Thursday, October 31, 2013

A haiku for Halloween

sullen, the sky squats
white-flecked grey, promising rain
a mimic of fall.

out, the child and I
see a truck stacked with dead hens
stray feathers float down.

the day of the dead
of spirits and phantasms
things go bump tonight.

a carnival, too
death's heads grin as life surges
candy-sweet and new.

All Hallows Eve, this
a day to open the door
weirdness is abroad.

laughing children fill
streets with their quest for sugar
bedecked in darkness.

on this day, marking
death and the dead, they hunt
the sweet stuff of rot.

life, contemplating
what lies ahead; the pleasure
of fright with surcease.

tomorrow, we will
name all the saints, and laud, sing,
the passage of night.

tonight, we trick death
temporarily, of course,
throwing life like dust.

- Kathy, 31/10/13

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Professionally appropriate names

This is total fluff so look away if you're after the D&M stuf!

I read an article today that was fairly so-so but was rather tickled by one aspect of it, which was the names of the authors of a social work text that was quoted: by Geoffrey L. Grief and Kathleen Holtz Deal. Grief and Deal, the social workers. Heh.

This amused me so I told the Twitters, as one does, and managed to collect up the following names-to-jobs correlations in remarkably short time:

The Social Workers: Grief and Deal
The Doctors: Dr Death in Victoria, at the RCH, and the wonderfully named Dr B Hawney, a GP
The Dentist: Dr Phang
The Orthopaedists: Dr Cartilage and Dr Killingback (For realz!)
The Accountant: Mr Money
The Fire Chief: Mr Burns
The Writer: Mrs Collum
The Poet: William Wordsworth
The Former White House spokesperson: Larry Speakes
The Banker: Mr Million
The Lawyer: Mr Suit
The Gardener: Mr Gardener (OK, that one's probably less weird)
The Surfer: Layne Beachley
The Neurologist: Dr Brain
The Philippine church leader: Cardinal Sin
The BBC Radio gardening expert: Bob Flowerdew
The Vets: The Payne brothers
The Champion Swimmer: Miss Schwimmer

Apparently there is even a name for this - aptronyms, which just means "names that are apt for the profession or characteristics of the individual".

Got any more for me? Because this is fun :-)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Familius Domestica

The day is warm; spring is finally getting its act together. An early flurry of activity has resulted in three loads of laundry flapping on the line, a big pot of beef and vegetable stew bubbling on the stove, and a red velvet cake in the oven. My husband is outside cutting back tree branches and mowing the grass; the big kids are playing Monopoly in their pyjamas at the dining room table. The 4 year old, dressed as a mermaid in her birthday-present costume, is playing an involved game with her dollies in her room.

And I, now that the washing and dishes are done and the dinner is cooking, am sitting in my sun-soaked loungeroom, cup of tea at hand, about to spend a little quality time with Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum. We have nowhere to be until 2pm, when the girls and I are meeting friends at Werribee Mansion for a playdate. It's a molasses-taffy Saturday, rich and slow and homely, and I love it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

On being messy and what that means

So, I am sort of a messy person, married to another non-neatnik, with three active, busy, packrats of children, in a smallish-medium-sized open plan house. I'm also, while not quite a *hoarder*, certainly reluctant to throw stuff out, because you never know when it might come in handy, right?

And let's not pull any punches here - I am quite lazy when it comes to the category of housework best summarised as "the creation of order and management of clutter". I find things like filing paperwork, putting away clean washing, putting away books and knickknacks and stuff, boring and pointless. I'm not like this (mostly) about tasks that involve making things actually clean - I will vaccuum and wipe benches and scrub toilets like a good hausfrau (although, happily, less often these days, as I have a weekly cleaner at the moment). But things that involve clearance? Yeah ... there I struggle.

Partly this is because it seems to me to involve a monumental amount of continuous effort and energy to maintain - my family brings a never-ending stream of detritus into this house, forms and papers and crafts and books and shoes and clothes and *stuff*, all of which has to be shoehorned into the ZERO remaining storage space we have, or else left on surfaces. When I put in the effort and find it a home, my clear surfaces last a day, maybe two or three if I'm super lucky, then they get filled up again. This turns clutter reduction, and tidiness achievement, into a Sisyphean task that saps my will to live in remarkably short order.

