Thursday, March 27, 2008

On being an Aussie girl

Recently my good mate Nadia, whose passport says she's Pakistani though in fact she grew up all over the world, asked me to educate her about Australian girls, since she's going to be living here awhile (yay!), having just scored a scholarship to do her PhD on....something. Her exact questions were: 'What's it like here? What kind of stuff do girls here have to grow up with? What's the 'moral' climate like? What's expected here? What assumptions are made? What's the history?!?!? I know exactly NOTHING about Australian women. What should I be reading? What should I be watching? Is there something you read at some point that made a difference to you?'

I had a go at answering. The first book that came to mind was Puberty Blues. It might be outdated but it's also just not. For a historical perspective I suggested (off the top of my head) The Drover's Wife by Henry Lawson (hmm...probably worth tracking down some of the responses to that story Nadia, like Murray Baille's) and The Chosen Vessel by Barbara Boynton (google 'em up babies, they're both online for your reading pleasure), which I've always found chilling. I also edumacated her about the frigid test - that mean anything to anyone? Do I have to "please explain".

Does anyone else have any suggestions for Nadia? What should she be reading? What should she be watching?

I am deep with the curiosity about your answers.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Buzzing not Broken

So I am back from my tour of the Wimmera. 42 degree days. 100s of kms. Libraries, classrooms, council chambers. Kids, teachers, librarians. I didn't expire somewhere on the side of the road. It was an amazing, intense experience and I still haven't processed it all, which is why I haven't written about it yet.

Camping at Hall's Gap was fantastic and our most successful camping trip with the kids to date. I think even though the hot weather can be hard work and we were all wilting, there's a lot to be said for sleeping in a warm tent and being able to get up into a mild morning. It cools down quite a bit in the Gap overnight, so it wasn't unbearable, there was a reprieve from the forty degree days.

I told Frederique on the Monday morning that I wouldn't be going home with them, that I was going to stay and work in the area for a week. Twice she asked me, quite concerned 'Are you still going to be part of this family?' (then she stuck a knife in my heart and twisted it around a few times). It was very strange, saying goodbye to them all after they'd dropped me in the motel in Stawell. I felt a strange sense of freedom and sadness as I watched them drive away. I missed them that week, but I didn't yearn for them - to be honest, I missed them less than I thought I would. It was too busy to miss them for a start, but I also really enjoyed being on my own, being a writer more than a mother. Having said that, I realised how much of my identity is tied up in motherhood, how invisible I felt away from them. How middle-aged I felt, how drab and ordinary (in my twenties when I was alone I always felt vaguely exotic and interesting, like some kind of rare-coloured bird). During the week I ate most of my evening meals alone in a cafe in Horsham, and it was such an antithesis of my regular life, that I felt like I was watching myself doing it, that I was constantly observing myself, a specimen removed from her natural environment.

The sessions were amazingly varied, partly because I felt like I brought something new of myself each time. Partly because the venues were so different - for example Birchip's public library is in the school grounds, which seems a really successful arrangement. St Arnaud's library had a separate room, like a seminar room, which was a really good space. In Stawell, Warracknabeal, Dimboola and Horsham I was in the children's areas of the local libraries, and each one of them was different from the other, each librarian offering their own perspective, energy and personality to the space. In Edenhope I was in the council chambers (the library was also in the council buildings) and in Kaniva, I was in a grade nine classroom. With some groups I did workshops, with some I gave presentations.

There was another difference too and I don't know if it was due to the teachers, the community or the kids themselves. But some groups were switched on, happy to be there, interested in me and what I was talking about. And some groups were frankly depressing and shocking. In one, after half an hour of talking to restless, blank kids I finally asked in desperation 'Hands up who reads.' One hand went up straight away. Fifteen LONG seconds later, another drifted up into the air. In a room of about thirty kids, two boys and no girls were willing to admit to being readers. I looked at those two kids and thought you are the bravest kids in this room. I'm not worried about you. Not just because I think reading is important but because they're not afraid of extending themselves, they're not afraid of where reading might take them. With this same group I asked them to write down a lie about themselves. The girls I looked at had written, as their lie, 'I am gay.' It seemed to me these girls were scared of their interior lives, of their feelings betraying them, of being different in any way. No wonder books scare them.

Another thing from bizarro world I came across out there was impending Deb balls, quite a few of the students were doing them. As in debutante. It struck me as such an odd anachronism. These girls buy what are basically white wedding dresses, have several hair trials and make up trials, spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars and it all seems so bridal and old fashioned. When I said that to me it sounded like a very old fashioned concept I got blank stares in return. They were a part of Martin's upbringing in Victoria (he didn't go to one, but his sister Annemarie did her Deb). I never did one, I doubt I would have given the opportunity - it wasn't really me. I'd love to know if anyone reading this has done one or wants to do one or wanted to or did one and hated it. While I was away I was thinking how it would make a great basis for a novel, at first a realistic novel (like a Girlfriend) and then I thought maybe something more screwy and surreal. And then, the day after I got back to Melbourne I read Margo Lanagan's short story Wooden Bride from Black Juice, which makes total sense if you read it as if it was about the Deb Ball.

