Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New project: The Ark at the End of the World

The Emerging Writers Festival has got me all fired up - one of the benefits of taking time out of your regular life to think about the process of creation and how you want to engage with it.

So after probably not nearly enough reflection (!), I have decided to do something about the story that has been itching the back of my brain for months now; the one I keep thinking up new twists for in the shower, that I've had dreams about, that I've started writing and want to continue writing.

And being, by clan and branch, a blogger and a talker, I've decided to eschew the usual quiet-place drafting process and instead to write this thing out loud, horrendous messiness and all.

So I have set up a blog for my project - which is called The Ark at the End of the World - and I'm going to write the ... story like thing ... there in posts. The episodic nature of this appeals to me a lot, as does the idea that I'm going on a journey that will be measured in bytes on a screen rather than word count in the depths of my computer.

I don't know yet if this is destined to be a novel, a novella, or a series of linked short stories. I know two of my main protagonists rather well (one of them won't stop bugging me to get going, in fact) but I have yet to form views on the others. I know roughly what's going to happen and why, but I'm not sure yet about event order, all the locations, and the dialogue.

I am 100% certain that a great deal of this blog-book-project will be pretty crappy. I know it will ALL be unpolished, imperfect, screaming loudly for an editor's touch. The point is to engage with the process in the way that feels right for ME, deep embarassment aside.

I do not expect to publish this book. I may create a PDF for download of the complete work at the end of the process (I probably will, in fact) but I don't see this as a publication journey per se for me. Rather, I see this as a personal creative project that I hope will give me satisfaction, teach me things, get rid of the itchiness of this idea that I have, and yes, maybe bring me joy.

(If you would like to read - and comment too, comments are love :-) - the blog is at 
It is a science fiction-y sort of story, and uses haiku poetry as part of the text. But it's not terrifically postmodern or highbrow, because *I* am not those things!)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I'm away today...

I have a wrap-up post on the Emerging Writers Festival's weekend Writer's Conference on The Shake today. Please visit over there if you are interested in EWF or writerly things!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

On the seminal role of shame: Poetics at the Emerging Writers Festival

I attended the first day of the Emerging Writers Festival Writer's Conference at the Melbourne Town Hall today. I saw some magnificent sessions and heard some wonderful writers speak about their works, their creative processes and their experiences in developing their craft. I could write several essays on the thoughts that each session provoked and the areas for further exploration they sparked, and I will, in time (for a start, I'll be doing an overview of the whole Conference on Tuesday for the next Interleaves column at The Shake).

However, the session that has provoked the most immediate reaction in me, the one I want to chew over tonight, was the Contemporary Poetics conversation with poets Astrid Lorange and Corey Wakeling.

I chose that session to attend because, as I tweeted, I have been increasingly coming to identify myself as a poet, and because I have two children who are also poets. (Yes, I do believe children can be poets). Although I have not studied poetry nor literary theory, I am an avid reader of poetry and a frequent writer of it. Of sorts. Although, now, I'm not so sure that "this thing I do that involves writing verse like things" can actually be classified as "poetry".

Astrid and Corey's discussion was, at once, fascinating, insightful, generous, absorbing and - because I am being honest - intimidating. Both are clearly people of formidable and incisive intellect, at home in, and speaking the language of, critical theory with ease. At one point, they pointed out that poetry is often regarded as an exceptionally intellectual, eve rarified, realm, and neither one refuted this as an assertion. And the ways in which they spoke, the references they made and the deep knowledge that clearly lay behind it, was ... impressive. And also, to me, somewhat overwhelming.

It wasn't even that the subject matter of much of the discussion was all that high-faluting. Corey and Astrid talked about the formation of poetic communities and how, really, coterie is a better word for these practice communities, and explained their reasoning very clearly. They talked about the differences between poetry written to be read on a page, and the quite different world of performance poetry. They talked about the importance of reading lots of poets and being part of the world of poetry to grow one's own versifying. They talked about the value of poetry being non-commercial, and about the observational, in the moment quality that poetry offers in a way unique to it. Poetry is the realm of the conceivable with language - we turn to poetry for the immediate percept. This resonated with me, as it's one of the things that has always driven my own creation: the need to capture or attempt to capture a fleeting, floating moment or thought today, right now.

As well as all these things, they also talked about the value of reading widely into deep and intellectually difficult areas - literary theory, linguistics, philosophy, history and cultural theory - as a way to inform and generate the poetic voice. This is where I started to feel the first itch of discomfort, which grew throughout the session, as I listened to these highly erudite, highly educated and very, very intelligent people. It was so apparent that both have a deep intellectual and technical understanding of their art, which has been informed by years of reading widely in challenging academic areas, to support and inform their poetic practice. There is a mental rigour there that shows its hand clearly in the way they speak.

Now, I have studied history and philosophy. Indeed, I have a Masters degree in history, albeit not in a very pomo branch of it. However, I am not clever at theory or theoretical disciplines. I never have been, and it's one of the reasons I decided not to proceed to a PhD - I knew I would have struggled, probably unsuccessfully, with the theoretical understanding needed at doctoral level, even in history, one of the last bastions of the academy left where you can get away with a primarily empirical approach. (Or at least you could, 15 years ago when I was making this decision; perhaps this, too, has changed). I find symbolism and symbolic language difficult, often impossibly so. I find theoretical codes - the dense in-language of high-level thinkers talking among themselves - as impenetrable as pure maths.

