Monday, December 21, 2009

A very Christmas Christmas.

The lady behind the camera at the Santa photo stop has it all sussed out.

“I don’t tell the kids to say cheese,” she explains, “it looks too fake and try-hard. Also, it’s not very Christmas.”

I’m impressed even though I always tell Tricky to say ‘cheese’ for the camera. It’s my way of signaling that I’ve had enough and I want it all to be finished. I have lots of try-hard pictures of my three and a half year old. The camera lady points out the range of photo packages I can choose from.

“So how do you get them to smile?” I ask, hoping for a useful tip.

“I tell them to say “presents”.

I have taken Tricky into the local shopping centre to have his photo taken with Santa. There is a very small window of opportunity for this. This window must coincide with afternoon tea so as to provide maximum bribe potential, yet prior to any need for toilet. While we, his parents, appear to have successfully toilet trained Tricky we have failed in basic Public Toilet Negotiation. He is terrified of the air dryer. As in, just the sight of one perched near a sink is enough to make him scream. Very very loudly. In vain do we point out the paper towels or agree that he need not wash his hands this once. He clings, and digs in his nails and attempts to climb our bodies, much like a cat ascending a tree at speed.

And the screaming. Very loud. Very unpleasant. 

Not very Christmas.

 “I don’t like the other Santa, the woman waiting in line beside me says. “He’s got a very unfriendly face. “

I know the Santa she means. We’ve already been given the Word that the general shopping centre Santa isn’t very Christmas. He sits on a full sized sleigh in a winter wonderland setting. His sleigh comes complete with silver reindeer and a built in fan to keep his beard fresh. This was where we had Tricky’s photo taken last year. Tricky didn’t cry or scream last year but he was deeply suspicious.

In the photo Santa is empty-lapped, and hunched at the far end of the sleigh seat. He is unsmiling, his face devoid of expression or indeed any inference of normal muscle tone. Perhaps he’s bitter, or relieved, or on medication.

On my lap, Tricky is glowering at the camera, also unsmiling, also slightly glassy-eyed. He was still in nappies at that stage so perhaps he was working something out. 

The only person who looks like they’re actually enjoying themselves in the photo is me, grinning for all of us because I love Christmas so much and we’re making a precious precious memory here, goddamit.  

I feel slightly disloyal to winter wonderland Santa, even though I can see at a glance that it’s an entirely different Santa. Last year’s Santa was very old, this year’s is very young. Too young perhaps.  I think this is why the woman in the queue beside me perceives him as unfriendly. I wouldn’t call him unfriendly as such. Just bored shitless.

“He is quite slim,” I finally admit, which is probably one of the deadliest insults one could fling at a Santa. “His face is too thin and he doesn’t smile,” the woman hisses at me. I nod, and somewhere another elf falls down dead.

Later, we will pass by Winter Wonderland Santa again and I will try and hide our distinctive other Santa showbag. This will be totally unnecessary as a bevy of lean brown teenage girls will be waiting to have their picture taken with Winter Wonderland Santa and I will note that, with a teenager hooked closely under each arm, this year’s Santa actually seems very happy indeed.

The other day, Tricky asked me if Santa was a boy. 

I knew where this was going. Gender is very much on the Tricky mind just now. Followed very closely by genitals. I’m hoping this is a phase but I suspect it may simply be the beginning of the rest of his life. As night follows day so too must the fact that if Santa is a boy, Santa must have a penis.

Yes, I hear myself saying, you’re right. Santa does have a penis.

There are actually three Santas in this shopping centre – Winter Wonderland Santa, Absent Santa who is never on his Santa chair when I pass by, instead purportedly out “feeding his reindeer,” and the Santa who my son and I are now queuing up to see.

This Santa, inside one of the big department stores, is seated on a throne in what might be described as Santa’s Hidden Toy Grotto or alternatively, Santa’s Secret Bondage Dungeon. It gives the whole picture a cosier, more ‘Christmas’ look.

The woman next to me has obviously come to the same conclusion.

“This Santa,” she says approvingly, “is more real.”

Secret Bondage Santa looks fat and old and wears spectacles. Also there is only a very tiny queue. This makes him very real indeed and ideal for our 2009 Christmas photo.

It’s our turn and I push Tricky forward into the arms of a costumed stranger, exhorting him to sit on his lap and musing to myself what a strange and creepy thing this is to do to a child. I see that I have hastily dressed Tricky in his brown plaid shorts with the cowboy on the pocket and a long sleeved green shirt printed with giraffes.

Against the uniform red of Santa’s trousers and with a group of red, white and green children waiting patiently behind us I can see how my son clashes rather horribly. I have no real excuse for this except that I was hurrying to make the toilet window and we hadn’t done the washing for a while. I dug in a drawer, I saw green, I saw “shirt bought by grandmother”, I even checked with Tricky’s father as we flew down the stairs: “Does your son look ok in this? Look at him, look at him please, we’re having a photo with Santa, tell me Does Your Your Son Look Ok In This?”

His father hesitated and then said: “He looks great!"

Now, having had a moment to collect my thoughts in the photo line, I can see that Tricky does not look great. He looks like a homeless person let loose in a handcraft market I think to myself as I straighten his shirt. I make a mental note to shout at his father when we get home.

I wonder again if it's time for a haircut. We have not been able to bring ourselves to cut Tricky’s hair yet and so it hangs in dark curls around his shoulders. Several curls fall rakishly over his eyes. Sitting on Santa’s lap he looks through his hair at me now. He is not scared but I can see he’s a little confused. He turns to stare at the strange man holding him firmly across one thigh.

“Is Santa a boy?” Tricky asks suddenly.

"Yes," I say. 

“What a good little girl,” says Santa.

“It’s our photo with Santa, darling” I say encouragingly, “Say cheese!”

The camera lady waves a stuffed reindeer and gives me a look.

“Say presents!”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

That would be a month

Does anyone else find that, despite the fact you set up the blog to write and makes some sort of shape from the whoosh of all the stuff that is your life, when the whoosh is at it's most whooshy you can't write because you want your words to be pristine and perfect and so you try and process the whoosh in your head first but at the same time you're dealing with new whoosh and then, hello, four weeks has gone by and you've written sweet F.A.

Which is entirely as it should be because you also, hilarious little thing that you are, signed up to do nanowrimo which is, to sensible folk who know not of which I speak, this thing where you decide to write a novel in a month. In fact you endeavour to write about 1600 words per day on said novel. In November, because, it's so slow, November; so much the month where absolutely nothing happens. Unless you are nearly three-and-a-half in which case the month of November doesn't exist and actually won't until you are about 20. 

So, not so much of the nanowrimo I am afraid. 
Or blogging. A bit of tweeting. Some actual This Is Your Job writing. 

I have been away on holiday, I have attended a school reunion, I have written a new play. Things have happened to my friends. In regards to the thing that happened to this friend, I met his mother, for the first time, a couple of weeks ago.

That was hard.

And that's a whole lot of whoosh.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Imaginary friends

So I go to pick up Tricky from preschool and I'm delighted to find him running around, shouting and climbing just like all the other kids. 

He's a bit of a shy one, our Tricky, it takes him a while to warm up in large gatherings and seeing him standing quietly off to one side watching all the other children have fun or clinging to one of the teacher's hands is a weeny bit heartbreaking. Especially for his wussbag of a mother.

Hence, everytime I walk through the gates, I find myself becoming a horrendous blend of Mary Poppins and Julie from the Loveboat.

I pick up his orange backpack and sign him out and then he pulls at my hand and says I want to say bye bye to Henry.

I nearly clap my hands together with glee. At last, I inwardly squeal. A little friend!

