Wild Colonial Girl Blog

Writing Mothers: Debra Adelaide

Debra Adelaide, author, The Household Guide to Dying
Debra Adelaide, author, The Household Guide to Dying

When I first read The Household Guide to Dying it felt as if the writer, Debra Adelaide, had somehow stepped inside my head for a while and borrowed my voice. Even though at the time I had no daughters, and I certainly wasn’t dying of cancer, the words felt like they were mine: effortless, flowing, perfectly formed, and delivered with precision timing (at certain key points).

There was nothing sentimental about Delia Bennet’s experience of confronting death. It was head on. Even funny. (I got the same tragi-comic feeling reading Sarah Watt’s exquisite contributions to Worse Things Happen at Sea, the memoir she wrote with husband William McInnes, when she was approaching her final days with courage and quiet humour.) Delia plans for the important things. Like how to teach her girls to make the perfect cup of tea. Like whether she is going to fit in her coffin and whether she should practise before the final day comes. Read More

Writing Mothers: Karen Andrews

Karen Andrews blogs at Miscellaneous Mum
Karen Andrews blogs at Miscellaneous Mum

The blog Miscellaneous Mum, created by Karen Andrews, is one of my favourites. It manages to encompass the detailed trials and tribulations of daily life with a family, great reviews of books (including Stasiland by Anna Funder, interviewed here) and news of her life as a writer.

She even started the ‘1001 Books to Read Before You Die’ challenge.

(The weird thing is, I started this in a blog, too, many moons ago — before I saw hers. I got about five books in. It was so long ago I can’t even find my own blog using Google. Ah well). She’s doing better.

She also somehow manages to hold down a desk job (a great one!) as program manager of the Emerging Writers’ Festival that begins in a couple of weeks in Melbourne.

Her blog’s subheading — ‘Trying to find the objective correlative, everyday’ — has kept me thinking for months. It seems exactly the right phrase to describe her type of writing. While many mother-bloggers keep their posts raw and emotional (which I enjoy too), Andrews’ style has an austerity and sophistication that suspends and transfixes you.

In the upcoming edition of Newswrite (June–July), Mandy Sayer writes about this term, the objective correlative, in relation to Hemingway and Chekhov:

Chekhov, also a playwright, was a master at using objective external details, coupled with understatement and irony, to convey complex emotional states. This rendering of the internal through the external, the subjective through the objective, is a technique T.S. Eliot later described as the ‘objective correlative’.

 The method involves writing imagery and actions that are so precise, so resonant, that the narrator doesn’t need to state how a certain character feels: the emotions are already there, embedded in the landscape, the light, the weather, the scents, the sounds, and the silences.

To do this, everyday? I spoke to Karen about the challenges of blogging and balancing the writing with family life.

When did you start blogging? Was it before or after you had children?

KA: I started blogging in August 2006, when my second (and youngest) child was five months’ old.

What set you going on sharing your thoughts with the world?

KA: I primarily just wanted to get my own writerly ‘voice’ back, as well as my own ‘personal’ one. I had been experiencing severe post-partum anxiety attacks and was just trying to sort myself out mentally and emotionally. Perhaps an odd choice of forum, given the public nature of blogging, but I also wanted to seek out others who’d been through the same, or even help others in their journey.

How do you find time to blog around bringing up children? Do you plan it carefully? Or does it happen in bursts of creativity when you get the time?

Karen Andrews has also written a children's book, Surprise!
Karen Andrews has also written a children’s book, Surprise!

KA: It happens both ways. When the kids were younger, I admit it was more in bursts, while they played near me or during nap times. These days it’s more strategic and regimented as I’ve got other commitments (such as work and my offline writing) to attend to as well. I’ve never worked very well at night — either with writing or blogging — so I really have to manage my time during the day as best as I can. I concede this probably makes me a slower writer, but I’m saner too!

Do you think about your writing style much? Your voice? How do you stand out from the crowd?

KA: I have been wondering more and more about my writing style in recent times. In my work (program manager at the Emerging Writers’ Festival) I come across different writers and forms all the time, and I do occasionally think, ‘Where do I fit in among the ‘scene’? I still feel young, too, in a career and chronological sense (I’m 33). There’s a tension within me that I’ve always fought: that being the need to rush and the mentality to absorb and learn from others.

