Monday, December 30, 2013

This year around here

As the end of the year is upon us (and how in hell did THAT happen, amirite?), I thought it was timely to once again turn my thoughts to how 2013 has played out here on Play, Eat, Learn, Live.

Firstly, from an overview perspective: the year saw a slight decline in both PVs and posts (this post will make the 150th for this year, to last year's 184). The decline was proportionate - ie the reduced number of PVs is about commensurate with the average views per post x reduced number of posts. I am guessing this suggests that my readership numbers here are fairly stable, and, which I also suspected but wasn't sure of, reasonably consistent year to year across categories.

In terms of what drew the eyeballs most this year, my top 5 posts were:

1. Fox in the Box restaurant review (August)
This review that I wrote of a beautiful little gluten free cafe in Gardenvale is now my third top post of all time, and not surprisingly, as the cafe promoted it on their own Facebook page. (Stats tells me a lot of the traffic originated from there).

2. The stream of my consciousness (November)
This is the genuine puzzler of this year. Numerically my second-best post of the year by quite a margin, and currently sitting at 6 in my all-time top 20 list, this is a post about - quite literally - nothing; just crap I was thinking about at the time. It only got the usual one-Tweet promotion, that was all. Yet, it got hammered. Go figure it.

3. Reading Notes: Destination Saigon (June)
I am delighted that this book review came in at number 3 (and is currently sitting at 13 on my alltime list too). The author promoted the piece repeatedly, as did I, and it's genuinely exciting to me that a book review came in among the top performers.

4. Can you struggle on $250k a year? (March)
This was my slightly ranty opinion piece on the superannuation comments of Joel Fitzgibbon earlier in the year. I was somewhat trenchant. People read it, apparently.

5. Reading Notes: Questions of Travel and The Burial (March)
Again, my cheer that a second book review post performed solidly enough to come in at number 5 is immense. This particular double-header review, which was part of both my Australian Women Writers Challenge and my Stella prize longlist challenge, drew traffic from the AWWC site as well as Twitter and one of the authors.

One trend that continued this year was the fading away of comments. Like last year, there was no corresponding drop in PVs; it's just that less people seem to want to talk about stuff (or at least nor here). There was a substantial uptick of people tweeting their thoughts about posts to me, or even emailing them, rather than making actual comments on the blog. I'm not sure why this is so, but it is. I find it mildly disheartening; I used to love the conversations I had in the comments section, and I miss them. It's the way the world is going though, I think.

In terms of what I did with the blog this year, there was a marked divide between the first and second halves, largely due to commencing my fulltime job in July, after which the opportunities for blogging became much scantier. I still did primarily the same sorts of posts, but just a lot less of 'em, and with a lot more hand-wringing. In terms of categories, there were:

- 24 book reviews (here - plus another 7 straight reviews over at The Shake, a review at Dark Matter Fanzine and a Booker composite review at Global Comment)
- 29 poems, of which the most read was January's villanelle, Schoolyard, and a poem that I wrote in February but published in November called The Beginning of the Holiday)
- 10 op-ed posts on a range of topics
- 15 that could be reasonably described as slice of life
- 8 that were about holidays
- 15 posts that were about work, and the challenge of juggling work and family

The rest were a hodgepodge - a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

I've been thinking hard about whether I want to keep going with this blog in 2014. As things stand at the moment, I am probably finding it less of an outlet than Twitter, and something of a commitment at a time when I am struggling a bit with managing all the aspects of my life.

I'll certainly be blogging in January - I've signed up to do the Month of Poetry challenge and will be posting most if not all of my poems here. Beyond that, though, I just don't know. I'm reluctant in some ways to let it go, as I look back fondly over all the birthday and holiday posts, the little quirky stories, the enthusiasms, the literary scrapbooking that I've done here.

