Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rain dance

What my dear and long-departed paternal grandfather used to call the Weather Baroo has been forecasting rain in these parts for several days now, but thus far the sky has declined to put its money where its mouth is.

So this morning saw me outside with the garden hose, since it's Wednesday and it's before 9 am and I live in an odd-numbered house and I neglected to water the garden the last time I was allowed to (last Sunday) because I was busy and the Weather Baroo had told me I wouldn't need to.

The poor parched plants needed a serious soaking, especially the lemon tree which is one thirsty dude, so there was considerable expenditure of both time and money, the former in particular being in crucially short supply around here at the moment. As for the money, the water people seem to be behaving the same way as Telstra; as the use of water and of landlines gets less and less, they hike up the infrastructure charges more and more, so although you're being incredibly and increasingly frugal in your use of necessary services, your bills stay roughly the same. It's a version of the law of diminishing returns.

So anyway, after seriously soaking the garden, packing up the hose and coming inside, I went out again five minutes later for something else and there it was, if not actually bucketing down then certainly having a good substantial spit. I can't always make it rain by hanging out the washing or washing the car, but watering the garden is a lay-down misère.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thoughts on Christmas morning

It would probably have been a better idea to force myself to stay up for another hour last night and wrap the presents. But that still wouldn't have solved the cat hair in the sticky tape problem, would it.

A safe and happy Christmas to you all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

In praise of the nanna nap

Late cards posted: TICK

Master list (of lists to be made) drawn up: TICK

Tree trimmed: TICK (Why does 'trimmed' mean putting things on in some cases and taking things off in others? Must investigate)

Gift shopping finished: TICK

Wardrobe refurbished and lost items found (hippieish and kindly tentlike Indian dress has served me well for ten years so deserves to have its busted seams fixed; could not have borne to lose the classic white linen shirt; blue top is almost brand new, with only a light coating of felted-on cat hair): TICK

Deadline met and copy filed: TICK

Maps found: TICK

Food and drink shopping finished: TICK

*Passes out*

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This is Your Life

As almost everyone who comes here knows for themselves already, a life spent reading fiction produces a swag of paragraphs that are not exactly committed to memory, more that the memory of the act of reading them stays with you, because they are as useful as proverbs in the help they give you. I remember Hilary McPhee on a panel at some Writers' Week or other in the mid-1980s, saying with passion that one of the reasons we read fiction is to get ideas about how to live our lives.

Now that is not one of my conscious reasons for reading fiction but every now and again I am reminded of how very helpful it can be. I've headed more than one disaster off at the pass by heeding the voice in my ear of E.M. Forster, as channeled by the fey Mrs. Wilcox (not Margaret Schlegel as was, but the older and, as it were, original Mrs Wilcox, Vanessa Redgrave not Emma Thompson) -- 'Separate those people who will hurt each other the most.' Which was also very helpful during the terrible week of my mother's death.

But I appear to have reached a stage of life where some books remind me of other books that have provided these lifelong aids to sanity and quiet reflection. It's bad luck, on the eve of Christmas Eve when I am way behind with everything, that one of this week's work novels is so rivetingly engaging and charming that I feel compelled not only to read it very slowly in order to honour its virtues but to blog about it as well, all of which might mean pulling an all-nighter which I haven't done for several years and may now be too old to survive intact.

Anyway, I'd only got as far as page 17 of Julia Glass's I See You Everywhere when I found this:
Whatever Lucy knew, she kept to herself. When I asked Dad why he didn't get her to tell the whole story, he said "Louisa, we live in an age when keeping secrets is out of fashion, and that's a shame. If she wanted to tell us, well, she would."

Which immediately brought to mind the bit in The Once and Future King that has been my rule for the keeping of secrets since I was twelve:
The morning when they were to set out for Bliant arrived, and the newly-made knight, Sir Castor, stopped Lancelot in the Hall. He was only seventeen.

"I know you are calling yourself the Ill-Made Knight," said Sir Castor, "but I think you are Sir Lancelot. Are you?"

Lancelot took the boy by the arm.

"Sir Castor," he said, "do you think that is a knightly question? Suppose I were Sir Lancelot, and was only calling myself the Chevalier Mal Fet -- don't you think I might have some reasons for doing that, reasons which a gentleman of lineage ought to respect?"

Sir Castor blushed very much and knelt on one knee.

"I won't tell anybody," he said. Nor did he.

(The power of that quotation, I see for the first time as I type it here, may lie in the scansion of that last sentence: three heavily stressed monosyllables, a sound like the slow but firm closing of a door.)

But Glass was (and is; I'm only up to page 55 as I type and have no doubt there are further revelations in store) not yet finished with me; on the same page, indeed in the next paragraph and regarding the same character -- an ancient aunt whose tale in the family lore is that she gave up her whole life to look after her damaged older sister -- there's this:
I believe she was swept along on a tide, like most of us. There you are, diligently swimming a straight line, minding the form of your strokes, when you look up and see, always a shock, that currents you can't even feel have pulled you off course.

Which for reasons that are about to become apparent reminded me of this, from A.S. Byatt's The Virgin in the Garden, which refers to a character with a severely autistic son:
" ... But I think it's possible Mrs Haydock'd just come to pieces without him. Having made him her life. Funny thing, the variety of lives, you can't know what accident won't set yours in some very simple terrible deep channel for the rest of its run."

(Again what has appealed to memory, I now see, is the rhythm of one phrase, that unstoppable run of adjectives with its string of insistent stress: simple terrible deep channel.) Byatt has been rescuing me from dark places since 1984, when I first read this and put it, with desperate gratitude, to good use:

She did not see why he should preserve his good opinion of himself at her expense. It was refusing these small encounters that exhausted her ... She walked away from him. She did not think he had expected this precisely; but all that was left, as she saw it, to do, was to uncreate him in her mind. If she could have worked through the relationship, unhindered, if she could have cast him off, and held him as an interesting memory when they had nothing more to say to each other, she would not now feel so stunted, so trapped in his view of her ... There was nothing to do but behave as though he had never been.

As I say, I'm only up to page 55 of the Glass book, which is where I found this next bit, which cracked me up with happiness and recognition so much that I decided I had to blog it and make myself even later with everything than I already am and God knows whether there'll be a decent fillet of beef for the buying anywhere by tomorrow but never mind. Louisa, one of the heroines, makes a living by editing obscure, pretentious, grandiose and/or unreadable essays on art into publishable form, negotiating all the while the internal politics of who follows which school and who is whose nephew or protegé or enemy. Here she is on the beach, working as she wonders with one part of her mind why she hasn't heard from her rat-bastard boyfriend Sam:
"Articulata" was a piece on the proliferation of text in photography. Might we see this as a symptom of visual insecurity, or is it the strident, declarative end to our long-running romance with lensmen such as Adams, Weston, and even Walker? Might we venture so far as to interpret this trend -- nay, this turning point -- as an invigorating divorce of sorts? I looked up to see a gull eyeing my knapsack, venturing so far as to interpret its bulk -- nay, its grease-stained belly -- as a food station. "Well," I said loudly to the gull, "might we indeed?" I squawked, and the gull scuttled away. I lay back and put the essay aside, weighting it down with my sneakers. I fell asleep in the sun. I dreamed that the author of the pompous essay turned out to be Sam. "That we is not royal," he told me angrily. "It's entirely actual. Look in your Chicago." It turned out that somehow I had the wrong edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, that my copy was way out of date. I would lose my job. When I woke, the gull was back, standing at the edge of my towel and staring at me. The obvious question on his mind was Is she edible?

Back to work.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Saturday numbers

As at 10.17 pm Sunday night update:

Christmas presents bought: 2
Christmas presents delivered: 3 (not the same ones)
Morning coffee dates kept: 1
Family visits paid: 2
Christmas Day arrangements made: 1
Boxing Day arrangements made: 1
New Year's Eve arrangements made: 0.5 1
Christmas cards written: 0 3
Dishes washed: 0 1 sinkful, still not enough
Reviews written: 0
Christmas trees up but still not decorated: 0 1
Minutes Hours spent on tax preparation (accountant appointment Monday morning): 4.5 and still not finished!
Pages of weekly fiction for review read: 0 263
Pages of 700-page biography for 2000-word review (due 1/1/09) read, in total: 13. Still. Gahh.

Sigh. Sigh.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A meme!

Haven't done one of these for ages. This one is nicked from the lovely Suse of Pea Soup, who nicked it from Knitters-Knitters.


