Archive for August, 2008

I cleaned under the bed today.

This was not a minor operation. As with deep-sea diving, it is imperative that you bring your own oxygen, bracing for the sight of weird creatures, lost cities, sunken ships and other such wonders as dwell in the great Beneath.

During today’s excursion/archeological survey,¬†for instance, I discovered: eighteen¬†novels, a My Little Pony colouring book, a¬†carton of ancient School Magazines, four empty shoe boxes, five pens, dust bunnies beyond¬†measure,¬†no less than sixteen water bottles and a copy of Scouts In Bondage. For those of a sceptical demeanour, I include photographic evidence of these last two. Behold!

(It’s worth noting that Scouts In Bondage belongs to my husband. This is vastly less disturbing once you realise that the slim, brown volume in question actually contains pictures of unfortunately suggestive book titles from eras past, as opposed to, say, the kind of illicit photographic materials likely to result in divorce, arrest and custodial sentancing, in that order.)

Drinks, anyone?

Progress!

Posted: August 29, 2008 in Ink & Feather
Tags: , , , ,

Thanks to this blog, I was offered (and accepted, with inarticulate cries of joy) the opportunity to write a fornightly column for Halo 17, an Australian arts/music/culture site. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is unfathomably awesome, and therefore something everyone else should find awesome, too.

(From this angle, the ultra-devious Small Cat appears to be feigning interest, but maybe that’s just spite at my ongoing refusal to self-combust and explode into easily digestable chunks, which, owing to the nature of my demise, would also be cooked, and if I smashed a bottle of sauce over myself in the process – well, so much the better.)

…That thought ended up at a weirder place to where it started. Sufficed to say, I am now, technically – among other things – a columnist, which sounds approximately 9,437 times cooler than government lemming, would-be novelist or distance student. So now might be a good time to print business cards.

So I can, you know. Business them.

 

Note To Self: Do not blog after coming home from Bar Open at midnight. Pixies will eat your brain, and incidentally, you will sound like A Crazy Lady. And capitalise at random.

Oh, bollox.

Dave Freeman, author of 100 Things to do Before You Die, has died – with his own list incomplete.

Now isn’t it ironic? (As Alanis Morissette might ask.)

Although ironically, her song about irony listed several things that weren’t, in fact,¬†ironic.

Now that’s irony.

When I was just starting uni, a friend and I were walking through the Sydney CBD, hanging out and looking for jobs. We’d moved in to neighbouring colleges, and thought it would be fun to try and get work together. And so we rambled, as one does under these circumstances, and talked. By and by, we passed a homeless man with a begging cup. I went to walk on,¬†but my friend rummaged in her purse, pulled out¬†some coins and dropped them. At the look on my face, or maybe just because¬†she’d stopped and I hadn’t, she stated that it was good to give – she could afford it, he clearly needed it, and so why not, when it was just spare change anyway? Impressed (because I was, in many respects, in awe of this friend, and just a little prone to emulation), I nodded sagely. On we walked.

Near Town Hall, we were stopped by some charity hawkers. This seemed like a good opportunity to investigate possible work, so we started talking to¬†one of the young salesmen. Yes, he could give us a number to call –¬†was very happy to do so, as it would mean a recruitment bonus for him – but only I was eligible: I’d just turned 18, the minimum age of application, while my friend still had another two months to go. We kept chatting anyway, because the boy was friendly, only to be interrupted by a foul old man, short and filthy, who came and asked if we could spare any money. Although repulsed, I saw a chance to impress my friend, and did as she’d done earlier, finding two dollars in my wallet and handing it over. The man grabbed it and ambled off. I turned back, expecting a smile or somesuch approval, only to find my friend staring at me, not quite aghast, but something very close to.

‘That man was an addict,’ she said. ‘Didn’t you see his teeth, his hands? They were stained yellow.¬†He’ll just spend it on cigarettes. You just gave money to an addict.’

This was not the reaction I’d expected: I felt guilty, stupid and embarassed, as though the ability to tell which mendicants were deserving of aid and which weren’t was an innate, universal skill I’d somehow missed out on. I won’t pin all my subsequent non-givings on this one incident, because that would be both unfair and untrue; but it did make me feel agitated at the sight of beggars for some time afterwards.

