Sunday, July 16, 2017

Three weeks in review, three weeks in view

It has been a busy but pretty good three weeks here since I last took stock on 25 June. This period has straddled both the winter school holidays and my 10 day leave period from work, so activities have been somewhat atypical, but in a pretty positive way.

The next three weeks encompasses the two-week stay of our Japanese exchange student, which should be fun but probably also quite tiring. Indeed, after she returns home, we are then immediately into Stargate convention, a heavy work period, and less than a month away from our Sydney trip. Life has wings!

IN REVIEW  (26 June - 16 July)
- School holidays for kids and 10 days leave for me
- OzComicCon (1-2 July)
- Grandparent holidays for all three kids
- 4 days away on Mornington Peninsula with family friends
- Gymnastics day program for 8 year old
- Bounce! trip with friends for 12 and 8 year olds
- First ever sleepover birthday at a friend's house for 8 year old
- Ice skating for 12 year old and friend
- Catch up with our Mothers Group friends
- 6.5 x paid work days for me (2.5 in week of 26 June, 4 in week of 10 July)
- Commenced big new project (work)
- Sold a poem for journal publication!! (This was the most exciting thing I think)
- Online Book Club (26 June) which discussed the wonderful Their Brilliant Careers
- Got my hair coloured (this is an annual event only, thus worth noting :-)

IN VIEW  (17 July - 6 August)
- Exchange student coming to stay: 23 July - 5 August. While she is here we will be taking her to Werribee Zoo, the Dandenongs, the beach, and (at her request) ice skating!
- Eldest's 14th birthday dinner  (4 August)
- The usual extracurriculars each week: gymnastics, jujitsu, chess, skating
- Next interschool debate for eldest
- Cardiologist appt for me regarding my increasingly troublesome heart arythmmia
- 2 x lunches with friends (at this stage! This number may grow :-)
- Approximately 11-12 days of paid work across three projects  (could be as low as 10 or as high as 14 depending)
- Submit 2 more poems for publication and / or competitions
- Next Online Book Club  (19 July) discussing Roxane Gay's Hunger
- REALLY get passport applications done!!!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Cape Schanck

Yesterday we took our three kids and a friend's two to Cape Schanck to see the Lighthouse, Museum and do the walk down to Pebble Beach.

We haven't been to Cape Schanck since our elder two daughters were 3.5 and 2 (they are now about to turn 14 and just turned 12!), but it was oddly reassuring to see how little it has changed in the elapsed decade, and how accurate my visual memories are of our previous visit.

I sometimes worry that my memory is going a bit funky, but at least the long term portion seems reasonably intact.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

McClelland Sculpture Park

It is winter school holidays here, and today we went to the McClelland Sculpture Park in Langwarrin. We had never been before, but it was very interesting indeed. Here are some of the better shots.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Heart (Poem)

this is how it is:
sometimes my heart beats a sideways tattoo
and death feels closer than the window
the moon shining through, penny-bright

like this:
the pressure and the tingling
breathing swallowed and shallowed

the headcanon of my life rewriting itself
she died relatively young, but then
she was never the most robust

we might all be made of stars, but if that's so
it is a difficult and distant aging dwarf swimming in my blood
a stranger to earth and strong lovely things

this is how it is.
no long years at my feet, or so it feels
the journey into the west before me,
the path lost in the night.

I have a heart and my heart is broken
and that is the only true thing
it is broken and it may never be healed
no one lives on beyond their heart's strength

and all my words
all my pale, idiotic grasping
all my loving and all the love I am given
cannot fix what is broken
cannot repair that rift or reset that clock

and I close my eyes and dream of impossible things
and ask the angel to open my eyes again
for another day.

- Kathy, 3/07/17

Monday, June 26, 2017

Year Two in Business

Yesterday was the second anniversary of leaving my salaried job and striking out on my own in business as a freelancer. That must mean it's time for a look at how things went this year!

Let's start with some stats.  This year, I have:

- Worked for 4 big clients - 3 universities and 1 state government agency. The balance of the work has been roughly 40% University A, 30% University B, 20% University C, and 10% state government. I think it's pretty conclusive that the tertiary education sector has emerged as my key niche market at this stage of the game.

- Had 9 weeks completely off - a week apiece in the July, September and Easter school holidays, 4 weeks over summer, a week of being bedridden with flu in August, and one week in early September when I had an unexpected mid-project lull and literally no work in. Taking the time from 23 December til 18 January off was FANTASTIC and I hope I can do it like that every year!

- Worked an average of 4 days a week in the 43 weeks I worked (this was unevenly deployed, with a few 10-day-no-break stretches and some weeks with only a couple of working days in them).

- Attended client sites for meetings an average of 1 day a week except in my Monster Quarter, where it was usually 2 days a week.

- Had a very uneven spread of work across the year, with Monster Quarter 2 (Sept-Dec) carrying 35% of the overall year's work while Quarter 3 (Jan-March) carried only 17% (this was largely due to the 4 week break and then slow start back to projects). Quarters 1 and 4 were similar to each other, carrying 25% and 23% respectively each.

- Made use of subcontract labour to deal with overflow work. Using subbies was a new experience, with a significant learning curve, for me, but as I progress in business, it's an absolutely necessary tool to have in your box for those pressured times.

- Out-earned the salary I was on in the fulltime job I left in June 2015 by 10% in gross terms, although in real terms, this isn't true as it doesn't include superannuation (I made a self-contribution of 9% of earnings this year, which left me basically level-pegging). Still, if I'd have stayed in that fulltime job, I would've worked 240 days in the year as opposed to the 172 I actually worked this year, so working 35% less days for the same money strikes me as a good outcome! This represents a growth of 27% on my earnings in 2015-16, and given that I set myself a goal of 5% growth, I think I can safely say I kicked that to the curb.

Overall it has been another good year in less quantifiable terms, although more challenging than Year One (and not just because of the increased workload). I have navigated some complex projects in ways that were ultimately satisfying but caused a few sleepless nights along the way. I am still a lot happier and more free doing this than I was on salary, but the rubber certainly hit the road a lot more firmly this year.

Looking back at this time last year, I note that my goals for year two in business were:

- Save 70% of the Japan holiday money: No, I did not quite do this. I saved enough for the airfares, travel insurance and most accommodation, but that is around 60% of the total cost. Still, I made good inroads!
- Increase earnings by 5%: Kicked it (see above).
- Take at least 8 weeks off, including 4 in the summer: Yes indeeeeed!

So, I'm going to just keep swimming in business in 2017-18. I'm not ruling out an eventual return to some kind of salaried work, but for now, this is what suits me and my family best. My goals for 2017-18 are:

1. Get within 10% of 2016-17 earnings: To be honest, I don't have or want to have a growth goal for earnings in the coming year. I earned plenty for our needs this year, and I think a lot of it was a bit flukey, frankly. I don't want to set myself up to be crushed when it turns out that I can't make more rain this time, in a slowing market for my kind of work. I am continuing with my biggest project through til November and have two more biggish ones coming online in July, but replicating this big year probably isn't fully achievable, especially given the time out I'll be taking in what is traditionally one of the hottest work zones of the year.

2. Take 10 weeks off: This financial year includes our long-anticipated trip to Japan in the first three weeks of April. It's my intention to take 4 weeks off altogether for that - a few days either side of the travel for prep / recovery. I'll also be taking a week each in the July and September school hols, and I really, really want to repeat the 4 weeks off over summer.