Listening to Astrid and Corey, I realised just how far back I really am from the kind of intellectual understanding and depth of knowledge that informs contemporary poetry. I realised that my poems, my little scraplets of verse, are faltering baby steps that may never go any further without the kind of dedicated attention that I can't give them right now, or the kind of piercing intellect I don't possess. That realisation wasn't comfortable for me, but that's not the fault of the speakers - the shame, the humiliation I felt is exactly that identified by both speakers as a part of the process of becoming a poet, of laying your underbelly bare in words. The shame of inadequacy can take you in several directions; it can crush you and your efforts, or it can shine a light on where you fall short and spur you on to know better and do better.

As the speakers said, writing - especially poetry - can be an alienating, humiliating, isolating and shaming process. But these emotions can be productive too. Shame is the affect of ethics, because it implies the Other whose witness causes shame. I think shame is the antidote to hubris also, just as the feeling of being humiliated by your own shortcomings is not pleasant but can be harnessed to a generative end.

I was going to write a logic propositional calculus to explain why I am not, any more, going to call myself a poet. It would have gone like this:

A: Poets are writers of intellectual rigour and deep knowledge.
B: I am not a writer who possesses either intellectual rigour or deep knowledge.
A+B = C: Therefore, I am not a poet.

On reflection, though, I think it should go more like this:

A: Poets are writers of intellectual rigour and deep knowledge.
B: I am not a writer who possesses either intellectual rigour or deep knowledge.
A+B = C: Therefore, I am not YET a poet. (Alternative formulation - Therefore, I am not yet a GOOD poet).

I know I am getting older - I'll be 40 in a month, no longer young or anything like it. I know that the chances that the second half of my life will produce greater creativity than the first are not awesomely high, especially as my central life project, the raising of my daughters, is a journey very much still on foot, and will - must - consume much of my time and energy over the coming decade at least. I know that I may never actually be a good poet. I know this now.

But the sting of it, the shame of it, doesn't make me want to stop writing my verse-like things. It doesn't mean I'm willing to let go of something that is an important outlet for me. It doesn't mean I'm going to curl up in a foetal ball and cry.

It means I am going to explore this art form for myself, in the ways that are accessible to me and possible for me. It means I will challenge myself to read, learn and try things that can improve and expand my ability to produce poems that are worth reading. It means that I will use this sense of shame to help me, not push me under.

I may never be an award-winning poet. I may never be a published poet. Hell, I may never be a GOOD poet. But I may, one day, be A poet. And that's enough of a goal for me.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Well, that's very specific

Me to 4yo: C, what would you like for lunch?

She: 2 eggs, please. Boiled til they are hard, peel them, with a sprinkle of salt. And butter toast, not too brown, just goldy. And a banana, but not one with mushy bits, an' a pear that is not too slippy and smells good. Also a hot chocolate with the blue milk (the lactose free milk) and three - no, FOUR - little marshmallows.

Me: OK...

She: Well, get doing it then!

Yes, ma'am :)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Winter Arts for Kids: Melbourne 2013

Disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored post. I am not affiliated with any of the events or organisations listed below, I was not asked to write this post, and no financial incentive was asked nor offered for the information presented. I have subsequently been offered complimentary tickets to one of the MSO Kids events mentioned here and will disclose that again when I review the performance after it occurs.

Winter is on foot here in Melbourne, which means a lot of things - cold days, icy nights, less or no outdoor eating, an uptick in viruses, cranky kids, a never-ending battle with laundry ...

On a more positive note, the period from May to September has traditionally been a busy one for indoor cultural activities and festivals in this town. Excepting the Comedy Festival in April, and to some extent White Night in February and Chinese New Year in February, most of the bigger indoor events happen in this window, as Melbournians put on their mandatory winter black, scarf up and prepare to warm minds, if not bodies.

The great thing is that these cultural experiences aren't limited to adults. There's a lot going on for kids this winter, and I thought I would highlight five
in particular that look good to me.

1. Melbourne Writers Festival Schools / Kids Program
In my life before kids, the MWF was my favourite thing about winter. I used to go to several events every year and I saw some wonderful speakers - one of my favourites was Bill Bryson, who was as genial and interesting to listen to as to read.

Discovering that the MWF has a schools program was therefore quite exciting for me. My kids' school is not likely to take any classes to sessions, as excursion budgets are very tight, but I am seriously considering taking my big girls out of school for a day on Monday 26 August to go see Paul Jennings, Nick Earls and Jacqueline Harvey.

2. MSO Classic Kids Education Week series
I have taken my girls to three of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO)'s Classic Kids performances and all have been brilliant. We've been offered tickets to what looks like it may be the best yet - Magic and Monsters, a performance inspired by mythical creatures, complete with built-in Monsterologist :-)

3. Melbourne International Jazz Festival: Daily free concerts
The Jazz Festival is warming up Melbourne in the first 10 days of June, and one of the featured events is a daily free concert series at Federation Square (12-1pm daily). As luck would have it, we'll be in town on both Saturdays in that period, and I'm very much looking forward to taking the kids to some free jazz.

4. Local theatre company productions
A lot of local theatre companies and regional theatres amp up their family / kid oriented offerings in the colder months, which is a happy coincidence (or good planning, you decide). Not too far away from us, Wyndham Cultural Centre, one of the biggest in Melbourne's west, is putting on Possum Magic for the litties and Emily Eyefinger, based on Duncan Ball's popular books of the same name, for the older kids. (We're going to both!) Possum Magic is also showing at the Karralyka Theatre in Ringwood and the Drum in Dandenong for those on the eastern side of the city.

