Archive for August, 2009

I’ve been in England now for just over four days, and am having an absolute blast. Getting off the plane at Heathrow, there’s a weird period of dissonance wherein it’s difficult to grok that you’re in another country, owing to the universal dictum that All Airports Look The Same. Also, there’s a not inconsiderable portion of my brain which expects, for whatever reason, that the sky in England should be a different colour, perhaps because this would be the most demonstrable means of telling that I was no longer in Kansas. (Well, Melbourne. You get the idea.) The point being, it takes a while to sink in. There’s a lot of green, a lot of blue, and then suddenly you’re walking down the road to the shops and there’s a deer, an actual honest-to-God deer staring at you from the foilage, blinking doeishly before bounding off into the trees, and you’re picking blackberries on the bridleway to eat for breakfast, and then it hits you that you are very emphatically not in Australia, and that this is a Wonderful Thing.

We’ve had a preliminary scratch at the surface of London, by which I mean we’ve done the obvious touristy things like gawking at Big Ben and watching the changing of the guard and strolling through Harrods and raiding the bookshops on Charring Cross Road in anticipation of later, more in-depth excursions (yay!), but have not yet found Londinium, something which I am very eager to do. We have slight colds, which is annoying but probably to be expected given 24 hours in a plane after weeks of exhausted running about, but are otherwise well.

And now, I shall drink some more pineapple juice and read my book. In England!

Our flight to London leaves tomorrow afternoon, which means that today has been spent, by and large, in a haze of Doing Things: wrapping gifts, packing bags, putting bikes in storage, sewing the ends into Toby’s new Dr Who scarf, doing tax, buying travel insurance, finalising the return of our bond, photocopying passports, purchasing books and so on. One might reasonably expect that this anticipatory bustle was the highlight – and, indeed, the be-all, end-all – of the day.

One would, however, be wrong.

In the course of stumbling upon my computer’s text-to-speech function and making it say swear words (which was a subset of recalibrating my cursor speed, which was a corollary of trying to fix my recalcitrant USB ports) , my loving husband discovered a similar facility in his own laptop: viz, its voice recognition software. Had this program been given a more specific nomenclature – such as word recognition or sentence construction software – I would be perfectly poised to denounce these labels as both false and misleading. However, after listening to almost two hours of a grown man patiently endeavouring to coax sense from a machine, I may safely vouch that the voice recognition software does, indeed, interpret his voice – albeit with a complete and utter lack of accuracy.

Fixing these many defects is an ongoing process: for one thing, the software seems categorically incapable of comprehending Toby’s pronunciation of the letter F, with humerous results, while attempts at associative spelling (C for Clive) have frequently devolved along the lines of P for Pisshead, F for Fuck, and S for Stupid. Nonetheless, he persists. Fifteen minutes alone were dedicated to teaching it the name Frege, which his laptop interpreted as ‘radio’ – an amusing misapprehension which Frege himself would have doubtless been well-placed to appreciate. With each sternly reiterated command (Go To End Of Document!), I find myself envisaging his computer as a disobedient puppy or head-tilting parrot. Bad software – go to your cage!

In which context, I am delighted to offer the following garbage – a word for word transcript of today’s efforts at voice recognition turned into existential poetry by judicious use of the space key (Toby’s doing). I can’t provide a comparative record of what was actually said to elicit such nonsense, but I can assure you that it in no way resembled what here follows. It’s my belief that his laptop has a secret penchant for Vogon poetry. I’ll let you judge for yourselves.

Vogon Voice Recognition Poetry

Gus that it is now a girl

from what you’re doing

what you listen to

what lined up

can’t say how your right mind dog

could revenge on his knees and at least try another

down missing so I cent gas

is now back

is no gas

there is now a girl

what you’re doing

what you listen to

what my now can’t say how

your right mind goal remains

them unused needs at least try another her and her are

How hotels urinal I give you

realise that your hotel one listening

usually listening to them

in writing things down

Maxwell’s quoted no

and what was that I can do little

but not mostly to what I’m saying

issue a real Secretary

are beginning very angry

that it can honestly start looking

at receiving the and the long-haul dark

or her who are already

some other blacks were not mostly

to what I’m saying usual real secretaries

bearing a finger again

reader can honestly start looking at receiving B

and a long haul are all looks a Milan

to have a better known by her

you are oracle is our way

and I for every year

you will rely on they are there is a

Up, you are knew what you’re talking about

his a limousine as growing very room,

and only three creating

I’ll walk towards more on her

who are all middle of his indulging

quite the here and there are other people on,

and already some other blacks were not mostly

to what I’m saying usual real job

has bearing asking you again readers are,

they start looking at receiving B

ally our phones and other nine

took them known by her

you want oracle is it,

why and I walked in reunion

will run like one day I’ll bet he is

the in up of I-the the who had.

