Monday, November 30, 2009

Doggy December

I've regaled you with all sorts of self-absorbed drivel in November and it was rather exhausting work. This month, however, I don't intend to throw away the 'post everyday' challenge, but this particular theme just had to happen.

For all of Sapphire's ten years out of the womb and for the sixteen years that Love Chunks has been 'with me' in the biblical sense they've both known that I've been crazy about dogs.

Embarrasingly so. I love their smiling faces when they're out walking with their owners; their glistening bright eyes, their jaunty little trotting paws, their ability to flop onto the ground and fall asleep instantly. I'll rush up to their owners and gasp, "Can I pat your dog?" and before they've said yes, I'm doing it.

LC shakes his head every time and says, "One day you'll get bitten," but it hasn't happened yet and when it does, it's more likely to be from an owner than a dog.

If reincarnation is true - and my own philosophical and spiritual jury is still out on this issue - I'd love to return to this planet as a much-loved and well cared-for family dog.

As such, this month is going to feature a post, photo or quote about the most loving, noble, idealistic animal on earth - the dog - and what we can learn from them. Which is plenty.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 30 - Willing Wounds

It is sad and deflating to realise that at the ages of 41 and 42 respectively, my husband Love Chunks and I still feel the pain of knowing that someone doesn’t like us.

Despite all the ‘I don’t care what they think about us, rhetoric and the ‘They don't know us at all’ throw-away lines, the realisation that someone doesn’t like us really hurts.

We’ve both also found out the hard way that being brave and speaking out, tackling the ‘Why are you behaving this way?’ or ‘What have we done that we can change to make things right again?’ hard questions invariably blows up in our perplexed faces. We’re the ones who end up looking like the troublemakers when we are clearly expected to keep the peace and put up with the shabby treatment.

A lot of the dislike we receive is via perception and feeling and atmosphere. As per Knowledge November Day 26
unlike the movies, rarely are disputes aired openly in real life; they’re instead done via sneaky manoeuvres that make it hard for the accuser (or ‘The Disliked’ as we find ourselves being) to actually describe specifically. This is just as common at work as it is in personal life.

I'd originally put a few examples here of what our Disliker had done, but they're mostly done well enough to be 'hidden' from anyone else present and look trivial when put in cold, hard writing. The Disliker knows what they're doing and knows that we know, and that seems to be enough. For now.

All that Love Chunks and I really accept is that there’s nothing we’ve done to be ashamed of. We’ve been hospitable, friendly, provided a fantastic meal, conversation, a spankingly-clean home (my hands are scaly dry from forgoing gloves when scrubbing the bathroom, toilet, kitchen and laundry) and done our damnedest to ask about The Disliker's life.

It is a particularly bittersweet trap to be caught in: calling them on their recent rather rude behaviour will just get them defensive and claim that we’re trying to cause a drama, are obsessed with finding fault or won’t let bygones be bygones. We’ve both apologised before for real and perceived slights and already feel as though we’ve been the more generous and open party in this desperate little duel.

LC and I have decided not to say anything. The next gathering we meet at will certainly be interesting, but there’ll be other friends, family, food and fun times to work our way around without having to bump up against each other too often. We've decided that 'say and do nothing' is the tactic we'll use. For now.

Behind me, the sliding door opened as I was sitting at the table reading the paper. LC was outside cleaning the BBQ and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Let’s face it Kath, we can’t stand the fact that someone doesn’t like us.”

He’s right. Who does?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 29 - Dusty House, Happy Life

I might disagree with her views on running,
but when it comes to housework, Joan Rivers and I are on the same wavelength:

My floors have never been scattered in diamonds unless that's a particularly creative term for the very occasional 'present' left by Milly, toenails left by Love Chunks, screwed up Lindor wrappers wedged in between the sofa cushions by me and tiny pyramids of sand caused when Sapphire takes her sneakers off.

I'm always willing to overlook the added texture of our floors until the mat in the living room becomes a flat version of Milly the dog - orange, furry and a tad smelly. Then I'll give it a half-hearted once-over with the Hoover and maybe put the pointy nozzle thing on to suck up any grey dust bunnies that dodged the brush head.

When the toilet starts to answer me back, it gets a good scrubbing and the shower gets a going-over at the same time my own body does. Dusting occurs about as often as the equinox, and ornaments on display are kept to a minimum to ensure that this twice-yearly schedule isn't interrupted or increased in any way.

The best cleaning item is the humble blue Chux wipe - coffee cup rings, milky cereal spills, rice grains, sweetcorn hairs and fingerprints all disappear. The second best item is the recycle wheelie bin: a week's worth of newspapers and junk mail off the kitchen table and into the bin - voila! Tidy! Borry the dishwasher is third, bless his hunky stainless steel heart.

I'd rather spend my time sitting outside under the pergola chatting to Sapphire as she cuddles the rabbit, eat chocolate, write, read, eat whatever Love Chunks has cooked, socialise, watch telly, rub Milly's belly, run, laugh, slosh shower water onto the garden and pick up dog turds so that we can safely walk in the garden.

My ex-Dummies editor once said, 'My 92 year old Gran used to say, 'Nobody notices the dust after the second glass of sherry.'

Hear Hear. *clink*

Friday, November 27, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 28 - Shiteous Shopping

Unlike most women I know, I hate shopping. Especially clothes or shoes for me.

There's only so much jewellery you can wear in 'real life'. Big rings get clumps of soap caught in the claws holding the stone and dangly earrings is like having your own self-serve torture treatment as they grab at your hair and dong off the sides of your jaw. Jeans, once the perfect pair is found, last for years and get better as they get older and the three dresses I currently own have each been bought for a special occasion and only worn for that occasion.

Thousands of much better bloggers and writers have written of the horrors and time-wasting associated with trying on clothes in shops and changing rooms. The queues; being told you have one garment too many; the terror of a size too small but no-one to run in and find the right fit; the three-way mirrors showing your thighs in triple-dimpled glory and the single hook that's supposed to fit three jackets, your winter coat, four shirts and a skirt as well as your handbag on it without falling to the floor and landed in a puddle of spilled red slurpee syrup. That's all I'll say on the matter.
Instead, my anti-change room strategy is to actively embrace PayPal, e-bay, online stores and mail order brochures. I know my size and what styles suit me and am happy to select what I need when I need it. ("A black top, Kath? Now there's a surprise" laughs Love Chunks).

