal this time. But an advantage with Una is that her language is more advanced, not so much her vocabulary but the way she uses it - she is far, far more communicative than Frederique was at the same age. Language for Fred was always malleable, always a game, more internal, directly connected to her imagination - which naturally led to a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunication (and still does). There's always been a sense that Fred's language emerges from the subconscious, that she's a postmodern magpie, collecting all these glittering words to arrange and rearrange for her own mysterious reasons (maybe she will be a poet). For Una language is about connecting with people and communicating her needs or inquiring politely after everyone else's. This morning when Fred wanted to hug her she pushed Fred away and said, without any kind of lead from us, 'I'm a bit cranky.' That she is this in touch with her own feelings and what they mean, and that she is able to talk about them in such a useful way, amazes me. For Una, language is more like a set of building blocks, creating structures that are practical, sturdy and quantifiable.

Another advantage is the love object. Una has baby, who looks quite a lot like this:

So much so we had to buy her the book. The only transitional object Fred ever had was a song. Which was unfortunate because it required one of us to sometimes endlessly produce it (though the uncanny sway it holds over her is one of my greatest pleasures as a mother).

Also I now know, nothing lasts forever. With Fred every stage was the new normal. There was always anxiety surrounding it. Only recently have we been able to accept that these things come and go and that there is often little we can do to ward off the harder stuff - we all ride it through together. Sometimes we made Fred's phases such an enemy that it seemed Fred herself was the enemy. Now we know the best we can often do is hold her (when she wants us) until she's ready to let go. Self-blame and guilt, anger and retribution are about as useful as trying to hold a flood back with chocolate mousse.

So two. I am not afraid. We've been here before. And I don't think it was ever really as bad as we thought it was. Or perhaps we have forgotten. The other gentle blessing of parenthood - forgetting.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

When it is morning

My one year old will be gone.
And in her place I will have Una Pearl, aged 2.

Workshop 3 - Rod Jones

By the way, so I'm doing this Advanced Workshop week as part of my masters, which is why I'm blogging about these things every day. This morning's session is with editor Jenny Lee, but I'm skipping it, partly because I already be an editor and know everything there possibly is to know about it (ha) and partly because Martin did some nancy trick with his ankle and is now weak and interesting and I need to make his weetbix for him (he will be cross with me for writing this but I am cross with his ankle for being a rolled one so we are equal). Did I every mention I am not a very good nurse?

Anyway, yesterday's workshop was with Rod Jones (here is his kindly but slightly crappily written Wikipedia entry). He's the author of lotsa books, including Night Pictures, Billy Sunday and Swan Bay. No writing exercises, but lots of interesting discussion about character, voice and -ahem - possible (yet of course utterly legitimate) uses of literary grants. Nuff said. He was extremely open and generous in talking about the relationship between life and fiction, revealing quite personal details about his life in order to talk about the (sometimes ambiguous) boundaries between 'life work' and writing.

Here are some of the things I wrote down while he was talking:
We write out of the part of ourselves we don't know
Write a page a day
Reflections. Ego. Self-consciousness - this rock doesn't need to write a novel
Writing is a business to do with the emotions
Writer's block is a form of depression
Writing as secret love affair, illicit, sexiness
'I wrote once upon a time and it felt like the universe was giving me a nudge.' (Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandra Quartet

Some of this stuff really touches on my feelings about writing as my 'job'. It's become a legitimate - rather than risky or illicit or naughty 'stolen moments' - activity. I've lost some of the love affair with words, and instead I keep getting distracted by the business of them.
There was an actual rock present, very engaged in not writing a novel.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Writing exercises/play

Today I attended a workshop with poet Claire Gaskin (author of a bud). She talked about truthtelling and I found it an amazing session, pushing me to write in a way I wouldn't normally and making me think about writing from a place that I am not entirely comfortable with. She made me think about writing as risky and dangerous, about the brain in crisis, about finding your truth and telling it. Claire quoted Hemingway: 'What did I know about truly and care for the most?' We began the class writing a 5 minute autobiography. As we read them out, one of the students, Rachael (who is very interested in experimenting with abstraction) folded her piece of paper in half, reading out only the left half of her autobiography. I've done the same thing here.

Half a five minute autobiography
[crossing out] I am from a
mother of daughters. I left
the 1990s. The island groans
making tracks.
I fill my head with ideas
from my brain. I am
my girls. I am Penni
and teenagers, freelance
in bed, I can't drive
recognise myself in the
cake. I am Undine I am
my oldest daughter Frederique
will be me (she told me)

1. Freewriting exercise: write what you know. When you've filled the page, write one truth. Use that truth as your first line and see where it takes you.
2. Take a line of a poem and rewrite it five times changing the order of the words. Be free and silly, the aim is to play with it, not to make sense. Read it aloud and see where you've ended up. Try it with your own sentences. (Feel free to share in the comments if you'd feeling brave.)

