Monday, July 31, 2017


I had the weirdest, most vivid dreams last night. They were almost but not quite lucid dreams - in most of them, I was aware I was dreaming and could make active decisions about how I responded to the off-base events and images, but I wasn't completely able to disengage. A couple of them were a bit disturbing too, and this morning I am avidly Googling "dream interpretations" (as you do) to see if there are any Jungian archetypes in play.

One of my dreams was a variant on my most common stress-overload dream (in which I lose something essential, forget to do something essential, or are in some way negligent in a manner that has severe consequences). In this dream, I somehow became aware that it was 8:30 at night and I had unaccountably failed to pick up my 8 year old from primary school. I rang my partner (in my dream) and he told me "don't worry, she went to after school care". This relieved me for about a dream-minute until I exclaimed, "But after care finishes at 6! Where is she NOW?" My dream-self then ran around in a panic and the situation was never resolved. Icky dream. 2/10 Did Not Enjoy.

The next dream - the most proximate to waking for the day, and hence the most vivid in my mind - was a doozy of an odd duck. In my dream, I had hosted a gathering of some kind - a dinner party, I think - for a bunch of people who I was hovering on the edge of recognising, but didn't actually recognise. They were, though, clearly labelled in my mind as "friends from university days".

At the conclusion of the gathering, I offered everyone a hot drink (as you do). One guy, instead of asking for coffee, tea or hot chocolate as others did, put in an incredibly elaborate order for a fancy multilayered coffee concoction, down to the detail of how the foam had to look and so forth. In the dream, I massively resented this but instead of pushing back, I did my best to make the drink. Then when I gave it to him, he took one sip and spat it out, saying it was too cool and too sweet.

In my dream I was filled with the most incandescent anger towards this entitled prick and I was gibbering internally with rage, but instead of verbalising this to Awful Dude, I picked up the dropped cup and offered to make the drink again. All the while, the most corrosive anger was eating my dream-self up and I wanted to hulk-smash the entire world.

I woke up from that dream still furious, and the background miasma of that feeling is still lingering. I have had dreams about being angry before, but usually the anger is focused on a person in my personal life with whom I am in fact frustrated or cross (often someone with whom it would be radically unsafe to verbally express anger), or is self-directed. Those dreams, while not pleasant, are not hard to understand.

Who, though, is this fictional coffee-drama dude in this dream? Why is dream-me pandering to his nonsense? Why am I so incredibly angry and so unable to say anything to him about it? WHAT DOES IT MEAN??

I know I'm going to keep worrying at this throughout the day, interrogating my sulky subconscious until more clues get disgorged. I feel like I've been sent a strongly worded internal memo by the subliminal part of my consciousness to my waking mind, and I'd better find a way to understand it, or there might be downstream consequences I won't like. My subconscious always knows well ahead of my conscious mind when trouble's brewing; I am ill-advised to ignore warning flags when they are waving so vigorously in my slumbers.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Werribee Zoo

Today we took our exchange student to the Werribee Open Range Zoo. We had a great time, but the pictures tell the story best! The animals were extreme posers which suited us admirably.

The beautiful cheetah. She actually snarled at us through the glass - I think she was hungreh.

There guys are such camera hogs.

It's a hard knock life...

We were worried we wouldn't get to spot any koalas, but this one was perfectly positioned for photography

Meerkats were on high alert as two hawks circled overhead

Rhinos soaking up the sun

No two have the same stripes!

Saturday, July 29, 2017


Today we took our Japanese exchange student ice-skating at Docklands, which everybody pretty much loved, then after that we went to the new (ish) interactive art gallery, ArtVo.

We've heard good things about ArtVo, and had been intending to go see it for a while now, but it's surprisingly easy to put off doing even fun-sounding things in one's own city when everyone is busy and stretched. Having a visitor here gave
us the perfect excuse to finally bite the bullet and get in and do it.

The concept of ArtVo is deceptively simple - the walls are painted with large-scale artworks in a variety of styles designed to create a 3D impression if photographed from a specified angle.

The paintings are deliberately set up so that people can "insert" themselves into the picture, hamming it up as much as they please to achieve the outcome. Photo spots on the floor tell you the best place to stand and the best orientation for the photo. Away you go, through a substantial number of themed galleries (more than I was expecting, actually).

It was significantly more fun than I had expected - the kids adored all the posing and the artworks were well rendered enough to make the resulting photos really good-looking. As is usually the case, some came out a lot better than others, but some of the better non-face ones (well, except for *my* face, but that's my decision to make!) are here.

It isn't exactly a budget experience - I got no change from a hunny taking 6 people in - but we spent almost 2 hours there and to be honest, if my 8 year old hadn't hit a bit of a wall, we could easily have stayed longer. I'd like to go back with a bit more time, a better camera and a few less people and have another go at getting some good shots.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Man Booker Prize Longlist 2017 has landed

Somehow it is ALREADY the time of year when the Man Booker Prize longlist is announced, which must mean winter is on the wane here in Oz (oh frabjous day!) I always use the Booker prizelist as a mental marker for the season starting its slow turn towards spring. Perhaps that's why it's always such a happy event for me?

This year's longlist is comprised of 13 titles:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4th Estate)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)

That's a list with some heavy hitters on it - Barry, both the Smiths and Roy are all extremely well-regarded literary novellists. Indeed, Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness has been so long awaited after the triumph of her first novel, The God of Small Things (1997), that you'd have to wonder if it's going to take an early lead in Booker betting just out of readers' sheer excitement that it exists.