3. Try to expand my client base: Ideally I'd like to have 5-7 regular clients, rather than the 3 regular and 1 intermittent I have now. I think it would be a much more stable way to operate. So I'll be trying for that in 2017-18.

Onwards and upwards, then!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Three weeks in review, three weeks in view

So I have been super slack with this lately - life has been busy +++, mostly in a good way but quite challengingly too.

A great deal has happened since I last wrote about daily things on 4 June. I'm not going to try to capture everything, just the high notes. It's been a very busy time and I expect it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, so I am steering away from weekly updates and moving towards more of a clumping model. I still find it quite a helpful tool, for family and planning purposes.

Health-wise, things have been mostly OK, with a mild cold moving through the family and I did have a couple of dodgy runs with my heart issues. No one has been too desperately ill though.

The three weeks coming up incorporates the winter school holidays and a 10-day work break for me, so the targets look a little different to the norm, but we will still be busy - just a different kind of busy! I personally am glad that we are now past the winter solstice and have moved ahead with booking our Japan holiday for next year - both those things are helping to loosen the chokehold of winter on my feels.

I expect to blog a little over the coming three weeks - as the mood takes me, really - but I am definitely hoping to get a review of Their Brilliant Careers up. Other than that, we'll have to see!

IN REVIEW (5 June - 25 June)
- 8 days paid work performed, all for one client  (2x 2.5 day weeks and 1 x 3 day week)
- PT x 2
- Travel planned and booked for Japan trip in April 2018 (airfares paid for)
- Gymnastics x 3; Jujitsu x 3; Ice-Skating x 1 regular lesson, 1 competition, and 1 grading assessment; Chess x 2 (*There was no chess or ice skating on the long weekend)
- Inter-school debate for eldest (win!)
- Confirmation and correspondence with our forthcoming Japanese exchange student
- Attended Continuum 13 (science fiction convention)
- Quoted for, and secured, a big new freelance work project to commence July 2017
- Planned, hosted and greatly enjoyed my How to Host a Murder birthday dinner party (17 June)
- Family birthday lunch for me
- Commenced work on my planned poetry chapbook
- Saw Wonder Woman at the cinema (YES that counts as a highlight!!)
- Had 3 x coffee catch-ups with friends
- Went out for family brunch and market shopping
- FINALLY sorted out my superannuation muddle (this is 100% the biggest actual achievement of the past three weeks)

IN VIEW (26 June - 16 July)
- 5.5 days paid work (2.5 days this week, 3 days in week of 10 July)
- PT x 2 (skipping in my work vacation week)
- 10-day work vacation for me (29 June - 9 July)
- Online Book Club, discussing Their Brilliant Careers (tomorrow night!)
- Gymnastics x 1; Jujitsu grading assessment (No chess or skating now til next term)
- Parent-teacher interviews for primary schooler
- Attend and assist at pop culture stall - OzComicCon (1-2 July)
- Sleepover birthday attendance for youngest and eldest (different parties!)
- Catch-ups with kids and friends x 3
- 3 days away by the beach with family friends (staying somewhere with a wood heater yay!)
- Kick-off for new big work project in week of 10 July
- Gymnastics holiday program (youngest)
- Big yard clean-up (this has been put off waaaaay too long)
- Get passports done I REALLY MEAN IT THIS TIME
- Progress poetry book to next stage

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A lot of movement, very quickly

The past two weeks (and the two to come) have been absolutely packed with stuff changing, stuff happening and stuff being foreshadowed.

Some of it is not things I can talk about publicly, but some of it is. Things like booking travel to Japan, confirming our hosting of an exchange student, and getting serious about my poetry book that I am going to self publish (to the extent of hiring an editor and a designer).

There have been no less than three major new work opportunities arise for quoting on. There have been cons attended  (Continuum) and cons booked / anticipated  (ComicCon at the end of this month, and the Return to the Gate 20th Anniversary Stargate con in August, which I am taking my eldest daughter to because YES we are just that nerdy). There have been books read and reviewed and a book group project started successfully. There have been debates won. On Saturday, there will be the first adult dinner party I have hosted in many years as a How to Host a Murder party game.

I feel pleased that life seems so ... unstuck ... all of a sudden, even though I am also a bit breathless at the relentless pace of it all. (I am also more than slightly terrified at what I have to do financially in the coming month, as I pay for our Japan flights, make my annual super contribution, pay school and extracurricular fees, and pay my quarterly tax bill).

When things start moving they often seem to keep going quite fast for a while, or at least that has been my experience. Between work - if even one of the three opportunities come off, I'll be moderately busy, and I think I am likely to get two of the three, which means very busy - the exchange student, family birthdays, poetry book, cons, and our planned Sydney holiday, I do not realistically expect to draw breath before October, and that's if I'm lucky.

None of this is bad. Indeed, most of it is very, very good. Bit tiring, but good! The trick is not to get so lost in it all that I lose my grip on myself though.

Monday, June 12, 2017

A Sevenling Before Solstice (Poem)

Early winter is not, traditionally, one of my better times of the year. I usually improve a little once we're past my birthday and the winter solstice. However, right now, days can be good, but nights are just not - it's high-tide for night panics and anxiety, which means insomnia +++. Plus side - I get lots of reading and poeming done, so.

I know three things about the night in winter:
it is sharp with tooth-bright stars; its reach is endless;
its cold is deathless, and whispers death to all that yearns for light.

I dream three things on winter nights:
monsters red in tooth in claw; a sadness that never ceases ever;
the death of love and all loved things.

the wolf has eaten the sun, and the darkness will not die tonight.

- Kathy, 12/06/17

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Continuum 2017

I had myself the loveliest little nerdy writerly day today. I went to Continuum 13, the Australian speculative fiction conference.

The con runs over the Queen's Birthday long weekend each June, and I have wanted to go for literally *years*. But the kids were too little to leave for a while ... then I was too sick for a couple of years ... then it collided with OzComicCon, at which I have standing duties helping out at a friend's merch stall.

This year, the stars finally aligned and I was able to get in for a full day today. Truth be told, I could've gone for two days if I had wanted to, but I felt bad about leaving my family for too much of the long weekend, and I have found in the past that two days of a con often exhausts me. So, after perusing the program, I picked today to go, and I had just the best time.

Writer / reader cons like this are such a different beast to the pop culture nerdcons like ComicCon and Supanova, with their teeming thousands. This was a small, intimate con - panel audiences ranged from maybe 25 to 80 in size, and there was ample opportunity to talk to panellists both within sessions and afterwards. People were chatty, and the atmosphere was friendly. Blessedly, it was not crowded at any time - that was a huge plus for me.

The con's guest of honour was prolific urban fantasy, horror and sci fi writer Seanan McGuire (who also writes as Mira Grant). I have read, and liked, several of McGuire's books, and really enjoyed her Newsflesh canon as Mira Grant (it has the distinction of being literally the only zombie series I have EVER enjoyed, or indeed finished). I was perhaps not as huge a fan as some of my friends, although after her highly engaging, entertaining and insightful (not to mention funny) keynote, I am now! I'd heard she was a good speaker but the reports failed to do her justice - she was excellent. Her session was my biggest highlight of a day that wasn't short on good moments.

I also went to panels on:

- Fairytales and fairytale retellings: This was terrific, and has inspired me to go back to my Month of Poetry poems from this year.

- White-washing in speculative fiction: This was interesting, if a little diffuse.

- Journey to the West: This was a great session on the Chinese classic novel that has been adapted multiple times for multiple media - the best-known version to Western viewers being the Monkey TV series.