I scan the roll but there's no 'Henry' on the list. No matter, I think. Tricky has made friends with one of the big boys from the other class. Nice.

We go out to find Henry, I can't wait to meet him, and Tricky can't see him, but then again - yes he can, no he's gone no he's there, no he's not.

I start to ask the other small children: Where is Henry? Tricky wants to say bye bye, and they give me the blank rolling eye stare so beloved of the teen of their species.
There is no Henry, a very young ladyperson informs me with barely concealed contempt and I laugh this off because remember Soren Lorenson? Lola's imaginary friend? He's darling and she's delightful and she totally has a wonderful life even though no one else can see him. 
Also, I have a friend who I recently learned was bff with an imaginary boy who lived in the gas meter box. He's now in his mid-forties with a lovely wife and children. (The friend, not the imaginary boy who was tragically abandoned when the family moved house and became fully electric.)

And anyway, Tricky has spied Henry now and is dragging me in for the kill. There he is!
I can't see Henry, I say, Is he wearing a blue hat? Has he got a green bag?

No,  says Tricky, exercising his right to speak gibberish; he's gnafferguldrtymf  
We're closing in on a pink moulded plastic cubby house and two small girls are squabbling over who should be allowed to ascend the moulded plastic staircase first.
There he is! Tricky's voice rings with triumph but I still can't see any boy, let alone a boy who's 
gnafferguldrtymf . 

Hello girls, I hear myself say in the ghastly faux-bright voice of the clueless adult; Is there a Henry here?
They look quizzically at each other and then glare ferociously at me. I hear Tricky murmur in my ear: There he is, there's Henry...

What's your name? I ask the girl closest to me and she tells me Mackenzie. Tricky is beaming away and nodding like yes, I said that all along, isn't she beautiful?
Tricky would really like to say bye bye to you I tell her and she nods. I get the distinct impression that small boys always want to say bye bye to her. Having got this far of course Tricky is completely tonguetied and nearly paralysed with shyness. He waves his eyelashes at her.

Oookay then! I smile like an idiot, Bye bye Mackenzie!
Byebyetricky she gives him a half wave and her friend takes the opportunity to nip past her and up the staircase. 

I drag Tricky away, it's never nice to hear the object of your affections consumed with rage and things are starting to get very heated indeed at the moulded plastic cubby house. Instead we walk hand in hand back up to the car, with Tricky giving me all sorts of useful besotted trivia about 'Henry'. After a few seconds of non stop Henryisms I am about ready to ask Tricky just how serious all this is when the local cat swishes up and stops just long enough for a pat. 

And when we continue on, all traces of 'Henry' seem to have gone and he doesn't mention her again.

Almost as if I'd imagined the whole thing.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Now Is The Winter, and it is cold in this tent.

So it's not, actually, Winter, but man it is cold. And outside the wind is blowing a gale.

I'm so cold I've got the heater on and  I'm wearing the stripy woollen jumper my sister AJ gave me from Noo Zillend, my sheepskin slippers I bought way back when C and I used to live with grumpy grandad (ooh yeah they were fun fun times) and my old black jeans with the hole in one knee. 
Helen saw me wearing these jeans once and she told me, very firmly, that I Must Stop wearing them outside the house. Those jeans, she told me, are for Doing The Housework Only.
Since I rarely Do Housework they hardly ever get a good wearing.  

Which means, on cold days when the washing has piled up, they're one of the few clean, ready to wear items in my wardrobe.

For a few weeks too, I've been feeling like the very Worst Parent In The World. Just about every parent feels that, I know, it gets passed around, that particular award - we hold it for a while, burn our fingers on the ice cold metal handles, engrave our name on it, and then one day it's gone. 

I think I got my award not long after the day both C and I forgot to pick up our son from preschool and our nephews from primary school - each thinking the other was going to do it. And I think it went just before the day I took Tricky for an outing to the Powerhouse Museum, one of our favourite haunts. That was the day he threw up in the car, just as I pulled into the carpark. He was saying "Stop the car Mummy, I need a cuddle, I don't feel very well," and I was calling over my shoulder "yes darling, not long now, of course I will give you a cuddle..."

Luckily I had brought the bag he uses for preschool, and in that bag we had put a spare change of clothes. And although I was prepared to just clean him up and drive straight back home, once he had chucked up he became remarkably cheery and quite eager to see the trains and indeed we ended up having a rather marvelous day.

 While at the museum we saw some 'children's theatre', not great writing but enthusiastic delivery. Tricky and I sat on the floor, or at least I sat and he was forcibly restrained by me. This was our first time at an event of this nature where he was old enough to express his displeasure (I WANT TO GOOOO!), some time earlier he came to see a production of one of my children's plays in Newcastle and was perfectly behaved. But then, he was also pre-verbal and probably breast feeding at the time. 

Tricky knows that I (and his father) go to see movies or theatre which he calls "cin-a-tar" as in "Mummy, where are you going? Are you going to the cin-a-tar? Who is looking after me? Pease don't go, pease, pease...I don't want daddy/Aunty N/babysitter/grandmother I want you..." This kind of emotional manipulation also adds a bit of shine to that crap parenting award I mentioned earlier.

So it's cold and the wind is blowing something awful around the house and through the cracks in the airvents but also, I just feel really really down. 

I think finding out about Emil, his sudden death, has really upset me, like not just made me upset but upset my balance, my sense of the way life has stacked up around me. 
Losing a friend and an artist, those two things entwined. 
Someone who started out when I did but who shot way ahead in his field and then fell. 

And a few more things have happened since Emil, things that impact on the way I see myself as a writer and an artist and as an Australian writer and artist. It feels like the whole of my industry could fit into a tent and I stepped outside to take a pee and there's no room for me anymore. And it's frigging cold out here and the wind is blowing and blowing and friends are dying.

Tricky enjoyed the show in the end, luckily, he sang and waved his hands and clapped at the right moment and later at home when I found him setting up his train station as a theatre; with his trains and miniature people as the audience, I felt a great wave of satisfaction. 

I had begun my offspring on that wonderful journey that is the arts; of appreciation, of story and spectacle and creativity, of self doubt and envy, of failure and almost success, of stress, not enough money, deadlines, messy desks and lost potential, opportunity and people.

It's the kind of thing I could get quite depressed about but now it's time to pick up Tricky (nephews on their holidays) and we stop in a park and slide on the slippery dip and play on the swings and the wobbly up down thing and we drive home and we look for strawberries and we find one that has survived the rain and the cold and then we go into the warm house and we eat cake and we drop crumbs all over the floor and I don't clean them up because we are far too busy building our new traintracks.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Emil Goh 1966 to 2009 is Too Frigging Short.

On Monday, my friend Emil Goh died.

I found this out on Twitter, while I was scrolling down through the arts snippets and parental tips and clues for better compost. 140 characters is not very much but the words Vale Emil Goh pretty much caught my eye and stuck in my gut and quite quickly I found the links.

I have argued with people over Twitter before and been given various arguments against - mainly involving the words “stupid” and “narcissism”, but I have to say  “you may discover a friend has died” is a fairly strong contender in the Reasons To Hate Twitter list.

There’s already a lot of stuff in the cybersphere about Emil, he created an extraordinary body of work over the past years. He exhibited in Australia and internationally, he curated, published, produced, photographed, documented,video-ed and basically lived a great life. He received an Australia Council residency for Seoul a few years back and he adored the place, there was no better place or time for making art and making friends-  possibly his two biggest skills-and the one went with the other, hand in hand. 