My mother, on the other hand, adores shopping and browsing and Sapphire has clearly inherited this trait.

I love spending time with both or either of them at this activity as long as there's no rush to find that perfect gift, or outfit, or kitchen utensil but we can chat, linger, look at stuff for no compelling reason and stop for (good coffee), cake and lunch.

It is then that I find gifts for my loved ones - the book for LC, the tops for Sapph, the hilarious game for a brother, the gorgeous bangles for a sister-in-law, the funky scarf for a friend, the bright-and-busy pressies for Sapphire's birthday party buddies and the cards that make you laugh out loud at their cheeky brilliance. They may be found in January or June and will be carefully hidden away in my secret little gift cupboards, ready for wrapping in December.

When the teacher at Sunday School would say, 'Giving is much better than receiving' this was an impossible thing for a six year old to imagine.

But she was right. Sure, she wasn't right about 'Pray to God and he'll give you what you ask for' because there was NO tin of Big Sister self-saucing chocolate pudding on my window-sill the following morning (I didn't risk asking for an elephant or house of gold because I thought I should consider his work-load and start modestly), but I do get a tiny little buzz of happiness when I think, "Yes. Dad will love this 'Sometimes I wake up grumpy; Other days I just let her sleep in' barbeque apron," or "Dare I risk buying Rob another book when he's proudly admitted to not reading anything other than the newspaper and TV guide since 1985?"

And yet I've also found that giving to a charity and saying to someone that 'I've donated the money I would have spent finding you a special gift so that a family in Rwanda can own three chickens' doesn't quite cut it. It's a fantastic idea to donate; don't get me wrong, but in this society there's still something pretty damn nice about receiving a gorgeous gift that someone has specifically found for you, even if it's small.

So I do donate to charities and feel good about it and don't bother with Christmas cards - all that writing, enviro-catastrophic waste of thin cardboard and cost of postage stamps easily adds up to another donation that saves 100 friends having to pick their stupid, meaningless, mass-produced 'look how many friends I've got, aren't I popular' tacky cards up off the mantelpiece every time somebody opens the door and enters the room.
Family get gifts, but ones that I've carefully thought about and chosen, not just a voucher or a slip of paper saying, 'There's a goat in the Philippines making a family of eight very happy right now' when it really means, 'Your loved one couldn't be arsed getting you a gift so they made an online donation - which we do appreciate and think is great, as we're sure that you do too, but your beloved then just tore this strip off the bottom of the tax deductible receipt we sent and thinks that it excuses them from having to put any thought into you at all.'

I've learned that we need to do both - give to people in need and give to the family and friends we love, no matter how small the present. A handmade card from Sapphire is cherished by me because she devoted time to planning it and making it. And she put her weeks' pocket money into the huge 'Guide Dogs for the Blind' money box at the supermarket that week.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 27 - What's the difference?

Here's a story I particularly like:

One day a man was walking his dog along the beach after a storm. The tide had washed thousands of starfish onto the beach. They were still alive, but only just. A woman was making her way along the shore, throwing starfish into the sea, one by one.

“Hey,” the man called out, “there are thousands of starfish on the beach. You’re not going to make a blind bit of difference!”

The woman stooped, picked up a starfish and threw it back into the sea. Then she smiled at the man and said, “Made a difference to that one!”

Pieces of litter are my starfish. They're everywhere in our suburb.

Litter is dropped by high school kids to-and-from school and during lunchtime strolls to the five fast food outlets nearby; it flutters out of council rubbish bins as the trucks' lifting mechanism struggles to flip them into the back without spillage; it appears on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings after pub night staggerings and the technicolour junk mail mates with the leaves of the plane trees to create even more unsightly mayhem.

Most people see it, have a quiet 'tut tut' about it and then keep walking or unlock their door, step inside and promptly forget all about it.

I can't do that any longer. As I walk up my tiny street with Sapphire and Milly every day, I spent half of it bending over to pick up dropped bottles, cigarette packets, chip bags, soft drink straws and leaflets; placing them in whichever neighbour's wheelie bin is within reach.

Sometimes Sapphire helps and sometimes she rolls her eyes in embarassment. "Can't you just walk by for once, Mum?"

Then, twice a week I arm myself with long-handled BBQ tongs and shopping bags and leave Sapphire at home with LC. Milly is my sidekick, eagerly sniffing out the forgotten sandwiches, chicken bones and mouldering apple cores that are scattered in the school yard. She's long since discovered that beer cans and cigarette butts aren't particularly tasty. Thirty minutes of 'touching my toes with tongs' leaves a spotless school and street and provides me with some rather satisfying grunt work and thinking time.

However, like bad summertime TV and party-hommus morning breath, its return is inevitable. The very next day, before the first lesson has started, there's already a few bunched up tissues, a Big M carton or two and some balls of gladwrap up against the cyclone fencing.

"See Mum, you'll never get rid of it, no matter how often you do it."

I pause, bend over to pick up the ones on the street-side of the fence and carry it in the hand not holding hers.

"I know love, but every piece I pick up is one less that everyone sees. One less making the place look uglier, dirtier and more neglected than it deserves to be. It's my home, my neighbourhood. If I don't make a start on it, who will?"

Perhaps this is just as small, but KIVA is an international microfinance website that alleviates people from poverty by lending them small amounts to start up their businesses and feed their families. I'd heard about the genuine leg-up that microfinancing can give people from poverty-stricken communities via some documentaries and KIVA has been recommended by a friend and some reputable reports on other websites.

KIVA reps were able to see and hear first-hand how small grants of only $100 - $150 had been used to build ongoing livelihoods that could provide for a family. They heard stories of people who were able to sleep on mattresses instead of dirt floors, afford to take sugar in their tea daily instead of occasionally, and buy fresh fish for their families a few times every week rather than once a week. Instead of meeting the poor and helpless, they found themselves meeting successful entrepreneurs who had generated enough profits from their small businesses to create a real impact on their standard of living.

I believe they have the passion, energy and dedication to put some real strength and success behind their aims. I've started up a Blurb from the Burbs/Gone Chocco lending group. If you click on the title, it should take you straight there and if you wish to donate a few dollars to an individual or collective who needs some cash to get started, it'd be great.