- Cli-Fi: This panel, about climate change fiction, was probably really good, but as I couldn't hear most of it, I wouldn't know. The room it was in had no soundproofing and was directly adjacent to the very noisy dealers' area.

- Women in Star Wars: This was just pure fun. One of my friends was a panellist, and I could've listened to the 5 panellists talk for a LOT longer.

- Cityscapes: I almost didn't hang around for the last session but I am so glad I did - this was fantastic, probably the most thinky panel of the day, and I am still musing on it.

Overall, it was a day exceedingly well spent in terms of enjoyment, inspiration for my own writing, and connection. I will 100% be back next year!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Reading Notes: Where the Trees Were (Inga Simpson)

This review is my third from the Miles Franklin longlist. For earlier reviews, please see here:
The Easy Way Out

This is, in some ways, the most difficult book yet of the Miles Franklin bunch for me to review, because I am torn between wanting to praise it for its considerable virtues, and my unceasing irritation at one central stylistic device that kept pulling me out of the story over and over.

The book, like The Easy Way Out, tackles an issue that is of great interest to me and of great relevance to contemporary Australia (hence, one suspects, its landing on the MF list, which is supposed to prioritise books that speak to the Australian experience in some substantial way). While The Easy Way Out tackles assisted dying, Where the Trees Were takes on cultural appropriation within museology, and the argument for repatriation of cultural artefacts that belong to indigenous people.

It also uses this as a lens to talk to some extent about Australia's dismal history, and indeed contemporary situation, of mistreatment of indigenous people and culture, but strangely, given the scope, the book is much less about that than it could've been. Primarily, this is a story about growing up in the country in the same Australia, era-wise, as when I was doing my growing up in the city; about the losses that shape and mould an ordinary life; and about how the truths we learn in childhood are both powerful across our whole lives, and dreadfully unreliable in the wider world.

The central protagonist is Jayne - farmer's daughter; part of a crew of close-knit friends from surrounding properties and one from the town; and, later, museum curator in Canberra. The story is unusually rich in well-developed secondary characters - child/teen Jayne's friends, Kieran, Ian and Josh; adult-Jayne's partner, semi-spy Sarah; and Jayne's farmer parents, are all fully realised, complex people. The interplay between Jayne and her supporting cast is written beautifully and with a surety of touch that makes all the relationships feel authentic. I felt like I actually knew all these people by the novel's close, in a way that rarely occurs for books that have a single key protagonist.

There are many minor details in the book that feel unforced but are so resonant (to me, as an Australian who grew up in the same time period, albeit a different place). It is a book embedded in Australia - in chocolate bullets and illegal fireworks, in cycling in Canberra, in the Brindabella bushfires, even in the school texts under study (Jayne, like me, studied Z for Zachariah as her year 7 English text, a traumatising selection that I am still bemused by, as a generation of kids were introduced to the Coming Nuclear Apocalypse at the ripe old age of 12). I enjoyed this aspect of the book immensely - it's one of relatively few I have read that has related the period of my own adolescence in such seemingly casual but beautifully artful detail.

The plot itself concerns the existence on Jayne's family farm of a series of arboglyphs - tree carvings made by the Wiradjuri people to mark the gravesite of a fallen member. The arboglyphs' impact eddies throughout the book, affecting families and relationships, shaping Jayne's career choices, and, indirectly, leading to the most crushing of the traumas of the group's early teen years. It would not be untrue to say that Jayne becomes who she is because of the glyphs.

The pacing in the story works well on the whole, but the way in which it is accomplished brings me to my chief criticism (indeed, only significant one, but it's a biggie) of this novel - IT CHANGES POINT OF VIEW WITH THE ONE PROTAGONIST. By this I mean - Jayne remains the central subject throughout, but the book cuts between the storyline that occurs from the end of her primary schooling up until she leaves high school, which is told in the first person, and adult Jayne's storyline in Canberra, which circles around to meet up with the junior story and is told in the intimate third person. So when we're with 14-year-old Jayne, it's all "I did this and I saw that", then in the next chapter we're rocketed into "Jayne saw the door close behind the security guard" etc.

I am going to slightly belabour this point, because I think it matters. It seemed to me that Simpson is breaking one of the most basic rules of fiction writing (yeah, yeah, rules are made to be broken, but...) in not "agreeing in person", and unlike some other examples of rule-breaking I can think of, she doesn't get away with it.  I have read many a novel that head-hops and shares the POV successfully between multiple characters; I have even seen a person-POV change between different protagonists work, although less commonly (one example is Penni Russon's beautiful Only Ever Always, which has two mirror-protagonists who are usefully separated by the change from third to second person as we move between them.)

But not maintaining agreement in person for the same central protagonist is a serious irritant, as a reader. It drags you out of the story. It doesn't serve to emphasise the time gap between the two halves of the story (I assume that was the intention) - it just serves to create a sense of muddlement in the novel as a whole around what Jayne is trying to do and why, and indeed what the book is trying to do and why.

For me, the first-person POV is markedly more successful, and I think it would've translated extremely well into adult-Jayne's storyline (it's intimate third person as it is - we are never inside anyone else's head, just Jayne's). I feel this would've been a much more coherent, powerful novel without the POV flips, and first person would've been the best choice for the whole thing.

Overall? A good book; an interesting story, well-told, with a notable strong suit in character development, but let down from being the excellent book it could've been by its weird choice with POV. I give it 7/10.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The week in review, the week in view: Week ended 4 June 2017

This week was dominated by the prolonged illness of my 12 year old, who started with a heavy cold last weekend but, but Sunday night, had clearly progressed to a secondary infection in the throat. She was extremely ill, poor poppet - other than the doctor on Monday, to get prescribed her penicillin, she didn't leave the bedroom / bathroom again until Thursday, and even then, was couch-bound.

I worked at home every day except Tuesday to take care of her, when my husband worked at home as I had client site meetings to attend. It was quite challenging, especially on Monday when I also had a rather aggrieved 8 year old home from school on a curriculum day (she had been promised a "Mummy and kid day", which didn't really happen, although we did cuddle up on the couch with popcorn and watched Zootopia for a couple of hours while 12 year old slept).

My little bit of respite came on Wednesday night, when I took my eldest to her third inter-school debate for the year (it was great, she did wonderfully, and they won handily) and then came home to engage with the first meeting of my Online Book Club. It was fantastic - so enjoyable. I did pay for my huge day (work / caretaking / debate / OBC) on Thursday with a day-long stinker of a headache, but it was pretty much worth it.

The 12 year old has finally pulled up, and was able to get to both her extracurriculars this weekend (chess and ice skating), and we even managed a nice family lunch at Bopha Devi in Docklands today, taking advantage of the flawlessly beautiful day.

This weeks is around 3 days of work again, with one full day onsite to a client; all the usual suspects re extracurriculars; and I am optimistically hoping to take a half-day off on Friday to go see Wonder Woman with my husband, and then to spend the Sat-Sun of the long weekend at Continuum, the speculative fiction convention. I am prepared to be derailed on either or both of these, but it's important to have goals.

The term is marching on apace - it's only 2 weeks now until exam week for the eldest as well as grading assessments for jujitsu and skating, and a week after that, holidays start. Second term usually drags more than this for us, so I guess that's something to be grateful for. I am taking 10 days off - the last two days of the school term and the first week of the school hols - and I am looking forward to it, although not in the tongue-hanging-out-desperate way that I was coming up to the Easter break.