Things you've already done: bold
Things you want to do: italicize
Things you haven't done and don't want to - leave in plain font

[For myself and everyone else over about 45 I am going to add a deeply poignant extra category: Things You Wish You'd Done but You Know in Your Heart That it's Too Late Now. These things will be underlined.]

1. Started your own blog.
Four, in fact, and was in on the birth of a fifth.

2. Slept under the stars.

3. Played in a band.
Keyboards, vocals.

4. Visited Hawaii.

5. Watched a meteor shower.

6. Given more than you can afford to charity.
Once, and for very specific reasons, much more. Weirdly, it did not make me feel good.

7. Been to Disneyland/world.

8. Climbed a mountain.
Well, I called it a mountain. My Austrian hosts said it was a gentle slope.

9. Held a praying mantis.

10. Sang a solo.
I'm assuming this implies 'in public'. I still remember the summer of 1976 when I got paid three times as much to sing in the University Union Bar, which I would have paid them to let me do, as I did to wash the dishes in the Iliad Restaurant, for which nobody could possibly be paid enough. Union rates in both cases.

11. Bungee jumped.

12. Visited Paris.
Ten days in 1983.

13. Watched a lightning storm at sea.

14. Taught yourself an art from scratch.
If playing the guitar counts.

15. Adopted a child.

16. Had food poisoning.

17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty.

18. Grown your own vegetables.

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France.
As Suse said, where else would one see her, pray tell?

20. Slept on an overnight train.
Adelaide-Melbourne, Paris-Florence.

21. Had a pillow fight.

22. Hitch hiked.
In your dreams, oh naive meme writer. Don't the words 'Ivan Milat' or 'Christopher Worrall' mean anything to you?

23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill.
Depends what you mean by 'ill'.

24. Built a snow fort.
With what, pray?

25. Held a lamb.

26. Gone skinny dipping.

27. Run a marathon.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ... Mind you, I have the endurance for it. Just not the physique. But I would like to do it in another life.

28. Ridden a gondola in Venice.

29. Seen a total eclipse.

30. Watched a sunrise or sunset.

31. Hit a home run.

32. Been on a cruise.
See #22, inserting the relevant names.

33. Seen Niagara Falls in person.

34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors.
The birthplace of some of my ancestors is my own birthplace, but I also found the graves of Great-Aunt Jessie and her parents, my Scottish great-grandparents, inside/under a ruined church in the middle of the Aberfoyle cemetery near Stirling. Correction, they were found by the intrepid Dan Smith, who climbed over the barbed wire and bashed the bushes to get inside to look.

35. Seen an Amish community.

36. Taught yourself a new language.

I wonder whether high school French and German count. There's also a certain amount of Italian more or less by osmosis.

37.Had enough money to be truly satisfied.
Does the expression 'begging the question' mean anything to you? I have experienced true satisfaction on a number of occasions associated with various activities, but none of them had anything to do with money.

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person.

39. Gone rock climbing.

40. Seen Michelangelo's David in person.

41. Sung Karaoke.
Given how much I know I'd enjoy this particular flavour of cheese, I can't quite believe I never have. But we live in hope.

42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt.

43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant.

44. Visited Africa.

45. Walked on a beach by moonlight.

46. Been transported in an ambulance.

47. Had your portrait painted.
Well, drawn.

48. Gone deep sea fishing.

49. Seen the Sistene chapel in person.
It's 'Sistine'. No.

50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
No, and no desire to, but I could see it from the window of my hotel.

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkelling.

52. Kissed in the rain.

53. Played in the mud.

54. Gone to a drive-in theatre.

55. Been in a movie.
No, but my long-ex-husband has. That probably doesn't count, does it.

56. Visited the Great Wall of China.

57. Started a business.
Sort of.

58. Taken a martial arts class

59. Visited Russia.

60. Served at a soup kitchen.

61. Sold Girl Scout cookies.

62. Gone whale watching.
I assume we're allowed to count this one even if we didn't actually see any. I have particularly vivid memories of Stephanie on the beach at Middleton, chanting invocations to the whales to show themselves. 'Oh, vast beast ...'

63. Gotten flowers for no reason.
From my female friends. Somehow I just never clicked with the sorts of men who spontaneously give flowers. It's like that American academic who used to give conference papers dressed in a skirt made from the ties of her lovers. If that'd been me, I would have been at the mic in my knickers. Very few of the men in my past have even owned a tie.

64. Donated blood.
On and off for nearly 40 30 years [let's not pretend we're even older than we are, eh, typing fingers?]; who knows how many megalitres of vintage O Pos have flowed into those little plastic packs over the years? In abeyance at the moment though, not so much because of the actual process as the four pages of questionnaire you have to fill in every time you go, and the dim and snarky cows behind the desk.

65. Gone sky diving.

66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp.
Uh, no thanks; pain and fear stay in the earth where they were generated and then rise like a miasma to engulf and choke you. I almost passed out on the site of the boarded-up well in my home town where a little kid fell to his death in 1937.

Besides, I've been to the Holocaust exhibition that was on at the Jewish Museum in Vienna in May 1999 and that will never leave me. Nor will the sight of the smoke-smeared walls of the synagogue torched in a medieval pogrom, discovered by accident when they were digging up the middle of the Judenplatz for the foundations of Rachel Whiteread's memorial.

67. Bounced a cheque.
No, but only because the bank honoured it and then fined me.

68. Flown in a helicopter.
But I would need enough warning to buy a packet of Kwells and take half of them first.

69. Saved a favorite childhood toy.
Toy, no. Book, yes.

70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial.

71. Eaten Caviar.
Oh yes.

72. Pieced a quilt.
I started it in 1980 and still haven't finished it, but yes. All by hand, too.

73. Stood in Times Square.
But New York is below Louisiana, Nashville, Boston, Montreal and the Tex-Mex border on my list of must-visit North American places.

74. Toured the Everglades.
See #73.

75. Been fired from a job.
Don't ask.

76. Seen the Changing of the Guard in London.
No, but I've spent a number of happy hours in the Liberty shop. There's also lots of other London stuff I have yet to see.

77. Broken a bone.

78. Been on a speeding motorcycle.
Been on, and come off.

79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person.

80. Published a book.
Six if you count the anthologies, only two if you don't.

81. Visited the Vatican.

82. Bought a brand new car.
Two. Trust no-one.

83. Walked in Jerusalem.

84. Had your picture in the newspaper.

85. Read the entire Bible.

86. Visited the White House.

87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.

88. Had chickenpox.

89. Saved someone’s life.

90. Sat on a jury.

91. Met someone famous.
A number of famous literary types. But no movie stars or anything. I was also very rude to John Cain once about a speech I'd just heard him give, but I'm not sure that counts as 'met'. (Or 'famous'.)

92. Joined a book club.

93. Lost a loved one.

94. Had a baby.

95. Seen the Alamo in person.

96. Swum in the Great Salt Lake.

97. Been involved in a law suit.
I may be stretching a point here, calling an uncontested divorce a law suit.

98. Owned a cell phone.

99. Been stung by a bee.

If you're doing this meme it's interesting to read back over it when you're finished and see what you've italicised. I see nearly all of mine relate to travel. A chance would be a fine, fine thing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You can put a ring around it

Since moving back to Adelaide (eleven years ago tomorrow) and setting up house and business for myself, I've learned to tell what week it is from looking at the garden. The first baby blackbirds, the first blue-tongue sighting, the first freesia, the first red leaf on the vine.

But I can also tell what week it is from other equally specific and predictable signs. If the tax is fretted about but not done, the cards are bought but not written and sent, the Christmas tree and deccies are checked out but not yet hauled out of the cupboard in the shed and put up, the house is in chaos and all of the deadlines are howling for attention and my sister is on the phone issuing orders about presents and food, it must be the week before the week before Christmas. 'Twas the week before the week before Christmas, and all through the house there were cat-hair tumbleweeds and piles of books and old newspapers and magazines and miscellaneous yet crucial scraps of paper and Pav wanted to down tools and drive into the desert.


Thoughts on this week's reading

Some Creative Writing tips:

1) If you have one excellent plot, the fate of Central European Jews in the late 1930s, don't muddle it up with another plot that sort of is and sort of isn't part of the same plot. A sub-plot, with separate characters and issues, that picks up and echoes the main plot via allegorical, metaphorical and metonymic techniques, is quite a different thing and usually works just fine.

2) Telling a story in the second person ('And then you did this, Cecilia, and then you said that, and then I told you such-and-such and then we went home') almost never works. It has no narrative logic and therefore undermines the reader's suspended disbelief, because logically the person being addressed already knows these things, so why does he/she need to be told them again?