Poem/Friday Day

Posted: August 14, 2009 in Ink & Feather
Tags: , , , ,

Consider this day: shinyfaced,

rambunctious as a spring lamb, it

walks jauntily, whistles, tips its cap

at pretty girls in voluminous

red skirts; winks


at the youngish nun

whose covert wimple does not quite disguise

her blush;


buys a round of drinks at the pub; laughs

uproariously at the middling jokes

of aged professors (thereby making them all



& now it stands, straightens


its festive, peacockesque bow-tie 

– a gift, no doubt, from some glorious

conquest/colourspangled dawn –


strolls, nonchalant as a cowboy cat,

into the sunset


& sleeps, wrapping itself

in the wide white stars:

waiting, watching,


Consider the following incident: in December 2005, a healthy, happy, normal 34-year-old woman (Rebekah Lawrence) attends a self-help course (Turning Point) run by a Cremorne-based company (People Knowhow). Four days later, after undergoing an extreme change in behaviour, Rebekah falls to her death, naked, from an inner-city office building. The Turning Point course is referred to, both worryingly and ambiguously, as being “high intensity”, and speaking on its behalf, the founder of People Knowhow, Richard Arthur, claims that the course is not suitable for “highly vulnerable people”. 

Is it just me, or does this statement sends shivers down the spine?

A quick Google reveals several interesting things about Turning Point, not least that it “offers you the opportunity to come home to yourself”, a proposition which is sufficiently cult-spooky to set off warning bells. It is also worth noting that Richard Arthur is not a trained psychologist. He is, in point of fact, a computer scientist. Huh?

Clicking through to the People Knowhow site, things soon become even stranger. There is a course called Mastery and Service, linked to the founding principles of Turning Point, which is intended to help participants “grow in consciousness”. For those over 50, there is the Way of the Elder, which features a grainy sunset graphic and a promise to “guide you through a series of reflective exercises towards reconnection with your life’s story.” Of greatest interest, however, is the link to the webpage for the Australian College of Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy, which, in keeping with the non-psychology background of Mr Arthur, states cheerfuly that anyone wishing to teach their courses need not be deterred by a “lack of teriary training”. Rather, their training programme “welcomes applications from people who feel attuned to this way of understanding human experience and growth”.

Type “somatic psychotherapy” into Google, and you’ll find that the first webpage to come up is – surprise, surprise – that of the Australian College. Wikipedia has an entry on somatic psychology and another on body psychotherapy, but not a specific entry for somatic psychotherapy; a website called Goodtherapy, however, defines it as the brainchild of Wilhelm Reich, a German psychologist who believed, among other things, in a cosmic, primordial energy called orgone and who was known to try and increase the ‘orgiastic potency’ of patients by treating them in their underwear. Leaving aside the question of Reich’s more extreme theories and practices, there is a more pertinent question to answer, viz: how do members of the College – and, by extension, People Knowhow – use somatic psychtherapy?

The definition given on their page is lengthy and obtuse, hinting vaguely at deeper methodologies without actually explaining them; you can read the whole thing here. Among other things, the College mentions the idea of “toxic cultural practices” being passed on through contemporary psychology and the importance of people’s “sensing/feeling patterns” being developed “throughout the life cycle”. The introduction concludes on a rather ominous note, with the acknowledgement that “all psychotherapy theories (including somatic based theories) invoke particular ethical practices, either explicitly or implicitly, and we need to ask ourselves, as Foucault suggests, whose interests are best served by these practices; who gains power.” (My emphasis.)

What, pray tell, are “particular ethical practices” in the context? Perhaps they have something to with the fact that, like Richard Arthur, the Director of the Australian College of Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy, one Jeff Barlow, has no formal training in psychology, either. Reading between the lines, one might conclude that the College’s view of the “toxic culture” inherent in non-holistic psychology has lead most of its members to eschew it entirely, although given the number of somatic psychologists who don’t appear to have studied it at all, one wonders where and how they have developed this perspective. Curiouser and curiouser.

It is not difficult to concede the existence of a genuine link between our physical and mental health, but by all accounts, the teachings of People Knowhow and their affiliates seems to resemble cultish mysticism more than genuine science. Combine the cryptic poetry and riddle-style aphorisms espoused by Richard Arthur, his lack of any relevant formal training and the fact that People Knowhow conducts corporate workshops, and you have a recipe for hokum, pseudo-science and general malaise. Perhaps I’ve been forced to attend too many day-long management courses, but I am deeply cynical of any form of emotional work-based consultancy, particularly in forms which claim to incorporate genuine elements of psychology – or, for that matter, any other discipline in which the facilitator lacks training. I once, for instance, had to listen to a grown woman tell me that the concept of human synergistics was pioneered by Aristotle. So when someone like Richard Arthur suggests, against all logic, that “the amount a person suffers in their life is related to how much they are resisting”, my bullshit detector goes into overdrive. When, on the same page, Mr Arthur references Turning Point and says that the course teaches “a cluster of techniques for permanently raising your stress threshold” so that “when the world doesn’t cooperate with you, your distress will be less extreme”, I wonder how many of those “techniques” were taught to Rebekah Lawrence.

