Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thunderstorm and Flower had a Baby

We have our friend Finlay round to play today. It's been a great day so far - lemonade scones with Nana's homemade raspberry and plum jam, hot chocs and chocolate freckles, and right now F & F are in the bedroom watching Are You Being Served? and eating strawberries and toasted cheese sandwiches, while Una who was beginning to fall apart cruises on Martin's computer with Boowa and Kwala.

Before they were playing a long narrative game outside. From where I was sitting I could hear snatches of them speaking and I wrote down the bits that I could catch. It's a fascinating insight into how kids can comfortably fit different agendas into one game, in how genres can blend, into gender expectations and fears, and into how they build a story together. I was interested in how Una played, a part of the game, but also still 'parallel' playing: she found her way into the story then did her own thing, occasionally reconnecting with Finlay and Fred, and though she was sometimes at cross-purposes, they accommodated her elegantly. The stars represent a break in time where stuff was happening that I couldn't hear.

Fred: lets play mums and babies
Finlay: no! no no no. I'm not the baby.
Una: You're the baby, Fred
Fred: No you should be the baby because you're the youngest
Una: (brews a tantrum)
Fred: (alarmed) Okay, okay! You're the mum
Una: You're the baby, I'm the mum and Finlay's the dad
Finlay: (considers) As long as I can be the karate dad.
Una and Fred: (shrug) sure
Finlay: And I'm the bad guy (jumps up, runs away making weeooweeoo police car noises, while the girls settle into fairy typical for them mum and baby dialogue)

Una: we didn't choose our names and how old we are. I'm thirty.
Finlay: I'm the highest so I'm 30-20
Fred: There's no such thing as 30-20. It only goes up to 39. You can be 35. You're very old.
Finlay: I'm not old. I'm not old. I'm twenty. I'm twenty.
Fred: Okay. What about you can be twenty-one?
Una: I'm twenty-zero.
Fred: Yeah that's twenty. I'm zero and I'm a baby. Let's think of a name. What about Poppy?
Finlay: What about Thunder?
Fred: No I want to be a girl name.
Finlay: What about Rhoda?┬║
Una: What about Rosetta?
Fred: I'll be Roseanna.
Finlay: I'm going to do my name. I'm going to be called Thunderstorm.
Una: What's my name going to be. My name
Finlay: Thunder?
Una: No.
Finlay: No, my name's thunder.
Una: My name is... Flower.
Finlay: And I said Flower? Flower? I don't want this baby escaped until I get back. If I get dead it doesn't matter. If you see a bird, that will be me.
Una: Okay! (exit Finlay)

Finlay: And I disappeared over there and you never saw me again?
Fred: But you come back in the game though.
Finlay: Yeah. And I crasheded
Fred: But you didn't hurt yourself because you were a magic bird.

Fred: And I was practicing to walk and to talk.
Una: And you fell over.
Fred: Uh oh. Uh oh. (*Stage Whisper*) You have to say up-a-days, up-a-days.

Finlay: And you go back to bed.
Fred: Not always. I have to get up sometimes!
Finlay: But when I get back from battle you go back to your bed.

Una: Actually I am the dog.
(the game threatens to fall apart because if Una is the dog and Finlay is going to be at battle there's no one to look after the baby, until I go outside and intervene, reminding them that in Peter Pan the parents go out and leave the dog to look after the children. They look incredulous, but agree, until, 5 seconds later...)
Fred: Actually, I'm the mum.
Finlay: (worries about this slippery switch of identities.)
(Penni produces (newly acquired by Fred with Christmas money) Baby Alive*. The game continues.)

Fred: (crossly) You can turn into things but no dying in this game.

Finlay: (flies in.) And now I'm a flying dog.
Fred: Turn back into a human right now. I need you to get the baby's bottle.

Fred: Hang on, my name is Annie.
Finlay: My name is Thunderbird.
Fred: Excuse me, can you look after the baby?
Finlay: But then I changed. Actually I have to go into battle.
Fred: I can do that.
Finlay: But I was already gone.
(Fred pursues, they do a lap of the house)

On their return Fred runs off to battle leaving Finlay with the baby.
Fred: (calling over her shoulder) Look after the baby
Finlay: (genuinely panicked) No. No. I really can't. (runs after Fred). Wait I have to tell you something. There's a GIANT. And you were afraid.
Fred: I'm never afraid.

Una crals into my field of view, on the veranda.
Una: Yip yip yip.
She picks up the baby and carries it away, whilst on all fours.
Somewhere I can hear Fred and Finlay negotiating over who is going to look after the baby.

Una: And you didn't know I was your dog.
Finlay: And I knew because I could see your tail.
Una: (flaps wings)
Finlay: And I said transform yourself into a human please I need to talk to you and you listened.
Una: But I was a bird without ears so I couldn't hear.

Finlay: And you were so amazed because I was doing flips in the air and those spiders could not catch me.