5. Carnival of Science at Scienceworks
Scienceworks is always a fun day out for kids and adults alike, and this exhibition, exploring the science behind carnival games and tricks, looks pretty awesome. My kids are quite science-oriented, especially the eldest, and I think they will really enjoy this. I've marked it down for the July holidays.

Between the Emerging Writers Festival this weekend for me (my big cultural treat of the season), the theatre performances, MSO, jazz, MWF and the Cyndi Lauper concert I'm taking my big girls to in August, the pain of winter is thoroughly dulled for us by the life of the mind - for the kids as well as the adults!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Seasonal affect (A haiku for early winter)

cold as tyrants' hearts
the early winter night wraps
heaviness around.

far above, ice gleams
the indifference of stars
distant furnaces.

mouse-like, I scuttle
back to the house, seeking heat
a place to curl up.

breathe oxygen, snap-chilled
lungs wheeze their protest.

inside, a warm bed
beckons a hibernation
a long winter's sleep.

inside my own heart
the cold is seeping, soaking
days in soft sadness.

a time to think on
the pains of the world, and yes
the scars I wear too.

the brooding sky waits
cloud-heavy and steel-capped,to
receive my tears.

nights are long and black
days melancholy, frowning
with rain and illness.

I was born in cold
and have spent each winter since
defeated by it.

my blood rebels, and
cloaks my mind in snowy gauze
all is tragedy.

early winter, now
so long, so long still to go
before sun returns.

under my blanket
of sadness, I wait, like stone
for the coming thaw.

- Kathy, 20/05/2013

Friday, May 17, 2013

Aurealis Awards: Hits and predictions

The Aurealis Awards will be announced tomorrow night.

Having set myself the task of reading the science fiction and fantasy novels finalists lists - 11 books in total - I have managed to read 7 and review 6. I've read 5 nominated science fiction titles:

Suited by Jo Anderton (Angry Robot) * I have not reviewed this book.
The Last City by Nina D’Aleo (Momentum)
And All The Stars by Andrea K Host (self-published)
A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (Harper Collins)

And I've read 2 of the 5 fantasy nominees:

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (Random House Australia)
Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)

The three fantasy titles I didn't complete are Flame of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier, Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff and Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier. I actually started Winter Be My Shield - twice, in fact - but I just couldn't push on to complete it; for whatever reason, it didn't connect with me at all. I have to say I didn't much like it, and would definitely not give it an award. The sci fi book I read but didn't review, Suited, I did like, but I felt I was missing its true impact because I haven't read the first book (it's the second in a series). I plan to read the first book at some point and review the two together.

I simply ran out of time to even get to Marillier's and Kristoff's books, but I have downloaded both and intend to read them soon. Similarly, I didn't get to The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina, the remaining sci fi title. I plan to rectify that soon if I can.

So, based on what I've read, my pick for the sci fi award would be either The Last City or The Rook, with an outside chance for A Confusion of Princes. If *I* was awarding the prize, it would go to The Last City by a nose.

I really don't feel I can even have a stab at the fantasy winner, given I've only read two and a half books. If it was up to me, Sea Heart would win, because I want Sea Hearts to win All The Things. That said, Bitter Greens was also a very good book, so we'll see.

My award-picking record is mixed - I got the Booker winner last year, but that was a bit of slam dunk as Bring Up the Bodies was glaringly obviously the best book on the list. I did pretty well predicting the Stella shortlist - got it almost all correct, in fact - but completely flubbed picking the winner, as I had Mateship with Birds down as a definite non starter in the illustrious company it kept. I didn't even try to pick the Miles Franklin shortlist, having only read 4 of the 10 longlisted titles (although three of the four I'd read ended up on the 5-book shortlist, as luck would have it).

So you should take my predictions with a large-sized grain of salt :-) That said, it'll be interesting to see what emerges tomorrow.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pussycat cake

It's my middle girl's 8th birthday next week, and we are having her slumber party here this weekend. So in preparation, last night we had our now-traditional cake decorating evening with our wonderful friend K - a tradition that started 3 years ago now when my eldest put in her request for the periodic table of the elements cupcakes for her science party. (And what a production that was!) We've since made love heart cakes, Dorothy the Dinosaur, a butterfly cake, a flower cake, and a ringtail possom cake.

This time, Miss almost-8 requested a cat cake, which, on the scale of difficulty, is at the modest end.  I made 2 round gluten free vanilla cakes - one large, one small - and we got to work.

First, we cut up the smaller cake to form ears, a raised nose and raised whiskers. There was plenty of small cake left, which was put aside for lunchbox treats for the rest of the week. (Carving the cake was made easier because we had frozen it; this is highly recommended for any cake design that will involve carving or slicing).

Next, we made a lot of buttercream icing and liberally smothered the cat with it. I make my buttercream with icing sugar, margarine and a little hot water; I think it comes out nicer than adding milk, and has a richer taste.

It also helps because one of my kids is mildly dairy intolerant, so I keep milk products as minimal in my baking as possible.

To cover this cake, I used 2 full packets of iciong sugar and probably 6-8 tablespoons of margarine.