It is the making friends bit I want to celebrate here because everyone who knew Emil became a friend. Years ago I remember laughing that you couldn’t walk across Newcastle's Hunter Street Mall with Emil in under an hour – so many people would stop to chat with him. That was indeed years ago, before '94 when we still lived in Newcastle - but I bet people said the same thing about Emil in Seoul, London, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Sydney…

We met when we were both at Newcastle University, in the early 90's, and we clicked, apart from anything else because we had both lived in Malaysia (he was Malaysian and I was a RAAF brat) and we both loved the Nonya food. We could drool together over memories of makan cart banana fritters, peanut pancakes and char keoay teow although when it came to the shaved ice desserts, laced with coloured sugar syrup, evaporated milk and various beans, he was on his own. Emil loved these frozen confections, I loathed them. 

It wasn’t specifically Malaysian food, we decided once to do a project together about the best cafes in Newcastle; I would write the articles, Em would do the portraits. We never finished, but we drank a lot of free coffee and Em took a lot of shots of me in my black and white REMO shirt. And that was another thing he loved back in the early 90s: the REMO store near Taylor’s Square. And Seinfeld. He loved Seinfeld.

In 1994, the year my mother died, Emil and I were very close. I was attending the NIDA playwrights studio in Sydney and used to bunk on his couch in Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills, once a week. When Emil and his girlfriend broke up and my marriage broke up we were kind to each other and solicitous in the way that good mates are, both concerned about the other without sounding too concerned. Two other friends going through sad, strange breakups of their own joined us and there was this period of caring, bitter, unhappy yet happy companionship that we shared. I seem to think we drank a lot at that time but then probably not, because I don’t really remember Emil drinking more than a glass at openings. But I do remember the food.

The food and the art.

And Emil was always making art. Different kinds of photographs, playing with lomography and those funny plastic split lens cameras that let you take 4 shots in one. More than that, hanging out with Em involved holding equipment, recording a script or posing for him. You could be asked to sing an aria or run on the spot in the half light while his camera clicked and whirred, or just 'be yourself'.


When I moved to Sydney with my new partner C, Emil was at art college and living in a share house in Glebe. And in quick succession I remember him taking us to a series of great food places we had never been before: Barbeque King in Chinatown, Vietnamese in Marrickville, Frank’s Pizza on Parramatta Road, Prasits on Crown Street, Sailors Thai in the Rocks, Singapore Gourmet in Newtown (authentic char keoay teow at last!)  He took us and he took other friends and friends of friends, if you ate more than once with Emil you were pretty much a friend for life. These were all places we would return to again and again until finally we would forget that Emil had taken us there first, they would seem so ingrained in our Sydney lifestyles, we would bring new friends and enjoy their first-time enjoyment. We went with Emil to Tropfest for the first time, to night clubs in the Cross for the first time, to tiny galleries and night noodle markets and Sydney Festival events. It was all new, it was all exciting. Somehow Emil had discovered these things, these things to enjoy and now he was sharing them.

Singapore Gourmet was a tiny, grotty little place on King Street, unassuming, drab but inside such culinary delight! Emil became such a valued customer he had one of his birthday parties there; we had the place to ourselves. We arrived early so we could help him cover the window and tables with butchers paper and then the dishes began emerging from the kitchen… the tables were decorated with tea lights, glowing through simple lanterns of tracing paper with photocopied images of his childhood - his mother, his father, a tiny spiky haired toddler Emil on the sand. These were prototypes for creative works but until perfected they provided a beautiful, quirky and very Emil-like accompaniment to what was already a fabulously unusual birthday feast.

Then there was the infamous yum cha mornings. Enormous tables of people gathered under his instruction, to eat dumplings, to drink tea, to enjoy life. We would meet these people and then would see them again and again around the lazy susan, blinking the sleep from our eyes and clacking our chopsticks. Emil was strict, there were rules; be at the restaurant at 11am sharp or forget it, that’s when you have yum cha, it’s not lunch! Don’t poke at the food with your chopsticks! Turn the teapot lid over when the tea is gone… I got into big trouble from him when I confused the staff at our favourite restaurant, putting a fifty dollar bill on the table and then waiting for change. No, it wasn’t meant to be a massive tip! Cross waiters made Emil unhappy. It meant finding a new yum cha restaurant…

The yum cha/dim sum love wasn’t all about the food. He bought a dim sum trolley back to Australia with him…and made it into art, an enormous gleaming silver trolley with bamboo steamer baskets towering up to the ceiling.

We did an art piece with him when he was still living in Glebe. C and I recorded a telephone conversation and our friend Helen recorded an aria. The audience, each person clutching a portable radio to their ear, trooped after Emil as he led them along Bridge Road past his house. Along the way they stopped on a corner to watch and listen as C lurked in a phone box and attempted to lip synch his end of the conversation into the receiver. After some sort of dramatic gesture he sped from the box to become another character doing something else. I’m not sure what it was exactly because I was poised between a desklamp and the closed blinds, ready to throw open my arms and lipsynch to Helen’s aria as the audience trotted past, peering up at the window, their ears full of soprano magic.

It was fun, making art with Emil. It was always fun. And thinking back to those times it reminds me that making art should be fun. Should be joyous. Sometimes when I’m crushed down by deadlines or rejection letters or my own insecurities it doesn’t seem like very much fun at all. And that's not very Emil of me.

 We didn’t drift apart it was more like, as the years went by, we were all working on our own stuff, Emil on video now and me writing. We visited him when he was at Goldsmiths College, staying in Goodenough House in London, we met more of his friends, had a barbeque in the beautiful fenced garden in the square. We saw some of the work he was exploring, more video work, the camera on the lazy susan balanced precariously on a window sill to record inside/outside. More friends. More yum cha (or dim sum).

He came and stayed with us in Sydney, he and his Melbourne artist girlfriend, sleeping on the loungeroom floor of our one bedroom flat. 

He came to my family home in Newcastle for Christmas and swam in the pool with my younger sisters. They called him “Emil Emil Orange Peel!” 

For a few years we emailed sporadically, somewhere in there he went to Hong Kong, he spent time in Europe. C and I were having our own dramas, I was diagnosed with MS and suddenly I was on a strict diet and then we struggled to have a baby and went on an even stricter one. The days of Peking Duck to celebrate Chinese New Year or Frank's gelato or any other food adventuring with Emil seemed a long, long way away.

Emil went to Seoul on his Australia Council residency and then he stayed and stayed.

Where’s Emil? We would meet former yum cha compadres in cafes and Chinese restaurants. What’s the latest? Have you heard?

 I hadn't, no. There had been an argument, stupid. Rules had been broken and we both needed time to pass. C and I married in 2004 and I finally sent Emil a photo of my sisters and I in all our wedding finery. He was lovely, complimentary, happy and signed off Emmyxxx. Things were going well for both of us and we talked a bit about the art but mostly Emil sent me pictures of food and coffee and chairs and kisses and various very silly photographs “for your entertainment”. 

And we talked about Seinfeld, again, which he was reabsorbing in Seoul. He found for me a set of badges emblazoned with classic lines; ‘These pretzels are making me thirsty’. And NO SOUP FOR YOU!

It was nice hearing from him, it helped get my mind off the sad realities of infertility and then, when I was finally pregnant I emailed him the good news at fourteen weeks and then included him in my bog-standard I HAVE BIRTHED!!! email announcing my new son, five months later. (Yes, he did come early.)

Emil met up with mutual friends in Hong Kong, he met new friends, friends of ours when they went to Seoul for the first time and he showed them a good time as he showed everyone a good time, because Emil almost always had a good time. 

He loved life. He laughed lots. But we missed him when he was back in Sydney, I'm sorry!!!! he exclaimed in his email. And he never met up with us again. 

I’m still processing this loss of this dear friend, this talented artist, this lovely lovely man who was always smiling and fun and who delighted in meeting people and showing people around.