Starfish, pieces of litter, a few bucks. It all makes a difference.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 26 - What the movies have learned me

Most of my lifetime has been spent watching American-made movies and television. A bit of British stuff has crept in at times and maybe some Canadian (without me really noticing) and a smidge of art-house sub-titled stuff, but mostly American.

Apart from being able to list more US presidents than Australian Prime Ministers, US movies have taught me many things about life over there that differs so greatly from my own.

Stuff like:

* When the hero or heroine returns back to their apartment, they never turn the light on, instead preferring to read by the street light streaming in through the window or when the fridge door is open. This love of darkness seems particularly prevalent to private investigators and forensics experts. Why examine some DNA or vital alien clue in a well lit laboratory when you can do it with a portable torch or a cigarette lighter?

* Likewise, they'll wearily sort through their mail, dump it on a table and listen to their answering machine. They'll have message after message on there, from syrupy voices saying 'Hey honey, how come you haven't called me?' to a couple of generic ones from their celluloid parents asking about their health. I'd be lucky to have more than two in an entire week that aren't just recordings of someone hanging up and not bothering to leave a message.

* Labor starts immediately. If a character is pregnant, her cervix will be ten centimetres dilated; waters splashed all over the shop and whatever strongly-worded argument she's engaged in will cease as the baby's head starts to emerge - all in the time it takes you to unwrap a Lindt ball. No 'count the minutes between the contractions, darling, the ante-natal teacher said they'll send us back home if it's more than five minutes' for these characters but BOOM - instant baby!

* Said babies, when they emerge two minutes later, look around three months old and smeared in red jelly. Otherwise they're gargantuans that would surely have the Guinness Book of Records staff popping over with a camera and a set of scales.

* Back at home, if a character offers you a drink, it will come from a bottle of scotch that's conveniently in the living room. As you do. If it's coffee they're offering, the receiver always says 'black' so that the star doesn't have to faff about finding milk, asking about sugar or sweetener and so forth. Tough luck if you don't fancy a neat Scotch or black coffee - "Erm, can I have a glass of water or a diet coke with some ice in it?"

* Sneezes are fatal, or at the very least require a hospital stay. There's no 'Gezundheit' or 'bless you, go get a tissue you pig' in the movies - it's a coma, bereaved rellies at the bedsite in tears, wasting away whilst still remaining heart-rendingly beautiful and all accompanied by a gorgeous string-laden soundtrack. Spilled bedpans, over-worked nurses and rooms of six patients or more separated by too-short curtains are only ever seen in UK-sad-sack films or dodgy comedies.

* Yanks luuurve their celery sticks, don't they? If a character is going to come home with a sack of groceries, it's in an old-fashioned brown paper bag (last seen in Australia in 1975) with a bunch of celery poking out the top. Apart from our rabbit getting a stick or two each week, the rest of ours tends to go all droopy and then slimy before it drips down the back of the fridge and ends up as a green puddle under the vege crisper bins.

* Whatever groceries are purchased on screen, they clearly get their money's worth. In any scene featuring a conversation over the dinner table, the all-American family has put out enough bowls of steaming vegetables (not celery), gravy, mashed potatoes and bread to feed a classroom of ravenous teenage boys. No removing the self-serve option or saving on how many dirty dishes are created by instead slopping a bit of stuff on a plate in the kitchen for these fictional families.

* Eating the food takes an eternity. The camera will show someone at the precise second the fork leaves their presumably full mouth and for the duration of the scene they'll be chewing that mouthful. Either they're eating Wrigleys for dinner or the actor is an anoxeric, lactose-intolerant, coeliac vegan who is praying that the scene will be wrapped in just one take.

* Ugly girls wear thick-rimmed glasses, pony tails and denim overalls. No acne scars, dented noses, bulging eyes, double-chins, warts or lumpy arses are evident. A mere pair of contact lenses and new threads sees them turn into hot swans who can sing, dance and entrance the high school hunk.

* If the characters are trick-or-treating or at a fancy dress party, none of the costumes are ever home made. They look more professionally put-together than anything appearing at the Myer Christmas Pageant; even if done by a 'loser' or nerd with a complete lack of social skills or available money to rent a good costume.

* Chiropractors and a decent nights' sleep aren't important exist in movieland. In the evenings, if people wish to talk to each other in bed, they'll have their necks virtually cricked at a cruel 95% angle by resting up on at least four pillows. Even when the bedside lamp is switched off, the pillows all stay in their stack of torture and curtains remain open with a huge moonbeam appearing across the face of the sleepers that seems brighter than the lamp ever was. In my room I need the blinds firmly shut, no more than one puffy pillow, the mouthguard inserted, one last loud honk into my hanky and the fan on before Mr Sandman is ready for a home visit.

There's plenty more out there - the busty girl who always ventures into scary and dark situations is always dressed in a skimpy singlet and sexy shorts and never the neck-to-knee towelling bathroom and aqua blue crocs that I wear and baddies always treat even their friends and henchmen badly and are even worse when it comes to accurately aiming or shooting their guns at any of the goodies. Everyone's phone number starts with 555 but they rarely say 'goodbye' when they hang up, and the astonishing news event that shapes the course of their lives is always running at the exact moment they decide to switch on the tv.

What have US movies taught you?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 25 - Forgiving and Forgetting

I've received an email from no less than fourteen people in the past month, either written by an old lady whose name escapes me (Joyce Butterwell or somesuch) or Reg Brett, who both seem to be 90 years old and authors of 'The Plain Dealer' column from Cleveland, Ohio. I'll leave it to them to take each other to court and claim rightful ownership of the published and emailed wisdom.

Whoever the hell it was, they once wrote a list of 45 life lessons; most of which I've already seen on coffee mugs, bumper bars and t-shirts but this one rang a few bells:

Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

I know that Joyce or Reg or whomever has my best interests at heart, because there's no point in dwelling on bad situations that happened in the past or things I can't change or understand.

But what I hate - yes, hate - apart from people saying 'Don't take it personally' are people who automatically assume that because you can't forgive or forget something, you haven't moved on in your life.

Bulldog Craplock was my last 'office-based' boss and treated me despicably. She actively bullied me at work and then used her power and privelege to have me forcibly transferred from her office despite admitting in front of me that I was an excellent at my job.