Another and perhaps more important reason to avoid this technique is that it is quite alienating for the reader. One character addressing another forms a closed circle of communication about which the shut-out and excluded reader will become grumpy.

Quite quickly.

Which is a bad effect to have on a reader, especially when the reader is a reviewer. I could have done the dishes, tidied the living room, vacuumed all the carpets and gone shopping in the time it took me to read this book.

3) If the key events are that Mimi died and Cecilia gave away her baby (not spoilers; we are told these things in the opening pages), then the reader needs to know fairly early on how and why these things happened, in order to care enough about them to keep reading. Particularly if the reader is being asked to plough through hundreds of pages of mournful, portentous, abstract wittering on, interspersed with detailed yet limp descriptions of landscape and weather.

4) It is absolutely unforgivable to force the reader to plough through hundreds of pages of mournful etc, and then still not explain in the end.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Son Daughter of JFK

And as if US politics were not already exciting enough, have a look at what the New York Times has just landed in my email In box.

Caroline Kennedy, eh?


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Life keeps on happening

Overworked. Sleep-deprived. Depressed.*

Normal services will be resumed shortly, I hope.

* Nothing personal, just the daily news

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Obama controversy

And in breaking news just in from my friend R ...

Obama's Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy
Stunning Break with Last Eight Years

In the first two weeks since the election, President-elect Barack Obama has broken with a tradition established over the past eight years through his controversial use of complete sentences, political observers say.

Millions of Americans who watched Mr. Obama's appearance on CBS' "Sixty Minutes" on Sunday witnessed the president-elect's unorthodox verbal tic, which had Mr. Obama employing grammatically correct sentences virtually every time he opened his mouth.

But Mr. Obama's decision to use complete sentences in his public pronouncements carries with it certain risks, since after the last eight years many Americans may find his odd speaking style jarring.

According to presidential historian Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota, some Americans might find it "alienating" to have a President who speaks English as if it were his first language.

"Every time Obama opens his mouth, his subjects and verbs are in agreement," says Mr. Logsdon. "If he keeps it up, he is running the risk of sounding like an elitist."

Words seen and heard

To my surprise I made my way through a whopping great list of errands in the city before lunch and am now a whole afternoon ahead of myself, much of which I plan to fritter away blogging. Here are the verbal high points of the morning:

-- Overheard in Adelaide Arcade, as two men deep in conversation passed me: ' ... so my other major problem is only a minor one.'

-- Seen before I had the chance to avert my gaze from the windowful of big fresh heaped rainbow-arrayed snowdrifts of fresh gelati, a sign under one variety of a delicate pale creamy-brown, indicating its flavour: 'Ferrero Rocher'. I drooled all the way back to the car.

-- Heard in the car on Radio National as I crossed the river, on a program about the endangered status of the mallee fowl: 'To all the foxes and feral cats around the place, these guys are just little Mars Bars on legs.'

Monday, December 8, 2008


If you've spent the morning struggling through a competent but depressing and claustrophobic novel by President Nicolas Sarkozy's cultural advisor about the fatal Munich summit of 1938 as fictionalised from Daladier's point of view, it's a nice joyful restoration of perspective to come across this chez Duck.

Gratitude. We has it.

(Although I can't help thinking that the German for Wingdings must surely be die Wingen-Dingen.)

Surprised much?

Michelle Grattan reports in this morning's online Age that the Prime Minister yesterday addressed a community meeting in Geelong.

People were grateful their voices were being heard; several speakers thanked Mr Rudd for the meeting.

But not all were satisfied. One woman noted later that of a dozen questioners that Mr Rudd picked out of the raised hands, only two were women.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

1,000th post: LOTR and the Macbeth Retort

Tonight the third and last Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, was on the teeve. I didn't mean to watch it but I just happened to switch on the telly as I was passing and there was David Wenham as the noble Lord Faramir, skewering Orcs left and right, and I was gone for all money. (I recently saw Australia and am now planning a David Wenham Tribute Post.)

If you count this blog as a continuation of Pavlov's Cat, which is all it is really, then this is my 1,000th post: 871 at Pavlov's Cat and 129 here at Still Life With Cat. And I dedicate it to Shakespeare, Tolkien and Peter Jackson.

Because my favourite moment in this movie is the one where the warrior maiden Eowyn, in full battle gear and therefore not recognisable as a woman, faces down the Lord of the Nazgul on the plain before the gates of Minas Tirith. After she's cut off the head of his disgusting pterosaur airborne battle steed thingy and they're face to face on the field of battle, with her in full armour but still lithely dodging his nasty giant mace, he warns her: 'No man can kill me.'

Whereupon Eowyn lifts her visor to reveal the angelic face of Miranda Otto, shakes her blonde locks free, replies fiercely and triumphantly 'I am no man!' and stabs him straight through the face, upon which he crumples up, collapses like a piece of mouldy fruit, and dissolves into air. It's not quite what happens in the book, but the man/woman exchange is pretty much the same.

For those who may not remember the end of Macbeth the Scottish play, the Weird Sisters have shown Macbeth an apparition saying '... none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth.' By the end, desperate and drunk and silly on hubris because of the witches' prophecies, Macbeth faces Macduff, who's mad with grief and rage over the slaughter of his wife and children and hell-bent on revenge, and says 'I bear a charméd life, which must not yield / To one of woman born.' Whereupon Macduff replies, in one of the most chilling lines in all of Shakespeare and that is saying a great deal, 'Despair thy charm: / And let the angel whom thou still hast served [he means Lucifer, I think] / Tell thee Macduff was from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd.' And swordfights him off the stage, returning shortly with his severed head.

The scene in the movie (and, I'm sure, the book), warning the would-be invincible to beware of language and not to take prophecies literally, is a nice bit of homage. And I was very happy to see it again.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Zoos R Us

Not sure what made me notice this, but for a small house this one has an awful lot of animals in it. Never mind the pictures, we'd be here for weeks, and I've found the occasional gecko, the odd bee and (ew) the intermittent rodent; but here is the total of animal toys, dolls and figurines made of stone, china, terracotta, metal, plastic, cloth or wood:

bears (2)
cats (6, or 8 if you count the real ones)
ducks (2)
snakes (3)

Sharp-eyed readers might have picked out the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac there: that's a set of little 'opium weights' in the shape of each critter, made of bronze, that I bought in Bangkok. One of those is a snake; the other two snakes are a tiny coiled rose quartz one, and a metre-long articulated one made of wooden discs, a bit like a slinky, brightly painted, that lives on the top shelf of the cookbook bookcase, sneaking up on the two smallest wooden cats. The gecko, made of birdseed-filled cloth and therefore very sinuous, is charmingly sewn in witty detail, a bright poison-acid green with a red mouth and sequins. The little seal is carved out of malachite, four of the birds are terracotta figurines from San Gimignano, and the leopard is a fancy-dress mask.


We has it.

Found via Hoyden About Town.

This is just wrong in too many ways to count, but here are four to be going on with:

1) False advertising. A woman the size and shape of the one in the photo doesn't 'need' to wear this or any other torture garment. I am of an age to have spent the first year of my adolescence being forced to wear 'foundation garments' (then suddenly they invented pantyhose -- stockings had hitherto been kept up by girdles, and if you were over fourteen and left your legs bare you were a slut -- and the world changed overnight) so I know whereof I speak.

2) Allegedly to minimise 'figure faults' and maximise 'assets', this garment has a (porno)graphic subtext, not particularly sub, that fetishises the arse in a way that makes crotchless 'panties' look innocent, normal and sweet. I have my own ideas about where this growing arse/anal fetish is going. Between it and the various charming customs around the place -- mass abortion of female foetuses in countries where of course everybody wants a boy; large-scale rape of babies and toddlers in the belief that it will cure AIDS -- the global overpopulation problem is already well on the way to being sorted.

3) This 'body shaper' underwear craze is bringing back the quaint locutions of the 1950s, isn't that sweet? Do a quick prac crit / close reading / fisk of these corset manufacturers' advertising some time. 'Body shapers' = 'Your own uncorseted body has no shape, ew, men won't like it [*makes child-frightening bogeyman noises*], so put that self-esteem in the garbage right now and spend money instead.'

4) OK Girls, Break Through the Surface of the Primeval Slime or Die Trying department: this garment is a patriarchal instrument of torture. Do. Not. Wear. It. Or anything like it. Ever.

Those who don't understand (or don't want to understand) that 'patriarchal' can apply in a situation like this where women appear to be willingly doing these things to themselves are being literal-minded essentialists who don't understand what a patriarchal society is or how it works, and no correspondence will be entered into on this subject because I spent 17 years explaining it to fresh crops of newbie students every year and that is enough for a lifetime. In a nutshell: when you say 'Yes but women want to do this to themselves' I will reply 'Yes indeed, many of them do. Why is that, do you think?'