In terms of standing out from the crowd, I think I have etched out for myself a sort of blogging reputation that coincides with an indie-publishing-slash-entrepreneurial-bent that is nice if — at times — undeserved! I do earn money from blogging, more than writing. That is nice, I admit, but I do remain mindful of my deep set loves and values about writing and keeping a sort of…purity of intent.

At what point did you decide to blog about your children? Has there been a topic where you’ve thought, ‘no I can’t go there’? Where do you draw the line on the public/private?

KA: I’ve blogged about kids since the beginning; my first post was about my daughter. It was a blog about them — although I knew it couldn’t be forever — and I’ve been slowly turning it into a blog that’s more about me, and they’re more of a reflection in that sense (although I’d never for a moment presume to say that what has happened in the past is an explicit recount but, rather, more of a subjective interpretation rendered in as nice/expressive way as I can, like other creative nonfiction does).

There are lines I’ve drawn, but that has been at the request of my husband. The kids will do the same all in good time too. I respect that. Other truths can wait for my fiction.

Who is your favourite mother-blogger? What kind of blog writing gets you excited?

KA: I have lots of favourite bloggers who are mothers who happen to blog about parenting: I think Penni Russon (eglantine’s cake) is wonderful, and I am proud to call her a friend of mine. We’ve talked about blogging a lot together. Another friend who is an excellent writer is Tiffany Tregenza (My Three Ring Circus). These are in Australia. In America, possibly my favourite is Amy Storch (Amalah).

How has your blog influenced your other writing, your novels, your nonfiction, your poetry?

KA: It’s made me more open to the value of flash/shorter fiction for starters! It’s made me realise much quicker the greater potential an idea might lend itself to having, ie whether it would be better to make a blog post out of something or turn it into a poem. For example, a day I had at the park years ago could’ve been easy to turn into a post along the lines of ‘We Had A Crap Day At The Park – Let Me Whine About It To You’. But I knew there was more to it than that. So I turned it into a poem — and it went on to win a literary award.

This interview is part of the ‘Writing Mothers’ series. If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read my interviews with Anna Funder, Fiona McGregor and Bianca Wordley (Big Words blog).

Who’s your favourite blogger on parenting? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Writing Mothers: Fiona McGregor

Author Fiona McGregor
Author Fiona McGregor. Photo: Sarah-Jane Norman.

When I started writing my first novel (for a research masters in creative writing at the University of Sydney) I wrote from a daughter’s and a mother’s perspective. I was not a mother. But I had my own to fall back on. And many others to observe. I remember asking Sue Woolfe (my supervisor) whether I needed to be a mother to fully realise such a character? No, we agreed. It may help. But a character is a character is a character. There’s much debate about whether a white writer can write a character with an Aboriginal perspective; whether a male writer can fully inhabit the body/mind of a woman; even whether a writer can capture a sense of place if they’ve never set foot there.

I understand where these concerns come from but I’m all for experimenting. Where else, but in fiction, can we start to re-imagine, re-invent lives, explore the limits of who we are. I think it comes down to compassion for characters, the ability to drill into the psychology of another person (at any moment in time and place).

During the slow process of writing the novel, I became pregnant and had a baby. Then another one. I started recording the day to day changes. And I realised that my mother character, while not way off the mark, just didn’t have those detailed observations, didn’t fully engage with her daughter, didn’t live her life from within. I went back and started to rewrite.

The ‘Writing Mothers’ series (see also Anna Funder and Bianca Wordley) is not only about women juggling writing with motherhood. The topic can also been seen from another angle: how to write mother characters. I approached Fiona McGregor, the author of Indelible Ink (which won the Age Book of the Year award in 2011) — that features the unforgettable Marie King, a 59-year-old divorcée from Sydney’s affluent north shore who sets herself up for reinvention (and to confront her children).

Fiona, how do you go about writing a ‘mother’ character? Is it different from how you approach other characters?

FM: I don’t think it’s different in principle — a combination of imagination and empathy. I guess I attuned myself to mother-specific concerns — that is where the 24-hour job comes into play — noticing things on TV and in the paper that addressed mothers in a way that would normally not come within my frame of reference. In the same way, I was much more attuned to my sisters’ and girlfriends’ motherly preoccupations. I might do the same if my main character were an accordion player — seek that out in the world around me in whatever form.