During this process, of course, there was plenty of snacking - on cake leftovers, icing bowl remnants and then on fondant as we moved into the colouring phase. Whenever we're going to do a cake, I never give the kids dessert after dinner or anything sweet after school - I know they are going to fill up on baking stuff and that's part of the fun of it :-)

Next came colouring and rolling out the fondant. For this I use Orchard White Icing, which is a gluten free packet brand you can get in the supermarket. We always use K's colour gels for this stage and wear disposable gloves to knead the colour through (it does stain hands and clothing otherwise). The kids all enjoy the process of mixing the colours, and K is extremely patient with them as they work their fingers in the stiff fondant.

Both the elder two had a go of rolling out this time too, which they thought great. K got the grey base coat applied and our cat was really starting to look like a cat!

Finally, as I took Miss 4 off to bed, the elder two worked with K to create and apply all the details. By the time I emerged from settling Miss 4, our pussycat had whiskers, pink ears and a smile, and shortly thereafter, pretty green eyes and a little nose.

We think it looks great and the birthday girl is thrilled, which is the main objective!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A day in the life

I last did one of these six months ago, so I thought what the hey. This was Tuesday at my house.

2am I wake up with an asthma attack. It takes 4 puffs of Ventolin and over an hour for me to return to sleep.

7:10am I wake up to the sound of three girls musing about what they'll have for breakfast. I'm still a bit zonked from my nighttime asthma awakening, so I send hubs out to deal and roll over to doze for a bit longer.

7:35am I get up, shower quickly and start making the school lunches. All kids are eating, and hubs is on his computer remotely fixing a work problem.

8:10am Lunches are made, kids are finishing eating, and hubs is still on his computer working. I jolly the kids along to finish their eating and get dressed, and set some washing going in the machine.

8:20am 9 year old cannot find her school jumper. This is a tragedy of epic proportions (for her) and a daily irritation (for me). She flails around shouting, calling names and accusing every other member of the family of stealing her clothing. How I do love pre-adolescence!

8:30am Ignoring tantrumming Miss 9, I help the other kids with their hair and 4yo with dressing. Miss 8 and Miss 4 then sit down to play with their Star Wars toys.

8:45am I locate Miss 9's school jumper in the dirty washing basket. WHERE SHE PUT IT HERSELF LAST NIGHT.

8:50am We head to school. 9yo and I bicker all the way. It's as much me as her at this point - my  reservoir of patience has been drained dry by the carry-on at home and a bad night's sleep. Miss 8 wisely stays right out of it.

9am Home from school drop off. Miss 4 and I decide to play games for a while. 3 rounds of Shopping List game and a few hands of Uno later, plus a nice cup of tea and the hanging of the washing, and my feathers are unruffling.

10am 4yo wants to paint, so we paint. It's nice, chatty time together. I also answer two work emails while sitting with her, and tweet the link to my interview with Nina D'Aleo on The Shake.

10:45am A post-painting bath for Miss 4! Dishes, sweeping and another email response for me.

11:15am Miss 4 sits down to watch TV. I log on to my computer and do 45 minutes writing work on a project.

12 noon TV off, Miss 4 and I have lunch while reading stories.

1pm I drop Miss 4 to kinder then continue on to the shops, where I buy Miss 8's last birthday present, do the groceries, and have a physio appointment.

3:15pm School pick up. Miss 9 is in a better frame of mind, which is good. She, Miss 8 and I go home and mix up the two vanilla cakes that are going to be Miss 8's birthday cakes for her party at the weekend. We get them in the oven.

4:15pm Kinder pick up. Miss 4 is happy to see her sisters (and me, probably :-) but bursts into tears when I look confused  as she enthuses about the mother & child night at kinder ... tonight. Which I have completely forgotten about. Oh noes.

4:20pm One hasty and apologetic phone call to hubs later, I'm able to reassure Miss 4 that we will indeed be able to come to kinder tonight. Order is restored in her universe.

4:30pm Home. Kids are all playing quite nicely so I do a quick 30 minutes work then prepare dinner. It's sausages, vegetable rice and corn on the cob.

5:30pm The kids and I have dinner. Everyone eats reasonably well. This is by no means always the case, so I enjoy it while I can.

5:55pm Hubs comes home. Miss 4 and I immediately leave for kinder. He will take Miss 9 and Miss 8 with him to guitar lessons (they'll leave 6:30pm for a 7pm lesson).

6pm Miss 4 and I arrive at the mother & child night at kinder. We have a great time - she paints my nails, we play with playdoh, make pictures and bracelets and she shows me all her favourite things.

7:30pm We get home, shower and pyjamify.

7:45pm Hubs, Miss 9 and Miss 8 home. I start Miss 4's bedtime routine, which is a cup of milk in bed while having stories, then having an adult sit in the chair in her room until she is sleeping.

8:20pm Lights out for Miss 4 and she snuggles down to sleep while I sit quietly in her chair. Fortunately she now doesn't mind me having my Kobo on in the room, so I read a detective novel while I wait.

8:40pm Miss 4 is asleep and I leave the room. The big kids are just brushing teeth in preparation for their bedtime. I see them to their room and get them settled. Hubs is on his computer, browsing and doing work stuff. He makes me a cup of tea :-)

8:50pm I want to work but it's too cold in the main house, so I grab my Asus tablet and head to bed. My bedroom is much cosier :-)  My goal is 2 solid hours and finishing off stage 1 of a document I'm working on.

