Archive for the ‘Life/Stuff’ Category

Happy new year, internets! Isn’t it shiny and new? I feel like I ought to be peeling the sticker off and stripping away the plastic.

First up, here are my fictional rolemodels for 2012:

1. Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan

To say I have fallen in love with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga is something of an understatement: I am in full-on literary lust. If it were legally possible for me to marry her brain, I would do so, but while this is in large part due to the awesomeness of Miles Vorkosigan and the Dendarii Free Mercenaries, the character that absolutely stole my soul is his mother, Cordelia. There is something raw and brutal and beautiful about her, a strength and courage that goes bone-deep. She is vulnerable and human, yes; but when terrible things happen to her – and they do happen – she overcomes them with a species of brilliance that is less about asskicking than it is about pureblooded victory: social, political, intellectual, emotional, feminist and military, written with all the hard and visceral joy of triumph over incredible adversity. Now and forever, she has catapulted herself to the top of my list of Favourite Literary Heroines, and for that, I honour her.

 

 

 

 

2. Helen Parr, aka Elastigirl 

Whenever I watch The Incredibles, I’m consistently blown away by the awesome of Helen Parr. So often in cinema – and particularly in cinema aimed at children – mothers are painted as either obedient housewives or icy harridans, with precious little leeway in between. And then we have Helen, who is not only a competent, caring mother, but a competent, kickass superhero. These aren’t two separate identities whose differences are played for laughs, either: instead, we get a character who argues with her husband and reprimands her children, but who isn’t just cast as a nag; a domestic woman who is neither trapped, ignorant nor passive, but who has chosen her life and is active and happy within in; a wife with emotional vulnerabilities in proportion to her strengths; a woman as ordinary as she is extraordinary. One of the most powerful scenes I’ve ever watched is the one in which Helen saves her children from a plane crash, and if you can watch the following clip without falling utterly in love with her, then I’d suggest that we can’t be friends:

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3. Florence Cathcart

By an order of magnitude, the best new film of 2011 was Nick Murphy’s The Awakening. Set in 1921, the story starts when Florence Cathcart, a debunker of hauntings and unmasker of charlatans, is called to investigate the death of a boy at a boarding school where all the students claim he was killed by a ghost. The resulting narrative is exquisitely balanced: not just Florence, but every character is in some way wounded by the first world war, and the action moves between emotional connections, romance, chilling mystery and genuine, grip-the-seats horror in a way that makes The Orphanage look like Scream. And then there’s Florence, who is hands down the best female character I’ve seen on the screen in years. Witty, bitingly intelligent, courageous and sensual, Florence stole my heart from minute one and has kept it ever since. Talking with writer/director Nick Murphy on Twitter, I asked him if she was based on any particular historical figure – I’d genuinely assumed she must be, because she’d felt so real. His reply? “She was based on the kind of girls I want my daughters to become.” Which, if you’re listening, Hollywood? Is the textbook definition of Doing It Right.

And now, my actual resolutions for 2012:

1. Read at least one non-fiction book per month.

Over the course of 2011, I read 136 new books, only four of which were properly non-fiction, and all of which I read in January. That’s… not a great ratio. I’ve reached a point now where I need to be reading more research material – more history, more philosophy, more culture and politics and feminism and ideas – and not just straight, delicious fiction. This is a modest goal, but one I’d be very happy to achieve. Ideally, I will actually read one NF book each month, but if I manage a minimum of twelve such works spread out across the year, then I’ll be equally pleased. Huzzah for learning!

2. Finish a novel by the end of February.

2011 was a very weird year for me, writing-wise, in that I didn’t actually finish anything. In fairness, I did write half of two new novels and close out the edits for The Key to Starveldt, which was published in October, but I’d nonetheless hoped to have at least a full version of either project ready by this point, and the fact that I don’t bothers me. But! As I have been editing, plotting and generally scheming with regard to the former of these two novels – which, at present, is going by the moniker An Accident of Stars – and know exactly what (I hope) to do with it; and as I ought to have a bit of free time in the next two months, I’ve set myself a completion date of 29 February 2012 by which to produce a viable first draft. Knowing me, this will either prove to be optimism of the highest order or a surprisingly workable timeframe. And boy, do I hope it’s the latter.

3. Get healthy.

I know. I know. OK? No, seriously: I KNOW. Stating this as a serious resolution is roughly the same as jinxing myself, or declaring that I want to achieve world peace by the end of June. Every year I and thousands of others make this our ambition, and every year we are, almost universally, undone by a leftover bottle of wine and the lure of cut-price chocolate before you can say knife. Nonetheless: I hereby pledge to give up drinking for at least the month of January, to try and run a couple of times a week, and to exercise self-control in the presence of chocolate, cheese and any foodstuff created with reference to frying. I also pledge that I shall try to eat smaller portions at main meals, snack judiciously on things I actually like (as opposed to anything that comes from the sweetie box in the work kitchen) and to otherwise comport myself like a sensible adult. I will not deny myself treats, but I will strive to ensure that they are treats, rather than impulses or habits. And so on until I no longer feel the need to unzip the top of my favourite skirt after dinner, amen.