Fiona McGregor, Indelible Ink
Fiona McGregor, Indelible Ink

I don’t and didn’t want to see mothers as just mothers — that is part of the struggle of the mother in my book, to assert an individual self, so I would have been looking at the women in my life in the same terms. I obviously thought a great deal of my own mother, but not too much, as her life and values were pretty different and I didn’t want them to overinfluence my book, my character of Marie.

Do you research — talk to and observe other mothers — or is it about intuition?

FM: Yes, I did ask my mother friends and family stuff, and pricked up my ears at mother conversations …

Also, I’ve been lucky to have experienced through the women I know and through both my blood and my queer family a really wide range of mothers. That helps.

Intuition — yes — the turning point for me, after struggling for literally years to get inside of Marie and finding it hard, was thinking about how similar I was as opposed to how different. That is one of the most important places for the fiction writer, to keep your feet on the common ground, a fellow human thing.

Also, in terms of being attuned, my reading steered towards stories of mothers, families, the middle-class.

How much influence has your relationship with your own mother affected the way you portray mothers in your fiction?

FM: I was juggling using and learning from my mother and our relationship, and also needing to refuse it because if it had overinfluenced me it would have strangled the book and the character; it wasn’t appropriate. My mother was 20 years older than Marie, and had eight kids and worked, and was a practicing Catholic. She was educated, quite erudite and comopolitan. All these things set her worlds apart. And she was incidentally intransigent in her hatred of tattoos.

I’ve realised you’ve asked about my relationship … Well, I think what we had in common with Blanche and Marie was something very prevalent to that generation — the struggle that mothers, post-war educated mothers, have where they fulfil the traditional role and get a chance at a public independent life and sometimes make a total success of that, but much more often feel a bit torn and frustrated. Their daughters grow up with much more freedom, largely due to their mother’s efforts, and when the mothers see this they are proud and gratified but also resentful, jealous, confused. They probably feel not acknowledged enough. Sacrificial lambs … A bittersweet love/hate thing. I have observed younger mothers being much closer to their daughters, much less friction in terms of gender issues, and older mothers favouring their sons. That was the case in my family and the case in the novel.

Do you think it would be easier/different/harder if you were a mother — or do you think it’s like anything in fiction, possible to be conjured?

FM: Don’t know. I have been gratified to have scores of women of that age and so on tell me I’ve ‘got it’. That’s made me happy, to have connected with them, which is also I think a case of respecting them. One thing — if I were a mother, I could not have written a book like this which sucked so much of my time, my headspace, that kept me poor too. That is the irony.

Have you read Indelible Ink or any other books by Fiona McGregor? What did you think of Marie?

Do you have a favourite mother character in fiction? I’d love to hear them…


Writing Mothers: Bianca Wordley

Bianca Wordley, Big Words blog
Bianca Wordley, Big Words blog

Seven weeks to go until we move and I haven’t started packing yet. The boxes are sitting there, all flat, teasing me. When I told mum about this blog she said, ‘so you’re blogging about packing rather than actually packing’. Seven weeks may sound like a long time but when you’ve got two children under four, you can’t just throw it all in like you used to. I just added it up and I have moved house at least 18 times in my life. That’s a lot of packing. I’m terrible putting boxes together, taping with masking tape. I’d be hopeless in dispatch. I have poor inter-taping skills. I’m in denial. And I keep getting distracted by books. The removalists sent a marketing type to give a quote today and she looked shocked by the number on my shelves. I really don’t have that many (you should have seen when I was at uni). As I weigh each heavy tome in my hands I start to rationalise: surely, I can get that on kindle.

So, as I’m going to be covered in dust and grasshoppers (that’s what I just found in the shed) for the next few months, I thought I’d continue on a series of interviews with writers about motherhood and writing. Bianca Wordley is an Adelaide-based writer who has been hugely successful with her blog, Big Words, and she also writes regularly for The Hoopla (a site that’s emerging as a wonderfully topical daily critique of all things cultural). In a recent post, The Annoying Kid, she takes a look at parents who are there — but absent. We’ve all encountered these situations. A child who bites others on a jumping castle. Or keeps going up the slide the wrong way, endangering others at the playground. The parent remains hands-off, or lingers in the background, so much so that you feel you should discipline the child yourself. But then what? It turns into The Slap. She also writes entertainingly on the whole concept of the mummy-blogger (and the companies that market to them).

I spoke to Bianca about fitting in blogging around the care of three small children…

When did you start blogging? Was it before or after you had children?

