Friday, January 29, 2010

Shining your shoes for the Fat Lady

This isn't the first time I've had cause to consider the uses of literature in thinking about how to live one's life and manage one's nasty moments. But when I saw this morning that J.D. Salinger had died, I gave a bit of thought to what I might have learned from him, and this bit from near the end of Franny and Zooey is what came to mind. All my adult life I've been spared the tortures of stage fright, and having read this at sixteen is one of the reasons why.

The voice at the other end came through again. 'I remember about the fifth time I ever went on "Wise Child". I subbed for Walt a few times when he was in a cast -- remember when he was in that cast? -- anyway, I started bitching one night before the broadcast. Seymour'd told me to shine my shoes just as I was going out the door with Waker. I was furious. The studio audience were all morons, the announcer was a moron, the sponsors were morons, and I just damn well wasn't going to shine my shoes for them, I told Seymour. I said they couldn't see them anyway, where we sat. He said to shine them anyway. He said to shine them for the Fat Lady. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but he had a very Seymour look on his face, and so I did it. He never did tell me who the Fat Lady was, but I shined my shoes for the Fat Lady every time I ever went on the air again ...

This terribly clear, clear picture of the Fat Lady formed in my mind. I had her sitting on this porch all day, swatting flies, with her radio going full-blast from morning till night. I figured the heat was terrible, and she probably had cancer, and -- I don't know. Anyway, it seemed goddamned clear why Seymour wanted me to shine my shoes when I went on the air. It made sense.'

Franny was standing. She had taken her hand away from her face to hold the phone with two hands. 'He told me, too,' she said into the phone. 'He told me to be funny for the Fat Lady, once ... I didn't ever picture her on the porch, but with very -- you know -- very thick legs, very veiny. I had her in an awful wicker chair. She had cancer too, though, and she had the radio going full-blast all day! Mine did, too!'

'Yes ... But I'll tell you a terrible secret -- Are you listening to me? There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady.'

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In praise of women's tennis

As I type, Elena Dementieva and Justine Henin have been on the court for two hours and they're not even halfway through the second set, which is at deuce, two-all. It's the most beautiful, forceful, elegant match I think I've ever seen: two evenly matched slender blonde stars of the game, both having a good night and whupping each other all over the court except when doing delicate precision work at the net. It's like watching a magic cheetah trying to catch Tinkerbell.

UPDATE: and the unseeded, unranked Henin has just beaten the world no. 5 in straight sets, 7-5 7-6.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Took me a while, but I eventually thought of something worth saying to say.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Headlines #2

You know how sometimes when you're dreaming there'll be a noise in the real world loud enough to impinge on the dream but not to wake you up, so somehow your dreaming brain comes up with a lightning-fast rationale for the noise and works it in to the dream narrative?

I got that feeling this morning, albeit wide awake, when my daily email from the Age arrived with the leading headline 'Train fix still to come: Kosky'. Hmm, I thought, what on earth would Barrie Kosky be doing with a train? Some sort of massive neo-Grand Guignol stage set, or maybe 'train' here is a metaphor? Why is it broken, and how come it's making headlines?

It actually refers, of course, to Victorian transport minister Lynne Kosky and all the Melbourne trains that melted yesterday in the heat. But the brain, she gloms onto whatever association is most familiar; she does it in a fraction of a second, and she weaves it into some logical, if utterly incredible, narrative shape.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Headline of the Month goes into draw for Headline of the Year

At a predicted 43 degrees today in Adelaide after an overnight "low" of 29, and I gather it is even worse for my Victorian mates, it's too hot to do anything except struggle to keep myself, the cats and lemon tree alive and try to be mindful of deadlines. Certainly too hot to think to blog. But this deadpan headline deserves maximum exposure.

Crime lord's dildo fell off in raid, court told

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Putting away the ornaments

As we approach the end of the first week of January I've been thinking about how often the last week of January has, for me, brought with it some life-changing, life-enhancing or life-summarising event, for better or worse, and have been bracing myself for what, if anything, this January might bring.

By far the most traumatic of these was the sudden collapse of my mother in 1999 from the brain haemorrhage of whose effects she was to die a few days later. Every year, Christmas is bracketed by two little bittersweet moments, mother-wise: once when I unpack the decorations to put on the Christmas tree and again when I pack them up to put them away. A number of them are decorations I originally brought from interstate and overseas when I came home for Christmas and gave to her to put on the family tree, as one by one the old ornaments were broken or got too old and shabby to use.

If you are lucky enough still to have a mother, try to appreciate her as much as you can, even if she is not ideal as mothers go, because you just don't know. Mine proved to be more fragile than her own handwriting on the tissue paper that has now outlived her by eleven years and counting.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fiction writing tip of the day

Don't give your main characters names that are too fanciful, pretentious, un-euphonious, unusual or unlikely. Give them names that are at least halfway probable for their time, place, gender, and in some cases, alas, class -- not names that you think might be cool baby names. It's not unreasonable that a child born in the 1970s might be called Layla, that one born in 1812 might be called Jeremiah or that one born in Marseilles might be called Antoine, but in the ordinary run of things (which for the moment let us say means a realist novel set in contemporary Australia) it upsets the delicate balance of that precious commodity, the reader's suspended disbelief, to come across a character called Rufus or Iphigenia. Much less Tristan, Tay-lah or Malachite. Stick with something (though not necessarily white-bread: Australia has a plentiful array of Dmitris and Minh-has and Ahmeds and so on) that by virtue of being mainstream makes your particular Jane or John Doe that much more your own.