I know there are men out there who deliberately Google 'patriarchy' so they can turn up at strange blogs for the first time and argue the toss, and any such (instantly recognisable) comment will be binned. Go here if you genuinely want to understand this concept better than you do.

And today I expect to hear of a marriage

Last night the final email check before bed turned up two messages from friends, sent less than an hour apart.

One was a sad message from A. in Austria to say that his (very elderly) mother had died. The other was from P. at home in Adders to say that his first grandchild had been safely delivered into the world.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

L'esprit de l'escalier

So the phone conversation had been impassioned and lively like it usually was, ranging widely across the far fields of subject matter exotic and domestic alike -- work, travel, family, work, literary gossip, his wife, work, her bloke, work, literary gossip, work -- and then he said, straight out of left field and in a slightly wounded tone she could not account for, 'I do think about you quite often, you know.'

After she had recovered the power of speech, which took a moment, she said, perhaps more tartly than she intended, 'Where did that come from?'

This made him slightly snarky, which for all of the [insert number of decades here] she'd known him had been a fatally easy thing to do. Actually, accidentally provoking a murderous rage had always been a fatally easy thing to do. She said soothing and diversionary things and the moment passed.

But as she stood at the kitchen sink next morning, washing dishes while the coffee made itself, it came to her that what she should have said then, in the interests of truth, was 'Listen, sweetheart: considering that my first impulse was to jump in the car, drive the [insert number of kilometres here] to your place, smash the door down and rip the living heart right out of your chest with my non-existent fingernails, you are actually getting off quite lightly.'

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Everybody needs good neighbours, especially me

For the last week or so, the bloke across the road has been using some kind of power saw on what looks from the pile on the nature strip like the entire original floorboards of a small suburb.

Over the weekend the bloke on one side of me, into whose horticultural adventures I have never inquired too closely, had clearly had delivered the second large load in three weeks of whatever fertiliser it is that he seasonally has large loads of delivered. The farmer's daughter in me could swear that it is pig manure, than which there are few more disgusting smells on the planet. Also, there's been a breeze down our way lately.

And yesterday what I thought must be an earthquake -- something that made the sofa suddenly acquire a built-in massage capacity, caused the ceiling to shift alarmingly and repeatedly, and set up a deafening rattle and hum in all the windows and all the plates and dishes on the shelves -- turned out to be the boys down over the back fence on the huge block -- about six or eight normal suburban blocks' worth -- that is currently being levelled and earth-rammed to provide foundations for a pile of medium-to-high-density housing to be built to the glory of the bank account of a notorious Adelaide developer, bashing the dirt down with their big yellow toys.

This house is 100 years old and, in the way of such houses, quaintly home-made from the original two rooms backwards. Like every house in Adelaide since the drought began, it has a number of cracks, and it contains evidence here and there of ancient termite damage. I expect it to collapse around my ears at any moment, and hope to survive to collect the insurance and build something with solar panels, rainwater tanks, a large state-of-the-art en suite bathroom, double glazing and a cat run.

An early LOLcat

This is for Laura.

It's dated 1905 and as is pointed out over at I Can Has Cheezburger? (see link list in sidebar) where I found it, 'What's delaying my dinner?' is just 1905speak for 'I can has cheezburger?'

Monday, December 1, 2008

You never know where you'll stumble across some homespun

Call me unimaginative but I would not have predicted that a 'novel' by 'Belle de Jour', author of The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl and The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl, would prove to be so densely stuffed with pithy and useful observations about Life.

This one, for example: 'Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.' Now what you have right there is a recipe for a happier life. As mantras go, combine it with 'This is not about me' and you'll never find yourself reaching for medicinal brandy or indeed any other spirit or combination thereof (another beauty from Belle*: 'I'm so bored of** cocktails. Made for people who don't like the taste of alcohol: in a word, children') for therapeutic purposes again.

I particularly liked this one because I myself have been intermittently stomping round the house shouting 'S/he's got to be either malicious or stupid, it has to be the one or the other, there's no other explanation' for several decades now. Despite the facts that (a) I am old enough to be her mother and (b) she enthuses about a number of sexual practices that I find icky or, worse, pointless (why would you want to ... Oh never mind), I think Belle and I would get on.

* See what I did there?

** Can anyone pinpoint the year people started saying 'bored of' instead of 'bored with' or 'bored by'? Was it around 2000? Some kind of millennial prepositional transformational thingy? Unusually it appears not to be nation-specific but rather to have sprung up spontaneously and simultaneously right across the English-speaking world.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dialogue line of the day

'Waiter, can we have another bottle of Pinot Grigio? Things have taken a turn for the worse here.'

-- Maeve Binchy

Friday, November 28, 2008

Hard to believe now

And as if the subject of the previous post were not enough gobsmackery from the headlines for one day, here's another: Rolf Harris telling Aboriginal people they need to get over themselves. The context: his attempts, decent in themselves if largely failed, to erase from recordings the verse of 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport' that goes 'Let me Abos go loose, Bruce, let me Abos go loose / They're of no further use, Bruce, so let me Abos go loose.'

I am old enough to remember when this was universally regarded as funny. By 'universally' I mean, of course, 'by white Australians'. (Compare and contrast with Barry Humphries' brilliant and savage line about the word 'Moomba': 'It's an Aboriginal word for "Let's get together and have fun". They didn't need it any more.') The real point of even mentioning this unpleasant little lyrics-based episode in Australia's cultural history is to express my admiration for the headline on this item, the best headline I've seen for quite a while, courtesy of some inspired sub at the Sydney Morning Herald: Cut the Bigoted Verse, Perce.

Even so, it was quite a contrast to the event I was at last night: a brilliant lecture on 'The Many Futures of Our Digital Lives' by Adelaide's newest Thinker in Residence, anthropologist Genevieve Bell. The event began with a Welcome to Country by Kaurna elder Auntie Josie Agius, who after demonstrating her expertise in bending the mics down to her diminutive level, lifted her head and ringingly addressed the audience in Language. We were smack in the middle of Kaurna land and you could practically see the shimmering electric line connecting the words to the ground.

Throw out those nanna pants or take the consequences, bitch

Check it out.

As they sometimes say over at Hoyden About Town: I have no words.

Actually I do have a few words. The hilarious line being taken by this man's lawyer is a defence based on the concept of diminished responsibility. That's the one that goes 'Well of course I raped, strangled and dismembered her, I'd had 19 Tequila Slammers, so it wasn't my fault.' It's the kind of thing that makes you think they haven't yet quite ironed out all the bugs in the judicial system.

I see from the last paragraph under the heading 'Discussion' in this handy Wikipedia entry that there's an urban legend regarding the alleged precedent for the line of defence being used in the nanna pants case: it's a kind of reverse version of the 'Twinkie Defense'.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I don't understand it, therefore it must be rubbish

Here's a little something for the foam-flecked anti-post-modernist brigade.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Post post

There's a lively discussion going on at Larvatus Prodeo about the term 'postmodernism', which in spite of its derailment in various directions by a handful of usual suspects is galloping along vigorously and providing some thought-provoking ideas and information.

For example: for someone like me whose (fairly limited) exposure to the work of French feminist cultural critic Luce Irigaray has been strictly within the context of feminist psychoanalytic theory, it's been an eye-opener to discover her being denounced under the banner of postmodernism -- not least because both feminism and psychoanalysis are even more irresistible targets for Loud Denunciation from the anti-intellectual brigade than postmodernism itself.

It all began when The Australian, fearlessly pursuing an agenda it has had for some time, published yet another rant about postmodernism by someone who clearly hadn't bothered to do his own research about what it actually is. (This surprised me, actually, as I know the culprit a bit from way back and he is no fool -- although, thinking about it, his form has always been to spray first and negotiate later, which is how I first encountered him, in an intemperate letter to the editor of Australian Book Review, who was, at the time, moi.)

What I wish people would do (apart from the reading. Do the reading) in these debates is remember what, in these sorts of constructions, the prefix 'post' actually means. It doesn't mean 'after the end of'. It means 'in the wake of', as in Post-Impressionism: a development that could not possibly have taken place without being based on the thing it names. The concept of post-feminism, for example, makes no sense at all unless you see it as a consequence and development of feminism. 'Post-' implicitly attempts to answer the question 'What now?'