BW: I started blogging seriously after the birth of my third child, so about one and a half years ago.

What set you going on sharing your thoughts with the world?

BW: I am a trained journalist and while I still write freelance articles for a number of different clients I was craving a more creative outlet. At the time I was also living in the Adelaide Hills and felt quite isolated with three kids under five. Blogging connected me to a whole world of other like-minded women.

How do you find time to blog around bringing up children? Do you plan it carefully? Or does it happen in bursts of creativity when you get the time?

BW: I write when I get a burst of creativity. Sometimes I write at night or in the morning when the kids are asleep, but mostly I write when they are running around the place. Their constant distractions are at times difficult, but mostly they can be easily distracted with kids’ television and food.

Do you think about your writing style much? Your voice? How do you stand out from the crowd?

BW: One of the main reasons I started blogging was to break out of the newspaper style I was trained in and find my own creative voice. I use my blog as a sounding board and experiment to discover what style or styles suit me. I am in a constant state of learning, but slowly getting there.

Questioning domestic bliss at Big Words blog
Questioning domestic bliss at Big Words blog

At what point did you decide to blog about your children? Has there been a topic where you’ve thought, ‘no I can’t go there’? Where do you draw the line on the public/private?

BW: I am getting more aware of my kids’ privacy the older they get. My eldest child has just started school and I am still unsure how many mothers I will let know about my blog. I try to blog about my story, not about my children’s personal issues, but as our lives are so entwined that is a tricky subject I am constantly reassessing.

Who is your favourite mother-blogger? What kind of blog writing gets you excited?

BW: I have a number of favourite bloggers — Under the Yardarm, Edenland, Woogsworld, BabyMac are just a few. I like honest and raw bloggers, but I also love bloggers who give me an escape from the drudgery, who make me laugh and not feel so alone in the boredom which often envelopes your life as a mother. I search for brave, inspiring and upbeat writers.

Do you do any other writing? How has your blog influenced your other writing, your novels, your nonfiction, your poetry?

BW: I write for a number of clients in both the corporate and blogging world. I am a regular columnist for websites including The Hoopla, justb and Kleenex Mums. Blogging has opened up many paid writing opportunities. At present, I am also writing my first novel — little-by-little I write it. One day soon, I’ll find the time to focus more on my novel as that is the direction I am heading and most passionate about — telling stories.

The ‘Writing Mothers’ series has also featured Anna Funder. Next week I’ll talk to novelist and performance artist Fiona McGregor about how she goes about creating mother characters in her award-winning novels.

Do you write a blog about parenting? Who is your favourite mother-blogger? I’d love to hear from you…

Writing Mothers: Anna Funder

Author Anna Funder
Author Anna Funder

I’ve been writing an essay for Island Magazine on the topic, Writing Mothers, where I’ve been looking at mother characters in Australian fiction (written by women), and talking to novelists and bloggers about how they even begin to juggle their writing with pregnancy and having children. I’ve also talked to writers (who are not mothers) about how they go about creating characters (who are mothers).

I’ve been surprised at how little research has been done on the topic (although the Australian Women Writers’ Network has been brilliant at giving me leads). It seems that mothers shimmy out of the limelight wherever possible. The article will be published in July but, in the meantime, I thought I’d start a series on Writing Mothers where I publish some of the interviews in full that I’ve quoted from in the article.

First up is Anna Funder, author of Stasiland (which won the world’s biggest prize for non-fiction, the Samuel Johnson Prize) and an outstanding debut novel, All That I Am (one of the best Australian novels of the past year, nominated for the Miles Franklin). She is one of Australia’s most exciting writers and here she talks about the challenges of writing when you have three children.

When you were pregnant, what were your expectations regarding having a baby and writing? Were you planning to write after the baby was born?

Anna Funder, Stasiland
Anna Funder, Stasiland

AF: I was finishing Stasiland when I was pregnant with my first child. I think pregnancy is a wonderful state, in that it chemically blurs all kinds of anxieties about the (completely and utterly unimaginable ) future that is coming. That applies to both babies, and books — how can anyone have any idea what it’s going to be like with either? I think I expected to have a quiet time with my baby, which I did for a little bit, but then the book took off and I was travelling and talking a lot for a couple of years.

When my baby was two weeks old I went out and bought a three-piece set of matching luggage on a whim. My dear friend, a mother of four, said to me, ‘You have a two-week-old baby. Where do you think you’re going??’ I had no idea, but I ended up travelling all over the place with my daughter.