Monday, September 24, 2007


Today at the traffic lights a man stood next to me and laughed. He smelt strongly and sweetly of too much soap. He said 'Did you hit the button?' I answered yes. He hit it anyway. Then he said, 'Did you hit the button for me?' It was after that he started to laugh.

I did the wickedest writing exercise today, involving the form guide (you know the horse bit of the paper). It was Carrie Tiffany's exercise. Boy is she smart. And she has the most mellifluous reading voice, I could listen to her read all day, it was like liquid gold.

I am making a cake. It has earl grey teabags in it (not the bag, just the tea) and will have strawberry jam icing. It's for Una to take to creche tomorrow so everyone can happy birthday and hip hip hooray her for Friday. Making cakes at 10.30 is madness. Icing it at 7.30am will be fun. Not. And then I don't even get to eat any.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A tale of two markets

We went to Camberwell market today and scored some great books, including this:

We have Jane Ray's 12 Dancing Princesses and her lovely story Can You Catch a Mermaid? I've been wanting to get a fairy tale collection for Fred. We have a book of Nursery Tales, which is always a pleasure to read. It's amazing how these stories resonate and I know that living with fragmented narratives is part of the postmodern experience but I really want her to know the original stories - she's already encountered many of them in the intertextual universe. I've picked this particular collection up many times in bookshops, but never on a day when I had the money to spend. So good score. Good score indeed. And being blessed with cheapskatery, this very well looked after book is going away for Christmas.

We also bought this blast from the past (and put it away for a rainy day or a trip away):

Fred loves maps and journeys and paths, and she likes pictures with lots of detail so I think this will be a hit on a quiet day or when she needs some alone time if we're camping. I remember Anno from my primary school library, poring over the pictures and putting the narrative together.

And Fred chose this:

Which is one of those simple but incredibly lovely books about a baby with a cold. The illustrations are warm and homely and observant, a mother and her toddler sitting on the floor playing with toys and the cat. The mother is pregnant but this isn't mentioned in the text, which is a nice touch and a simple reflection of life for many toddlers.

There were others: Angelina and the Princess, a Lucy Cousins sticker book (with all the stickers miraculously intact - another one for a day away) and the Ahlberg's Baby's Catalogue for $1.

Last week we went to the much quieter Coburg market. It's a quite daggy trash and treasure market at the village drive-in. It's dead cheap and there's a lot of trash and only a little treasure. But it's a great family day out. At Camberwell we have to keep Fred at arm reach because it's so crowded which is a bit hard when she wants to dance in the middle of a temporarily vacated space or march along singing 'la la la I love you' at the top of her voice or whizz away to paw through a basket of toys. But at Coburg, which is much smaller and less intensely populated, I don't get that fluttery panicky feeling if I lose sight of her for a few seconds. Which means I can actually, you know, look at stuff. Last week, for the first time really, we raided Fred's piggybank and gave her pocketmoney to spend as she wished. This is what she chose (for 50c).

We also discovered Feral Baby's long lost twin sister. She's been welcomed into the fold.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Call it doctors and nurses, call it sand in bottoms...

Just don't call it sexual abuse.

This makes me furious.

Here's some bits:

Boy, 6, Accused of Sex Abuse

THE Education Department has investigated claims a six-year-old student ran a "sex club" at an eastern suburban primary school, involving up to up to half a dozen grade 1 students.

One mother said her son, also six, was asked to perform a sex act, and that the alleged perpetrator also exposed his genitals to students.


The mother has been unable to make a police report because the law states sexual assault by a child under 10 cannot be prosecuted.

"Victims of a perpetrator who is under the age of 10 should still have the same rights as any other victim of a sexual crime," she said.


But consulting psychologist John Cheetham said six-year-olds did not have a developed sense of right and wrong. "They are too young to put themselves into someone else's shoes," he said. "We've got to be very careful about putting an adult take on it, it's all about context."

Oh. My. God.

There are so many layers of wrong in this story that it makes my skin crawl.

1. Six. He's six. Six years old. He is not a PERPETRATOR for crying out loud. He's a six year old boy who thinks his penis is cool. He wants to show it to people. These people do not want to see it. Someone needs to go up to this boy and say sternly, 'Please leave your penis in your pants, Johnny (or whatever his name is). It's no big whoop. Half the human race have one.'