2012 is here. Let the games begin!

 

And here we are again, on the cusp of another new year and the end of the old. For me personally, 2011 has been momentous, challenging, crazy, wonderful, strange, and a whole host of other adjectives. This year, I turned 25 – a quarter-century! – and moved from Australia to Scotland. My second book was released. I made new friends, started new projects, worked new jobs in a new country, discovered cooking, threw a surprise birthday party for my husband, traveled to France and Germany, read over 150 books, got involved with the local Feminist Society, blogged a lot, took masses of photos and drank an extraordinary amount of cider. Without wanting to sound twee, it’s been a year when I’ve not only grown up a lot, but noticed myself growing, and in some instances consciously orchestrated the growth, as opposed to having random maturation thrust upon me by the eddying whims of adulthood. After so much blundering about, it does feel a little as though I’ve got myself together this year, or have, more specifically, got myself into a position from which next year can be confidently tackled – which, frankly, is a relief, because as the process has inevitably involved a certain amount of floundering, doubt and despair, it’s nice to have something to show for it, however hypothetically.

Politically and environmentally, though, the world has been in turmoil. It’s far from inaccurate to describe 2011 as a year of revolution: beginning with the myriad uprisings and calls for social justice known collectively as the Arab Spring, we’ve had rioting in the United Kingdom and the worldwide spread of the Occupy movement. There have been devastating earthquakes in New Zealand – the latest happening just this week – tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan, global financial instability, and the horrific rampage of Anders Breivik in Norway. At the level of society, 2011 has marked the passing of Steve Jobs, Anne McCaffrey and Amy Winehouse, among others – figures whose deaths have had an impact on both our landscapes cultural and emotional landscapes. Even if it hadn’t already been notable as the first year of a new decade, 2011 has made its mark on history.

There are lots of reasons, then, to look forward to 2012 – social progress; political redemption; a fresh start; ongoing hopes for self-improvement; the challenge of unknown horizons; the simple satisfaction of peeling the first, crisp page off a new desk calendar. I have Ambitions, internets, and come tomorrow, I’d very much like to share them with you. But until then, I shall round out the year by sharing with you this picture of my husband dressed as a Doctor Who/Dalek hybrid. Because I can.

Happy new year!

It started at about ten o’clock this morning. My husband, Toby, laid low by a bout of Man Flu, was lying on the lounge, snuffling piteously while I checked my email.

“Where’s my cake?” he lamented. “Will you make me a cake? I’d like one! CAKE!”

Of course, I refused this request with the asperity and hauteur it so obviously deserved. (As anyone experienced with Man Flu knows, indulging the sufferer’s whims only serves to reinforce the belief that they are, in fact, dying of bubonic plague, or possibly Ebola, rather than experiencing mild hayfever, the common cold, or – as is most usual – a hangover.) I am many things, but an on-demand cake wizard is not among them. Moaning his disappointment, my beloved reconciled himself to a cakeless existence and instead began reading China Mieville’s Embassytown, thereby redeeming himself.

Some hours passed. We had salad for lunch. I finished my editing and answered some outstanding emails. I was mooching about on Twitter in a guiltless sort of way when, all of a sudden, it struck me: banana and ginger cake, possibly with some sort of vanilla/cream involvement. Not only that, I already had most of the ingredients – some of them desperately needing to be used prior to rapidly approaching expiry dates – such that the cost of the missing elements would be negligible. I began to Tweet my enthusiasm for the project, and received only enthusiasm in return. I could do this.

By this time, Toby had relocated to the bedroom. I walked in and poked my head around the door – slyly, in the way of one proffering an unexpected treat.

“How serious were you about wanting cake?” I asked. “Because I’m totally making one. Banana and ginger.” I will admit to having emphasised these last words with a certain zealous relish.

“Can it be chocolate?” Toby asked. “Chocolate goes well with ginger and banana. I like chocolate cakes.”

I frowned. Chocolate had not been on the agenda, but perhaps compromise was possible. “We’ll see,” I said. With this established, I began the fifteen-minute trek to Morrisons, a franchise which, despite their aggravating stance on ID and alcohol purchases, nonetheless retains a good range of items. I purchased my sundries, walked back home, did the washing up, and began to arrange my ingredients on the far bench. My plan was simple: take my existing banana cake recipe, then add ginger, cinnamon and – in keeping with Toby’s request, albeit filtered through my own preferences – white chocolate. Midway through this process, however, it became wretchedly apparent that, contrary to what I’d thought, we had no vanilla essence in the cupboard.

“Rats,” I said (or some other expletive that may or may not have been stronger) – and set out again, this time barefoot and at a run, to the slightly closer corner shop at the end of our street. They had vanilla essence; I ran home, added it to my pile, turned the oven to 180 degrees, and began mixing.