Una: And just pretend those spiders came to me and they put a spell on me that was a sleeping spell.
Finlay: Yeah, and I...(wanders off to find Fred)
Una: And Finlay! Finlay! Just pretend you couldn't break the spell.
Finlay: (wanders back)
Una: Finlay, just pretend you couldn't break the spell.
Finlay: Yeah, because you were shielded by that queen.
Una: And just pretend after when I had the sleeping spell I turned into a queen dog
Finlay: And you were still good and I said Dog, I need your help, you are the only one. (suddenly inspired, runs to Fred) Fred, just pretend I had an invisible spell on me and I got through the deflector field.

Finlay: When you get back you saw me dead.
Fred: And I used my power on you. SHA!
Finlay: And it didn't work.
Fred: And then
Finlay: And I woke up and it was just a dream.
Fred: and there were baddies attacking me and they took me away but you didn't see me.
Finlay: Because I was too busy looking over there.

(at this stage they are in three very different places in our garden (which is nearly an acre so they are all shouting).
Una: FREDDY! FREDDY! (says something Fred and I can't hear, but Finlay hears)
Finlay: No, that was just a big dream!
Fred: I heard you.
Finlay: UNA SHE HEARD YOU. Just pretend you got broken.
Finlay: I'm talking to Freddy!

Una: Fred. Fre-ed. Just pretend you came to me.
Finlay: NO! she's locked up and she's dead now.

Soon after this they all troop inside for hot cocoa and chocolate freckles.

┬║Where on earth did he get the name Rhoda?
*Thankfully the non-pooing, non-talking, non-blinking variety.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tender Morsels

I took lots of books down to Tassie with me, but of course when you are camping there isn't as much time for reading. Days are spent doing stuff or keeping at least half an eye on the children, and at night it tends to get inconveniently dark and there is only so long you can sit in the toilet block without being accused of shirking childcare responsibilities. The one book I did devour was Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels.

I presented with Margo Lanagan at the Melbourne Writer's Festival a couple of years ago. Tender Morsels was on the verge of being published, and I was in the thrall of an early draft of Only Ever Always (the 'being haunted' stage, where I had some sense of the story I was writing, but only the most ghostly impression of what the book might look like at the end). As Margo talked I realised that we were crossing some of the same thematic territory: in particular alternative worlds produced from a characters' internal experience - in Margo's case literally and in my case a bit more ambiguously, but also the theme of protecting children from mot only the world and all its pitfalls but from having to live through their entire emotional range - protecting them from anger and grief and pain (which of course means protecting them from passion and love and bliss, because those emotions only really exist with risk).

Anyway, I decided I needed to get to a draft stage I was happy with before I could read Tender Morsels, protecting myself from, frankly, ripping off Ms Lanagan - who I am passionately jealous of as a writer (in a good feminist supportive kind of way - onya Margo). I read Margo's realist novel The Best Thing before I did work experience at Allen & Unwin and then Touching Earth Lightly when I was there, so I was about 24 when I discovered her, not completely outside the age group she is writing for. Touching Earth Lightly is disturbing and beautiful and tragic, utterly unsettling but I was compelled by it. White Time was a manuscript I did a reader's report on as a work experience student and I was mesmerised by her unique storytelling 'dialects'. I always say Voice is the x-factor which can't be taught and Margo has Voice up the wazoo.

When I sent off Only Ever Always just after Christmas (not final draft, but definitely with the bones of the story down) I rewarded myself with this novel. I had been reading Margo's blog and keeping up to date with all the hooha surrounding it (more hooha here, including the rather ridiculous suggestion that females aren't equipped to deal with 'adult themes' until 22 and males until 30). And of course reading all the wonderfully positive reviews as well.

I hadn't just put it off because of fears of artistic crossover. As a mother of daughters, I knew that it would be a confronting read. I knew that there was plenty of material of the sort that I am way too squeamish as a writer to contemplate, especially with young kids - at the moment I just can't go there. As a reader I find myself self-censoring, avoiding very violent or dystopic books (for example The Road). I've read enough of Margo's novels to know that she does trade in hope, however faint the glimmer, however dark the tapestry surrounding it. However, I also knew that it would twist my guts, so I read it at first gingerly, with one eye.

Before I knew it I was being carried through the novel by Margo's lavish language, and by my investment in the characters (I disagree emphatically with the one review I read who said she didn't care about any of the characters, I cared about all of them, perhaps especially Urdda, the adventurous one whose heart stretched beyond her surroundings - as a suburban girl, I totally related to her desire to explore the world).