I regret not staying more in touch with him, not making more of an effort to see him when he was in town. But we always say this whenever anyone we care about dies. I should have…

What I do take solace in is Emil’s ability to live life to the fullest, to find the art in everything. The fun in everything. More than anyone else I know Emil knew how to maintain his curiosity, his sense of humour, his generosity of spirit. He was a great host, either in his own kitchen or the streets of a new city, he would take you under his wing, he would show you things. He adored popular culture, kitch, retro – he always seemed ahead of the pack, he found things first, shared them and then moved onto the next discovery.

In the report I read of his death, he was with his girlfriend. And that made me happier. That he wasn’t alone, that he loved someone and that someone loved him back.

But then, we all loved Emil. 

And the world seems darker, less fun, and certainly much less tasty without him.

Update: obit in Sydney Morning Herald here 

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Diary Of A Really Prissy Teenager

For various reasons I have dug up my high school diary. 

It is a truly frightening document that begins at age 12 with the words:

"A few days ago I met v down at the Hostie. She seemed delighted to see me and told me that I was invited to her party. It was to be from 7.30 to 11.30 and C was coming too.
Judging from V's past social experience, I'd say there were boys coming..."

and ends at 17, the night before the HSC exams, with:

"Who's afraid of V Woolf?"

and in between: sheer undiluted ghastliness. 

I love  it!  

Anyone else want to share?

Monday, August 31, 2009


"You see my problem."

I was talking to my pal Annie about the forthcoming BOOK WEEK demands. Pick a character, any character, and then dress your child up like them. Or suffer the consequences. Preschools are notable for being cold and hard like that.

"It's not fair," I whined. "The girls can come as princesses. They'll in be pink. They'll wear frocks and maybe a plastic tiara. It's easy for those parents." I was generalising but I didn't care. I had a scant few days to whip up Tricky's cozzie and the pressure was wearing heavily on me and my feminist ideals.

Despite his love of Charlie & Lola, Tricky had decided to be neither Charlie nor Lola, plumping instead for that cuddly feline denizen of the Hairy McClary books: SCARFACE CLAW aka TOUGHEST TOM IN TOWN. It was an unusual choice because Tricky was actually scared of Scarface Claw, insisting we not read the relevant pages when he cropped up in the 'Hairy' books. It made it hard to maintain the tension when Hairy McC and his doggy mates encounter a strange pair of eyes in the undergrowth and then...with a clatter of claws and a scatter of paws... suddenly and inexplicably decide to bugger off home.

I had already scoured the Big House dress-up box which contained the evidence of many a fine Halloween for the Naughty Nephews, not to mention the ghosts of Book Week past, but there was nothing to conjure up a mangy tomcat with a Very Bad Attitude. Nothing except the remains of Naughty Nephew 1's hairy black and white teddy bear suit. A rather rustic looking jacket and trousers as whipped up by my designer friend MarkyQ, one balmy summer evening, many Book Weeks ago.

Now, I found myself (as I so often did) in my hometown Newcastle wandering the aisles of a rather depleted Spotlight with my old theatre pal Annie. And whining. Lots of whining.

I had hoped that I'd find a fully formed tomcat costume, Pret A Porter, with minimal fuss (and obviously maximum cost but I was prepared to give up sustenance for a few days in return for peace of mind). I was wrong.
There was nothing left on the shelves except  a handful of 'Bubblebee' and 'Fifties Boy' outfits.

"This is like the Chernobyl Spotlight," I snarled. "I expect better from the city that gave us The Castanets and Yahoo Serious. All I want is a fecking cat. Where are all the decent costumes?"
As I spoke a harried looking woman marched past with three darling little girls in tow. 
"It doesn't matter, I can make them," she was feebly insisting,"three princess dresses. In Pink. Easy." 
"I have to be Belle," one of the darlings snapped.  
"They must have full skirts and fitted bodice," trilled another.
"And a twain," lisped the third who didn't look as if she was old enough to be out of nappies let alone into the traditional salmon tinted garb of the female minor royale.
"What about the tiaras?" the eldest darling called mercilessly as her mother rushed weeping towards the home welding section.

Book Week, it seemed, was not limited to one solitary Sydney preschool. At every fabric display, at each shelf of water soluble paint I could hear the same two words hissed between gritted teeth.

Annie clicked her clickable glasses together and regarded me with the wisdom born of both long term friendship and being producer/director/writer/actor/stage manager and, crucially, wardrobe department of her own theatre company.

"I have three words to say to you," she said firmly. "Hot. Glue. Gun."

Several hours later, back at my parents' house, it was done. 

Before us lay a cut-to-size hairy black and white coat, a long and satifyingly tomcatty tail and a pair of twitchily realistic Scarface Claw ears. These last were my own particular invention, cobbled up from triangles of the same faux fur fabric used to construct the tail and a "Sexy Red Devil" headband, snatched up from a Spotlight bargain bin, which featured demonic horns emerging, oddly enough, from a base of soft fuzzy black feathers. 

Costume construction had taken less than half an hour, most of the intervening time between Chernobyl Spotlight and Scarface Claw Central pleasantly spent sipping coffee and eating macaroons amidst the gourmands of Darby Street.

Once we set to it, Annie wielded the Hot Glue Gun (low temp) like a woman possessed.

Clicking her reading glasses together over her nose, she upended the Spotlight bag and rolled the faux fur like a pro. She sealed and glued and spot stuck the tail, she was a chick with a gun and she wasn't afraid to shoot. "I have put together whole productions with a Hot Glue Gun," she shouted happily, "Feathers, fur, braiding, leather...I've hot glued them all! I use it at home too! Soft furnishings! Decorative blinds! Whole sets of sequinned cushions!  All made up without a single stitch! lord knows I can never wash the things!"

At this point she had spotted the disaster that was Mach#1 of the Scarface Ears. "You've cut that fur exactly the way the shopgirl told you not to," she tutted. 
It was true and so they looked like a couple of neatly trimmed if slightly greying lady hedges, rather than a pair of scruffy feral cat ears. 

"Start again," Annie demanded and ruthlessly ripped the hairy triangles free. Luckily I could no longer be trusted with fur cutting and so Annie did them herself. They looked magnificent.

Book Week came twice for Tricky this year, the Preschool had scheduled parades on Monday and Friday-both days he attends. Scarface Claw had two performances. 

Each day he was shy and nervous, each day I had to hold his hand and walk alongside thirty knee high pirates and pink clad princesses with one little Miss Giggles, one Snow White and one Angelina Ballerina and two mermaids ("Because Ariel wears different clothes on different days".)

Each day his costume was stroked lovingly by Angelina, Belle, Snow or Ariel. 
Each day his face crumpled as we started to leave and he had to be hastily handed over to a Teacher for cuddles and reassuring words as we skulked out the gate.

And each day he had a completely fantastic time


Monday, August 17, 2009

Where The Wild Things Buy Their Book Week Costumes

Today, these words caused my heart to leap into my throat:


I am quoting above from Tricky's preschool newsletter which I will of course use in scrapbookish fashion or at very least keep shoved in memorial shoebox because it is our VERY FIRST PRESCHOOL NEWSLETTER EVER. 
In years to come we will look back with warm hearts and moistened eyes to see that one of the teachers is having a holiday! Lucky her! And, soon it will be Father and Grandfather's morning! Welcome all old blokes related to students! And, A Very Special Thankyou to the Mother who donated two CDs! No one likes a smug miss.