In went the eggs, sugar, vanilla and butter. In went the flour, cinnamon, ginger and milk. I’d just got to the bananas when it occurred to me that the oven was being unusually silent. Given that I don’t bake regularly enough to trust that I know how to work the oven, my first reaction, on opening the door and discovering a cold, decidedly un-heated interior, was to ask Toby whether I’d turned it on properly. He poked at the door, turned the dial on and off a few times, removed and replaced the knob, tried the switch, crouched down to peer masterfully at its innards, and declared that my best bet was to leave it be and hope it started to get warm.

Given my significant doubts as to whether this would work, and refusing, after so much effort, to be thwarted by broken technology, I continued mashing my bananas, stirring the mixture, and finally dropping in most of the white chocolate drops. The oven, stubbornly, remained cold.

I formulated a plan. By which I mean, I rang my friend Sarah, who had just got home from Amsterdam, and asked if I could come round and borrow her oven. She said yes.

I informed my husband, packed my things, and started to walk.

There’s a certain sort of stare that members of the general public reserve for girls in weird t-shirts carrying clear plastic mixing bowls full of miscellaneous goop with wooden spoons poking out the end at 3:30 on a Saturday afternoon – which is to say, I was stared at as though I might, in fact, be a crazy person. Possibly if the spoon had been less obvious, or the bowl more opaque, the reaction could have been different, but as things stood, even little old ladies were giving me weird glances. I ignored them, head held high, and rang the bell to Sarah’s house.

It should be mentioned at this point that Sarah lives in a student sharehouse with approximately eight other people, only half of whom I know. The slender, surprised-looking youth who answered the door belonged to the other half. Confronted by the sight of a strange woman holding a clingwrapped mixing bowl and a plastic bag full of cooking paraphernalia, he nonetheless waved me cheerfully into the house at the mention of Sarah’s name.

Moment later, Sarah herself emerged and joined me in the kitchen. As the oven preheated, we talked about Amsterdam while she chopped onions for an early dinner and I got out the icing sugar, vanilla, butter, cream and white chocolate drops and started to mix my icing. (Clearly, the overwhelming virtue of having salad for lunch three days in a row had manifested as cathartic desire to balance the calorie scales.) The cake went into the oven; the icing went into the fridge. This left me with a problem, vis-a-vis the leftover cream: there was no easy way to transport it back home, and it seemed like a waste to leave it be. For reasons unknown, this translated into my trying to change it – first with a whisk, and then with a fork – from runny to whipped.

Thus it was that when four of Sarah’s housemates (who I did know) and a friend of theirs (who I didn’t) came home, they found me sitting at their kitchen table, morosely churning a bowl of cream while Sarah cooked bolognese. It is either a testament to the nature of student sharehouses in general or these friends in particular that not a single one of them asked what I was doing there or why it involved cream, all completely unsurprised when I explained that my oven had broken and so I was using theirs, of course, as though interloping cakes were a common occurrence everywhere.

And so we talked. After forty minutes, the cake was done: I bundled it onto a borrowed plate, packed up my utensils, determined that yes, I could carry both the cake-plate and the icing bowl at the same time without endangering either of them, and prepared to go. Except that I needed to gladwrap the cake for safety. Sod’s law being what it is, all I needed on the home stretch was for some obnoxious passerby to bump me and send the fruit of my labours sprawling into the gutter. Unfortunately, this meant wrestling with a de-boxed roll of clingwrap that had twisted and torn into a sort of cylindrical Rubik’s cube. That took another five minutes – until, just as I unraveled the last thread, Sarah remembered that there was, in fact, an in-tact roll in the next drawer down I could’ve used. (In the end, I used a piece from each one, just in case.)

And then I walked home: bag over my shoulder, plastic bag on my right arm, icing bowl with spoon in my right hand, gladwrapped cake plate in my left. Again with the stares, though this time, at least, they were fewer.

Midway home I realised I’d left my favourite black jacket hung over Sarah’s kitchen chair. Of course. 

But in the end, nothing could dull my triumph. I chilled the still-warm cake enough that the icing couldn’t immediately dissolve. I summoned my husband (who grumbled at having to put down Embassytown) and served the cake.

Who says persistence doesn’t pay?

 

I’ve fallen behind in my blogging this week (apologies!) on account of having just started my first day job since moving to the UK. The work falls well within my zone of competence, the people are nice and the commute by bus, if longer than I’m used to, at least allows for a lot of reading. Even so, it’s been something of a shock to the system to actually have to GET UP and engage in all the daily palaver that constitutes being employed. My last Australian position finished in mid-December, which means I’ve been out of work for three months, and even though I spent more of that time moving countries, finding a house and getting settled in than I did writing, I’ve still grown used to the freedom of setting my own routines, working on my own projects and generally acting like the self-employed author I strive to become. Which isn’t to say I’m not coping – I always have in the past. It’s just that it’ll take me a while before I slip back into my old routine of frantically cramming word-work into every odd corner of the day, as opposed to stretching it out at leisure.

Stupid pragmatism.