My husband, LC, was a witness to my despair and powerlessness every night for a month. Unbeknownst to me, he tried to get her on the phone at a time when he knew I was out of the office to see if he could find out what the real problem was and how it could be resolved more reasonably. She then hung up and said to a fellow colleague, H, "Well well well.... why don't I get my husband to do my crying for me?"
H was appalled but kept silent. Bulldog was her boss too.

Three days later, Bulldog was informed by the HR department (her willing helpers in moving me on via the Enterprise Agreement) that I'd finally broken down and been admitted to hospital. Her eyes were dry until she read an email that LC had sent her, describing what she'd done to me. He threatened to send it on to everyone that she and I worked with: then the tears started to flow.

H heard her crying and assumed that it was due to her disappointment at being knocked back for an ARC grant because she'd put her name on as co-researcher on too many projects to be feasible.

She rushed in to see what the problem was.
"You know, don't you? You know what I did," bleated Bulldog.
H nodded, a bit afraid. "Yeah, I got the email too."
"Oh no, what have I done? Who else knows?"
H started to think that Bulldog was overreacting a tad. "Don't worry Bulldog, it's just me and the two PhD students who wrote the application who got the ARC response. Besides, there'll be other grants and we've got enough funding to cover the next few years."

As Bulldog wiped away her tears and visibly brightened in seconds, H realised that she hadn't been weeping over lost grant money at all. "Oh thank god, H! Um, right, of course you're right, there's plenty more cash in the sea...."

With the help of NTEU, I received a small pay out and my fellow staff with other job options (not easy when you're an academic researcher in a narrow subject field) soon left Bulldog's employ as a sign of solidarity and disgust. I used the money to work from home as a wannabe writer, pretending I was on a half salary for a few months.

Then, of course, the book was published, and I scored a few interviews and articles. I blogged more often and was invited to chat on radio. The chocolate gigs got bigger and better, and I loved the semi-regular segment on the commercial airwaves and the seat-soaking exuberance of not knowing who was calling on the other end of the (live to air!) line.

Moving to Melbourne saw a couple of TV spots, a weekly radio gig with Beautiful Bernadette and freelance work for the Age. A fitter, faster body, happily-settled-in child, fulfilled husband and a life that feels like it's full of interesting options instead of dull obligation.

My spies tell me that Bulldog has since endured a few well-earned dollops of Karma, and that's good enough for me - I'm not burning for revenge or thinking about her incessantly. Every now and then the pain of what she did comes back (you don't forget a stay in a psych ward too easily), but I then look around me and it disappears. What the experience has taught me is to fight hard (thanks NTEU), keep good notes of what happened-and-when and never, ever put up with being treated unfairly or badly.

So please don't say, "If Bulldog hadn't have done what she did, you wouldn't be a writer now, would you?" because that is simply not true. It has been me who actively sought out new areas to explore and tried (and will continue to do so) my best to get in there, grab at them and do 'em. My good fortune will never excuse her evil, egotistical and destructive behaviour and I will never, ever forgive her for what she did (not that she's apologised or asked for forgiveness). Why should I?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 24 - Old Bag Aspirations

I was talking with Sapphire's best friend Juliet's mother, Tracy, about the challenges and joys of living in a small, densely-populated inner city suburb and the resultant layers of cultures, litter, noise, fun, friendliness, drunkenness and planning problems it entails.

She shared with me her recent bravery in telling off an insolent seventeen year old boy for stealing mail and littering. As she was walking home from the shops she spied a young dropkick yank out a letter that was sticking out of a mailbox, rip it up and scatter it along the street to the general mocking laughter of the five other dropkicks with him.

Tracy did what - as we've both since recognised later - a few of us 'forty something' women are starting to do: she went all Angry Old Bag on him. She bolted across the road, jabbed her finger at his chest and told him to pick up the mail and put it in the bin or she'd report him for mail fraud and littering.

He of course said, "Make me" and folded his arms insolently across his chest as his buddies looked on, but he severely underestimated the power of the Angry Old Bag. Tracy had undergone some training with the FBI in the US some three children, a PhD and two countries ago and was able to rattle off enough legal gobbledegook to convince the Acne-ed Arse that she could arrest him on the spot and perhaps even whip a taser out of her Green Enviro Shopping Bag to press home her point. He sullenly snatched up the papers, put them in the bin and stalked off, with his mates laughing at him instead of Tracy.

"I'm too old for them to be interested in ogling, yet young enough to take them on," she said.

Fiona, another mother at the party drop off, nodded and said, "Yeah, I want to be an Angry Old Bag too," and recounted her 84 year old neighbour giving the auctioneer across the road a real mouthful when he refused to take bids in one-thousand-dollar increments, preventing a young couple from joining the buyers.

"Soon, she had the crowd giving the auctioneer a slow clap and he backed down," she said admiringly.

Regular readers of Blurb from the Burbs will know that I've already recognised the Angry Old Bag emerging from inside me and am starting to actively cultivate her. After all, once you find that first chin hair......

In the past month alone, I've:

* Told off five teenagers for throwing Red Rooster cartoons on the footpath. They put them in the bin when Milly the dog trotted over insisting on making friends and receiving some pats. The kids have sat in the same spot each lunch time and not littered again since.

* Said, 'Could those jeans be any lower on you?' to a boy on the way to school. He ignored me, but seeing as I walk past him every day I have noticed that he's not worn those particular trousers since then.

* Butted in a conversation on public transport. Three people were talking about their housing commission flat in Footscray. "Of course, it's 'Spot the Aussie' where we are, with all the African refugees and that." I leaned in and said, "And that's a good thing, isn't it?" and shocked them into nodding. Glumly of course, but at least it wasn't telling me to enjoy sex elsewhere or starting an racist punch-up on the number 57 tram...

* Snobbed off 'Schnauzer Woman' who decided that she did know me after all, especially when she'd just overheard our local councillor (a fellow parent at the school) talking about a grant I'd won for a litter project

* Helped a lady in a motorised scooter fill up her plastic bags in the fruit and veg section of Safeway (those green capsicums are a bugger to reach); and

* Discussed with other budding Angry Old Bags just how cool we think it is that 82 year old Peter Cundall, recently of 'Gardening Australia' fame and regard had been arrested outside Tasmania's Parliament House for refusing police instructions to move away from the steps as he joined protesters in calling for Royal Commission in the approval of Gunns Ltd's proposed Bell Bay pulp mill in the state's north.

