Archive: Oct 2012

  1. Now we are six(+24).

    32 Comments

    This Saturday coming is my thirtieth birthday.

    I remember my tenth birthday in particular. I was terrified of being ten. I remember lying on a blue couch and tracing the numbers ’1′ and ’0′ in the carpet and crying because I was so bloody old and I hadn’t achieved anything and I was nearly dead.

    Now that I have my own nearly ten-year-old, I feel the anxiety of myself at that age even more acutely. I’m looking forward to this milestone birthday, because I feel like I’ve been sixty for most of my life and at least now I can be a proper adult, but as the day gets closer I am aware of how much the past 20 years haven’t gone as planned and where I’ve let ten-year-old Anna down. When I think about letting her down I think about letting my own daughter down, because she is so like me. These are the creative new ways my brain is discovering with which to torture me. You know that scene in Drop Dead Fred when Elizabeth talks to her younger self? That’s a bit how I’m feeling this week.

    So, ten-year-old Anna, I’m sorry.

    • I’m sorry for getting you pregnant at 19. That was shitty. Our daughter is really amazing, but we are tired and old and it’s taken until now to really feel comfortable with being a parent. I’m sorry I didn’t give you more of a young adulthood.
    • I’m sorry for all the booze and drugs. They really messed with your brain, and that stopped you from doing some of the things you would have liked and made things more difficult than they should have been for, let’s face it, little to no return.
    • You know that plan to work overseas for a couple of years? Yeah, didn’t happen. See the aforementioned things I’m sorry for.
    • I’m sorry that I didn’t give you any clear goals and that for a while there I let you float around like a dead leaf. You really gave me a pretty good head start and I just dropped the ball.
    • I’m sorry about the baby rollercoaster. Jesus, so very sorry. I basically whacked your uterus with a big stick for a few years and then tore out your Feelings and ran over them with a lawnmower and then set fire to the pieces.
    • I’m sorry that I wasn’t better at choosing people to take care of our heart. It’s had a serious beating since we were ten.

    But you’ll be pleased to know that there is good news!

    • You have amazing children. They are like funny little dolls with big eyes and short fingers and enormous brains. So far they’ve made you swell with pride every single day.
    • You didn’t make things work with their dad, maybe because you’re a bit lazy and also because getting married at 21 was not the most sensible thing you ever did, but you are really quite good at maintaining a relationship with him for the kids’ sake instead of hurling them from one car to the other and screaming the rest of the time.
    • You did find a man you like. He’s great. It was hard work for a while there, but that’s part of what made it good in the end.
    • Turns out the writing thing was not just a pipe dream. You were right all along.
    • Your parents are so proud of the 30-year-old version of you that they tell you every time they speak to you, even if they’re about to get on a plane or they’re in a meeting. Sure, it may be partly senility, but they seem to believe what they’re saying.

    Happy birthday, ten-year-old Anna. You were right to be afraid, but you were wrong to think it was hopeless.

    P.S. Sweet t-shirt.

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  2. Are bloggers taking ‘cash for comment’?

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    I didn’t apply to be part of the Human Brochure, because I am scared of flying and if I were to lose my head for a minute and get on a plane, it would be to Hong Kong and not Canberra. But some people did, and they were gifted a No Expense Spared Weekend of a Lifetime in the Australian capital. By all accounts there was food, booze, food, tours, food, room service, food and roundabouts.

    Predictably, the Human Brochure expedition has brought with it a good deal of cynicism. Not just from mainstream media (though we do of course love blaming things on MSM), but also from the wider internet. These kinds of things always do. People say, “Of course they only invited the influential people!” as if it is in some way discriminatory, or that because this was a government funded exercise, there should be a requirement to also include the little guys who have not much to contribute and no way of getting their message out, but who would really, really like a free trip.

    That is the new media equivalent of saying, “Let’s not advertise on that big billboard or in that major newspaper. What if the papers that don’t exist get hurt feelings? Let’s just give some money to someone who doesn’t have a newspaper and hope that they tell their ten mates about it.”

    Smart business? Not exactly.

    When the Queensland government secured a visit from Great Lord and Emperor Oprah Winfrey in 2010, the media went mad. What a great initiative! they said. She will change the way people see Queensland! in fact. Did Oprah bring her life-sized John Travolta doll and her plane full of crazed fans and her other plane full of personal chefs to Queensland because someone offered her a free hotel room? Of course she bloody didn’t. That trip cost the Queensland and NSW governments and Tourism Queensland more than two million dollars. And yet, “amazing idea! let’s get Queensland on Oprah’s show!”