- 3 days billable work performed (1 day client site)
- Gymnastics - youngest (Weds), jujitsu - eldest (Fri), chess - middle (Sat), ice skating - middle (Sun)
- Interschool debate for eldest (Weds) - they won and eldest got Best Speaker!
- First Online Book Club meeting (Weds) - Discussing Steven Amsterdam's The Easy Way Out
- Wrote, and published here, two book review posts (The Easy Way Out and Hold), which gave me a lot of satisfaction
- Family lunch at Bopha Devi and walk at Docklands (Sun)

- 3 days work booked (1 day client site)
- Personal training
- Gymnastics - youngest (Weds), jujitsu - eldest (Fri), chess - middle (Sat), ice skating - middle (Sun)
- Hoping to get to see Wonder Woman on Friday with husband
- Continuum Speculative Fiction Convention (Sat-Sun)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Reading Notes: Hold (Kirsten Tranter)

This review is my second from the Miles Franklin Prize Longlist 2017. For my first review, of Steven Amsterdam's The Easy Way Out, see here.

I was interested in Kirsten Tranter's novel as soon as I read the precis, for one important reason: this book features a hidden / secret room device.

One of my most recurring dream tropes is that of the "found room". This is not an uncommon dream archetype, and has a range of possible meanings, but it's something that has permeated my dreaming life for many years.

In my dreams, I am usually in my own current house, or occasionally in the house I was brought up in. I discover a door in the wall of a familiar room - a door I have never noticed before. I go through and find an unexpected new room - sometimes it's tiny, airless and claustrophic, like a little boxroom, whereas sometimes it's a long low narrow room, like an enclosed sun-porch.

My reaction to finding the room varies, presumably depending on what Jungian symbolism my psyche is using to convey meaning at the time. These dreams are, however, always extremely vivid, and feel significant - they are less a jumble of sense impressions and more an assertion of truths absorbed subconsciously, trying to work their way up to the surface.

Although the hidden / found room in Tranter's novel is not a dream, it has a definite dreamlike quality to it, and its function in the story is both Jungian and (depending on your interpretation) Freudian. Hold is, at its heart, a story of life after loss, and coming to terms with grief; the found room occupies a central symbolic role in the journey of the protagonist to make some sense of, and begin to transition through, the past in which she is mired.

Hold is an intelligent, sensitive and only occasionally over-egged novel. The disparate elements are woven together skillfully to reinforce the overall affect, which is a combination of yearning, melancholy and detachment from life. That said, while Shelley, the book illustrator / designer protagonist, is detached, it is in a completely different way to The Easy Way Out's Evan. Shelley's emotional flatness is a response to, and is fuelled by, the opening event of the novel, which is the drowning death at Bronte Beach of her boyfriend Conrad.

The novel is slow to start - for me, it began to get really interesting only when Shelley and her new partner, the oily David (did NOT like him), have moved into their shared terrace house and Shelley has discovered a hidden room, accessible through a stiff door hidden in the wardrobe of the master bedroom, and started to connect the small, secret space with her own emotions. Three years after Conrad's death, Shelley is not over him, or her loss - Tranter does a very subtle and effective job of showing this, rather than telling - and the room becomes the locus of the part of her that is not past this experience and is holding on to Conrad, holding tightly and painfully, despite repartnering.

Where this book is most effective - and to be clear, I think it is, on the whole, very effective - is in the way it delicately connects the small, brooding room with Shelley's fixations around Conrad. The introduction of the character Kieran, with his striking physical resemblance to Conrad, could have felt contrived, but it's a testament to Tranter's skill that it doesn't - rather, it evokes a strangeness and lucid-dream quality that serves the novel's overall trajectory well. The weaving of the fracturing relationship with David, the almost other-wordly interactions with Kieran and the oddball artist neighbours Rob and Alicia, the subplots with stepdaughter Janie and old friend Tess, is done in sepia tones that adds enormously to the effect.

There are a few moments where Tranter does strain the friendship a little - the loop-closing with Tess is a bit forced, and the resolution to the neighbour plot sits a bit too pat for my taste. But the power of the closed room as a central device never wavers throughout the whole unfolding of the story. Quiet, dim, imbued with a breathing, waiting presence of its own, the room is a character in the story in its own right, and in many ways, the most important character of all to Shelley's eventual resolution.

The ending of the novel (this is not a spoiler, all the surprises are revealed long before this) has Shelley swimming in an ocean pool at a Sydney beach, the salt of it on her skin and in her eyes, and finally, her heart shaken free from the frozen limbo she's existed in since Conrad's death. It is a good ending, satisfying, fitting to the story. And it is a good novel; a very good novel, in fact. It well deserves to be on the Miles Franklin list, and I'd like to see it shortlist.

Score: 8/10
Would recommend for all adult readers

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Online Book Club Reading Notes: The Easy Way Out (Steven Amsterdam)

The brand spanking new Online Book Club that I'm a part of convened for the very first time last night, with six out of the seven members able to make the chat.

It was a fantastic experience for me, and I hope for them. I love nothing better than a good dissection of a book, preferably with intelligent people who've read it, but physical book clubs have proven prohibitively challenging for me in the last 15 years, due to child-rearing / health / distance constraints.

Being able to participate in a wide-ranging and complex discussion *at my own desk* while my kids slept / prepared for bed was exactly what I needed, and I'm just annoyed that I didn't think of it years ago.

As a group, we've decided to use the Miles Franklin longlist as our guide, at least initially; we were all keen to read new Australian fiction and this seemed like a good place to find some. For our inaugural session, we settled on Steven Amsterdam's The Easy Way Out, a novel about assisted dying - partly because two of our members are nurses, and we thought the subject matter of the book could make for some interesting discussions.

The Easy Way Out is the story of Evan, a nurse who, as the book opens, has just commenced employment in a pilot program at Generically Named Made Up Hospital as a "dying assistant". The book's premise is that assisted dying has been legalised within strictly controlled circumstances, and that the hospital is rolling out one of the first such programs.

Evan is, as protagonists go, remarkably flat in his affect, and not particularly likeable at any time. (Some of our group members warmed up to him by the very end of the book, but the majority of us didn't). He has trouble with, ironically, both boundaries and attachment; his difficulty observing the hospital's protocols around the assisted deaths is counterpointed to his drifting, emotionally distant interactions with people in his private life. In particular, we were all at least annoyed, if not repulsed, by his apparent disinterest in the effect his actions have on his long-suffering partners, Lon and Simon - at least two of us (me being one!) were firmly of the view that Lon and Simon were much too good for Evan. The fact that they keep loving him and wanting him despite his apparent inability to really reciprocate is both a tender note in the book and a frustration.

The book provides ample explanation for why he is as he is - Evan suffered an extravagantly damaging childhood with his feckless, although very amusing and likeable, mother Viv. His father committed (unackowledged) suicide when Evan was 10, leading to a dislocated, always-moving, fractured youth for him. Indeed, the "damaging-childhood-inadequate-adulthood" motif is so strongly emphasised, it becomes one of several areas in which the book over-eggs itself. This heavy-handedness does not help the flow of the story, although it is easy to see how (and why) the author made the narrative choices he did. Evan's remarkable emotional flatness is hard to understand otherwise, and his actions almost inexplicable.