Mostly, therefore, I have learned to slide my eyes over the piles of papers, books, clean clothes, toys and whatnots filling up every corner of my house. I keep the loungeroom pretty clear, and retreat in there when the effort of ignoring the rest of it gets too much. This kind of works, except for three things:

1. I lose stuff way too often because my house is a linked series of black holes into which papers, books, clothes, crafts, material, and other things disappear, never to be seen again. This gets maddening and farcical when you are up to the FOURTH lost kids' birthday party invitation in one term, or realise that you have bought not one, not two, but THREE housewarming gifts for a friend because you have successfully managed to lose the first two before delivering them.

Losing stuff wastes time, wastes money and creates stress. This is bad.

2. I dread - DREAD, I tell you - the blowback of birthdays and Christmas in terms of more stuff to try to find a place to put in the kids' bulging bedrooms. I have flat-out told my family that no one is to give me, personally, an object of any kind ever again - books are always acceptable (of course), and if they feel they must, vouchers or tickets are nice, but any additional THINGS will actually make me burst into tears when I think about trying to find somewhere to put them.

Dreading the inevitable flow of new stuff creates stress, and is ridiculous because a good 30% of the stuff we *do* have is useless, outdated or no longer in good nick. This is bad.

3. I have some very good friends, and one very good mother, who are neat people. And by neat, I mean show-home-pristine style neat. For these people, my home is too cluttered to be comfortable, and I know they feel that way, and it embarasses and shames me when they come here. Part of what happens then is that I end up trying to whip my family into helping tidy up, but this ends in frustration and shouting and tears, because, to go all Dr Seuss, "this mess is too big and too deep and too tall / We cannot clean it up / There is no way at all!"

Feeling ashamed and embarrassed makes me not want to have anyone over, and as I am a social person, this is both bad and sad.

The truth is, I would like my house to be less messy and better organised. I would like to have a place for everything, and everything in its place. I would like to be able to have people over without predictable family trauma being occasioned by the melodrama that we have to go through to make things presentable. I would like not to lose things, and to have clean surfaces and not to feel depressed at the sight from my doorway.

I don't really know how I can actually accomplish this, though, within the parameters of my life. I work fulltime, and I prioritise activities with my kids when not at work. I also read and write a lot, and am frankly unwilling (and apparently unable - I have actually tried but it never sticks) to sacrifice my book time to house clutter busting. I have tried that FlyLady thing which worked for me Not One Whit, and I've looked at a few other methods but none have been sustainable for me.

Of course, I realise that I live in a house with 4 other people, all of whom contribute to making the messes. My partner, like me, makes attempts to sort and clear, but for similar reasons (although in his case, substitute computer games for reading) his efforts are sporadic and limited in their success. My daughters don't really understand what "tidy" looks like, which is down to us, really, as we haven't modelled it for them. And we all keep bringing things home - more things, with no more space...

I don't know what the answer is. I do know that this is something that drags me down and causes me stress, but that I feel almost powerless to significantly change.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day

At 12:30am on Tuesday morning, having been asleep for approximately 2 and a bit hours, I was awoken by a loud crash as the ferocious windstorm outside threw a plant pot against my bedroom window.
Three and half minutes later, as my heart was still racing from the shock of being so rudely awakened, the electricity went off.
Tuesday pretty much went downhill from there.
After a poor and patchy sleep, which wasn't assisted by the two children who ended up in my bed, I got up at 7 to try to do a day's work at home, as my school holiday childcare had fallen through the day before.
There was still no power, however, which meant no Internet, no landline phones, and a maximum of 4 hours on my local drive on the laptop if I was lucky.
As I was pondering this, I got a work phone call at 8am that did not go terrifically well (and that is a charitable description). While chewing on that, my three children decided this would be a great time to start squabbling non stop.
The power company's website suggested power would be back on by 10am. By 10:30am, with no power, fractious kids and a laptop battery that was declining alarmingly, I piled everyone in the car to drive to my husband's work to try to use his wifi to at least download my work mail.
By now I was actually grinding my teeth in frustration, but I kept my cool (sort of) and drove off to Maccas, to get the kids lunch and try to use *their* wifi. THIS ALSO FAILED. I CAN'T EVEN.
So off we went to my workplace - all of us - so I could get some urgent things done, charge the lappy and get my mail. We were there for just under 2 hours and it was among the least enjoyable 100-minute stretches of my life. Tooth extraction would have been less painful. The kids fought, fidgeted, were disruptive to me and my workmates, and all the time I felt shitty about the fact that this was meant to be their school holidays and look how much fun they (weren't) having.
All of us exhausted, we drove home in relative peace just after 3pm, to find that our power was STILL off (WHAT????) and all the food in our fridge and freezer was starting to spoil. The electricity company was now suggesting 5pm ... maybe ... as an estimated time.
I pretty much gave up at this point and curled up on my bed with the 4 year old and read her stories. This was the only non stressful part of my day.
Finally, just after 4:30pm, the power did come back on, I willingly let the kids have an hour's TV time, and I got some urgent work things finished. I then spent 2 hours frantically trying to cook all the defrosted meat so it wasn't wasted, serving dinner to the once-again bickering children, and assessing the damage in the fridge (pretty bad).
By the time I tumbled into bed at 9:30, I was so far beyond done, Done wasn't even a dot in the rear view mirror. The whole day was a litany of Things Just Being Hard and Not Working, with very few breaks being caught. I slid into sleep with a deep and profound relief that it was over, and I have to say, it's not often I consider an entire day such a write-off in this way. Generally I tend to the view that as I live a privileged, soft and happy life, it behooves me to be appropriately aware of this and appreciative of every day I'm given. And I mostly am. Really.
But Tuesday? It sucked, and I'm glad it's gone. THE END.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Trial (Poem)