    Let’s get Queensland on Oprah’s show.

    See also: let’s get Canberra on people’s blogs and let’s get Canberra in people’s Twitter feeds.

    There is nothing new about creating events for the sole purpose of propagating a message. Journalists and publicists have long been invited to soirees packed full of incentives to attend: food, go karting, geishas or whatever (I’ve never been asked). They’re not obligated to say anything nice – or anything at all – but there is nothing illegal about a little schmoozing, as long as it’s clear that it’s not in exchange for endorsement.

    This is what it looks like when money is exchanged for public endorsement.

    So, is this “cash for comment”?

    First, stop shouting “cash for comment”! It does not mean what you think it means.

    The original cash for comment scandal centred around the fact that the comments were posing as the unprompted opinion of Laws and Jones, and that for all intents and purposes they allowed the public to believe as much. The presenters were alleged to have been given money and goods in exchange for favourable comments on air and the station was ultimately fined $360,000. The actual issue was not the fact that they had publicly endorsed brands as part of a commercial agreement, but from the fact that they misled the public and misrepresented their relationships with these brands.

    These arrangements happened behind closed doors. Although bloggers aren’t bound by the ACMA’s regulations in relation to disclosure, the very nature of an event like the Human Brochure is that the proposition to influencers is made in full public view. Put forward your case to be part of the adventure, there’s no obligation to write about it, we want to show you what Canberra can do.

    I’ve spoken before about how social media can’t fix your product for you. If you offer members of the public – whether they be journalists, critics, bloggers, tweeters, actors or children – an intimate engagement with your product, you’d better hope it’s up to the task. You can put a whole Human Brochure in chartered planes with strippers and cognac, but if you take them to Civic then they are going to jump on their phone and say, “Those bloody bastards just took us to Civic and it was shit and someone knifed me.”

    Asking social media users to participate in what is essentially a media call is no different from inviting sports reporters to your corporate box. You hope that it will help to sway their opinion of NRL (unlikely!), but it’s not a guarantee.

    Their reputation is the very thing you’re interested in tapping into, otherwise you would have asked the guy who coaches the Under 9s or your mum. Thus it follows that they are the kinds of people who want to protect their reputation and maintain their integrity, which means not endorsing a product that sucks. You hope that they will like your product enough to write something nice about it. You also run the risk that they will hate your product and write something negative about it.

    All you are “buying” in this oft touted “cash for comment” is the right to invite them to make their own decision.

    The fact that you are inviting bloggers and not the MSM doesn’t change this one iota.

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  3. The fear of open spaces

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    I’m an agoraphobe. It’s funny, I think pretty much everyone knows what one of those is now. It’s become a thing that people are.

    I’d describe my phobia as “moderate”. I’m not housebound (unless I really crack the shits and use it as an excuse to refuse to do things) and I often enjoy being outdoors. Some days I look through my window and am suffocated by total illogical panic, but that’s not often, and mostly on Saturdays, which makes it easier to anticipate.

    These are the kinds of things you learn about yourself when you have anxiety about something.

    When I was a kid, I didn’t have agoraphobia. I was claustrophobic. On one occasion, when I was about five, I was at a shopping centre with my dad and we saw a group of people trapped in a glass lift. They were all screaming. I didn’t set foot in a lift for six years. That’s the kind of fatalistic child that I was.

    During that time, I read about agoraphobia in a book (like I said, a serious child). It was the strangest thing I’d ever heard of – afraid of open spaces! What a thought! How ridiculous! Open spaces are where the lifts aren’t! There is nothing to be afraid of in open spaces! It’s just air and grass and sometimes cows are there! What a gas.

    Eight-year-old self, you arse.

    Living in a city as congested as Melbourne has paradoxically exacerbated both my agoraphobia and my claustrophobia. Yes, hilariously you can have both of these things at once. Afraid of the outdoors? Just go inside! Oh shit! Inside is so small! Better go outside! JESUS. OUTSIDE HAS MONSTERS. That’s a little game I like to play with myself called ‘LOL Ur Brain Is Totes Fucked.’ You can play too – all you need to do is take lots of drugs and come up with reasons to hate yourself.