Also, and apropos of absolutely nothing, I’ve given up drinking for April. So far, I’m succeeding. A few people have asked me if I’m doing it for Lent, to which the answer is a resounding no, as I didn’t even realise Lent was upon us. But I’d noticed (belatedly) that some people had given up grog for February as part of one of those internet-inspired thingies that appears every once in a while, and so I decided to give it a try myself, mainly out of curiosity to see if I actually could. The first couple of days were the most difficult – not because I’m anything even approaching an alcoholic, but exactly because I know I’m not, and therefore had to keep justifying internally why I was depriving myself of something I enjoyed for no particular reason. This was also exacerbated by the fact that the night of 2 April involved a dinner out with many, many friends as part of a philosophy conference paid for by the university, which featured – among other things – copious amounts of free wine. I stuck to water and still had a good time. The next night was another round of conference drinks at the pub. Though tempted, I kept to lemonade. It’s all been much easier since then, even during other outings with friends, which frankly is a relief: I’d been worried that not drinking while other people were would inevitably result in a situation where, past the first hour, everyone else would be drunk and on one wavelength while I trailed behind on another. Instead, it turns out that either my friends don’t drink as much as I thought they did, or else they’re still all awesome and interesting and interpretable to sober people while drinking. Either that, or I’m just crazy enough not to notice or care to the contrary, but still – it’s nice to know that, should the mood take me, I can have a night out without alcohol and still have a good time.

Right At Home

Posted: March 24, 2011 in Life/Stuff
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a shoddy neck. And back. And shoulders. Basically the whole spine region is sort of borked. Partly this is a genetic thing: my mother has many of the same problems I do. Injury has exacerbated them. For instance: I spent the last few years of high school carrying a heavy bag for prolonged periods of time. By heavy, I mean I once weighed it on a good day and it hit ten kilos. And by prolonged periods of time, I mean I walked an average of eight kilometers every school week for three years between my house, school and various train stations while lugging it around. It wasn’t a backpack, either: it was shaped like a gym bag. There was literally no other way to carry it than on one shoulder, usually my right. The practical upshot of this is that nearly ten years later, my shoulders make a sound like marbles grinding together if I so much as roll them. Other people can hear this noise if they stand near me. Sometimes they can hear it from across the room, if there’s no music playing. Then there was the time I slipped while working as a waitress, landed square on my hip and wrenched my whole back out for a week and a half. Ever since then, I’ll sometimes feel as though my hip has popped out of the socket, which means I suddenly start limping while my back twists. It always goes away after ten minutes or so, but it’s a little disconcerting when it happens. Every couple of days, I get vile tension headaches and a pounding pain over my left eye that feels like someone’s using a nailgun on me. I once kronked my neck so badly that I spent three days in a stupor, having been prescribed a cocktail of codeine, Panadine Forte and valium, during which time I could barely move. And so on.

These problems first became apparent when I was ten or eleven. I’d wake up in the morning with a ripping pain in my neck, unable to turn my head to the side. At first, I’d spend the day at home with a hot pack wrapped over the affected area and moving like Lurch in the Adams Family. After about the fourth time this happened, my parents realised I wasn’t just having a run of bad luck and took me to get it checked out. I was too young to really remember what the doctor said, but came away with the vague knowledge that my neck was crap, and that I needed a special pillow to help me sleep without hurting it. The pillow was expensive, smooshy and filled with goosedown, and as soon as I started using it, I felt better – or at least, I stopped waking up every second day in pain. Over the years, various people have suggested that I see a physiotherapist to see what’s changed since then. This is sound advice that I’ve never followed, primarily because physio is expensive, but also because, day to day, the situation is manageable. Lots of people have worse problems. I can cope. And a large part of that coping is my special pillow.

We bought it when I was, at most, eleven. I am now twenty-five. That means I’ve been sleeping with the same pillow almost every night for more than half my life. It has grown up with me, molding to fit the shape of my head. It is the most comfortable pillow I have ever used. It has accompanied me on innumerable sleepovers, holidays, school camps and weekends away. It came with me to college. But when we visited the UK in 2009 – and when we moved back here in January – it stayed behind. Or rather, it stayed in storage. For the past few months, it has been, along with all our other possessions, in transit, awaiting the day we finally found a place of our own and could take it home again. In the interim, I’ve had to use the cruddy pillows they give you as part of student accommodation. I have woken up most mornings with a sore neck, despite having spent upwards of ten minutes each night scrunching, twisting and rearranging the damn thing so as to try and make it comfortable.

We signed a lease on Sunday. The house is furnished, so we moved right in, but though it was an undeniable step up from where we’d been, it still didn’t feel like home.

Yesterday, we got up a little after 6am, caught the bus to Dundee, rented a van and moved all our thing into the new house. It was glorious. It was brilliant. All the creature comforts we’ve been living without were restored to us in one fell swoop. I spent the whole day unpacking, storing away all our things, most of which were books (well, mostly my books, if I’m honest) in neat little storage spaces.