This is a poem I wrote with an eye to entering the Thunderbolt Prize for Crime Writing. I wasn't completely happy with it, plus I got busy and missed the submission deadline, but I do think it's good enough to be worth an airing somewhere. Maybe. You decide.

Warning: This is not my usual sort of poem, and the content may disturb some readers. There are no fluffy bunnies floating on pink clouds in this one.


they say murder is the ultimate crime, but I dunno
watching those girls' eyes on the CCTV as they talked about it -

gate leave for the weekend, thank God for that
I invited a few of the blokes around for a barbie, hon, take your mind off things
helluva jury to be on, mate,
better you than me, I saw on the news -

wait, you're not 'sposed to talk to him about it.
want another chop, love?

the defence lawyer's eyes are weird. hooded, like a snake's
he waggles his thick eyebrows at us as he's making some point or other;
it's probably meant to look clever, but it just looks bizarre.
Millie, the next juror along, makes her gasping half-giggle that drives everyone bananas.
"Recess!" says the judge, her designer glasses rubbing a red splotch on her nose

in the jury room, I drink sour orange juice, the cheap concentrate kind and tot up evidence on my notepad.
"Maaaaate, not yet, mate!" says the foreman, a big guy with a huge shiny bald head
but I want to see it laid out, in marks on a page
(like the marks on those girls' arms and legs, in the photos)

after the break the lawyers argue about some inconsequential shit
Thanh, the girl in front of me, draws delicate little goldfish on her notebook, while
beside me, Millie snores softly. It's boring as batshit, this,
and we don't understand it anyway, they don't even want us to
just want to tick a box so they can say we were told.

all I care about is - a) did he do it? b) how hard can we smash him if he did?

tomorrow we get to hear from the accused, the man himself
he's been sitting in that box, looking as bored as we are, for days -
ordinary enough looking fella, but it just goes to show, I guess.

I'm glad, anyway, they didn't make the girls come in to testify.
that would've been all kinds of cruel, and anyway,
it wasn't like that scum of a defence lawyer didn't still ask them the most horrific -
no, the most disgusting -
shit you can imagine. The three women on the jury all cried, after,
while the foreman raged, and I went and threw up in the toilet.
people shouldn't have to hear it. but then, people shouldn't have to feel it either
those poor girls. I see them in my dreams, now -

in the witness box, he looks cool, calm; he's wearing a light blue suit
the stripey tie doesn't match, looks very 80s actually.
his lawyer takes him through his story, his blanket of denials,
mitigations and protestations and disclaimers. I feel like my head is full of smoke
Thanh passes a note back that says, I just want to punch him.
The foreman, seeing it, nods vigorously a bunch of times.

later, they give us the case. it's a funny way of saying it
this case has been ours, like it or not, since we sat down for the first time.

it doesn't take us long. we all agree, too
unbelievable arsehole, says Mitch the welder, and we all nod gravely
as if he's just spoken some transcendental truth.

so say we all, Your Honour -
the accused - no, the convicted criminal - looks at us for a long moment
I wish I could say his lip curls or something, but he just turns away.

in the jury room, we gather up our things, exchange handshakes and hugs
we all say we're relieved, glad it's over -
what a laugh. as if it is.

later, I see them in my dream again
and they're laughing, laughing, as behind them
the monster coils to strike.

- Kathy, September 2013