I hope at 82 that I'm still able to get fired up enough about something to slip on my homeypeds and tracksuit and bound out of the house to join in the fight.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 23 - Five Years' Time

During our lowest, most stressed, anxious, grief-stricken or most humiliating moments, we've often thought, read or even said, "Think about it: in five years' time, will this matter?"

I've learned that five years - in the past or ahead in time - is an eternity.

Five years ago, I was a manager of fourteen busy staff for an unpopular-but-very-necessary government agency. Eighty million dollars of expenditure per year was under my watchful eye and having to drop everything and respond to an urgent query from the Minister's office by midday was a constant part of working life.

My salary was very good for someone of my skills and age at the time in fairly small Adelaide. My boneheaded-but-blessed boss, Mal Function, was on the magical six-figure salary that was almost within my grasp. He was of the earlier generation that moved up the ladder of pay rises and job titles by birthright; by the time I arrived it was either wait for someone to die and/or have to re-apply for your own position (with seventeen pages of selection criteria that had to be addressed and supported) every six months. I wanted that salary: no, I deserved it. How else was I show to everyone that I was successful?

It was four years of waiting with Sapphire in the car for the Childcare Centre to open its doors at 7:00am so that I could be at my desk by 7:30am reading emails, writing reports and eating chocolate from the vending machine for breakfast. After ten hours of this each day, I'd head home and switch the laptop on at 8.30pm for more work after Sapphire went to bed. Sometimes on the weekends, I'd say to Sapph, "Would you like to go on a bus ride with Mummy into town and draw on her whiteboard" so that I could do even more work.

Strangely enough, I started to find that my physical body was starting to protest about my never-ending lunge for the big bucks and promotion.

The dentist made me a mouthguard to stop my teeth from wearing away due to nocturnal grinding, but I bit through it. He doubled the thickness and I cracked it - not from grinding this time, but clenching. Six of my teeth then had to be capped and crowned to protect the spongy and painful layer of dentine that my grinding had exposed, with a new protective cover lacquered over the top that could withstand a fiery car accident. Bedtimes had me smiling at Love Chunks like Hannibal Lecter with a lisp.

Soon, however, night time grinding wasn't an issue because sleep just wasn't happening. My first prescribed sleeping pill - temazepam - was a gift from God. To be knocked out for five straight hours was so blissful. No tossing and turning, or crazy thoughts or worries about work I'd forgotten to do..... I rationed them carefully; worried about addiction and lack of effectiveness, but lived for Wednesday and Sunday nights when I got to pop a tiny pink pellet onto my tongue.

Irritable Bowel became Pretty Pharkin' ANGRY Bowel and nights were spent shivering on the toilet at 3am, huddled in pain, producing nothing. Day times it was diarrhoea, carefully hidden in between meetings and from other visitors in the staff toilets. My face started to smell permanently of the fizzy splatter of lime-flavoured heartburn tablets.

My strategy to cope with the 'bit of stress' was to increase the exercise I was doing. Six and twelve kilometre runs weren't enough to tire me out and improve my energy levels; it was time to get into half-marathon training. And hey, if it was vital to be at the Childcare Centre by 7am, then I'd have to be up at 4.30am in order to get a decent run and shower in before drop off.....

And thus my physical, mental, social, emotional and aspirational breakdown was pretty well covered from all angles and I remember being half-walked, half-carried by LC into an ambulance before waking up in a hospital bed the following day.

Five years later, I can look back at the (thankfully) distant past and quite clearly see that the money, job title, staff, corporate credit card, cab-charge vouchers and home laptop docking station wasn't worth the split fingernails, blurred vision, churning stomach and night-time sobbings. Nor did it signify to anyone that I was a success story in any way.

Five years later I manage no-one, catch public transport, live in jeans and my job title certainly emphasises the 'free' in freelance. Sleep sometimes eludes me, but it mostly provides me with the rest I need. Irritable Bowel rarely progresses beyond 'vaguely miffed' and the migraines that visit me now are not due to clenched jaws, scrunched shoulders or fear.

Five years later Sapphire is my daughter, friend, angel, nanna and nagger. She's no longer on my 'Quality Time - Must do' list, but is a genuine part of my day, my life. Her spirit reverberates throughout our house and my heart. We laugh, talk and wear clean clothes. I am a success now.

Five years later LC and I are stronger, better, lighter. As the rain poured down yesterday and we huddled in the shelter waiting for our tram to arrive, he touched my cheek and said, "I know I'm not a demonstrative guy, but do I show you often enough how much I love you? How much I need you?"

This, the question from the man who carried me into the psychiatric ward on two occasions, sat by my bedside through it all, took me home and hugged me into accepting and realising that I did deserve safety, comfort, security and forgiveness.

The man who empties my migraine sick buckets, pays all the scary bills, allows me to wander the streets with our little orange dog seeking inspiration and beauty and who teaches our daughter to think more deeply, care more selflessly and play more joyously.

The man who, in spite of all I've done, still wants to hold my hand, lay beside me at night and laugh with me over our first morning coffees.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 22 - Reading will make you (want to) go blind

I am an automatic reader. Cereal boxes, graffiti, traffic signs, upside-down articles being read by other people; it all goes in via the eyes and is unconsciously deciphered by my brain.

A trip to the doctors' is a visual feast of reading matter, and that's without even considering the out of date magazines on the coffee table: 'Brad and Jen - pregnant at last' or information pamphlets on the counter: 'STDs and You.'

My bladder was starting to squeak every time I crossed my legs, so I tentatively snuck into the toilet adjoining the waiting room. Hindsight is a regretful and pointless exercise, but I've discovered that it's not fun being an automatic reader when using the toilet facilities in a medical centre. Besides, you're at a medical centre - aren't you already worried enough about your health to have made the effort to go there in the first place?

Blue-tacked on the wall directly in front of me and expertly aligned at eye level was a cobalt blue poster screaming: DO YOU SUFFER FROM BLADDER WEAKNESS?

Um, well 'yes' for right at that moment, because that's why I was in there, reading the bladder blurb. But then the infernal poster asked, HAVE YOU EVER...? and the Wound-up WorryWart barely repressed within me took over. 'Do you plan your day around where toilets are located? Do you avoid exercise in case of urine leakage? Laughing? Do you choose to miss the bus instead of running to catch it?' Oh dear....