Last night, for the first time in months, I slept with my special pillow. Though all my muscles hurt from a day of hard work, my neck is fine and free. We’ve really done it. We’ve really moved to Scotland.

And suddenly, I feel right at home.

 

So, OK. As those of you who’ve known me for any length of time can attest – and as I have once or twice admitted in the writing of this blog – I am a zeusdamn stubborn, conservative person. It is actually very irksome! Because stubbornness and conservatism are not behaviours I consciously cultivate; are in fact the very antithesis of the behaviours I like, let alone try to cultivate; and yet they are apparently innate enough that I am constantly forced to suspect myself of them, to press the ever-present bruise of my own laziness in order to determine whether I am being honest and discerning as opposed to reactionary and biased at any given time. As I am simultaneously the kind of person who goes around recommending books and films (for instance) to all and sundry with the expectation that they start to adopt my tastes, this makes me very close to belonging to two categories of person with whom I am otherwise deeply uncomfortable: hypocrites and preachers.

My only saving grace is the fact that I recognise this at least some of the time, and am actively struggling to change. But for most of my life, that hasn’t been true, with the end result that now, slightly less than a month out from my 25th birthday, I’m starting to wonder exactly how many awesome things I’ve been missing out on for no greater reason than my own intransigence. Which is, itself, a conceit, because I mean, come on: twenty-freaking-five. It’s not like I’m Citizen Kane crying out for Rosebud on my deathbed, here. Despite the fact that I’ve been married for three and a bit years, and in serious relationships for five-odd years before that, and in the midst of becoming a published author for about two years, and have finished a Bachelors degree, and have moved first states and now countries, and held down a frankly surprising variety of the sort of jobs I never really knew existed until I started applying for them, and all the sort of gunk that seems to fill up your late teens and early twenties if you’re lucky enough to live in a first world nation where you speak the national language and have been relatively well-off your whole life and have never had to contend with poverty or civil war or persecution or any major trauma; despite all that, I am, by the standards of both my own culture and the scientific community, barely out of adolescence. I am young.

But I am also much less young than I was even a year ago, or the year before that, or the year before that; and even though as a teenager it would never have occurred to me that I could sit here and be almost 25 and so very different now to how I was then, I can still – just – stretch to remembering my teenage self, her views and preoccupations and ignorances, without universally cringing at how utterly infantile and stupid they were, so that any sense I used to have that I was already grown up must only ever have been wrong. I feel torn: can I deny that I’ve grown since then, and that those changes have been increasingly positive? No, I can’t: but does that automatically mean that whatever I used to be is therefore rendered incorrect, reprehensible? Psychologists say that one of the key stages of childhood development is the tendency to first disdain and then throw away those trappings of whatever age we have just outgrown, like a fledgeling tweenager tossing out her toys. I must still be a child, then, because more and more, I feel like every step I take to change myself is simultaneously a battle to refrain from mocking, not plastic horses and skipping games, but previous ideologies.

Once, as a first year university student, I wrote an angry letter to a Sydney newspaper about its inflammatory coverage of a series of car crashes involving adolescent drivers. It was terrible, yes, and those people had been stupid, but their reactionary condemnation of all youthful drivers – the suggestion that driving curfews be implemented, limitations imposed on the ability of teens to carry passengers – was out of line. No matter how much they raised the age limit for acquiring a driving license, I argued, and even taking into account whatever risk-taking predispositions we could all agree were more likely in the young, a significant part of the problem would still be inexperience behind the wheel. Some things you simply cannot learn through shortcuts, or any way but the hard way: sooner or later, we all make mistakes, because suffering their consequences is how humans learn, and even if nobody was ever allowed in a car before the age of 27, new drivers would still account for their fair share of accidents. Not because of their age: because they were new. And in the mean time, given that adult drivers would continue to account for the other eighty-something percent of accidents, what would happen if we broke the statistics down into age brackets? Would we find that the most elderly drivers were the least accident-prone, or that the probability of accidents would regularly decrease with age? Does getting older always make you better?

Turning five did not make me morally superior to my two-year-old self; just older and physically different. Turning fifteen did not make me morally superior to my twelve-year-old self; just older and physically different. The same will be true again when I turn twenty-five, and thirty-five, and every age after that. In so many of these blogs, I’ve written about the frustrations I felt as a teenager, how it was hard to get adults to take me seriously and how they all appeared to have gone through a brainwashing machine at some point or emerged fully formed from alien pod-plants. Even though I could understand things at fourteen that were incomprehensible to my four-year-old self, that greater proximity to the adult world made it seem as though adulthood was a static realm towards which I was both inexorably travelling and closer to reaching than ever, so that any suggestion of considering how much I’d already changed as a way of anticipating how much farther I had yet to go would have seemed futile, insulting; as though, on the cusp of adulthood, I still deserved to be reminded of – judged by – those things I’d outgrown; as though I hadn’t really grown up at all.