All of which is to say that I think people ought to pass a test and get a licence before they're allowed to talk about postmodernism at all. And one of the things you'd have to do to pass the test would be to demonstrate some knowledge and understanding of modernism. Without which, etc.

An important anniversary

When I was seventeen it seemed that most Australian adults were smokers, or at least most of the ones I knew. Both of my parents smoked and had since they were teenagers in uniform. And like my friend J, I took it up myself in the November of 1970 when we were studying for our matric oh all right Year 12 exams, in my case because it was a preferable alternative to the absent-minded stress-induced scarfing up of biscuits while I tried without much success to get cell division, irregular French verbs, the battle of Thermopylae and the European revolutions of 1848 straight in my head.

I became a seriously dedicated smoker and remained that way for nearly two decades, except for one interlude in 1983-4 when I gave up in order to spare the person I was living with at the time.

What with all the excitement and fanfare and brouhaha of the federal election this time last year, I clean forgot to notice the anniversary of a day that changed, and very likely saved, my life. And this year it's even more significant than it was last year. Because as of approximately 3.30 am tomorrow morning (I was sitting up at the kitchen table drinking and fighting with someone about the SA election of November 25 1989, which Labor controversially won by a shred of a whisker), which was the last time I smoked a cigarette, I will have been a non-smoker for longer than I was a smoker.

Actually I'm not a non-smoker. I am a recovering smoker.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hard-rubbish Wombles please note

You are welcome to anything in the pile. If I wanted it, it would still be in the house or shed, not out on the nature strip.


If I chuck stuff out, it is because the stuff is no longer viable. Anything I don't want that is still usable goes to the Red Cross or the Salvos. So:

-- That office chair is broken. If you sit on it, it will immediately tip you out sideways on your backside, if not somewhere less well padded.

-- All those plastic garden pots are brittle and cracked.

-- After three globally warmed summers in the otherwise uncooled living room, that portable evaporative air conditioner/fan whatnot now emits a foul stench when in use. Something to do with Adelaide water. Intensive inner cleaning and a replacement straw insulation thingy will not help.

As I say, take whatever you like. But please, please, re-stack what's left neatly and don't leave rubbish scattered all over the nature strip.

And finally: most of this stuff has been in the shed, which harbours a fascinating array of insect life. Sometimes, some of said life is black and pointy with a big red stripe. Just so you know.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

With apologies to Oscar Wilde

To lose one pair of prescription sunglasses, Ms Cat, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

On being overwhelmed

They say if the task in front of you looks too big to tackle then you should break it down into smaller components and then do them in an orderly fashion one by one. The weakness of this method is that if you break it down into manageably small units then you will almost certainly look at the number of small units and then get overwhelmed by that.

Using this method I now have a list (in order of urgency) that says I have to finish all these things by the time I go to bed tonight:

Pages to read (in 3 different books/theses): 360

Reports and/or reviews (anything from 180 to 400 words) to write: 8

Cats to feed and clean up after: 2

Urgent financial issues to chase up: 3

Machinefuls of laundry to wash and dry: 3

Sinkfuls of dishes to wash, dry and put away: 1

Book covers to scan, crop and convert to emails: 4

Stacks of hard rubbish to gather from various places around the house and yard and organise neatly out on the nature strip for the non-negotiable early morning collection date, after having made sure nothing is longer than 2 metres and having put all small objects in boxes and removed all visible rusty nails and anything else with which recyclers official and unofficial could hurt themselves: 1

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Clinton (H.) set for Secretary of State

Read all about it (and check out the fantastic photo) here.

That should keep the right-wing bloggers and the Oz's op edders happily Loudly Denouncing for weeks.

Tragicomic, bittersweet and other internal contradictions

When British then-schoolboy Adrian Mole first saw the light of day he was fourteen thirteen and three-quarters. Over the years his creator Sue Townsend has updated us on his tragicomic condition and for a while there it was more tragi than comic. But the current offering, The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole 1999-2001, is making me laugh a lot. Adrian is 33 (the age Jesus was when he died, something Adrian is happy to point out) and is living as a single father with his two sons: Glenn Bott-Mole, son of Sharon Bott, and William Mole, son of Adrian's Nigerian ex-wife JoJo.

In spite of Adrian's lifelong literary ambitions it's clear to everyone (except Adrian) that his son Glenn at fourteen is considerably more gifted than he, being able among other things to write verse that scans and rhymes. Witness the personal message in his Mother's Day card to Sharon, who now suffers from depression (as you would):

Best wishes on your special day
I love you more than words can say
You're always miserable and sad
And that is why I live with Dad.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

LOLcat of the week

Is this family working?

During the lead story on tonight's 7.30 Report about the extensive recent storm damage in south-east Queensland and the high likelihood of more, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer both took advantage of the mics under their noses to say the word 'families' as often as possible, as in 'providing help for families'.

Any visitor to these shores idly watching the teeve in his or her hotel room could be excused for thinking that the single and the childless were expected to sod off and fix their own roofs, re-wire their own houses and clean up all the tree branches and sinister floating typhoid-harbouring garbage themselves. The homeless, of course, are not burdened with roofs and therefore require no attention either.


Caught by surprise tonight, when without warning the opening chords of 'Shelter From the Storm' came on the teeve as part of the drama of the drama.

I don't know what it is about the violence with which music retrieves memory, but I suppose we did play Blood on the Tracks all through the summer of 1975-76, till it wore out (we're talking vinyl here) and I could probably still sing every song for you all the way through. But just those first few bars were enough to bring down a flood of remembrance: white silk dress too much whisky lying on the seagrass matting reading Crime and Punishment in Adelaide heat crazy lover too much whisky singing in the folk club concerts sitting round the kitchen table too much whisky.

Those were the days.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Life as a word nerd has some remarkable moments, as when, emerging from the fog of anaesthetic some years back after the same operation from which Ampersand Duck is currently in the throes of recovery, I had a kind of dream in which the actual word PAIN, in sharp, spiky capitals, was inhabiting my innards, the points on the A and the N in particular sticking very nastily into the tender flesh of my surgically ravaged interior.

It was a very vivid sensation, halfway between a dream and a hallucination, and I remembered it the other night when I had a dream in which people were talking about me (always a horrid sensation) and one of them -- someone I'd thought liked me -- said 'Oh no, not her -- she's turned into a nightmare.'

This was so intensely distressing that it actually woke me up, and I only figured out the next morning that my dreaming subconscious was telling me this was a nightmare and I should wake up out of it sharpish.

I have great faith in my subconscious. So now that I'm sitting here working up the other end of the house from the kitchen late at night and could swear I can smell coffee, I'd very much like to know what metaphorical coffee it is that my subconscious wants me to wake up and smell.

Boundless plains to share -- not

Whatever your plans for this evening may be, see if you can fit them around watching this program on SBS.

As Philip Adams remarked last night on Late Night Live, of course it ought to be on the ABC, but we all know what's happened to them. Brian at LP has a good post on this doco here.

"If I'd been released maybe I'd be a good person, in Australia."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Happy birthday!

Many happies to the friend, regular reader of this blog and fellow Chinese Water Snake whose birthday it is. You know who you are.

If it happens to be anyone else's birthday, many happies to you too!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Word Nerd Corner (now with bonus nostalgia and film critique)

And today we have two:

1) "Fraudster"

Where did this bit of nonsense excess come from? It looks like tongue-in-cheek vaudeville Yiddish, or possibly Lolkitteh, whose construction is based partly on the addification of superfluitude. Whatever happened to the perfectly good, indeed lovely, word "fraud"? By this logic I could write you a list of some of my favourite blogs: The Viewster from Elsewhere, Hoydenster About Town, Pea Soupster, Baristaster, Humanities Researcherster ...

2) Socialite

In yet another cautionary tale about over-trustful reliance on the spell-checker, this week's TV guide, courtesy of News Ltd via the Adelaide Advertiser, contains a plot précis of tonight's ABC movie A Room With a View: 'Much to the disapproval of her chaperone, a young woman is drawn to the son of a socialite while visiting Florence in search of adventure.'

Now I wrote an Honours thesis on Forster back in the mists of time and to this day remember whole chunks of A Room With a View by heart ('Most excellent Honeychurches, but you know what I mean') and this does not sound to me like Forster's plot. For a start, the heroine is already engaged to the son of a socialite (a strange way to put it, I thought) and her arrival in Florence precipitates the new romantic direction away from him, not towards. And secondly, her chaperone, far from disapproving, is in fact excited and inspired by her new romantic adventure.

