Saturday, September 28, 2013


My head and body haven't been the lightest and brightest of places over the past two weeks. I don't really want to talk about it, because the details exhaust and bore me, but suffice to say this:

1. Being glutened is not fun;
2. Asthma attacks are definitely not fun;
3. Panic attacks are INCREDIBLY not fun;
4. Claustrophobia is real and it sucks and if you think it's funny to mock people for it, we are no longer friends.

Anyway, now that I'm better from the glutening and my asthma is settling down, I have a bit of bandwidth to address some of the stickier mental health issues, and begin some much-needed self-care.

Self-care, for me, typically involves the preparation of food (which I find soothing), the getting of a massage, and much, much, much time between the covers of books. Both my own books, and lovely hours, like the one I spent today, tucked up in bed with my 4 year old reading a stack of picture books aloud. Books *are* my happy place - they always have been and always will be - and I like going there with the girls as well as by myself.

Self-care also means a renegotiation of boundaries; my psyche is very good at telling me when I am overreaching myself and need to draw in my horns for a while. So we have cancelled swimming lessons for a term, because it was turning into a stress point for us all; I have missed one, and may miss more, Interleaves columns at The Shake; I have resigned from one of my volunteer committees, and asked to be left off the roster for another until after Christmas. I have also started thinking about workload management strategies in my interesting but demanding job, and have committed to not bringing work home more than 2 nights a week.

All of this may not be enough to pull me back from the brink of needing therapy this time (the claustrophobia, in particular, is Doing My Head In Like You Would Not Believe) but it is certainly helping to set me back on my feet and move me to a calmer, happier place in myself.

Sometimes, what it takes is retreat. Those who fight and run away, live to fight another day, right?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New story post

Instead of posting here this weekend, I've written a new installment of my blog novel, The Ark at the End of the World. It's here if you want to read it.

I have a ridiculous 2 weeks coming up with work, school holidays, and I have 2 pieces due for other online publications, so it's not too likely I'll be here again until well into October. I will post here just to link to my pieces elsewhere, but other than that, catch you in a while for an actual posty-post :-)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Am I a blogger anymore?

I was thinking the other day, as mentions of the Problogger conference started filling my Twitter timeline, that I'm not sure whether I am really a blogger anymore.

Before you mention it, the inherent idiocy of writing a BLOG POST speculating on whether I am a blogger is not lost on me. Of course I am a person who writes a blog, so on a purely reductive level, I can be described with the noun.

What I'm getting at here, though, isn't an activity-based assessment, but an identity-based one. I'm not sure that "being a blogger" describes something important about me now; certainly not in the same way that words like "writer", "mother", "poet", "reader" and even "wife" do.

Sure, I write a blog, but I see the blog primarily as a tool / vehicle for expressing my writing self, especially the intersection between my reader-persona and my writer-persona, rather than an object in its own right. To put it another way - if the meta object that I'm gesturing at is "light", the blog is a convenient lantern, which could just as readily be replaced with a candle or a lightbulb if circumstances changed.

I think this shift in thinking has been coming for a while. It probably began with my decision to keep the blog unmonetised, and to move away from accepting complimentary products for review (other than the annual MSO Classic Kids concert and the occasional book, I decline just about everything now). This decision took me out of the swim of the mainstream for the Australian blogosphere, especially the parenting part thereof.

My lack of enthusiam for things like blog awards, competitions, blog conferences and seminars, and most memes has further removed me from the flow of blog activity. It's inevitable; bloggers form communities and those who engage more, get more engagement back. (Quite right and proper too). Moreover, posting erratically and based on interest rather than what I suspect will get eyeballs has changed the way I think about the blog and probably the way my readers read it, too. I've also greatly reduced the amount I'm willing to write about the kids, as they get older and I become more protective of their privacy. This, also, has reduced the interest in weighing in that people seem to have.

The bottom line is that I don't see my blog as either a microbusiness or a high art; it's neither complete hobby nor passion. It's a mechanism by which I write and it isn't more than that, to me - and to be perfectly honest, as my comments dwindle away to almost nothing (while, curiously, my PVs remain stable or show slight growth), it's almost becoming less than that. If writing out loud and having conversations is the name of the game, I'm not sure this blog is the right tool anymore to do what I want to.

I've become increasingly dissatisfied with the limitations and inevitable restrictions of blogging as an expressive form. These limitations used to be compensated by the feedback I got via comments - I crave interaction, of course - but as commenting has died, so has that spring of inspiration and resolve.

So there it is. I have a blog - and the force of inertia and urgent need to mouth off about books and poetry will probably mean, realistically, that I will continue to have one, for the foreseeable future. But I don't see myself, really, as a blogger anymore.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Man Booker Shortlist 2013

I'm over at The Shake today, talking about the Man Booker shortlist - 6 titles well worth your attention. If you are interested in the Booker, I'm interested to hear your thoughts over there!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reading Notes: Harvest

This review constitutes part of my commitment to read and review as many of the 13 Man Booker longlisted titles as possible before the announcement of the shortlist on 10 September. Harvest is the third book in the list I have read.

"Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground."

Jim Crace's Harvest opens with a quotation from one of the first poets I was introduced to as a very young child, and have always found rather interesting - 18th century satirist and classicist, Alexander Pope. Crace's choice of the opening stanza from Pope's famous On Solitude as his entree into this story is a clear gesture towards not just the ostensible historical themes of this book (the devastating effect of pastoral enclosure on rural communities, and the coming of the industrial revolution) but also the deeper - and more modern, or perhaps just timeless - questions Crace asks about belonging, dispossession, fear, class, justice and identity.

In many ways, this is a deceptively simple story. It can be read at face value as a rather grim, if nonetheless elegant and engaging, tale of an agricultural community in the throes of change, and the brutalities of class and ownership on common living. Crace, through his protagonist and narrator Walter Thirsk, doesn't romanticise village living necessarily, although there is no doubt that Thirsk, himself an outsider, uses a soft lens in detailing the villagers' insularity, fear and hatred of strangers, and ultimate venality. It would be possible, shading aside, to read and enjoy this book as a straightforward uber-historical narrative of The Evils of Enclosure, or Why Rural Life is More Betterer Than Urban Life, the End.

However, the complications of the plot and of Thirsk's view don't really allow for this to be the whole meat of this tale. Crace makes several narrative decisions that point pretty clearly to the fact that he is not attempting to write a historical novel per se, but rather a historicised allegory, a political and ethical tract really, which has a lot to say to the burning issues of the early 21st century.

How does he achieve this? His village is never located in time and space - he is deliberately and manifestly non specific and avoids giving any clues that would allow it to be dropped back into its rightful box. The strangers whose arrival signals the beginning of all the trouble are described - intensely, in frantic detail almost - but never really humanised; with one limited exception near the end, none of them speak directly, and they serve as emblems for the villagers, loci for fears, desires, hopes and frustrations. The villagers themselves, while beautifully realised, also move in a symbolic dance, in which they each stand for something (this is especially true of the Widow Grosse and the child Lizzie). The visiting surveyor with the disabilities is also, and even more obviously, a symbol, although his representational value shifts over the course of the story.

Most of all, the clash of world views between the old Master and the new, and the devastation the new Master brings in his wake, is pure Precept Theatre 101 to my reading. Crace could hardly be more clear - power is dangerous, corrupt (or corruptible) and ultimately completely self-centred. People who are afraid transfer that fear to strangers or Others of multiple kinds, as if rejection of the Other can somehow stabilise their shifting world and set it back on its axis. Rejection of refugees, says Crace, is almost always primarily about fear - fear of loss, fear of change, fear of limitation, fear of difference, fear of consequences.

I also think Crace is making another important point in this haunting book - that people are depressingly prone to turn their anger in the wrong directions, kicking down instead of up, and that this all serves merely to consolidate the structures of power while hurting those least able to protect themselves. It might be just my reading again, but I detected an urgent thread of WAKE UP in this book. Crace is using a putatively historical story to make cogent points about the state of the world in 2013, and I think he achieves his aim admirably.

Overall, this was another brilliant book, well worth its spot on the longlist, and a definite re-reader for me. I'd recommend it, and recommend taking your time over it - it's not a hard read, it's very gripping actually, but giving it time to unfold will increase the value of it.

I have read two other longlist titles, but will definitely not review them before the shortlist is announced tonight.  So I only got to 5 out of 13 ... Oh well. I will pick up this challenge with the shortlist and aim to read any I haven't read before the prize announcement.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

On imparting life lessons to my daughter

and what does it mean? - plaintively, leaning with silk-spun hair against my knee
how should I be - tell me -

I can't. you need to find it out, you, yourself, with your ocean eyes that see in the dark

but you must know things. some things. tell me, the things you know -
the ways to walk the world

well, I suppose, my love -
if you want precepts from me, or signposts -

I would just say to you this -

be gentle to all hurt, sad, frightened things
wounded animals, small children, grey women, broken-souled men
try to extend a hand in kindness, pick up a stone from the road
everyone is fighting a hard battle, but only some wounds bleed where you can see.
in holding another in tenderness, you perform the dignity of both of you;
you honour the life we all share, and bring lightness in your wake.

be fierce in your own self; don't look away
don't lower your gaze or step aside
not because you're told to
not because you're expected to
there will always be those voices and those expectations -
you need not comply.
do not comply, daughter;
some stands are worth making
some disobediences reverberate with power.

and, well, my darling, I suppose -
scurry back to Shakespeare, and I'd say
to thine ownself be true
don't live lies, daughter
don't drink of that poisoned cup.
what you are, be,
what you like, like,
what you think, say,
what you believe, own,
who you love, love.
fly the flag of your own heart high
nail it to the mast, and stand beside it, head up -

it's not much, to help you, I know.
it's not much, but it's all I've learned
all I can give you

well, that, and my love,
but I think you already know that part.

- Kathy, 5/9/13