9pm Miss 8 wants to chat, so I stop working and talk with her for a while. She heads back to her bed at 9:30.

10:30pm My work target hasn't quite been met, although I did make progress, but I'm literally nodding off over the tablet, so I shut it down and snuggle into my pillow, and was asleep within minutes..

And that was our day!

Monday, May 13, 2013

No-children functions

The wonderful Captain Awkward has a reply up at the moment to a letter-writer who is grappling with an invited guest's unhappiness about not being able to bring her 4 year old to an event. The event has been restricted to older children only (over 10, as I recollect from the letter) but the guest is campaigning to have an exception made for her daughter.

I have sort of mixed feelings about this one, to be perfectly honest. On the one hand, I respect the right of any person organising a private function - be it a party, a wedding or anything else - to decide that the function will be adults-only. Just as they have the right to decide it will be women-only, or people under 40-only, or people who like Star Trek only, or whatever other thing they come up with. Private functions, that are not work-based, are private business - this isn't a matter of trying to restrict access to public space or workplace equity. I might have a quiet opinion about a person who restricts their guest list to, say, people who aren't fat, but it's only an opinion and it shouldn't constrain the party-giver's decisions.

I also realise that people having functions in their homes may feel that their environments are unsafe for children, and not wish to risk either injury to the kids or breakages and damage to their homes. That is their prerogative - there is no requirement in law or ethics that says all private spaces must be safe and suitable for all people. (If we are talking about public spaces the argument changes, but we're not).

And let's be really frank here - some adults just don't like kids, or don't like particular kids. This is not limited to people who are themselves childfree! I have one acquaintance, herself a parent, who invited me to a function when I was pregnant with my third child; I declined because I was at the uncomfortable stage of pregnancy, and she said, "That's cool! I was going to remind you not to bring your LOUD kid anyway!" I found this a little confronting, even though, yes, my then-3 year old was a loud kid. 

In the case in the letter, I think the guest is being pushy in trying to have an exception made for her own child to a clearly stated restriction, and that's not something I would ever do, if an event is specified to be childfree at the outset. I might, in some circumstances, ask if it's OK to bring child/ren if the invitation does NOT specify and it's the sort of function where kids are sometimes welcome (in this case it's a baby shower, to which kids are often invited). But if the answer is no, then the answer is no. I think it's disrespectful to keep agitating for a change to the rules someone else has established for their OWN function.


The event organiser gets to decide the conditions for their event, but they don't get to decide how those conditions affect and are felt by the invitees. They don't get to decide, as many of the Captain's commenters suggest, that the solution simple and is a paid babysitter. (For many reasons, this may not work - financial, a child with separation issues, a lack of trusted / available sitters etc). They don't get to decide how the invitee feels about having to decline an event because their child isn't welcome there and they can't or choose not to arrange alternative care for them. They don't get to decide how this affects ongoing family relationships and interactions.

I have been to four childfree events in the past two years - 2 weddings and 2 birthday parties - and each time, it was a deliberate and not-simple decision process. In two cases, hubs declined the invitation and I went alone, because babysitting wasn't practical. I have also needed to decline another half-dozen or more such invitations because leaving the kids wasn't a course of action I could take at those times.

I don't have any animus against people who organise childfree events, and I would never urge them to reconsider. But if the event is one that, on the face if it, is a family-oriented event and my kids, like I, are part of the family (eg. one of the things I had to decline was an extended family Christmas lunch) then I don't necessarily feel very good about that.

It's a knotty one - easier, I think, for evening functions, that are much more clearly not children-friendly in any case (like the wedding we went to in March - absolutely would not have been suitable for kids, no question). But I guess I think there are two sides to the story. Not that it justifies pushiness and disregarding the event organiser's conditions, because it doesn't. All the same, making daytime events childfree as a matter of preference rather than necessity does sting a bit for those with young children, marginalising us and our kids in ways that it might not be easy to appreciate if you haven't walked a mile in them shoes.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


the air smells warmer than it ought to, this far into autumn
the sun, ascendant, glares from a robin's-egg blue sky
washing flutters, helpless, in the light breeze.

out on the street, retirees chat over garden fences;
a woman in torn jeans pushes a pram, while a shift worker, newly home,
parks a car with tired eyes.

walking the dog, we pass
late-blooming roses, Tudor-like, red and white
a brace of bottlebrush, white spiky jasmine
and a ginger cat, washing his face contemplatively on the sun-dappled pavement.

a bedroom suburb, this; blanketed, in daytime, with domesticity
a land of preschool children and new parents, sick-leave workers and the elderly
the occasional home-based worker, cocooned behind their screen

and dogs, oh the dogs
sleeping, sniffing, yowling loneliness to the impassive doorways

in the clean slate of the sky, a small plane writes
FL Hearts GF For Ever
white ink, trailing its edges into heaven
we watch as the wind takes it away

the crows on the powerlines caw as they divide the spoils
of a spilled garbage bin.

cradled in the palm of midday, the houses
lie watchful, eyes forward, waiting for nightfall and the scrape of keys.

- Kathy, 9/5/13

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Mum: a woman of calibre

(If you don't know the backstory to this particular phrase, see here).

My Mum has never earnt a six-figure salary in her life. There would be many years where she wouldn't have earned a five-figure one, for that matter.

My Mum doesn't have a university degree, doesn't have an impressive job title, and doesn't work in a big-ticket profession.