Which, of course, I hadn’t, because the whole idea was a lie. Nobody ever grows up. We just grow. But our language, which betrays so much of culture, suggests otherwise: hierarchies are linear, top to bottom: growing up means growing better. Nobody grows down. And yet up connotes even more than that. It makes us think of a fixed destination when there is none; it makes us want to not only cast off who we were, but disparage it as unnecessary, as though the very notion of ever being someone else is embarrassing, taboo; as though that prior person were utterly unrelated to every single subsequent incarnation.

Tonight, I have been reading Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E Butler, a single novel made from the collection of a trilogy of novels: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago. Having only just reached the start of the second of these, I came across a particularly beautiful quote. It is the reason I stopped to write this post; to consider why I had never read Butler before now, despite having heard of her, and to wonder if perhaps the reason I find her so moving, so compelling, is because I am reading her now. Would any of my earlier selves have understood?

Butler asks:

“Trade means change. Bodies change. Ways of living must change. Did you think your children would only look different?”

And I answer:

Not any more.

Or, more specifically, St Andrews!

We have now been living here for nine days, in which time the following things have occurred:

  • Frolicking through the snow;
  • Jetlag recovery as aided by copious amounts of Top Gear;
  • The purchase of twelve novels from various bookshops;
  • Friendly drinks at several pubs;
  • Eating pheasant;
  • My catching a week-long cold;
  • Toby wearing plastic bags over his socks because his shoes leaked;
  • Befriending an astrophysicist;
  • Several successful dinner experiments;
  • Completely forgetting how the coin-operated washer/dryer system works, twice;
  • Yelling at the stove because the dials turn the wrong way, so that I keep setting them on low instead of high;
  • My old laptop catching a virus and dying in the arse;
  • The purchase of a shiny new laptop, on which I am now writing this blog post;
  • The inexplicable loss of my favourite smooshy purple knitted hat;
  • The discovery of a cafe that serves hot chocolate with marshmallows, whipped cream AND  a chocolate flake;
  • One aborted trip to the movies, being as how it was too cold and we were knackered;
  • One sighting of a genuine Scottish gentleman wearing a genuine Scottish kilt;
  • The discovery that there is, lurking about somewhere, a town cat called Hamish; and
  • The acquisition of a very strange bird-puppet, which I have named Archie the Arche Mascot.

So, as you can see, it’s been a pretty packed program – even so, I apologise for the lengthy radio silence. Doubtless I’ll have more to say (and the strength/will to say it more coherently) at some later date, but in the mean time, here is a photo of Archie, who was given to me by a nice lady at one of the town’s ten charity shops.

Cheerful little fellow, isn’t he?

Prior to getting rid of my desktop computer this afternoon, I had to transfer a bunch of old files to my laptop. Mostly they were random photos, ancient word documents I wasn’t sure I’d archived anywhere else – and a folder of video diary entries I made throughout my second year as a college student, way back in 2005.

As memory serves, I first started making them as the end result of a thought process that went something like this:

1. What does my head really look like from the side? Whenever I see photos of me from that angle, I always look like a giant nose with a face attached. It’s sort of unflattering. I hope I don’t look like that all the time.

2. Can I see my sidelong profile in the mirror, ever?

*several failed attempts later*

3. No. Because my eyes are on the FRONT of my head. Because I am a PREDATORY MAMMAL, not a PARROT, despite my APPARENTLY GIANT NOSE. Also, I am an IDIOT.

4. But wait! I have a shiny new digital camera! I can take PHOTOS of my sidelong profile by holding the camera at arm’s length from the side of my head while looking in a different direction! Problem solved!

*several failed attempts later*

5. I AM STILL AN IDIOT.

*bing!*

6. Hey, I know! Why don’t I put the camera on top of my bookshelf and make a video of me moving around?

7. And if I’m going to go to all that effort, why don’t I talk about my life, too?

And thus, the video diary idea was born.

There are 33 entries, all taken between the 24th of April and the 28th of October 2005 – I saved each file according to time and date. The digital camera I used wasn’t particularly good, and I could only talk for about six minutes before the recording cut out, but despite all this, the results are fascinating. To me, anyway. I never posted them anywhere; they were only ever for my own enjoyment. It was a novel thing, being able to watch myself on film. My parents never owned a video camera when I was growing up, and until that point, I’d only ever seen stills of myself; or, if I were very lucky, a three-second cameo in some other family’s tape of a school event. When I rewatched each entry after making it, I remember being more interested in how I looked than what I was actually saying: not just on the level of a nineteen-year-old girl attempting to gauge her attractiveness, but how I moved, the way my eyes flicked sideways or down, how my mouth twisted or my hands moved. Even my voice, which always sounds deeper to me on tape than it ever does while speaking, was a source of interest. Trying to learn all the tricks of my own face – all the things that my friends and family must have known by heart, which in some ways defined me as much as my words or actions, but which were foreign to me – was both strange and compelling.

Now, almost six years later, my reactions to the entries have changed. I look at the girl I was then, and think:

I was so beautiful! What on Earth possessed me to think otherwise? Why did I constantly disparage myself?