How much longer can this culture of faux-uplifting, change-your-life consultancy by uninformed, pseudo-intellecual, would-be dilettantes continue? When will we wake up to ourselves? The real toxic culture is being peddled by modern witchdoctors, not trained psychologists.

When one is not a published writer but desperately wants to be, it feels like there’s a fabulous party going on – a party with writers and hors d’oeurves, musicians and champagne flutes and witty people – to which you are not invited. Instead, you are outside trying to convince security to let you in, or else gazing longingly at the serving staff as they bustle through the kitchen, because even though they aren’t actually guests, they’re still closer than you to the action. Such is the desire to enter the party that longing acts as a spur: we redouble our efforts and persist, no matter how difficult it can be.

On Thursday this week, I received an email from my publisher, the wonderful Paul Collins, asking if I had heard of Australian writer James Roy, and would I like to meet him. I replied in the affirmative on both counts, and was subsequently invited to attend a gathering last night. Unknowing of who else would be there or what the occasion was, I accepted.

It was, to say the least, a fantastic evening.

There were wonderful librarians. There were witty people. There was even someone I already knew from Twitter and whose blog I read. But most of all, there were writers: David Miller, who knows my friend Simon; George Ivanoff and Meredith Costain, with whom I went to the recent sales conference; Kirsty Murray, whose brilliant new novel, Vulture’s Gate, I bought and read in a single sitting just two days ago; Michael Pryor, whose Laws of Magic series I discovered and loved earlier this year; and Isobelle Carmody, who was lovely enough to complement the cover and blurb for my novel. It was at this point that I temporarily lost the ability to form coherent sentences, because I mean, really: Isobelle freakin’ Carmody liked my blurb. Babbling followed. But hopefully in a good way.

There was delicious food, good company, a roaring fire, plenty of champagne, friendly roaming animals and cake for James Roy’s birthday. I had a blast. I managed not to completely embarrass myself. (Except for the babbling. But I covered that.)  Once all was said and done, I made my way home in two parts, chatting first to Angela (aka LiteraryMinded) on the train about writing and books and all things shiny, and then later catching a cab, where my silver-bearded 60s-rock-loving driver made me laugh with jokes about Keith Moon, Gene Pitney and Bill Bailey. The night could not have been better.

And as I slipped in quietly through the gate, I was  struck by a sudden, beautiful thought. I’ve finally breached the kitchen. I’m in the party. And yes: there are hors d’oeurves.

Tomorrow, my husband and I will leave the house we’ve lived in for nearly four years, ever since we first moved to Melbourne. With the exception of the few clothes, books and things we’ll be taking with us to the UK, everything we own is in boxes, ready to go into storage for the next six months. Our bookshelves are bare, the daybed is stacked on its side, and thanks to Toby’s overzealous packing of the kitchen utensils, we’ve been living on tinned soup, frozen pizza and takeaway for the better part of a week. The cats have been in Bowral for nearly a fortnight. I find myself lying awake in bed, staring at the shadow-tinged walls and wondering how we’ll remember the place in a year, two years, five, ten. Physically, it’s a skinny terrace that feels like a train station. The bathroom is the size of a postage stamp with barely enough room to turn around. Leaky pipes have caused the paint on several walls to flake. There’s mould on the ceilings and not enough powerpoints. The ceilings are high enough that changing lightbulbs is a royal pain, even with a stepladder – the bedroom has stayed unlit for over a year, and only half the hall and lounge bulbs work. Even if we had one, there’s no space for a dining room table. The rent has increased 30% since we first moved in. Like hermit crabs in a too-small shell, we’ve gradually outgrown the place, accumulating more books, films and possessions than comfortably fit the interior, so that we’re constantly living amidst our own clutter.

But for nearly four years, it’s been ours. It’s the first house we picked together, the place we lived while engaged and to which we returned after our honeymoon. Toby’s parents and sister all ended up living in Albert Park because we were there, sliding down from Queensland in the space of three years. I’ve lived in other places since starting university, but this is the first house that’s felt like home. And small though it is, cramped as the bedside tables are and as much as the dodgy washing-line makes me grumble, I’ll miss that about it.

Between tomorrow and the 20th, we’ll be staying with my parents-in-law, whose current house is just up the road. Despite all the preparations for our five months in the UK, I didn’t quite believe we were going until earlier today, because I hadn’t really processed that we were leaving our little house forever. Whenever I think about getting on the plane, I feel a rush of exhiliration: we’re nearly there. We’ll be overseas until January 2010 – just two months before Solace & Grief is published. Next year is already significant. But 2009 is the year its all been built on: the year I signed a contract, went to my first convention, (hopefully) finished the sequal, spent my first New Year’s Eve in another country, visisted Scotland, celebrated my second wedding anniversary – and there’s so much still to look forward to.

But until then, I’m taking a moment to remember our funny, thin, impractical house. We’ve loved it, and now we’re leaving. Chances are, it won’t remember us, unless it turns out that walls have memories as well as ears. But we’ll remember it.