Monthly Archives: March 2010

on memes and pox

I have no idea what a ‘meme’ is. Please don’t try and explain it to me cos much smarter women and men have tried. I dunno, something like ‘Helen Razer’s a homosexual’ comes to mind for some bizarre reason. Anyhoo. I take it to mean ‘crap people are talking about on teh interwebs’ but what would I know?

However, when I saw that the inimitable Kerri Sackville was writing about chicken pox, I wanted to get me a bit of that pox meme action. So here’s one I prepared earlier (as is my wont on this recycling paradise of a blog). Chicken pox and me have quite the history.

(Is nowhere near as funny as the Sackville one. Not that it’s a competition or anything. ;-))

The Itchy and Scratchy Show

There is officially a pox upon our house. Our six year old son, Levi, has contracted the varicella-zoster virus – or chickenpox to the uninitiated. And, as it happens, Levi and chickenpox go way back.

When I was pregnant with Indy a friend of ours contracted chickenpox. Neither my mum nor I could remember me ever having the virus as a child. Concerned for my little unborn one I rushed off to the doctor where it was discovered that I – like a contestant on Survivor – had immunity. Disaster averted. So when I was pregnant with Levi and my niece came down with the ‘pox, I happily went to visit her – feeling safe that my little passenger and I were protected.

A few months later our boy arrived. When Luke came over for a cuddle he noticed two distinct lines of scarring on our newborn’s cheeks. They looked exactly like preserved blisters. We pointed the scars out to the midwife and in double-quick time the room was full of rather important looking medical people. Levi was promptly whisked down to the neonatal unit and photographed for posterity. The head of the unit brought him back and informed us that, indeed, he had contracted chickenpox in-utero and would have to be examined for brain damage and vision impairment.

On Day Two I took my little guy for a brain scan while Day Three saw a visit from the ophthalmologist. “So what will we have to do?” I asked as he shone lights into Levi’s eyes. “Oh, we won’t be able to do anything,” he said, in rather clipped voice, “We’re just looking to see if he’s blind.” Not quite what you want to hear with a bunch of postnatal hormones running riot in your body.

But our son, while scarred, was born under a lucky star. On Day Four he was cleared of any chickenpox-related damage. As we went home counting our blessings we were warned to keep an eye on him in the future as he could run a remote risk of developing shingles – the reactivation of the varicella virus – rare but not impossible in kids.

So, last week, when one of the kindergarten mums told us that her son had chickenpox I dragged out Levi’s special story for a showing. Unfortunately, the next day the school rang to say that Levi was in sick bay, having become quite distressed at recess because of a ‘tingling head’. It seems his pre-natal exposure had not offered him any protection from his old nemesis.

An urgent trip to our GP eliminated a diagnosis of shingles but confirmed that our friend, Chickenpox, had come for another visit – and this time it was to be a visit of biblical proportions. Behind Levi’s ears, under his arms, on his back, torso and in his groin were a mass of bubbly blisters. He even had them on the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet, as well as some of the more dangerous ones veering close to his eyes. Over the next few days Levi had two febrile convulsions brought on by a fever of 40+, a ride in an ambulance and a night in hospital. Our poor, sick boy.

Hungry for information, I went to the guru – Google – as is the modern way. It was here that I made a rather disturbing discovery – The Chickenpox Party. In 2005, Shannon Henry wrote an article for The Washington Post titled A Pox on My Child: Cool! The article detailed the idea, held by some, that kids should contract certain illnesses in childhood in order to provide them with immunity in adulthood. It is believed that such illnesses are much more severe if we contract them when we are older.

The chickenpox party starts when one child contracts the pox. Out go the invitations to the gathering. Interested parents bring their offspring to this rather grotesque party and encourage them to eat from the same spoon as the sick child, cuddle up together and even play with the contagious blisters. Sort of like one big, poxy love-in. I’m not one to denigrate the choices of other parents but my little boy is so sick right now that the last thing he wants is a bunch of other kids over to visit, intent on playing Pop the Pox.

In Australia there is a vaccine available for chickenpox. It was not routinely offered until 2004 – two years after Levi was born. I wish it had been. My son is but a shadow of his former, energetic self and his angelic face is almost unrecognisable under the spots. This morning he sobbed when he looked in the mirror and wailed “Why me?” to the gods. I tried to console him by explaining how we sometimes catch things from other people. This just threw him into further distress as he recalled ‘high-fiving’ his best mate before he got sick. “I don’t want him to get it,” he said.