I dragged my eyes away and looked above the basin instead. GET TO KNOW HERPES, the red brochure stuck on the mirror commanded.

After a few moments, my knowledge of the condition had considerably increased. For example, did you know that one of the first signs of genital herpes might in fact be flu-like symptoms, as in sore muscles, headache, fever or chills? Apparently the herpes microbe creature germ thingies prefer 'soft skin' such as lips, genitals and the anus and it's cheering to know that approximately one-in-eight Aussies have the condition. Who cares about what we spend on health as part of our GDP when we have a statistic like that to be proud of. Mention that during the lull in your next dinner party conversation.....

Back on the bog things were not improving, reading matter-wise, because next to the loo roll holder a nurse had tactfully placed a sticker, advising that BOWEL CANCER IS A MALIGNANT GROWTH THAT STARTS IN THE LARGE BOWEL (COLON) OR RECTUM.

That seemed correct and yet was surely very bad luck for the poor bastards who had it. But
wait, there was more sobering news for any of us automatic-readerbathroom butt-heads who couldn't help but read further: 'A faecal occult blood test is used to effectively and efficiently screen for cancer.'

Well you'd certainly hope it was effective for the stress of having to back out a big one, catch it without spillage or splashing and then carry it into the doctor's office in a hopefully non-transparent tupperware container. And yet: 'These are not diagnostic tests - they cannot tell if you have cancer. They are used to identify people who need further testing.' That didn't sound at all comforting and I started to wonder what the diagnostic testing stage would be like - a three kilogram sample that is required to be crapped out into a four litre icecream carton and refrigerated at home for a week before delivery?

Understandably, I wasn't expecting too much positive news when my eyes then unwillingly alighted upon the sticker on the liquid soap dispenser. 'Crohn's disease and ulcerative collitis (IBD) can cause diarrhoea, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and can adversely affect the eyes, skin and joints.' It was all fabulous, really. Still, at least, typed in bold, was the hopeful question we all yearned for: 'How can this be treated?' After mentioning a few drugs, the brochure sadly concluded, 'Unfortunately, despite much research, the exact cause of IBD is still unknown.' Marvellous.

After an exaggerated eternity it was finally time to flush, re-dress the southernmost parts of my body, wash my hands, dry off and get the hell out of the scary little room. And yet my urge to read the rest of the material overtook my sense of foreboding. 'Skin Spots to Watch' sported some truly gorgeous colour photographs of basal cell carcinomas, squamos cells, melanomas and Seborrhoeic Keratoses to look forward to the next time I dared ask the doctor to connect the dots on my back; heaps of blah about a new contraceptive implant that admitted in tiny print 'this, like other contraceptive devices, is not 100% effective'; and the eye-wateringly witty 'Managing Menopause and Osteoporosis.'

As my now-shaky hands reached for the door handle to escape into hopefully more positively-decorated waiting room, the smallest poster caught my eye. Ah, the irony of it - 'Come see us at the Anxiety Disorders Clinic - we will help you stop having those panic attacks.'

What I really needed was to be more like my brothers, who choose to read, bless 'em.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 21 - Using my ears

"Please don't sit at the front," said Love Chunks as we walked into the stuffy classroom that still smelled of post-soccer sandals, arm-pits and old sandwiches three hours after the ring of the home time bell.

But I insisted and pretended I hadn't heard him. I knew that by surging ahead, he'd probably follow and sit next to me, even if it wasn't his ideal place.

"I hate sitting at the front - what if there are some little tackers who are brothers and sisters of other kids at the concert and they can't see over our big heads?"

"Stuff 'em," my hand flicked up as if shooing them and LC's issue point away. "We got here first and our kid is in the concert too."

Amidst the squawks of toddlers, the flap-flap-flap of paper programmes being used as fans and the fidgeting of excited performers waiting their turn sitting cross-legged on the carpet, a seven year old playing 'Hot Cross Buns' kick-started the show.

"Ssssh", Love Chunks mimed and tapped my arm, as the loud 'ZZZZZZzzzzzzip' of the camera carry-bag was opened.
Ohferpharksakes how the hell am I supposed to get my camera out quietly? Isn't it like a packet of chips at the cinema or a band aid on a hairy leg: rip it open and get it over and done with? Pompous Old Git.

"Sit Down" he hissed again a short time later, just as quietly but with more urgent menace in his eyes.

Again, I ignored him. POG.

I had made us sit at the very front so that I could get a photo of our little darling playing her viola. She's very good at it damnit and has diligently practised her musical pieces and taken particularly gentle care of her beautiful instrument.

Her piece was the standout of the night. Played not just accurately but with attention to timing and holding out some notes, lingering on others for emphasis and skipping along to build up the rhythm. It may have merely been titled 'Study' but my eyes were moist.

Love Chunks was right, of course. I couldn't stand up and distract her and being right up the front meant that this was the photo we ended up with:

I'll listen to him next time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 20 - Sufferin' Shufflin'

I'll come right out and say it - I'm in love with my iPod.

It's right up there with my other favourite electrical appliance the dishwasher except that Big Burly Borry's a lot quieter and pleases the entire family, not just me.

Trouble is, I've got the iPod Mega Giga-Byte-a-Thon Super Schlong model (the official name has escaped me) and Love Chunks and I decided to upload our entire CD collection onto it.

That's a lot of CDs - roughly 400 - and they range from 1960s classics to today. Yes, admittedly most of them reside firmly in the 1980s and contain songs that are commonly played far too often on Fuddy Duddy FM which is why we never listen to them anymore.

Despite this, before we shifted states and houses and jobs and schools I spent a couple of weeks sitting with the poota on my lap in front of the telly in the evenings loading on every single damn album we owned, even the dud ones that only had the one song worth listening to (The Pursuit of Happiness' 'I'm an adult now'), or the choices that were made during more easily impressionable times (yes, 'Metallica' really fits into my music collection. No, it's not because of a bloke, why do you ask?) or those for specific purposes ('Look, the pan pipes sounded awesome when that Peruvian band played them live at the markets and it'll be great for tonight's dinner party, honestly').