What was it like in reality? Did you get any writing done in the first year after your baby was born?

AF: I wrote a lot of articles and speeches. I didn’t really have the mental wherewithal to nut out the architecture of a big novel — that came later. I found it hard to organise my time. My husband was overseas weeks at a time for about half the year, and I was in a city without much family support. I have three children now, and imagine I’m a bit better at outsourcing some of the care and making time to write. But truth be told, I put my novel All That I Am away for the first six months of my son’s life. I tried to have a break from it. Of course I wrote other stuff during that time.

Did you find it difficult to sit down and write? Or was it the opposite? Were you more creative, as you had less time, and had to be super disciplined?

AF: I don’t find discipline so hard. I find writing hard, but I am more stressed out by not doing it than by doing it, so I organise my life to be able to work. What is not good for writing is sleep deprivation and lactation; the brain function that is important for writing — the wordy, analytical, associative, creative part of your mind — is shut down by prolactin I believe. This is so that grown women who are used to doing a great many things can stay seated the eight hours a day it takes to feed a newborn without going mad, so it’s a good thing.

Also, a mother’s focus is incredibly directed, and her emotional energy is absolutely heightened by having a baby. This intensity of living and loving — this experience of being part of a dyad — is a wonderful gift. Like all intense emotional experiences, it broadens you in the longer term, which can make you a better writer. Motherhood also makes you a whole lot more vulnerable to the world, you have a greater stake in the future, and in the little people you’re putting into it. That’s not bad for a human being, or a writer.

Anna Funder, All That I Am (Translation)
Anna Funder, All That I Am (Translation)

Did you find the experience of motherhood starting to seep into your characters? Into the way you portray people?

AF: One woman whose story I wrote in Stasiland was separated from her baby by the Berlin Wall. I always found it a terrible story, but I realised much more shockingly after having a baby what she must have gone through. It wasn’t possible to do this solely by an act of sympathetic experience. I had to have the emotional receptors for it, and the only way to get those is –—in this instance — to have had a baby. I probably wouldn’t have written the story any differently. I still think it’s fine. But this experience is salutary for me. If what you do is work to enable people to understand and experience others, and other things through words, it makes you realise the limits of them.

Have you written about any mothers in your fiction before or after the birth? Did having a child mean you had to go back and rewrite or change characterisation?

AF: I do write about mothers. Often it is influenced more by my own mother, than by my experience of mothering. But I feel pretty well-equipped now, after three children, to write a convincing mother character. Or twenty.

Stay tuned for the next interview in the Writing Mothers series: blogger Bianca Wordley (isn’t that just the perfect name for a writer?).

Have you read Anna Funder’s Stasiland or All That I Am? What are your thoughts on these books?

Or are you a writing mother? How do you juggle your writing time with looking after the kids?

Nothing like a good spanky

 

Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method
Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method

In the opening scenes of David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method we see Keira Knightley (as Sabina Spielrein) play mad. There’s no doubt about it. She’s hysterical. She bends forward at the waist, dry-retching as if she’s swallowed a wild chimpanzee. Her teeth chatter. She swims in a fishpond, cackling loudly, covered in mud, as the hospital’s male attendants prod and entice her. As the calm doctor Carl Jung applies his new method, the ‘talking cure’, she reveals very quickly that her father used to take all her clothes off (the first time when she was four) and beat her. And the revelation that fuels her sexual energies from then on? She used to like it.

(Note to self: never strip and humiliate children in case they develop serious belt fetish.)

From then on, the film ignores Spielrein (after a bit of hanky panky she is cured! she is cured!) and become a turgid account of the relationship between Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), reduced to a kind of one-upmanship of I’ll show you my dream if you show me yours. The dreams they dissect together are so obvious I’m surprised they don’t feature teeth falling out or going down steps into the basement or snakes writhing in water; you know, you’ve all had them. But these dreams are symbolic, see, with a capital S, because of the horrors that are to come (the holocaust): there’s a wave of water about to crash down.