“Well, you will just have to go cross at the boy who gave it to you,” I said, hoping to cheer him up by apportioning blame.

“No,” he cried, with sad eyes, “he’s my friend.”

I wanted to hug him for his generous spirit – but he won’t let me touch him.

Damn you Chickenpox!

Have your kids had any of the so-called ‘childhood illnesses’? How did you cope?

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you love me how much?

Ok, so this blog is a haven for recycled pieces of mine. But that’s because I don’t think a lot of people read them in the first place. This one (slightly revised here to include the word ‘wanker’) appeared on Web Child about a year or so ago, but the mysteries of unconditional love still continue to puzzle and confound me.

You Love Me How Much?

I have long been a naysayer, disbeliever and hardened cynic when it comes to the theory of unconditional love. I have protested belligerently when the topic comes up in conversation – as it is wont to do quite often when parenting is discussed. I have been known to lament the fact that parents are inclined to – and I quote (myself) – ‘worship at the altar of unconditional love’.

I promise I am not being purposefully antagonistic when I take up this particular cause. Instead I like to believe that it is with a sense of philosophical purpose and the pursuit of that most wobbly of abstract nouns – ‘the truth’ –  that I push so fiercely against this idea (although perhaps I’m just being a wanker).

But has this week seen the conversion of the most skeptical of skeptics?

I have often wondered if I have been too strict in my definition of unconditional love. I have taken it to mean that you love (or indeed are loved by) another until the end of your days regardless of anything they do, are, think and say. It sounds impossible and unrealistic.

As a parent unconditional love would mean loving your child if they turn out to be a serial killer, violent paedophile or mass murderer. Could you still love Adolf Hitler if he was your son? What about Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy? What about the Australian woman who killed her lover and boiled his head  – would you still love her if she was your daughter? Recently, the media has reported that Martin Bryant – Australia’s worst mass murderer – is visited in prison by one person – his mother. Such stories seemingly play into the mythology of unconditional maternal love. I am left to wonder if Martin’s mum’s prison visits are really about love or, rather, a sense of duty, pity, guilt or even regret. Of course I hope to never know or understand.

The other side of unconditional love in the parental relationship is the love which is directed at you from your offspring. I have heard many a mum or dad wax lyrical about the sense of being loved unconditionally by their child – particularly when they are babies and toddlers.

Granted, toddlers do have a tendency to run ecstatically towards you when you have been separated from them for a period of time. But then again they also have the tendency to kick their legs, stamp their feet and even head-butt you in the nose if you refuse them any of their fickle desires. Unconditional? I think not.

And then, as kids get older, the battle-weary (i.e. other parents) have tales about nine-year-old daughters screaming, ‘I hate you’ or teenage boys causing the kind of heartache and anguish you would not inflict on a person if your intention was to love unconditionally. With all of these things in mind perhaps you can see why I have been unable to wholeheartedly embrace this particular parenting religion.

I’m sure that I should offer a disclaimer here: so let it be known that I have adored my kids since their conception and can’t imagine life without them.

And I guess I *have* known that they love me back, but I don’t think I have ever felt that they loved me unconditionally (according to my definition). I admit that when they were much younger I definitely felt unconditionally needed – after all, for ten months I was almost exclusively their source of nourishment. And I have also felt unconditionally wanted – the separation anxiety both kids felt when they started childcare was evidence of that. But unconditional love? I don’t think so. At least not until now.

It went like this: Last weekend I had arranged a session with a photographer so that we could get family photos taken. I don’t like to have my photo taken but we have barely a handful of photos of the four of us together so I had to bite the bullet. The day before the photo shoot I bought a new item of make-up. That night, as Indy and I cuddled up to watch a movie she looked at me and said, “Mummy, why do you have so much make-up?”

“Well sweetheart,” I replied – a lifetime of insecurity and issues about my appearance coupled with my simultaneous rage against society’s cult of beauty and my desire not to pass any of that to her, jostled for attention – “Sometimes I just want to look nice.”

With an expression of unguarded honesty Indy looked at me and said, “Mummy, you always look beautiful – even without make-up.” At this stage the cockles of my heart were warmed but my inner cynic was still scoffing. However, the defining moment was yet to come.

Indy continued, “But,” she said as she snuggled in closer , “Maybe you should wear some make-up for the photos – other people mightn’t see you the way I see you.”

With that one sentence I became a believer.

Do you believe in unconditional love?