The narrative of the book weaves Evan's experiences working in the hospital program, and later, working with the illegal covert Jaspers group who assist at deaths that don't qualify for the hospital program's stringent conditions, with his personal crises. Viv, Evan's vibrant, selfish, but affectionate mother, has Parkinson's Disease, and is declining at a rate of knots - at the book's opening, she has not long relocated to a nursing home, and is chafing against it. Evan's relationship with Viv seems oddly muted for much of the book, but on the basis that actions speak louder than words, it's evident that Viv is the one person for whom he does feel something profound, and accepts his interconnectedness with her. He never abandons his responsibility to Viv, even at the end (no spoilers, but the end is either a let-down or a transformation, depending on who you ask).

On the whole, we felt as a group that the treatment of assisted dying as an issue was handled very clinically and not very completely. One of our group has worked as a palliative care nurse, and felt that there were many nuances and dimensions that the book missed or chose not to deal with (we did wonder if this was intentional though - was Amsterdam, himself a palliative care nurse, trying to make a point about how legalised assisted dying could change the way palliative care is delivered?)

The hospital program, and its manager Nettie, seemed distasteful in a way that we found hard to pin down, but when Evan moves on to working illegally with the Jaspers, our repugnance was much stronger - the unregulated deaths seemed, to all of us, like suicides with someone there to watch, and at least two of those who died would have been ineligible for "controlled" assisted dying for sound reasons. We also struggled with the issue of payment - the Jaspers are given "donations" by their clients, but there is a smell of mercenariness to the way this was handled that sat very uneasily with us.

Overall, we ended up giving the book 6-7/10 - averaging, it'd be 6.5. We thought it had some interesting ideas and posed some good ethical questions, but didn't really stick the landing in terms of exploring the full gamut of its own plot.

Did it perhaps start to go there at the end? Maybe it did. One of our members wrote, "I wonder if in the end, the author wanted to show that when death seems the logical option, it still may not be the most meaningful one", and I think that perhaps sums it up best of all.  Where the book succeeds, it succeeds on ethical philosophy grounds; where it fails, it fails because it vastly underplays the emotional content of human lives and deaths, and all that implies. At the end of the day, it's an interesting book, not a lovable one. I'd recommend it, with some reservations, but do I think it should win the Miles Franklin? No.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Two weeks in review, the week in view: Fortnight ended 28 May 2017

I missed doing a weekly post last week - we had a huuuuuge weekend with my 12 year old's birthday extravaganza! - so this is a bit of a catch-up post.

The fortnight just elapsed has been quite light for work for me, due to a range a factors - projects do have their own flow, and I am in an ebb phase at present. However, they have been reasonably intense in terms of family and creative commitments, so it has been very helpful to be able to focus on that side of life a little more.

I do, however, have a new project in the pipeline - a kick-off date hasn't been confirmed yet but is likely to be either next week or the week after. Once that happens, I will be flat to the boards for at least a couple of months, so I am trying very hard to just enjoy the free air at the moment.

So here it is:

- Performed 5.5 days billable work (3 days in one week, 2.5 in the other) - no client visits at all
- Got to gymnastics x 2, jujitsu x 1, ice skating x 1 (missed both weeks of chess due to party and illness)
- Kids had school dress-up special days: Animal dress up for youngest, performance day dress up for the two high schoolers
- Mega birthday weekend for middle kid (12 year old) - fancy cake making (we made an ice skate - witness the laces! I was happy with the laces!), sleepover with three friends, then a big Sunday ice skating, birthday lunching, and going on the Melbourne Star
- Did personal training x 2
- Wrote, and published here, a fairly detailed book review post
- Wrote 5 poems! (2 are promising, the other 3 are practice efforts only, but it is just good to be writing again)
- Went out for river walk and lunch with husband
- Went to movies with husband and saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which was OK not great (but the time out was very great)
- 4 out of 5 family members had a cold for at least part of the time, although for eldest kid and myself it was very mild; husband was sick enough for time off work and middle kid also was pretty pulled down.

- 3 days billable work booked (1 day client site)
- "Mummy and kid" day with youngest on her school curriculum day on Monday
- Gymnastics - youngest (Weds), jujitsu - eldest (Fri), chess - middle (Sat), ice skating - middle (Sun)
- Next interschool debate for eldest (Weds)
- First Online Book Club meeting (Weds) - Discussing Steven Amsterdam's The Easy Way Out
- Get passport applications to interview stage

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Silly Poem for Saturday

It's 9:03 on Saturdee
No one here awake but me
Looking at the lemon tree
In my hand is TARDIS tea
A book is waiting on my knee

I wonder, now, if this could be
The benefit of being free.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Discovering anime: Hunter X Hunter

My two elder daughters (12 and almost 14) are heavily into Japanese culture in general, and anime / manga in particular. Both are learning Japanese language at school, and their level of excitement about our planned Japan trip next year is growing by the minute. (So long as I don't spend tooooo long dwelling on the flying-there part, so is mine. Seeing the cherry blossoms in bloom has been a lifetime goal for some years!)

One thing that my kids have introduced me to, that is a whole new world of revelation for me, is anime. (They both also love manga, but I have yet to actually read one - something I must rectify soon). They are both devotees of several anime franchises, and have roped my partner and I into watching a few movies with them. I took them to see the beautiful film Your Name over the summer (seriously good film, I highly recommend), and we've dug up classics like My Neighbour Totoro for family viewing. We haven't yet managed to see this year's big hit, A Silent Voice, but it's on our list to get to very soon.

My 12 year old is also very committed to my TV series anime education. I tend to have one viewing or playing activity on the go with each member of my family at any given time - it serves as an inexpensive, easy, and relaxing way to have some bonding time with each one individually. With my husband, we are currently working our way slowly through a complete rewatch of the X-Files (we're almost at the end of season 1). With my almost-14, I am watching Star Trek DS-9 (we've previously done Star Trek Voyager, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis). With my 8 year old, I play a couple of rounds of an online game we both enjoy, called, most days (a round takes about 10 minutes, so it isn't a big time hit).

With the 12 year old, though, the viewing of choice (hers!) has been a 2011 anime series called Hunter X Hunter. The episodes are about 20 minutes in length, but there are 148 of them, so at the rate of 4-6 a week, it's taken a long while to get to where we are now (within 20 eps of the end).

Watching anime has been such an interesting experience for me. Reading subtitles changes the viewing experience in subtle ways that both enhance and complicate the enjoyment of the story. Learning the tropes and norms of anime storytelling has been fascinating. I've become quite mesmerised by the visuals - it's really an entirely different beast to Western cartooning, and one that I connect with a lot more deeply.

Hunter X Hunter itself is strange, often complicated, sometimes a little dull (they drag out the fight sequences like WHOA), but also sometimes extraordinarily engaging. The two main characters, Gon and Killua, are enormously appealing without being syrupy (well ... Gon is a little ray of sunshine for most of it, but Killua is dark and tortured from the start). The plot arcs (we're currently in the longest and goriest, the Chimera Ant arc, but it was preceded by four earlier arcs) are effectively self-contained stories that we are carried into by the progress of Our Young Heroes (Gon and Killua). Some are much more exciting than others. Some are much more disturbing than others. Some are better written than others. I'm not used to quite this amount of variation across a linear series, I must say - it does almost feel like series-within-series sometimes.