Despite Spielrein’s brilliant intellect and challenge to the authority of Freud, she’s mainly pictured in corset (falling delicately off nipples) strapped and bent over the couch while Jung flagellates himself on all accounts. I’m not a prude. I quite like to watch. But I want to know why this turns her on. What is the connection between humiliation and sexual pleasure? What is the even deeper connection to her father? And why does Jung administering this punishment apparently offer her such freedom? Is it really her only way to connect to the world? Cronenberg ignores all of this. It’s so much easier just to film a bit of coy S+M in a mirror.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Secretary
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Secretary

I’m trying to think of other films that employ a bit of S+M. The wonderful Secretary springs to mind, enlivened with a bit of humour and deadpan performances. Then there’s Salo (that I’ve always been meaning to watch, but the thought of it…), David Cronenberg’s own Crash (an unforgettable piece of filmmaking based on JG Ballard’s novel) and The Piano Teacher, with Isabelle Huppert’s usual knockout performance. (Serious fetishists have their own opinions, of course. See the serious discussion here.)

But look I’m no expert. The idea of masochistic sexual play makes me want to choke myself (now hang on a minute). Some may say any fiction writer in Australia is a masochist. But I think if it came to the crunch, I’d be much more interested in being a sadist. There’s a world of opportunity there.

For a more interesting look at a brilliant woman confronting mental illness, see Jane Campion’s classic biopic of Janet Frame, An Angel at My Table. Actress Kerry Fox goes inward and quiet; it’s a mesmerising performance to watch. I understand she’s not seen as an hysteric, and she doesn’t get off on S+M, but it’s an incredibly moving and powerful film, in its understated way.

Anyone into a bit of S+M? What are the most interesting examples of films and literature that explore it (you can post anonymously of course!)?

Or have you seen A Dangerous Method? What did you think of Spielrein’s character? The relationship between Freud and Jung?

They don’t make playgrounds like they used to…

Old slippery dipIn my day the slippery dips (they weren’t called slides then) were made of steel and you’d burn your bum as soon as the heat went above 26 degrees.
In my day there were no shade cloths to protect you from the sun. That’s why I’ve got so many goddamn freckles.
In my day, if you fell off the monkeybars, you fell onto grass. Or even worse, gravel. Or, if the teachers really hated you, cement. (Now it’s the much softer artificial turf — only a problem if you’re worried your children will get cancer from toxic waste.)
In my day roundabouts went so fast you could actually fall off from the giddy speed and hallucinate for hours afterwards.
In my day you could play on the seesaw and suffer a bone-crushing spinal injury when a big kid jumped off the other end while you were still in the air (oh, happy days).
In my day the flying foxes went into the tree.
In my day the slippery dips weren’t gently tapered at the end; they fell away dramatically so you’d get a mouthful of dirt if you came down forwards.

But in my day I never encountered a Variety Playground.

Lake Macquarie Variety Playground
Lake Macquarie Variety Playground, Speers Point

I took McCool (my three-year-old son) to a new park yesterday, the Lake Macquarie Variety Playground (yep that’s its official title) in Speers Point in Newcastle, and we both ended up having panic attacks.

His was at the start of the day. He fell asleep in the car (not a good start) and had to be woken up. ‘Wake up, we’re at the park!’ I always talk in exclamation points to him these days. He said ‘I want to go home’, ‘I want to go to the café’ ‘I want some banana bread’ ‘No, mumma, I DO want to play’ in the three minutes it took him to meander out of his carseat. He was starting to work up to a tanty.

And then we both saw it. A metallic rocket pointing to the sky. He started moving towards it as if being drawn in by a religious cult, his eyes fixed greedily to the top of the three-storey slide. As he scampered up the ropes to the first level, I realised this monstrosity had been purposely designed to keep parents out. By the time I had negotiated the maze to almost reach him, McCool (did I mention he is three years old?) had climbed into an enormous monkey cage, where teenagers and toddlers screamed, swinging arm in arm, embracing the Darwinist theory of evolution full throttle.

As he continued to scale up up up, without a thought in my direction, I realised that my anxiety was as much for me as him. I did not want to go in there. This was a mummy test. Ladders, cages, vertigo, tigers. A vertical maze. Who knew what awaited me? But my mum was down the bottom, staring up at me, looking more and more demanding as each child ‘not McCool’ emerged from the slide at silver speed. She pointed with one finger. Up. I gestured bravely as if that had always been my intention.

I entered the warren of ladders and cages, landing on sore ankles, jarring knees, after each step. When I was almost to the top, I saw my son, yeah there he was, down the bottom, apparently safely shot out of the slide cannon, happily articulating to grandma. Dodged a bullet there. As I wound my way down slowly against a barrage of kids, she yelled up at me, ‘he wants to go again!’