    I moved here with my family 13 years ago, and I’ve spent all that time searching and searching for the place where I could drop my bags and take off my shoes and have a good rest (as opposed to the kind of rest that is punctuated with periods of total and complete insecurity about everything). Everywhere we live is wrong – and worse, is getting more wrong. I seem to be moving further away from where I need to be.

    To that end, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks in the Mount Eliza area. For those interstaters, Mount Eliza is a village at the top of the Mornington Peninsula, about 50km south of Melbourne, bordered by cliff faces and woodland. Many refer to it as a suburb now, but Melbourne is quite vain in that way and occasionally also tries to claim Mount Gambier and Albury. Either way, I’d like to live there. Each time I visit (which lately has been every other day), I find it harder to leave.

    I inspect houses like a crazy person (I also go to work like a crazy person, take my kids to school like a crazy person and wash my clothes like a crazy person). Today I stood out on a back deck and looked out over a huge garden and breathed in the sea air and nearly hugged the real estate agent because this is my place. Not the house in particular, but the place.

    When I left, I called Gaz and promptly burst into tears while trying to explain to him that when you’ve felt riddled by anxiety in your own home for 10 years, finding a place that doesn’t feel like that is a big fucking deal.

    I don’t know to explain it to you any better than that.

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  4. Moving to America

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    A little girl in Georgia’s class moved away to America today.

    They had a party. We bought cupcakes with sugar flowers on them.

    When we drove to school, Georgia said she was excited about the party.

    “There will be lamingtons!” she said.

    At before school care, Anne put the cakes in the fridge and asked if it was Georgia’s birthday.

    “No, we’re having a party!” she said.

    After school, Georgia told me all about the party. There were cocktail franks that had exploded and miniature cream buns and frogs in the pond and drinks with umbrellas.

    At the end of the party, they said goodbye to their friend. They sang Call Me Maybe and then she left on her adventure.

    “It costs $300,000 to go to America!” she said.

    It doesn’t.

    The other $290,000 is to treat her cancer.

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  5. A bit of manual stimulation

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    Apparently I found it necessary to buy a typewriter. The good news is that I managed to get it out of its case and on to my desk, whereafter I typed some words and lost my finger between the keys quite often (see Fig. 1).

    I’ve been led to believe that typewriters need names. This one is an Adler Contessa in very bright orange and so far I’ve called it “Whose idea was this?” and “Is it possible that the novelty has worn off before I’ve even opened it?”, but I may settle on Clarice.

    The purchase of said typewriter is my first superficial step in a move toward a more southern part of this fine land. Not Tasmania – though I would like that very much – but the Mornington Peninsula. Just the top bit. Last week I took myself for a wee journey down there and looked at trees and houses that might have been literal castles and the ocean was right there so I breathed quite heavily.

    It is such a nice part of Victoria, what with the village atmosphere but the freeway just around the corner. I have this thought (delusion?) that I will sit in my brand new study with Clarice and overlook my children who have run so far into my 3/4 acre block that I can no longer see them and have they been bitten by a snake? who knows, this is the country! and let’s all have a barbecue.

    What I really like about the above image is that you can see where I made a mistake in ‘loud’. I do so much deleting and rewriting while I’m blogging that it’s kind of organic to see the mistake right there on the page.

    Today I finished working on a piece I’ve been writing about women and mental health, and the way those with low- to mid-level illnesses can get lost in all the fuss. I spoke to some wonderful women and my word if they didn’t make me feel even more like crying openly in front of everyone. Mental illness happens to some pretty great people.

    Writing 2000 words about it was draining. By the end I just wanted to set fire to it and stamp my feet until someone transplanted my brain with one that works properly. Instead, I made a lasagne and watched Rum Diary, which helped me to feel both More Normal and also In Good Company.

    Then this lady said to me, “Often the more talented, the more dogged.” and so I went and painted the Mona Lisa because Christ am I dogged.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, Clarice and I are going to bed.

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  6. Lily, card maker.

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    Lily has been busily making a birthday card for my mum. I am quite impressed by the poetry of the greeting: nanna, dear nanna. This sets the tone of the card nicely – it is a serious reflection on just how important Lily’s nanna is in her life.

    I didn’t have any digital photos of her, so Lily plonked her name into Google and found a very nice black and white number. Fortunately for mum, Lily has also captioned said photo helpfully, taking into consideration the increased age of her grandmother and the likelihood therefore that she may look at this card and exclaim, “Who is that person on this card?!”