But, it is the can come dressed as fave book character that has me tapping my fingers in an anxious fashion. This of course is merely the latest in a whole series of Preschool related anxiety-tapping moments. He has attended less than ten times and already I have worried about him 'having no friends', 'playing all alone', 'wearing distinctively weird trousers' and 'Suzie ate my cheese.' This last came directly from Young Master when I asked if he enjoyed his snack box. Despite the fact that there appears to be no Suzie in his class I still feel slightly anxious because what if he's being bullied by an imaginary friend? 

We all know what happens to kids that are different, I told my husband. 
They grow up to be leaders and artists and imaginative thinkers, he responded. 
Perhaps, I  nodded, and perhaps the other kids peck their eyes out.

Re Book Week and dressing as fave character, it seems obvious to me that firstly there is no "can" there is only "will".  Tricky must go dressed as something bookish because otherwise he will be different and, as we know, different is dangerous.

Problem is, Tricky's fave books just now are The Gruffalo (orange eyes, black tongue, poisonous wart on end of his nose), The Waterhole (various non-extinct and extinct animals), The Very Hungry Caterpillar(two choices, caterpillar or butterfly) and various Charlie and Lola adventures.
I have a scant couple of weeks to solve this and while I am confident in the papier mache sphere I do not have stitching abilities. Butterfly wings for instance are probably right out.

If worst comes to worst, I told C, I could just write Charlie on a tee-shirt and he could go as "Charlie". 

C was unimpressed. "He likes Where The Wild Things Are," he said "why doesn't he go as Max? All he needs to do is wear that hoodie."

I stared at him. 

"Max wears a full body suit with hood and ears", I said. "We don't have anything that looks even vaguely like that."

"Yes we do", C insisted. "It's grey and sleeveless. There's a picture of a bear on the front."

"And...that looks nothing like Max in Where The Wild Things Are." 

"He could have gone really wild," C insisted, "and cut off his sleeves."

I gave him the patented Mother Knows Best frown. "And screenprinted a design on the front?"

C turned back to his computer, slightly offended. "Well," he said, "that's who I always think of when he wears that shirt."

Father proving himself no help at all, I am left pondering butterfly wings and Charlie tee-shirts. Oh and poisonous warts. I'm pretty sure I could papier mache one of those up, no trouble.

Monday, August 03, 2009

An Australian Girl In Paris

I need to write about Paris. I know that sort of comes from left field but it's always been in the back of my mind.
And I have a certain distance from it now.
I remembered this morning that I started a blog about it, years ago and it's still wheeling round the blogosphere. And sadly, I've forgotten the password so I can't change it or add to it or even delete it and start again. It's just...out there.
I need to write about Paris.

The Sticking Point

Tricky's third day of preschool today. C is taking him in and also doing the schoolrun with the Nephews and I've stayed behind to do exciting stuff like write and de-ant the sultanas.

I went along on the second day and basically had to be dragged away by C who is now able to ascertain when the right moment to exit has occurred. Boy, isn't that a skill and wouldn't you think after a year at daycare, I'd have acquired it too? No, because in preschools, everything is bigger and there are a billion more kids and there are so many more shiny, glittery, moving, colourful things to look at. It's distracting! And also alluring! 

Me, I could have spent hours looking at the dinosaurs and the pirate ship and the plastic turtles and look there was a big couch with comfy cushions and some teeny tiny Ally McBeal toilets for everyone! Anytime! Gather round! Let's wee together! If they just put in an espresso machine I could be there all day.

Of course my biggest fear is that Tricky will be a lonely, grim faced child with no friends except for the plastic turtles and we will have ruined his life forever, because I'm neurotic like that.

Last night we put photos from his birthday party into a scrapbook and I realised he had gone quiet. It was not because he was overcome with delightful memories, nor was he stunned into silence by his mother's artful placement of pictures.
He was eating the glue stick.
Ahhhh! I shrieked at him and wrenched it out of his hand. Stop that! YOU WILL NOT BE THE TYPE OF CHILD WHO EATS PASTE.
 Tricky sucked on his fingers. I like it, he said thoughtfully.

At preschool, Day 2, Tricky already knew to put his bag into the locker marked with a koala and put his drinkbottle on the tray with all the other trays. His dad showed me where the fruit goes and where the lunchboxes go and where the Extra Snacks go. Tricky held my hand tightly until he saw his teacher and then he went and held hands with her. C gave me a nudge. There was a place for everything and everything has its place.

And now, for a few hours, my place wasn't with my baby boy anymore.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Now We Are Three (and on antibiotics)

Last Sunday. Birthday Party. Lots of Nigella led cooking. Cupcakes. Number 3 Biscuits.
Buttermilk birthday cake. Home made sausage rolls are to be made in morning.

Night before: Eat entire bodyweight in smarties, clinkers, jelly babies and chocolate logs in bid to decorate Train Cake To End All Train Cakes. 

Possibly all birthday cakes. 
Possibly, when we are 4, he will get a birthday pikelet.

Drink copious amounts of wine with parents in law, husband and sister in law, all of whom are working and drinking steadily in effort to get cake decently iced and decorated.
Mission accomplished before midnight.

Day of party. Festivities start at 11am. Panic starts earlier. Suddenly list of tasks for morning seems enormous. In good news, the celeriac has been grated. But in bad news the thawing mince is revealed to be TOTALLY STINKING. Husband despatched to buy more mince. Note that even at this late stage he is not despatched to buy FROZEN SAUSAGE ROLLS.  

Arriving guests. Luckily there are only a handful. Because this guest has gall to be on time she is given chores to do. Mince returns and through serious Kitchen Wizardry is mixed into puff pastry and tucked into oven. And we all know that if the sausage rolls are cooking then all will be right with the world. Sister in law whips out enormous platters of sandwiches all minus crusts.

Around this time things start getting slightly fuzzy for me. Yet I have not even cracked open one of the bottles of champagne. Hmmm.

Guests arrive. There seem to be hundreds of adults. There are 5 guest children. 

Pass The Parcel is played. I have bowed to pressure from every other parent on earth and slipped a chocolate frog between every layer of paper so all participants will, bah humbug, win a prize.

Much shrieking, laughter, screaming and running up and down stairs. Meanwhile, children play on trampoline and assorted pedal car things and trampoline.

Food eaten. Cupcakes have pink icing eaten off top. Number three biscuits seemingly inhaled. Sausage rolls proclaimed great success. Adults manage to fight off anyone under two feet and scoff lot.

Children are as angels and play so nicely parents end up staying. Brother in law makes loaves and fishes type pasta and manages to feed entire group, despite fact he has just come off 3 weeks of shooting still photographs on film set. 

Everyone collapses when last guest leaves at 8ish. I manage to finally recall that there are luckydips to go with the party bags as the last child leaves.

Think that he is three. Imagine many more birthdays to come. Imagine making number 4 biscuits and then number 5 etc etc. Remember woman in toyshop saying that we were "brave" having a birthday party at home. recall self scoffing at the very idea of having a party at a commercial venue. Feel very ordinary. Put self to bed.

Afterwards there is probably one or two day's grace before flu hits and what a corker it is too. Culminates with sad scene of Myself, Tricky and C at the local doctor's in "family" appointment. Not swine flu, something much less famous. We leave with various antibiotics for various secondary type lung and ear infections (having antibiotics for flu being, of course, pointless, as flu is a virus) and I get a delightfully quaint purple puffer to help knock over a horrible prolapse inducing (well that's what it feels like)spasmodic cough. 

Purple puffer will work in a week maybe but on the other hand, can also cause mouth thrush. Hoorah. Only good thing is that I have had my alcohol free 'dry july' after all. Well for a week at least.

And Tricky had a simply marvelous party.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"When I am 3 I can go on the Monorail"

Next Saturday is Tricky's birthday. His friend Sebastian is flying back into Sydney that day and so we are having our party on Sunday.