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memoir & emotional truth

As part of my Masters this year I am doing a course called Creative Non-Fiction. This week we looked at the genre of ‘memoir’. From our notes: “What marks (memoir) from fiction is the claim to truth – what the author believes to be the truth or the emotional truth.”

One of our workshop exercises was to write about a house we lived in as a child.

My first draft was complete and utter crap. And after missing the first week’s class (through no *real* fault of my own) I was determined to redeem myself in the eyes of my teacher.

But it wasn’t going to happen with the nonsense issuing from my pen.

But then…

I went to see Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland. The film aside, Lewis Caroll’s book is one of my top five all time favourites. When it comes to the emotional truth about the absolute trippiness of childhood it’s perfect – and it’s not even a memoir.

Maybe it resonates with me because my own childhood was not a pastel-coloured one. It was considerably darker hued than anything Walt Disney may have conjured up. Dark shadows. Deep holes. Monsters.

Until now I haven’t shared a lot of my childhood in my writing. But, if I want to be a fair dinkum writer, I think I have to try to find some of that emotional truth. To occasionally reveal the wound, raw and weeping, before I put it away again.

So (with thanks to both Lewis and Tim) I wrote this.

The Farm

The farmhouse has an outside toilet. A long tunnel, boring straight down into the earth. Its smell is rancid, septic, the rotten part of being alive: the undertone of pine disinfectant does nothing to disguise its filth. If you dare to look down you see a liquid mass, buzzing with flies, writhing with maggots, ready to swallow you if your tiny bottom slips through the seat. I dread the long walk to the outhouse, but fear even more the longer return with  grotesque shadow-beasts unseen at my back. My five-year-old footsteps break with fleeting hysteria and propel me helter-skelter to the relative safety of the house’s threshold.

But the house itself is no dreamy sanctuary. There are no aromas of hearty soup, or dense teacakes baking in the oven, waiting to be slathered with butter. There is no roaring fire in the hearth. There are no cows for milk or crops for food, and the few malnourished chickens have been killed by the underfed dog. It is but an echo of a farm: run-down, possibly condemned, a charitable hand-out for the family with too many kids, a ne’er-do-well father and nowhere to go.

It is a house of dark disappointments. The barely hidden, yet unintelligible disappointments of the grown-up world: whispered behind doors, screamed in plain view, shamefully aired in public.

And the childhood ones.

The Easter bonnets (cheap cardboard, glitter, cotton wool) are abandoned on this, the last day of term. The car won’t start. Again.

I picture my classmates parading with their own creations, proud, before smiling parents. Parents with cars that go and toilets that flush. In this, my kindergarten year, they are not yet ‘friends’. Never to be friends actually, because I have the wrong lunchbox, the wrong uniform, the wrong family.

Not that it mattered. We left soon after for another school, another house, a new life.

But here, now, I hold my disappointment, keen and burning, close to my chest. My mother does not need more angst today. Impotent and raging, my father has already thundered out the door for the long walk to town. There, he will try to find someone to fix the car.

My big sister – a ferocious eight-year-old veteran of disappointment – is equally devastated. Her Easter bonnet was even better than mine. School prizes of chocolate – chocolate! – retreat back into our dreams, never meant for kids like us anyway.

And so we sit on her bed – a covetous bed built high into the wall. A place to hide, above and away from the sadness, the trouble, the hopelessness. I know I’m lucky to be allowed up there and so I keep quiet, cowed by her older, fiercer anger, her own dramatic and frightening powerlessness. She can’t save us either.

But… proportions.

Mum, at the door now, beckons us.

We’re on her bed now – nay, her bedroom suite: the one good thing she owns, a wedding gift from her parents, with matching wardrobes and dressing table. The top quarter doors of the wardrobes are sliders. Places of grown-up secrets: hurriedly wrapped Christmas presents, abandoned wedding rings, books I shouldn’t read, pictures I shouldn’t see.

But today its secret is sweet. Mum reaches up and brings down two foil-wrapped chocolate rabbits – slated, I realise now, to be delivered in a few days time by the Easter Bunny.

Under  the covers with chocolate – disproportionally sweet, melting, lavish, indulgent, special-occasion chocolate – we, all three, sigh out our sadness and despair. And the recipe for momentary happiness (cocoa, milk, butter, sugar) works its delicious magic.

For now.

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no country for old women

Ok, it’s my birthday on Monday. I am *so* going to rock 41. Can’t wait.

But no-one really cares about 41. Not like they cared about 40.

So here’s one I prepared earlier – like, when I was 39.

But it still works. W.B Yeats gets me every time.