2. The mother who wants to prosecute this boy borders on insane.
Edited to admit this is a bit harsh, and I've tweaked some of the following lines - of course I am interpreting this mother's actions through some pretty sensationalist reporting and I don't know what's really going on for her. I am sure she's mostly confused and upset, but even so, I do stand by my comment that it is both misguided and ethically wrong to pursue or frame this kind of play as sexually criminal, implying the same motives and intentions as an adult abusing a child.
This kind of behaviour, while not as sweet as blowing dandelion fluff is pretty freaking normal in young children. I know I saw a little wormy penis or two before I turned 7, vaginas too. Bottoms are interesting. Then they stop being interesting. Then they start being interesting again later. Read Freud. To me this says more about our perception that a mother should be able to control every aspect of her child's experience, including sexual, than it does about the six year old boy accused of (vomit) holding a sex club. Come on. If anyone needs counselling it's anyone who believes children under ten should be able to be prosecuted as sex offenders.

3. Framing this behaviour as sexual abuse is tantamount to SEXUAL ABUSE. It is turning normal child behaviour (admittedly on the precocious, possibly slightly icky end of the spectrum) into something unhealthy. If anything a child that shows extreme sexual behaviour does need to be talked to and examined carefully by a doctor for evidence of sexual abuse. They don't need to be called a perpetrator.

4. Reporting stories like this as serious news is silly. Tomorrow's headlines 'Who Stole The Cookie from the Cookie Jar?' and 'Sister punches sister, other sister dobs.' All it does is contribute to the completely alarmist view that all of society can be separated into victim and perpetrator, that the whole world is crawling with paedophiles and that every kind of touching is suspect touching.

5. As Martin said tonight, the expectation that parents will control all their children's behaviours is huge these days. To add to this burden (and to further insulate children to an unhealthy degree), articles like this suggest parents (or even worse "authorities") should also be able to control their children's emerging sexuality.

It's not about knowing the difference between right and wrong. It's NOT wrong. I'm not saying that the other kids should have to look at his penis if they don't want to. I'm just saying there's perfectly normal avenues for dealing with this and that by blowing it out of proportion, they are risking real damage to this child's developing identity.

Every now and then I meet someone who has no idea what it's like to be a child. It's like their own childhood never happened. They also seem to entirely lack the imagination or ability to put themselves in a child's shoes. They have children of their own, they meet other children, they even attend playgroups, but yet they seem isolated from a culture of children, distrustful of children's exuberance, noise and emotions and alarmed by their undeveloped social skills. Although they take a great deal of joy in their own children, and love them dearly, they admit, often freely, to not particularly liking other people's children. That's what this story made me think of. Kids can seem kind of creepy to adults, and to each other, but that's called projecting, and it's adults doing it, seeing adult motives in child behaviour. When Fred tells me she's going to be me one day she doesn't mean she's going to grow up, kill me, make a wig from my hair and turn up at my book signings. She's learning about the boundaries of herself. Theyn all are. And they have these wildly fascinating bodies and they can't learn everything they need to know about them out of a book.

It also reminded me of J & B who I used to look after nearly 15 years ago (cripes) at a creche in Hobart. They invented a game called Sand in Bottoms, played in secret in a quiet spot behind the fort in the sandpit. We did the right things - we told their parents about it and said they might want to keep an eye on it and we put an end to it, upping our supervision in that part of the playground. But it was a fundamentally healthy game. J & B wanted to see what each other's bottoms looked like, and then put sand in them. Neither of them were disturbed by it, or showed any other worrying or extreme behaviours. Normal. Normal. Normal.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pregnancy Test


I've done a few pregnancy tests in my life. Sometimes I've wanted one result and sometimes I've wanted another, I've wept over them, felt quietly resigned, felt elated, felt scared to death. It's one of those cyclical things that brings time crashing in, so that every time I test I see those other tests - good and bad - flashing before my eyes. Tonight's test looks relatively tranquil in the pictures, but it was done in the chaotic post dinner bedlam, between dessert and the kid's bath, while Martin washed the dishes.

There's a part of me that wants 100 babies. I love newborns. I love the milky haze of breastfeeding. I love watching babies grow into themselves, discover their smiles, their ha has and their ba bas. I love watching language emerge and dreaming about who they might one day become. The thought of being pregnant again fills me with expectation.

But this probably isn't the best timing for us. I have my thesis due and novels to write. I'm breadwinning at the moment. We're moving next month. I have to get my license. Fred starts kinder soon. We've got no childcare organised for Una. And I must admit, I am a bit scared of pregnancy. I've never suffered post natal depression, but I came close to depression in my first trimester with Una - though admittedly there was a lot of other stuff going on, it's hard to separate out what's what.

My feelings are complicated. If it's positive, if it's 2 bright healthy pink lines, I know what I'm in for. The good and the bad.

But if it's negative, if it's one single line, I'll be sad.

I'll be sadder than I expected to be.