My Mum's not a lawyer, or an accountant, or a businessperson. She's not a doctor either, although she would've liked to have been and would have been smart enough to do it, if the opportunities had been open to her.

My Mum's not a great orator, or an intellectual giant (which is not to say she's not intelligent - she is, but it's not a rarifed form of smarts).

But my Mum is a woman of exceptional calibre.

My Mum left her family home when she was 16 and made her own way in the world.

My Mum completed her high school certificate at night school while vomitously pregnant with me.

My Mum moved heaven and earth to take care of my younger brother, born severely disabled from hydrocephalus, at home. For the eight years of his life, she was his devoted and untiring nurse, his advocate, his fierce protector.

She fought her local council to get home help to assist with all the other things she couldn't do because of his disabilities. She took him to every specialist and therapist known to man and she worked, all the time, to make his short life as happy and fulfilling as it could be.

She did all this without half the social and medical services available today. She did all this by drawing deeply on her inner reserves, her faith and her strength.

My Mum experienced the worst thing that can happen to a parent - losing their child - and despite being nearly crushed by grief, my Mum picked herself up and kept going for her other two children and her husband and family.

My Mum became a skilled and empathetic integration aide in kindergartens and primary schools, helping children be part of mainstream schooling and forming lifelong bonds with many of them. I have a photo in my drawer of her just a  couple of years ago, the guest of honour at the 21st birthday of one of her kids who she worked with from his prep year to grade 5.

My Mum has done so much work within her community, quietly, lovingly, and effectively. She's sat by parents' sides as they struggle to cope with diagnoses or family trauma. She's fostered children in need and helped reunite families. She's established and for many years ran a wildly popular community playgroup. She's taught Sunday School and provided respite care and been a mentor in a program that works with kids at risk.

My Mum has been the business force behind the family veterinary practice (my Dad is a vet), doing the bookwork, admin and planning tirelessly for over 35 years now. She's also worked part time as a vet nurse for most of those years. This is a successful business that makes a financial contribution to the community, in case that's of interest to the sort of people who judge calibre in dollar terms only.

My Mum is a warm, loving mother, wife and grandmother. She has always loved us all to distraction, sometimes more than any of us could reasonably expect. Unconditional love has a face, to me, and it's hers.

So do not you EVER say, or imply, that my Mum is anything other than a woman of the highest possible calibre. Her calibre is made manifest in the lives she has touched and the life she has lived, in her kindness, her committment, her strength, her endurance. Her qualification level and how much damn money she earns has NOTHING to do with it.

I love you, Mum.

Reading Notes: The Rook

This review is the 6th book (of a list of 11) for me in reading the sci and fantasy novel finalists for this year's Aurealis Awards. I am almost finished number 7 - Jo Anderton's Suited - and will be reviewing that one next Monday. I'm still hopeful that I'll get at least one more done before the prize announcement on 18 May, but we shall see!

It must be a good year for awesome debuts in Australian speculative fiction. After Nina D'Aleo's The Last City, I thought I'd read unquestionably the best debut of the year, but then The Rook comes along and makes me revise (or at least nuance) that judgement. Because this book is also terrific - completely different from The Last City, but wonderful and enjoyable and so well written. I don't envy the Aurealis judges in the sci fi category one bit.

I described The Rook on Twitter as "sort of a sci fi-conspiracy theory-thriller-secret society-paranormal-comedic mash up", and that still captures the essence of the book to me. It's based around the central character(s), Myfanwy / Thomas, who has paranormal powers and works as a chief administrator (a Rook) in a secret paranormal security organisation, the Checquy.  The book deftly weaves lots of action, an intricate and well executed conspiracy plot, genuinely witty dialogue and a little light musing on the nature of identity.

It's not a short book - almost 500 pages - but it never feels too long or too dragged out. Partly this is a function of the pacing, which is pitch perfect, and partly it's O'Malley's unusual and entirely successful choice to use letters as the main exposition device in the book. The letters, written by Thomas in the time before the book opens to her future self, provide all the background and context the readers needs in an interesting and plot-relevant way.

Thomas has written the letters to herself - or rather to Myfanwy, the blank-slate person who wakes up in her body with absolutely no memory of who she is or what has happened - because she knows she is going to be attacked and have her personality / memories / self sucked away. She also knows that her body will survive, so she writes the letters to help the new person in her skin to navigate the bizarre and dangerous underworld she'll now be living in. As a technique for providing backstory without having to use character-puppets, this works incredibly well. It also deepens the pathos of Thomas's fate, as we get to meet her (through her letters) as well as Myfanwy, the new personality.

There is a good serving ickiness in the book (what is it about paranormal books that necessitates the glowing goo factor? I don't know) but it's never overwhelming to the plot or the character development, not just of Myfanwy but of the array of supporting characters. The ensemble cast is extremely well executed too - O'Malley does a great job of sketching them in without belabouring the point. My favourites were the savage but beautiful vampire, Alrich; the admirably creepy Gestalt, the other Rook, who is one person with four bodies; Shantay, a representative of the Checquy's American equivalent, the Croatoan, who comes to London, becomes Myfanwy's BFF and wants to shop in between supernatural suppressions; and Ingrid, Myfanwy's faithful secretary and aide, who helps her navigate her post memory loss world.

I also deeply enjoyed the fact that this book is really funny. Not a laugh a minute, but full of dry zingers, pratfalls and situational comedy that serves to both lighten and support the plot. So much science fiction is deeply serious stuff! and must be taken VERY SERIOUSLY! It's nice to read a book that defies that and gets it just right.