As things worked out, I took the hawking job, at which I proved utterly useless, and after a week (or possibly two) I was fired, not having signed up a single person. So I did what most undergradute students do, and tried for work in a cafe. To my great surprise, was successful.

I worked at Corelli’s for nearly two years as a waitress, dishpig and general cold-drinks-mixer (not a barrista; I don’t drink coffee and certainly can’t brew it). It was a good job: the pay was $10 an hour cash in hand, most of which I banked, the¬†staff were eccentric in a way I grew to love, and it kept me busy. It also exposed me to the Newtown Crazies – a collection of long-term homeless folk with mental disabilities. Newtown Crazies was how I thought of them: maybe that was partly from a sense of friendly possession, but mostly, I suspect, it came from fear. There were a few who came to the cafe, sometimes with money, usually not. One man¬†sat on street corners with a box of washing power, constantly scooping and dropping it onto his hair, rocking back and forth in practised delirium. When he came in, his voice was cracked and unintelligible: he’s ask for a cuppa tea, and I’d flee to the kitchen, delegating responsibility to someone older and more sure. Another woman – aged, insofar as I could tell, somewhere between 50 and 80 – would come, swearing under her breath and swinging an ancient black bag, bare toenails yellowed and gnarled, accompanied by a grey-haired, gentle, simple man with a half-black beard and a soft, shaky¬†voice. It was difficult to tell who looked after who: he could’ve been her friend, or son, or nephew, but they were always together. The woman would sit outside and ask for a cuppa tea and a cheese sandwich. We’d let her run up credit; and, occasionally, she’d remember to pay, or else someone from the shelter up the road would.

And they frightened me. I felt awful and guilty for it, but that didn’t change anything: on some base level, the fact that their behaviour was unpredictable and foreign, that they themselves were unreachable via conventional reasoning, made me edgy. I should have felt pity. I tried to, and sometimes did. But the fear was still there.

One day, the grey man came in without the woman, and conveyed to¬†us that she’d been hit by a truck¬†when wandering across the main¬†road – I imagined her, swearing, bag swinging – and¬†was now¬†an amputee. She hadn’t given the doctors permission to operate on her shattered legs until it was too late: by then, the wounds had gone gangrenous, and they’d had no other option. We didn’t see her after that, or her friend, but at that moment of speaking to him solo, I felt sad. The grey man looked mournful, lost. He’d always been gentle, and¬†I realised I’d never been frightened of him, at least. Not really.

As I walked to lunch today, a ragged man with crooked teeth stopped me on the street, touched me on the shoulder. He explained he was homeless at the moment, hungry, thirsty – did I have money for a burger? And I lied; I said there was no change in my wallet and walked on, feeling indescribably shamed. I’d panicked, because he touched me: I’d had my iPod in, and had baulked at the sudden contact. I kept walking, replaying the event. I passed another homeless man, bent and quiet, dispirited in silence. Was I angry that the first man hadn’t yet been broken, that he dared address me rationally? When I turned away, what failings did I assume on his behalf – that he was solely responsible for his current plight, that bad luck hadn’t touched him, that I had no reason to help? I had, and worse, and it was wrong. I felt sick.

As I paid for my lunch – a smoothie – I reached into my wallet and found six dollars in gold coins. I pulled them out, clenched them in my palm, and resolved to walk back past the man and give him the money. I’d make amends – stop and chat, even, tell a white lie that the coins were change from my lunch. I’d been shorter with him than I’d meant, because the touch had frightened me, his directness had startled me. Charitably, I’d been off-balance, but that didn’t excuse my actions. I knew that now. I’d go back, and do what I should’ve done to start with.

On my return, however, the man was gone. Someone else been guilter, more generous than me. He’d been telling the truth, after all – money in hand, I picutured him eating, gone straight away to keep his word. As I hadn’t kept mine. I’d been the liar, not him. I looked for the silent beggar I’d seen, but¬†he was gone, too. I walked further, resolving to give the money to the first outstretched hand I saw, but no-one was there. It was like they’d evaporated. In the end, I spent 50 cents¬†stamping a letter, then slipped the rest back in my coin pouch, cold and unspent.