So, even with over 4,000 songs to choose from, it's no real surprise that my playlists only number 12 and ten of these are to keep me running.

Today however, I decided to live on the edge. I was going to press 'Shuffle' and run my strength-sapping, energy-draining, heart-hurting, soul-straining eight kilometres to whatever song turned up. No jumping to the edge to twist the bum bag around to the front, have my sweaty mitts clumsily grapple the slippery silver box and fast forward to the next song, no. I'd put up, shut up and run up to the very end.

Well, what I've learned from that decision is that iPod Shuffle is for idiots.

Shuffle just means that the evil little device picks out songs that Love Chunks must have bought in his pre-Kath, pre-clear-thinking and pre-taste days and that Apple wanted to dust them off and see what they sounded like in my head phones.

I present you with the RUNNING list. Note that I usually need loud, fast, energetic, inspirational and/or angsty rock songs that keep to the rhythm of my legs, the pound of my heart and the gasp of my breathing....

Play me - Neil Diamond
Grasslands Chant - The Lion King original Broadway cast recording
Move Closer - Phyllis Nelson
Save a Prayer - Duran Duran
I've been waiting for you - Abba***
Don't know why - Norah Jones
Fantasy Impromptu in C Sharp - Roger Woodward
Buachail An Eirne - Clannad
Between the Shadows - Loreena McKennit
There's no one - The Whitlams
Vienna - Ultravox

It was, without a doubt, the hardest run I have ever done in my life, including the half marathon where I threw up on the bank of the Torrens River at the 15km mark and the 23km run when my left big toe nail came loose in my shoe.

Yes, dear Abba are my most favouritest band, but this is. not. a. song. to. run. to. EVER.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 19 - Egotistical expectations

Yesterday I was in the city meeting up with some friends who I used to work with in the dark days of Amanda Vanstone taking over the Department of Employment, Education and Training and scuttling the existence of the CES offices. Bill and Sue survived and in fact thrived and were keen to see what a stay-at-homer like me was up to (and, no doubt, looked like these days).

It was a fantastic lunch and we had over a decade to catch up on with genuine promises to stay in touch more regularly next time. As I waited for my ride home at the Elizabeth Street tram stop, my head starting pounding ominously (please Mr Migraine, at least wait until I get home), so I let a tram pass so that I could breathe in a bit more fresh air instead of stale commuters' BO.

The air on one of the city's busiest thoroughfares wasn't much fresher, unless you consider truck fumes, old prawn heads in bins and clowds of secondhand cigarette smoke from office workers to be particularly aromatic. As I slurped from my water bottle, one of the saddest sounds in nature reached my ears. Yes, that of a trapped butterfly, smacking its tiny little forehead over and over on the windowpane of the tram shelter, desperately trying to get to freedom outside.

This black and orange beauty needed saving, brother. As gently as my man-hands and long, ET-phone-home fingers could, they slowly closed around the distressed insect, trapping it. "Don't worry little one," I cooed, knowing I sounded like a loony but who cared: I was surrounded by deaf iPod-wearing travellers who regarded jeans hanging lower than their buttocks as sensible clothing.

I opened my hands in an exaggerated, 'The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Music' gesture, and the butterfly buggered off as quickly as it could. I sat back down on the bench, mentally patting myself on the back for being such a caring environmentalist willing to put my money where my mouth was. No, make that my hands where my mouth was, or was it my brain where my hands were, or...

Anyhow, my ego was stoked and fit to burst. As was my bladder I then realised. There were no loos immediately apparent other than the techno-toilet across the street which I've always been afraid to use. Time was of the essence though, so I snuck into the foyer of a large office building nearby and dashed into the disabled toilet.

Creak.... "Ooops, sorry!"
"JESUS, I'm in HERE!"
Oh. My. God. Someone had opened the toilet door and I was directly in their full view - as well as most of reception - with pants around my knees and blowing my nose loudly into some scrunched up toilet paper. What the hell happened to the concept of one good turn deserves at least three minutes of alone-time in the bog?

Thankfully, the door opener had disappeared, no doubt shocked to the core at seeing me in there, fat fluoro arse-cheeks and white cottage-cheese thighs on dazzling display. Eschewing the blow hand dryer, I dashed out into the sunshine again, hands dripping, cheeks blazing and making a fairly good job of being intently focussed on rummaging through my backpack looking for the apple I'd flung in there that morning.

I bit into it decisively, trying to crunch away the lingering odour of embarassment. Patoooey! I took one look into my apple and saw the healthy snacker's nightmare - a brown hole and only half the worm.

Where was the good turn I was due for saving the boodiful butterfly? Maybe I'd check my lotto ticket at the newsagent or see if I could slip down a Chunky King-Sized Caramel KitKat without my metabolism noticing.

Several minutes later, I was strolling down Racecourse Road, smiling again, loving the ease of travel to and from the city centre and the quirkiness of my neighbourhood. I grinned at the local wino coven under the bridge, feeling friendly and magnanimous. I was a broad-minded, supportive and non-judgmental person who ---

--- just swallowed a fly. No point in spitting it out, it was too far gone for that.

Oh well that was probably my reward. A tiny bit of protein and one less blowie around to annoy m

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 18 - Patience

Patience has never been my strong point.

Whereas my brothers could set up the wooden blocks, Meccano or Lego and create intricate little cities in our pool room (yes, we had a pool room that Darryl from The Castle would have loved), for days on end, I’d have a go for a while and then once all the fun of setting it up had ended would wander off, already bored.

Dad would teach the boys how to play Crib and Chess on our caravan holidays, look over at me hunched on the bunk with my nose in a
Gnid Blyton and say, “Would you like to play?” knowing that my answer would always be a muttered, “No way Dad.”

It’s always amused my father that my ability (and therefore interest) in completing crosswords or those hellish cryptic versions is akin to that of a squashed snail's and I don’t want to expend any valuable time on trying to improve those skills. Same goes for Sudoku, Edward DeBono’s ‘Mind Pack’ (still unwrapped after 12 years), inscrutable word puzzles and Christmas games of Scrabble with my mother or brother Rob where mathematics and careful placement of tiles in order to earn a higher score is required on top of merely formulating a word.