At the same time, as the kids get older, what I can say or should say about them in this the ever-living Internet is more limited all the time. Prudence and ethics also precludes me from writing in more than very elliptical terms about work or private life dilemmas. And as my family, my work and my dilemmas take up 85% of my headspace at any given moment, that leaves only the 15% of stuff that isn't that (poems, books, logistics, opinions and observations) to write about. Which would be enough, if I didn't also have three excellent online magazines who are willing and able to take my book reviews / literary content - so I do not, anymore, need this blog for that purpose.

So, I don't know. I'm still thinking on it. We'll see how things rest when Month of Poetry finishes. But if it should happen that this is the last of these wrap up posts - well, I'd like to say thank you for the reads and the encouragement, and may the road rise gently to meet you.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Red hair, moon face and crinkle cut eyes: on not loving the bodily self

So I got my hair coloured yesterday. Instead of my usual blonde-ish highlights on my natural mid-brown hair, I opted to try something different, and got an all-over dark red colour. It's not too flamboyant, but it's certainly a change for me, and although I like it., I'm not quite used to it yet. (Neither is my family - my 8 year old, after a huge doubletake, ordered me to go back to the hairdresser and get them to put back my "normal" hair :-)

While tweeting the mandatory new hair selfie, and changing my Twitter profile picture accordingly, I found myself doing a thing I do a lot, which is this: I deprecated my appearance.

Oh, I did it rationally - I have such a round, fat face! (I do); I have so many eye wrinkles! (I do) - but the fact remains that I did it, when I didn't need to. The pic was designed to show (and show off, because I like it) the colorant in my hair, nothing else. Why did I feel the need to even say anything further about the picture or the face captured in it?

I started thinking today, while at the cricket with my big girls (and such fun it was ... but that's a story for another day) about the problematic relationship I have with myself as a physical, embodied person. I have adverted to this before, but I am unpicking more and more what it means to have a concept of myself that is almost entirely rooted in my mental capacity and psyche; a concept that actually pushes away any notion of me as a physical person in an actual body that is seen and known and understood by others to be part of the totality of me.

This is the bedrock of one of the chief riddles (according to some of my friends) of me: that I rate my own appearance very, very low, while still possessing quite healthy self-esteem and reasonably solid estimation of my intelligence (both logical and emotional) and personality. I think I'm an OK person most of the time, and someone you'd want on your team if you were doing something tricky or challenging. I don't - mostly - dislike myself. And yet my self perception of what I look like, and how this is perceived by others, is that I'm one of nature's warthogs. Moonface, I say. Middle-aged hausfrau, I frequently joke. Big nosed. Squirrel cheeked. Fat, but that goes without saying, and is less clearly pejorative (as applied by me) than the others.

It interests me, this separation that I seem to have between my self and my body. I would say from my observations of others that for many people, perhaps especially many women, low self perception of appearance is often married to low self esteem generally. Certainly, women who believe themselves to be ugly are rarely unaffected by this in the way they live their lives - yet, for the most part, I am. I don't often even think about my appearance, except for certain peripheral quirks that I notice and attend to (eg. I have a must-have-beautiful-fingernails thing going on, but nevermind). When I do think about it, I assume that everyone else sees me the way I see myself, and this doesn't really bother me. I am much, much more concerned with how I am perceived as a personality / intellect than I am with how my appearance is judged - at least in part because I assume I know what that judgement is.

Of course, I am in a position in my life where being of unprepossessing appearance need not impact me if I don't choose to permit it to. I do a job in which my appearance is irrelevant and treated as such by all my colleagues. I'm in a long term stable relationship, so I am not in that miserable crapshoot of having to take my face to town, so to speak, to fulfill pair-bonding imperatives of various kinds. And my appearance is not unusual enough to create an impediment to slipping invisibly through the world, wearing my magic cloak of middle class straight white privilege. Indeed, you could argue
(I frequently have) that being a warthog makes blending into one's environment that much easier; beauty draws the eye, in nature, man, woman and child, and creates a spotlight whether you want one or not.