I found the book structurally fascinating, you could see that Margo had been writing short stories for years, which is not to say that the threads weren't woven together beautifully. But there was a kind of layering of stories, including at its heart a fleshed out and highly original reimagining of Snow White and Rose Red (one of my favourite tales from childhood, I so would have married a bear when I was a kid). Repetition and distortion made for a fascinating motif, sort of like a wheel slowly decentering until it flies wild. Everything falls apart, but it comes together again in what I would consider a happy ending, even if things don't quite fall into the slots you might expect them to. Some things I happily anticipated (Urdda's resolution, though I was taken aback by her act of vengeance) some I didn't (Branza's - I had my eye on someone else for her). I could see some sort of vengeance or penance needed to occur, and I agree with Margo who says storybook justice is different from real-world justice. I like the word storybook too, it's a nice description for a type of book that transcends traditional markets, like this one.

Something that amuses me, in a grim sort of way, is that those getting their kecks in a twist about the inappropriate content and the preciousness of extended childhood innocence actually enhance the experience of reading the novel. The whole novel is about the limitations of a protected life including within the realm of fantasy and imagination. What happens if there are no shadows under the bed? What happens if childhood extends through adolescence and into young adulthood? What if your world is so devoid of tension that you can't conceive of bad things, or bad people? And in particular, what if that extension of childhood is generated through absolute adult control over the child's whole environment, including the people they interact with? The emotional numbness that results in the novel is achingly real and in some ways more difficult to bear than the gang rape scenes.

I highly recommend Tender Morsels as a reading experience. It's not easy or safe, but is life worth living if there is no risk?

Unrelated, but a friend wondered aloud the other day how differently Margo Lanagan would write if she was a mother of daughters instead of sons. Makes me want to genetically engineer such a creature, just out of interest.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Monday, January 04, 2010

Our Holiday Begins in... Blackburn

We are having a night at Martin's mum's house before heading off on the boat to Tassie tomorrow morning. Anything we don't have now, we won't have for two weeks. And I can live with that.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


We are packing to go down to Tassie for two weeks under canvas (give or take a night with friends). We do a lot of driving and find that as long as the girls each have peppermints, water and MP3 players chock full of music and stories (Mamma Mia, The Jimmies, Police, Kate Rusby for sleepy time, Play School Rainy Day Stories, Kate Winslet reading The Faraway Tree, Charlie & Lola...), the girls are content to look out the window and watch the world go by. I often peer into other people's loungeroom-sized 4WDs with dvd players in the back and feel a wave of superiority, tinged with the humble knowledge that one day I too may go there. Never say never. Luckily at the moment, they both still sleep in the car.
I am looking forward to the trip, optimistic that we have our camping down to, well, nowhere near a fine art (we saw an artful photograph in the newspaper of wooden cafe table and chairs and wafty gauze draping from a tree), but it isn't a schemozzle either. We still need to master cooking - we don't tend to take the gas stove, as going and scoring a latte somewhere is the kind of luxurious distraction that neither of us could live without, and it's a pain checking it in when we go on the boat to Tasmania. We're getting more creative with public barbecues though, combining salad making with some kind of grilled meat, veg or fruit arrangement or making a meal out of fried bread (quesadillas were a hit). We do miss our one pot wonders though - rice, pasta, soup*.
With the girls the age they are, most of our camping has been short stints so far, and the way this trip has panned out we'll be moving on a few times. I am looking forward sometime in the future to camping in one spot for two weeks so we can perfect the campsite's aura. Maybe even drape some gauze of our own. Martin is infinitely practical, I am the one whose only issue with camping is the aesthetic of it - everything is green and brown. Nature is perfectly entitled to its green and brownness, I mean the tent and stuff. So I will have to sneak the airy white gauze in myself, and regretfully accept that there will probably never be a lovely wooden cafe table in our kit (though I hasten to defend myself - I am no glamper).

*for those who follow me on Twitter or know me in real life, you might know that recently we went low-carb. I couldn't hack the vast quantities of meat, and I found it hard to keep our salt intake down, so after a month's trial we abandoned it. We are still avoiding vast quantities of sandwiches, potatoes, white pasta and rice though.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Christmas & Birthday Books

Frederique (aged 6)
Una Pearl (aged 4)

Penni (aged 35 and 1 week)

Martin (38, one week and one day):

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year

I have long held the superstition that the way you celebrate New Year's portends the year ahead.

Last night it rained. Big, fat, soaking, dam-raising, tank-filling rain. Lightning danced across the sky, lighting up the world as if it were day, and thunder echoed in the sky for so long, it sounded like an ocean tumbling past. We watched the clouds roll in from the West, while in the North-East, in a patch of clear sky, hung a huge round silver moon - a blue moon, the second full moon of the month.

Before the rain, in the pendulous, sultry heat, my children played under a sprinkler for the very first time. And in the dark, just before a fine mist frothed into the air, there were sparklers.

At midnight, a frog came to see the four of us as, climbing up the fly-wire door we sat drinking our last glass of wine. The children had just fallen asleep.

A quick google confirms what I already suspected. Frogs are a symbol of luck, fertility and transformation. Frogs also signify healing and prosperity.

I felt the universe flow through me last night, a quick ripple. There's something on the horizon, a kind of magic, something to do with friendship, love, peacefulness and hope.
Mark my words.