The plan is to play Pass the Parcel and to eat a cake shaped like a train. There are five days to make and assemble said train and so I am not without anxiety. 
(I'm not without anxiety at the best of times really. The trip to Los Angeles I won as part of the playwriting comp, I still have not organised. Anxiety. Planes. Long distances. Meetings. Potential failures. When i get round to booking a seat I will need to have one extra just to accommodate my fears. One ticket with anxiety. Economy please.) 

Luckily there will be enough time because this is not one of the weeks just gone, one of the incredible weeks of writing, listening and creating that have punctuated June and July so far. 
I think it started with that weekend away, that weekend of not being woken every four hours and being able to pop in for a film or a spot of shoe shopping or a long browse in a bookshop. 

And then there was this two weeks of astonishing brilliance; a workshop with theatre legend Edward Albee  (Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Three Tall Women, Zoo Story etc etc etc) and (concurrently, curses) a workshop with the resident actors of the Sydney Theatre Company to explore and develop the written "shards" that playwrights gang 7ON had created.

I twittered some of this stuff, not blogged it because I was unable to string more than 140 characters together at a time, and frankly it's a bit gushy and embarrasing but since I've already written quite publicly and at length about IVF, birth, dildocams, my lala, breastfeeding and various ups and downs of Special Magical Grownups Time with poor old long suffering C, I think I can handle admitting to a playwright's crush on Mr Albee. At one point I offered (via Twitter) to cut the plot of my play AND do his laundry, such was the strength of my feeling. 

And still is, frankly. 

This is the second workshop i have done with Edward Albee, the first was nearly three years ago when i was heavily pregnant. 

Last time was a much larger workshop. There were a lot more people involved, directors and and actors, it was hard for shy people to spend much time with Theatre Legends but this time, this year, it was just a small group of writers. Shy people could get a look in.

But here's the terrible thing, the really embarrassing thing; i told myself before the fortnight started that there was nothing I could learn from Edward Albee. That there wasn't anything he would say that I hadn't heard before and that it was all old school playwrighting anyway. 

And it was, and it was and yet it so wasn't. 

 I had heard it before, but it was only now, still sleep deprived, amazed and grateful at the chance to have two weeks worth of time spent studying and writing and reading, not snatched hours between naps or other jobs but two real weeks of 8 hours a day, that I heard what he was saying. 

And the Big Thing he said, that I grasped and held onto (and really this is what gave me my playwright's crush) was that we have lineage. Because I had always felt kind of alone, scribbling away, that's one of the things that brought 7ON together. And I reckon most playwrights do feel like that, especially when your work isn't being produced or performed. But what we were learning was that as a playwright, as a writer of story and character, we are all connected to a huge and ancient river of writing that goes back in time through  (Albee's big four;) Brecht and Chekov and Pirandello and Beckett and back to the Greeks and back to whoever first told the first story by a fire. 

So that I have a tiny but vital connection to playwrights like Caryl Churchill and Mark Ravenhill and Simon Stephens just as I do to the Australian playwrights I admire like Ross Mueller and Lally Katz and Suzie Miller and Caleb Lewis and the 7ON gang. 

And, Edward Albee. 

And that's why, even though the plan was a week with Albee and then a week at the STC, I had to keep going back. Even though the second week was all film scripts and I could only make the afternoon feedback sessions,  I kept going back and I kept writing it down. And I wasn't the only one. We have a small small theatre industry and it can be very easy to become disheartened and jaded and hardened. And I can whinge with the best of them but this time when people started to complain about the usual gatekeeper tactics I wanted to say let it go, just write, if you have a story to tell then you need to write it down and if you listen you will learn more about ways of telling that story...

I asked if Albee would sign my copy of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. It's an old version, one of those beautiful Penguin Plays, and it belonged to my mother which made it already precious.

He wrote: From one playwright to another. Courage!

And because I wanted to give him something, I gave him a copy of my book, which made me laugh to myself, because, honestly, what was he going to make of that? Luckily it made him laugh too. I am enjoying your very funny book, he told me at the prize ceremony on the last night of the workshop.

The first thing Edward Albee said to me, three years ago, was you must be about eight months pregnant and I laughed nervously because of course i wasn't eight months pregnant, lordy if I was due to have a baby in four weeks I would not be at a writers/actors workshop doing all that improvising and carrying on, I would be at home getting ready

As it turned out, I was due to have a baby in four weeks. Tricky came just under a month early. And I wasn't ready. And in some ways I have never really caught up. Nor do i expect to.

And now, he is about to turn three. 

And I have just turned forty one.

And he is old enough to go on the monorail (with his Mummy and Daddy).
And I am old enough to listen and to learn about writing again. 

And to go to Los Angeles. 

With or without anxiety.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Heaving Underbelly of the Perpetually Sleep Deprived.

So the other day I was meeting another writer for a coffee in an area recently made even more famous by the Convincingly Fake Chk Chk Boom Girl

It's an area that's been in my mind a bit of late because it also features in a lot of the research I'm doing with playwrights gang 7-ON on Sydney crime in the early 20th century. Kings Cross does celebrity crim very well, there's lots of seedy corners and shabby chic buildings and various spots of interest where you can almost see thirties Bordello Queen, Tilly Devine striding up to the corner shop to get her milk. 

In short, it's a little distracting, all that crime history and myth and colourful racing identity stuff and one can, if one is a bit unsure of where one is going, end up...say...the wrong way up a one way street.

I'm not the best driver in the world, I think I may have mentioned before that reverse parks do not feature highly on my list of sensible grownup skills for instance. When I am trying to do a 180 degree turn in a small laneway squeezed between a refuge for the homeless and a delivery van for one of the million or so coffee shops nearby (none of which is the one I am trying to find) and I am being hassled by a feisty baglady, I do what Tilly wouldn't do, which is, I have a panic attack.

The previous weekend C and I had spent in The Rocks which is another area soaked in history, myth and colourful racing identity stuff. In this case The Rocks, being older had the first colourful racing identities, even though of course when the First Fleet sailed in there were no racecourses as such and it's debatable who those first criminals really were; the convicts or the military who sailed alongside them. 

This was not a fact finding mission, this was A Break From The Screaming Tomato. Aunty N very generously offered to look after Tricky for the weekend and after some humming and ha-ing (about three seconds worth) we went. Initial pfaffing over where should we go, mountains? central coast? south coast? led to...let's just stay in posh hotel in city ( you rock) and sleep

But C and I have both been reading John Birmingham's excellent Leviathan and so it was just a bit of gravy to dress in our posh clothes and head up to our posh restaurant and say...ooh look, that's where the previously pure and uncorrupted Tank Stream ended up a filthy cesshole of turd soup and dead goats, and hmmm I think these may be the houses that kept filling up with raw sewerage and...around here would be where those larrikin push gangs attacked innocent bystanders and hit them with socks stuffed with sand... and ook look what Brian Eno's done to the Opera House, talk about colourful racing identity...

The break was fantastic, of course, for all the reasons you may suspect, but equally good was being able to buy half price shoes in a shop you couldn't swing a toddler in and then going 'fuck it I'm going to buy two pairs'. Because, when was I going to get the time to shoe shop again before he starts school? The last time I bought a pair he was about five minutes old and strapped into a pram. Also asleep. 

It was very nice to actually have time to talk to each other and to look at each other while we're talking, instead of shouting over one shoulder whilst buckling tiny shoes or changing tiny underpants or combing out tiny nits. It was nice to be reminded that, oh yes, it's you, my best friend, my biggest fan, my partner in crime. I remember you. I love you.