I was so young! I look at teenagers now and there’s this freshness to them I sort of assumed was generational, but in those videos, I have it, too! Why do none of us realise it at the time?

I was so earnest! And awkward! But that self-conscious humour and weird, dreamy introspection, it’s all the seed of who I am now – I was still learning to be me. I just didn’t know it yet.

Did I really care about all those things that are so unimportant now, but which were so important then? How much of what’s important to me now will be just as unimportant in another five years? Or is it all important, always?

Did I have any inkling how significant that year would end up being? If I look hard enough, can I see it there? Could I ever have guessed?

This last is the thing that sticks with me most, which moved me to write this post. Because 2005 was, in many respects, the year that turned me into who I am now. I recorded the final entry the night I acquired my then-kitten, Quill, who crawls across my shoulders as I talk. I say that I’ve made the decision to defer my studies for 2006 in favour of finishing my novel, what I now refer to as the Great Unpublished Epic. Several times in earlier entries, I talk about Toby, the man who is now my husband, but who was then a friend and ex-roomate of my college boyfriend, Sean. I only watched a few entries tonight, but what struck me from that random selection was the number of times I mentioned doing something without Sean – usually karate lessons, which he’d started me on, but often seemed to ditch, at least by this subjective record – compared to the number of times I talked about doing things with Toby, like playing music or hanging out. A month later, beyond the scope of the video entries, Sean and I had parted ways.  By Christmas, Toby and I were living together. The next year, we saved our money and moved to Melbourne, where I finished my novel and, eventually, started the story that grew into Solace & Grief. The year after that, we were married.

I made a few more entries much later on, using the camera function on my laptopeleven in 2007, four in 2008 – but they weren’t the same. Lacking regularity or purpose, made in response to boredom and without the camera’s ability to cut me off if I waffled, they devolved into indulgent ramblings about whatever it was I thought interesting and profound at the time – topics which, in retrospect, usually weren’t. Given another few years, there’s every chance I’ll find them as interesting as the original 33, but right now, they’re just that little bit too recent for proper retrospect: the only lesson I can take from them now is that I’m not always as fascinating as I might think.

As I type this, I’m lying on a borrowed bed. The computer clock has just ticked on past 12AM: technically, it’s Wednesday already, which means that tomorrow night – Thursday night – we’ll board the plane for Scotland. Not a new life, because that implies escape, or erasure somehow, as though I were trying to forget Melbourne and what living here has meant to us. But a new start? Definitely. And with everything that entails – with the ghost of my teenage self still flickering in my vision – I think that, like 2005 before it, 2011 will be a year worth documenting, too. It just so happens that I received another new digital camera for Christmas: a belated replacement for the earlier model, which died some time ago. The new video function cuts out after eight minutes, not six. But then, I’m older now. Perhaps I’ll have that little bit more to say.

Something old. Something new. Something borrowed.

Something true.

This time last year, Toby and I were still in England. On New Year’s Day, we walked through the snow in Leatherhead, Surrey and talked about what we wanted most for 2010. Among the usual small hopes were two important ones: a successful debut for Solace & Grief, and a chance to come back to the UK. It’s taken a lot of hard work, but we’ve achieved both those things. The Key to Starveldt is due for release this year, and in just five days, we’re moving to Scotland for a minimum of eighteen months. It is thrilling, terrifying, wonderful. We worked hard for this, and the reward of actually getting it is monumental. And now we’ve crossed the threshold of another new year, and we get to do it all over again: more work, more plans, more effort and hope and sheer hard yakka, because both of us have the kind of dreams that are easy neither to achieve nor dismiss.

I want to be a professional writer. Toby wants to be a professional academic. In bald terms, we already are these things, but there are no laurels to rest on for being able to claim that much, and even if there were, I doubt we’d be content to do so. Stories are the blood in me, just as my husband breathes philosophy. We understand and love that about one another, the degree to which who we are cannot be readily separated from our aspirations. This year, we have a real chance to make something of ourselves in the ways that matter most to each of us. We have come this far, but the aim is to go much further. And I think – I hope – we can do it.

Beyond all that, I still want the same small things for 2011 that I want every year: to eat healthily and exercise regularly, to pay off our debts and live within our means, to try new things while reconnecting with old passions. It might seem repetetive and futile make the same resolutions each year – or at least, it would do, if any of them were finite achievements. The point of such things isn’t to find some magic, perfect level of successful compliance and declare yourself done, but to constantly look for improvement. This past year, my domestic skills have started to be worthy of the name, not because I suddenly woke up one morning with a desire to be tidy, but because I spent months telling myself that I needed to be. Because in a lot of ways, the biggest change of 2010 – and the one I’m most keen to uphold in 2011 – was the realisation that I could set goals for myself and reach them, even if they were difficult.

Maybe I’ve just grown up. But I hope not. I like having room for development.

Happy 2011, everyone!