Still, and this must be said, I do wonder sometimes if my conviction of the low value of body-me has grown from some unchancy and dysfunctional roots. I grew up in a household where many things were wonderful and many things, such as brains, were celebrated; but bodies, and it must be said especially female bodies, were not among them. I grew up in a school where, as a round-faced, round-eyed, pale grub of a child among primarily beautiful children with darker skin, my unexciting appearance was frequently, constantly, a source of derision. (These days we'd say it was bullying, but after a few incidents in my early years, the persecution was rarely physical, so back then, it was seen as the normal rough and tumble of childhood). I had some unhealthy things happen in early adulthood which, among other things, cemented in my self-perception as, to paraphrase an old song, so damn unpretty.

I'm not sure, at my age and stage of life, if there is any point even trying to address this, or whether it really doesn't matter anyway. You understand, I'm not seeking to flip a switch and perceive myself as beautiful all of a sudden - that would be pointless and hilariously inaccurate. I just wonder, with wistfulness, sometimes, if it would be possible for me to learn to see my physical self with more kindness and nuance than I do now, the way I suspect others - particularly those who love me - do. I don't know how that would happen, or if it can. It's something I do think on, though, especially when something happens that brings an aspect of my appearance into focus ... like changing the colour of my hair.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Understar (A Christmas card in a poem)

This year, although I tried, there was no time
or heart for cards and upbeat Christmas letter
Instead I bring this offering in rhyme
(a poem, if it were a little better).

This year, as summer steals in soft and cool
and tension mounts in tired, wired girls,
I hope the day is not an end, just tool
a flag from which some rest and peace unfurls.

This year, I wish, as always, for world peace
(and more realistically, for peace at your table)
I hope you all eat well from bounteous feasts
and find some sweetness nestled, where you're able.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night :-) Catch you on NYE for the blog stats year-ender.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What we're doing on our holidays

The time I have off work at the moment - from Thursday last until 6 January - is overlapped by my partner's leave for 9 days; he's working Monday, but then off from Christmas Eve til the 2nd. This gives us 9 days, inclusive of the three public holidays, to try to do some family recovering from what has truly been a monster of a year in more ways than one.

We're going the staycation again - we haven't organised to go anywhere, and truthfully I think we are all too tired to really get any value out of venturing far from home base anyway. But we still have some fun things in prospect, things that I hope will bring us all enjoyment and refreshment.

Some good things have already happened; the kids enjoyed their traditional last day of school party which we hosted here on Friday, I very much enjoyed a night out in town with my Twitter friends last night (happy birthday E!) and we hosted my partner's family here today for a slap-up Christmas BBQ lunch. Several more are in view. Specific things we have planned are:

-Christmas Day at my aunt's vineyard in the Yarra Valley
- Gold Class Hobbit viewing on Boxing Day for the grown ups while the kids go strawberry picking with their grandparents
- me taking the older two girls to day 3 of the Melbourne Test match with friends
- a day in the city to belatedly check out the Christmas windows
- a day at Adventure Park in Geelong because they have been begging for it
- having friends over for a BBQ with their new puppeeeee

In addition to these family things, we have more personal goals and ideas. I want to get my hair cut and coloured, make a strong start on the Month of Poetry challenge for January, catch up on reading and do some serious sleeping. G, my partner, wants to attend to a few niggling things, sort his closets, and get in some game time. Both my elder girls want to build in catch ups with their friends (this will probably happen in the two days after G is back at work, while I am still home). C, my beautiful almost-5, wants to learn some letters.

I think what we all want, and certainly what we all need, is just downtime - the chance to be, together, even as we are doing. For me, three days into my leave, I can feel the knots loosening and I know that by the time I'm sipping my uncle's new vintage merlot on Christmas Day, I am going to be beyond the wave of work, routine and school stressors altogether. This is completely what needs to happen and I welcome it with wide open arms.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Vignette from a kinder waiting room

It's Wednesday, the last day of kindergarten, and more than the usual allocation of mothers are clustered around the kinder door, marking the moment, waiting for the session to begin and the year to end. I, who have had no part in Wednesday kinder since starting fulltime work in July, am sitting between two hijab-wearing mums, chatting, reminiscing. The capacity for maudlin sentiment is rising exponentially.