So overall, this is a great read. I don't think it's better than The Last City - too different to compare, really - but I do think it's as good. I would recommend it without reservation.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A lovesong, in dishes

This is a villanelle, and I deliberately made it much harder for myself by choosing plural rhyming words, which limited the options a LOT. Sometimes I like to mess with my own head :-)

love is manifest in daily things
in dishes, laundry, floors and fresh-made beds
the dust of life, to which small kindness clings.

the world is ever-present, with its slings
and arrows as we all dodge the warheads
love is manifest in daily things.

back to the doorway, each one brings
their pains and pleasures, little joys and dreads
the dust of life, to which small kindness clings.

small voices tell of cabbages and kings
the neverwhere of dreams that fill their heads 
love is manifest in daily things.

through fights and darkness, hope eternal springs
where strife and harmony enmesh, strange newlyweds
the dust of life, to which small kindness clings.

I see the passage of their comings
and goings to where they find their own beachheads
love is manifest in daily things
the dust of life, to which small kindness clings.

- Kathy, 7/5/13

Monday, May 6, 2013

Reading Notes: A Confusion of Princes

This review is the 5th of 11 books in my Aurealis finalist reading challenge. Next will be a review of Daniel O'Malley's The Rook, which will be published tomorrow.

Garth Nix's stand-alone space opera, A Confusion of Princes, has the distinction of being the first book by a male author that I have read this year. I've been doing the Australian Women Writers Challenge since January, plus the Stella Awards longlist challenge, and, coincidentally, the titles I cherrypicked off the Miles Franklin and Nebula longlists happened to be by women as well, as did the first 4 finalists from the Aurealis list that I read.

Altogether, between the reading challenges and my relaxation-reading, which has been Dorothy L Sayers, Laurie King and Elizabeth Peters, I've read 22 books on the trot by women. An interesting thing to note is that these books have been stylistically, thematically and in every other way dissimilar from each other. It turns out that women are not a hive mind, and fiction produced by women is as diverse as ... fiction produced by men. Who would've thunk it?

ANYWAY, enough of that, on to A Confusion of Princes. 

Garth Nix is an author I've enjoyed in the past, although I'd hesitate to call him a favourite, and I expected a well-crafted, contained story to emerge from this book. I was not disappointed; in the story of Prince Khemri, and the galactic empire he inhabits, Nix provides an admiraby tidy, readable tale that never sacrifices clarity for cleverness.

The main premise of this book, which is told in the first person, is the existence of a vast galactic empire ruled by a caste of Princes, both male and female, who, in communication with the Galactic Mind (the emperor), govern the affairs of ordinary people and co-ordinate defences against alien Big Bads, the Sad-Eyes, Naknuks and Deaders. The empire is ruled by a combination of Bitek, Mektek and Psitek (biological / genetic manipulation, advanced mechanical science and mind powers), all of which Nix expertly blends into the story in a way that seems effortless and natural.

One of the key plot points and philosophical devices in the story is that the Princes, if they are in communication with the Galactic Mind at the moment of their death, can be, and usually are, reborn into a fresh body. Nix makes a lot, justfiably, of what this might mean for the Princes' attitude to life, death, "normal" people, and conflict. How would the knowledge - not the hope, not the suspicion, but the knowledge - that death is not the end affect a person? How would it shape them, and how might it warp them? Nix explores these questions with Khemri's journey, along with the related one - does the potential for rebirth come at too high a cost if it means one cannot really live and love with fervour?

I was not surprised to learn that, like fellow nominee And All the Stars, this book is also labelled as a YA title. As well as being hopeful, the book is also quite action-driven and lacks the kind of cynicism about love and relationships that seems a requirement for many adult novels. Khemri's dawning realisation that his privileged life as one of the thousands of "Princes" (a job title, not a hereditary position) is also emotionally barren is explored really well, with a great delicacy of touch. And if the resolution of the plot (involving another character called Raine - although a rather different Raine to The Last City's spectral breed!) is a little bit pat, a little bit obvious - well, it's forgiveable in the context of what is a beautifully crafted, engaging story.

All in all, this is a really good book. It reads as an expert, polished, well-built story, with enough metaphysics to make it interesting, but enough plot to make it enjoyable. I wasn't a mad fan of the ending, but nonetheless I'd recommend this one to space opera / YA fans.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Natal day (Poem)

It's the third birthday of this blog today, so I thought that warranted a pome :-) I have been blogging since 2004, but my first blog, Zucchinis in Bikinis, was taken private in 2010 when this blog started.

three years ago today I wrote a post about fairyland in my backyard, and
put out the welcome mat, virtually speaking, in this unpretty backwater,
built in haste to cradle my happier thoughts in pink and purple.

three years ago
when my heart was bleeding black onto the screen, and worlds were confused and confusing
and people thought they knew all about me, and what was best for me
what I was doing wrong
what I deserved
because of what dripped out, squeezed from me as illness and loss clenched its fist
into my older, less considered space
my blog firstborn, brought into life
when Blogger was a baby and everyone new to this
all of us learning together, making the same faux pas
in a warm and amateur symphony
writing life out loud.

so, three years ago, I thought to divide my consciousness
my self, sliced between the shadowlands, taken away to a quiet room
and, here, in my new place,
I thought to broadcast a steady stream of light
to write a hymn of adoration to my children,
a harmony of gentleness and constancy
baking and stories and lovesongs;
play, art and peace.