[UPDATE: well, I've watched it now and I take some of this back. What I was remembering was the chaperone Charlotte's own repressions and projections; chaperone is indeed outwardly over-horrified about Lucy's attraction to George but later proves to have been excited and stimulated by the romance, and a friend to it in the end. That was what I was remembering, not helped by conflating the character of the chaperone with her friend the novelist Miss Lavish, who finds it all terribly romantic and colourful. My bad. NB although I could sort of see what Davies was doing turning so many of the subtexts into super-texts (one of which in particular Forster would have been relieved to see end its long sojourn in the closet, so props to Davies for that) and obliterating others altogether, I thought this new version pedestrian, heavy-handed and literal-minded, though some of the casting was good, the music was nice, and Florence was Florence even though the cinematographer tried very hard to make it look ordinary with a palette of bleached Dickensian greys.]

I thought I'd solved the first mystery after two minutes' thought when I recalled that the new love interest is the son of a socialist (something Forster barely mentions in passing), and either some twelve-year-old sub had never seen the word 'socialist' but was intimately acquainted with the life and works of Paris Hilton, or (slightly more likely) they simply hadn't bothered to check. After all, it's not so long ago that I used the word 'interiority' in a book review and was subsequently horrified to see it rendered in both the online and the dead-tree edition of the paper in question as 'inferiority', which still made a kind of sense but, as you might expect, grotesquely changed the meaning of the sentence. (Both 'socialite' and 'inferiority' in these instances are variations on the theme of the eggcorn.) However, I remained bewildered by the chaperone part.

The TV guide gives the date of this production as 2007 so it is clearly not, I thought, alas, I thought, the substantial, sumptuous and multiply-Oscar-nominated Merchant Ivory adaptation of 1985 with Daniel Day-Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Rupert Graves and Denholm Elliot.

No, a quick Google revealed that it is this adaptation by the ubiquitous Andrew Davies, who for reasons best known to himself has decided to change the ending in a way that would have Forster turning (or, more probably, knowing Forster, smiling gently) in his grave. And for all I know, not only has he made the chaperone disapproving but he's turned the love interest's father from a socialist into a socialite. Heck, why not.

Just as well I Googled it, or I would be spending an hour and a half tonight intermittently tearing my hair out and screaming at the TV. But Forster, as I say, is beyond caring. And as though to underline the point about spell-checking, up there in that last paragraph I originally typed 'smiling gently in his grace'.

Knowing Forster, that too.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Still Life With Cat #eleventy squillion

Thursday, November 13, 2008

And in my nightmares ...

Never mind all this insert Tab F in Slot G and glue at Point H and where are the batteries and have you got the sticky tape, this is what Christmas chez la famille Pav is going to be like if somebody* doesn't get a wriggle on.

*Looking at you, sisters

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The grandfathers, together in 1947

Leslie Reid Goldsworthy, 1893-1969

Army, 1915-1918: France

Gassed, frostbite.

George Allen Kay, 1897-1970

Army, 1916-1918: France

Gassed, hearing-impaired, shot.

More here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The curriculum, again

In the days following the US election there's been considerable discussion both online and IRL about how bad Barack Obama's inspired victory speech made our own Prime Minister's style (and content) of public speech look by comparison.

I thought this was a little harsh, particularly in the light of the Apology to the Stolen Generations speech and the sincerity and passion with which Rudd delivered it. I also think we are suffering from short-memory syndrome, considering the much starker contrast between Obama's public presence and performance and that of our own former Prime Minister.

It can't be denied, however, that the contrast was a little painful. The last PM this country has had -- and indeed the only PM it has had in my lifetime -- who like Obama combined charismatic physical elegance with powerful oratory and highly-developed on-his-feet verbal skills was Paul Keating, and even Keating spoiled it: the public speaking skills were habitually undermined by the coarseness and cruelty he was capable of (and really enjoyed) when speaking on his feet, and his considerable physical elegance was likewise marred by the great big chips on both shoulders, which completely spoiled his line. At his best, however, he was mesmerising.

I don't know who wrote Obama's speech, but had Keating made a comparable one it would have been written, or at the very least shaped, by Don Watson, a man who has written history, biography, lectures, essays, comedy and screenplays, and who therefore understands better than most the importance of structure as the starting point for most kinds of writing. Rhetorical skills are not just about word choice; they are also about understanding exactly what you're saying, why you're saying it, and what you hope to achieve by it -- and then by very carefully structuring your essay or speech to create the audience effect that you want.

During my years as an academic I learned just how much ferocious resistance there is among people who are passionate readers but not writers to the idea that a rousingly emotive piece of writing might actually have any kind of cool thought behind it, much less any close attention paid to writing technique. As with feminism, people who know little or nothing about rhetoric tend to use the word as a term of abuse, giving it connotations of insincerity, as in 'empty rhetoric'. This mistrust of rhetorical skills is reinforced by such events as the savagely moving and, for the British royal family, utterly humiliating eulogy given at his sister's funeral by Charles Spencer, who appears to have barely seen his nephews since.

There's a strong capital-R Romantic desire for moving words to have been spontaneously generated, a desire that probably has something to do with the notion that the only authentic utterance is that produced by spur-of-the-moment gut-spilling. But genuine gut-spilling is, as Fran Lebovitz once remarked, just exactly as charming as it sounds, and is very unlikely to produce either an exquisite and heartbreaking lyric poem in complex metre or the speech that Obama gave on the day of his victory.

I think the point I'm struggling towards here is that rhetorical skill, as with so many other kinds of skill, is a neutral entity that can be used for purposes either noble or nefarious, but given that a large part of rhetorical skill involves persuading other people to your point of view, it deserves to be looked on with some degree of suspicion even when you are on the practitioner's side.

Or perhaps especially when you are on the practitioner's side. Obama's speech was carefully calculated to produce that Evangelical call-and-response effect -- and it was the one thing about his speech that made me very, very uneasy. I am a child of the twentieth century, and the sight and sound of fifty thousand people in one place chanting the same thing -- even when it's 'Yes we can' -- is always going to chill me to the marrow. Perhaps the mistrust of rhetorical technique is grounded in a well-founded fear of being manipulated. Some of us really, really hate having our tears jerked.

These are deep waters, Watson, and any minute now I'm going to start wittering on about art and affect and the fact that the word 'aesthetic' is the opposite of the word 'anaesthetic', words to do with feeling and not-feeling. In the meantime the subject of Kevin Rudd coming a bad second to Barack Obama came up again yesterday over lunch, and my friend R, who spent six years living in New York, had a very simple diagnosis. 'The Americans teach Civics and Rhetoric as a matter of course,' she said. 'And we don't.'

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Awards (various)!

These three things have turned up out of the blue over the last few days.

-- From the lovely Lisette at Textile Seahorse:

-- From Hey Dude, a nomination in the category 'Best Hidden Gem' (I love the category almost more than I love the nomination) for:

The 2008 Weblog Awards

-- And finally, and from furthest out of left field, something that turned up the other day in the newsletter I still get sent by my friend L from the Adelaide Philharmonia Chorus, the choir I left at the end of 2005, which was almost two years after we sang in this:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Whole lotta bloggin' goin' on ... not

Not around here, anyway. Because here is my deadline calendar for the next couple of months:

Nov 12: 900 word total -- short reviews of 4 novels

Nov 14: 8-900 word review of 216-page book

Nov 19: 900 word total -- short reviews of 4 novels

Nov 21: Six MA theses in Creative Writing due back with grades and examiners' reports (not yet received, I have to pick them up this afternoon)

Nov 24: Ten Honours theses, on assorted subjects, due back with grades and examiners' reports (seven received so far, three still MIA)

Nov 26: 900 word total -- short reviews of 4 novels

Dec 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31: 900 word total -- short reviews of 4 novels

Jan 1: 18-1900 word review of 714-page biography

Jan 6: Return 1400-page manuscript to publisher, proofread

Jan 7: 900 word total -- short reviews of 4 novels

And that's only if nobody offers me any new work between now and then, which would in itself be cause for alarm. At all times, but especially in times of economic panic, the freelancer must make like the ant*, in preparation for the time to come when grasshopper behaviour will be the only available option.

At least those dates are staggered. As opposed to moi, what am staggering:

As one form of time-saving, but also for nobler reasons, I shall be doing most of my Christmas shopping out of the Oxfam catalogue. Actually it is such a ripper this year that I might devote a whole nother blog post to it, thereby avoiding all of the above for another ten minutes or so.

*Except for the nyerdy nyer part at the end, of course.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The highest court in the land

I hope I'm not contravening any laws in passing on the gist of yesterday's Get Fuzzy, but I really cannot resist ...

SATCHEL POOCH: So you're telling me that there's a "Supreme Cat" sitting around every day making laws?