I want to thank everyone I met in the Wimmera region, all the librarians for being so welcoming and friendly and especially those english teachers who showed real enthusiasm and energy - you could see the difference in the kids when they had great teachers. So there John Brumby, who claims that Victorian schools have the best resources as a justification for Victorian teachers being the worst paid. The best resource any school can have is their teachers, and that should be acknowledged through fair pay. Finally thank you to the kids, I hope I was able to bring something to the experience for you, and for those kids that stuck their hands in the air and said 'yes, I read' I'd like to give you a standing ovation.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Una's List of Being Scared, by Fred

If a biting spider comes she can hide somewhere in Fred and Una’s bedroom.

If Una sees something with really really pointy eyes she can hide behind Fred’s bottom.

If she is sleeping in her bed she could hide behind her doonas

If Una gets really really scared she can find Fred’s magic potion and tip it on what she is scared of.

If Una gets scared she can find her sleepsuit and stick her head in.

She can scream if she’s scared.

If she’s scared she can run out to the garden and hide behind a bush.

She can jump up in the air and she can sneakily pinch by the bottom.

If Una gets scared she can cuddle Fred.

If she’s scared she can find her stickytape and stick it all over someone so the baddies can’t get her.

If she’s scared she can find a kangaroo standing by the bushes and give it a cuddle.

If she’s scared she can find her baby and hit the baddy.

She can hide behind a rocking chair.

She can gallop really fast on a horsie.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Writing Workshop at Sandringham Library with SImmone Howell

The very very funny and talented Simmone Howell is conducting a teen writing workshop at Sandringham library in the beautiful beachside suburb in southeast Melbourne. If you know someone who might like to go, pass it on.

Creative Writing Workshop for Teens (14+)
With Simmone Howell

author of Notes from the Teenage Underground
WINNER 2007 Victorian Premier’s Prize for Young Adult Fiction and 2007 Gold Inky Award

When: March 31st

Where: Sandringham Library

Time: 11am – 1pm

The workshop will focus on a writer’s tools:
- what you need to get started
- what makes a good story
- method and madness
- what to do with your finished piece

Participants are to bring a notebook, a pen and one small strange object – it can be anything - a toy, a train-ticket, or a Portuguese tart but be creative – someone will have to write about it!


“Notes from the Teenage Underground is a young
adult novel with a smart, feminist bent … a fast contemporary read…” – Lip Magazine Issue 14 2007

“ …A book that empowers, challenges and makes the world that little bit warmer” – Readings Newsletter January 2008

Monday, March 03, 2008

Busying Up

My year is filling up already, though January was over in the blink of an eye and February ran away with the spoon*. This weekend we're going camping for a couple of night in Halls Gap, after which I'll be doing a week long tour of the Wimmera region. Here is my schedule.

Tues 11th March
AM Stawell
PM St Arnaud

Wed 12th March
AM Warrack
PM irchip

Thurs 13th March
AM Dimboola
PM Kaniva
PM Writers/book group

Friday 14th March
7.00pm Evening Dinner and being generally wildly fascinating, Horsham

Now I am sure you all need a little rest after reading that. (Especially when you realise how much driving is involved - go and have a play on google maps if you don't believe me). So here is a nice restful scene.**

Which is also a segue of sorts.

Because one of the things that is booking up my year is an upcoming trip to Europe. YAY!! When Martin and I decided to have a second child and then radically downscale our wages so he could study for four years to become an overworked, underpaid, but spiritually nourished teacher one of the things we knew we were sacrificing was travel. I was especially sad when my sister announced she was getting married in Manchester and I knew I wouldn't be able to go. But now, due to some very generous friends offering to cater their wedding for free, Kylie has equally generously offered us some money to help us go.

So Frederique and I are going to embark on a whirlwind adventure, crossing the oceans. Fred has been invited to be a bridesmaid (in a low-key casual, may or may not happen on the day kind of way). And after the wedding we hope to have a week or two in Europe somewhere. I wish I could take Una and Martin too. It will be very sad saying goodbye to them for such a long time. I think my whole body will ache for Una.

My passport will be stamp happy, because in June Kate and I are going to the Other Worlds conference in New Zealand, where we will be presenting a paper/interviewing each other on the theme that in 'other world' fiction men travel and women transform.

Which is funny when, as it's shaping up, this is my year to travel.

*I stole that from my Random House editor Chris Kunz. She's funny.
** More here.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Surrealism Who?

Knock knock
Who's there?
Fish who?
I'm a fish living in the clouds.

Fred, aged 4.