    Lily has also taken the liberty of cutting out a series of Revlon eyeshadow tutorials. Mum does wear eyeshadow, so the inclusion of these is fairly astute on her part, I feel.

    I’m running a book on the likelihood that mum will open this card and cry for a number of days without stopping. Current odds: $1.01.

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  7. What I know about … writing

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    What I know about writing is the music. For a little while I even thought I wanted to be a musician. My piano teacher bailed on me when I was 6 years old because I didn’t practice, even when he offered to give me actual money from his own pocket. I was easily frustrated by being no good at pressing the keys in the right order and moved on to singing, because at least I could do it while I was lying down. After that I sang opera for 15 years and it turned out that I was pretty good at it, except for the times when I was expected to be in places.

    I know what you’re thinking: “Anna, this is a post about writing, not music! Haha you’re so stupid!” but the fact is that I love the music in writing more than I ever loved the music in singing. While I’m writing, I hear actual music, like a reverse synesthesia or maybe just insanity. I’m less interested in the actual words I choose than I am in their rhythmic qualities. The perfect writing, for me, is the kind of lyrical narrative that reads like a song. The rise and fall of the syllables as they crash into one another. The placement of punctuation that can give it a staccato quality, or the run-on sentence that has flashes of allegretto.

    I rarely begin writing with an idea – or even more hilariously, a plot. Everything I put on paper starts with a mood or a rhythm. I see the waves of the story rolling before I know which words should ride them. Sometimes I feel like I’m just plugging sounds into their sockets. The letters are secondary. When I make edits to something I’ve written, it’s almost always because the music isn’t right.

     

    What I know about writing is the frustration. In reading bad writing forums, my attention has been drawn to the “inner editor”. I have one. He is an asshole. Treating writing like music doesn’t work for him. He puts red lines through almost every sentence. Paragraphs are trashed. Pages are burned. It’s unusual for me to get through even a simple clause without shrieks of “This is horrible! Who would ever read it!” I tend not to edit at the end, because I’ve already spent five years of my life going over every word as I write it – is this the right one? how about this one? what if we did it like this? what if I moved this sentence here? Sometimes I’m paralysed by this editor fellow.

    Sometimes I quite like the deliberation. If I’m not working to deadline, I like to lament and torture myself until I squeeze out the very best writing I can muster. At other times, all I end up with is a headache and crippling writers’ block that will not be moved. I’m a very harsh critic. That often means a lot of stuff in the bin and one or two sentences on a Post-It but no actual writing.

     

    What I know about writing is the compulsion. When I start to yell at my kids and kick my dog and go knife shopping, it’s usually because I haven’t been writing regularly. When I look around at my little world, I hear the writing clanging around in my head. A lot of my daily life takes on a narrative internal dialogue: “She’d been languishing at the Burke Road train crossing for what could have been six lifetimes, though in reality it was only eight minutes.” I look for the writing in things, for the story and the climax and the way it might sway in a breeze.

    I have writing tools with me at all times. My computer, of course, and my laptop, and my iPad. Every device I own has Evernote installed, in case I have ideas at my desk but don’t act on them until I’m at the library. My handbag carries two notebooks for distinct purposes and no less than twelve pens. I know. I don’t need that many pens. But what if an idea comes out that only makes sense in purple pen? What then, huh? What then? I need to have the tools on hand to write words down at any given moment, because if I don’t, I will forget them almost immediately. Truly, within seconds.

    Because I’m a lyrical writer and not a visual writer, I also record a lot of spoken words. Then I just start singing Mariah Carey into my dictaphone and we all know how that ends.

     

    What I know about writing is the sense of achievement. In my world, there is little that compares to the feeling of having written the right words for something. If I laugh out loud while I’m reading something I’ve written, that is basically a Pulitzer for me. I mean, an actual Pulitzer would be better, but feeling confident in my own writing comes close. I mostly don’t write for an audience. This is not to say that you are not all very beautiful. You are. But for the most part, I write for the challenge of making the words do what I hope they will. When I get to the end and feel like I’ve said what I was intending to say, that’s when I feel like I’ve achieved something.

    I know how that sounds. You are all going, “Wow, Anna is a wanker.” But writing is one of the few things in my life that I feel I can do right (sometimes). I feel like I’m quite bad at it about 20% of the time, and average at it 70% of the time. But 10% of the time I write and it feels good and I am confident in my ability, which is more than I can say for the times I am a parent and the times I give presentations at work and the times I blow dry my fringe. So what I know about writing is that I feel a sense of achievement on occasion and it’s lovely, like cuddling.