three years ago, I nursed the illusion
that such splicing is possible, let alone desirable;
that I could write the sun without the storm,
the sweet without the sourness
and make it a true story, and make it me.

three years, and I have learned
that ego and id resist sundering with unbreakable determination;
that to be me, here, I cannot but draw in threads of all colours and brilliancies
the fizzing oranges and flaring pinks, yes, but the scarlet of rage too
the cool greens and calm blues, but also the dark greys
and the black that crawls out at 2am and flicks its tongue

three years, and I have written about play
and books and growth and baking and love;
and loss and anger and injustice and pain,
work and illness and frustration and exhaustion.
three years, and this skin
has stretched to fit me, and I wear it, own it,
my avatar
my words, weaving a simulcrum of me
that is not a stranger, here on my screen.

- Kathy, 4/5/13

Friday, May 3, 2013

The NDIS, the levy and the post that is going to lose me friends and readers

By now, you would have to have been living somewhere under a very large and wifi-proof rock not to know that the Australian Government has advanced their final proposal to implement a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The scheme, which has been talked about for years and is sorely needed, will support Australians with permanent disabilities that affect their mobility, self-care, self-management or communication. Despite some of the propaganda to the contrary, it will also cover individual assistance for people with disabilities or differences where there is good evidence that early intervention will increase functioning (ie. autism, celebral palsy, acquired brain injuries) or decrease decline of function (ie. MS, Parkinson's Disease).

The next thing that has become apparent this week is that the NDIS is going to be partly funded from the budget ($1 billion has been committed from July 2013), and partly funded by an increase of 0.5% in the Medicare levy, taking it from 1.5% of earnings to 2% of earnings. This means an increase of $325 a year for someone earning $65,000 a year, or $500 a year for someone earning $100,000 a year.

In the debate that has ensued, there have been opinion pieces galore from every conceivable perspective. Comments have been flying, on social media, in the MSM, and at the school gate (it's an oldie but a goodie, the school-gate radar - equivalent, I suppose, to water-cooler chitchat in an office). The scheme and its funding method has fierce defenders, equally fierce detractors, and everything in between. This is not unexpected, as it's a major policy initiative with taxpayer consequences.

However, one aspect of all this that has struck me as NQR and quite counter-productive is the rhetoric that I have read directed against people who oppose the levy. Commenters and columnists alike have characterised levy-opponents as, effectively, greedy, selfish and hard-hearted. Moreover, they have conflated opposition to the levy with opposition to the NDIS, despite the ample evidence that a great majority of people want and support the NDIS, including those who oppose the levy.

It seems to me that there are two issues here that can be and should be separated, and the fact that they aren't being separated by politicians and commentators smells pretty cynical to me. The issues are:

1. Should we have an NDIS?
I would suggest that a very comfortable majority of Australians, myself included, would answer this with a conclusive YES.

2. How should it be funded? Specifically - should it be funded through an increase to the Medicare levy?
And here is where consensus breaks down, and I cannot stress this enough, NOT just because "people are greedy". Or "people are selfish / heartless."

Because, you know what?

It is possible to feel a heart-sinking at the idea of another increase in the take of the government from your wages, without being a bastard.

It is possible to be a family whose income has gone backwards while inflation has marched on, and feel distressed at the notion of increased costs and suspicious that, in time, they will be increased again.

It is possible that all the "0.95c a day" rhetoric will sound hollow to people who have heard the exact same line with the increases to their rates, their rents, their insurances, their electricity, their water, their pharmaceuticals, all in the last three years. At some point, you know what? There ARE no more 0.95c a day to spare.

It is possible that people may resent being asked for more when governmental spending in areas is so demonstrably inefficient and wasteful - offshore detention centres, anyone? BER? It is open to people to ask WHY exactly the NDIS, which we want, can't be funded from general revenue *instead of all the other things that we don't want or cost ridiculous amounts of money that was badly deployed*.

I will lay my cards on the table:

We can afford the 0.5% increase in Medicare, my husband and I. Of course we can. To claim otherwise would be ludicrous in a family that just bought a new car and is planning a big holiday for next year.

We support the NDIS too, and think it's long overdue.


I do not agree that the levy is necessarily the right way to fund the NDIS. Not because I resent giving up a cup of coffee a day (I don't drink coffee) or I am greedy or selfish, but because I think it's a terrible precedent to set, one that will be hard to contain, and, most importantly, one that did not need to happen if other, better decisions had been made with budget spending.

I know many individuals and families that will feel this increase. No, not be bankrupted; no, not become homeless. Anyone that close to the tipping point, frankly, has bigger problems than a 0.5% Medicare rise. Nonetheless, they will feel it to the extent that they will resent it, and it may force sacrifices of kinds they don't really want to be making. Not of coffee or booze (although maybe), but, as one mum at school in a single-income family said, maybe of the family holiday that her partner's tax return usually pays for. Or swimming lessons for the winter term. Or a new bike for a kid. Or regular physio apointments for an able-bodied, but poor-postured and frequently sore, woman. (That one is me).

So I just wish supporters of the levy would knock it off already in their determination to cast all levy-opponents as villains who, in their selfishness, want to deny people with disabilities access to a scheme to help them. I support the NDIS, but I am, at best, ambivalent about the levy, and I want to be able to say that without being told I'm a monster.