BUCKY KATT: Yup. Well, I mean not every day ... When she feels like it.

SATCHEL: And people call her the "Supreme Cat".

BUCKY: Yeah, but again, don't expect her to respond to it. She might be supreme, but she's still a cat.

And here's a book to buy/read

Not that I've read it yet; I'm not even sure it's in the shops. But it's being launched in Melbourne on November 11, and here's the (much more than usually thoughtful and substantial) blurb:

By Christos Tsiolkas
Category: Literary Fiction
Published by Allen & Unwin 7 November 2008, RRP $32.95 Tpb

At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own. For those who witness the incident, the consequences have reverberations that will affect all their lives, splintering families and friendships. What unfolds is a powerful, haunting novel about love, sex and marriage, parenting and children, and the fury and intensity - all the passions and conflicting beliefs - that family can arouse. Told from the perspective of eight people present at the barbeque, the slap and its consequences force them all to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires.

Christos Tsiolkas is a writer who loves to take on taboos, and believes his writing to be a form of activism. His work is often controversial, but it engages with and challenges the reader in a way they WANT to be challenged, forcing them to see a new perspective.

In The Slap, Tsiolkas dissects what “middle class” means in Australia now, and questions their aspirations and fears in this post-feminist, post-political, post-multicultural era. What are the responsibilities of parenthood? What are the limits in relationships between adults and youth? Is a slap ever forgiveable? What future are contemporary families creating?

Tsiolkas's writing gets up people's noses and shocks them badly, but he's an excellent writer and a passionate thinker, and this book sounds like a ripper. As someone with no kids I've often found myself on very shaky ground with OP's: the kind of behaviour that one parent has thanked me for ('It's such a relief that you have your own relationship with him and deal with him directly and don't expect me to do it or implicate me'), another parent has reacted to with suppressed outrage and sarcasm ('Rebuke administered?' Translation: 'That's quite enough from you, how dare you not let my child get away with being outrageously rude to you!')

Both of these women were close friends. It mattered, quite a lot. I'm a big fan of Helen Garner's novella Other People's Children, which examines similar dilemmas at the height of the 'alternative' age, and it looks as though Tsiolkas is picking that baton up from the same Melbourne backyards in which Garner put it down, though from a very different personal perspective, and a generation later.

UPDATE (with props to Mindy who called it to my attention): there's a cracker of a review by Tsiolkas's fellow-novelist Gerard Windsor, an excellent read in itself, here.

'I know that kind of man ...'

Every now and then as I soar gracefully or churn doggedly through my working week's quota of contemporary fiction, some sentence or paragraph will leap off the page as though someone had switched the power on. The words go up in lights, as on Broadway, and I hear a sort of 'BING' noise about halfway between the seatbelt-fastening bing and the bing you hear when you've hit the target and won the stuffed tiger. Sometimes there's more than one bing. There can be up to five.

So there I was on Page 8 of Howard Jacobson's The Act of Love, still blowing on my coffee and barely settled on the sofa, when ...

How you can tell on so brief an appraisal (and most of it from behind) that a man is an absentee libertine, that he lights fires and doesn't stop to see them blaze, that at the last he'd sooner withhold a sexual favour than confer one, I can't explain. Perhaps that sort of sexual sadism shows in the curvature of the spine.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Champagne if he wins, battery acid if he loses

Around 9 am, certain hardy persons, clearly well young enough to be my children, were asking on one of the LP election threads what people are drinking. That is my answer.

It's now 10.46 am and I am still in my dressing gown (hooray for being one's own boss, etc), glued to the computer. The admirable and ever-reliable Possum is liveblogging the election for crikey and has made this truly remarkable observation there:

With an estimated 75% turn out in Virginia, the down ballot Senate race already being called for Dem Mark Warner, the first handful of results in Republic districts in Virginia will tell us if Obama has won the election. If they are close or even leaning Obama then Virginia goes Democrat and the election is effectively over.

There are some fantastic other links from that, erm, link, including to the wonderful US map with closing times for each State and the Australian EST equivalents. If I have done my Adelaide time zone arithmetic correctly, voting closed in Virginia about 25 minutes ago, so there's not that long to wait.

There will be a major moment about five minutes from now when voting closes in 21 states, strung out all the way along the political spectrum. Somewhere between now and the champagne/battery acid I'm going to have to get out the Scotch and have what my friend Steve used to call a teensy triple. Possibly in my dressing gown.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Brand new eggcorn never heard before (at least not by me)

This evening on Radio National's Australia Talks (and I wonder if that's next for the axe): 'We're not going to pamper to them ...'

(She meant pander.)

And speaking of pandas (see what I did there?), a bonus beautiful phrase: charismatic megafauna.

Story of my life

Blogosphere, playground of the Id

At the moment there's a lively, interesting, well-informed discussion going on at Larvatus Prodeo about today's Melbourne Cup. And yesterday in the middle of it, someone popped up to say 'Oh, is there a horse race on this week?' or some such drecky smartarse remark.

It's reminded me of something very similar that happened (also at LP) a couple of weeks ago when a light-hearted Kasey Chambers Appreciation Post went up and in the middle of, again, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable discussion, someone suddenly turned up to say something like 'Oh, this is reminding me of the tedium of country music.'

Would these people walk up to a group of strangers at a party having exactly the same conversation and say exactly the same thing? Would they be aware that such behaviour is beyond the realms of the pig-rude? And if they wouldn't do it IRL, why do they do it online? I would really like to know what other people think this kind of behaviour is about.

I know what I think it's about; I think it's about the sort of wankery that's involved in implicitly declaring one's own superiority over the people discussing the topics, and, by extension, of all of the topics' enthusiasts. I wish I could say I think the mindset that goes 'I know nothing about this, therefore it must be crap' was a product of our times but I fear not; it seems rather to be a particularly unattractive aspect of the human condition, possibly enabled by educational fashions in recent years that have encouraged children to think self-expression is more important than anything else.

Now it's perfectly all right to be not interested in stuff. I myself break out in hives whenever people start talking about renovations. The difference is that I try not to rudely say so in the middle of an enthusiastic discussion of renovating, being conducted by people who are far more knowledgeable about it than I am.

With the LP threads as aforementioned, I feared for a while, before I'd thought this through a bit more, that there may be an unspoken and probably largely unconscious class dimension. Country music and horse racing are so, well, you know. On the other hand, for some reason people also feel compelled to behave in this way during discussions of Harry Potter, a topic I would not have picked first up as a signifier of boganville. He does, however, have mass appeal, so I suppose the expressions of contempt there are to do with the speaker's desire to express her/his own unique distinction from the common herd. It's really more about self-definition by disownership. People given to this kind of behaviour do seem to reserve a special virulence for particular topics, but those topics also include feminism, literary theory and opera.

These online expressions of contempt for other people's enthusiasms, right in those people's virtual faces, might be somehow related to road rage. Perhaps the de haut en bas dissers feel safe in the knowledge that they're not doing it face to face.

Which raises the question of the power of physical presence. Do people actually fear they will be hit or spat at if they behave like this in the real world? And if they do think that what they have to say might provoke physical assault, is this not an indication that they understand exactly how offensive they're being?

Which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that they do not care. But if these people are so gosh-darned fussed about what other people think of them that they feel the need to express their superiority to a bunch of strangers, it's astonishing that they don't think twice about their manners.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Book meme!

From Laura of Sills Bend.

What was the last book you bought?

A stack:

Val McDermid, A Darker Domain
Kathy Reichs, Devil Bones
Robert Drewe, The Rip
Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Française
Susan Wyndham, Life In His Hands: the true story of a neurosurgeon and a pianist
Robert Dessaix, Arabesques
Lauren Smith and Derek Fagerstrom, eds, Show Me How: 500 Things You Should Know

Name a book you have read MORE than once.

[LAURA:]Let's make that 'name a book you have read MORE than ten times'

The Once and Future King, My Brother Jack, King Lear, Persuasion, Middlemarch, The Tempest, Sense and Sensibility, A Passage to India, Howards End, Our Mutual Friend, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Villette, Little Women, Seven Little Australians, Gaudy Night, Voss, The Eye of the Storm, The Virgin in the Garden, Possession and all six volumes of The Lymond Chronicles.

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

Yes, several.

* The Once and Future King, as recommended by my first-year high school English teacher.

I knew less than nothing about the medieval period till I read that book. By the time I got to the end of it I understood that there was this great shadowy set of medieval narratives that was a cornerstone of contemporary Western culture -- and probably a whole lot of other equally significant stuff that I didn't know either. It was my first glimpse of how much I didn't know.