     

    What I know about writing is the way it’s always a work in progress. If you come back and ask me again a year from now, God willing I will tell you something completely different, and that’s half the fun.

     

    This post is for Sarah’s blog link up, ‘What I know about …’. You can join in, if you like.

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  8. XII

    6 Comments

    After the nurse leaves, I go outside and sit on a cobbled wall. The stones are cold.

    I call the only number I can remember.

    “Mum.”

    She breathes at the end of the line.

    “Mum, the baby died.”

    Minutes pass between us in a dull silence. It might be raining.

    “Mum?”

    Her sigh is thick as wet bread.

    “You must be relieved.”

    It is raining.

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  9. Just the two kids, thanks.

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    In the moments before I woke up this morning, I had a little dream. Two plastic sticks on a table in front of me: on the left, one line; on the right, two lines. A few seconds spent with a new life.

    When I did blink at the morning, one of my non-dream children was vomiting and the other was crying because she didn’t want to vomit too.

    And yet.

     

    The decision not to have more children – or maybe the realisation that I wouldn’t – has been an exercise in living in the present. That’s something I do very badly – I have one foot in Christmas 1985 (that was the year I got the great doll house) and Christmas 2060 (I’m hoping that by then I might be able to afford the only thing I really ever wanted – a Lady Lovely Locks). Future me wanted to be surrounded by an almost infinite number of people who had a vested interest in keeping me happy and alive (that is how I imagine old age) and she was fairly adamant that nothing get in the way of that. My ovaries are little balls of shouty and quite insistent.

    For years I tortured myself with that ideal. My impossible future children had names and jobs and six horses. I became the crazy on the street who cried because how adorable are toddlers smearing poo with their little sausage fingers? and because why are all the clothes so much cuter now than they were when Lily was born? and because my sisters-in-law just kept having babies, which is like having your own babies but worse because they’ll never truly love you. Once I’d sufficiently beaten that deceased horse, the baby I miscarried took on a saint-like quality. He would have been the handsomest surgeon cum philanthropist the world had ever known and I’d have stood and applauded at all of his awards ceremonies until my arms came clean off (he would have surgically enhanced and then replaced them). Everything that went wrong in my life could have been fixed by this person, if only he hadn’t gone and landed me in hospital and then died.

     

    Every minute of my waking and sleeping hours were totally and completely preoccupied by the idea that I wasn’t “finished”. Don’t worry though, I only let myself be carried away by this particular hallucination for three years.

    Then the kids I do have grew up and I didn’t even notice.

    Letting go of adding to my clan was a deliberate decision. It had to be. My heart would have continued to plough ahead with wanting eight children for the rest of my life. I’d have been dead in the ground and my heart would have been sneaking in to maternity wards to steal all the babies. My emotional, illogical need to procreate has a nuclear half-life and a very long memory.

    I took a logic pill and realised that what I wanted, actually, was a smaller version of the man I loved. When I looked at him, I saw the clear blue eyes of our daughter and the square jaw of our son. I was struck by this little potential person’s musical gifts and compassionate nature. I didn’t want another child as much as I wanted a physical manifestation of how much I adored this man. He is infertile. So my choices were him, in the here and now, or more children, in the imaginary future where I have another man with different eyes and fewer guitars.

    In deciding that I wanted to enjoy what I already had instead of pining for something that might always be hypothetical (and let’s face it, my baby making days continue to hurtle along into inevitable oblivion at rapid speed), I found somewhere I could sit still. Not until I did so did I realise I could love everything about Gaz without picking him up and smashing him into another human being. And that in doing so, I could immediately hear my daughters’ voices above all of that old racket. Instead of having four children, I’d let myself be drawn into a world where I had no children.

     

    If you must know, I keep a small bag of baby clothes in a cupboard in my study. I bought them pre-miscarriage. There’s a grey knit jacket with big wooden buttons and a taupe two-piece with striped feet and a cheap Target onesie with ‘I’m one in a million’ on the front. When I’m fed up with the stupid world I pull them out and smell them, as if they have future baby scent and not just mid-range cotton scent. And I’m okay with that, because it gives me back to my present babies, even though they don’t let me bite their toes anymore.

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