In terms of the stats, we've got a list with 6 women and 7 men; there are 4 Americans, 4 Brits, 2 Irish writers, 2 from Pakistan and one from India. Once again, the question of whether allowing American writers to compete for the Booker has weakened diversity in the prize overall will be raised, and for good reason; the lack of any representation from the Antipodes, Africa or most of Asia is notable and telling. Irish and subcontinental writers have traditionally done very well in the Booker, punching out of their weight numerically in terms of listings and wins, and continue to do so; but other voices and other traditions have struggled more since the Americans entered the fray, both to be listed and to be heard.

I have read 1.5 of these books so far - Zadie Smith's Swing Time, which I really enjoyed and would recommend, and I'm currently reading Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness for August book club. I was aware that Barry and Ali Smith had new books out, and I have heard some buzz about Solar Bones. The rest of this list is complete greenfields for me - haven't heard of them at all until now.

Based on the book blurbs, there are a few themes that pop out, and they are not really novel ones for the Booker. Love, war, family, trauma, possibility - the stuff of Big Books about Big Stuff, in other words - are all well-represented.

4 3 2 1 seems to be doing a more structured version of what Kate Atkinson did with Life After Life - a sliding-doors type alternate lives narrative - and has the potential to be interesting. Swing Time is a really lovely friendship bildungsroman - as the Guardian review linked above notes, it's in the tradition of Elena Ferrante, and well worth the effort, but as it is about two young girls, it almost certainly won't win. Saunders' debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is set in the US Civil War and is about the death of Lincoln's young son (sort of).

Barry, for some reason I cannot comprehend, has written a historical narrative about a gay relationship set in the Indian wars on the US frontier (it's described as "an ultra-violent literary Western"). It's getting plaudits by the dozen, but I have to say, I think this one is almost certainly Not My Jam. Whitehead's book is about what it says on the label - slavery in the US and the underground railroad that helped slaves escape. Hamid's book intrigues me because I am almost sure it is based on / an expansion of a short story of his I read in the New Yorker a year ago - it's a story of love, refuge and escape. The short was absolutely beautiful, so I am definitely keen to read the novel.

Missing and endangered girls, another favourite trope of serious novellists, pop up in History of Wolves, Reservoir 13 and Home Fires. Ali Smith's Autumn, intended as the first of a linked set of four seasonal books, sounds absolutely intriguingly bizarre, and I almost always enjoy her work, so it's on my list. Solar Bones is (kind of) a ghost story. And finally, there's the not-yet-available debut from Fiona Mozley, Elmet, which is apparently about family, hidden violence, and landscape.

So that's the Booker longlist for 2017. It's reasonably varied, within limits (it's a very, very Anglophone list - only Roy and possibly Hamid really bring a different linguistic / stylistic approach to their narratives). There are some books that look amazing on it; it's a bit early to say if there are any real stinkers, but I am sure I will have views on that when I have read a few!

I'm going to try to read half the list before shortlist announcement on 13 September:

- Zadie Smith, Swing Time (Read)
- Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Reading)
- Ali Smith, Autumn
- Mohsin Hamad, Exit West
- Mike McCormack, Solar Bones
- Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1

We'll see how far that goes, and I might pick up any stragglers on the shortlist (although to be honest I am not going to read the Barry or the Saunders regardless).

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Hosting an exchange student

Right now, we are 4 days into our 13-day hosting of an exchange student from Gifu Prefecture in Japan. It's been an amazing experience so far, one that's enormously rewarding for us (and I hope so much is also being fun for her!)

Since collecting her from the school on Sunday afternoon, we've done a few things. We've introduced her to the wonder that is roast lamb (she had never eaten lamb before and really wanted to try it); she has dressed up the girls in her yukata; and we've been shopping, which she thought was wonderful (many differences between shops here and shops in Japan!)

We've played card games and watched anime and walked the dog; we've made okonomiyaki together (our first time cooking it); and we've started to get better (both ways) at communicating, with the invaluable support of Google Translate. She goes to school every day with my elder two girls, on the bus, which is also an adventure!

This afternoon, we did the first of the special
activities we'd planned for her visit, and fulfilled a long-held ambition of mine and the girls, as we went to the Langham Hotel to take High Tea.

It was an utterly superb experience. I think it may be one of the most indulgent things I have ever done, actually.

Probably the only three memories that compare were when my friend Lucy took me to the Park Hyatt for fancy lunch, massage, and day spa as a pre-giving-birth treat when I was 36 weeks pregnant with my eldest (so, 14 years ago); our wedding night at the Ozone Hotel in Queenscliff in the huge luxurious bridal suite overlooking the ocean; and having lunch at the Plaza Hotel in New York (both of these were 20 years ago).

I can't speak highly enough of the Langham's service, food quality and attention to detail. The gluten-free high tea stand was every bit as luxurious as the "regular" ones, and for once, my 12 year old and I didn't feel second-best or a nuisance.

They even provided us with a waitress from Tokyo who was able to explain everything to our student fluently, which helped her feel relaxed and like she knew what was going on. We learned how to say "cheers" in Japanese and
clicked glasses in great satisfaction with the world overall. Afterwards, we went for a walk along Southbank up to the Arts Centre to see the spire lit up, which was also well-received.

This experience overall is proving so valuable, interesting and enriching for us. Seeing our home through the eyes of someone else is fascinating, and the challenges of communication are at the same time a great learning curve.

It has also started all kinds of ideas in my head about language and words and meaning and how much gets lost in translation and how much is retained - both heart and head stuff. I know there will be more than one poem germinated from these seeds.

We're trying to intersperse doing-things times with relaxing times so we don't exhaust her (or ourselves), so our next outing will be on Friday to my eldest's jujitsu class then out for dinner afterwards. The weekend holds Werribee Zoo and Mansion, ice skating at Docklands, and possibly city-based laneway wandering. It's so much fun to rediscover your own city through the eyes of someone new.

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