Boggle, on the other hand, is MY game. Two minutes of sand and a mad scribble on paper. Perfect. Not unlike the way I make an omelette – a quick beat with a fork then into a cereal bowl and nuked in the microwave for 45 seconds; the same time it would take to come up with at least 10 words of six letters or less.

And yet, once a child arrives, the quantities and qualities of patience undergoes a huge change.

I still don’t eagerly flick to the puzzles section of the newspaper or want to know what the hell kind of Nintendo pip-pip-pip game Sapphire is engrossed in or trade fish or farm animals for pearls or hay bales or some kind of online flim flummery on Facebook but I can sit at a kitchen table for SEVEN hours rolling tiny strips of paper onto satay sticks.

Sapphire was keen to spend a day with me doing arts and crafts and stood at my side as I tapped away on the keyboard, brandishing her large ‘You Can Do It’ activity book in front of my face. “Mum, Dad’s not here, we’ve got all day and you said you wanted to do something with me today and THIS is what I want to do.”

She had me at ‘Dad’s not here’, and the associated guilt involved in having an only child, a free Sunday and heaps of spare coloured paper and glue sticks. Alrighty then.

We cut, rolled and glued until our bellies rumbled and fingers ached. We broke for lunch, then resumed our painstaking task, with Sapphire wisely noting that “this is something that they probably do overseas for us to buy at the Oxfam shop” and that no, she didn’t want to be as famous as Lady Gaga or Britney Spears “because then people would only love me for my money, not for me, and you’ve said that love is hard to find and precious to keep, so I’d rather be unknown and liked even though my hair goes BOING on one side and I can’t breathe out of my nose.”

Colours were carefully selected and discussions held on what kinds of jewellery we’d make for the important women in our lives. (“If I made a bracelet for Dad, he’d say ‘thanks love’ and then hang it on his handlebars so that he could lose it”) and why those women were important. “My Auntie WC is interested in exactly the same things as me and is my best friend on Facebook,” “Auntie S is very beautiful and never loses her temper,” and “Grandma always finds the right thing for me to play with or wear or do and has lots of friends at church called Rhonda or Helen.”

My neck today is sore, not so much from the constant bending over our beadwork, but from slyly turning leftways to sneak some views of my daughter as she worked. Her slim neck, cobweb-fine hair, soft skin, rose-bud lips busily chattering and long fingers nimbly rolling the paper. How did we make such a beautiful creature?

This patience has given me the privilege of spending time with her, laughing at our silly songs and our made-up swear words. At 5pm, I push my chair back and say, “It’s time for you to feed Skipper and for me to rustle up something for our tea.”

She stretches back languidly and nods. “Mum, you know that Taylor Swift album you got me last year?”
“She has a song on it I like. It’s about her being with her Mum and it’s her best day.”
I put the onion on the chopping board, pausing to listen.
“Today is like that.”

Patience makes me cry.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 17 - Well, is it?

Is life better after turning forty one?

I remember when my mother turned forty one, way back in 1981. To my almost-thirteen-year-old self, the actual number sounded old, but she looked young, beautiful and was full of energy.

She had a high school teacher and all-round handyman and cricketing-fanatic husband, two boys aged 14 and 10, myself, a friendly cat called Sox, a house completely paid-off, two cars and skin that made all the girls in my class rush out to buy Nivea because that's what I told them she used everyday.

Mum could feed a family on a shoestring budget, make her own clothes, encourage plants to produce fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers in a climate best suited to camels and sun-bleaching bones and abhorred the expense and the laziness of take away meals. She completed her matriculation four years earlier by attending evening classes at the local TAFE (then called the 'Community College'), studying when us kids were at school and typing out her assignments at night when she'd put us all to bed and came out second in the state for her results.

Pauline Florence also read newspapers to the blind, did more than her share of stints in the school canteen, covered books for the library, had a Meals-on-Wheels run, starred in several musicals, made costumes, sang in the choir and umpired netball matches.

She was a hard act to follow. What the hell have I learned at the same age?

Not much it seems. Instead, it's more a case of what I should know by now but still keep doing. Ridiculous things like:

- Eating an orange straight after I've cleaned my teeth.

- Forgetting - every single time, every single day of my life - which direction to turn the key in order to open our front door, back door, car door, parents' house door, brothers' house doors; having a guess and getting it wrong. Every single time.

- Drinking coffee after 3pm. This has only proved wise if I choose to be lying in bed at 3am, singing 'You're hot and you're cold, You're yes and you're no, You're in and you're out, You're up and you're down' over and over in my head whilst on a lumpy, hot pillow, scratching my legs with toenails that need cutting so urgently I get out of bed, give them a trim, hop on the computer to check out LOL-dogs and start re-naming every snap in our digital photo album from 2005 to 2007.....

- Scoffing spoonfuls of Milo straight from the tin. Being desperate enough for a chocolate fix to have to resort to a powdered malted milk flavouring is sad enough for a kid, but as an adult? One older than twenty who is no longer living on Austudy allowance? Naturally, when there's no-one around when I start digging that spoon in someone still walks in and catches me. It's some kind of Kath Law of Stupidity and Immaturity that isn't entirely undeserved.

- Eating drinking cocoa from the tin, which is even more shameful. I've found out the painful and embarrassing way that this low behaviour leads to coughing fits if you inhale instead of swallow the powdery dust.

- Scrubbing the base of the shower/bath when I'm in there doing my own, erm, scrubbing - one day that Jif creme cleanser is going to splash up into a painful place where the sun don't shine.....

- Making nervous and inappropriate remarks to people I don't (yet) know very well. Such as "Hey, do you want to feel really handsome? Go do some shopping at our local Safeway," before a meeting starts and then finding out that his wife is the property manager for the retail site there. True story.....

- Changing hairstyles. At forty-one, my hair knows what it wants to do. Like a reality show contestant, it just wants to sit there, doing nothing. As such, trying anything new just doesn't work. I don't have the elegance or confidence to carry off a new look. A few weeks ago my hair lightened and cut in a shaggy style that allowed me to roughly tousle it forward and give it a bit of height instead of brushing it back, Lady Di circa 1981 style. Love Chunks' reaction? "You look like the Love Child of Strauchanie and Margaret Pomeranz!"

- Poking Love Chunks in his precious bits which perhaps isn't the best way to commence a discussion on why his throw-away remarks might be misinterpreted by me during my PMT week.

I remain, therefore, a work in progress.