Between then and now, I’ve had moments of charity –¬†stopping to talk to a woman as she cried into torn paper towels on Southbank; giving paper money to a youth and his old dog – but nothing consistent. Why do I give to some, but not others? Whimsy, it seems, and whether or not the person scares me, but never for lack of money. Today, hopefully, I’ve learned better.¬†

If nothing else, I promise to open my eyes.

Footloose

Posted: August 26, 2008 in Mixed Lollies
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Recently, I’ve started riding my bike to work. On average, this means the trip takes me five or so minutes longer than if I were catching the tram and walking, but also – conversely – means that I can get up half an hour later, as I no longer have to factor in waiting for public transport. While riding in the rain¬†isn’t quite so¬†fun, I’m by and large very pleased. I feel fitter, I enjoy the process of getting to work, and I am reliant on no public transport timetable.

It also means I have to choose my wardrobe in terms of what can be cycled in. The idea of purchasing lycra and changing in the office is, to me, ludicrous – I don’t ride exclusively on the road, I’m not a speed-demon and the trip isn’t long enough to justify the effort. Neither have I purchased one of those nifty backpacks, opting instead for the occasional baggie over the handlebars and a shoulder-bag that doesn’t get in the way. I listen to my iPod while I ride, and have been known to sing along to The Beatles, particularly on my way home. Sandals and heels fall off, so I wear closed-in shoes or boots. If a skirt or dress dangles, I tie the offending edges into a knot over my lap so they don’t get caught in the rear wheel. All of which, I’m sure, serves to make me the height of cool in nobody’s eyes – but the point is, I make it to work on time, intact, comfortable and, once my skirt is unknotted and my helmet off, well-dressed, sans the necessity of bringing any extra clothing.

More than once, my¬†Long-Suffering Husband has made the point that my ability to do this is due largely to gender. In most office situations (he argues), women can wear just about anything, up to and including clothes that might otherwise be called casual, night-out-dressy, gothic or – in my case – mildly bohemian. Provided we “dial down the boobies” (to quote the single best line from The Kingdom) and don’t show too much high thigh, we can pretty much get away with anything. For men, however, it’s effectively a suit, tie very rarely optional, no matter what the weather. Men’s office-wear is uncreative and boring – and also, unsurprisingly, not too great to ride in, unless you’re into bicycle clips and a basket on the handlebars for your briefcase (says the LSH, although pants are certainly easier than dresses). In short, I have any number of work-friendly outfits to choose from, and am fancy-free to select for clothes I can pedal in.

Which is why (to come to a very circuitous point) I find myself rolling my eyes whenever I see office girls walking to work in sneakers, toting their actual shoes for the day – universally heels of some description – in an oversize backpack. Ladies, I have an announcement: if the shoes are too uncomfortable to walk in, do not buy them. We are under no obligation. No corporate job will enforces a female dress code so rigid that buying a pair of flats is out of the question. If flats don’t match your skirt, wear something else. And if wearing heels really is inescapable, then lash out and buy a pair you can stand to walk in. Even going barefoot makes more sense than dragging two pairs of shoes to work. Sneakers in this context look ridiculous, not only because they don’t match, but because they say, “here walks a person too conformist not to wear heels, but apparently too stupid to buy a pair that fit properly.”

For a suitably long walk, jog or cycle to work, a change of clothes is commonsense: you are not commuting so much as exercising, and the reason we have lycra, sneakers and tracksuits for the gym is because they¬†are designed to give support and comfort during¬†physical activity. But if all you’re doing is walking to and from the train, tram or bus, you should be able – as an intelligent, forward-thinking adult – to purchase footwear that doesn’t cause the same damage to your extremities as frostbite.

Apparently, America’s military isn’t strong enough for the 20th century.