No Country For Old Women

In six and a half months I will turn 40. There, I’ve said it. Am I concerned about this big number? Not in the slightest. Should I be? The answer to that is a little more complicated.

I was the girl who always got asked for ID at nightclubs so I have never really felt my age. My nightclubbing days ended when I had my first child, and I expect that if I put on my party duds now and headed out on the town I would probably be waved (or laughed) through the door without a second glance by every bouncer worth his badge. But I still don’t feel old.

I think I still look the same. Or at least I did until recently. A few weeks ago I was going through some old photos and found one of me at a friend’s wedding about fifteen years ago. It’s one of the few photos that I really like so I proudly displayed it on my desk. “Who’s that, Mum?” asked Indiana pointing to the Ghost of Mummy Past as I scraped my ego from the floor.

Okay, so maybe I do look a little different but I definitely still feel the same. I am as ridiculously healthy as I have always been. I can do everything I used to do except for cartwheels – and that’s just because I don’t have time to practice. But trust the medical profession to rain on my Botox-free parade. It seems all my aging is happening on the inside – I’m a sort of modern, female Dorian Gray.

The first indication of a covert attack by the forces of time – my ruthless nemesis – came after a recent run of miscarriages. I considered myself the random victim of an unexplainable mystery. That is until a kind young doctor thought he was being helpful by giving me the old, “It’s probably your age,” routine. Excuse me? One throwaway line and I had traversed the generation gap.

The second wave came a few weeks ago when I noticed that a certain area in my breast had an ever so faint, niggling pain. Because I have had a lot of pregnancies (eight at last count) my breasts have undergone quite a few changes and I had lost sight of what was ‘normal’. I rang our local BreastScreen provider but – here’s the irony – because I am under 40 I am too young for a free mammogram.

Not prepared to wait until next year, my doctor referred me for a mammogram and ultrasound. It turns out I have a cyst in my breast which is supposedly nothing to worry about. Except for the fact that my Google search revealed that breast cysts usually affect “middle-aged women from 35 upwards.” Excuse me again! Middle- aged! Perhaps I do have something to worry about.

Irish poet William Butler Yeats was the first to declare that this is ‘no country for old men’ in his poem Sailing to Byzantium. And I have to say I was starting to agree with him. The poem declares that:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick,

Yes, I had started feeling a little paltry what with all this talk about age and getting old.

But I persevered with my friend Yeats. And I believe he has a solution. The next part reads:

unless

And it’s the ‘unless’ that is important.

unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress

There’s my answer.

I invite you all to my Getting Older Party. I’ll be the one in the corner clapping and singing loudly in my tattered mortal party dress.

Do you feel your age? How do you deal with getting older?

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off twitter and strung out

This post was updated on March 5th, 2010.

Um, let’s just forget it ever happened.

kthxbai

Off Twitter and Strung Out

I dream of tweeps.

Before June 9th last year (apparently)  that sentence wouldn’t even have made sense to me.

But these days I find myself involved in fantastic nocturnal adventures – exciting, weird, dangerous and sometimes scary adventures –  with characters my subconscious creates from just a Twitter name and a dodgy avatar.

But this isn’t why I’m in Twitter rehab.

Let me re-iterate, I love Twitter.  I have long promoted myself as the ‘In Defence of Twitter’ poster girl. (Here and here in case you missed it.) Twitter just touches a chord with me.

See, here’s the thing: I’m not a particularly social person (and ask all the tweeps who wanna do an IRL with me, it’s true). Never have been. Some of this comes from working in hospitality since I was 17. Slaving away to put myself through uni, I was always working when everyone else was out partying. It probably saved me many a moritfiying morning after and eventually it became a way of life.

Subsequently,  I’m not a big imbiber of anything in particular. I love a few glasses of red wine, and am partial to a French martini. Love the buzz, love the fun, love the whole Bacchanalian/Dionysian aspect of letting loose once in a while. But I subscribe to the ‘less is more’ philosophy when it comes to socialising.

What I am is a reader, and – as I sometimes like to claim –  a writer. Ergo: I love stories. Narrative has always rocked my world. Nose in a book, always at the cinema, often up a tree imagining Swiss Family Robinson scenarios, composing ads about conditioner in the shower – that was the kid I was. And, it seems, the grown-up I have become.

But, when I signed up for Twitter – ostensibly for work and partially out of curiosity –  I was like Alice through the looking glass. Pretty soon I was absorbed by this fantasy world which was also, excitingly, of my own making.

Here was narrative writ small – 140 characters per installment, each installment creating stories made up of millions of potential characters.