It also made me aware that there existed adults -- T.H. White being the first such adult I had encountered; they are very rare -- who could address children without either talking down to them or being incomprehensible, and doing that with no added sugar. This changed my life in the sense that I was determined to be one of those when I grew up.

* The Female Eunuch, which I read in 1971 when I was 18.

When I finished reading that book I was a fundamentally different person from the one I'd been three days earlier when I began it. Almost every single thing that has ever happened to me since (at least in the realm of the Important Three: love, money and work) has reinforced the change.

* Reading Patrick White, to whose work I was introduced by a precocious schoolmate in 1968 when she loaned me her copy of Riders in the Chariot, showed me that it was possible to write about life in Australia -- and to live in Australia -- at a level of intensity and complexity I would not have imagined possible.

* A.S. Byatt's The Virgin in the Garden showed me the same thing, except on an international scale, as did the three sequels.

The Byatt tetralogy, which I read from 1985 onwards, also showed me (a) what it meant to live an intense intellectual life without feeling self-conscious and limited about it, and (b) why I and every other woman I knew who was still studying had floundered so badly in trying to manage our personal and intellectual/pre-professional lives between the ages of 17 and 25: for women, the question of managing love, sex, marriage, babies, studying, work and ambition was and, it seems, still is an almost intractable problem to be solved. But I hadn't formulated it like that or realised the reason for the floundering (in spite of The Female Eunuch) until I read Byatt, and carried on much better equipped for the life I was living.

* Persuasion, Middlemarch and Anna Karenina, all of which I read in the same year and all of which reinforced the effects of The Female Eunuch.

How do you choose a book? e.g. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?

Sometimes by review but not in the way you might expect. I tend to ignore the reviewer's evaluation but will go looking for a book that sounds interesting, even if the reviewer thought it was bad. In my own practice as a reviewer I try to concentrate on giving the reader as clear a picture of possible of what kind of book it is, rather than giving it points out of ten.

I'm more likely to buy a book by a writer whose work I already know and like than to invest in a new writer unless I've read a lot about the book beforehand, and more likely to buy a novel on the strength of a profile of the writer than on the judgement of a reviewer. I've never read any David Foster Wallace but will shortly go in quest of some on the strength of this fantastic article about him in Rolling Stone.

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

Fiction. But some nonfiction is wonderful, like certain writers' journals and letters, or my favourite Australian biographies: Nadia Wheatley's of Charmian Clift, Brian Matthews's of Louisa Lawson, David Marr's of Patrick White and Barry Hill's of T.E.H. Strehlow. I love the writing of M.F.K. Fisher, and some of the more imaginative and adventurous historians who can also really write, like Theodore Zeldin and Simon Schama. I loved Christopher Hitchens' writing so much that I went on reading it even after he went a bit mad. (He appears to be on the way back.)

What's more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

I understand what this question is getting at, but I don't accept either its assumptions or its terms.

'Beautiful' in particular is not an adjective I would choose in thinking about the plot/style question. There's a wonderful moment in one of Alice Munro's short stories where the young heroine, desperate for sexual knowledge and experience, is being flashed at by an unsavoury older man; she is looking at his exposed penis, which is the first specimen she's seen, and observes that its cheerful ugliness seems to be 'some sort of guarantee of goodwill, the opposite of what beauty usually is.'

Most loved/memorable character?

Daniel Orton in Byatt's Potter tetralogy, because it's been my life's misfortune to acquire a profound understanding of chronically angry men -- I get Daniel. Philippa Somerville in Dorothy Dunnett's peerless Lymond Chronicles, plus Phelim O'LiamRoe from the second volume of same. Inman in Cold Mountain, the book not the film. Pierre Bezuhov in War and Peace, though that may have something to do with seeing Anthony Hopkins play him on TV at the age of 34 (Hopkins not Bezuhov). And Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

Val McDermid's latest, A Darker Domain, for pleasure, and for work an unpolished but weirdly gripping and vivid debut novel called The Reinvention of Ivy Brown by Roberta Taylor, the actor who plays Inspector Gina Gold in The Bill. The bedroom is eerily tidy.

What was the last book you read?

Alexander McCall Smith's latest Isabel Dalhousie novel, The Comfort of Saturdays. My God that man is prolific.

Have you ever given up on a book halfway in?

Yes, and I do so more often as I age and the time left to me in this life gets shorter and more uncertain and precious. I can't tell you what they were; if they had been memorable, I would have finished them.

Steve Jobs, visionary and hard-nosed realist in one

Here is my hero David Pogue in his New York Times 'Circuits' column this week, applauding the new MacBooks but also venting about the dropping of FireWire:

FireWire is how you connect tape camcorders to the Mac. This is the part that kills me.

I'm big into home movies. I've got 100 MiniDV tapes carefully stored--of my children growing up, of my TV appearances, of our trips and memorable moments. The video quality is amazing. And because they're digital, I sleep easy, knowing that I can make fresh copies of those tapes at any time, without any quality loss. For 15 years, I've intended, someday, to edit those tapes down into a series of cherished DVDs. Maybe when the kids get married.

But not if FireWire goes away. If that happens, my tapes will be stranded and uneditable. ... Last week, on the phone, I got a chance to vent my unhappiness to Steve Jobs himself. I told him about my long-held intention to edit down those 100 tapes, maybe when I'm retired.

I must admit, he gave me quite a wakeup call. He pointed out that in 10 years, there won't be any machines left that can play them.

(He also mentioned that, realistically, the only time people really edit their movies is just after they've shot them. And sure enough: I've been intending to edit my tapes for 15 years now; what makes me think I'll have time to do it in the next 15?)

See, this is why Steve Jobs is Steve Jobs and the rest of us aren't. He has a proper understanding of both human nature and the nature of the passage of time.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Word serendipity

My friend P, who reads this blog regularly, will often send me an email as a sort of reply to one of the posts, and this morning in response to the garden photos (see previous posts) sent me a gorgeous pic of their own garden, specifically of a rose bush in full, spectacular, climate-change bloom, a species called 'Crepuscule'.

Few will be strangers to the phenomenon of encountering a rare or wholly unfamiliar word in a striking way only to be regaled by the universe, over the next week or two, with dozens more instances of it, and so tonight while sitting on the sofa with a work novel I was unsurprised by the following, where the heroine Emily is discussing her reading tastes and habits:
... unfamiliar words could spring off a page and bounce into my consciousness with all the esprit of an energetic child. So it was that I was introduced to 'crepuscular' in Hunt the Slipper and carried it around with me, a blood-borne literature virus. Years later it leapt from The Virgin Suicides and announced that Trefusis, Eugenides and I were inexplicably bound by our shared intimacy with this arcane and delicious word.

I looked up from my book, out through the open back door, to see that it was indeed that time of the evening when all the flowers in the garden have disappeared except the white ones, which were still looming up at me out of the solidifying dark. Crepuscular.

Then I got curious and went after it, thinking that dictionaries on and offline might have more to tell, and found out something I hadn't known before: that it refers not just to twilit-ness in general but also more specifically to creatures that are active at dawn and/or dusk. The kangaroo is a crepuscular beast. Who'd have thought.

Just as well it's a Superfood

In a fit of idle curiosity, I counted the blueberries while I waited for the coffee to start bubbling up, and then I did the maths. They cost me 7.87 cents per blueberry, including the little shrivelledy one. And I'm going to eat them very very slowly.

He's my man, and I don't care how much it costs

This is Leonard Cohen in 1970, the year I was in what's now called Year 12: he was thirty-six and I was seventeen.

It was the year I first discovered him: I read Beautiful Losers, bought Songs From a Room and Leonard Cohen with saved-up pocket money, bought the sheet music and learned to play and sing fifteen or twenty of the songs:

(Question: when did she study for her exams? And does this explain the D for Matric Modern History, which still rankles all these decades later and which her entire undergraduate career was one long attempt to redeem?)

(Also, my mother made that round cushion, which was a kind of steely grey-blue velvet.)

Three years earlier my heart had been broken by my first-ever boyfriend, a beautiful Greek boy, who engendered a helpless lifelong passion for swarthiness in all its lovely forms.

Over the decades, Leonard and I drifted apart. And then one day a few years ago, my friend R played me this and I fell in love all over again.

R texted me today to say he's playing here on Australia Day and do I want to come with her. Hah. It's an outdoor concert at a winery down in the paradisal Southern Vales and he's being supported by Paul Kelly. On the other hand it's going to cost hundreds of dollars and it'll probably be 42 degrees. But I do not care.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The light in the garden