Returning to the real world we have taken on some of the Aunty N/Uncle K modifications in place and they seem to be working well. Star charts to reward Sitting In High Chair and Eating Food are going great guns but I fear the Speaking Quietly and Politely may need a little heavier artillery. The biggest change is to bath Tricky before his supper, not after as we used to do. It makes the transition to bedtime so much quicker and I think the 7.30 bedtime is doing a lot to head off some of Darth Toddler's more criminal behaviour.

Back in Kings Cross, stuck between a van and a hard place, I was attempting yet another billion point turn. The baglady was now informing me that my licence had come from a soap box (cornflakes box! I wanted to tell her, it was a fucking cornflakes box! but at that point I was beyond speech. I didn't dare look over at the wayside chapel residents gathered in the yard, I felt I was doing my bit providing the morning's street theatre.

At that point, a figure stepped out on the road, a little shabby, a little shady, brandishing a large broom. It was a guy who had been sweeping unmentionables from the road. 

Thissa way! he beckoned me towards him and then reverse thatta way! And he pointed his broom in the right direction. It was as if pure beams of light were shining from the handle piercing the darkness of ohfuckfuckhowdoigetoutofhere. I turned the wheel and moved thissa way.

A car started driving up the lane towards me, the right way.

Oh dear, I said.

Don't worry! He can wait!

And up went the broom in the international signal for Stop And Wait For The Idiot Woman Who has Other Skills To Make Up For Crap Reversing.

Thank you, I said, and it was sincere and heartfelt and just a tad wobbly. Thank you for being so kind.

He waved.

And with a final swing I was out, past the van, past the appreciative Chapel chaps, past the baglady with the impeccable driving record and past the guy with the broom, the angel in the fluoro vest, who swept me and my unmentionable driving skills clean from the streets of King Cross.

lovely opera house pic from here

Monday, June 15, 2009

A galaxy far far away from Darth Toddler

C and I have just returned from a weekend away. 

It involved lots of sleeping, shoe shopping, spontaneous swimming in hotel pool and ducking into miniscule decidedly child unfriendly cafes for quick coffees. It also involved posh dinner eating, walking for miles about the city and harbour and champagne at 4pm.

It did not involve pushing strollers, changing mumpies, sitting on tiny stool and encouraging eating of porridge, marathon teeth brushing sessions or tantrums.

Friday was the first night I have ever had without Tricky sleeping more than one room away. I wish I could say on Saturday I slept in till ten but sadly, both mornings, I was awake by seven.

It was the first time ever I had gone out for coffee without a matchbox car in my handbag.

It was fantastic, once the bottom lip stopped wobbling. His and ours.

But I believe it was wobbling far longer on our side of the galaxy.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Crossing the streams

Ack it's true there has been a significant amount of slackness in the House of Ova (sudden image, eek sorry) but that's because there has been a significant amount of tension. 

I remember in the eighties, early eighties, when people used to talk about 'biorhythms' and there were three lines representing your health, your...god I don't know, two other Important Things, but these three lines went up and down like waves and it was something about when the three lines met then kachow! 

Either that or I'm thinking of Ghostbusters and how you DON'T CROSS THE STREAMS! 

Deadlines large and small to be met (or not), Stuff to be researched and written, conversations to be had, toddlers to be bathed. This last should have its own post except it's part of the Hellacious Triumvirate of dinner, bath and bed. I whined about just this to Screenwriting Mummy about this the other day and she said...yes I remember that phase, it goes for quite a while. 

Cruel words but then her own toddler boy, previously an utter angel, is entering the shout and hurl phase himself. Great screaming tantrum in the bath can only be a few short weeks away. Surely. At least it's stopped me drinking wine at dinner. There is nothing more horrendous then winding down with a nice glass of crisp white to be almost immediately wound up again by a Screaming Tomato.

It has been a strangely disturbing time these past couple of weeks and I include swine flu and the horrific disappearance of that Air France plane. Maybe strangely disturbing things happen all the time, of course they do, I know they do, but for some reason my wobbly consciousness is stringing them all together. 

So friends and loved ones have dropped their bundle or been under attack at work or had cancer scares and tasks seem difficult and stodgy and I feel fat and unhealthy. 

And some of the writing and research I'm doing, murder scenes and mug shots from Sydney's inglorious past. Baddies, like the guy above. And page after page of broken bodies and bloodstains. It's disturbing and unsettling and slightly haunting. The playwrights' group I'm in (7-ON) is doing a 2 week workshop with the Sydney Theatre Company in a couple of weeks time and the photographs are prompting the writing which will in turn become a show. 

And that's great, that's tops, but the other thing that's happened is that I've won a playwright's prize which will see me doing a two week workshop with Edward Albee here in Sydney and also at some point jetting (!) off to Los Angeles. (!!)

And that's great, that's tops but the two week STC workshop and the two week Edward Albee workshop are THE SAME TWO FUCKING WEEKS. 

And that's a little, you know. Poor.

Anyway, that's how I've felt a bit this past couple of weeks. Ultimately I'm good, I'm happy. I'm lucky. But it's just all this Stuff swirling around that I'm noticing and collating and examining and feeling affected by. Which is not the same as feeling infected.

More like, someone, somewhere, crossed the streams.

Monday, May 25, 2009


So I went to the theatre on Saturday evening with Screenwriting Mummy. 

My playwatching quota has plummeted since Tricky was born and that's just pants really, what with me being a playwright and all. 

Years ago I remember seeing a postcard that said: "Why are there no great women artists?" 

The postcard had a drawing of a woman in a long medievally type frock standing in front of a canvas. She had a paintbrush in one hand which was outstretched towards the canvas and a soup ladle in the other. She also had two kids dragging at her skirt and was unable to see anything much because there was a whopping big saucepan over her head. 

I guess, thanks to the Jolly Big Funshop that is infertility, I had plenty of time in the past to put brush to paper and be a 'great woman artist', if only I hadn't spent all that time rolling about on my bed crying because I couldn't get pregnant. And now, look! I've got the baby and I'm complaining that he takes up so much time. Sheesh. Ungrateful or what.   

Anyway, it was great seeing this play, Inside Out which was about a mother and a son. The son is funny, witty, arty and has a great relationship with his mother. Except, early in the play we realise there's something wrong. That something turns out to be him having schizophrenia and the play moves through a horrific nine month period with, thankfully for the audience, a glimmer of hope at the end. The writer (Mary Rachel Brown) interviewed carers, health professionals and people living with mental illness and you could hear that in the work, it rang frighteningly true. 

I looked around the audience at times and I could see shoulders shaking and hands rubbing at faces and I realised that these were those people, not necessarily the ones the writer interviewed but others, parents and friends who had lost people, and even here and there the lost ones themselves. They were seeing their story, and the story of those they loved.

And for me watching, with my tiny boy tucked up in bed, and for my friend with her even tinier boy, it was also like seeing One Of Your Greatest Maternal Fears playing out on stage, not just the illness but the way it affected the relationship between mother and son, the heartbreaking accusations and abuse, the enormity of patience, the depths of fear. 

In this story, this story made up of lots of stories, the mother got her son back. A woman I met a couple of years ago was not nearly so lucky and I will never forget her description of walking the backstreets of the city and finding the sad little corners and nooks where he had sheltered for a few days before moving on. Her only son. Her only child.

After the play we went out and had dinner in a noisy Thai restaurant where we ate squid and betal leaves and drank wine and shouted over the table at each other. It was a good night with lots of talk, not just about the play and what it meant to us, but about writing and mothering and finding a way to bridge the two without being a shitty writer and/or a shitty mother.

It could be an attitude, I decided later. It could be that the word "great" is too much baggage anyway and once you get rid of that baggage, the job's so much easier. 