This is a bit like saying that if lions were bigger, they could hunt elephants. Of course they could! But in the meantime, they are still lions, replete with claws, jaws, teeth, muscles and power enough to maintain a place at the tippy-top of the food chain, and incidentally to dispatch, in fair combat, just about anything else on the planet desirous of messing with them. However, even if a coterie of mad scientists were keen on breeding a strain of Giant Super-Lions with atomic brains and laser-eyes, I would still prefer this to America developing the real-world equivalent of a death ray.

Y’know why? ‘Coz lions, awesome predators though they may be, are still in no danger of blowing up the entire fucking planet.

Behold my staggering lack of confidence in human restraint, mercy and sanity when it comes to pushing the Big Red Button, as personified by this quote from the above article:

“To be sure, there are serious arguments both for and against developing such a system. Part of the justification is that the U.S. military already has such a capability. Unfortunately, it’s nuclear, which renders it worthless for anything but Armageddon.”

Let’s tackle this statement one sentence at a time. First off, there are “serious arguments” for such a system? As in, in favour of? Pro? Sweet Frickety Moses. I can¬†argue seriously to be paid a $100,000 salary to stay home, write books and watch Dr Who¬† (incidentally, if anyone does want to pay me for this, please contact ASAP), but that doesn’t mean it’s a good argument, no matter how serious I am.

Similarly, very small children can argue quite vociferously for their right to stay up late, hit each other with Tonka trucks and eat sugar until they vomit, but that doesn’t mean any right-thinking adult should let them. In this instance, at least, there are signs of prevailing¬†intelligence, Congress having blocked George Bush from building his new toy two years in a row. The article phrases this as:¬†“Lawmakers are concerned that Russia, and soon China, might mistake the launch of a conventionally-armed Trident with the start of a nuclear war against them ‚ÄĒ and respond in kind before realizing they were mistaken.”¬† (My emphasis.)

Secondly: part of the justification for building an Awesome New Weapon (ANW) is that – wait for it – they already have one. Is it lonely, do you think? Are they trying to get it a mate? If the ANW were a giant panda, I can see why finding it a¬†friend and eagerly awaiting the¬†pitter-patter of little panda paws would be a good thing. There would be cute photos, and women worldwide would go, “Awwww.” But we are discussing high-tech, city-destroying weaponry, and¬†not a photogenic variety of large, endangered fauna, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say no.

Thirdly: this existing ANW is nuclear. Oh – this makes it better. The Awesome New Weapon is too awesome. They want permission to build a slightly less powerful variant (i.e. one which will leave vast stretches of God’s Green Earth inhabitable for Americans after they’ve won the Next Great War, but still destroy the lives of countless millions) and use that instead. How do they describe it? Safe as houses, aye: “The lack of any explosive would generate precise mayhem, “comparable to the type of limited damage caused by meteor strikes.””

Meteor strikes? Meteor strikes. This is their benign military¬†alternative to nuclear Ragnarok? This, according to the article, “Sounds nifty, until you read the fine print”?

Nifty?

Jesus.

The fine print (for those who are wildly curious) means, essentially, that the weapon “represents only a “niche capability” designed to attack stationary terrorists or nuclear weapons or supplies,” and not, say, anything that moves. As weapons go, I almost like the sound of that, except (warning, warning, Danger Will Robinson) “there remains the challenge of finding a target in the first place”. (Translation: we can, potentially, hit anything – just not necessarily what we were aiming at.)

The next paragraph lists two (notably specific) scenarios in which the system “could” be perfect for saving the day – except that this still “raises at least the possibility of an accidental launch of a nuclear weapon”.

All in all, I think they’d be better off with a pointed stick and maybe a cartoon anvil. Possibly, under strict supervision, they can use the adult scissors. Or, here’s an idea, we could not blow each other up.

Now that, I like.

Best. Book. Ever.

That’s the short review. The long review, in which I mention not only the author (Nick Harkaway) but somewhat of the content, has just started. Thus:

The Gone-Away World is set in a post-apocalyptic, not-too-distant-but-slightly-parallel Earth. It is not exactly sci-fi, nor is it quite fantasy. Rather, it is speculative fiction in the fullest sense of the phrase: it speculates. Grandly. And it is fiction.