"So your girl is going to [local primary school]?" I say to one of the mums. She's a beautiful, blue-eyed woman from Palestine, her white hijab carefully embroidered with sequins. Like me, this child leaving kinder is her third daughter, but for her it's not the end of the road, as the bump under her dress attests.

"Of course, yes," she nods. "With my other two, like yours."

The mum on the other side of me, who originates from Saudi Arabia, says, "Mine is going to [local Islamic school] with her brothers, but I'm not so sure I'll keep them there..."

"Oh?" I say.

"It's good from a religion viewpoint," she says, shifting her curly-haired daughter on her knee. "But, you know..."

"I never would send mine to an Arabic school," asserts the other mum positively. "No, no, no. They live here, I want them to be Aussies." Her accent turns the word into a softer, prettier thing than it is - Osssssies, long on the sibilant, short on flat vowels.

"I know," says the other, and sighs. "Besides - and I'm not racist, but - all the teachers are Indians. You know," she appeals to the other mum, who makes a non-committal noise.

"It's just ... I drive a nice car, I own my own house, I want my kids to be taught well," she says plaintively. "And they don't ... I mean , I'm not a racist, you understand..."

The other mum appeals to me suddenly. "You, what about you? Your girls will all go to [local primary school]?"

"Yes," I nod. "Then to a public secondary, probably. I think."

The Saudi mum sniffs. "Not a religion school, then? Well, I don't know..."

I shake my head. "No, not for us, I don't think so..." I say.

The Palestinian mum says, "But you are not only Ossie, isn't it?"

"You look a bit woggy," interposes an Italian dad from the other side of the room, helpfully. "I mean, no offence, but..."

I laugh. "Mostly just a skip, sorry," I say. "A little bit of this and little bit of that, but all in the dim dark past." I don't go into my Spanish and Jewish ancestors; those one-off people are generations ago and while they gifted me with a lightly olive complexion and hazel eyes, I don't feel any cultural connection to their traditions. I am, like many white Australians, shallow-rooted, but such as they are, my roots are here.

The Saudi mum throws a friendly arm around my shoulder. "Never mind," she says consolingly. My best kinder mum friend, a Filipina woman, shoots me a sympathetic grimace, and I grin back.

My daughter tugs at another mum's hijab and says, "It's so pretty. Mummy, you should wear one!"

We all smile, and the door opens to the last of all the days.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On friendships at work

As the end of the working year approaches at a breakneck pace, I've been thinking a bit today about the good and bad parts of working back in a salaried / steady role again after my stint as a freelance consultant.

I realised that I've spent quite a few blog posts recently in cryptic grumbling about the aspects that I'm finding challenging, and that this probably gives a skewed picture of the actual complexities. And one of the things I haven't really focused on is the core psychosocial benefit that I derive from working in one place, onsite, with colleagues rather than clients - and that is work friendships.

I am a fairly extroverted person (although not unambiguously - I usually straddle the E/I divide in Myers Briggs) and I like people. I like meeting new people, I like getting to know them, I like sharing parts of myself and receiving other people's personalities in exchange. I have met a lot of new people over the past 5 months, and I have found this unequivocally interesting, energising and one of the best parts of the job.

Even better than the meeting of new people, though, is when it becomes apparent that you have clicked with one or more of them, and that the possibility of a genuine friendship exists. Of course you can't be besties with everyone and nor would I want to be, but in every workplace, I have had one or two work friendships that were much more than friendly collegiality. I have lost touch with my work friends from early casual jobs, unfortunately, but three of my best friends in the world are all people I met and got to know at various career job workplaces.

So it has been a great satisfaction to me that in this not-so-new job of mine, I have made a friend, and am on the way to making a couple more. Lots of the people I work with are nice, and generally speaking, I like them all; but beyond that, I have a work friend who I trust and who I feel has my back, and that is very important to me.