And maybe we just do what we can, and take time off where we can and meet friends where we can and watch as many plays as we can and that will be enough.

But also I thought I might get rid of that big heavy saucepan, replace it with a colander maybe. 

Then at least I can peer through the holes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

boys things

C and I are at the local council getting a directory on kindergartens in our area and I see a poster for a kids' writing competition. 

It's for 12 to 18 years and you can win an iPod and so i think Naughty Nephew 1st might like to have a crack. Also you have to write about Inspirational Women and I approve of that, I think that's rather good.

So then I pick up an entry form and I see that it's for GIRLS ONLY and I'm a little torn here. 

On the one hand I think it's good for girls to be given opportunities and special events. 

I think if I was a 12 to 18 year old girl again, I might feel a bit shy and lack the confidence to enter something like a writing competition. I might also appreciate that fifty percent of the competition has just been knocked out of the ring and I might say that after all there are plenty of activities dominated by boys.

But why is it only girls who get to write about inspirational women? Boys can be inspired by women too. God knows we get to hear about a helluva lot of male heroes that both boys and girls can be inspired by. 

And actually i think it rather good if boys in particular are encouraged to think more about the inspiring qualities of women.

Thanks to some rather ghastly Australian football player shenanigans, there has been a lot of discussion recently about respect and attitudes towards women, but this is an old argument, an old discussion. I just think this competition missed an opportunity to encourage respect and positive attitudes.

The entry form says things like: Have you ever read a story about a woman's bravery and thought: "What an inspiration."?
Is there someone in your family who has had a profound impact on your life?

And these are good things for all kids to think about, genitals aside.

But in the end I think what really threw me was the literary quote on the front of the brochure. 

Sadly, competition organisers had chosen a quote from a male writer which seemed contrary to the whole girlpower thing.

And bizarrely that quote was this:

"The pen is the tongue of the mind."

And agreed at first i just glanced at it, and also I am one of two sleep deprived, overworked parents, but i cannot be the only person who looked at the quote on that page and read dick.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scurry faster Bloody Mary elves. Faster!

I feel I have to add this because otherwise it may appear to the untrained eye that events described in my last post, written just after Tricky had finally fallen asleep, may have ended peacefully.

No, they did not.

Asleep, maybe an hour tops. 

And then...sweet mother of god... the crying started. But not crying as we know it. Whining moaning crying with eyes firmly shut. The kind of crying that cannot be shushed or cuddled or comforted in any way. 
What is the matter little boy? I would ask him and he just cried and cried and seemed to be trying to say something important but was impossible to decipher. Is it your ear? Is it your tummy? Do you have a sore tummy?
Sore tummy he mumbled back but then he also mumbled sore ear...
Should we go to the hospital? C and I looked at each other, worried, tired and then... Tricky seemed to settle.

For about ten minutes.

And repeat until 4am. 

There were slight variations on the theme. At one point he really did need to poo and this was done (in his nappy) standing up, clinging to my head and crying in my ear. When C changed him Tricky shouted THE LIGHTS ARE TOO BRIGHT. There was slight relief here, I understood this kind of shouting/crying.

DOONA ON... TAKE DOONA OFF...I WANT A SHEET...SHEET OFF... eventually I was too slow to respond and he just lay in his bed shouting DOONA ON DOONA OFF. For the sake of the rest of the house I tried to calm him and quiet him and interestingly, despite the horror, I never lost my cool. Yay me.

Around 4 he was crying for milk and saying he was cold. I put him into our bed and told him to stay there while I got his milk and when I came back in he was asleep. Asleep and outstretched over my side of the bed. So then, the constant gentle shove routine so I could claim a few inches for myself and...we all slept. Till 7 when C and I woke because my car had to be taken to the garage (massive 4 wheel drive ute backed up on my bonnet, all ok but man that was some crap day yesterday.)

This morning, I stumbled downstairs to talk about the night with my sister in law. She said that Naughty Nephew 2 displayed similar strange sleeping-crying behavior that could go on for hour. What worked for them was taking him into the bathroom with the lights on and giving him drinks of water until he woke, often with a start and the grumpy demand: "Bed!"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hand me my Bloody Mary pronto.

It is bed time. Past bed time.

The Screaming Tomato is back. 
The Screaming Tomato is angry. 
The Screaming Tomato wants his DIZZZZORT NOW. This should be YOGHURT or ICECREAAAAAAAM.

The Screaming Tomato wants his mother to GET AWAY FROM ME. Hang on, wait, are you actually leaving the room? Then in that case I WANT MY MUMMEEEEEEEEEEE. And also WHERE IS MY DADDDEEEEEE? Here he is making the shushing noises and trying to give me cuddles and saying in a soothing manly tone: here's your daddy. In which case DON'T TOUCH ME DADDY, JUST GO AWAY.

The Screaming Tomato does not want his bath.
The Screaming Tomato does not care to be placed in the bath when he has made his displeasure known.
The Screaming Tomato shall make his parents rue the day that ears were invented.

Cunningly, the Screaming Tomato suddenly transforms into smiling curly headed infant and bat eyes in fetching fashion. This shall be called: Story Time.

Story Time ends after a selection of fine toddler literature.

Screaming Tomato promptly returns.

Parents attempt to wrest Screaming Tomato into bed.

Screaming Tomato plays Trump Card. This shall be I NEED TO DO POO POO.

Parents have already caught themselves on previous nights crying wearily; "But it's so late. Can't you just do it in your nappy?" This makes them feel like Crap Parents. 

So once again Screaming Tomato is perched on potty. Pyjama trousers must be completely removed and preferably placed in another room, or state. More stories must be read to hypnotise the Screaming Tomato digestive system into, the much shouted about, motion.


Mummy of Screaming Tomato tells Daddy of Screaming Tomato that "that's it." 
Mummy then does something nasty to her back. 
Daddy attempts to re-clothe infant son and must suffer indignity of being told at top of voice: NO DADDY, GO BACK TO WORK.

And later, when he falls asleep, I think about different things we could have done; fed him earlier, bathed him earlier. I didn't smack him but maybe I should have, I didn't insist that he brush his teeth but maybe I should have. I wonder if we're spoiling him or if we're giving him confusing signals, or if he's going through a stage of temper tantrums that are only worse because he's bigger

And I think about his curls and his eyes filled with tears and his red straining face, and his soft kisses when finally finally he relaxes into his bed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

This just in (or out)

Potty Drought Officially Broken! 

Thanks go to:  fibrous diets, big boy underpants, Charlie&Lola stickers which enliven any small person's toileting and chocolate frogs- the official bribe for Number Twos.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I waited all those years for a day like this...

...cuddles in bed and appy muzzahs day mumma and what would you like for bekkfuss mumma and daddy pancakes and oh oh change of picnic plans cos its pouring outside and more cuddles proper ones with arms around necks and one thousand proper kisses or at least five with love and real coffee with frothy milk and hallo misselle appy muzzahs day hallo cordia hallo morgin hallo hallo and muffins and sandwiches eaten on the carpet and running up and down and up and down and up and down the hall and a break in the weather sends us scurrying to the playground and running up and down and up and down and up and down the playground and oh dear that little boy is drinking tricky's drink and home for dumping on da tampoleen and champagne for mummies and dadda and babycakes for small people and more dumping and dinner with nephews and more running up the hallway but with nephews this time and all in the bath and all out of the bath and bye bye and I DON'T WANT TO GO TO BEEEEEEEED and mummy use her firm voice and no more stories bedtime now and oh all right just one I mean just six and the gruffalo is the very very very last one cuddle cuddle night night kiss kiss...

...and lucky and lucky and lucky and happy and glad and love.