So, for a whole lot of reasons I won’t go into, today kinda sucked. Like, crying-at-my-desk-after-getting-off-the-phone, oh-look-another-invoice sucked. There were also some good bits! I feel obliged to point this out, primarily because I feel guilty about scaring the work experience girl by telling her that the most important skill she could have post school was knowing how to work a photocopier. So I phoned Toby in the middle of the day and established that, in order to compensate for the aforementioned suckness (which had also afflicted him), I would bring home the final two disks of Avatar: The Last Airbender, because not only is it awesome, but it’s so good that the narrative actually has the power to redeem the suckitude of everyday humanity. Being as how I work in Port Melbourne and getting to the city of an evening by bike is problematic, I rang the only local store known to stock the series for sale, viz: Blockbuster Video.

Now, for those of you who’ve been living in a hole, Blockbuster is primarily a DVD rental store. However! The Blockbuster in Port Melbourne dedicates an easy 50% of its floorspace to the sale of games and movies. Given my lack of a membership there, this has always ensured that I think of it as a place to buy things, rather than rent them. So when I rang up at lunchtime and asked if they had discs 3 and 4 of Season 3 of Avatar, and they said they’d reserve them under my name, it never occurred to me that they would, by default, assume I was after rental DVDs – especially as the sales dude never asked if I wanted to buy or rent, as is traditionally the case with every other movie store on the planet.

So, having endured a stressful day, I cycled out of my way and walked up to the counter to collect my purchases, only to find that, yes, they had reserved the rentals for me. Distressed, I explained the error and walked over to their For Sale section, where I found disc 4, but not disc 3. On asking at the counter whether or not they might have a 3 lurking elsewhere, I was told no. At that point, I sort of lost it. I’d had a hard day, and the only thing that had kept me going since lunchtime was the thought of watching something good when I got home. On the brink of tears, I dropped the disc 4 I’d picked up and rushed back outside to my bike, where I lurked for a minute or so until I’d calmed down. Then, hat in hand, I went back inside and asked whether or not I might be able to rent the DVDs in question.

Now: the reason I hadn’t considered this as an alternative straight away is simple. I can’t drive, and therefore have no valid photo ID, which is necessary in Australia to sign up with any DVD rental store. My only photo ID is my passport, which – of course – was at home. I told the guy this, but at his request, was able to produce an official document I had stuffed in my bag with my name and our current address on it. In a move that was clearly motivated by my obvious ditress, he even let me hand over expired photo ID in lieu of the valid sort, allowing me to sign up with the store.

All documents signed, I rummaged around in my wallet to pay – only to realise I didn’t have the $3.50 in change the transaction required. The ever-compassionate clerk explained that, if I wanted to pay by card, the store had a $5 minimum charge. Happily, one of the items prominently displayed at the counter was a small, metal tin of lollies in the shape of a Mario Bros 1-up mushroom. Together with the two DVDs, the cost was now eight dollars. I handed over my card, and the charge went through.

As he handed the DVDs to me, the clerk took it upon himself to explain when they were due back.

‘Disc 4 is a new release,’ he said. ‘You need to return it tomorrow.’

I stared at him.

‘Any time before 10pm is fine,’ he added.

‘But I won’t get to it tonight. I’m not up to it yet. I’ve got a whole other disc to watch first,’ I said, pointing to disc 3. ‘If you’d told me beforehand that it was an overnight rental, I would’ve just bought the disc 4 you’ve got here along with the disc 3 rental.’ A pause. ‘Can we do that, then? I know you’ve just put it through, but can we change it?’

The glare he glared at me could’ve melted glaciers.

Seriously.

I have worked as a waitress. I have even been one of those quasi-annoying students who stands on a street corner and tries to get random strangers to sign up to World Vision knockoff charities. I don’t like to be a difficult customer, because I appreciate the suckness of low-wage jobs. But I really felt like I’d been dicked around: admittedly, I hadn’t specified that I wanted to buy during the original phone call, but the guy on the other end – and I was pretty sure he was the same guy who ended up serving me – hadn’t asked which type of disc I wanted; he’d also waited until after the transaction went through to point out when the DVDs were due back, which, as a new customer, and given also that I hadn’t even held the cases until he pushed them across the counter, I couldn’t possibly have known beforehand. So even though he was clearly pissed off at the extra effort, and even though I still felt guilty, I had him go back on the computer, remove the charge for the second disc, then ring up the cost of buying it instead.

‘Do you want to keep the mushroom candy?’ he asked.

I looked at the mushroom. It grinned at me.

Fuck it.

‘Why not?’ I said. And then, in an effort to ameliorate my being an annoying customer, I explained that I’d had a shit day, and that I was sorry for taking up his time, but that I’d really just been looking forward to watching something good when I got home; and to his credit, he didn’t seem entirely unmoved, although he did simlutaneously appear fed up with dealing with me, for which I can’t really blame him.

Half an hour later, I finally exited Blockbuster with one rental and one purchased DVD in hand. The former has now been watched in its entirety, and will be returned forthwith. The other remains dormant, until tomorrow.

And the mushroom? Contained sour apple candy. It was delicious.

Also, the container is just awesome.

So I guess it worked out OK, after all.