To say I enjoyed this book is an understatement of gross proportions, somewhat akin to describing Hiroshima as a power outage. Among other things, reading it by the photocopier contributed to my recent firing from a government bureaucracy Рa pleasant irony, given what Chapter 1 has to say on the subject of pencilnecks. Having turned the last page less than an hour ago, I am therefore ideally placed to confirm that this is a book well worth getting fired over.

The¬†chronology is interesting, and also highly effective. Imagine a linear narrative, its¬†scenes labelled A to Z. Were you to pick up Scene¬†R and¬†place it carefully in front of Scene A, you’d have the right idea, as this is what Nick Harkaway has, in fact, done. In this respect, the structure is reminiscent of Memento: from an unconventional starting point, we travel back through the preceeding narrative in an orderly fashion, thence to discover the pivotal¬†reason for said starting point. And this we do, with a hefty whack of¬†brilliant, witty, outrageous, absurd, intriguing and above all entertaining sidenotes thrown in.

How, without ruining the book (and The Gone-Away World is not to be ruined lightly, or, for preference, at all) does one describe Wu Shenyang, Master of the Voiceless Dragon gong fu? Note – and this is important: Master Wu is not a ninja. Nor does Ronnie Cheung, foul-mouthed spirtual guardian and professional asshole, train ninjas. I will say no more. But read, and you will learn why.

I, geekily, am wont to describe the extreme cleverness of Harkaway’s writing in terms of other authors and their works – which is indulgent, as the man is clearly no mimic. Nonetheless: think Neil Stephenson and Cryptonomicon. Think Neil Gaiman and American Gods. Think Terry Pratchett and Night Watch. Think Jeeves and Wooster. Think the place between profundity and laughter. Think moments of awesome nerdity, heart-wrenching power and ripsnorting absurdity. Think lines, and the blurring of them. Think beauty.

By the photocopier, I cried. At home, I phoned my mother interstate to read her a passage, and laugh. It’s that kind of book. It’s hard to include my favourite moments here, although I’m sorely tempted. But like the gong fu of Wu Shenyang – and ultimately, the book itself – it’s about how you react. Sufficed to say that if a dialouge on exploding sheep, the Matahuxee Mime Combine, the ultimate in ninjas vs pirates and a man called Gonzo Lubitsch don’t whet your appetite, nothing will.

Trust me on this: just buy the damn book. Read it. Love it.¬†Reccomend¬†it¬†to friends, relatives, co-workers and people you met at the pub. Then read it again. And so one day, when the list of Modern Classics is reappraised, there will be at least one book near the top that you read voluntarily, and loved, and get why it’s listed.

Really. It’s that sort of book.

The following is an abridged transcript of a conversation which took place earlier tonight in a dumpling house off Lonsdale Street, and is one consequence of drunken philosophers trying to discuss environmentalism. It went like this:

Toby: So, global warming. Why don’t we just move the planet? You know, figure the maths out –

Zach: I thought you hated metrics?

Toby: Shut up!

Dave: Move the planet! We could build rockets, push it along –

Ole: Yeah!

Me: But, I mean, isn’t Earth an M-type planet? Don’t we occupy –

Toby: “M-type” planet? What the hell? Isn’t that a Star Trek term?

Me: No, it’s a legitimate science term which just happens to get used in shows like Star Trek.

Toby: Right.

Me: Shut up! I’m serious. We occupy a small¬†belt in space, right, because we’re just far enough away from the sun not to burn, but close enough not to freeze.

Ole: What, and what happens if we get too far away?

Me: We turn into Venus.

Dave: Venus is closer!

Me: Mars, then.

Zach: OK, fine, but we’re moving the planet. I mean, if we could make the year 500 days long, right, we could have ten day weeks, go decimal¬†–

Toby: I thought you hated arithmetic?

Zach: Shut up! 

Dave: So global warming is solved.

Ole: But, hang on, if we move the planet, won’t the moon crash into us?

Dave: No, no! The moon’ll come with, won’t it? Right?