This time we went up together, but I became even more of a liability. ‘Can you come down after me?’, he pleaded, his three-year-old logic working the usual miracles. I did my best. I really did. Waiting in queue — while children with flailing limbs assaulted us from all sides —miles off the ground, I watched the flimsy slide bounce and shake as a hefty dad took his daughter down helter-skelter.

Justine Clarke, Look Both Ways
Justine Clarke, Look Both Ways

And all I could think of? Two words. Newcastle. Earthquake. All these kids falling to the ground. The slide falling away like a used condom. Soiled. Well, enough metaphor already. All of us dead, actually.

I thought I did my job. As a mum. I got McCool to the slide. I asked a dad behind him if he could keep an eye. I got the hell out of there, down the ladders, the way I had come. But at the bottom? Nothing. Minutes passed. Not a sign of him. I was not going back in there. I looked at mum. She gave me the finger again. Well, okay, I started moving tentatively back. And then I saw him. In another man’s arms. Down down down. He’d asked a dad to carry him down all the ladders. He didn’t seem the slightest bit anxious. But he didn’t want to go down the slide again. Not without me behind him.

In my day I would have gone down that slide. What has happened to youthful recklessness? With motherhood I’ve become like Meryl (Justine Clarke) in Sarah Watts’ wonderful Look Both Ways, endlessly catastrophising — only I don’t do it artistically, in beautiful animations.

I just breathe heavily, close my eyes, and want to get out of there.

What do you remember of playgrounds? Were they a time of fun, or fear? Let me know your stories, childhood or parental traumas…

Vulnerability in the digital age

Don Draper, Mad Men
Jon Hamm as Don Draper, Mad Men

One of the talks I like to watch again and again on the net is Brené Brown’s lively and moving dissection of vulnerability at the wonderful TED site. She speaks of the importance of embracing vulnerability, how difficult this can be in a world where happiness is often equated with success, and how admitting you’re vulnerable is often a first step to making a real connection with someone.

There are many situations where vulnerability is required, or even demanded: labour pains at birth; attending a funeral; giving a speech in front of strangers; going for a job interview for a position you really want; moving to a new place and trying to make friends (as we will be, soon).

And I think, for writers, it’s a constant theme in our work. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, your words (and your persona) are being examined closely: what do they reveal about you as a person, your past relationships, your current state of mind? When new fiction writers face audiences at festivals, or talk to people about their book at parties, they are invariably asked, ‘Is the book autobiographical?’ or ‘Is that character based on you?’

It can be a difficult question to answer. I see it as like making a jug of cordial. You add a bit of the sweet syrupy stuff (the essence, from your life) but then you mix in water and it dilutes, becomes a different substance, more tart, a new texture to swallow.

Nurse Jackie
Edie Falco in Nurse Jackie

Vulnerability is on my mind as I was offered a book deal this week, to publish my first novel. My first reaction (obviously) was to sing the most irritating song on earth, ‘I’m Walking on Sunshine’, for the entire week and open the bubbles. But then I started to get nervous. Would I feel exposed? What if my grandmother read it? Would readers start to think the central character was based on me? Would my friends and family feel betrayed?

Many of the most exciting narratives of our time are based around the central issue of vulnerability. What would The Sopranos be without Tony Soprano’s regular visit to his therapist and unexpected panic attacks (when he’s cooking sausages) — his central core fear of his weaknesses being revealed. And then there’s Mad Men, where all characters hide various shameful acts (or at least labelled shameful at the time) under a veneer of glamour and rigorous work ethic (helped by generous alcohol consumption during work hours). Don Draper is particularly vulnerable because it is his true identity he tries so desperately to hide, the shame of being a deserter; by creating a new character to hide behind, his links with reality are tenuous, and his decision-making is flawed. In Nurse Jackie, Jackie copes by having a double life: prescription drug addiction and an affair with the man who doles them out. In Breaking Bad, a man is so frightened of revealing his life-threatening cancer to his wife, he starts cooking amphetamines and becomes embroiled in murdering mayhem.

You’d think in today’s age, where revelation is all (Oprah style), that admitting you’re vulnerable may be easier. But I think the technologies that surround us — the way we can now text, FB, msg or email when something is too difficult to say face to face, or even on the phone — means we are protected (wrapped up in our techno-turtle-shells) from disappointing others, from revealing ourselves.