So, as we approach the finish line with Hunter X Hunter, my 12 year old has already started putting thought into our next anime series adventure. I must admit, I am not unwilling (although I have drawn the line at something called Tokyo Ghoul that she is currently obsessed with). My anime education is likely to advance greatly over the coming years!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Found Poem: Terror

This is mostly an erasure poem created from an article in The Guardian entitled Terrorists See Reason in Madness of Targeting Public Events, with some linkage phrases added. It is a poem about terrorism. It is not a poem exclusively about Islamic terrorism - one of the perpetrators most in my mind when writing it was Dylann Roof - but as the immediate precipitating event is Manchester, yes, it is about that too. 

who are the targets:
not embassies, army bases or planes.


the most attractive targets the most mundane:

a government building in Oklahoma
a Charleston church at a prayer meeting
a movie screening of Batman

trains and buses
a nightclub in Bali
Glasgow airport
a magazine office

the Louvre museum
the Champs Elysées
the promenade of Nice

music concerts
on the streets outside a football international in Paris.

Berlin’s Christmas market, while the people strolled about
choosing their silver-winged angels and winter tchotchkes


One reason: military bases are better protected.
But that is not the whole of it.

There's this:
A rigorously puritanical vision is always at work.
If  any other culture is a threat, attacking its soft spots is both strategy and statement.
Where children dancing to a song are recharacterised as shameless,
by those who have no shame.
Where gunning down people as they pray, as they pray for you,
is recast as resistance.

Another reason: escalating brutality terrorises target populations.
Attacking people where they live and play means all immediately feel endangered,
convinces that the threat is as ubiquitous as it is unpredictable.

Not entirely rational? No.
But true in the viscera.
True in the heart.

it is why terrorism often works,
despite all the words of resistance

it is the war no-one can win
or not, in any case, with guns and bombs

it is a war inside the skin

- Kathy, 24/05/17

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Science of the Yeti (Poem)

This is a poem I wrote some time ago and entered in a competition that had a theme of cold / snow. It did nothing in the comp, but I sort of like it, so here it is. I got the idea from a line in a newspaper article deriding "the science of the Yeti", by which the article meant the lack of scientific basis for the existence of the Yeti, but I wondered if it could mean something else. What if the Yeti existed, ancient, dignified, ossified, hidden and had their own science? What might it look like? I had a vision of prehistoric climate change denialism, writ large.

It is a cold science; ice-bound, quiet.
No glaciers melt, nor snows fail.

The literature admits of no hard-breathing carbon dragon
putting a teakettle under the bones of the soil.
The mountains remain, permafrosted, inscrutable;
This is evidence for the failure of the little cousins below to move anything material
(despite what they may think, in their lowland sinkholes).

It teaches:
the world is as it ever is, and never will be other
truth is what we experience today and can prove with touching
no deluge is coming to us, none, none to our mountains, none to our snows.

It is a cold science, whitened like old scat
It says to us: You need not change. The world will not.
The homo sapiens’ science is misled.
The floes will not shrink in the sea, nor the waters rise
There is no storm coming to Sagarmāthā
The little cousins need not change, nor need we:

It is a cryptic science, for a cryptid people
Making mysteries of the sillage of disaster in the air

The science of the Yeti tells us the world lies gently upon our backs;
It does not foretell the expulsion of our ancestors from their souls’ repose.

It is a cold science; frozen, ancient.

No species die, nor sentience falls.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Reading Notes: Elizabeth Strout's Amgash novels (My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible)

Elizabeth Strout's new novel, Anything is Possible, is a kind of sequel to Booker-nominated My Name is Lucy Barton. Both books, unsurprisingly for works by the accomplished Strout, have been critically acclaimed, and are already being touted as important additions to Strout's slim but culturally significant canon.

While reader reception of Lucy Barton was strong (and the book did find its way onto last year's Booker longlist, although disappointingly failed to shortlist), on the whole, Anything is Possible is exciting much greater reader devotion. I am interested in why that might be, so I thought a paired review of the two books could be revealing.

The first point to make is that when I say Anything is Possible is a "kind of" sequel, I do so intentionally. While Anything is Possible is set in the same, or overlapping, locations as Lucy Barton, and features many of the same characters (including Lucy herself), it is in many ways a parallel story rather than a sequel. Lucy Barton is an intimate first-person narrative of one woman's life, with reference to the environment that gave rise to her (both familial and cultural). Anything is Possible is a linked ensemble story that revolves around the community Lucy left behind and the actors in it, moving the focus in an intricate dance through several connected intimate third-person micro-tales. In this regard, Anything is Possible is more like Strout's biggest hit, Olive Kitteredge, in its overall affect - although it changes POV characters regularly, the overall sense of the larger story being told in the dust of daily life is very present.

One thing both books share, however, that is very interesting to me as both a reader and a writer, is a resonant and powerful treatment of class and white poverty in contemporary USA. Lucy Barton, the narrator and protagonist of the first book, is a successful writer living in New York City, but she is from desperately poor roots, growing up in Amgash, Illinois, itself a depressed community but where the Bartons stood out even there as next-level poor. Lucy phrases it thus:
While it is said that children accept their circumstances as normal, both Vicky and I understood that we were different. We were told on the playground by other children, 'Your family stinks,' and they'd run off pinching their noses with their fingers... (p 11)
Lucy's story is one of survival, transcendence and moving past the circumstances of her early life; told from her perspective, My Name is Lucy Barton is her journey to try to understand her parents, particularly her mother, and locate them, and her childhood, within the context of her high-achieving literary life, her marriage, and her own motherhood. Poverty, in My Name is Lucy Barton, is an albatross around the neck that poisons the well of everything else - relationships, sociality, attainment. Lucy digs her way free via her intelligence, imagination, and luck - a lot of luck.

There are ways in which I found Lucy Barton quite reminiscent of another recent (and wonderful) novel about contemporary  poverty in the US - Marilynne Robinson's Lila (the final book in the Gilead trilogy). Lila is also a desperately poor white woman eking out a borderline existence, albeit 30 years earlier than Lucy and her family, and in a more itinerant fashion. Both novels have something powerful to say about the impact of being breadline-poor in a society where those around you are, on the whole, not, and what impact that has on girls and women in particular.

I think it is important to note, however, that what books like Lila, My Name is Lucy Barton, Anything is Possible, and even some of the works of writers like Anne Tyler, are picking up is the experience of being white and poor (in most cases, white, female and poor) in rural and regional USA. That class, and poverty, are very substantial vectors of lack of privilege, seems like an obvious thing to say - but none of these writers fall into the trap of universalising the experience, or erasing the magnitude of the extra challenges faced by POC in these same circumstances. They are writing, somewhat like Steinbeck before them, the story of the white underclass - and these are stories that should be told, but never reified as the whole picture, or the "true" story of American life. They are one kind of truth, yes. By themselves, they are very far short of the whole. This is not intended as a critique so much as a caveat, as I have read many a lyrical review claiming, especially for Anything is Possible, a kind of universalised applicability.

Lucy Barton is also, to a significant degree, about writing and the writer's life, and I wonder if this is where the reader connection may slip a little. There are some moments where I think Lucy, or more particularly her writing teacher Sarah Payne, becomes a bit of an author mouthpiece for Strout, and that can sit a bit awkwardly in the context of the story overall. Not that there are not some gems to arise from that as well, such as when Sarah tells Lucy: “We all love imperfectly. But if you find yourself protecting anyone as you write this piece, remember this: You’re not doing it right.” This seems extremely synced with Strout's own words in interview:
“You can’t write fiction and be careful. You just can’t... So many times students would say, ‘Well, I can’t write that, my boyfriend would break up with me.’ And I’d think ...” she sucks her teeth, “‘Well, OK, I’m sorry, I don’t really have much more to tell you.’ You have to do something that’s going to say something, and if you’re careful it’s just not going to work.” (Hermione Hoby, Elizabeth Strout Interview, The Guardian, 20 February 2016) 
By contrast, Anything is Possible, which takes up the tales of many of Lucy's contemporaries who stayed in or near Amgash, takes a much broader palette of lives and occupations (and preoccupations), and unfolds itself like the proverbial flower, following characters through the chain of connection to reveal their sad, damaged, hopeful, desperate, gentle hearts. Starting with Tommy Guptill, a minor character from Lucy Barton (he was Lucy's high school janitor), the stories of  the people of Amgash unfold, all connected back somehow to Lucy and her family, all unique, all full of private pains and public troubles. I think that it is both the variety of stories, and the intense skill with which the linkages are made, that sets this book a little above Lucy Barton; it really feels like lifting the lid on an anthill or a doll's house and seeing the secret made known.