Zach: Well, either way, it’s still coming with us. It might just, you know, be part of us.

Toby: If it explodes, we could have two.

Zach: Right! So we blow up the moon first.

Ole: So it can’t crash into us!

Dave: Yes! This is the new plan, then. Step one: blow up the moon. Step two: move the planet.

Me: Moving the planet. They did that on Futurama once, with robots.

Ole: And everything on Futurama is automatically brilliant.

Toby: Isn’t¬†that a documentary? I’m pretty sure it is.

Dave: They didn’t blow up the moon, though.

Zach: You know, those damn Jehova’s Witnesses, they keep on saying how great it would be if the moon were invisible, how it would solve all their problems, and I’m like, “Dude. But it’d still be¬†there.” Unfortunately, though, they’ve got a huge voting constituency. Bastards.

Me: I guess they took that song It’s Only A Paper Moon a bit too literally.

Zach: Yeah.

And thus, we saved the world.

Things I’ve been puzzled by during the current Olympiad:

1. There is an Australian BMX rider called Kamikaze. Not Joe Kamikaze, Joe ‘Kamikaze’ Blogs or even Kamikaze Blogs. Just Kamikaze: one word, no waiting. Since when could Olympians make like rappers or the Pope and¬†get by with just a handle?

2. A Latvian politician has¬†represented his country in the heavy weightlifting.¬†I’m not quite sure how to respond to this. Awe? Sarcasm? Laughter? A socio-political diatribe on the consequences of an elected official missing most sessions of parliament in order to lift weights? I just don’t know.

OK, so maybe it’s only those two things. But they’re an intriguing two, dammit!

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog front lately, mostly because being fired tends to¬†necessitate a¬†different, more productive¬†use of¬†one’s spare time, despite the fact that¬†said time has, for the same reason, undergone a net increase. Apart from the obvious job-hunting chores, I’ve also been doing uni work and editing my novel. The latter activity has been particularly enjoyable. If my writing life were an RPG, I’d have recently levelled up, because my ability to self-correct has suddenly leapt forwards. In the past, frantic editing surges have usually resulted in scrapping the lot and starting again, but while I’m definitely rewriting en masse, it’s with an eye to building up¬†instead of¬†tearing down. Chapters I’ve been content with for months are¬†being systematically fleshed out, tightened up and otherwise made over. The question isn’t why I’ve left it so long: it’s why I can suddenly see the flaws.

And flaws there are, ultimately as the result of sloppy writing. It’s a sobering realisation that despite my dedication towards becoming a published author, I’ve still, on some subconscious level, retained the belief that I can do less than my best, and have this be enough. Throughout school, I always coasted and cut corners for a number of reasons – disinterest in the subject, a preference to spend my time on other projects – and while these were usually, if not saintly, then at least¬†defensible reasons,¬†I ultimately did so, or was able to do so, because I was bright enough.¬†Laziness didn’t punish me. Although I cared about being perceived as smart, I wasn’t fiercely competitive:¬†a dip in marks didn’t matter, so long¬†as they were still good marks. Which, looking back, was both a healthy mental attitude on one level, and an active choice not to be challeneged on another. Quite often, my parents would look at my¬†results, sigh affectionately, and say, “Imagine what you could do if you’d put in some effort!”¬†But only now do I understand what they meant.

Since starting the second novel, I’ve improved. Writing characters I’ve already introduced is different to starting anew:¬†there’s an implied¬†confidence to it, with room for more flourishes, in-jokes, insight and¬†general development. It means that when I look back at the¬†story so far, my standards have lifted. But, still, I’d been letting things lie. I’d read the first book so many times that¬†I¬†only saw the cadence of¬†what I’d written, and not the substance. This time around,¬†however, the veil has lifted. It was holding together, yes, but it wasn’t as good as it could be.¬†

And so I’m fixing it, hammer and nail. After completing¬†the first three chapters, I even submitted yesterday to a local publisher, which gave me a tingly, back-on-the-horse kind of feeling.¬†I still need a job, but in the mean time,¬†I’m getting things done.

Who says¬†getting fired can’t be a good thing?