When my grandfather died, I got a text message. In six words a beautiful, humble, loving man was reduced (for me). The person on the other end of the phone was too vulnerable to speak, to tell others, in grief. But those moments can be the most important ones in day to day life, the ones we always remember, for what they reveal (and don’t) about the person on the other end of the line.

Top 5 blogs: going rural

As I start getting ready to head down south, frantically spreadsheeting all the things I need to do before we leave (child care, rental property, unpack the computer in time for editorial deadlines), I thought the best way to experience a move to a country town first-hand would be to read blogs by those who’ve been there done that. I needed some tips.

I came across many just like me: writers, usually women, trying to balance family life with work in a new town or rural retreat, and looking for the space to be able to write (or make art and craft) creatively; a day or two a week will do.

Some highlights…

Life in a Pink Fibro blog LIFE IN A PINK FIBRO

A beautifully designed site, Allison Tait effortlessly lures you into her world of whimsy. Her posts range from the handy tip variety (how to develop a rhinoceros hide when you’re a freelancer) to the meditative (the importance of silence when you are overloaded with information). She has interviews (a recent one with Joel Naoum from Momentum is useful for writers swerving into the digital fast lane) and also details the frustrations and joys of trying to juggle a home business with raising children (when your kid is sick and you have to meet a deadline). Light and airy, it’s a blog I read with relish.

 THE ART OF LIVING

Artist Jodie Ferguson-Batte moved from Sydney to Daylesford (a town not far from Castlemaine where we are headed). She details the setting up of her small business (a loose leaf tea), the paintings she does, her burgeoning love and appreciation for local wines, and how to settle into a local community (first stop: the pub).

 FERAL007’S BLOG – COUNTRY LIFE

A single mum talks about her kids, her cat and a vegetarian, farting, dog. Feral’s writing is dynamic, extremely funny and takes a mischievous take on the well-worn idea that a tree-change is going to be easy. She has a great sense of drama and pace; and can make any subject interesting. A terrific read!

 House of Humble blogHOUSE OF HUMBLE

Beautiful photography and winsome words offer an enchanting glimpse into the lives of a young couple in Bendigo. From the beauty of rain to the misery of renovating, the site is like the visual equivalent of Julia and Angus Stone’s music: calm, curious, sweet. Their most popular post is ‘On being a man who knits’.

 THE SIMPLE LIFE: Miffy in the Middle of Nowhere

The blogger moved from Kangaroo Valley to a spot in rural Victoria she describes as the ‘middle of nowhere’. She details the excitement of living in such an isolated place that she has to ferry her girls across rough water by boat to school, sometimes in strong winds, heart in mouth.

Do you write a blog on moving to a regional community? Have you come across one that’s brilliant? Please let me know and I’ll mention it in an upcoming post.

Of poor but honest parents…

Theatre Royal, Castlemaine
Castlemaine's Theatre Royal is the oldest continually operating theatre on the Australian mainland.

Jack Doolan may have been born in Castlemaine, but we’re moving there. After years struggling to keep up with Sydney — too fast, too fast — we have finally made the decision. It’s a tree-change for us.

I’m a freelance writer and editor so I can take my job with me. My husband runs his own film production company so it’s harder for him. But one of the reasons we have chosen Castlemaine, after much agonising over other towns in the area (Daylesford, Bendigo, Woodford), is that it’s on a train line. We’re only an hour and a half from Melbourne, for the occasional commute.

But that’s not the intention. We’d like to stick around town. Most artists dream of a space, ‘a room of one’s own’ as Virginia Woolf so tenderly puts it, where they have a chance to create. Castlemaine offers this opportunity. The more experience I get with writing, the more I want to be immersed in it. I’m trying to get my first novel published. I have ideas sprouting out of my head for the second one. It’s a time thing (and a financial one).

I’m looking forward to a town full of wide streets and large blocks. A farmers’ market stocked with local produce. A centre with the oldest longest-running cinema on the mainland, the Theatre Royal, and great cafes. I’ve heard rumours that musicians, writers, artists, are flocking to the region in droves. There’s a great looking writers’ group, Castlemaine Word Mine, that meets every month. There’s an arts festival every two years, and a celebration of second hand books in nearby Clunes.

It’s time to start packing those boxes. We’ll be there in June.