Anything is Possible moves through the stories of janitor and former dairy farmer Tommy Guptill; Lucy's brother, the still-dirt-poor and so desperately damaged Pete Barton; high school counsellor, and one of the characters from Lucy Barton, Patty Niceley; Patty's sister, Linda Peterson-Cornell, and her revolting husband (Linda is indeed a case study in the proposition "there are worse things than being poor and look, here is one of them"); Charlie Macauley, who is not what he seems (but who of us is?); Mary Mumford, who left her husband in her seventies and went to Italy to marry an Italian man, and her sad youngest daughter, Angelina the teacher; Dottie, one of Lucy's even-poorer-than-we-were cousins, now running a bed and breakfast house; Elgin Appleby, whose secret was nothing but pain; and finally, most heart-rendingly, Dottie's brother and Lucy's cousin Abel Blaine, who has created himself as a successful, wealthy business owner from the most dire beginnings, but who never quite stops being uncomfortable with himself:
even while most of him thought what he had thought for years, I will not apologize for being rich, he did apologize, but to whom precisely he did not know. (p 250)
The stories of all these people - quite ordinary people in almost all respects - become extraordinary because of the deftness of Strout's touch in revealing the inner worlds and things unspoken that lie behind everyday, and at times quite odd, actions. The connections that bind them all, in some cases so slight as to be a mere thread, in other cases unexpectedly profound, bolster the sense that Strout is really writing a story here about the ways in which people form a community, the secrets they keep and those they can't, the impacts on the ones who stay, and the ones who walk away.

Taken overall, I think both of these books are, and deserve to be considered as, major contributions to contemporary American literature, and in particular, the literature of class in the post-war world. While I would agree that Anything is Possible is, on a stand-alone basis, the stronger of the two books, I think both books are greatly enriched by reading them both. Part of the depth of Anything is Possible comes from the resonances created by stories started but not finished in Lucy Barton; seeing characters through different eyes, with greater regard to their motivations, is intensely interesting, and adds complexity to both stories.

So far, Elizabeth Strout, a late-breaking writer (she was 43 when she published Amy and Isabelle, her first novel, after many years of rejections - *perhaps there is still hope* whispers my unrequited novelist's heart), has graced the world with just 6 novels, but two of those - Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible - have appeared within the past 2 years. I am hoping that this may mean she is on a roll. After these two books, anything she produces seems likely to be a treat for readers and meat for critics alike.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Melbourne Star

Today, as part of my middle kid's 12th birthday celebrations (*how did she get to be 12 but I digress*), we took our family and three of her friends on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel.

It was somewhat challenging for me and my damn claustrophobia, but I DID IT and we ended up having a really good time. Me 1, Jerkbrain 0 - suck on THAT, anxiety!

Here are a few of the better photos we got, for your viewing enjoyment. It wasn't a cheap exercise for 8 of us, but it was fun to do once, and it certainly made the birthday girl's day.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lunchtime dialogue with a cat

The scene: My desk. I have just brought my lunch over to eat while I work, as is my usual weekday wont.

The protagonists: Me and my beautiful and incorrigible 8 year old cat, Miss Roxy.

The dialogue (hers translated from the cat vernacular):

R: Smells so good what is

Me: It's spicy tuna sushi, Roxy. It's my lunch. It's not your lunch.

R: (Long sniff) Smells so good eat it

Me: No, it's mine.

R: (catly growl): Want

Me: No. You have trout in your bowl. Go eat that.

R: (shoots out paw) Just get little eat

Me: NO, Rox! Off my knee then!

R: (Evil Eye) Mean


R: Need better staff

(Stalks off in high dudgeon)

/ fin

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The week in review, the week in view: Week ended 14 May 2017

This was, on balance, definitely a better week than the last two.

I am still fighting off the remnants of my autumn cold, but I was less pulled down this week by it, just still sneezy and a bit stuffed up in the evenings. All things planned happened roughly the way they were supposed to, and by dint of working very hard on Monday and Tuesday, I was able to take a full day off on Wednesday and spend it hanging out with my husband, which was pretty excellent for both my mental and physical wellbeing.

I also spent some time this week looking into the medium-term professionally, and thinking about / talking to people about my next steps with my work. These have been interesting and fruitful conversations, and have assisted me greatly in clarifying what I want and what my options might be as I move towards the end of my current projects. I feel like broadening my client base (out of the niche I am currently working in) might be more possible than I had previously thought, and that's comforting.

Mother's Day today was, as always, exhausting, but it was very nice to see our families and spend some time together. We also celebrated my Mum's birthday and my middle daughter's family birthday, so it was a good day.

The week ahead will be focused mostly on the middle kid's birthday celebrations and on consolidating the gains of last week, I think. Hoping it is another positive one.

- 3.5 days billable work performed (Mon, Tues, Thurs pm, Fri): 1.5 days client sites
- Cat's vet appointment done: No more for a year now!
- Naplan testing: Middle and youngest
- Gymnastics (youngest) - Weds, jujitsu (eldest) - Fri, chess (middle) - Sat, ice skating (middle) - Sun
- Personal training
- Lunch with friend (Thurs)
- Mother's Day (today) - Extended family here for lunch
- Whole day off with husband - brunch, X-Files watching, conversation, tea :-)

- 3 days billable work booked (Mon, probably Tues & Weds pm, Thurs) - No client days!!
- Dedicated writing day: Friday (Aim is one short story and one poem)
- Gymnastics (youngest) - Weds, jujitsu (eldest) - Fri, chess (middle) - Sat, ice skating (middle) - Sun
- Personal training
- Cake-making of middle kid's ice skates birthday cake with friend's help (Sat)
- Birthday party for middle: 3 friends sleeping over Sat then ice skating, out to lunch, and on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel on Sun

Friday, May 12, 2017

Love Songs for Everyday Folks

It occurred to me recently, during a stint of having the radio on for a few days while trying to bang out some client documents, that many to most romantic love songs seem to be written about (arguably, also by) people or relationships that are in some way seen as special. Exceptional. Overpowering. Love that moves mountains and launches ships; love for which people are prepared to dieeeeeeee (often exactly like that). There's a reason that the more interesting love songs tend to be about love forsaken, betrayed or abandoned - pain draws out more complexity than the towering loves of special, beautiful, exceptional people.

It made me think: where's the music about everyday love?

You know, the kind that's about standing together doing the dishes and watching TV, raising children and juggling bills, and just now and then, catching sight of the familiar in the Other as you pass by. Love that's not glamorous or fancy, and in which mountaintop experiences are few and far between. Love that's a neck massage when you have a migraine, or a cup of tea when you're writing furiously.