Hedgy-hog nightlight

This has been far and away the best thing we've bought Fred this year. It's a nightlight you plug in and charge up by day and switch on at night. It shifts colours, from blue, red, green and white and is a lovely dim glow in the room. The best thing about it is that it's cool to touch, so Fred can carry it to the toilet with her. There's other ones, including a little bird that sits on a base station rather than plugging into a cord to recharge (recommended because then you don't have to remember to charge it, though if we do forget we just leave it switched on and plugged in and Fred simply unplugs it if she wants to take it with her.) There's also a penguin and a dog. You can buy them online here but I've seen them in a few gift shops and toy shops now. We bought ours at a little shop opposite Piedemontes in North Fitzroy (not Luft, up the road a bit). Fred has been scared of the dark for a while now and is still in night nappies, too scared to go to the toilet at night. She seriously loves walking around in the dark now with the hedgehog, you cna see her trying to suppress her smile when she gets up to go to the toilet when we're still up. We are now under strict instructions to leave the bathroom light OFF.

They're very reasonably priced too, good for a present. The bigger ones, like the hedgehog are about $40 and the bird was about $30. The hedgehog is wicked cute though.

Made by Ikaboo.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What we're reading to them

Some picture book recommendations...

1. Annie to the Rescue by Deborah Niland. This is a beautiful follow up book to another favourite in our house, Annie's Chair. Annie climbs a tree to rescue her cat Callisto and then has a little trouble getting down, but in the end she does it all by herself. The language is simple and beautiful. Fred (4) learned it by heart after one read and Una (2) likes to listen to this one too, a good one for both ages. Deborah's illustrations are perfect, little round toddler people with little round toddler cat and little round toddler dog. Everybody will love this and it stands multiple rereadings.
2. Is Your Grandmother a Goanna? I found many of Pamela Allen's books baffling before I had children. Oh there are some obvious stand-outs like Grandpa and Thomas and the sad, dreamlike Black Dog (too sad for some, though I have no problem reading desolate books to preschoolers). I must admit I'm a bit disturbed by Mr McGee's pointy penis in Mr McGee and The Biting Flea, though not because I think it's inappropriate - it's just kinda icky (Fred is apparently blind to it). I also don't really enjoy reading the Mr McGee books, though Fred likes them. Anyway, when I first looked through Is Your Grandmother a Goanna I thought it was going to be one of her 'hard' to read books - lots of sound effects, lots of repetition. But it's actually really fun (like all these sorts of books, you have to throw yourself into it) and 'Chuffa chuffa chuffa' has become the new standard train noise in this house. This is a great 'premusic' book in a way, because of its focus on rhythm and tempo. I thought it might be a wee bit young for Fred but she loved it.
3. Daddy's Having a Horse by Lisa Shanahan, illustrated by Emma Quay. I sat next to Lisa at the A&U dinner after the Reading Matters cocktail party and she told me she sometimes reads my blog, so hi Lisa if you're reading this! Anyway, we all LOVED this book - borrowed from the library but now on the 'must buy' list, perhaps I loved it most of all, but only by a hair. It's a great 'new baby' book: Mummy is having a baby and, Lachlan is convinced, Daddy is having a horse. Of course. We never find out how Lachlan came to this odd conclusion, but we believe he believes it. The story is in the way his belief is encouraged by family and friends (with the exception of a vaguely concerned mum) and how he comes to terms with the truth. It's lovely and terribly authentic, and I just love the illustrations. And stands many rereadings. In fact every time I read it I was almost moved almost to tears, though it's not sentimental in the least.
4. Alison Jay's Alphabet. I'm not sure if I've blogged about this before, but this really is a stunning book. It's a board book, so heartily resilient to toddler paws. It's also very very cheap at about $12.95 retail in Aussie bookshops. It's everywhere, in bookshops and toyshops and giftshops - I saw it in seed and Crabtree and Evelyn recently. Una adores it - it kept us going for a nearly hourlong flight. There's lots to look at and point at in each picture, and lots of animal noises to make. Fred still really enjoys this one. I've bought it's companion volume Counting: a child's first 123 for her birthday in just under 2 weeks time. I haven't closely examined it, but it seems to be fairytale/folktale animals and it counts up to 10 and then back down again, ending with one little girl ready for sleep (Una shocked my pants off by counting unaided to twenty the other day). The illustrations are at least as nice as the Alphabet book (I like them a bit better because they're new!) Alison Jay illustrated a book called Una and the Sea Cloak which we have put away for Una when she's older.
5. If you're looking for slightly older picture books, Fred is loving Eloise, Midsummer Knight and The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard (a companion pair of textless picture books with comic book style panels, which we interpret together), and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.
6. I feel in all fairness I must mention this, though I think it's pretty crap. Una is obsessed with a Pocoyo book we got out of the library. The design is oookaaay - I like the clean white pages and stark character images. But the story is, quite simply, shite -a sort of hare and the tortoise race but everyone wins by co-operating and being nice to each other. Luckily Una is happy to read it to herself, 'Uh oh Pocoyo, up get.' She's never seen the show, so there's obviously something in the imagery (or god forbid the story) that resonates with her. Perhaps she just really wants her own car.