Each new day my unique arrangement of tweeps/characters composes a narrative just for me. There’s intrigue, there’s dramatic complication, there’s humour, there’s angst, there’s sadness, misery, anger, grief, rage, annoyance, mundanity, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll – the whole goddamned box and dice.

Add to that the fact that I am a co-author of these narratives and you’ve kind of blown my mind right there.

It’s Charlie Kaufman, it’s Adaptation, it’s Jasper Fforde, it’s Alice in Wonderland, it’s Stranger than Fiction – it’s every self-referential postmodern meta-narrative you ever loved. And you’re in it. If Lewis Carroll was on LSD when he wrote Alice, just imagine what he would he do if he was on Twitter. OMG.

Unfortunately, coming from good Irish/Scottish stock you can imagine how many of my relatives have floated netherwards on the glass canoe and never returned. I’ve always feared for myself: feared the long and bottomless descent down that particular rabbit hole. Abstinence was easier. Until I met Twitter. I was gone. Hook, line and sinker. It had me at “What are you doing?”

But the problem with the Twitter narrative is that it’s open-ended. While there is delicious narrative structure in each thread the overall effect is of a neverending story. Which is great. And also not. Not when you’re an obsessive reader like me anyway.

But here’s the other thing. Twitter is fabulous for my work. I’ve been approached to write pieces via Twitter. I’ve found fabulous writers to write for me on Twitter. I have been inspired by other writers and the things they do on Twitter. I’ve called out to tweeps to help me for pieces I’m writing, and they do. I also have a bunch of news and opinions, tailor-made for the field in which I work, at my fingertips daily. (Which is good, cos I still don’t know how to work an RSS feed.)

And another thing (I know that’s a lot of ‘things’): I view rocking 140 characters the way we do on Twitter as kind of like a writing warm-up. Scales for the wordsmith poseur semi-literate if you will. But of course there’s no point warming up ad infinitum. At some point you have to perform. Put on the show. Play the game. Run the race.

Now we’re getting to the pointy end.

My plan has always been to write a novel. I said to someone the other day, “It’s all fun and games calling yourself ‘a writer’ until someone says, ‘ how’s the novel’s going’. Then it just sucks.” It’s time I pulled my finger out.

And so this year I’m starting my Masters in Creative Writing. I’m hoping my studies will make me a better writer. In fact, I have a feeling that if I get through the Masters I’m going to do a PhD – and you can bet your collection of Fail Whale merchandise that Twitter narratives will feature somewhere (that is if Twitter isn’t completely passé by then).

But right now something’s gotta give. I’m a wife ( a pretty shit one , I imagine), a mum (fair to middling), the editor of a local parenting magazine (a job I adore and could do all day and all night if I had no other committments) as well as a particularly lacklustre sister, friend and daughter.

And  now I have even less time, what with readings and class and assignments. *sigh*

So I put myself in Twitter rehab – i.e I’m largely staying out of the public timeline for a little while. Believe me, it’s hard. I still spend a big portion of my day composing 140 character updates in my head.

But I can’t tweet. Because if I do and a lovely tweep replies, then I have to reply back. And then I see something cool that someone else wrote and then I have to RT it and then I have to follow a link and then someone else sees my RT and wants to chat. And I want to chat too.

I’ve used the analogy before about twitter being like a great night at the pub. And it is. But hey, I’m too old to go out every night.

But…

I still read my Twitter narratives every day.

I still see what everyone’s up to.

My trigger fingers still itch when I want to reply to a happy/sad/funny tweet.

I still want to share great links with everyone.

What I have been doing is creeping around the DM column annoying the tweeps I thought were up for it. I think they’re starting to avoid me. In fact, I’m even weirding myself out.

And when I DM-ed one tweep with, “Am off Twitter. In the horrors. Just DM me to take the edge off,” I knew I was in trouble. Lol.

So I have promised myself that I have to tackle my To-Do list each day before I reward myself with some recreational tweeting. That To-Do list is pretty big right now, but with tweeting as my motivation I’m sure I’ll get through it.

One thing on that list today was to write this blog post. Because this, right here, is a requiem for my tweep dreams.

May they rest in peace.

Coming from good Irish/Scottish stock you can imagine how many of my relatives have floated netherwards on the glass canoe and never returned. I’ve always feared for myself. Feared the long and bottomless descent down that particular rabbit hole. Abstinence was easier.

Then I met Twitter. I was gone. Hook, line and sinker. It had me at “What are you doing?”

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