Love that isn't between two (or three or however many) sexy-beautiful people, but just between regular joes, or people that aren't "supposed" to be lovable in the heroic model. Love that doesn't occupy your every waking moment and doesn't solve all life's problems and doesn't set you on fire all the time or define who you are as person. Love that does not swamp you or make you willing to either kill or die in its service. Love that leaves room to be who you are; that allows for the possibility of its own fading; that is part of life, not life itself.

This is the kind of love that sits, quiet and ever-present, beneath all your actions, all your successes, all your decisions. Love that's not so much about the magic and beaaaaauuuuty of the niiiiiight, that doesn't invade dreams or ward off sleep, but that's more about the pale light of the dawn sky and what you have to get up and do in the world.

I thought about it, and I could only easily think of four songs that really talk about ordinary love between everyday folks.

First, there's this, which is my Best and Favourite:

(Yeah, we're OK. We're fine.)

Then there's this:

(No superhero. No fairytale bliss).

Everyday love forsaken, but still quietly present:

(The door will always be open for you).

This one is borderline - it's a bit schmaltzy - but it's about a craptastic ordinary day and the most romantic action in it is her partner handing her a towel, so it's in.

Can you think of any more?


Also check this:

And the quintessential Australian song about ordinary people in love:

(He took it pretty badly, she took both the kids ... but here he is, headed To Her Door.)

AND ... for the sake of balance, here are two absolutely overblown love-is-all songs that I totally adore anyway :-)

(I love you like the stars above, I'm gonna love you til I die...)

(My love is like a storybook story...)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What We're Reading: April / May 2017

I haven't done one of these posts for ages, but it used to be really fun to look back on what we were reading at various points, so I thought: why not.

Reading is, as always, a central part of our lives in this house. We are a bookish family, although my partner prefers listening to audiobooks rather than reading text. I don't feel right at all if I am not reading, and reading rather voluminously at that; I seem to have passed on this trait.

One thing that's changed a lot in the last 6-9 months is the youngest (8 year old's) transition into being a skilled reader rather than just a competent reader. She is now able to extract both meaning and enjoyment from reading in a way that was still elusive for her a year ago, and this has greatly expanded the range and volume of books she reads.

So what's been on the literary menu lately?

Me: I am reading 4 books at the moment -
  • Elizabeth Strout's Anything is Possible, which is a companion novel / sequel to the wonderful My Name is Lucy Barton. I am in love with this book very seriously.
  • N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season, which I have been urged towards by many nerd friends. I started this one early in April but am dragging my feet with it a bit. 
  • Ursula Le Guin's classic, The Dispossessed, which I read twenty years ago but haven't revisited since. (It is as good as I remembered.)
  • Steven Amsterdam's The Easy Way Out, which I am reading for monthly online book club (it's also on the Miles Franklin list). I'm just starting this but the first few pages are intriguing.
This is a very diverse set of works, and I am getting different things from each  of them, although I am finding I am only handling the Jemisin in small doses. I am really loving Anything is Possible and will do a double-header review of it and My Name is Lucy Barton once I finish it, as I think I have some ideas to unpick there.

In the last month, I've also read Ken Liu's short story collection, The Paper Menagerie, which was lovely; and I indulged in one of my periodic re-reads of Pride and Prejudice.

Top of my ever-growing TBR pile (ie the next three books in my list) are:
  • David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon, a historical true-crime study of the wholesale murders of the Osage people in the early twentieth century and the appalling cover-up that followed.
  • Ryan O'Neill's Their Brilliant Careers, another Franklin listee which I am really looking forward to.
  • John Safran's Depends What You Mean by Extremist, which I am intrigued by. Safran can be hit and miss on screen, but I really loved his previous book, the true crime (but more) Murder in Mississippi (marketed in the US as God'll Cut You Down). He's actually a very, very good writer, and I am interested to see how he tackles this more complex and explosive material.

Partner: My partner has just finished listening to the e-book of Thirteen Reasons Why. He reports it was good, but disturbing. He's also watched the TV show and says the show is much more graphic than the book.

13.5 year old: The eldest is reading a lot of fanfiction on Wattpad (in The Mortal Instruments fandom, mostly). She's recently finished Tomorrow, When the War Began, and is now reading The City of Ashes (a book in The Mortal Instruments series). She's also reading non-fiction in the area of world mythology, a subject she has become very interested in.

12 year old: The middle kid has been reading original fiction on Wattpad by an author called arcticstars - they apparently write slice of life fiction that she really enjoys. She also recently re-read Alice Pung's Laurinda, a favourite of hers, and read and really liked Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall. She often revisits her Horrible Histories books when she needs a bit of relaxation of an evening.

8 year old: The youngest is very, very taken with books about adventure, nature and animals. Books that combine all three are absolute top of the pops. She and I are reading Jean Craighead George's wonderful My Side of the Mountain series - about Sam Gribley, who runs away from New York to live in the Catskill Mountains by himself with his peregrine falcon, Frightful - and we are both loving it. She reads a chapter to me, then I read one to her. We're almost finished the second book now. With her dad, she's reading The Adventures of Tashi, and to herself, she's ploughing through Famous Five titles and kid-focused science books about geology, animals, and paleontology.

So that's our reading life at the moment!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The week in review, the week in view: Week ended 7 May 2017

Another ho-hum week in many ways. Again, there were disruptions to plan - rescheduling the vet appointment, not making it to gymnastics due to a timing conflict, and the cancellation of my anticipated Thursday lunch with an old friend, were all bummers. I got some worrying news, my cold dragged on, and I felt quite down about life and the state of the world, all of which are probably at least partially related. My creativity is in the toilet at the moment and that also depresses me. I feel like I might be sliding into a period of saudade, and that's not great necessarily, although it is not unexpected either with the season. (Late autumn / early winter always drags me down at least a little).

P/T interviews went well, though, and my eldest was thrilled to be given the go-ahead to leave her retainers off during the day, so that's all to the good. The elder kids loved having their grandparents come to school for Grandparents Day and the littlie scored Student of the Week (and I WAS at assembly to see her get it - so happy I didn't wag this week!)

The week ahead is plain and average in most ways, although it does culminate in Mothers Day (aka "clean my house for a day then cook big meal for extended family" for me - soooo relaxing). I'm hoping to feel a little better physically and emotionally, but we'll see.

- 3.5 days billable work performed (Mon, Tues, Weds, Fri am): 1.5 days client sites - Weds with Client A, Fri with Client B
- Parent-teacher interviews for the two high-schoolers - Mon & Weds nights (yes, both!! I couldn't quite squeeze them all onto Monday)
- Second inter-school debate - eldest (Weds night)
- Jujitsu (eldest) - Fri, ice skating (middle) - Sun
- Chess tournament (middle) - Sat
- Personal training
- Eldest's orthodontist appointment to see if she can stop wearing her retainers in the daytime (she can!)
- Mental health day off on Thursday, which mostly involved watching crap TV and baking
- Grandparents Day at school for the elder two kids (Friday)
- Student of the Week award for youngest (yay!)
- Birthday party attendance (eldest), Sat pm

- 4 days billable work booked (Mon, Tues, Weds pm, Thurs pm, Fri): 1.5 days client sites
- Cat's vet appointment (Weds)
- Gymnastics (youngest) - Weds, jujitsu (eldest) - Fri, chess (middle) - Sat, ice skating (middle) - Sun
- Personal training (Thurs)
- Lunch with friend (Thurs)
- Mother's Day - Extended family here for lunch (Sun)
- Get back to passport applications and progress them
- Brunch with husband (Weds)