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)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Reading Notes: Miles Franklin Longlist 2017

Well, it's been a very long time since I tried a prizelist reading challenge! I used to do them a lot, but then life was a thing that happened (see also: work; children; poetry).

I noticed today, however, that the Miles Franklin longlist for 2017 is out, so I had a look, and I have Thoughts about it. I'm not going to commit to doing a full longlist read, but as indicated below, I am going to have a stab at some of these at least. (I've put stars next to the ones I intend to try - 5 out of the 9).

It's a 9-book longlist this year, with several authors I know, which is always a nice surprise. There's 4 books by men and 5 by women, and it's a lily-white list, with no authors of colour represented. That this is a problem for the Miles Franklin as for other literary prizes, and has historically always been so, is fairly well noted, I think. There have been POC writers on the Miles Franklin list and it has been won by POC writers too - most recently by Michelle de Kretser in 2013 - but a simple list count shows the skew, and it's pretty profound.

I think it is intrinsically problematic, in a country like Australia, to have the biggest literary prize available being contested entirely by white writers in any given year. I know all the counter-arguments: that it's about quality, not identity; that there are more white than POC people in Australia and certainly way more white than POC writers etc etc etc. I still think those arguments are pretty patronising and disingenuous though. Who decides what's quality, and what lens do they bring to that? Who decides what styles are literary enough to deserve acclaim? What cultural biases do readers, even expert readers, bring to the table?

And, frankly, if it's the case that there are less books by POC writers available to select from - well, why is that? I don't buy the "nothing to do with me, it's a pipeline problem" approach often taken by employers with a diversity gap or prize committees. There is a feedback loop at play here. Recognising the power and worth of books by POC writers makes it more likely that future writers can get publishers interested in them; that they can get acclaim; that they can prise open the death grip of the literary elites on fictional work in this (and all Western) countries. It's the same argument as to why it's so vital that book reviewers in major publications expand their repertoire and make a point of boosting the signal for books by authors from under-represented groups (I very much include writers with a disability in here). Be the change you want to see in the world, people.

So, back to the actual list in front of us. Depending on your measure, it could be characterised as a thematically diverse-ish list, but there is a pretty strong thread of death / loss / end of life running through it - at least 5, and maybe as many as 7, of these titles are basically built around the meaning, consequences and emotions associated with the fate of all flesh.

The books are:

*1. Steve Amsterdam, The Easy Way Out: Which sounds interesting and is about the ethics of assisted suicide. The writer himself is a palliative care nurse.

*2. Emily McGuire, An Isolated Incident: On spec, this will be a tough one, being about a murdered woman. I have read McGuire's earlier books and liked them, so I'll try this one.

3. Mark O'Flynn, The Last Days of Ava Langdon: Apparently "The Last Days of Ava Langdon takes us into the mind of a true maverick", which means it's probably not for me.

*4. Ryan O'Neill, Their Brilliant Careers: This is a set of fictional biographies of made-up Australian writers and sounds like it could be deeply amusing. I'll bite.

5. Josephine Rowe, A Loving, Faithful Animal: This is the kind of aftermath-damage-of-war family novel that I usually don't like much, but YMMV of course.

6. Philip Salom,Waiting: A book about "two odd couples" this sounds like it might be quirky. I really don't tend to love quirky.

*7. Inga Simpson, Where the Trees Are: A kind of "you can never go back there again" book, from the sounds of it - memories of childhood bonds revisited in adulthood. These stories can be great, so I don't object to giving this one a whirl.

*8. Kirsten Tranter, Hold: Except for the pesky details part, this sounds a little bit like a more literary version of Ghost (albeit minus the pottery). But it does feature a found-rooom, which is one of my most recurring dream icons, so I am going to give it a try for that alone.

9. Josephine Wilson, Extinctions: A book about a retired professor who moves into a nursing home and finds new meaning in life. NO THANKS.

The shortlist will be announced in June and the prize itself in August / September. I'm going to try to read my nominated 5 before shortlist, then pick up any on the shortlist that I haven't picked before the prize. You gotta have goals, right?